Sweet Sixteen

My car and I
Since I got her in 1996, she’s served me well – in fact, very well!  My sporty Suzuki Vitara was everything I wished for, in terms of comfort, height and ruggedness because I often travel alone, sometimes through rough terrain and at odd hours of the day or night.  One of the main criteria for the advantageous height is the confidence to go through flood waters after sudden tropical storms or seasonal torrential monsoon rains!

In our first year together, she took me all the way from Johor Baru to Penang and further north to Alor Setar, right to the shores of Lake Pedu where I parked her and took a boat over to the resort that was just a hill away from Thailand. The road trip continued from the west across the Karak Expressway to an east coast beach resort in Cherating.  

Following that, we made more trips to the east coast, as far north as Kuala Terengganu, frequently to Malacca and even uphill to Frasers Hill, Cameron and Genting Highlands.

Ah Kee, my mechanic, inspecting her under-carriage
Until recently she has been with me on road trips to Kuala Lumpur, USJ to see my grandma and on day trips to villages in Johor like Sarang Buaya near Batu Pahat and Muar, also to Mersing, Ayer Hitam and Kluang and of course, across the causeway into Singapore. 

Over the years, her glossy white colour grew dull with multiple coats of dust and dirt because I’m not crazy about going to the car-wash.  The occasional wash brought back her shiny sheen but at one time this particular model was the favourite target of carjackers so I decided not to keep her looking too attractive lest she fall prey to those greedy criminals.  My rationale is to keep her engine running smoothly but not to let her attract unwanted attention!

Through the years, I faithfully sent her in for regular servicing to ensure that her engine remains properly maintained.  Ah Kee, my trusted mechanic, understands her temperament and have been personally seeing to her well-being ever since she completed the initial few services with Suzuki.  I have his number programmed on my speed-dial and more than once, he came to my rescue when her battery went flat!  In 2006, I gave her a much-need facelift with a fresh coat of paint and it did not surprise me that she looked as good as new.

Years ago, when I picked Auntie Helen from Changi Airport on her arrival for a visit, she said she will have a spare tyre-cover custom-made for me when she returned to Sydney. 

This is my second custom-made spare tyre cover
That’s because it was common for 4-WD cars in Australia to have tyre-covers made for spare tyres on the back of the car.  She kept her word and arranged for a friend to hand-carry it all the way to Johor Baru for me.  This first tyre-cover was made in solid Black with my name in capital letters, written across in White!

At first it felt rather awkward to shout my name from the back of my car.  Then I got used to having drivers come slowly alongside my car just to turn and look at me – probably just to see who it was who so boldly announced her name on the road!  Some well-meaning friends advised me not to put my name out there but I assured them that I’m a law-abiding citizen and there was nothing to fear about the law catching up with me…

My car getting a much-need facelift with no-water wash!

After her facelift, the old tyre-cover that was already splitting and falling apart, did not quite match her new image.   So cousin Malcolm, Auntie Helen’s son in Sydney, offered to make me a new tyre-cover and we discussed the custom-made design. “Put your favourite photo or your photo on it!” he suggested but I said, “No, thanks!”  Finally I left it to him to pick a suitable picture and he decided on flowers with my name emblazoned across in contrasting White. 

Now from this spare tyre-cover with my name against a background of flowers, I’m easily recognized on the road.  Friends who spotted me somewhere will later ask, “Eh, what were you doing there?” or say, “Hey, I saw you at (…name of place)”.  My car and her whereabouts is often the topic of conversation but its okay because I make it a point to stay on the right side of the law and not be up to any (ahem!) shady business…

My shiny car after the Kilat Kilat treatment
Twice, when I was writing articles on car-wash-polish service companies, they offered to give her their touted treatment and I did not deny them the privilege to test it on my filthy car.  I knew it was a challenge to restore her to a pristine look but because they managed to do it, I thought their products and services must really be something!  I’m just glad she benefited from the much-needed pampering. 

After sixteen years, wear and tear has finally taken a toll on her and since last October, she has been unwell.  More than once I had to call AAM for their emergency services when she stalled somewhere outside the city and recently, things took a turn for the worse.  She has been behaving quite erratically and this is cause for grave concern because I depend a great deal on her and I cannot risk being left in a tight spot, in the middle of nowhere or in inclement weather.  As always it’s Ah Kee to the rescue but there’s only that much he can do, especially when she is already so old.

AAM mechanic to the rescue!
Sixteen years is a long time for any relationship and we’ve been through a great deal together.  Car owners will understand the bond I have with my car and the dilemma I face in dealing with the reality of having to retire her which inevitably means, to part with her.  Just as pet owners feel for their ailing faithful pets, I’m going through similar pain in coming to terms with my car’s gradual deterioration in the (motoring equivalent) of old age and ill health.  

