A road named Ngee Heng

Before the highways into Johor Baru city was built, Jalan Ngee (pronounced “Nee”) Heng was a main road that spanned the distance from the junction of Jalan Kebun Teh Lama to the intersection with Jalan Gereja and Jalan Trus.

1960s photo of Jalan Ngee Heng during the annual
Chingay parade; Row of shops at left is now replaced by
Landmark Mall and shops at right was demolished to
build Tropical Inn Hotel JB 
When Jalan Tun Abdul Razak opened as a dual-carriageway, Jalan Ngee Heng was reduced to a short road between Tropical Inn and Wisma Maria and changed into one-way traffic.

Jalan Ngee Heng was so named after the Ngee Heng kongsi or society, a powerful Teochew quasi-military revolutionary brotherhood that was opposed to the Ching dynasty but their activities in JB evolved into valuable social, political and administrative work that contributed to the state’s early economic growth.

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 clans who made Johor their new home and these pioneers worked hard in cultivating pepper and gambier plantations in the kangchu system.

Tropical Inn is seen [Far Right] next to the remaining row
of pre-war shops here; the warung  [Left] occupies the
driveway of the former No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng
The site for Wisma Maria was once occupied by two blocks of single-story terrace houses while an adjacent row of shophouses was demolished and Menara Landmark was built on its site.

The only original structure that remains on Jalan Ngee Heng today is a row of pre-war double-storey shops as the shops opposite Menara Landmark has been replaced by Tropical Inn Hotel.

In the 1950’s this row of double-storey shops housed family-run Chinese provision shops, Indian laundries or dhoby, a coffee shop, a tinsmith and even a coffin shop, while the upstairs were living quarters.

At that time there was a large roundabout behind Jalan Ngee Heng where the roads led off to Jalan Tebrau, Jalan Wong Ah Fook and the road now renamed Jalan Tun Abdul Razak to the former causeway checkpoint into Singapore.

Road sign at Jalan Ngee Heng
“The Alec Bus Company had a route that passed through Jalan Ngee Heng and I remember catching a bus to work from the bus-stop in front of No. 163 and paid only RM0.05 sen for one-way,” said Polly Ng, who used to live with her family at No.154 and commuted by bus to work at Universal Pharmacy in Jalan Ibrahim.

"I can recall how the road was lit up by outdoor fluorescent lights from the badminton court,” said Vincent Alexandar whose grandparents lived at No. 29, one of the terrace houses opposite No. 154, a bungalow with a badminton court that was demolished in 1977 to build the highway.

Former residents of Jalan Ngee Heng agree that the road has transformed beyond recognition today because the home where Alexander’s grandparents lived was demolished and replaced by Wisma Maria while the site for No.154 is now part of Jalan Tun Abdul Razak.

Entrance to DoubleTree by Hilton JB with One63, a
European Bistro & Bar [Right] opposite
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 in these shops may have changed over the years, some shops recently had a major facelift to open as specialist clinics and a fine dining European bistro, gourmet grocer and rooftop bar.

The new façade of this block of shops certainly complements Menara Landmark opposite and transformed the entire image of Jalan Ngee Heng when it was refurbished into the 30-storey DoubleTree by Hilton JB hotel with 15 service apartments and 350 guest rooms in 2014.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 31 Aug 2015

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