Survana launches Natyarpana

Suvarna Fine Arts recently launched, Natyarpana, a bi-annual dance series, to a packed audience in Johor Baru.

A sculptured pose at the end of a dance performed by
 students from the Setia Tropika and Pulai
Utama branches of Suvarna Fine Arts
Every year since its inception in 1994, Suvarna would showcase its students’ talents in elaborate stage productions while the Natyarpana is being initiated as a bi-annual dance series.  The inaugural show was organised and choreographed by the teaching faculty and featured more than 80 students who performed a repertoire of 11 dances with the finale by the four tutors. The show opened with the introduction of the teaching team followed by the tradition of presenting flower garlands to honour the tutors’ parents.

“The Natyarpana gave the senior graduates an opportunity to exercise their skills in arranging and staging a show to the Suvarna standards of performance,” said event coordinator, Viajy Chandran.  He said the show also provided a platform for students in the various branches to be exposed to stage performances and to experience the value of this art and cultural heritage.

Ajith Bhaskaran Dass [5th from Left] with members of the teaching team [on his Right] and senior students [on his Left]

Ajith Bhaskaran Dass, one of the nation’s most accomplished Bharata Natyam dancers, started Suvarna in 1993 and he performed its first show with just four students – Suzatha Suppiah, Ananthemalar Durairaj, Vijayan Veeryan and Vijay Chandran. These students who graduated under his tutelage, now form the teaching faculty who works with Ajith to operate various branches of the dance academy opened in Setia Tropika, Pulai, Saleng, Masai, Desa Cemerlang and Ulu Tiram.

A section of the performers for the inaugural Natyarpana
with four members of the teaching team [Centre]
“Dance is an endless journey,” declared Ajith as he encouraged his senior students to be involved with dance, not only as dancers but also in wardrobe management, set and lighting design and execution. 

The launch of the bi-annual series that involved the next generation of students was a significant achievement for Ajith who believes in giving students a holistic education in all aspects of dance, from dancing and teaching to choreography as well as stage production.

Ajith shares the success of Suvarna with his teaching team who has caught his vision in nurturing and promoting classical dance as a powerful medium for the performing arts.  He is tproud that Suvarna is recognised for its vibrant dance renditions, striking choreography and innovative theatrical presentations and is continuing a legacy in training and producing dancers of exceptional talent.

For more info and queries on Suvarna Fine Arts courses in Bharatha Natyam, Odissi, contemporary and folk dances, email:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 28 July 2015

Grandma Wardrobe Legacy

Our grandmother passed away peacefully at age 103 on July 2.  After bidding her a fond farewell with a grand send-off, my mum invited family members over to look at grandma’s things and pick out something of hers to keep as a memento.  

Grandma's stock of Sam Fong square cakes
of face powder!
That night, my siblings joined our cousins and aunts to open the storage boxes and old suitcases where gran’s things were stored.  Mum had kept everything that belonged to gran when she lived with us, exactly the way gran had packed the items.

We saw that gran had meticulously preserved her old clothes – sets of outfits she may have outgrown but were too precious to throw out – neatly wrapped in sheets of old curtains and secured by large safety pins.  While most of her outfits were tailored, there were also blouses and trousers that were bought ready-made or received as gifts.

For home wear, gran used to wear matching sets of blouses and loose trousers made of cotton material.  The blouses were usually sleeveless or with cap-sleeves with two patch pockets in front.

I remember she was fond of shopping for fabrics to tailor into sets of blouses with collar and sleeves, teamed with trousers.  Her regular tailor was a seamstress in Kulai known as Heong cheh, and later when Aunty Polly and her husband were based in a farm near Kluang, gran found another tailor in Kluang.

Bernice is thrilled to find a quilt among gran's belongings
Then we saw gran’s sewing box.  Gran may not have been skilled in tailoring her own clothes but she was handy in mending tears and sewing on buttons.  I remember, when she was living with us, gran would sew a few markings with red colour thread to identify her own flannelettes and panties, as if they could not be identified next to those belonging to mum and I! *Wink wink!*

There were also separate boxes of buttons and threads, scissors and other sewing items but one of the unique looking things was a rectangular metal box that was darkly discoloured and smooth with age.  It was that type of deep box used for dried pellets of Chinese herbal medicine that were wrapped within balls of hollow wax.  

