Ngee Heng Neighbourhood

 
Jalan Ngee Heng is now reduced to a short street marked
by Tropical Inn [Background] on one end and
Wisma Maria on the opposite end of the street
 
Our grandfather’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng used to be a landmark on that street before it was torn down in 1977 to make way for the highway. Situated directly opposite Wisma Maria Medical Specialists Centre, only a tiny wedge of land remains of what used to be a double-storey bungalow with an adjacent badminton court.  The land is now mostly part of the highway and what’s left is used for an advertising pylon while an enterprising hawker has claimed our former driveway for his stall!

Before the highway into the city existed, Jalan Ngee (pronounced “Nee”) Heng used to span the entire length from the junction of Jalan Kebun Teh Lama to the intersection with Jalan Gereja and Jalan Trus.  There was a huge roundabout behind grandfather’s house where the roads led off to Jalan Tebrau, Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Tun Abdul Razak that reached the former checkpoint into Singapore.  The Alec Bus Company had a bus route that passed through Jalan Ngee Heng and I remember that my aunt used to catch a bus to work at Jalan Ibrahim from the bus-stop in front of No. 163 Jalan Ngee Heng for only RM0.05 sen!

Road sign situated in front of Ah Kong's former house
 
To understand why this road is named after the Ngee Heng kongsi or society, a Teochew brotherhood that was once a powerful secret society in early Johor Baru, we must delve into the State’s rich history.  When Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim, the father of Sultan Abu Bakar, invited the Chinese from Singapore and Riau to open up land in Johor for pepper and gambier cultivation in 1844, Tan Kee Soon, the Ngee Heng leader, led his followers to settle in Tanjung Puteri (now renamed Johor Baru).  

The Teochew clan was the dominant Chinese group among the Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien and Hainanese who made Johor their new home and they worked hard in cultivating pepper and gambier plantations in the kangchu system. 


An enterprising hawker took over the wedge of land
[Far Left] where Ah Kong's house once stood!
Even though the Ngee Heng society started as a quasi-military revolutionary brotherhood that was opposed to the Ching dynasty, their activities in Johor Baru evolved into valuable social, political and administrative work that contributed to Johor’s early economic growth. 

When Sultan Abu Bakar recognised the strength and solidarity of a brotherhood like the Ngee Heng society, he legalised it as an association in 1873 with membership opened to all Chinese clans and assigned it to take charge of Chinese community affairs.  The legalised Ngee Heng society that eventually developed into the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association is an integral part of the history of Chinese-Malay relationships that undergirds the strong support between the Johor sultanate and the Chinese community today.
 

That's me in the backyard of Ah Kong's house; In the
back ground are parked lorries and Jalan Tebrau
leading off from the roundabout [Not in picture]
United with the other Chinese clans as a legal society in JB, the association built the Johor Ancient Chinese Temple, established a common cemetery they call Kongsi San and started the Foon Yew School.  The Kongsi San may be saturated with ancient graves now but the funeral parlour and crematorium on the hillock at Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek, opposite Danga City Mall marks the spot where the original Jalan Ngee Heng started. 
 
Even though the highway from Skudai that passes the Johor Golf & Country Club to JB Sentral was renamed Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, locals are aware that the village behind Danga City Mall was known as Kampong Ngee Heng and they still refer to the city’s most-used funeral parlour as the Ngee Heng funeral parlour!

Today only the short street between Menara Landmark and Wisma Maria retains its humble identity as Jalan Ngee Heng.  When we lived in grandfather’s house, there were two blocks of single-story terrace houses where Wisma Maria stands now while the site for Menara Landmark was occupied by a row of shophouses.  The block of shops opposite Menara Landmark was replaced by Tropical Inn Hotel while the only structure that remains today is that row of pre-war double-storey shops adjacent to grandfather’s house.
 

Up on the roof of Ah Kong's house; Peggy [2nd from Left]
with siblings, Ruby, Kenneth and Pearly [Far Right]
These double-storey shops once housed family-run Chinese provision shops, Indian laundries or dhoby, a coffee shop, a tinsmith and even a coffin shop, with living quarters upstairs.  I remember the shops had interesting rear spiral staircases, wide balconies in the corner units and the Indian, Chinese and Punjabi families who lived upstairs. 
 
The balcony of the next-door shophouse overlooked our compound and I cannot forget the loud conversations we often overheard from the tenants who thought nothing about yelling at the top of their voices!


 
The image of Jalan Ngee Heng is about to change!
 
When Wisma Maria opened as a medical specialist centre, some of the old shops opposite were leased out to new businesses like restaurants and medical laboratories to serve the needs of patients and their families.  While the businesses changed over the years, it was only recently that the shophouses had a major facelift to open as specialist clinics and a fine dining European bistro & bar. 

The new façade of this block of shops will certainly complement Menara Landmark and is set to transform the entire image of Jalan Ngee Heng when its refurbishment into 15 service apartments and 350 guest rooms in the 30-storey Hotel Double Tree Hilton Johor Baru is completed in 2014.


Ah Kong with grandma at the badminton
court at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng, 1950s
While nothing remains of the former grandeur of our grandfather’s house, No. 154 will be fondly remembered as Ah Kong’s house where the badminton court was the training ground of national and international champions.  Grandfather Ng Ngoh Tee, a former Johor badminton champion, was the instructor of the great Wong Peng Soon who helped him master the backhand, the most difficult stroke in this game.  While Wong became the first Asian to win the All-England title in 1950 and subsequent victories in 1951, 1952 and 1955, grandfather also trained his sons and daughters to excel in their game and develop a winner’s mentality as a great badminton family in the South.

Passers-by often paused to peek at the exciting games from the next-door provision shop’s window or at our front gates and it was an unforgettable evening when our former Johor Sultan, the late Sultan Iskandar, casually dropped by to observe the training in our court.  Besides badminton memories, we have fond family memories in special events like birthdays, weddings and even funerals at No. 154.  Jalan Ngee Heng may be at the brink of a brand new chapter in its history but we have treasured thoughts of a friendly neighbourhood in a bygone era where street food hawkers en route to JB’s Chinatown touted their food with a tock-tick-tick-tock tune on polished bamboo sticks and schoolboys licked dripping ice-balls as they walked by to the back gate of St Joseph School.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 30 January 2014

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2/04/2014

    the hawker stall opposite wisma maria where ur ah kong house was sucks..... lousy food and not clean.. hmmm wish ur ah kong house still there.. :P

    ReplyDelete