Fun with mum, revisiting Johor sites

Years ago my aunties, Sylvia and Polly, left their hometown and relocated to Kuala Lumpur for family reasons. And even though they visited Johor Baru every now and then, there was always never enough time to linger and do what they wanted to do and see.

The Ng sisters,  [L to R] Auntie Polly, mum
and Auntie Sylvia at entrance to JB Kwong
Siew Heritage Gallery at Jalan Siew Nam
My aunties, now already grandmothers, still longed to taste local food and revisit familiar places. So it was, Two birds with one stone – a visit to JB to spend time with their eldest sister, my mum, and to revisit some familiar sites here.

Food was also somewhere at the top of their agenda but it was mainly to meet and to catch-up with relatives and old friends.

In early September, Auntie Polly sent a photo showing two coach tickets without any message. And when I read the date printed on the tickets, I guessed their plan was to come to JB to celebrate mum’s birthday with us.

This was followed by a ‘request for room reservation’ so I told mum to get our guest room ready because her sisters were coming to stay for a while!

This advance notice helped me to set aside time to share with our aunties who so thoughtfully planned to come to JB for some fun with mum. It was the least I could do to avail myself to ferry them around to where they wished to go and who they wanted to see here.

Up the old staircase to the
JB Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery
When I picked them up on arrival at Larkin Sentral, it was non-stop jalan-makan and doing the things they wanted to do for the next six day until I dropped them off at JB Central to catch the train back. [Our food trail will be a separate story.]

I told my aunties to just say what/who they wanted to see/eat/do, with a veritable, ‘Your wish is my command’ mandate and to tell me well in advance so that I could plan the route or the day’s programme and ensure that all their desires were met.

It was just so good to see mum enjoying time with her sisters, talking about the old days, discussing relatives and nicknames of people from their childhood and recalling the past with reference to where these people are now and how things have changed in our city.

Here are ten things that my mum and her sisters enjoyed doing together recently:

Visit to the JB Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery: This former clan house of the people of Cantonese descent at Jalan Siew Nam was turned into a museum or heritage gallery in a building that that was donated by one of JB’s foremost pioneers, Wong Ah Fook.
Exploring Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk

I was pleased to show mum and my aunties around the gallery and while we had fun reminiscing about some of the ancient artifacts on display, it was meaningful for us to see how one of grandmother's cousins, Wong Peng Soon, was being remembered in a summary on the Wong family in JB.

Over the years, while I listened to our grandmother talking about her family, I finally joined the dots to better understand our link to the Wong family. This is in a separate post – Our family ties.

Exploring Tan Hiok Nee Heritage WalkIt was a literal walk down Memory Lane for my aunties.

Auntie Polly, who is familiar with this area, wanted to see present-day Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and Jalan Dhoby, and compare how different or unchanged it was from then and now.

Our first stop was her favourite Teochew-style noodles of kway teow th’ng and mee pok tah at Sang Heng coffeeshop. Although the hawker, Ah Seng, had passed away, his family continues to serve the recipes to my aunties’ tasty satisfaction!

Standing on the site of the former Universal Pharmacy
Ever since Auntie Sylvia introduced the nasi padang food served by Adam Soroso to her son, they often ate at the kopitiam here. Another of his favourites must be the grilled chicken chop at It Roo Café. So these were among the must-taste items we ate here!

Nostalgic site of the former Universal PharmacyTo walk around JB’s heritage quarter, I parked my car in the open space at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee which is now used as a public carpark. This space was once occupied by a block of shops that were razed by fire.
Back in 2010 when I wrote, The Han Su-yin Connection, I introduced my Auntie Polly to readers. Among the shops that were destroyed was No. 24 Jalan Ibrahim, the former Universal Pharmacy where Auntie Polly once worked as a sales assistant.
The Ng sisters at JPO with their shopping

The upper floor of this pharmacy was a dispensary or clinic where a doctor had a general practice. It has since earned the reputation as the clinic where Dr Elizabeth Comber, the Eurasian doctor, once practiced medicine.

Under her pen-name, Han Suyin, she wrote the novel, A Many Splendored Thing which was made into an Oscar-winning movie, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, in 1955.

Shopping at Johor Premium OutletsWe went from the old to the new – exploring the shops at the JB heritage quarter and then to Johor Premium Outlets, in search of the best branded bargains.

There was something special about shopping together, exchanging views and seeking another’s opinion before deciding to buy an item. At the end of the shopping, it was so good to see the Ng sisters – mum and her sisters – coming away with their best buys!

Visiting Senai International Airport
Drive around Senai International AirportMy aunties commented that it was such a long time since they saw JB airport and since we were nearby, I took them for a drive to have closer look at the changes here.

They were pleasantly surprised with the massive developments, especially the unforgettable first sight of that monstrous airplane mounted on a clock tower!

The Teochew Ng sisters with the hairdresser-Hakka sistersI first met these hairdresser sisters when Auntie Polly brought me along to that hair salon at Jalan Trus where she was a regular customer. I mentioned this place when I shared about the significance of hair and good fortune during the lunar new year in, When your hair is your fortune.

Many years later, when we reconnected with these hairdresser sisters again, they could boast that they have been looking after my hair since I was school kid!

The Teochew Ng sisters with the
the hairdresser-Hakka sisters 
In fact, the younger of the two came to our grandfather’s house to do Auntie Polly’s hair on the morning of her wedding and we even have precious photo mementoes of this hairdressing session!

With their salon located in Taman Ungku Tun Aminah now, the hairdressers have a regular clientele – including us – and whenever we were there, they would ask after our aunties.

So it was a timely opportunity to visit the hairdresser sisters and get our hair done while our aunties and their hairdresser friends could spend time catching up on each other’s families!

Celebrating mum’s 85th birthdayMum’s birthday celebrations started with lunch at Yuzu Japanese restaurant at Taman Mount Austin followed by cake and coffee at Patisserie De Charme, a café which specializes in French pastries.

At entrance to Wan Li Restaurant
This was followed by a Chinese dinner with a few friends at Wan Li Restaurant at the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel.

Visit with Uncle Roland and his wifeI know my aunties would like to see their eldest brother, Uncle Roland and his wife, who were both also advancing in age, so I suggested a drive to Kota Tinggi where they live.

We understand how it was getting increasingly difficult for them to travel so it was best that we went to see them. Armed with buah tangan to present to them, including gifts of snacks suitable for the elderly, we spent a delightful afternoon together.

Visit with Uncle Roland and his wife in Kota Tinggi
Window-shopping at JB City SquareI say window-shopping because we were not serious about shopping here but rather to browse around and have a meal of familiar handmade noodles at Mee Ho Seng Kee, situated on Level six.

It was also an opportunity for my aunties to explore JB Sentral – accessible via an overhead bridge linked to JB City Square – to check out the train schedule to KL and consider buying tickets for their return trip.

[The adventurous duo finally decided to have a train experience even though it was necessary for a stopover at Gemas to change train/track en route to KL.]

Mum [Right] with her sisters, standing on Sungai Segget!
Mum and her sisters, on the landscaped Sungai SeggetThe length of JB’s infamous Sungai Segget in front of the Amari Hotel Johor Baru – on the site of the former Rex and Lido cinemas – has been transformed into a landscaped footpath.

It was exciting that something as familiar as Sungai Segget had turned from an eyesore into an attractive city site!

While it was physically exhausting to take in so many sites and visits to so many destinations, it was worthwhile especially when it was shared with my aunties who could appreciate how the JB they know and love, continues to thrive along with modern developments to make our city a more liveable place.

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