If there’s supposed to be fun and joy in shopping for a new car, I find it hard to elicit such feelings from the whole exercise as I’m also reluctant to part with my faithful old car.  As I compel myself to move ahead to consider car choices that fit my criteria for comfort, height and ruggedness, I know nothing can replace her.  It’s also going to be a challenge to find one that has a rear spare tyre to keep wearing an attractive tyre-cover to let you know that it’s me passing you on the road!


Ah Kee to the rescue in Plaza Pelangi Basement Two
It happened again! On Friday, 24 February 2012, I was out on a round of errands before I went for a lunch appointment with Karen and the chairman of an NGO and then to visit their premises.  My first stop was Sultanah Aminah Hospital to pick up dad’s prescription.  The next stop was Plaza Pelangi to meet my friends in Elle to discuss about an event in December before leaving for my lunch appointment.  I thought the timing was just right to hop into my car and drive over to Taman Sri Tebrau and find a parking spot near the restaurant.

But when I turned the ignition to start, the engine jumped to life but refused to keep humming!  After a few futile tries with the engine dying on me again and again, I knew that it was useless.  I called Karen to cancel my lunch appointment but I still hoped to continue with the site visit later.  When I got Ah Kee on the phone, he was quick to ask me for directions into Plaza Pelangi and he soon turned up in Basement Two, driving his little Kancil that was as usual, filled with his handy toolbox and equipment.  

Checking the engine - again!
He wasted no time to check the engine and as his suspicions zeroed in on a possible fault in the petrol pump, he crawled under the car to examine it.  To check if it was faulty, he made me start the engine again and again.  The carpark was suddenly filled with the pungent smell of petrol as he emerged with his arm slicked with it because it overflowed as he opened a valve to check.  Having confirmed the problem, Ah Kee suggested towing her back to his workshop for the repair so I called AAM for their towing services.

For all the wonderful emergency help AAM can give, this was one time they totally failed me.  Firstly, their representative told me on the phone, that their tow truck cannot access the basement carpark and that I should push the car outside for them.  “Tolak lah!” he said and even suggested that I ask the security guards to help.  I was too upset to speak but managed to say that I would think about it first and I hung up. 

Before he rushed off, Ah Kee told me to take a walk in the mall and reassured me that he will find a solution.  In about half an hour he called to say he should be in the carpark in a few minutes (with help to tow the car outside) and I should call AAM to collect the car from outside.  To my horror, nobody answered the phone in AAM – the 24-hours emergency service line – as it rang and rang on.  I realized that it was Friday but I’m still deeply disappointed that there was no one manning the 24-hour emergency call line!  It seems like AAM members must plan their emergencies to never happen at that hour on Friday in order to enjoy their services!

Towed out of carpark with hazard lights blinking
I had enough heartache to last me a long, long time so I decided to use the reliable services of Ah Kee and his friends to arrange for the complete transfer of my car from the basement carpark to his workshop.  He reminded me to remove my personal items from the car as it was hooked up to his friend’s bigger car that was to tow it outside.  As he sat in my car, ready to steer its way out, Ah Kee asked me, “How are you going home?”  I haven’t given it any thought yet but his friend was quick to suggest, “Take a taxi!”

With her hazard lights blinking, I watched my car being maneuvered through the carpark corridors.  Clutching my belongings and making my way back into the mall, I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment to take stock of the situation.  I knew my car was in good hands and I should go on with my afternoon appointment to meet the NGO chairman.  So I called Karen to ask if we should proceed and she agreed to pick me from the front of Menara Pelangi.

As I stood in the shaded porch to wait for Karen, the afternoon heat was humid and I was just wiping perspiration that seemed to pour out from every pore.  As usual, a few people were walking by, arriving or leaving the building while I stood silently, waiting.  Suddenly my composure simply shattered when I saw my car passing, being transported on the flatbed truck and I let out a howl that sounded like an animal in pain!  Maybe the sight was too unexpected because I thought she had already been taken to the workshop.

There she was, on the flatbed truck, along Jalan Kuning!
At once, the female security guard hovering nearby responded by asking, “Your car?” because by this time, I had whipped out my camera and had it trained on that vehicle.  Her gentle concern did more damage to my fragile composure because I was choking back sudden tears while snapping the shots.  A busybody passerby joined in to ask, “Why uh?” and the security guard kept herself busy explaining her version of the situation.