Grandfather [wearing dark jacket, standing Right behind
trophy] with a sports group; Photo dated 1935
Gran, who was a proponent of traditional medicine for maintenance of good health, had melted a great deal of wax into the box and it was half-full of solid wax and stuck with pins and needles.  My sister-in-law, Veronica, was so fascinated that she quickly claimed it.

Speaking of panties, gran had a collection of underwear which mum distributed to her sisters – particularly the white cotton Marks & Spencer ones – which they had previously bought for gran.  There was also a stack of brassieres that were virtually brand new.  And since there were no takers for gran’s bras, Veronica took the lot!

Cousin Bernice was after a particular patchwork quilt that gran was using but we discovered that it was too late to retrieve because it was buried with her.  Her disappointment turned to joy when she found another quilt among gran’s belongings and happily kept it for herself!

Family at funeral of great-grandmother, Lim Ah Nee,
in front of 154, Jalan Ngee Heng, Photo dated 1941
Gran also had a variety of hand fans – woven and feather fans – but the Japanese-style foldable ones were more convenient to carry.  So Bernice picked out one folded fan made of batik cloth for herself and I chose one made of sandal wood for her to take back to the UK to pass to my sister, Pearly, there.

As Bernice unpacked the bags and boxes, she took the liberty to throw out what was confirmed as “junk” and retrieved a number of interesting items like back-scratchers and massage equipment, gran’s compact powder as well as her stock of favourite face powder – boxes of Sam Fong square cakes of face powder!

Notice how the front windscreen of this hearse has two
glass panels that open outwards for ventilation!
While some of us were going through gran’s wardrobe, the others were looking at old photos from gran’s collection in two photo albums.  One album was filled with photos of grandfather or Ah Kong while the other had some coloured photos of gran when she was on holiday.  Besides postcards and birthday cards that she received, we found more loose photos kept in separate envelopes.

In a large envelope, we discovered large photo prints and were amazed at the well-preserved photo quality even though they were now faded sepia tones.  The inscribed dates reminded us that the funeral photo for mum’s Teochew grandmother was 1941 while another group shot of Ah Kong with a sports team was dated 1935. 

Unfortunately, another photo of a funeral was undated and no one could identify the face of the deceased.  But I noted that the hearse – clearly not air-conditioned – had two glass panels for the front windscreen that were opened outwards for better ventilation!

A card that Pearly sent to grandma
on her 90th birthday
It was also fascinating to see the building in the background of the 1941 funeral photo that shows the row of shops that still exists along Jalan Ngee Heng, opposite Wisma Maria and DoubleTree by Hilton JB.  A bit of Ah Kong’s house, No. 154, a double-storey bungalow, built with concrete ground floor and wooden upstairs, can be seen at the far left.  It was a landmark on the road with the entire compound of a bungalow and badminton court, surrounded by a tall bamboo fence, but it has been demolished.

It was interesting that for that funeral, the family was wearing traditional sackcloth with all the trimmings of a somber send-off for great-grandmother Lim Ah Nee, who was Ah Kong’s mother.  I remember horror stories of gran’s mother-in-law who earned the nickname, Nyonya Kuching because she was reputed to have a hot temper.  A similar portrait of her that was used on the hearse, is in my own collection of family artifacts.

More than a week later, mum reminded me to take a final look into the storage boxes and bags before they are disposed.  So here I am looking through gran’s wardrobe, admiring the fabrics and discovering interesting outfits.  

Trixie is also curious when I opened the bag of gran's clothes
Dad couldn’t help laughing as he watched me trying on gran’s clothes and was brutally honest to tell me that in gran’s clothes, I have added another 20 years to my age.  I saw some blouses that I like and may even wear but assured dad that I would certainly dress up the outfits to make them look trendy!

Mum picked out a few pairs of gran’s solid colour trousers, especially the black silk ones while I found a dark mustard coloured casual pair.  Then mum spotted the blouse that gran used to wear with that particular pair of trousers and asked me to keep them.

There was a silk blouse, the type bought from the Chinese emporiums with a label that read: Hand Embroidered, Made in China, and I had to keep.  There were also several sets of China-made cotton pajamas in pastel green and yellow with embroidered flowers and butterflies that looked almost new so we set them aside to present to the aunts later.

Check out these classic buttons that were
fashionably wrapped in the same fabric!
Mum pulled out matching sets of tailored blouses and trousers made from flannel-like fabric that were sewn by late Aunty Helen, gran’s daughter-in-law in Sydney.  This aunt, who was also skilled in knitting and crocheting, had a sewing business then and must have machined several sets of outfits for gran to keep her more comfortable in cooler weather.  I thought these were uniquely sentimental so they are kept for our eldest sister, Ruby, who could wear them in winter when she stayed with her sons in Perth!

