10 MOM phone app for modern mums


Couples expecting their first child may be thrilled with this exciting chapter of their lives but may also be unduly stressed if they do not have the advice and support of experienced family members.

Expecting a child is an exciting chapter in a couple's lives!
As the joyful news sink in and the expecting couple goes through changes, not just the physical but also the emotional ups and downs, this experience can become overwhelming.

And as the pregnancy progresses through the months, the expectant mother will long to seek antenatal and postnatal information and advice from her mother, aunt or grandmother.

But what if they were no longer around? Who do they turn to as a reliable source of information and advice?

Founder of 10 MOM and a mother of one, Fiona Wong, has channeled her own experience into creating a revolutionary mobile phone application to streamline antenatal services with confinement services and post-natal education.

The 10 MOM phone app is available for download now
from Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Dubbed 10 MOM, this one-stop-centre for antenatal and postnatal activities and information aims to benefit future parents or family planners as well as professionals in pregnancy care services.

“10 MOM acts as the “mother” app to couples who don’t have such support groups,” said Wong.

“It is not just an information and services platform but is also a medium for education,” she added.

She explained that by using this app, the expecting parents would feel safe and secure, knowing that all the services listed are legitimate.

Statistics reveal that out of the daily 440 newborn babies, the mortality rate is five. Very often, this was due to lack of postnatal care and professional training.

Saddened by these statistics, Wong felt the need to help married couples to experience the fulfilling joy of welcoming a baby into their family by creating a phone app that provides access to professional advice and training.

YB Liow Cai Tung [Third from Right] with event VIPs
at the launch of the 10 MOM phone app
Created to match users in this age of digital information, the 10 MOM app aims to maximize the sharing of information and accessibility to proper and certified antenatal and postnatal care information and services.

The 10 MOM phone app – developed by technology from Hong Kong with traditions from China as a product of Malaysia – was launched in a simple ceremony held at a local hotel, witnessed by Johor Women Development and Tourism Committee Chairman, YB Liow Cai Tung.

The mobile app at 10MOM.com.my will eventually be available in three languages: Chinese, Malay and English.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by representatives of 10 MOM Sdn Bhd, Southern University College, Wisdom Synergy Management Centre Sdn Bhd (a subsidiary of 10 MOM) and Training Qualification United Kingdom, to mark the partnership in providing proper training and education.

VIP representatives with the signed Memorandum
of Understanding witnessed by YB Liow Cai Tung [Centre]
The education programme includes training courses in post-natal care through the Professional Diploma in Postnatal Care offered by the Southern Institute of Technical Education (SITE) at Southern University College, backed by certification from Training Qualification UK.

This professional diploma course is the first of its kind, offered in Malaysia. Aimed to raise industrial standards, this training will regulate and certify the practitioners.

10 MOM Director, Henry Pang, said that this app will change the way we look at pregnancies.

“Instead of being anxious, confused and unprepared – all the mixed feelings when expecting a baby – the couple may refer to the 10 MOM app for all the information on antenatal care like nutrition, confinement services, pre- and postnatal massage services, baby products and a host of other information,” said Pang.

The 10 MOM phone app is a new platform that
 changes the way expecting couples handle confinement
On this app, expecting parents are assured that all confinement ladies, agents and centres that 10 MOM collaborates with, are certified with proper training on general confinement knowledge and methods.

While traditional methods may vary according to culture and religion, 10 MOM plans to offer confinement services based on the different traditional ways with proper methodology as a standard that others may follow in the future.

The phone app also acts as a platform that provides job opportunities to locals and foreigners who have graduated from the relevant courses offered in Southern University College.

Experienced freelance confinement ladies are also welcome to join 10 MOM to increase their opportunities to provide their services in this emerging market.

While modern mothers may enjoy the convenience of using the 10 MOM mobile app, the traditional practice of breastfeeding continues to be encouraged for all new mothers.

10 MOM supports the Health Ministry’s breastfeeding campaign which encourages mothers to feed their newborn with breast milk, the primary source of nutrition for newborns.

In 2017, Southern University College set up Southern Institute of Technical Education or SITE to provide technical education in various professional training courses like Aesthetic Treatments and Body Therapy, Hairdressing and Hair Design, Unreal Engine Virtual Reality Architecture and Funeral Business and Management.

