Reconnected Again

Puan Ramlah Mohamed [2nd from Right] with Thomas
George [Right], Laytee [2nd from Left] and Karrey Quek [Left]
I feel a sense of déjà vu as I step into the lobby of Johor Baru’s Mutiara Hotel, lending gentle support to retired teacher Puan Ramlah Mohamed, who is carefully watching her step on the polished tiles.  We are on time for our appointment as I guide her to a sofa in the lobby.  I’ve not met her friends before so I don’t know who to look out for.  Thomas George and his wife, Laytee, are her friends from Batu Pahat and since they have not met for years, this will be their little reunion with Puan or Auntie Rom, as she’s fondly called.

Earlier this year, I read an email from Thomas, saying that he and his wife will be in JB for one night and asked to meet with Auntie Rom for afternoon tea.  So here I am again in the hotel to bring a retired teacher to meet with her dear friends.  I say again because in August 2012, I brought another retired teacher to meet with a man and his wife in the same hotel because he was in search of more info from this teacher who was with his late parents in the pioneer group of Malaysians who were trained at Kirkby College, UK. 

Just as he read about Ms Amy Wong in My Johor Stories, Thomas also read about Puan Ramlah from my blog and wrote me to share his memories.  Once again I’m helping to reconnect people with each other.  For this reunion with Auntie Rom, it all started last November when Thomas sent me this email:

Hi! Peggy
I came across your article re Auntie Rom.  I knew Puan from my BP days and later in JB while working for the Holiday Inn.  I loved her cooking in Jaro too.  How awesome to know that she is in her 80ties.  Please send her our love from New Zealand.   She will remember me as Dicky George and I married Tan Lay Tee the ballet teacher from JB. 
Best Wishes
3 Nov 2014            

As soon as I read it, I called Auntie Rom to share his message with her.  Thomas remembered that after she retired from teaching, she used to serve her delicious laksa Johor from a cafe that was once opened at Jaro.  To this day, many fans (me included!) still think it was one of the best ever served from any cafe or restaurant!

Thomas George presenting a gift that they bought
for her from Xiamen, China
Auntie Rom must have a huge memory bank because she has hundreds of former students and old friends but it did not take her long to remember one named Dicky from Batu Pahat.  Very quickly, she told me about the last time she saw him.  He was then with the Food & Beverage Department of the hotel formerly known as Holiday Inn Johor Baru.  She was having dinner with her husband, Harris, in the hotel cafe when she recognised that handsome young man.  She was so happy to see him that she exclaimed aloud, "Dicky!" - much to his embarrassment - because it's a pet name from his youthful days in Batu Pahat!

She gave me a message to reply to Thomas and asked where he lives in New Zealand and how she longs to meet both of them again soon.  I quoted her words: "before she ends her journey here!"  I did not hesitate to call Auntie Rom to read out Thomas's reply to her:

We live in Rotorua in NZ.  Jade, our daughter is 24 and Andrew is 21.  They are both in University. Our message: "Puan Ramlah, we love you too and pray God continues to bless and keep you safe and well.  My sister Mary (George) lives in Melbourne and now a grandmother of 3 lovely grandsons.  She too sends her love and very pleased we have made contact.  Sadly both our parents have since passed away."

Thank you again, Peggy for helping to reunite us with a grand lady that we love and admire very much.  May you be blessed for the joy and fond memories you bring to others through your Johor Stories.
5 Nov 2014

Auntie Rom and I had a nice chat reminiscing on her memories of those days in Batu Pahat and she gave me a message for him.  So once again, I replied with Auntie Rom’s message to Thomas and his family.  November and December passed too soon and suddenly it was already January 2015.  Then in the first week of the new year, I received a message from Thomas telling me about their trip to Malaysia to visit relatives and the request to meet with Auntie Rom.  This is what Thomas wrote:

Happy New Year Peggy!
Laytee and I will be in JB on 12 Jan for one night.  We are staying at Mutiara Hotel and will be free in the afternoon to meet her.  If you are free, it will be wonderful if you could bring her to meet us for afternoon tea at the hotel.  It will be great to see the two of you.  Either way, we hope to meet Auntie Rom if she is free.  Many thanks Peggy, appreciate your help and looking forward to hearing back from you.
Thomas and Laytee George - NZ
6 Jan 2015

With such exciting news, I contacted Auntie to inform her.  She was delighted to accept the invitation and I asked her to mark her calendar for this important reunion with Thomas and his wife in JB.  I wasted no time to send Auntie’s happy response and Thomas wrote back the very next day:

Thank you for your prompt reply, really appreciate your willingness to bring Auntie Rom to Mutiara as well as to meet us.  I really need your help here and you'll understand why.  Laytee and I are in Xiamen China at present.  I will try to call her from KL if possible.  Also tell her I know its a big ask but it will mean a lot to us to see her again.