My favourite piece must be one of gran’s tailored silk blouses that featured big buttons.  In those days, it was the fashion to have buttons machine wrapped in the same fabric and I thought they were simply classic!

I took my choices from gran’s wardrobe for a quick hand wash and when I soaked them into water, my nostrils were assaulted by a pungent mothball smell.  It instantly brought back memories of gran’s penchant in preserving her things with generous portions of mothballs!  When two rounds of rinsing couldn’t quite remove the mothball flavour, I gave the clothes a final rinse with fabric softener for a more familiar fragrance.

Now I have some of gran’s things not just as precious mementos but also to use.  With the clothes neatly ironed, I’m waiting for the opportunity to wear them in honour of our beloved grandmother. So look out!  And don’t be surprised to spot me with the vintage, gran-look-alike style.

JB Wesley Methodist Golden Anniversary

Wesley Methodist Church Johor Baru recently celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a banquet hosted for 700 guests. 

The event kicked-off with praise and worship
It was an evening not only for celebration but also of reminiscing on the history of the church in JB.  Fifty years ago, the English-speaking congregation used to meet in the premises of the Tamil Methodist Church until Reverend W. S. Reinoehl saw the need to start a separate meeting in 1965.  In 1966, the number of people who met regularly was just 27 and 50 years on, the congregation has grown about 12 times the original number.
When he started the English meeting in JB, Rev Reinoehl, then the superintendent of the Methodist Centre in Port Dickson, would travel some 320km each month and stayed a few days to help with the work here.  In 1966, Rev Gunnar Teilman, who was then based in Singapore and working with the Samaritans of Singapore, was appointed part-time pastor of the church.  A year later, the church would meet in a classroom that was rented from the Johor Tutorial College located at Jalan Yahya Awal.

The church choir presented several songs
At that time, the congregation was made up mainly of nurses from the JB General Hospital, trainees from the Malaysian Teachers Training College and some students.  In 1969, the church moved into their own building at Jalan Encik Besar Zubaidah and started the Youth Fellowship and Sunday School for children.  As the congregation increased, a building fund was launched in 1976 with the aim to buy a property and land in Taman Pelangi.

At the end of 1978, the church moved into their new premises at Jalan Ungu Tujuh, Taman Pelangi where a kindergarten was started in 1984.  The church thanked then Johor Menteri Besar, Datuk Ghani Othman and then Stulang Member of Parliament, Datuk Freddie Long, for the government’s permission to covert the land for church use.  

Pastor Joshua Hong [2nd from Left] joined the choir in
singing the anniversary theme song
In 2007, after the title for three plots of land in Jalan Ungu Tujuh were amalgamated and converted for religious and education use, a new building was constructed and completed in 2008. 

“The church needs to look beyond its walls and be externally focused,” said Pastor Rev Joshua Hong who encouraged the members to be channels of blessing, particularly to the poor in the community.  “We are not to be contented with where we are and neither can we be complacent,” he added.

The JB Wesley Methodist Church choir performed their anniversary theme song, “Envision, Engage, Extend,” with the lyrics written by Hong and music by Susanna Hong and Evangeline Chirayil.  For more info, visit website:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 22 July 2015

Sports Carnival for at-risk kids

Anbum AaTharavum (AAa), Tamil for “Love and Support” is a volunteer organisation that runs Enrichment and Sports activities for at-risk schoolchildren in South Johor.  

The team from SMK Bandar Seri Alam celebrates their
triumph in the football competition
AAa held its Sports Carnival dubbed AAa Piala Merdeka 2015, at SMK Bandar Seri Alam last Saturday.  The event involved some 350 children and a total of 24 teams along with their teacher-mentors, volunteers and supporters.

Students from the five participating schools were host school, SMK Bandar Seri Alam, SMK Dato’ Usman Awang, SMK Taman Sutera, SMK Pasir Gudang 1 and SMK Kota Masai 2.  In Netball, SMK Dato’ Usman Awang won top honours in both Under-15 and Under-18 divisions while hosts SMK Bandar Seri Alam swept both challenge trophies in Football.