For more info on 10 MOM, visit website: www.10mom.com.my and Facebook page www.facebook.com/10mom.com.my/

For enquiries on the training courses, visit website: www.southern.edu.my/site

Fifteen years of Johor Arts Fests


The 15th Johor Arts Festival kicked off a three-week programme on Sept 1 with Poetic Vibes, a poetry-reading-workshop-book launch event and Kulit On The Go, an interesting and thought-provoking monologue in a contemporary theatre show.

Fans wearing ticket tags to attend a show at the
recently concluded 15JohorAF in 2018
The annual arts festival, organised by the Johor Society for the Performing Arts (JSPA), is not only one of the longest running festivals in the nation but also one of the most highly anticipated arts and cultural events in the state.

It all started in 1998 when a bunch of creative minds got together to do something to stir up some excitement in Johor Baru.

In 2000, they registered as JSPA, a non-commercial organization with a mission to encourage, develop, support, advance, create awareness and instill an appreciation for the arts in Johor through cool and relevant projects across a wide spectrum of artistic disciplines and genres.

In addition to the annual Johor Arts Fest, JSPA also organizes festivals for Jazz, Film, Indigenous, Classical Music, Piano, Writers & Readers and other stand-alone events.

The finale of musical drama, Bumi Berlantai Permata, staged at the 2010 Johor Arts Festival that featured local
musical artistes and actors as well as the pugilistic skills of wushu artistes, at a make-shift stage on Bukit Timbalan.
From my collection of photos and stories on the past festivals, I seem to have traveled a fair bit of the journey with JSPA founder, Yap Siong Cheng, and his wife and Festival Director, Suzie Yap, over the years.

I remember the festival village in Plaza Kotaraya for the 6th Johor Arts Fest in 2009 and I watched shows in the open carpark, next to the Puteri Pacific Hotel.

Indigenous art presented through dance performances in the
2013 Johor Arts Fest that welcomed the public to enjoy
shows on Bukit Timbalan with the stunning backdrop of
the majestic Sultan Ibrahim Building.
In 2010, the 7th festival found a new home in the grounds of Bukit Timbalan where shows were performed on a temporary stage with the stunning backdrop of the majestic Sultan Ibrahim Building.

The festival village was created in a few portable but air-conditioned rooms and the temporary stage set up in its compound, was thankfully, canopied.

For the first time in history, members of the public were welcomed onto the hallowed heights of Bukit Timbalan and as it was once a restricted area, it took some time before people learnt that it was no longer out-of-bounds!

So the next three festivals, 8th (2011), 9th (2012) and 10th (2013), were held on the hill.

Suzie has done well in leading, motivating, training and inspiring their team to forge ahead in organizing festival after festival, in spite of daunting circumstances.

The inaugural Johor Baru Jazz Fest in 2015 featured a cast
of internationally renowned artistes including international
jazz legend and world-class saxophonist, Sadao Watanabe. 
When I asked Yap for his thoughts about their 15 years of arts fests, he replied sagely with, “Passion sits incongruously with the realities of life.”

He confessed that in the first few years, they were anxious to push ticket sales and he used to call his friends to get them to buy tickets and come for shows.

The response was good but after a while Yap noticed that if he didn’t call, they didn’t have the inclination to get tickets.

It dawned on him that they were just buying tickets to support him as a friend and did not believe in the cause that JSPA was championing.

He feels that people must genuinely want to come for the performing arts and make conscious effort and decisions. So he stopped calling them.

Looking back, I saw how Yap and Suzie worked hard to knock down walls and build bridges to link up with the various communities to get them to participate in the fests.

A classic example of the fruit of their labour is the musical drama, Bumi Berlantai Permata, staged at the 2010 Johor Arts Festival that featured local musical artistes and actors with a Malay-English script, teamed with the pugilistic skills of wushu artistes.

The Johor Arts Festival brought the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra to perform for the Johor Baru audience!
Both Yap and Suzie, untrained and unlearned in the arts, often faced doubts on their credibility or the right to do arts but their commitment to the arts saw them through the years.

Their daughter, Chloe, was actively involved since 2013 and after her graduation in 2016, she grew into her role as Festival Administrator – Liaison, tasked with an unenviable job of liaising with government departments, sponsors, partners, vendors, suppliers and artistes.

She may have started as a coolie but Chloe has a vital role in the team, doing a great deal of tedious work behind the scenes before a festival happens.