The slow traffic let me have full view of my car as the truck with her on it, inched its way down the road.  I felt a lump in my throat growing larger, threatening to explode in hot tears but a loud honk from a car in front saved me from further embarrassment.  It was Karen.  The guard asked helpfully, “Your friend?” and I nodded, quickly stepping into the car and pulling myself together into a semblance of calm, switching gears to ready myself for my appointment that afternoon. 


Thank you so much - everyone, who expressed their concern for my ailing car.  Just a brief update to let you know that under Ah Kee's tender care, my car has been restored to better health - for now...  Thanks!

That's her, looking sweet in the carpark of Maio, MSuites

Latest Update:

My car suffered damage even while it was parked!


Shantou Yingge in JB

Yingge musician perform with the dancers at
Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
In June 2011, Yingge (Eng Kor in Teochew dialect) dance was first presented at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk by the Johor Theng Chuan Tan Clan Association.  Regulars at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk had their first glimpse of this dance when a small troupe gave a captivating performance, thrilling the audience with their energetic dance as part of the Tan Clan’s 70th Anniversary celebration. 

The enthusiastic response to this traditional Teochew art-form paid off handsomely when a troupe of Yingge dancers from Chaoyang, in Guangdong, China, came to Johor Baru as foreign guests in the recent Johor Chingay.

C P Tan [Left] showing visitors the exhibition on Yingge
dance in the Red House
It all started when government officials from Shantou city, China, visited the Johor Chinese Heritage Museum and Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk last June and was very impressed with what Johor Baru is doing to preserve the Chinese heritage. 

Over lunch, Lee Fong, the Shantou Party Secretary General, made a surprise announcement on a decision to send a troupe of Yingge dancers to Johor Baru for Johor’s annual Chingay.  After a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Haji Burhan Amin, Mayor of Johor Baru, on 4 November 2011, the best Yingge troupe of 72 dancers and 22 musicians was selected to perform in the Johor Chingay.

Warrior dancers perform an excerpt of Yingge dance
at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
The Yingge dance is an art-form that was gazetted as a national heritage in mainland China in 2006.  The history of this dance dates back to some 300 years with its origins in paddy planters who would usually sing along to the beat of drums while sowing seedlings.  To encourage farmers to work harder, this dance was traditionally carried out throughout the whole planting season.

As a result, this dance was known locally as the ‘Dance for Sowing Seedlings’ or Yang Ge Wu.  It gradually evolved into an open-square dance that portrays the 108 Heroes of the Water Margin, a renowned piece of literature in Chinese culture.  In Southern China, this cultural performance is fondly known as Yingge or the ‘Dance of the Heroes’ where a large number of dancers would perform in a parade through village streets, and even across hills and valleys. 

Warrior faces are usually painted with menacing expressions
The size of the troupe may vary from 36, 72 to 108 or reduced to just 24 members who would then portray the most prominent heroes from the Water Margins. 

The dance is an energetic show arranged in two parallel rows, with dancers twirling short wooden sticks to the sound of drums, gongs and cymbals, along with segments of singing, dancing and martial arts.  In China, Yingge dancers are welcomed everywhere because it’s believed that places where they have walked would be auspicious forever!

The visiting troupe made several appearances in Johor Baru, beginning with an introduction event held at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk on 11 February.  It began with a dressing-up session where several artistes donned traditional warrior costumes and had their faces intricately painted as a demo of how much effort went into preparing a troupe for a performance.  As the make-up artists worked under the curious eyes of photographers, it became obvious that the faces were deliberately painted with menacing expressions to reflect fierce warrior faces.

Some of the warrior dances with foreign dignitaries
at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
After Tan Tai Chong, President of Johor Baru Teochew Eight Districts Association, welcomed the foreign guests, the Deputy Mayor of Shantou city, Madam Zhao Hong, gave her speech. 

In a simple ribbon-cutting ceremony with representatives of Johor Baru Teochew Eight Districts Association and those from Shantou city including Yang Wei, their 81-year old Heritage Master, the troupe was formally welcomed to Johor Baru.  The guests were then escorted on a tour of an exhibition on Yingge dance inside the Red House, aimed at giving local people more info about this art-form.

Putting on the finishing touches on this warrior face
Through an interview with the troupe captain, Lim Tong Chen by C P Tan, Director of the Teochew Eight Districts Association, the audience learnt more about this dance.  The Yingge performance is divided into many sections with three main sections – the Front, Mid and Rear. 

The Front usually features the most rugged and awe-inspiring heroes from the Water Margins while the Mid section often depicts short stories derived from legends, ancient lifestyles and filial piety.  The Rear section emphasizes heroism and the triumph of good over evil – a common theme throughout the story of the Water Margins.  

