Charcoal on his fingertips

A quick scan of the exhibition catalogue shows me an impressive list of major cities in the world where Johor Baru-born artist, Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s work have been shown – and appreciated – before being finally presented to art enthusiasts in his hometown.

Ahmad Zakii Anwar [holding mic] in a dialogue with art
historian Sandra Krich [standing] in the presence of art
enthusiasts during the Medini Live! art fest
When the artist sat down with me for a chat during his first solo exhibition in Johor Baru, he agreed that the recently launched White Box of MAP@Nusajaya in the Mall of Medini, is the ideal space to showcase a collection of his inspiring charcoal drawings.  Just as I did earlier on, visitors to the gallery pause to gaze with awe at his large, intensely charged, charcoal drawings curated in the theme, Arang – the Malay word for charcoal.

Looking Back

As he settled himself more comfortably on the sofa for our chat, it crossed my mind that Zakii must have had hundreds of interviews around the world.  Born in JB in 1955, Zakii worked in graphic design and advertising before becoming one of Malaysia’s foremost contemporary artists with a huge following outside of his own country.

Standing Figure 1 [2006]
In 1991, he started to do art fulltime but success was not immediate.  Zakii tells me that like actors, artists also struggle with their careers and have to do part-time jobs just to survive.  But if they believed in their own talent, they must have the courage to persevere in the face of frequent rejections and patiently wait for that first break.

Adjusting his black framed spectacles and brushing back his trademark shock of white curls, Zakii fondly recalls his big break in the early 1990s which happened at a group exhibition held in the Kuala Lumpur National Art Gallery.  He had joined the Malaysian Artists Association and was among other young artists in that particular show.  The face of this complex and compelling artist lit up with a rare smile when he pointed out that it was a journalist who first wrote about his work and then other media picked it up!

As Zakii’s work received critical acclaim and gained a strong reputation in international art circles, his work started to sell.  His imageries have been described as strong, arresting and unpretentious and can be understood at many levels, not just visually but also intellectually.  

The minute details of fingers and
toes can be seen in Silat 1 [2005]
At age 32, he broke away from the nation’s arts mainstream by leaving KL and the most influential art scene and returned to his hometown where he built a studio and gallery into his family home at Jalan Haron.

Arang, the show

The show is a selection of some of Zakii’s most compelling charcoals on paper that span over a decade of work, chosen by the artist for his first solo exhibition in JB.  He chooses images that embody reality and gives it a rendered process to show us the essence and soul of what he sees through his unique brand of realism.

“What can be more fascinating than the human body?” he asks rhetorically because his recent and most memorable catalogue of drawings are male nudes portrayed in a blend of beauty of strength and introspection.  When I commented on the minute details even in the toes and fingers of his images, Zakii admits to an obsession to details.  We talked about his fascination about human activity, especially devotion and how people will do all sorts of things in the name of god.

Devotee [2007]
Referring to Devotee, his realistic drawing of the figure of an Indian man, Zakii said he goes to watch the annual Thaipusam procession for inspiration.  And when an image such as this is recreated in charcoal on paper, he explained that it takes a special skill to make the drawing come alive.  “Can you feel his sweat?” he asked me.  But before I can agree with him, he added with a laugh, “I can almost smell his armpits!”

“Charcoal drawing is one of the most unforgiving methods of artistic expression because mistakes cannot be hidden under layers of paint and hesitations cannot be concealed under thick brush strokes,” said art historian, Sandra Krich, who held a dialogue on charcoal drawing with Zakii in an interactive session in the presence of art enthusiasts as part of the Medini Live! art festival.  

She explained that Zakii draws with his finger as a brush, sometimes with the whole hand, in gestures that are sometimes quick, slow and even caressing.

Looking Ahead

Zakii, an internationally acclaimed local artist who has exhibited his work in group shows and solo exhibitions in major cities throughout Asia, Europe and America since 1975, took so long to hold his first solo show in his hometown simply because the city lacks suitable art spaces.

The cinematic framing and composition in Kota Sepi 2
[2012] give a sense of isolation that separates two figures
He lamented that JB has lagged behind for far too long and should learn from Singapore, a city separated only by a causeway, but has a vibrant art scene.  He said the opening of MAP@Nusajaya at the Mall at Medini in partnership with developer, Medini Iskandar Malaysia, is a long-awaited initiative and hopes that a programme of regular arts events will be put in place to educate and entertain the community here.