The Arts Fest also brought Fusion Wayang Kulit, featuring
characters from Star Wars who performed a script
adapted to a traditional wayang kulit show!
Besides coordinating stage-builders, sound, lighting, instrument suppliers, hotels, venues, transport agencies, caterers (the list goes on!), Chloe also does copywriting to compile programmes, for their website and social media platforms.

Blessed with a crisp, clear voice, Chloe is also the de facto emcee at the fests! 

The 11th arts fest held at Dataran Bandaraya Johor Baru in 2014 was still within a temporary shelter but the next festivals moved into various venues – all of them buildings with halls that were modified for presentations, shows and exhibitions.

As Iskandar Malaysia developed with new destinations, the 12th arts fest was centered in the Mall of Medini in 2015.

Meanwhile the hip and happening places in the rejuvenated heritage quarter begged to be rediscovered, so the 13th arts fest in 2016 highlighted interesting venues like cool caf├ęs and even back lanes!

Johor-born internationally acclaimed dancer and
choreographer, Ajith Baskaran Dass and Suvarna Fine Arts
dancers impressed the audience in the 15JohorAF with a
classic Bharata Natyam performance entitled,
Much Ado About Dance.
The festival programme gradually developed with music, dance, theatre, film, comedy, culture/heritage, visual arts and also fashion.

Perspective: The Runway, a fashion show for wearable art, made its debut in 2016 at the ballroom of DoubleTree by Hilton JB and continued its series in 2017 and 2018.

“We have grown with the city and likewise, we are constantly innovating and pushing boundaries,” said Suzie.

Yap succinctly summed it up: “It takes a non-artist and true appreciator of the arts to organise a good arts fest and that is why we do what we do.”

Yap and Suzie are now synonymous with the Johor Arts Festival and for their passion and commitment to creating a vibrant art scene, they were honoured for Arts and Culture, as Category and Individual winners at the 2014 Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards.

While the festivals may have evolved since its inception, JSPA continues to seek partnerships with likeminded individuals and organisations to bring the arts fests to greater heights and showcase Johor as a destination with its own cultural identity in this region.

A version of this was published in the October 2018 issue of The Iskandarian

My book sequel - Milestones met


I met Tony of Johor Kaki fame at a food review event recently and his first comment on seeing me was, “Eh? Haven’t seen you for some time…”

Presenting Milestone One to Think City JB with
Faezah Ayub [Right] and Gan Yi Reng [Left]
Tony and other media friends did not see me for a while not because I had become antisocial but (I explained) that it was due to my self-imposed absence from events and activities so that I could focus on my book project.

I’m happy that Think City and MPH Publishing have presented me with yet another opportunity to work on my next book project – the sequel to my book which was launched last July, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

This next book will also be a collection of stories in My Johor Stories 2 with a section of my ‘grandfather stories’ under Memories plus inspiring and exclusive stories about ordinary people with extraordinary lives, not just in Johor Baru but also in other Johor towns.

My work started since October last year and carried on in spurts over the next few months as I travelled to meet inspirational people in their interesting hometowns and got down to writing their stories.

This exercise was both challenging and fun and I’m ever so blessed to have the privilege to share their stories and document them as a written legacy for their families.

So how did I pick who to write about?

In a discussion with Think City’s Dr Neil Khor about sharing more Johor stories, we agreed that Johor includes other districts and not just Johor Baru, so we should also feature stories out of various Johor towns.

Think City JB at its new location at Jalan Dhoby
This set me thinking about my experiences with people in different parts of Johor and when I looked at my collection of stories, particularly the people with whom I had connected with, it became obvious – who I should write about.

For a start, I already know them and their families. I also know that their stories are worth sharing. So what I needed to do was to meet them again to discover more details and further develop my stories about them.

As I pondered over the subjects that should go into my next book, a pattern gradually emerged: people who are unique in their life’s achievements and those who are involved with heritage trades.

I also looked at the Johor map for a perspective of where I would be able to cover within a reasonable time scale and whittled down my list to come up with a final Contents page.

Dr Neil, who is a published author with many years of experience, encouraged me to follow my instincts and to work on this project at my own pace.

While it was good for me, to not have any pressure to meet deadlines, I still created a work schedule as a guide so that I would meet my own targets to complete the many stages of this project.