The Red House at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage
Walk is an excellent backdrop for cultural events
When the artistes performed a brief but energetic excerpt of the Yingge dance, the audience could anticipate the excitement when the entire troupe turned up in full for the Johor Chingay. 

That night, the troupe went on to perform at Xing Gong, the temporary shrine for the Johor Ku Miao temple deities at Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek, ahead of the Chingay. 

Spectators who caught a glimpse of the lively Yingge dancers around the city were thrilled with their colour and vigour, and as these performances are believed to have auspicious elements that augur well for special occasions, their trek through Johor Baru must have boosted good omens all around!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 23 February 2012

Creative Kites

Liannawati [Right] with her sons, Wenda [Left]
and Wenas [Centre] at last year's Pasir Gudang Kite Fest
They come in all shapes and sizes.  Peggy Loh takes her pick of some creative kites in this year's Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival.  

I was asked, “What comes to mind when you think of Pasir Gudang – just an industrial site?”  Not willing to appear ignorant, I promptly replied, “It’s an industrial area that’s also renowned for the World Kite Fest!”  After hosting the World Kite Fest at Bukit Layang-Layang 17 times, Pasir Gudang has since become synonymous with kite-flying to both local and international kite enthusiasts.  Bukit Layang-Layang or Kite Hill is also home to our nation’s first Kite Museum which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. 

The Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival from 15 to 19 February, in the theme “One Sky One Culture” aptly describes how this sport unites kite enthusiasts from every nation who share the same passion for kite-flying.  Some 557 local participants in 110 teams representing National, School and Corporate categories, and 225 international participants from 34 nations meet on Bukit Layang-Layang once again to show off their creatively designed kites and kite-flying skills.  This year’s fest attracted participants from three more nations – Colombia, Turkey and Curacao.  Even though the weather was wet at times, the keen kite-flyers remain undeterred because once the rain abated they took advantage of the prevailing monsoon winds to launch an amazing variety of breath-taking kites. 

With one eye on the sky and the other watching my step lest I get strangled by the many long lines linked to their soaring kites, I pick my way carefully among the kite-flyers in the field.  I’m thrilled to meet Liannawati and her son, Wenda, from Bandung, among the 44-strong Indonesian team.  I remember them from last year for their Upin & Ipin kites and this year, they brought a special caterpillar figure kite, complete with 500 LED lights as well as three sizes of kites in a cute design of a squirrel eating a slice of watermelon. 

The Kite Fest is an annual carnival on the Johor tourism calendar organized with a host of activities that include kite workshops and a kite exhibition by International participants.  It’s mostly a family affair for visitors who come along with kids and grandparents as well as many participants who come with families who share their passion in kite-making and kite-flying.  The most anticipated moments of this 5-day fest are when the sky is dotted with a variety of traditional kites and creatively designed figure kites of giant squid, dragon and fish.  Here are five fascinating picks I discovered.

Cellophane Kite from Curacao

Kite maker from Curacao, Carol Jansen, with her kite
made with cellophane
Her grandmother first taught her brothers the art of kite-flying and since she was five years old, Carol Jansen, has been flying kites.  “Everyone flies kites in Curacao,” said Jansen, a first-timer in the 17th Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival.  As she watched the teams working enthusiastically together to fly their kites, Jansen, the nation’s sole representative, said that she will encourage her brothers to come as her team to the next fest.

She said there’s just more kite-flying in Curacao during the kite season between March and June and they will compete for the Curacao Cup in a kite-flying competition at the end of the season.

Jansen, a Kite Artist, is constantly looking for new ideas to design her kites.  One day in a stationery shop, she noticed the vibrant colours on sheets of cellophane and decided to try using them to make her kites.  Coloured cellophane sheets stretched across her rattan kite frames designed as insects and birds are so eye-catching that it started a trend in using cellophane on kites in Curacao!

Visit www.curacaokites.com for more info on kite-flying in Curacao.

Khleng Kloah from Cambodia

Cheang Yarin from Cambodia with a
traditional khleng kloah or parasol kite
Cheang Yarin and her husband, Sim Sarak, representatives from the Cambodian team, are proud to present a variety of their traditional kites that are generally known as khleng at the Kite Fest.  In Khmer language, the word khleng is used for a predatory bird of prey that eats snakes, fish and rodents.  

The art of kite-making and the passion for kite-flying was virtually destroyed in 1970’s civil war in Cambodia but this cultural heritage is seeing a revival since they initiated a kite festival in early 1994.  With several kite festivals held in 1994, 1996 and 1999, the younger generation are discovering more about their national kites.