Ahmad Zakii making a point during
the dialogue session held
in the White Box, MAP@Nusajaya
While Johor is being developed into a modern metropolis, the city must enhance the quality of life for residents by engaging them through art and culture.  Besides building an international city for Malaysians and global citizens, Zakii reminded the city planners and developers to set aside spaces for parks and playgrounds, and art spaces for visual and performing arts because any living space needs soul and character to make it an attractive place to work, play and live in.

“Talent is not enough,” said Zakii whose advice to budding artists is to work hard and be prepared for rejection and disappointment.  Speaking from experience, he said some galleries may not even accept your work but in most cases, it may take up to 10 years before artists start to sell their work.  His journey to success was long and hard but no matter what it takes to achieve it, his advice to young artists is to do it on your own terms.

Entrance is Free of Charge to Arang, Zakii’s solo exhibition held in the White Box of MAP@Nusajaya, in the Mall of Medini, Nusajaya, on now till July 5.

A version of this was published in The New Sunday Times, Life & Times on 28 June 2015

Memorable buka puasa

For the first time, 120 orphans and children from low-income families under the care of Kulaijaya’s branch of IKRAM Malaysia, enjoyed a breaking-of-fast meal at Le Grandeur Palm Resort Johor. 

Some of the children with their Ramadan gifts at the
buka puasa event hosted at Le Grandeur Palm Resort
While they have been hosted to similar events at mosques in Senai, Kulai and even at Senai International Airport, it was a new experience for the youngsters to break their fast in a hotel environment.

“Underprivileged children may never have the opportunity to step into a resort hotel and we are grateful to the Le Grandeur Palm Resort management for hosting the breaking-of-fast meal and presenting each guest with Ramadan gifts,” said IKRAM Johor President, Associate Professor Ustaz Dr Haji Ajmain Safar.

IKRAM Johor Chairman of the Community Service Committee and Chairman of I-Bantu, Dr Faizal Amri Adnan, also expressed his appreciation to the resort and Bank Muamalat for their partnership in making this festive season more meaningful for the children. 

Le Grandeur Palm Resort General Manager, Jef Kong,
[Standing 2nd from Left] with guests from IKRAM Kulaijaya
Dr Faizal thanked the resort for the gift of cookies and duit raya to each child, in addition to hosting the meal.  He also acknowledged Bank Muamalat for helping the children to start a savings habit by opening a savings account with a gift of RM20 deposit, each.

“It is our privilege to share goodwill in the spirit of Ramadan with our guests from IKRAM Kulaijaya,” said Le Grandeur Palm Resort General Manager, Jef Kong, before he joined Dr Faizal in presenting the Ramadan gifts to the children.

With the event being held in the Perkasa Ballroom, the guests had the opportunity to walk through the resort’s lobby and spacious corridors that afforded attractive views of the pools and landscaped gardens.  The guests kept the tradition of breaking their fast with sips of refreshing drinks and preserved dates before going to the prayer rooms prepared for them.  Resort staff were on hand to serve the guests with food from the buffet.

The resort staff [Right] serving guests at the event
Guests also helped themselves to a range of delectable desserts, fruits and crisps laid out in separate buffet spreads.  Freshly grilled satay seemed to be one of the most popular items as the guests returned repeatedly for more helpings. 

The evening’s experience clearly made an impression with many of the guests who deliberately approached Kong to shake his hand and thank him before leaving.  Kong was touched and amused when one of the ladies who thanked him uttered a traditional Malay rhyme, “Terima kasih daun keladi, kalau boleh hendak lagi!” with a hint that she hoped to be invited again.

IKRAM Malaysia is a non-profit missionary organisation that also looks after the welfare and community affairs of the underprivileged in the Muslim community.  Established seven years ago, the Kulaijaya branch is among nine branches of IKRAM Johor that operate in various districts in the state.  Run by volunteers, the organisation works closely with local mosques to identify the needy and provide them with the necessary social and welfare support.  For more info, visit website:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 28 June 2015 

EduCity Sundown night run is back again!

