Richard's Quest - II

Richard Dunn continued on his quest to discover more about what was recorded in Jalan Astern on a trial with me to various sites in and around Johor Baru.
Abdul Rashid Mammod [Left] explaining details on the
Johor crest to Richard and Lindsay at State Assembly Hall  
One of the highlights yesterday was the discovery that our grandfathers knew each other in JB and the 1936 news report Richard uncovered, even had both our grandfathers’ names written on the same line!

This connection in badminton reminded me of historical details that mum's eldest brother, Uncle Roland, shared about the Malaysian team who won the prestigious Thomas cup in the inaugural games in 1949, for a documentary programme.  The photo of Richard's and my grandfather was in fact, a memento with the winning team of the Foong Seong Cup in 1939!

I arranged to meet with my friend Abdul Rashid Mammod, the best person I know to share more information about Johor history and the state's new administrative centre.  A few years ago, I met Rashid, the Customer Relations Executive with Cahaya Jauhar, master developer of Kota Iskandar, in a guided tour of Kota Iskandar.  He was such a fountain of information that I had to ask him to help out and he kindly obliged in spite of the short notice and taking time out from his weekend.

Admiring the pair of cannons at front steps
of the Sultan Ismail Building at Kota Iskandar
I had given Rashid a brief about why Richard and his wife were in JB, his interest in the Johor sultanate, the JMF and how they were also keen to learn more about our State Assemby.  Rashid shared his knowledge, with interesting details from the inspiration for the buildings' architectural designs to the historical records of Johor's constitution, all of which were of great interest to our visitors.

Richard and Lindsay were impressed with Rashid's knowledge from the very start as he introduced them to the pairs of cannons at the front steps of the Sultan Ismail Building.  As Lindsay read out the Latin inscriptions on the cannons, Rashid confirmed that they were gifts of friendship to the Johor Sultan present by Queen Victoria!

More info about the JMF at tour of Siar Jauhar Gallery
Then we toured Siar Jauhar Gallery in the Sultan Ismail Building, a section of the adjoining mosque and the State Assembly Hall.  I was more than pleased that our morning at Kota Iskandar was well spent, especially with the informative commentary by Rashid.

I had also arranged for our visitors to meet with Mr Shanmugam Subbiah, a friend from the JB Rotary Club and a history buff.  I know surgeons should be addressed as "Mr" but he's fondly called, Dr Shan, and I believed that he could share with Richard, further insights into Johor history.  And I was not wrong.

Dr Shan also invited David, an Englishman and fellow member of JB Rotary Club, to meet with our visitors so we had quite a lively party over lunch.  They had much in common to talk about and I was pleased that they got on like wildfire!

A lovely lunch with Dr Shan [Left] and David [Right]
After lunch, I handed Richard and Lindsay over to the good hands of Dr Shan and David for the afternoon.  I knew that among other interesting things, they would show our visitors the new premises of the Johor Cultural and Sports Club.

Last night, on our way back from the show at the JB Classical Music Fest, I drove along Jalan Skudai and pointed out the cool clubs and restaurants happening on that strip.  Our visitors then decided to go there for their dinner on Saturday night.

Richard, a serious rugby fan, told me about an important match that evening and hoped to watch a live telecast here.  Applying his resourcefulness, he managed to track down a pub that was screening this game and made plans to watch it there.

The next morning, I was told about their pleasant dining experience at Sea & Saw and adventure with the taxi driver who took them to the Permas Jaya branch of that pub - which was NOT screening the rugby match - and how they found their way back to the city branch of the pub where they caught the second and more exciting half of the game!

Lindsay said they met some "nice lads" in the pub while Richard was all smiles because England emerged the winner!

He was also rather chuffed because he received a reply to his letter to the Johor Sultan!  In fact, it was an email from Dato' Abdul Rahim Ramli, President of the Johor Council of Royal Court.  As soon as he received it, Richard shared it with me and as I read it, I couldn't help myself from punching the air with a resounding, "Yess!!"  I was much relieved that our postal system is on track and that faithful postman did his job so that Richard's letter finally reached Istana Bukit Serene!

Richard at the Johor Royal Mausoleum
We discussed this reply from Dato' Rahim and I saw how simply delighted Richard was to get a response to his painstakingly handwritten letter.  Aware that there was not enough time to do more, he said he would reply the email and make advance arrangements with through this avenue when he planned his next visit to JB.

It was a positive start to our day and we had the whole morning ahead.  Our first stop was at Jalan Mahmoodiah to see the Johor Royal Mausoleum, the final resting place of members of the Johor royal family.  Built in 1895, the mausoleum' classic architecture was inspired by Victorian, Moorish and Malay designs.

As we alighted from my car, hardly any birds were chirping among the fragrant frangipani trees and silent tombs but I heard chanting prayers from the mausoleum and a lone imam came to the open door.  When he saw the tourists, he gave strict instructions, using a smattering of English and hand gestures, that the mausoleum was out of bounds and footwear should be removed before stepping onto the porch.

Showing Duan the old photo of the bungalow where
Richard's grandfather lived on Bukit Jepun
But when Richard peeked inside from the open door, the imam paused from his prayers to point to each tomb and identified whom it belonged to, for his benefit.  We left feeling rather solemn but I was glad our visitors saw the tomb of HH Sultan Sir Ibrahim who died on 8 May 1959 in Grosvenor House.

Then we headed to Bukit Jepun, the hillock where Jalan Mariamah meets Jalan Petri, to see the place where Richard's grandparents lived in 1934.  From a photo of this bungalow in his laptop, Richard had an idea of what he was looking for. 