Since 2013, AAa has been running unique holistic programmes in education enrichment and sports activities with the help of volunteers.  The programme concept was conceived by former Accountant and Project Manager, Suseela Arulanantham, with the aim to help at-risk schoolchildren discover and develop their potential.  

Volunteer, Elan Ko [Left] presenting the challenge trophy to
the winning Netball team from SMK Dato Usman Awang
Training sessions are conducted in participating schools on Saturdays by professionals who draw on their own training, expertise and exposure to deliver relevant lessons.  The Enrichment sessions cover Leadership Skills, Goal-Setting, Teamwork, Money Management, Environmental Awareness and Sustainability & Landscaping.

In the area of personal development, the topics include Grooming & Hygiene, Healthy Relationships, Sex Education, Communication Skills, Choral Speaking, Poise & Confidence, Miming, Breathing Techniques, Anger Management, Social Challenges: The Dangers of Drug Abuse and Alcoholism; Compassion, Empathy & Social Responsibility – outreach to the homeless, cleaning of temples and other houses of worship.

A weekly English Reading Programme is also run in all 18 participating Tamil Primary Schools in Johor Bahru, Kulai and Pasir Gudang.

Volunteer, Suseela Arulanantham [Right] speaking to
Pasir Gudang District Education Officer, Tuan Haji
Jasni Omar [2nd from Left]
“AAa is structured, results-oriented and in line with the Education Blueprint,” said Pasir Gudang District Education Officer, Tuan Haji Jasni Omar, who officiated the AAa Piala Merdeka 2015 event and praised the programme for what it has achieved.  He also said his department would collaborate with and assist AAa in running its programmes in Pasir Gudang.

AAa is currently funded and supported by several temple organisations namely, Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam, JB; Sri Subramaniar Kovil Paribalana Saba, Masai; Sri Subramaniar Temple, Tampoi; Sri Subramanian Temple, Kolam Air; and Arulmigu Senthil  Murugan Thirukovil, Taman Perling, as well as Parent-Teacher Associations of participating schools and well-wishers.

AAa invites volunteer input for its Enrichment programmes as well as funding for its long-term mission.  Email:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 14 July 2015

Johor Talent Development Programme

UM Land-Dynasty View Sdn Bhd, the developer of Taman Seri Austin, is the first private company in Johor to support the state government’s efforts to resolve unemployment problems among graduates with the Johor Talent Development Programme.

Siti Nurul Shahira Mohd Fauzi [Centre] and Nur Fatin Ropizol
[Left] presenting their business plan for a craft-making cafe
to UM Land-Dynasty View CEO, Wong Kuen Kong
Launched in early June to enhance the graduates’ employability, the Talent Development Programme aims to develop the right communication and workplace skills for graduates in Johor.  UM Land-Dynasty View was the first private organization to exercise their Corporate Social Responsibility by working in partnership with Elnet Talent Solutions, the coordinator of Johor Talent Development, in the first Talent Development Programme.

Places to participate in the Programme were offered to some 20 fresh graduates and under graduates from institutions of higher learning like, Universiti Teknoloji Malaysia, J-Biotech and Crescendo College Johor Baru.  The components of the Programme include Performance Mindset, Enhancing Self Esteem, Character First, Customer Service Skills, Writing-Reading-Listening Skills, Workplace Communication, Entrepreneurship and Business Plan Proposal, Problem Solving, Resume Writing and Presentation Skills

UM Land-Dynasty View CEO, Wong Kuen Kong, giving his
attention to presentation of business plan for a funeral services
company by Ng Zheng Qiang [Left] and Tai Wai Ying
Participants who attended the 40-hour Programme at 8 hours per day for five days, enjoyed an interactive time of learning facilitated by Elnet Talent Solutions Chief Executive Officer and corporate trainer, Dr Elilen Chandra.

At the end of the programme, participants were required to prepare a Business Plan to present and pitch their ideas effectively to obtain finance from a financial institution.  They also used a PowerPoint presentation to introduce themselves in a mock interview.

UM Land-Dynasty View Chief Executive Officer, Wong Kuen Kong, participated in the exercise in his role as the financial institution and as a potential employer.  After listening to their presentations, he also gave valuable feedback to the participants.

Some of the graduates at the training session with
UM Land-Dynasty View CEO, Wong Kuen Kong [3rd from
Right] and Elnet Talent Solutions CEO and corporate trainer,
Dr Elilen Chandra [3rd from Left]
"We are pleased to support the Talent Development Programme to help graduates in Johor become for marketable,” said Wong whose company will sponsor the graduates’ training programme as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility Programme.  “I hope this will inspire other corporations to help the government address the unemployment problem and provide graduates with the necessary soft skills to gain employment,” he added.