The second edition of EduCity Sundown Malaysia planned for Sept 5 was recently launched by the organiser, World Endurance Malaysia Sdn Bhd, this time with two distance categories – the 21-km half marathon and the 12km run.

Flashback: Flag-off in the first EduCity Sundown night
run last year!
After last year’s successful inaugural night run that attracted more than 5,000 participants who represented 33 nationalities, the organisers have set a target for up to 7,000 registrations this year.  This premier night run in Johor will take runners on a scenic route across the coastal side of Nusajaya.

“We are looking forward to seeing familiar and new faces at this highly anticipated night run,” said World Endurance Malaysia general manager, C G Lim.  “Whether you are a competitive distance runner or just running for fun, the EduCity Sundown Malaysia night run is the perfect event for you,” he added.

The event logo and info on the
second EduCity Sundown Malaysia
"EduCity is proud to be the title and venue sponsor for the second year.  We believe the unique landscape in Nusajaya provides the ideal backdrop for a scenic night run and hope that all participants will have a fun and rewarding experience,” said EduCity Iskandar Sdn Bhd, Chief Operating Officer, Sugumaran Kailasan, who is looking forward to introducing EduCity to the public.

Besides the two distance categories, the night run this year has six runner categories namely, Half-Marathon Men’s and Women’s Open (18 years an above), Men’s (ages 40 to 49) and Women’s (ages 35 to 44) Junior Veteran , as well as Men’s (50 years and above) and Women’s (45 years and above) Senior Veteran.  Two more categories for the 12-km Men’s and Women’s Open is open to men and women aged 18 and above.

Experienced pacers will be on hand to provide on-site, pre-event coaching and training, and encourage participants to complete the run.  In addition to goodie bags, participants will receive a running vest, official timing, finisher’s medal and an E-certificate.  Runners in the 21km category will also receive an exclusive finisher’s tee-shirt.

The inaugural night run last year attracted
over 5,000 participants
EduCity Sundown Malaysia 2015 will flag off at 8pm on Sept 5 from EduCity Sports Complex in Nusajaya, Johor.  Local residents are also welcome to participate as volunteers at the water stations and to form cheer-leading teams to encourage participants along the route.  The event is supported by Iskandar Investment Berhad, Iskandar Regional Development Authority, the Royal Malaysian Police and Johor Tourism.

Participants who register for the night run in June will enjoy an early bird price while prices for every category will increase from July onwards.  With limited space, late entries are subject to availability.  Registrations can be made online through event website:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 24 June 2015

IWA's first Summer Bazaar in JB

The Johor Baru International Women’s Association (IWA) held its first Summer Bazaar on June 16 with some 15 tables set up to sell quality handicrafts, useful souvenirs and freshly baked cakes, cookies and pies.

IWA members, [Left to Right] Pauline, Ineka, Poonam,
Margaret, Bee and Ann, selling a range of baked items
Shoppers who dropped by from midday, swelled to a crowd who enjoyed browsing around the bazaar and bought up all the items from the bake table.

The idea for a Summer Bazaar with a two-fold benefit is aimed to raise funds for charity and enable the members in Johor Baru’s international community to shop for quality gifts and souvenirs.

While the IWA annual charity Christmas Bazaar aims to give shoppers more gift ideas for Christmas, the Summer Bazaar allows foreign residents in JB to find something beautiful and useful to present as souvenirs when they returned to their home countries for their summer holidays.

A section of the Summer Bazaar held at the White Box, DCM
IWA Charity Coordinator, Lorraine Stanley identified the Puspanesam Home for underprivileged children in Ulu Tiram, Johor as the charity of their choice and after visiting the home, the IWA decided to focus on contributing to them for the year.  Proceeds from table rentals and the bake table will go towards this home.  Recently the IWA shared their goodwill with the home when they took 18 children aged between 3 and 14, for an outing to the Ulu Tiram Water Theme Park.

Janet Leah and Laura Rodgers from the UK, who were among the nine IWA ladies who accompanied the children to the water park commented that they were well behaved kids.  The ladies enjoyed the outing as much as the children and Rodgers also said she plans to conduct swimming lessons with the children.

Avril Martin with a range of Moniko products,
created from vintage kimono fabrics
“We are grateful for the partnership of JB PAC for sponsoring the use of the space in the White Box in Danga City Mall,” said IWA Social Coordinator, Anna Magyar, who’s Hungarian and have lived in JB for the past three years.  “We have many unique items for sale and even set up a kids’ entertainment table to keep children entertained with arts and crafts while their parents browsed around,” she added.