That's me holding my book in the opening scenes of
Think City JB's corporate video!
I remember making my appointment with Think City JB to submit my Milestone One of the project and they reminded me that their premises had moved to Jalan Dhoby.

The downstairs hall which they dubbed, Ruang @ Think City was our meeting place and I was pleased to present Faezah Ayub and Gan Yi Reng with my work completed for Milestone One.

I wanted to capture the moment with a photograph so Faezah reminded Yi Reng to put on Think City JB’s corporate video in the background so that we could get a view of me (holding my book!) on the screen, in our photos together.

[It was my privilege to be featured in Think City’s corporate video – no matter how brief – and I cannot forget the entire experience of the interview and being filmed with my book!]

And so the proverbial clock was ticking and from then on, I got down to serious work.

The work process was pretty straightforward: I should obtain the substance to write, sit down to write it and then edit it to my satisfaction.

To do this, I had to meet with my subjects or their family members and took notes while they shared their stories. Their old photographs helped to trigger thoughts and it was good that their stories flowed quite comfortably, often shared in chronological order.

Gan Yi Reng and Faezah Ayub with my mock-up book
presented at my Milestone Two
I did not use a tape-recorder but listened and typed/wrote it down, and then reviewed my notes with them to verify facts about dates, names and places.

Because these were exclusive, non-fiction stories about individuals – Real People – it was rather personal.

And to ensure that I had described the facts accurately – True Tales – I felt that the final manuscript must be reviewed by the individuals.

This entailed meeting the subjects again to go through the manuscript – sometimes line by line and translated into Chinese (because they are not English or computer literate) – just to be sure that I had interpreted the facts accurately.

It was quite easy to reach subjects who are located in JB but it was still a challenge to squeeze in for a few minutes to talk to the heritage traders who were ever so busy with their work and we were often interrupted because they had to attend to customers.

Then it was Daniel Lim's [Centre] turn to look at
my mock-up of Book 2
On the other hand, for those who are English and computer literate, it was quite comfortable to discuss their manuscript with them through electronic means and arrive at a mutually agreeable conclusion and confirmation about their stories.

For some of the families, I had to verify the given statements with various family members – with due respect to each other – and then decide on the most comfortable interpretation of the facts, so that everyone is happy.

For instance, my story from Batu Pahat is an exclusive Portrait piece about a former midwife who is fondly called, Han Cher Soh (Hokkien for Mrs Sweet Potato) and I met her daughter, Sau Pheng, for the story on this legendary lady who is now 100 years old.

I was both pleased and rather apprehensive to share my manuscript with Sau Pheng because she is a retired (Ahem!) English teacher, lest she discovered something that I would be embarrassed about…

All my fears were put to rest when she replied saying: “Just one or two minor errors.”

In fact they were not even errors after all. I was unsure about the name of a place where a child* was born and wrote it as “Bukit …” seeking Sau Pheng’s help to fill in the blank.

She said: “The place is Bukit Pasir.”

As for the second one, she said: “After some consideration, I think we’ll leave it as you have written – sounds better.”

Then she ended with: “It’s a well written account of my mom’s life. Thank you.” And I breathed a deep sigh of relieve!

Think City JB team with my books; Book 1 is in the
hands of Faezah [Right] while the mock-up of Book 2
is in Daniel's hands
With such a pile of work to plough through, I remember trying to stretch my days by waking up early and resting as soon as I felt tired.

“Where did the time go?” I often asked myself when I saw that there was still much more to cover before I was satisfied with the story I was working on.

I remember saying in jest that I did not want any interruption while I was working at my desk and I didn’t even want to be disturbed for meals. But I did eat.

In fact, I even proposed the ridiculous idea of being tube-fed a liquid diet if it meant that I could continue writing uninterrupted!

Throughout this time, I politely declined invitations, avoided any distraction and kept out of circulation. And just like Tony, others also noticed my absence.

When we finally met again, I was asked curious questions so I replied in jest, “I went underground!” By then, most of them had figured out that I was preoccupied with my book project for the sequel.

As soon as my entire manuscript was ready, it was sent to Dr Neil at Think City for his review and approval before it could go to MPH Publishing for editing and proofreading.

At first I thought I would miss the deadline with Think City for Milestone Two but I still managed to make it in spite of the long weekend for National Day.