While all the participants could attest to the fact that they have gained more self-confidence at the end of the programme, they were also grateful for the real-world experience through their interaction with personnel in a successful property developer like UM Land-Dynasty View Sdn Bhd.  The participants attended a graduation ceremony held during a breaking-of-fast event hosted by UM Land-Dynasty View at a local hotel recently.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 12 July 2015

DoubleTree Hilton hosts Rohingya children

Thirty children from Project ABC, a Soroptimist International Johor Baru’s (SIJB) learning centre for Rohingya children, students from Project ABC, broke fast as guests of DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru, recently.

DoubleTree by Hilton General Manager, Simon McGrath
[Left] presenting duit raya to the Rohingya children
Accompanied by SIJB President, Nooraini Mohd Yasin and SIJB Immediate Past President, Soraya Alkaff-Gilmour, the children spent time getting acquainted with the hotel staff before the breaking-of-fast meal.

The learning centres Project ABC I & II in Kota Tinggi and Kulaijaya were established by SIJB in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help Rohingya refuges children obtain a basic education.

Since it started with just 25 students in 2007, the learning centres now have a total of 250 students between the ages of 5 to 17.  The success of these two learning centres has resulted with the third centre being opened in Tampoi, Johor Baru. 

SIJB President, Nooraini Mohd Yasin [2nd from Left], SIJB
Immediate Past President, Soraya Alkaff-Gilmour [Left],
international intern Alistair Duncan [Back Row 3rd
from Left] with DoubleTree Hilton staff and their guests
One of the two teachers in the Tampoi learning centre is Siti Zubaidah Yasin, a Rohingya graduate from the Kota Tinggi centre who successfully completed her diploma from Dignity Foundation under UNHCR.  

The teaching team is currently being assisted by an international intern, Alistair Duncan, a lawyer from the UK working in Singapore, who took 5 months to volunteers with SIJB before returning to the UK to do his Masters.

“Besides receiving an education, the students are provided with uniforms, shoes and books,” said Alkaff-Gilmour, who is also the Project Coordinator and Liaison Officer with UNHCR.  By interacting with them in English, she is proud that the children have acquired a great deal of confidence to speak in English.

DoubleTree Hilton staff making their guests feel welcome
“Our scope is not only education but also in giving them skills development including literacy classes, sewing and cooking classes for single mothers,” said Alkaff-Gilmour.  She said youths aged between 16 and 22 will join SIJB’s Skills Development Programme to equip them with living skills and become financially independent.

“It’s our pleasure to see the smiling faces of the children and know that this small gesture has made the less fortunate happy at this special time of year,” said DoubleTree by Hilton JB, General Manager, Simon McGrath as he mingled with the guests who were enjoying a sumptuous spread of more than 80 authentic local and traditional delights served from live cooking stalls in the Festive Flavours buffet spread in Makan Kitchen.

SIJB welcomes sponsors to support their effort with Project ABC as the learning centre operations depend on public funds.  Sponsors should email to:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 10 July 2015

Pulai Springs' Ramadan goodwill

Children from SK Taman Universiti 1, identified from eleven underprivileged families, were guests of Pulai Springs Resort (PSR) for a Ramadan breaking-of-fast meal, recently.

Director of Operations, Sunny Soo [2nd from Right] presenting
duit raya to a guest while Sports & Welfare Club chairman,
Azrin Razali [Right] has a goody bag ready for the guest
The resort’s Director of Operations, Sunny Soo, welcomed the children aged between seven and twelve who are orphans and from needy families, accompanied by their guardians, family members and teachers, to savour a sumptuous spread at the Gleneagles Terrace Restaurant. 

“Our team believes in the spirit of sharing and caring, especially during the festive season when the less privileged need more care and attention,” said Soo who is pleased that the resort is able to share the company’s success with the needy.  This annual charity event is part of the resort’s Corporate Social Responsibility Programme to give back to the community.

“Our Resort has another charity event planned for July 29 where our staff will visit the children’s ward at Hospital Sultanah Aminah to bring them some Raya goodwill during the festive season,” he added.