“It was a good fund-raiser for IWA and some vendors had good sales too.  This is a positive start for our first Summer Bazaar,” said IWA President, Caroline Davis as she commended the members who contributed to the success of the Summer Bazaar.  The participating members represented nations like Japan, India, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Finland, France, UK, US, Honduras and Singapore.

“The tropical heat may not be conducive for an outdoor bazaar so this air-conditioned indoor space is ideal for both vendors and shoppers,” said Pat McGrath, a volunteer with Johor Area Rehabilitation Organization (JARO), a charity that runs a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities, that had quality handicrafts for sale at the bazaar.

The kids' table where children are occupied with art and craft projects while their parents shop at the Summer Bazaar

The IWA is a non-profit charity organization established in May 1999 to organise fund-raising social events to contribute towards healthcare, education and other social needs in JB.  For more info about IWA events and membership, please visit website: and email to:
A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 19 June 2015

Opportunist thief gives up after viral campaign

Yesterday morning my friends, Joe and Kim (not their real names) whose laptop and external hard disk were stolen last week, announced through Facebook that this property were returned to them a day ago.

CCTV video screen grab of  the man who
walked away with the laptop bag that was
accidentally left at a cafe in Indahpura
Through a series of extraordinary circumstances, heartbreak and sheer determination, the valuable data was retrieved with the help of a network of friends and the power of social media.  It’s a great relieve to learn of the happy ending to a seemingly tragic loss but for many victims, their cases often go unsolved even after making police reports.

In a hurry to leave for their next business appointment, Joe accidentally left the laptop on the floor next to their table in a café at Indahpura, Kulaijaya.  Looking back, they know that it was their carelessness that gave someone the opportunity to take the bag with the laptop and hard disk inside.

Once they realised that the bag was not with them, they returned to that café to retrieve it but the bag was already gone.  The café manager and staff were unaware but when they viewed the video recorded in their Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), they witnessed how the next customers at that same table, took the bag along when they left. 

The visuals showed that the young man was smartly dressed and did not look like the common stereotype of a criminal.  This is very disturbing because it proved how circumstances and opportunity could turn an ordinary person into a criminal.

Good family values have taught us that any property that did not belong to us should not be taken without permission.  And if we happened to discover something that was not ours, in this case – a bag in a café – ideally it should be taken to the proprietor or café manager and opened in the presence of witnesses, searched for a name and number to call and inform the owner that it was found.

In the event that no contact info was in the bag, the finder could exchange contact details with the proprietor or manager to keep themselves updated when the owner of that bag returned to collect it.  When the lost property was reunited with its owner, he would certainly express his gratitude to both parties – the one who found it and the café too.  Through simple acts of kindness and integrity, a negative situation can be turned into a positive one.

Joe’s laptop however, was electronically tracked to an IT service centre in Taman Bukit Indah but even though the proprietor did not have any particulars of the man who sent it to be reformatted, their CCTV recording provided a clear image of him.  This image, when posted on social media with an appeal to return the property to the owner, quickly went viral.

Then Joe received a call to meet a man at an appointment where the property was safely returned to him with a request to remove his image from social media, which Joe did.

The safe return of my friends’ property reminds us that a mere slip of the mind can result in dire consequences.  Through this experience, we learnt that two heads are better than one and it’s a good habit to remind each other about taking all our property whenever we leave any place.

While the majority of people have a sense of integrity and still do unconditional acts of kindness, let’s be aware that there are also opportunists waiting to prey on our carelessness.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 17 June 2015

Rotary JB installs new president

The installation of Freddie A C Lee as the 64th President of the Rotary Club of Johor Baru (RCJB) on June 7 was a memorable event for Lee, aged 64, as it was witnessed by Guest of Honour, Tun Musa Hitam and guests who occupied 64 banquet tables, the largest gathering by far at any installation dinner.  

President Kwang Jia Shing [Left] passing the baton on to
incoming President Freddie Lee
In a simple ceremony, outgoing club President, Kwang Jia Shing, passed the baton to Lee who is the incoming President for the Rotary year 2015 – 2016.