Sim Sarak, who is also Cultural Advisor to the Prime Minister, has collaborated with Cheang Yarin to compile a book entitled, “Khmer Kites” to reintroduce a wide range of traditional kites and this sport to the nation.   This couple from Phnom Penh, calls themselves, the Khmer Kite Family, and shares their passion for kite-making with him making the kite while she paints the designs.  Cheang Yarin explains that the designs she painted on the kite are inspired by the carvings seen at the entrance of the Angkor Wat. 

Figure Kite from Indonesia

Figure kite by H. Asran Kunyi Muhidin from Indonesia
named after his grand-daughter, Amelia
H. Asran Kunyi Muhidin, pull strongly on the kite line, anchoring the soaring figure kite while a few young men rallied around, helping to keep the kite airborne in the changing wind direction.  But the cloudy sky and threatening storm did not deter this team from braving the elements to keep the kite flying.  When more than one streak of lightning split the sky, Asran, a 9-time participant at the Kite Fest, knew it was time to reel in his kite and let the storm blow over before he tried to fly it again.

“Amelia” he said the word in a heavy Indonesian accent, referring to his kite, a dolly with two plaits of hair hanging down the sides of her cherubic face and went on to explain that his creation is inspired by his 12-year old grand-daughter.  Asran, from Kalimantan, uses ultra-light rip-stop parachute fabric to make his giant kites.  Besides, “Amelia” he also brought along two other big kites designed as a dragon and a squid, to fly in the Kite Fest.

Box kite from Australia

Micahel Alvares from Australia with his
box kite gift to the Kite Museum
Lawrence Hargrave, inventor of the box kite in the late 1800’s, would be happy to know that Michael Alvares is carrying on his legacy of flying box kites. 

Alvares, who has a collection of kites from some 32 countries, is a kite enthusiast who studies the mythology, aerodynamics and cultural history of kite-flying and shares his passion in this sport with school children through kite workshops and design exhibitions.  Among the kite-flying anecdotes he likes to share is how in ancient times, people used to write prayers on kites to send them sky-wards to communicate with the gods!

Alvares is no stranger to Kite Fest and already has one of his box kites displayed in the Kite Museum.  To commemorate the museum’s 10th anniversary, he will present a box kite painted with Australian icons.  Made from Tyvek – a non-tear, lightweight synthetic material, this kite has designs that include the Australian coat-of-arms that features a kangaroo and emu, koala and joey, cockatoos, goanna, leafy sea dragon, honey-pot ants, wombat and platypus.  Alvares is fascinated by how the frill-necked lizard drinks the dew collected on its back and hopes that these icons will teach visitors more about Australia.

Visit www.kitekinetics.com.au for more info on Kite Kinetics in Perth, Western Australia.  Note: Some pictures of box kites by inventor, Lawrence Hargrave, are featured on the reverse side of the old A$20 note.

Appliqué Kite from Switzerland

Olivier Reymond from Switzerland
with his applique kite

Olivier Reymond made this kite designed with a woman and three fish in a past Dieppe Kite Fest, the most renowned kite fest in Western Europe (France), under the theme “Myths & Legends” and calls it, “Luxottica” after the brand name for the sports eyewear.  

He borrowed the picture from an ad for that eyewear and wove a mythical legend that she transformed her three sons into fish to protect them from evil.  At first glance the stained-glass effect on the Rokkaku-shaped kite already looks attractive and when flipped over to its reverse side, the kite is even more impressive because it’s made using the appliqué technique on rip-stop nylon!

Since Switzerland does not have any kite-making tradition, Reymond is happy that there’s no limit to his creativity.  This retired biologist has turned his 17-year old hobby in kites into a full-time job and he also gives workshops in the appliqué technique.  

Reymond, another first-timer at the Kite Fest, has more than a 100 kites in his own collection and is happy to give them away to museums where kite enthusiasts can appreciate them.  He will present his appliqué kite entitled, “Clement” a design inspired by Samuel Spottford Clement, a former slave, to the Kite Museum for its 10th anniversary celebration.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 23 February 2012

First Yingge in JB

First Yingge dance troup at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
Johor Baru earned its nickname – Little Swatow – as Teochew culture flourished here when more Teochew people immigrated to Johor in the mid 1800’s.  That’s because Swatow or Shantou [Mandarin] a province in Guangdong, China, is the original homeland of most of Johor’s Teochew population. 

As the largest dialect group in Johor Baru, the Teochew clan is known to have always taken the lead among the Chinese clans in Johor.