So once again, I was at Ruang @ Think City to present Daniel Lim, Faezah Ayub and Gan Yi Reng with the mock-up copy of my book, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

When the mock-up copy of my book was presented to Think City, my manuscript was still with Dr Neil for his review.

And when I received his glowing approval in an email – written in three paragraphs – I was simply overwhelmed and deeply humbled.

He started his email with: “Firstly, I would like to personally congratulate you on the manuscript. I read it with an eye for social history and I must admit that it has exceeded my expectations.”

Dr Neil’s words mean a lot to me because he is also a published author.

When I thanked him for his encouraging comments, Dr Neil replied: “Peggy, it was a pleasure reading the manuscript…” and other kind words… (Blush!)

He continued: “I’m glad that you have followed your heart in writing this second volume. That is the most important thing and we are all the better for it.”

With Gan Yi Reng [Left] and Dr Neil Khor [Right]
who was visiting Think City JB recently 
Later I shared Dr Neil’s comments with MPH Publishing and they were delighted with his encouraging words.

In her reply, MPH Publishing general manager, Kuah Sze Mei, said: “It’s good that Dr Neil Khor has given the green light to proceed. We can use one of his quotes as praise for the book.”

Wow! I was simply thrilled that MPH wanted to use an excerpt of his comments and print it on the back cover design as advance praise for my book! Yay!

Meanwhile the book cover design was being created by MPH’s creative team with my input.

Readers of my previous book were introduced to my family, both from my mum and dad’s side with a special mention of grandmother in The Real Champion and grandfather or Ah Kong, in Where champions were born, alluding to his former house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.

In the sequel, among other interesting and inspirational stories, I’m also sharing further details on our family’s link to Johor pioneer, Wong Ah Fook.

This aims to help members of the extended family, many now relocated to distant lands, to figure out where they fit in, within this large family established in Johor Baru.

A sneak peek at cover design for My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People
Here’s a sneak peek at the cover design for My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People with Dr Neil’s advance praise on the back cover, which reads like this:

“Peggy Loh has managed to bridge her first book with this second one, proving that heritage and community history can be resilient and dynamic … and this is really what we hope to achieve by supporting this publishing project. The book will hopefully encourage more Johoreans to share their stories and, I am sure, be a catalyst for this wider community sharing objective.”

Dr Neil Khor, Programme Director, Think City Sdn Bhd

As you can see, this cover design features some vintage photographs with some rare shots of our family members and two more photos of familiar local heritage traders. Can you figure out who there are? [But no prizes for the right guess!]

By the way, my manuscript is with MPH Publishing and it has already gone to print.
. . .

*This child who was born at Bukit Pasir is founder and chairman of property developer Country Heights, Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew.

Cantonese Cuisine at Makan Kitchen


Fans of Cantonese comfort food can have their fill of Cantonese cuisine at the Makan Kitchen in DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru throughout the month of October 2018.

Chinese Kitchen within the Makan Kitchen,
at DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru
The Chinese Kitchen within the Makan Kitchen comes into focus and will feature a menu of popular Cantonese cuisine presented by Chef Phung Theam Kee.

I call it comfort food because Cantonese dishes reminds me of how our late grandmother used to cook hearty meals for us and double-boil nourishing herbal broths over charcoal stoves to help fortify our health.

I’m delighted to discover that the soup section serves a choice of Double-Boiled Herbal Chicken Soup in individual bowls as well as braised Crab Meat soup with Fish Maw.

The Cantonese or rather, the Chinese as a whole, prefer to enjoy a hearty bowl of soup while it is piping hot so I’m glad that these soups are kept warm within a steamer.

Dried herbs and high-value seafood ingredients [Front row]
in the display with double-boiled soups [Centre] and
braised Crab Meat soup with Fish Maw soup [Right] and
two types of popular Cantonese desserts [Left]
Chef Phung briefly describes the distinctive characteristics of Cantonese cuisine which are usually prepared in milder flavours by steaming and stir-frying the freshest ingredients to reap its natural ‘sweetness’.

I glance at the spread and can recognise several main dishes like Steamed Garoupa Fish with Fungus and Beancurd Skin, Steamed Prawns topped with Fresh Garlic and Vermicelli, Stuffed Mushrooms with Broccoli drizzled in Egg-White sauce as well as Stir-Fried Sliced Beef with Black Bean Sauce and Stir-Fried Scallops with Asparagus.

