Connecting People

A section of Aw Museum at Aw Pottery, Macap, Johor
In 2011, my article, In Search of Aw Pottery, connected me with members of the Aw family who now live and work in the States.  Here is a glimpse of the responses I received:

“Hi Peggy, thank you for writing this article.  I am Aw Lee Lang, youngest daughter of Aw Eng Kwang.  I live in Seattle Washington now and running the AW Pottery Northwest Inc.  I am so happy to find your article.  My sister and I are planning to be back in Macap to renew Aw studio and maybe reopen the restaurant someday soon.  I grew up there and have many sweet memories. Your article has given me “the calling” to go home much more urgently and sooner that my plan.  Many thanks again.” Aw Lee Lang

“Dear Peggy, I live in Seattle and am the husband of Lee Lang Aw, the youngest of the Aw children.  I last visited and lived at the Aw property about 20 years ago.  Before that too I spent many weeks/months there. It was fun to be in the middle of this big rambling property. I was allowed to do whatever I felt like - make sculpture, build ponds, even paint the house just for fun, and explore the huge property. It was idyllic.

The Aw family is unique. A big family, the Aws was three generations living together in one huge house. Somehow everyone got along and each took upon themselves whatever job was necessary. Getting together for meals (many meals, I seem to remember) seemed to be the main duty of everyone in the family. Lots of talk at the table and since I did not speak Teochew I could only listen. Sometimes I thought the family was fighting but it turned out they were just chatting.

The restaurant there was fantastic. I loved the wild-boar stew and even their sandwiches were delectable. Food, of course, was everywhere, and on the Machap road you could stroll out for breakfast for some delicious Roti Parata and Kopi-O.

Lee Lang dreams of going back to her home one day and reviving Aw Pottery.  Most tour buses use the main freeway to KL now so they do not pass through Machap, but there is so much history and atmosphere at Aw Pottery and it has the potential to be, once again, a jewel in Johor.” Chris - Seattle Washington

Peggy with Elaine Aw in the Kluang Rest House
A reader, Siva Prasann Krishnan said: “Hi, I have many happy memories and pieces from AW pottery when I lived in Johore.  I used to live in Kulai after my marriage and later in Kluang, so our journey home to JB always meant a stop at AW.  AW was Awesome.

The highway has its downside - we no longer have the time to take leisurely drives along unique picturesque roads and pass through towns and each one is unique.  I have started writing down what I remember of growing up in JB but my writing is so different from Peggy's, which I enjoy reading.”

Late last year, I received an email from Aw Pottery USA asking for my cell phone number because Elaine Aw wanted to get in touch with me.  Elaine was planning a trip back to Kluang for her class reunion and while she was in Johor, she wanted to meet me.  After exchanging emails, we spoke and agreed to meet on January 12.  When I picked her from the Prime City Hotel in Kluang, it was the first time we met but it was like meeting an old friend!

Elaine Aw [Centre] with her former classmates at the
reunion held in Kluang, January 2013
Elaine and her classmates from the Kluang Connosian Convent had planned a day-long reunion lasting from lunch to dinner followed by karaoke singing.  I’m familiar with class reunions and as always, the girls greeted each other with great enthusiasm but when they saw me, they paused – unsure and puzzled because they do not remember me from their class!  I quickly clarified that I’m Elaine’s guest and not from their class, and I saw the relief on their faces because they were glad their memories were not failing – yet!

Before the evening’s activities, Elaine and I got to know each other better over a cup of Kluang Rail coffee.  As we chatted, she shared with me some of Aw’s exciting business plans for their Johor operations.  Not long after I met Elaine, I received an email from her brother, Jeffrey Lim [www.jlimdesigns.com] who said: Peggy...I am Elaine's bro...I heard your name mentioned through her recently...stay tuned 'cos AWsome is gonna make a come back...we're going into planning mode as we speak...

Wong Ah Fook - Immigrant, Builder and Entrepreneur
by Datin Patricia Lim
Needless to say, I’m simply thrilled!  It looks like my article not only connected me with members of the Aw family but started a chain of events that may bring them back to Johor.  Whatever it is, I’m so looking forward to what the Aws are planning and see a new era of Aw Pottery here soon!
 
Every year, I try to publish a Chinese themed article to coincide with the Chinese New Year season and when I started working on a feature on the JB Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery, I never anticipated its far-reaching effects.  “The Great Wongs of JB” was published on February 7 and I posted it as “More than a museum” in my blog.  I did not know it yet but a message was sent to me through the NST Travel Desk Editor with copy to my blog that read:

Peter Cheong holding book on his great-
grandfather at entrance to
JB Kwong Siew Heritage Galley
Peter Cheong next to a portrait of his great-grandfather,
Wong Ah Fook, at the JB Chinese Heritage Museum 

Hi Peggy, Your article on The Great Wongs of JB this morning was shown to me by a colleague.  I am planning a visit to JB in the near future and would like to learn more about ancestry from my mother’s side; her late father was SQ Wong. Our home is Canada and I am currently in Malaysia on business in the green tech sector.  I would like to visit the JB Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery when I am in JB…and perhaps meet up with you.  Please drop me a line when you have a moment. Thank you, Peter Cheong

As always, the Travel Editor will direct such mail to me and she sent it with a brief but encouraging note: Hi Peggy, Over to you. It’s a great article!

From my email correspondence with Peter Cheong, I discovered that he is a great-grandson of Wong Ah Fook. He turned up in JB on 5 March and when I picked him from his hotel, once again, it felt as if we were old friends. First, I took him to savour some food that’s unique to JB and I’m glad that he enjoyed his meals. After visiting the Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery and the JB Chinese Heritage Museum, Peter declared that he learnt a great deal more about his ancestry in this day’s visit than in his entire lifetime!

To learn more about his family heritage, Peter got the book by Datin Patricia Lim about their great-grandfather, Wong Ah Fook – Immigrant, Builder and Entrepreneur. The next morning, I took him to meet with his long-lost cousin, Dtn Pat Lim, and shared an interesting and informative time together.

There was a lot to discover as her grandfather was Wong Siu Nam, eldest son of Wong Ah Fook while Peter’s grandfather was Wong Siew Qui, Wong’s second youngest son. As I observed their warm interaction, I was so thrilled and privileged to “connect” these cousins who knew next to nothing about each other until my article in NST Life & Times Travel!

It was only polite to give my Editor an update on the interesting happenings and when I read her reply, I simply couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. She said: Hi Peggy, I am so happy to hear the news. Our work goes beyond writing, and when we can do something like what you did, it’s very heart-warming indeed. Keep up the good work, Peggy!

P.S. I’m still smiling!


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