Coronation memories

Soo Kok Wah [Right] holding the souvenir booklet while
Yeo Si Guan [Left] holds the cardboard plaque
“Can you speak Cantonese?” I was asked quite bluntly.  “Sure!” I answered confidently because I’m quite sure I will find the right vocabulary to chat with Soo Kok Wah, 72, who is Cantonese and eager to share his memories of the previous sultan’s coronation with me.  I’m meeting Soo, a member of the family who used to operate Soo Peng Hang Press, a leading printing company in Johor Baru back in the 1960s.

I’m at Eh He for our appointment and the moment the introduction formalities are over, Soo did not hesitate to show me two souvenir items from the previous coronation – a souvenir booklet and a cardboard plaque with the official logo for the sultan’s coronation.

The ad taken out by Soo's family business in the
Sultan's coronation souvenir booklet in 1960

In 1960, Soo was just 17 but he has distinct memories of the coronation of Sultan Ismail.  At that time, his father and older brothers where running their business and he was still in Foon Yew High School.  He joined the family business after he completed his studies.

In the 1930s Soo Peng Hang Press was situated in the building where the OCBC bank is located and they shifted to the Foh Chong Building before relocating to their premises at No. 48 Jalan Ah Fook.  Soo tells me to turn to the page in the souvenir booklet where their printing press bought advertisement space, to read the full name and address.  I noted that in those days, this road name did not have Wong Ah Fook’s surname in it.

The cover design of the souvenir booklet for
the coronation of Sultan Ismail in 1960
Soo explained that Sultan Ismail had a good relationship with the local Chinese community and they used to refer to His Royal Highness affectionately as, Lau Sultan which literally means the “elderly sultan.”  The souvenir booklet, produced by the Chinese community to commemorate the sultan’s coronation, was printed in Chinese language with just its cover title in English.  It reads: A souvenir commemorating the coronation of the Sultan of Johor.

He turns the pages and points out the various segments written in Chinese on the order of the coronation programme that included a detailed timetable when the newly-crowned sultan will visit the various districts.  I learnt that Sultan Ismail had a good rapport with the rakyat and was already visiting the districts regularly.  It occurred to me that this might have been the earliest form of the annual Kembara Mahkota that continued to be practiced by the late Sultan Iskandar and now Sultan Ibrahim and the royal family.

There were also photos of the crown that’s unique to Johor with its description, the royal couple – Sultan Ismail and Sultanah Aminah – and brief information on Chinese businesses that were established in JB during the sultan’s reign.  From the number of advertisements printed in the booklet, I get an impression that the business community was united in their effort to commemorate the sultan’s coronation.

A photo of Sultan Ismail and Sultanah Aminah
in the souvenir booklet produced by the
Chinese business community in JB
One of his favourite memories of Sultan Ismail is the printing of Hari Raya cards.  One particular year, the sultan wanted to print his greeting cards using the Gothic font, a typeface similar to the one used by the older version of the Straits Times masthead.  The Government printing department did not have this font so they tried to track it down from other printers and they finally found this particular font at Soo Peng Hang Press!

At that time, the machine they used employed the manual typesetting method and was a pedal operated unit.  When Soo’s father was approached by the Government printers, he invited them to do the typesetting of the required words to create a mock-up for the sultan to review.  Upon the sultan’s approval, Soo’s father let the Government printers borrow the required typeface to print the Hari Raya greeting cards for the sultan!

Soo clarified that the commemorative plaque is made from cardboard and was bought from a supplier for display at their printing press.  He said that businessmen in town displayed a similar plaque next to their signboards during the sultan’s coronation celebration in 1960.  After the celebration, the plaque was taken down and stored away but when he heard about the coronation of Sultan Ibrahim on March 23, Soo dug out these precious mementoes to share with his family and friends.

The commemorative plaque put up next to business
signboards at the coronation of Sultan Ismail in 1960
Compared to the digitally created commemorative banners and buntings for the coronation of Sultan Ibrahim, the cardboard plaque produced for the coronation of Sultan Ismail some 55 years ago is quite good by the standards of the day.  

The design is simple and the ink is colour-fast and still shining quite brightly after so many years.  It’s interesting that the print on the bottom left reads: Coronation of H. H. Sultan, Sir Ismail, Johor, and used an honorific that recognised his knighthood honoured by the Queen of England.  

“Don’t forget to mention that the Sultan had a good relationship with the Chinese community,” Soo reminded me more than once and I reassured him that I will not forget.  I can’t help suppressing a smile because I can sense his pride as he is privileged to witness yet another sultan’s coronation in his lifetime.  

Then I told Soo that he must look for old photos from his family album that I may use when next write a story about his family business in JB.  As I take my leave, I privately congratulate myself for doing quite well in conducting our conversation almost entirely in Cantonese!  I’m a bit rusty but if I may say so, it was really not bad at all!


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