The Johor Theng Chuan Tan Clan Association, which held a grand celebration for its 70th anniversary in June 2011, is committed to cultivating cultural interest among youths through taking part in various Chinese cultural activities and training in the art of Teochew opera. 

Keen crowd at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
watching assembly of Yingge troupe
As part of their anniversary celebration last June, they hosted a troupe of traditional Yingge dancers from Thailand who appeared in Johor Baru for the first time as the star attraction in the evening’s event at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk on 25 June 2011. 

Regulars at the Heritage Walk had their first glimpse of this exciting performance and thrilled to see the costumes and colour, bold make-up and energetic segments of their march along the streets around the heart of old Johor Baru.

I was privileged to be part of the celebrations and am glad to share some pictorial mementoes of that special event:

Stick fight demo by two artistes
Sword and defence demo
Human tower made by seven artistes!

The Yingge troupe was the main attraction at the Tan Clan's 70th anniversary celebration on 25 June 2011

This Yingge troupe performed well into the night with a street march through old JB

The Theng Chuan Tan Clan Johor guild house is located at 4F-1 & 4G-1 Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, Susur 3, Johor Baru.  Tel: 607 – 2272 985, 2272 986, Fax: 607 – 2272 987 or email: info@tanclasjb.my and tanassn@yahoo.com.  Visit website: http://www.tanclanjb.my/ for more info.


My Larkin Gardens

Peggy in front of our brand new house
in Larkin Gardens, 1961
When someone asks me, “Where do you live?” I tell them, “Larkin Gardens.”  If they are not from Johor Bahru, I usually elaborate by saying that it’s located near the football stadium.  To stress how close I live to the stadium, I will say that when they shout, “Goal!” I can hear it from my house.

My parents, now retired from Government service, moved our family from the Jalan Dato’ Wilson hospital quarters to Larkin Gardens in 1961. 

When we first moved in, these houses were so new that gates were not installed yet and the grass was struggling to grow in our gravelly garden. 

My sisters and I [Left] in our front porch
From old photos, I saw that the original layout had the gate located directly in front of the main door but we decided to shift the gate and aligned it with the driveway and garage.  At that time, there were no street lights along Jalan Dato’ Jaffar which links Larkin Gardens to Jalan Larkin.  While there was also no bus service into Larkin Gardens, it was still safe for mum to walk home in the dark from where the bus dropped her in front of the Fire Station when she returned late after hospital shifts.

Living in an area with retired Government officers and several Dato’s and Datin’s, Larkin Gardens has the enviable reputation of being a peaceful place to call home.  Indeed, taxi drivers today, still fondly refer to Taman Dato Onn as “Laaken” because this housing development was originally made up of Larkin Gardens created close to Jalan Dato’ Jaffar, Larkin Lama built around Jalan Sentosa and Larkin Jaya located after the stadium.  More recently, apartment and condo developments known as Larkin Perdana, Larkin Residences and Larkin Aman have sprouted around the older residential areas.

Peggy [Third from Left] with family members
Christmas party in Larkin Gardens, 1962
My siblings and I made many fond memories, playing “masak-masak” and training our dogs in the garden and we each have several scars from wounds that resulted from cycling and roller-skating accidents in the front yard. 

We celebrated many birthdays and hosted crazy Christmas parties, best remembered for fancy dressing in different themes. 

While Larkin used to be somewhat like a retirement village for former Government servants, the resident mix has changed with the demise of retirees and new buyers moving in.  Not only has the landscape and residents changed, security has also taken a turn for the worse.  While it used to be safe to leave good shoes outside, it’s not done now because we may never see our shoes again.  If gates could be left unlocked before, today it’s not safe to sit outside our own gates anymore.

Our once safe neighbourhood was traumatized by several untoward incidents like break-ins and robberies at gun-point in the dead of night.  In separate incidents, families were tied-up and gagged while robbers ransacked their homes.  A family whose members returned from abroad to attend their father’s funeral was further bereaved when the robbers took their wallets, hand-phones and cameras that still stored the last precious photos of their late father. 

More recently, a neighbour was attacked by a motorcyclist-robber while she was putting a bag of rubbish into her dustbin outside.  He chased her into her driveway and pushed her down while snatching her gold necklace.  When she fell heavily on the same hip which was just repaired by surgery, she suffered serious damage and had to undergo months of painful therapy before she could walk again.  

One evening, another neighbour who is a deaf-mute, was sitting outside his gates waiting for friends to drop by.  Suddenly 2 motorcyclists with pillions stopped near him and before he realized that they were not his friends, they started to punch him.  When his sister saw what was happening, she shouted for help but one of the robbers boldly rushed into the porch and snatched her necklace before speeding off.