I notice that the Garoupa Fish is already sliced up (instead of a whole fish!), probably for the convenience of buffet diners, who can pick their favourite parts of the fish to enjoy.

Chef Phung Theam Kee presents
Stir-Fried Scallops with Asparagus
A selection of dim sum served warm from the steamer is yet another Cantonese distinctive.

The art of savouring small portions of handmade delicacies has been adopted by diners the world over – whether in Johor Baru, New York, Vancouver, London or Sydney – they have learnt how to enjoy a yum cha meal!

Some of the hot favourites in the dim sum steamer include Siew Mai (blend of chicken and prawns), Har Kaw (prawns), Chicken Char Siew buns and Siew Loong Pau or Shanghai-style dumplings filled with soup!

An addition to the savoury range of dim sum are popular steamed buns filled with salted egg puree, a gooey but tasty filling, which has gained many fans.

The selection changes daily so look out for Prawn Rolls as well as a choice of deep-fried and sweet dim sum like fried Sesame Balls. 

One of the Chinese delicacies to enjoy from this buffet must be the freshly prepared servings of Peking Duck rolled in a crepe along with sticks of fresh cucumber, spring onion and flavoured with sweet bean sauce.

Besides Roasted Duck and Barbecued Chicken, there is also tender Steamed Chicken that looks so smooth and white, to savour with a minced ginger dip sauce.

A range of savoury dim sum is kept warm
within a traditional bamboo steamer
In the starch section, there are choices of rice and noodles prepared in the Cantonese way, like Wonton Noodles in a rich broth topped with Prawn Wonton, pockets of Soi Kow and leaves of Hong Kong Choy Sum vegetables.

If you prefer softer noodles, then don’t miss the Cantonese Fried Hor Fun or flat rice noodles braised in an eggy sauce. Meanwhile, if you are a beef lover then you will enjoy the robust flavour of Beef Brisket Noodles.

If you feel that your meal is not complete without some rice, then you should have some Chow Farn, Seafood Fried Rice prepared with XO sauce.

Cantonese comfort food at its best must be Century Egg Rice Porridge prepared into a mild and comforting congee filled with bits of tasty ingredients.

A serving of Seafood Fried Rice with XO sauce
Then end the meal sweetly with popular Cantonese desserts like Lok Mei Cheng Poh Leong, which is literally a Cantonese sweet touted to help clear the body from ‘heat’ with its ‘cooling’ properties that will also strengthen the immune system.

Another popular Cantonese dessert in the menu is Mango Sago, a chilled dessert made with mango puree and sago pearls.

Diners familiar with the Makan Kitchen know that this all-day dining outlet in the hotel has three main kitchens – the Chinese, Malay and Indian – with European, International and promotional items in their buffet spreads.

So now you don’t have to go to a Chinese banquet to enjoy Cantonese cuisine because this Cantonese Cuisine buffet dinner at Makan Kitchen is served from Oct 1 to 31, Monday to Thursday, from 6pm to 10pm and on Sunday from 6.30pm to 10.30pm.

Rate at RM108 nett per adult and RM54 per child.

The Makan Kitchen is located on the lobby level of DoubleTree by Hilton JB, at 12 Jalan Ngee Heng, 80000 Johor Baru, Johor.  

For enquiries and reservations: Tel: 607 – 268 6868 or email: JohorBaru.Info@hilton.com.  Website: JohorBahru.DoubleTree.com

The 15JohorAF draws to a close


At the start of the 15th Johor Arts Festival on September 1, it looked like weeks of shows and activities were all lined up ahead – and I made it to most of them – but all too soon, it closed with the grand finale of Perspective: The Runway, a fashion event.

Vision String Quartet performing their own composition,
Samba, by strumming their stringed instruments!
Looking back to Day One of the 15JohorAF – but even on a Saturday evening – I thought the audience could have been much larger.

“JB arts enthusiasts, where are you?” this refrain echoed in my mind.

I’ve had a long day and rushed over, hoping that I would not be late (I dislike missing a moment of any live show!) and was deeply saddened to see that the folks in Johor Baru did not make an attempt to turn up for this show.

As I watched, seated in pitch darkness, I just wished fans of contemporary theatre had availed themselves the opportunity to watch this talented writer and performer.