In his inaugural Presidential message, Lee said that he aims to live up to this year’s Presidential Theme: Be a Gift to the World.  He also announced that the club’s Presidential Project this year is to build another Rotary Dialysis Centre on a piece of land measuring 17,263 sq ft, pledged to RCJB by the generosity of Ng Quee Gam and family, the developers of Bandar Seri Alam.

In 1991, RCJB started the Rotary Club of Johor Baru Haemodialysis Centre in JB and it continues to serve the needs of some 75 patients in and around JB.  This was the first NGO-operated Haemodialysis Centre in the region and as it is meeting an essential need for kidney patients, other clubs and associations followed their lead to set up similar dialysis centers in their communities.  In March 2004, then Sultan of Johor, Sultan Iskandar, officially declared the Rotary Haemodialysis & Hospice Center open and it now operates as a centre licensed by the Ministry of Health.

President Freddie Lee [Right] with
outgoing President, J S Kwang
Lee, a property developer who joined RCJB in 2002, is proud to belong to an illustrious club with a track record of many worthwhile social and humanitarian projects.  Chartered in 1952, the RCJB is one of the oldest clubs and with 64 members, it is also the second largest club in the District.  Service to the community is one of Rotary’s core values and the motto of Rotary Clubs worldwide is “Service Above Self.”

Lee recalled the words of Sultan Iskandar who encouraged RCJB to do “something big” rather than small projects.  This was the inspiration for Lee to continue to care for kidney patients in the Masai and Pasir Gudang areas by establishing a new haemodialysis centre.

This proposed dialysis center in Masai will be another signature project for RCJB that will join their existing humanitarian services like the JB Rotary Haemodialysis Centre, the Palliative Care Association of Johor Baru and the Ang Tiong Loy-RCJB Children’s Home in Taman Ungku Tun Aminah.

Lee said that the RCJB is keen to work with the community as well as Rotarians from the clubs in Rotary District 3310 to raise funds to build and equip this new haemodialysis centre.

“I wish to assure donors, supporters and well-wishers that the resources will be graciously received and judiciously expended to carry out the club’s many social and humanitarian projects throughout the year,” said Lee.

Also present at the event were Member of Parliament for Johor Baru, Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, Singapore Consul-General in JB, Ian Mak, Rotary District Governor Haji Andre Suharto and Incoming District Governor Philip Chong Mau Kiong.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 13 June 2015

Crime fighter shares urban survival tips

Last month, K. Balasupramaniam, better known as Capt Bala, led a team of volunteers in a search and rescue mission to the epicenter of the Nepal earthquake and a few weeks later, he was in Johor Baru again at the invitation of Johor Women’s League or Jewel.

A poster of the training programme and
the trainer, Capt Bala's illustrious credentials
Over the years, Capt Bala, MD of Code Red Survival Academy and founder of Malaysian Volunteer Fire Rescue Association, has been working with Jewel in training JB girls and women in safety programmes like Road Survival Skills and Urban Safety.

Jewel felt that it was apt for this award-winning safety activist to conduct a safety workshop in the community engagement part of the recent Medini Live! arts festival (June 6 & 7).  While crime survival appears to be a heavy topic for such a festival, Jewel recognised that safety is crucial in a developing community like Nusajaya.

A section of the audience at the REACT training event
Jewel is a non-profit society of women volunteers established in October 2008 that aims to advance the status of women and children, strive for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and children, and encourage the empowerment of women and children by means of education, advocacy and other forms of assistance.

Headed by president, Thanam Visvanathan-Suresh, Jewel has actively engaged with youths to educate them on their rights as they are growing up in a world where violence against women is seen to be acceptable and female subjugation is the norm.  One of the important on-going services Jewel offers to women is to help them with late birth registrations.

Capt Bala held the participants' rapt attention
throughout the training programme
The turnout of some 160 participants for REACT, a Crime Survival Programme at Medini Live! that morning proved that the community was keen to equip themselves with survival skills and avoid becoming victims of crime.  

Capt Bala covered a wide range of scenarios at home, at work, in the city and on the road, where safety may be threatened and provided useful tips to stay ahead of criminals.  His passion for saving lives shone through as he spent four hours in educating and equipping participants with simple and practical but effective survival skills.