Peggy [Centre] with my sisters,
being silly on the swing in
our front porch!

Just before Hari Raya, a neighbour who usually parked his little Kancil outside woke up to the shocking discovery that it was gone.  This incident rocked the neighbourhood because now it was no longer safe to park our cars outside.  While everyone was still speculating why the carjackers chose a humble Kancil instead of more sophisticated cars, we had another rude shock a few days later when the Kancil was returned to that very spot but stripped of its road tax and other stickers. 

Larkin Gardens, one of Johor Bahru’s earliest residential areas, clearly needs more Police patrols and protection and the City Council to review and revamp common areas like roads, drains and the sewerage system.  Since August 2009 a neighbouring family has been suffering the inconvenience of problems with their toilets.  They did the neighbourly thing and called the authorities who came to inspect each house on the road and trace its cause. 

They wrote to the relevant City Council authorities but despite follow-ups, are still waiting for them to do something to rectify this problem.  The system is linked and if sewage problems have occurred in one home, it’s only a matter of time before it happens in other houses in the neighbourhood.  And if Larkin Gardens should retain its reputation as a comfortable place to live in, it will be prudent to nip this problem in the bud before it blows up into a stinking situation.  

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 23 October 2009

Barney's sincere food

Refreshing taste of Safe Sex on the Beach
If you’ve heard of “Sex on the Beach,” a cocktail invented in Florida in 1987 then you must try the non-alcoholic version, “Safe Sex on the Beach” at Barney’s.  

Besides being intrigued by its saucy name, enjoy this refreshing concoction created with a charming blend of grape juice mixed with orange juice and topped with a dash of fizzy Sprite. 

“My wife named it,” laughed Barnabas Lim Jit Tong, 41, who runs Barney’s with his wife and an able team.  Lim, better known as Barney, gained his culinary experience in Switzerland and the States before returning to Kluang where his family has an established coffeeshop business.  When he started making his pizza specialty from the back of his father’s coffeeshop, they quickly gained popularity because these delicious, loaded pizzas are twice-baked for soft insides and crispy edges.

Crunchy fresh Watercress Salad with orange wedges
Now in addition to pizza, Barney’s serves an exciting menu of Western cuisine with local flavours.  Lim, who calls himself an Entrepreneur Cook, believes in using local produce in his recipes to create dishes that are uniquely available at Barney’s.  Recently, he introduced several interesting dishes in a new menu that is well received by regulars.

“We sell sincere food here,” said Lim who is happy to tailor a menu for groups and private parties in Barney’s.  “I will make sure that your four-course meal is a total experience,” he added.  Regulars, familiar with his phenomenal specialties, often ask him to design new and original dishes for them and Lim is happy to oblige, especially when there are right ingredients in his kitchen. 

Yummy pesto pasta with smoked duck
At Barney’s you can taste his creation of an Ulam Salad made with local fresh ulam greens, jicama – a sweet root vegetable that looks like turnip – garnished with crushed peanuts and tossed in piquant Vietnamese sauce.  Watercress Salad is another refreshing salad here made with fresh sprigs of watercress mixed with orange wedges and drizzled with pulpy, tangy orange juice.

Pasta-lovers will enjoy the simple yet yummy pesto pasta made with slivers of smoked duck and sautéed mushrooms, and savour the distinct but subtle taste of sun-dried tomatoes.  The delicate balance of contrasting flavours makes this dish very palatable and most appetising!

Barney's Iron Steak
Steak fans who appreciate a stronger beefy flavour can dig into Barney’s Iron Steak.  This meat-lover’s dream dish is an aged steak served on a bed of fresh watercress with a portion of fries and your choice of sauce on the side. 

For your sweet ending, try the Pear Poached in Red Wine and Raspberry.  Don’t forget to add a dollop of custard cream, made with real vanilla before you sink your teeth into the tender slices of pear for a light taste of cabernet.  Nibble this delightful dessert with a warm blend of Lavender Grey designer tea to complete your satisfying meal.

Barney’s at 5 & 6 Jalan Yayasan, Kluang, is open daily from 11.30am to 10.00pm except on compulsory Public Holidays.  For reservations and catering, Tel: 07 – 774 4992.  Barney’s catering service offers an eclectic menu of authentic Western, Malay and Chinese dishes that may include roasted whole lamb and “live” stations for freshly made spaghetti dishes.  No pork products are used.