Erwin Shah Ismail in a scene from
his monologue, Kulit On The Go
As the show unfolded, I forgot all else but the mesmerizing monologue in, Kulit On The Go, that featured an impressive performance by Erwin Shah Ismail, a one-man act who performed in English, Malay, Mandarin and Hokkien, and he even sang while strumming the ukulele.

I felt that I was part of history-in-the-making because Kulit On The Go had the potential to develop into something huge – just like how Emily On Emerald Hill did – and I was blessed with the privilege to watch the 200th performance by Pearly Chua last year.

On Sept 3, I reached the Persada Johor International Convention Centre for an evening of classical music with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and joined fans of classical music to park at the adjacent multi-level carpark.

To skip the queue for paying the parking ticket after the show, I remembered to use my trusted Touch ‘n Go cash card because this carpark has such a convenient facility!

It was good to have a printed programme for the evening’s performance entitled, From Mozart to Totoro, which gave me a guide to how the orchestra started with Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and ended with Music from My Neighbour Totoro by Hisaishi.

Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra conductor, Naohisa
Furusawa, dressed as the title character, Totoro, to
conduct the final piece in their performance here.
Conductor, Naohisa Furusawa, showed his playful side when he donned a costume that resembled the title character, Totoro from the 1988 acclaimed animated tale, when he conducted the final piece in the evening’s performance.

While the hall seated the audience quite comfortably, it was still not an ideal setting for an orchestral performance.

I must admit that I only listened to the music because I could hardly see beyond the first few rows of the orchestra as the brass and percussion sections were hidden from view.

From my seat, I could just peek in between the pianist and violinists to see a bit of the harpist and xylophonist in action.

It was some time since I last enjoyed a show performed by Ajith Baskaran Dass, Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer extraordinaire and his Suvarna dancers as their shows were mostly staged abroad or in other cities.

And when I discovered that he was presenting Much Ado About Dance or M.A.A.D. on Sept 7, I made sure that I was there.

A scene from the 'couple dance' in
Much Ado About Dance
In typical Ajith style (who wanted his audience to be better informed about the performance), the event opened with a pre-show interview-chat where he shared some insights into his role in Suvarna productions and the art of Bharata Natyam.

I thoroughly enjoyed the dance programme which showcased various genres of the classical Indian dance performed by some of Suvarna’s talented dancers as groups, a couple and in solo.

Having been to many of Suvarna’s annual shows, I’m familiar with the dancers and observed how they have matured and continue to excel in their story-telling through portrayal of characters, facial expressions, movement and mime.

I particularly liked the ‘couple dance’ and watched with bated breath, deeply entranced by their performance – until the gentleman next to me – elbowed me to get my attention and told me that the couple were in fact, husband and wife.

I nodded because I already know. They are Vijay Chandran and his wife, Suzatha Suppiah. No thanks to him, my pleasure in watching this performance was rudely interrupted!

My brother and his wife, who were visiting from Kuala Lumpur, joined me on Sept 9 for Tarakucha!

Sean Ghazi with Ida Mariana with the
big band in their Tarakucha! show.
They fondly remember Sean Ghazi's performance in the staging of the West End theatre show, Miss Saigon, and were thrilled that their visit to JB coincided with 15JohorAF and his show here!

All of us enjoyed the show because the ‘big band’ did a good job to complement the flawless vocals of Sean Ghazi and Ida Mariana.

My brother and I, however, agreed that the duet performances could have been more engaging if the artistes connected better with each other while performing.

From the collection of photos I have, I only managed to find one shot – only one – where Sean and Ida actually looked at each other while singing a duet.

If I needed to capture some photos to post with my stories, I will use my camera to discreetly snap with no-flash or if necessary, raise my arms and drop them quickly.

While almost everyone is armed with a sophisticated mobile device that can capture vivid shots and exciting videos, there is a common courtesy about using your devices during live performances.

In spite of the constant reminders from the organisers that NO Videography is allowed, there are recalcitrant people who still insist on filming videos with their mobile-phones.

The very act of videoing a live show is already against the house rules but the duration in which their device is being held up – sometimes blatantly high – that it blocked the view of the audience behind, is just plain rude.

Breaking the house rules is one matter but blocking the audience behind you, is disrupting their pleasure of watching a live performance for which they paid tickets to enjoy.  

Taking away their right to the pleasure of watching a live show is downright wrong and for such careless and inconsiderate behavior, I believe the organisers have the right to simply remove these culprits from the hall!