“Crime is my business and search and rescue is my passion,” said the affable Capt Bala who candidly shared his own story of survival from an attempt on his life. His experience spurred him on to help others think on their feet and have a chance of survival in emergencies.

Capt Bala, crime fighter and safety activist
At the end of the workshop, many participants lingered to ask Capt Bala questions and first-time participants, in particular, marveled at the eye-openers that he shared to illustrate the common scenarios where people are often careless and may fall victim to crime.

“I should be more aware of my surroundings,” said Amirah Sarah Zulkifli who was provoked to consider taking up an art of self-defense like Tae Kwon-do.  Another participant, Nirmala Appukutty echoed the same sentiment on being aware of our surroundings and added that she must exercise empathy and stop to help in emergencies instead of being indifferent when lives are at stake.

“I will apply the simple techniques that Capt Bala highlighted to deter crimes,” said Linda Clark a participant who was once almost a snatch thief victim.  Angel Low Jia Chi said she was now aware of the ideal place to put her handbag while driving her car and her friend, Lim Yi Shan said that Capt Bala’s tips reminded her to stay alert and avoid being in the Red Zone.

For more info about Jewel, visit website:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 12 June 2015 

Curious about Cendol Bakar?

In Johor, we are familiar with kelapa bakar where whole coconuts are baked in a charcoal fire and served warm.

Joining the queue for a taste of Cendol Bakar
at Teluk Kemang, Port Dickson
Fans delight in the taste of baked coconut water, sometimes flavoured with a hint of freshly squeezed lime or a spoonful of honey.  And the baked flesh tastes deliciously soft and smooth.

On a recent retreat in Port Dickson, my friends and I passed a stall in Teluk Kemang that had a sign that read: Cendol Bakar and we were intrigued.  Speculation was rife about how this cendol should taste like if it was made with baked coconut.  It appeared that most of us automatically thought that cendol bakar might be made from kelapa bakar.  Someone suggested that if they use the santan or coconut milk from baked coconut, then the taste would be spectacular!

Vendor serving customers who ordered takeaways
Our retreat programme ended with lunch on the final day and very soon, we were packed and ready to leave.  With a common thought of cendol bakar in mind, my friends and I agreed to stop for a taste of this intriguing dessert before going home.  So we headed out in a convoy of four cars, eager to unravel the mysterious taste of cendol bakar once and forever!

Up to the time we found our parking spaces and joined the queue to place our orders, our minds were working overtime, still curious and guessing the ingredients that went into the unique recipe for this delicious dessert.  The sight of that crowd occupying the tables and the queue ahead of us waiting to place orders, spurred the anticipation further and we were simply bursting with curiosity!

They use a systematic self-service way to keep
customers happy
Now the cendol connoisseurs among us know very well what the ingredients are: shaved ice, palm sugar or Gula Melaka, small green worm-like jelly made from flour and the option to add red beans, if preferred.  While our order-taker/giver volunteer stood in the queue waiting for our turn, the other so-called cendol experts went for a closer look at the vendors who were busy assembling the ingredients in small bowls to be served or for takeaways.

After observing the vendors for a few minutes, they conferred among themselves that it looked like typical cendol-making ingredients with no extraordinary item like baked coconut…  Still quite unbelieving, we continued to observe the vendors who were systematically serving the customers in the queue and finally decided that no baked coconut was involved in the recipe!

Add a dollop of glutinous rice flavoured with durian!
The cendol fans studied the menu posted on the wall and made their selections – some picked original recipe cendol, another with durian pulut or glutinous rice and others chose cendol with red bean topping.  
By this time, we were laughing at each other and our weird speculations that turned out all wrong because nothing seemed to be baked (bakar!) because the Cendol Bakar was actually a brand, named after a man by the Malay name, Bakar!

From the signboard, I realized that the Teluk Kemang outlet is a branch of the original shop in Kuala Selangor that has other outlets in Malacca and Dengkil.  From my research, I discovered that this brand of cendol is so popular that they also have a drive-through facility in Kuala Selangor!

Palm sugar or Gula Melaka at Cendol Bakar is "baked" before being melted to be used as an ingredient!
A generous scoop of coconut milk is added to each bowl before being served
Mmm...Cendol Bakar!
We were not too far from wrong when we guessed that their coconut was baked (bakar) because to achieve that unique taste of Cendol Bakar, one of their ingredients (not coconut!), is in fact, baked!

