Golden Trip

Aunties in a photo memento at Sultan Ismail Building
My friend, Florence Liew, has a tradition of an annual family holiday and after their family’s beach holiday in Desaru last year, they were back again for a stay in Johor Baru last December.

While the Legoland theme park is the main destination for the children and grandchildren, she wondered what the older folks should do that day as they were not keen to join the youngsters.  When she approached me for advice on what to do with her senior family members, I was warned that the oldest is aged 82 and some of them are not able to walk too much.
A section of the Heritage Gallery at Dataran Mahkota
I’m all for tailor-made tours that meet with the tastes and requirements of the specific group and by understanding the guests’ needs, I considered a few destinations to plan their route for a day trip.  

Bearing in mind the monsoon weather, travel distances and the attractions I had in mind to introduce to them, I decided on a leisurely itinerary to show them the best of the old and new in JB.  The planning was considerably easy as our guests – uncles and aunties – are within an age group who are able to relate to the beauty and rich heritage of a bygone era.

Entrance is free-of-charge to the Siar Jauhar Gallery
On the day of our tour, the weather cooperated with cloudy skies and occasional bright sunshine as we set off at about 10am from the resort where they were staying.  Eleven of us travelled in two cars and headed to Kota Iskandar through new expressways in Nusajaya with a drive for a peek at Puteri Harbour and Legoland Malaysia.  

Now they can say that they have seen Legoland and those who came from Kuala Lumpur and understand the concept of Putrajaya can relate to the development of Kota Iskandar as the new administrative center of Johor Baru.  

Cheng Chee Tong, secretary of JB Kwong Siew Wai Kuan,
giving us a guided tour of the JB Kwong Siew Heritage
Gallery at Jalan Siu Nam
Our first stop was the Heritage Gallery that borders Dataran Mahkota where they could also admire the facade of the impressive Bangunan Dato Jaafar Muhammad on one side and the Bangunan Sultan Ismail located directly opposite.  

This outdoor gallery has a series of wall plaques inscribed with information shared in three languages – Jawi, Malay, and English – that charts the history of Johor to our modern age.  I reminded our guests to start reading in chronological order from the left to right to better appreciate the comprehensive info arranged on the wall.

Freshly baked coconut bun from
Hiap Joo's traditional charcoal bakery
It was good to cool down in the shelter of Bangunan Sultan Ismail where the seniors took their time to walk up the gentle path into Siar Jauhar Gallery.  One of Florence’s uncles, a philatelist, made a beeline for the post office there where he bought a series of postage stamps to add to his collection.  

Meanwhile everyone enjoyed viewing the interesting and informative displays in the gallery that included details on Johor's political and social progress, historical relics and Johor’s unique heritage that influenced the architectural design of the buildings in Kota Iskandar.

Before heading to the old town in the heart of the city, we had lunch at a modern kopitiam in Bukit Indah.  At our next stop our guests, who are Cantonese, were delighted to discover their ancestral origins from a map of the various counties in Kwangtung Province in the Johor Baru Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery.  

Refreshment stop at Kim Wah kopitiam
Cheng Chee Tong, secretary of the Johor Baru Kwong Siew Wai Kuan, was on hand to give us a guided tour of this museum and when I saw several interesting artifacts in their priceless collection of memorabilia, I made a mental note to visit the gallery again for more in-depth insights into the cultural heritage of the Cantonese clan in Johor Baru.

A visit to Johor Baru is not complete without a trip to the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk and our guests were thrilled to observe the traditional art of baking in a charcoal oven at Kedai Kek & Roti Hiap Joo, a family business that still produces piping hot products from their ancient oven.  

The seniors climbed three flights of
stairs in the JB Chinese Heritage
Museum to view a special exhibit
The tiny space in the bakery was crowded with shoppers and curious tourists like us but no one left empty-handed because Hiap Joo’s freshly-baked banana cake and stuffed buns are simply irresistible.  It was then timely to sit down on the shady pavement of Kim Wah, a traditional kopitiam situated opposite the bakery, to savour these traditional pastries with a hot cup of coffee or teh-see, a favourite beverage brewed with evaporated milk.

Rested and rejuvenated by the tea break, we strolled along the heritage walk to the JB Chinese Heritage Museum where our senior guests took their time to climb three flights of stairs to explore the museum, all the way to the top level, for a special exhibit on the Ngee Heng clan.  

I explained how Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim encouraged the Chinese in Singapore to move into Johor to open fresh land for new plantations and the introduction of the kangchu or River Lord system to establish pepper and gambier plantations in areas along the rivers.  These economic crops gained a place of honour in Johor history and today, this motif with intertwined sprigs of pepper and gambier plants is widely used in various structures like lampposts and signboards throughout the state.

Our satisfied visitors to JB, at the JB Chinese Heritage Museum, at the end of the day tour
It was my privilege to enhance their visit with historical references and interesting anecdotes as I showed our guests the new development in Kota Iskandar and linked it back to the heritage in the heart of the old town.  On their part, the seniors did well by walking the heritage trails, re-discovering old and vanishing trades as well as reminiscing on the early immigrant’s way of life.  One thing for sure, exploring the best of old and new in JB was an enriching experience not just for our guests but also for Florence and I.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 10 January 2013

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