One for the album; Pulai Springs Resort team with their
guests at the Ramadan goodwill event
After the Maghrib prayers, guests at the event enjoyed a spread of more than 100 traditional, international and local delicacies specially prepared by Executive Chef Ian Lim and his culinary team. 

Soo and PSR staff were joined by the resort’s Sports & Welfare Club chairman, Azrin Razali, and some committee members to present duit raya and goodie bags filled with stationery items sponsored by Schwan-Stabilo Marketing to the children.

The families were also presented with a gift package that included a prayer mat or sejadah and provisions like rice, flour, sugar, cordial, milk, Milo, preserved dates, coffee powder, canned sardines among other useful cooking items to help ease their burden in celebrating the coming festive season.  These generous contributions are from a joint effort between the resort and their Sports and Welfare Club.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 8 July 2015

Keen drum troop at Kiswire

Kiswire Malaysia employees who formed a drum troop to play Chinese drums in the art of the 24 Festive Drums, were delighted to meet with Tan Chai Puan, one of the founders of this unique art of drumming recently.

Members of the Kiswire drum troop practicing their moves
While this creative art of playing the 24 Festive Drums was founded by then Foon Yew High School students, Tan and the late Tan Hooi Song in 1988, Kiswire Malaysia was established in Johor in 1989 as a US$600 million investment.  In 2009, this unique art of drumming was recognised as a national cultural heritage by the Unity, Culture and Heritage Ministry.

Inspired by drummers they saw in past International Drum Competitions, some employees in Kota Kiswire, their regional headquarters and research and development centre in Johor Baru, decided to form their own drum troop.  Since last December, this group has been training under drum coach, Koh Chung Wei, a skilled drummer and Foon Yew High School graduate.

Drumming coach Koh Chung Wei [Left], co-founder of the
24 Festive Drums Tan Chai Puan [5th from Left], Kiswire
CEO Charles Lee [4th from Right] with the drum troop
Kiswire SEA Headquarters, CEO, Charles Lee, said that they have a Sports and Social Welfare Club for staff to arrange sports events as well as the company’s annual dinner for some 1300 employees in their high-carbon steel products operations in JB and Tanjung Langsat.  In addition to playing games like football, badminton, table-tennis and bowling, their sports club also has a drum troop.

"Part of our philosophy is to always appreciate our colleagues who work hard for the company’s success,” said Lee.  “We are like a big family here,” he added.

“Muhamad Shahrul Nizam has a good sense of rhythm and he leads the troop to play the drums with good timing,” said Koh about the troop member who probably honed his rhythm sense from his experience in playing the traditional kompang.  Koh coaches the troop for two hours per week in a second floor space that the company allocated for the drumming training.

“Every day after lunch, we practice our drumming,” said Chris Chai, one of the women members of the drum troop.  She explained that they initially started strongly with 20 members but due to various reasons, their membership dwindled to only nine.  At the moment, their troop comprises five Malay, three Chinese and one Korean member.

The Kiswire drum troop after their performance at the
company's Annual Dinner held in March 2015
“This is very significant for drumming,” said Tan who was delighted to discover this drum troop in Kiswire, a Korean investment here.  In his recent visit to China, Tan was thrilled to discover a Shanghainese company, another private corporation that also has their own 24 Festive Drums troop. 

Tan, a cultural activist and poet who is also head of the Art & Cultural Museum in Southern College, anticipates more interest in this art of drumming as the next International Drum Competition is being organised for the fourth time in JB.

This unique art of drumming was exported abroad when more graduates from Foon Yew High School went to further their studies and formed drum troops in universities in Singapore, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.  With more than 300 drum troops worldwide, Tan is pleased that this JB-born art form has gone international.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 2 July 2015 

Disabled break fast at golf clulb

Ponderosa Golf & Country Resort shared the spirit of Ramadan in a breaking-of-fast meal with 32 students with disability and their teachers from S K Kulai Kampung Melayu, at the resort recently.

Disabled children showing of their duit raya presented by
Ponderosa Golf  & Country Resort General Manager,
Ivan Teo [Back row, wearing white T-shirt]
Guests from this day school with a section that provides a special education curriculum for students with disability, were treated to a buffet spread of some 100 types of food that featured Nasi Dagang dishes, whole roast lamb and traditional chilled desserts like ice-balls, ice-cream potong sandwiched in buns, ice-cream goyang and a generous serving of fresh durians.
"The terrace that overlooks the golf green, is not only an ideal spot to host our Ramadan buffet but also suitable for serving our king of fruits – durian,” said resort General Manager, Ivan Teo, who later presented the students with gifts of duit raya and festive cookies.