Fans of cendol, familiar with the taste of palm sugar in cendol, can tell that the palm sugar used in Cendol Bakar is specially baked before being melted for use.  This unique process for the palm sugar and the name of the owner’s grandfather, Abu Bakar Saidin, are the reasons why their brand of cendol is named, Cendol Bakar.


Curtains go up for first JB Film Fest

Join filmmakers of international excellence for three days of screenings and workshops in the inaugural Johor Baru Film Festival from June 11 to 13.  

Event logo for the first JB Film Festival
This is the third in a series of festivals organized by the Johor Society of Performing Arts (JSPA) under the Johor Baru: International Festival City (JB:IFC) initiative.  Through hosting a calendar of arts, music, cultural and lifestyle events, JSPA aims to position JB as a leading festival city in the region.

Held at MAP@Nusajaya in the Mall of Medini and the Multimedia University Nusajaya, the JB Film Festival 2015 is jam-packed with a programme of screening eight feature-length films from Singapore, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as six short films by independent Malaysian filmmakers.  Parents can also bring youngsters along to enjoy two children’s movies from France and Japan.

This gathering of delegates from 11 participating countries was made possible by festival curator, Hassan Muthalib, an eminent figure in the Malaysian film industry and director of Malaysia’s first animated feature film, with committee members, Wong Tuck Cheong and Faisal Mustaffa, who together, reflect the collective might of Malaysian cinema and filmmaking.

As with other festivals under JB:IFC there is an interactive element for participants to join two workshops and one forum in the programme.  The first workshop, Telling Stories from the Filmmaker’s Culture, will be conducted by award-winning US filmmaker, Lawrence Johnson, while the other workshop on Story & Visual Development will be conducted by award-winning director of movie from the Philippines, Halaw, Sheron Dayoc.  Various directors and producers of the films screened in the festival will participate in an exciting forum entitled, New Directions in Storytelling, Production and Funding.

The film fest will kick off with a Red Carpet reception on June 11 with invited guests like film directors and producers, actors, international delegates and other distinguished guests.  This will be followed by the screening of, Cuak, a Malaysian film jointly directed by 5 local directors – Khairil M. Bahar, Manesh Nesaratnam, Lim Benji, Tony Pietra Arjuna and Shamaine Othman.

In the next two days, seven more films will be screened: Sayang Disayang by Sanif Olek (Singapore), Halaw by Sheron Dayoc (Philippines), Labour of Love by Aditya Vikram Sengupta (India), Television by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki (Bangladesh), Soekarno by Hanung Bramantyo (Indonesia), Cambodian Son by Masahiro Sugano (Cambodia) and Pee Mak by Banjong Pisanthanakun (Thailand).  The children’s films are Komaneko – The Curious Cat by Tsuneo Goda (Japan) and My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill by March Boreal and Thibaut Chatal (France).  The five short films by Malaysian talents that will be screened are Terbang, Doors of Horrors, Ragut, Doghole and Silhouette.

While MAP@Nusajaya is the launch venue, the official screening venue for the JB Film Fest is the Multimedia University Nusajaya.  Children’s movies are Free of Charge while entry to each movie is charged a nominal fee of RM5 only.  For more info on the JB Film Fest, visit website: and Tel: +60197139900/+60197169900.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 11 June 2015

Come to the IWA Summer Bazaar!

With Connecting, Caring and Contributing as their tagline, the Johor Baru International Women’s Association (IWA) recognises their role in the community and continues to be actively involved with helping the needy here.

JB's IWA hold charity events regularly
In addition to the annual charity Christmas Bazaar, they are adding two more fund-raising events to their calendar this year.  A Summer Bazaar is planned for June 16, followed by a Pub Quiz on June 17 with proceeds going towards the Puspanesam Home for underprivileged children in Ulu Tiram, Johor.

The IWA is a non-profit charity organization established in May 1999 to organise fund-raising social events to contribute towards healthcare, education and other social needs in Johor Baru.  

Info for IWA Pub Quiz Night
Since its inception, the IWA has raised funds to support various causes including the children’s welfare home in Saleng, the Rotary Dialysis Centre and several Tamil schools in Kulaijaya.  Funds raised from recent Christmas Bazaars have benefited the Palliative Care Association of Johor Baru, the Berkat Children’s Home, the Breast Cancer Support Group Johor Baru and Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO).