I know that some of the old bungalows here are being used by Yayasan Warisan Johor [YWJ] or Johor Heritage Foundation, so I contacted my friend Haji Shafie Ahmad, to ask if he could let someone know that I was bringing visitors to look around.  He arranged for his colleague to help us and when I parked in the compound and called Duan, he answered saying, "I can see you in your car!"

Is this the bungalow on Bukit Jepun
where F.M. Still used to live?
He must have been looking out of his window and spotted that strange car.  A young man came out and after the introductions, escorted us on a walk along Jalan Mariamah to look at the other buildings used by YWJ here.  

After comparing the bungalows in the compound, Richard and Lindsay agreed that it was likely that the first bungalow - which closely resembled the old photo in his laptop - could be the government quarters where Richard's grandparents lived while they were in JB.

Richard learnt that his grandmother was headmistress of Ngee Heng Primary School in 1934, 1937 and 1941.  Opened in 1920 as Ngee Heng English School, it was first situated at the corner of Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak and Jalan Draper.  In the 1930s, the school moved to Jalan Glendening and was renamed Ngee Heng Primary School.  Since its inception, the school was led by English headmaster/mistress and teachers until 1984 when a Malay headmaster was appointed to that role.

In front of the current site of S K Ngee Heng
at Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak
I brought Richard to the site at Jalan Glendening that comprised a concrete building and a wooden building, used as the JB District Education Office since 1982 when the school shifted to its current site at Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak.  Richard walked about to snap photos, probably feeling quite sentimental that this was where his grandmother also used to walk.

Then I drove to the underpass near Saujana, the Johor Chief Minister's official residence, which wound under the Inner Ring Road, to reach Sekolah Kebangsaan Ngee Heng, the current site of this historical school.  Two security guards from the school came out, curious at why these foreigners were interested in their school.  Ngee Heng School may not be a premier school now but in its early years, it produced many able statesmen, renowned academicians and professionals. 

It was a bittersweet moment as I thought about the legacy of English education here and felt sad that not many in the present generation acknowledge the far-reaching value of our English education.  Richard easily connected with My Johor Stories, the contents of which are in English, and was compelled to write to me.  And then we communicated effectively to make this experience in exploring the sites recorded in Jalan Astern - actually happen! 

Besides the pleasant surprise of discovering that out grandfathers knew each other in JB, Richard and I connected on other levels.  One in particular, was how his maternal great-grandmother and siblings, were brought up in St Mary's Home, Singapore as "orphans of the Empire" while my dad was also brought up in a home run by Mr & Mrs George Wilson, missionaries at Elim Gospel Hall in Ipoh.

Lunch at Flowers in the Window, Jalan Dhoby
Aware that Richard and Lindsay enjoyed their dining experience at Sea & Saw last night, I decided that we should lunch at Flowers in the Window, a charming cafe on Jalan Dhoby, run by the same owners.  I had explained to them that "Sea" is the English translation of the co-owner's name in Chinese, Hai, and at the cafe, we were delighted to meet with my friend, Sea Wong himself!

I was glad Richard and Lindsay could give their compliments about their good experience at Sea & Saw last night directly to him and I saw how Sea glowed with pride and pleasure...

All too soon, it was time for Richard and Lindsay to leave for the next leg of their journey.  They would head to Port Dickson so that they could spend Monday exploring Seremban before they caught an early flight out to Labuan on Tuesday morning.  

I was glad we did much in the few days together and enriched our lives by getting to know each other better.  I enjoyed showing my new-found friends the places in JB that held a special sentiment for them and was just glad to share some Malaysian hospitality.  On June 24, I received an email which read:

Dear Peggy

Sorry to be so slow to contact you after our visit to JB but it has been a real whirlwind since leaving last Sunday.  Your generosity and our three nights in Johor Bahru, whizzing round various places under your expert guidance, will live on our memories for ever: All the things we did were great and so interesting especially the private visit to the new State Assembly and the classical music concert.  JB is a complete contrast to Singapore and all the more enjoyable because of that.

Stayed two nights in Port Dickson at the Lexis Water Chalets which overlooked the Straits of Malacca.  The tropical thunderstorms across the water were quite something.  We had one night in Labuan, which was interesting in its own right, although the church office was closed yesterday and today is a public holiday so we couldn't do much as everywhere, including the library, was closed.  Now we're on the ferry heading to KK, Sandakan and Kinabatangan. 

We cannot thank you enough for your hospitality in JB and to discover our GFs worked together to manage the badminton association over eighty years ago, PLUS two photos to prove it, is something very special.  Also next time you see Mr Sea, please thank him again from us for his generosity.  Also Rashid, Dr Shan and David, we greatly enjoyed our time with them.

When I get back to the UK I will address the memoirs and send you a copy as well as any photos or info that may be appropriate.

Thank you again Peggy, Lindsay and I feel so lucky to have been able to spend a few days with you in JB and hope we can reciprocate in London before too long.

Best regards
Richard and Lindsay

PS have not been able to send this previously no WiFi.  Now come up River Kinabatangan to connect before the crocodile hunt!

It was good to know that they are pressing on in their journey in East Malaysia but I must be patient because it would be some time yet before Richard sorted through his photos and documents before getting around to sending me anything.  I remember he told me his grandmother kept a handwritten copy of the Johor anthem and showed it to me on his laptop.  This should be very interesting too!  Until then, I wish Richard well and every success on his quest!

No comments:

Post a Comment