Our Heritage Buildings

Cover design of Hanzhen's book, Johor Bahru
- My City, My Heritage
Sometimes event organizers happen to choose the same day for their events and Friday, Jan 16 was one of those days when I had four events to attend back-to-back that day.  It’s when I have to switch gears from one subject to another and over the years I’ve come to deal with it as all-in-a-day’s-work.  Small but important events that day gave me the challenge to plan my itinerary to be on time at each event and not forget to factor in travel time between places as far as Le Grandeur Hotel in Senai to the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel in Bandar Baru Permas Jaya and then to DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Johor Baru before going back to Renaissance JB. 

Event bunting at the lobby of DoubleTree
by Hilton Johor Baru
I explained to my hosts at Renaissance JB that I don’t want to miss the JB-Tokyo Para Art Exchange 2015 at the DoubleTree by Hilton JB in the afternoon and they graciously accommodated my request by adjusting our time together.  This was a unique exhibition of art work by visiting para-artists from Japan along with JB’s own gifted special artist, Yap Hanzhen.  I have been part of this young artist’s journey since he started to exhibit his sketches back in 2011 and supported him through the years as he gained more recognition for his art, both locally and abroad.

When he participated in the Asia Para Art competition in 2013, Hanzhen’s sketch of the historical Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in Malacca was one of the winning entries selected from among a pool of 1000 entries in Japan.  His success earned him a special invitation to Asia Para Art 2013 held in Tokyo in October 2013 and a spot in a travelling exhibition to various airport locations in Japan.

Brothers, Hanzhen [Left] with Zhihan
At age 16, Hanzhen has held more than 20 exhibitions in various locations around JB, Singapore and Tokyo.  Last year his sketch of Meiji Jingu, a shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo, was exhibited at the Japan Tottori Para Art Exhibition 2014, an international art show held at Tottori Prefecture Art Space Gallery until Sept 21. 

The JB-Tokyo Para Art Exchange 2015 held from Jan 16 – 18 at the DoubleTree by Hilton JB, presented six Japanese para-artists with the opportunity to visit Hanzhen’s hometown and showcase some of their art.  It was a cross-cultural art exchange between Hanzhen and ParaArt of Nippon Charity Kyokai Foundation in Tokyo, aimed to explore and share knowledge on the development of art as a future income for disabled people.  More importantly, it is hoped that such an art exchange will raise awareness that will elevate the standard and change the perception of art by the disabled in both cities.

This sketch is the favourite of Hanzhen's mother!
I was honoured to be among the guests at the exhibition where Hanzhen would officially launch his latest book, a project by Daiman Landmark Hotel Sdn Bhd for DoubleTree by Hilton JB, entitled “Johor Bahru – My City, My Heritage,” a sketch book of historical buildings in Johor Bahru.  Hanzhen’s unique style in sketching received much support from the Daiman Group who commissioned him to complete an extensive series of 101 sketches that now decorate the lobby and restaurants of the DoubleTree by Hilton JB.

I arrived at Axis Lounge in the lobby of DoubleTree by Hilton JB to see many guests already there and heard live keyboard music which I correctly guessed, was being played by Hanzhen.  His mother, Yvonne, warmly welcomed me and said how glad she was that I will not miss Hanzhen’s speech.  Hanzhen is special and it must have taken a bit of effort to coach him to present a speech.  Later on, I understood why she said that. 

All eyes and ears were attentive when Hanzhen
presented his speech at the event
The Japanese visitors must have felt quite at home because I recognised several familiar Japanese people from the JB Japanese community among them.  The chairman of the Japanese delegation expressed their deep appreciation for this event which gave international exposure to para art.  She said it was not easy for people to understand how para artists relate to their art because to them, art was as important as life itself.  Japan has more than 50 years of para art activities organised to promote peace and harmony among nations and it is their privilege to introduce this concept to the world.

General Manager of DoubleTree by Hilton JB, Simon McGrath, invited guests to enjoy more of Hanzhen’s art displayed in the hotel lobby, banquet spaces and at Tosca, the Italian trattoria on the 11th floor.  Referring to Hanzhen’s book, “Johor Bahru – My City, My Heritage,” he said that DoubleTree by Hilton is committed to promoting heritage areas in the city, particularly to preserve old buildings that are fast disappearing.  He expressed his pleasure in how the 30 sketches are a beautiful record of heritage buildings in JB and they come with a map for visitors to explore and experience the heart and soul of this city.

Hanzhen with his father [Left] at the book-signing session
When it was Hanzhen’s turn to give his speech, there was ripple of excitement as the audience and members of the media pointed their cameras on him.  Hanzhen was quite oblivious of the attention probably because his eyes were focused to the small screen of a mobile phone, which he held up to read his speech.  This savant autistic teenager garnered much admiration as he read out what was written, word for word, first with a brief introduction of himself followed by each item which was numbered point by point.

His voice rang out clearly probably because the entire audience was listening attentively and the only sounds heard were the soft clicks from the cameras.  When Hanzhen introduced his book, guests discovered that they have each received a complimentary copy in the door gift.  I’m listening to his speech that was drawing to an end and was pleasantly surprised when Hanzhen read out, “I want to say thank you to Peggy,” before saying thank you also to the Daiman Group who sponsored the publishing of his book!

A queue of people waiting for their book to be signed!
I’m sure many in the audience may not understand why he said that or who he meant but I was deeply touched that Hanzhen and his family publicly acknowledged me at the launch of his book.  Hanzhen and his family have already shown their appreciation for my contribution to his career by presenting me with specially drawn piece entitled, “Simply Butterflies!”  It was truly a lovely gesture.

I found out later that the speech was written by Hanzhen’s father, Yap Yew Peng.  He told me he can clearly recall that day when we met at the event in Leisure Farm back in 2011, the bench where we sat down for a chat and the conversation we had about Hanzhen’s gift in drawing. 

My signed copy where Hanzhen also wrote my name!
Yap recalled that at that time, Hanzhen had just started drawing and his subjects were small animals like dogs, cats and birds.  Yap and Yvonne are familiar with My Johor Stories and my interest in local art, culture and heritage.  

When I encouraged Hanzhen to start sketching images of JB’s old buildings to preserve their architectural beauty for posterity, they were excited about it.  It was a new challenge for Hanzhen to move from drawing animals and small creatures to buildings and as the Yaps are architects by profession, heritage buildings certainly appealed to them. 

It was sweet to reminisce about how the idea was mooted and I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of satisfaction to see his sketches compiled in a book for locals and visitors to appreciate and enjoy.  The event aptly ended with a book-signing session where his father stood proudly by Hanzhen as he signed book after book for happy owners of his book on JB heritage buildings.

For more info and enquiries, please contact Galeri Hanzhen on email: info@hanzhen.org  and visit website: www.hanzhen.org and Nippon Charity Kyokai Foundation on email: info@paraart.jp and visit website: www.paraart.jp


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