Arts, Culture and Birthdays

My nephew on Skype with grandparents
September is special because it always kick-starts with a series of birthdays.  This is one month in the year where birthdays are celebrated one after another because so many of our dear ones have their birthdays in September.  It’s not possible for us to come together for each birthday so we try to combine the celebrations wherever possible.  

Even the heavy rain storm did not stop us from having a delightful dinner for my sister Ruby, nephew Brendon and mum, early in the month.  Part of the menu had to be pre-ordered and as we savoured the tasty banquet-in-a-basin specialty, we could not resist taking photos of the delicious dishes to share it with my nephews in Perth.  With the convenience of modern technology, we connected through Skype for the boys to “join us” for dinner and to wish their grandmother a Happy Birthday!

Skype fascination!
I know it is mind-boggling for our parents to see and speak to their grandsons on Skype but we are “training” them to accept the wonder of modern technology! 

It is difficult for them to progress from an age when it was a luxury to possess a portable transistor radio, till today where we have such convenient mobile global connectivity with a wafer-thin gadget called an ipad!  Just the sight of mum and dad’s facial expressions as they saw and spoke to the boys “live” in another part of the world – is simply priceless!

Happy 30th Birthday Jamie!
On the other side of the world, nephew Jamie celebrated his 30th birthday not just on one day but through to the weekend.  So it was almost the end of the month before he found time to write me about how he wasn’t particularly looking forward to reaching that significant round number 30, but from his newsy email, I can say that he has weathered it very well! 

Besides birthdays, I was up to my eyeballs with arts and culture activities because this September was also the JB Arts Fest month.  When I went to the Festival Village early in the month to find out more about new shows and exhibits, Festival Director Suzie Yap, introduced me to the crew as, Auntie Peggy. 

Participants and supporters of Heritage Race season 2
While some of the regular crew members were familiar with me [after all, this is the 9th JB Arts Fest!] there were several interns from KDU University College who could not hide their surprise at such familiarity but obeyed Suzie [in a typically Asian way] and politely echoed, “Hello, Auntie Peggy!”  So each time I was at the Festival Village – and that was quite often – I had a few nieces and nephews who would greet me with a friendly, “Hello, Auntie Peggy!”  I’m already an aunt to my nieces and nephews so what’s a few more nieces and nephews if they were polite young people? 

By mid month, I was already a familiar figure at the Festival Village because I was frequently at the shows and exhibitions.  On Sept 16, I was meeting some people at the JB Readers & Writers Festival when the organisers of the Season 2 Heritage Race called me aside for a word.  At this time, they had reviewed the answers to quiz questions that were given along with tasks for the participating teams to do at various checkpoints along the route.   

I was told that at the JB Chinese Heritage Museum checkpoint, the task was for a team member to take a photo with Wong Ah Fook.  The challenge was for the team to search for an image of this significant Mr Wong, one of JB’s most prominent personalities – that even had a main road in the city named after him – and to take photo “with him.”  Then the team should answer a question:  “Who were the four most popular kangchus in Johor Baru?”

I am familiar with Johor history and understand that under the Temenggong Ibrahim administration, Chinese planters who arrived in Johor Baru from Riau and Singapore obtained a permit known as surat sungai from the ruler to cultivate pepper and gambier.  Permit holders were kangchus or river masters and Tan Kee Soon, Tan Hiok Nee, Lim Ah Siang and Wong Ah Fook were some of Johor’s prominent kangchus.  These planters developed Johor’s economy through sheer hard work and they became wealthy towkays. 

For a moment, I did not understand why the organisers of the Heritage Race were chuckling among themselves.  Then they told me that in response to that question, one of the teams listed me as one of the four most popular kangchus!  The organisers and crew were tickled and teased me that my status was elevated to that of a kangchu but my guess was that this team was so desperate to provide a fourth name that they just put in my name!  But to think that of all the names to pick – they picked mine!  Maybe it’s a good thing because even though I’m no kangchu, I am grateful that I’m numbered among the popular…

Ramli Ibrahim [Left] performing in JB
Speaking of popular, award-winning dance virtuoso and cultural icon, Ramli Ibrahim, was in JB for a one-night only performance of Vision of Forever, and I had the privilege of meeting him after the show.  When my article, A Dance Icon’s Vision, was published on Sept 20, I received a call from an Indian classical art academy student, asking me about Ramli’s show and lamented about how they missed it.  I shared her regret because it was such an inspiring performance and I know students of Indian classical art would certainly have appreciated it.  

It was also organised right smack in the middle of the JB Arts Fest – and not part of the calendar of events – and it compelled me to choose between the exciting programmes on the same day!

After he read my article, I was delighted to receive an email from Ramli and an excerpt reads: “Dear Peggy, I instinctively knew that you are not only a rasika (one who is sensitised to beauty) but also a genuine person.  I hope our paths shall cross again.”

I hope so too – especially with more shows in JB – so that more of his fans here may have the opportunity to be inspired by his passionate interpretations of this ancient Indian dance.

Check out my Reserved seats!
The day after Ramli’s Vision of Forever show, I joined a stadium full of drumming fans for the 2nd International Invitation & National 24 Festive Drums Competition, a major event for the JB Chinese community that was organised as part of the 9th JB Arts Fest.  The day after I enjoyed the musical drama, Bumi Berlantai Permata III, that marked the end of the JB Arts Fest, I was with an auditorium of martial arts fans to watch 400 students perform, Wushu Fusion.  It was truly a commendable effort in a well choreographed show and I had an unobstructed view from my special reserved seats!

On top of the arts and cultural events, I was at food tasting events as well as charity and other events that kept me fully occupied throughout the month.  All the running around in this weather, meeting so many people and working late into the night has stretched my resources to its limit.  So it came as no surprise when it all took a toll on me. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed the eventful month of September, I wish that art and culture events can be spread out more evenly throughout the year.  With enough publicity, fans in JB can anticipate the shows and plan to attend them, say in each quarter of the year.  Maybe this is something the organisers can consider for the future.  Meanwhile, I will concentrate on getting well again.


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