Before the IWA was formally registered, a small group of expatriate ladies started to meet every fourth Tuesday for coffee and a small profit from the money collected would go towards charity.  In the early days, the ladies contributed their time and effort to conduct swimming lessons for the disabled, organise Christmas Bazaars, compile a Johor Baru directory and started a toy library for needy children.  The profit from these and other events was contributed in material goods to the various charities and organisations.

The IWA Summer Bazaar on June 16 will be held from 12pm to 5pm at Level 4M of Danga City Mall while the Pub Quiz on June 17 will be held at 8pm at The Bierhaus in Taman Sentosa.  

Some members of JB IWA at a stall during a recent Christmas Bazaar in JB

IWA invites the public to support these events and help them raise funds for charity.  For more info about IWA events and membership, please send email to:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 10 June 2015

MAP@Nusajaya launched with Medini Live!

Medini Live! the inaugural festival of music, films, arts and community held on June 6 & 7, launched MAP@Nusajaya with a Black Box and White Box in the Mall at Medini, new art spaces in Iskandar Malaysia dedicated to performing and visual arts, film screenings and community events.

Music performance at concourse of the Mall at Medini with
art installation, Wind Dancers, by Lisa Foo, in foreground
The much anticipated arts festival kicked off with a preview on the eve of the 2-day festival.  Hosted by Medini Iskandar Malaysia, the preview was attended by representatives from strategic sponsors, co-sponsors and partners who enjoyed a glimpse of the exciting programme highlights.

“Medini Live! will be a signature annual event that will brand Medini as a vibrant, community-friendly and upcoming development to live in and to do business in Iskandar Malaysia and the region,” said MD/CEO of Medini Iskandar Malaysia, Ir Khairil Anwar Ahmad, who aims to showcase what we have in Johor through the language of music, film and art.  “We firmly believe that any living space or city needs life and character to live, work and play in,” he added.

Solo art exhibition entitled, Arang, by Johor artist
Ahmad Zakii Anwar is still on in the White Box till July 7
The Mall of Medini was transformed into a festival village for Medini Live! as visitors took advantage of the public holiday weekend to catch film screenings in the Black Box and appreciate the art installations displayed in the foyer as well as the impressive art exhibition in the White Box.  Visitors also browsed around the Medini Bazaar, joined workshops and listened to talks and in the evenings, they enjoyed Johor traditional arts and classical music performances and rocked the night away with live music concerts by renowned artistes – all free of charge.

“Medini Live! is curated to highlight local talent, a global view and a cultural connection with its surroundings,” said festival director, Suryani Senja Alias.  Among the best of Johor talents was contemporary urban realist artist, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, who held his first solo exhibition in JB entitled, Arang, the Malay word for charcoal, in an exquisite showcase of his most compelling charcoal drawings on paper, now on till July 7.  Fans also thrilled to shows by Johor-born stars like award winning hip hop musician, Joe Flizzow, New York based singer-songwriter, Najwa Mahiaddin and legendary musician Zainal Abidin!

Participants at the film workshop with writer-director, U-Wei
Movie buffs took the opportunity to attend film workshops held in Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios conducted by writer-director, U-Wei Haji Saari and writer-producer-director, Saw Teong Hin.  Those keen on the technical and music aspects of movie making attended the workshops conducted by post production sound supervisor, Hiro Ishizaka, and composer-arranger-music director, Onn San.

A rare and traditional musical theatre of wayang and gamelan, Ketoprak Tobong, one of the last remaining nomadic theatre troupes from Jogjakarta and a contemporary photography exhibition by Indonesian artist, Risang Yuwono in collaboration with British artist, Helen Marshall, were staged in partnership with Air Asia Foundation.

Visitors to Medini Live! interacting with mixed media art installation, Rimba Nusa, by Suzy Sulaiman

The community part of the festival was presented by Johor Women’s League or Jewel, a non-profit organization in Johor that featured R.E.A.C.T, a well attended women’s safety workshop conducted by safety activist, Capt K. Bala Supramaniam, MD of Code Red Survival Academy.
A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 9 June 2015