Looking forward to meeting you as well Peggy and you will no doubt have another page to add to you My Johor Stories after our memorable reunion with Auntie Rom at Mutiara.  Thanks again Peggy and be blessed for your kindness and goodwill.
Laytee send her warmest greetings too.
Best regards.
Thomas - Auntie Rom also knows me as Dicky (only BP friends know this pet name).
7 Jan 2015

Thomas reading his sister, Mary's message to
Puan Ramlah from his I-pad
As a result of all this correspondence, I find myself in the hotel lobby with Auntie Rom this afternoon.  My friend, Sam the Front Office Manager steps up to say Hello in his usual gracious way and then I see a couple approaching us who can be none other than Thomas and his wife, Laytee.  They have been looking out for us and I stand back as they greet each other warmly.  Then we finally meet.

My sense of déjà vu escalates further as we sit down in the Mutiara coffeehouse.  Thankfully, it was recently refurbished so we can’t be sitting down in the exact same place as when I brought Ms Wong to meet Zainal Yusuf and his wife in 2012!  

Thomas [Left with former colleague,
Arshad, from Maintenance Dept
Over coffee and cake, Thomas, Laytee and Auntie Rom catch up with each other on family and mutual friends.  Thomas opened his I-pad where he showed family photos to Auntie and read out a message that his sister in Melbourne, Mary, asked him to convey to her.  

Thomas recalls that he longed to join the kindergarten in Convent Batu Pahat where his sister was enrolled but he was not accepted because that year, there was no space to enroll him.  Auntie Rom has the proud reputation as the first Malay lady to run a Convent school in Malaya in 1955.  She started the Convent Batu Pahat and ran it for 28 years!

Thomas is sharing his knowledge and experience in the hospitality industry as Coordinator and Senior Lecturer in Hospitality Management, Faculty of Business, Information Technology and Creative Arts with Waiariki Institute of Technology in New Zealand.  He tells me that he was part of the pre-opening team of Holiday Inn Johor Baru and he met some former colleagues who are still attached to the hotel, now rebranded as Mutiara JB.  He’s reminding me about how popular the hotel’s former Millennium Disco was, the live bands that used to attract crowds and the dance classes that Laytee used to conduct there.

Laytee and Thomas with Puan Ramlah
While we are chatting, Arshad, a former colleague from the Maintenance Department comes by to say Hello.  The hotel’s Executive Housekeeper, Karrey Quek, also joins us for a brief chat and graciously offers us more refreshments.  They are delighted that Thomas chose to stay with the hotel on his visit and are doing everything to let them experience warm Malaysian hospitality here!

The hours just slip away and all too soon, the reunion must come to an end.  While parting is such sweet sorrow (Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet), I’m glad that Thomas and Laytee have reconnected with Auntie Rom and they now have new memories to cherish.  On the drive to send her home, my heart is warmed as I listen to Auntie Rom chatting and recalling snippets of the conversation that she so enjoyed that afternoon.  It’s such a privilege and pleasure to see old friends reconnected again.  Today I received a message from Thomas:

Thank you again a million times over for bringing Puan and us together recently.  Please view the Youtube clip below.  It will touch you as you touch others in your love and kindness.  Be blessed especially over Chinese New Year.

I’m just glad I can be a blessing to others.

. . .

A few days after this was posted, I received this message from Thomas:

Dear Peggy,
Having read it and was touched by the reunion story, a friend from KL sent me this article.  I'm still grappling with the loss of my brother and the story lifted my spirits greatly.  THANK YOU! The story was beautifully written and captured the very essence of how important and precious the reunion with Puan was, especially for me.  I certainly will cherish the memory and wish you and Puan wellness and warm fellowship with family and friends, especially as CNY approaches.
Best wishes.
Thomas & Laytee George - NZ


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