Freshly-made pizza with cheese and mushroom topping

Pear poached in red wine with side of vanilla custard cream

Stiltwalking Stars

Stilt-walker dragon dancers at Johor Chingay 2012
In the lunar year of the dragon, this mythical creature featured more prominently in the recent Johor Chingay procession.  You must have enjoyed watching the wide variety of traditional dragon dancers as well as many dragons that were creatively designed in different themes with flowers, balloons, wool, plastic basins, ang-pau packets and other materials.  These delightful dragons just added more excitement, colour and energy to Johor’s annual Chingay. 

You would have thrilled to the undulating movement of a huge head rearing up with eyes lit up in flashing lights, followed by its 60ft length, chasing the pearl in a lifelike image of a celestial dragon.  Moving with the momentum of a tidal wave, the dancers lift, dip, thrust and sweep the dragon head, weaving its luminous body around.  In spite of the pressing crowd, your view was clear because this particular dragon dance was performed with its dancers standing tall on stilts! 

Skilled stilt-walkers having fun at the Johor Chingay

This sole performance of dragon dancing on stilts was by Hong Yang Sports Association, believed to be the first troupe in Johor Baru to perform on stilts and the only troupe in Malaysia to do stunts on stilts.  

This troupe of skillful stilt-walkers has participated in numerous prestigious events including several Johor Arts Festivals, the MBJB Street Carnival 2005 as well as the Singapore Chingay parade for many years since 2002.  Just before the Johor Chingay, they were again guest artistes in the Singapore Chingay, dressed as Fu Lu Shou (Good Fortune, Prosperity & Longevity) characters, and stilt-walking in water!

Hong Yang troup dressed as aliens in Singapore Chingay 2011
Hong Yang troup as Fu Luk Shou characters in Singapore Chingay 2012

Members of the Hong Yang troupe agree that their most memorable experience was the invitation to the Stilt-walkers Festival in Namur, Belgium last September.  Namur has a 600-year old tradition of stilt-jousting and Hong Yang was proud to represent Malaysia among invited nations like the United States, France and Togo whose stilt-walkers also participated in the week-long fest.  Their team of eleven had a wonderful experience performing as they only troupe of stilt-walkers who did stunts like jumping through rings of fire.

Jumping through ring of fire, a stunt performed in
the streets of Namur, Belgium
“Unlike our hands-free stilt-walking, the stilt-walkers of Namur use hand-held stilts,” said Ng Hee Thian, 31, a senior member of Hong Yang who was fascinated by the various arts of stilt-walking around the world. 

Yeo Han Leong, 34, and Ng were among a few stilt-walking enthusiasts who first trained with experts in Singapore’s renowned Tian Loong Koong Stilt-Walking Group. 

Under the skilful supervision of sifu John Ng Chwee Chuen, they also trained to perform unique stunts like striking an object with the stilts after diving through a ring of fire.  Yeo is among the most competent martial arts exponents to perform the daring stunt of jumping through a ring of fire with the added challenge to aim his stilts to accurately split a watermelon or an egg!

Hong Yang troupe dragon-dancing on stilts
Then a few senior trained enthusiasts got together to form a troupe in Johor Baru to practice regularly in the evenings.  As the numbers grew, they had classes of up to 50 trainees including non-Chinese youths, girls and kids as young as 10 years old.  Besides stilt-walking and dragon dancing on stilts, this troupe also trains in the martial arts of wushu, lion dancing, balancing giant flag poles and walking big-headed puppets. 

“Safety is a priority and there is no compromise,” declared Yeo, the troupe’s sifu.  He welcomes students to join their training class and invites youths to just come to their training sessions in Taman Johor.  He said that trainees would complete at least six months of training before their talents are ‘spotted’ and after a year of honing their skills, they will be trained to perform stunts.

Skilled stuntmen thrill the audience at Stilt-walker Fest
in Namur, Belgium
Yeo said that beginners train with 2ft high stilts and should show competence in balance, marching on the spot, walking a distance, performing a few supple steps and a “safe fall” before being allowed to use higher stilts. 

Depending on their ability, trainees can go on to train with stilts at 2.5 or 3 ft for acrobatic stunts and walking on 4 and 5 ft stilts.  This is not a sport for the faint-hearted because competent stilt-walkers perform the dragon dance on 6ft stilts, a length more than the average height of Malaysian men!

Students are encouraged to train with the troupe because it’s good to start young and channel their youthful energy into this sport.  While Yeo started his training at age 12, Ng said he started when he was just 10.  Classes on Monday (Stilt-walking), Wednesday (Dragon dance) and Friday (Lion dance) are from 8.30pm to 10pm.  For enquiries on training with Hong Yang Sports Association, contact Yeo Han Leong on Tel: 012 – 778 2315 and Ng Hee Thian on Tel: 016 – 712 3352.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 17 February 2012