School headmaster, Razali Lan [Standing 6th from Left]
with resort GM, Ivan Teo [next to him] and team of teachers
“I wish to take this opportunity to commend the team of teachers for their commitment and patience in guiding these special students,” said school headmaster, Razali Lan, who is aware that the teachers and their assistants have a gift in handling these children with compassion.

Senior Assistant, Noor Aini Misni, who has been attached to the special education section of the school for the last 17 years, said their special students included children who were diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and physical disabilities.  The special students, aged between 8 and 12 years, were at the event accompanied by 24 teachers and their families.

“In addition to the school subjects that prepare them for UPSR exams, the special students are given lessons in Living Skills,” said Noor Aini.  She said the students, made up of 23 boys and 9 girls, are taught to create handicrafts including beadwork for costume jewellery and in baking cookies.  When these products were sold at the school’s Teachers’ Day and Entrepreneurs’ Day, the special students were very encouraged.

A section of diners enjoying the breaking of fast meal
at the Golf Terrace, Ponderosa Golf & Country Resort
The team of 10 teachers and assistants for the special students often plan outings with the students as they wish to give the students experiences that they may otherwise miss out from their childhood.  In sports, two of their special students have participated in shot-put at previous MSSJ state level para games and also has a bowling team for MSSJ 2015 as well as joined district level games in petanque.

The festive mood at the event continued as MC Embun encouraged volunteers to take part in his game, “Jangan lupa lyric Raya” where participants stand to win prizes if they could continue singing the lyrics of the popular Raya songs that he played and suddenly switched off.

Located just 15 minutes’ drive from Johor Baru city, Ponderosa Golf & Country Club has an 18-hole golf course, a Mediterranean-style lodge, sports and recreational facilities and spa.  For more info, visit website:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 1 July 2015

Stitched in tradition

Most tailors are deluged with orders in the pre-Raya rush to sew a new suit of traditional baju melayu for the festive season and it’s no different with Jamil Sukaimi of Teluk Belanga Design.  

Jamil Sukaimi at Teluk Belanga Design
in Galleria@Kotaraya JB
I arranged to meet Jamil on Friday and he lived up to my expectation because he meets me smartly dressed in baju melayu Teluk Belanga, in the traditional Johor dagang luar way, with his shirt over the samping or sarong.  We are in his Galleria@Kotaraya outlet where tall shelves are stacked with bales of fabrics and racks neatly display ready-made men’s suits and traditional baju melayu.

Then I learnt that the serene ambiance here is the exact opposite to what’s happening at his Danga City Mall outlet where his sewing team is working at full steam to meet the Raya tailoring orders.  

Jamil Sukaimi at his Galleria@Kotaraya outlet in JB
As we are getting acquainted, a customer walks into the shop to enquire about tailoring baju melayu for Raya and Jamil politely explains with regret that he cannot accept any more orders.

Getting Skilled

A Johorean from Simpang Renggam, Jamil, 49, is the eighth in a family of 12 children.  He fondly remembers how his father used to say that it’s better if you have your own business.  From a young age, he aspired to have his own business and when he was choosing his career, the prevailing economic downturn helped him to decide on acquiring marketable skills by pursuing a course in Tailoring & Design at the MARA Skills Institute, Jasin.  His father and mother, a homemaker, were supportive of his decision to pursue tailoring as a career.

Jamil Sukaimi [Standing Right] with some family members
With his father as his inspiration, Jamil thought that if his father could make a decent living with his skills as a barber, he too should be able to do well when he acquired the necessary skills to be a tailor.  While he was undergoing training, Jamil was deeply motivated not only to be a good tailor but to be an extraordinary one.

Part of his course was to have practical experience from a job attachment and Jamil recalls joining a tailoring shop in JB’s Komplex Tun Abdul Razak.  When he completed the attachment period, Jamil was delighted to get a job offer from the employer.  Even though the salary was meagre, Jamil gained much experience and developed further skills and knowledge in the two years working with them.

Jamil [Right] with his mother [next to him] and sisters
at the official opening of Teluk Belanga Design
in Galleria@Kotaraya JB
The entrepreneur in him patiently saved every available sen for capital to start his own business someday and when an opportunity presented itself, he plucked up his courage and resigned to set up his own shop.  He rented a space in the former Kotaraya mall, invested in one sewing machine and happily established his tailoring business simply named, Jamil Tailor.  When the mall closed for upgrading work, he moved Teluk Belanga Designs to Danga City Mall and after the refurbished mall re-opened as Galleria@Kotaraya, he established his latest outlet here.