For some shows, there are also Copyright laws to abide by and it’s just wrong to try to video or film when you were clearly told not to. So if you are guilty of such inconsiderate behavior, please STOP IT.

Now back to my experiences at the 15JohorAF…

The creators of Fusion Wayang Kulit, Tintoy Chuo and
Pak Daim, the Tok Dalang or master puppeteer at 15JohorAF
In 2015, at the 12th Johor Arts Fest, I had the privilege to meet with the creators of Fusion Wayang Kulit and watched their performance of Peperangan Bintang Wayang, their wayang kulit or shadow play rendition of scenes from the epic, Star Wars.

So on Friday afternoon Sept 14, I found my way to the Workshop-Exhibition-Performance event to meet with the creators of Fusion Wayang Kulit, Tintoy Chuo and Pak Daim, the Tok Dalang or master puppeteer.

A series of loud knocks, “Tok Tok Tok” greeted me and then I discovered that it was the sound of hammering during the design and construction of shadow play puppets.

Tintoy Chuo holding up a shadow puppet - Recognise him?
Admiring the display of shadow play puppets set up with labels, I smiled as I recognised familiar Star Wars characters that were given Malaysian identities with names like Perantau Langit (Luke Skywalker) and Sangkala Vedeh (Darth Vader)!

The creativity of Tintoy and his team seemed to know no bounds because they have proudly created an additional character who was quite easily identified, not just from his outfit and spectacles, but also from his pair of low-budget footwear!
. . .

For reasons beyond my control, I had to miss some of the shows but I made sure that my trusted sources would share with me, a brief summary of what happened at the shows.

One of the shows I had to miss was Malaysia’s Queen of Comedy, Joanne Kam Poh Poh. She was described as bold and outrageous and her event poster for Joanne Kam: La La Lian nationwide tour had three more adjectives to describe her show: Fierce, Funny, Fabulous.

Malaysia's Queen of Comedy, Joanne Kam Poh Poh, in action
So prior to the show, I gave two friends (who were going to her show!) the challenge to tell me about the show later, by using only adjectives.

The very next morning, I received one feedback with four words that read: Brilliant. Witty. Raw. Honest.

Then I received the other friend’s comments which gave me a clearer picture of what went down in Joanne’s show.

When I read the words: Entertaining, inspiring but sad, I thought that Joanne was very brave to share the story of her life’s journey through her show.

Her painful experiences are nothing to laugh about but she was clever and courageous to turn these around to her advantage and come out on top!

On Sept 21, my friends and I were all set to be enthralled by the Vision String Quartet who were here to entertain us, all the way from Berlin.

Among us, the two who are formally trained in music admitted that they are great fans – and one of them even broke down and confessed that she had been ‘stalking’ them on You-Tube recently – and could hardly wait for the show!

The Vision String Quartet in JB, all the way from Berlin
For this show – Listen Differently – there was no programme sheet but during the introduction, we heard the announcement that the performance by this ensemble of two violins, a viola and a cello, should open with, Barber Adagio for Strings, Opus 11…

The very mention of Barber sent our two friends into rhapsodies of pure joy…

In the second half of the show, the audience was treated to the music of Mendelssohn.

From where I was seated, I could see their facial expressions and observed how passionate these musicians were performing.  

Very often, the strings on their bows would snap from the sheer energy they were exuding and they discreetly plucked away the stray strands (of horse hair) as they went on playing – standing up and without any music notes – as they played music from their hearts.

Thanks, JSPA for bringing us the 15JohorAF!
The young musicians clearly connected with the audience when they performed their own composition, Samba, but for this, they strummed their stringed instruments instead of using the bows!

It was my privilege to enjoy such an inspiring performance from the young musicians but I just wished that more local music schools – teachers and students – watched this show and seized the opportunity to be inspired by these music virtuosos.

Once again, this question came to mind, “JB arts enthusiasts, where are you?”

Shows and events have been brought almost to your doorstep BUT where are you?

So another Johor Arts Fest is over.

Meanwhile I’m anticipating the next event in the Johor Society of the Performing Arts (JSPA) Calendar of Festivals for Jazz, Film, Indigenous, Classical Music, Piano, Writers & Readers, and other exciting stand-alone events.

For more info, visit Facebook: www.facebook.com/johorperformingarts.