Growing Trend

Jamil specialises in tailoring Johor
traditional costumes
The traditional Teluk Belanga style of dressing was regarded as Johor’s traditional attire since the 19th Century as it was widely worn during the reign of Temenggong Abu Bakar Sri Maharaja and remains popular today.  In 1862 this style was recognised as the baju kurung and baju melayu Teluk Belanga because when his royal highness succeeded the throne, he was residing in Teluk Belanga, Singapore.  In 1866, Temenggong Abu Bakar Sri Maharaja took the title of Sultan Abu Bakar and developed Tanjung Puteri, the former name of Johor Baru, as the capital of Johor.

The timeless elegance of Johor’s traditional baju kurung and baju melayu Teluk Belanga continues to be worn in honour of Sultan Abu Bakar and the many orders Jamil receives to sew traditional costumes in the Teluk Belanga style is proof that this style is still very much in vogue.  This costume is a popular choice to wear at Government and corporate events and the baju melayu Teluk Belanga remains the official outfit to wear for an audience with his royal highness, the Sultan of Johor.  In 2001 Jamil decided to rebrand his business as Teluk Belanga Design as his products are synonymous with the Johor style of traditional baju melayu.

A signature hand-stitched round collar in tulang belut or
eel bone stitches, for traditional Baju Melayu Teluk Belanga
“Our skills are in taking the customer’s measurements and hand-sewing the round collar that opens with a front slit in tulang belut or eel bone stitches,” said Jamil, modestly explaining his special touch in creating traditional costumes in the Teluk Belanga style.  “Some customers insist on completely hand-sewn garments and it takes a special skill to hand sew the double panels of seams for the bodice, fastened with pesak or gussets in the underarms,” he added.

The baju melayu shirt features three patch pockets – one small pocket on the left breast and two palm-size, right and left pockets on the front bottom edge of the shirt.  The shirt is matched by a pair of trousers cut in a loose Chinese design.  Jamil tells me that experienced tailors can complete hand-sewing tulang belut stitches on the hem of just two or three pieces of collars a day because it takes skills and patience to do fine handiwork.  And to sew an entire baju melayu Teluk Belanga by hand may take up to three weeks!

Going Forward

A customer being measured by Jamil to
tailor a traditional set of Baju Melayu
Jamil is both proud and humbled that royalty, dignitaries and TV personalities are among his regular customers for authentic baju melayu Teluk Belanga.  Some customers visit him from Singapore and Brunei and he has even sent tailored garments by courier to customers who have moved to the UK.  He is pleased that these men take pride in wearing the traditional costume in the uniquely Johor dagang luar style with the shirt over the samping or sarong, complete with the 4” high songkok or velvet hat and leather thong sandals or capal.

The art of hand-sewing traditional costumes belong to the older generation and Jamil taps on them from time to time by offering work consignments to skilled senior citizens and single mothers.  These are meticulous skills that Jamil is actively keeping alive by recruiting tailoring graduates from local colleges and giving opportunities to them to hone their sewing skills. 

Teluk Belanga Design stocks a range of
fabrics and ready-made Baju Melayu
Jamil agreed that hand-sewing baju melayu Teluk Belanga is certainly a dying art that may be lost in time.  But he has a novel way to identify and groom gifted tailors for the future.  For the past three years, Teluk Belanga Design has held annual sewing contests where participants are given sewing projects and judged on the hand-sewn garments.  This friendly competition keeps the sewing team focused on achieving the reputation as the best and challenges everyone to keep the sewing standards high at all times.

Aware that it takes time and skills to sew the minute stitches to complete the collar of baju melayu Teluk Belanga, Jamil pays a good rate that matches with the effort put in by the skilled tailors.  With ten tailors in his sewing team, Jamil is working hard to meet the high demand for tailored baju melayu Teluk Belanga this festive season.  In spite of changing trends, this distinctly Johor Malay traditional costume is certainly here to stay.  For more info, visit website:

A version of this was published in The New Sunday Times, Life & Times on 12 July 2015
Jamil Sukaimi [Standing 2nd from Left] at home with his family for Hari Raya 2015 celebration!
Thanks for sharing the photo, Jamil.   Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to you and yours!