Johor Sultan graces the Johor Chingay

Shouts of “Daulat Tuanku” rang out along with “Huat ah! Heng ah!” when the Johor Chingay street parade marched past the grandstand where the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, viewed the annual tradition of the Johor Gu Miao last night.

Sultan Ibrahim beating the drum to launch the
Johor Chingay street parade
Flanked by Menteri Besar Johor, Datuk Mohamed Khalid Nordin, Johor executive councilor, Datuk Tee Siew Kiong and Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association chairman, Datuk Seri Tey Kim Chai, the Johor Sultan beat a drum to launch the Johor Chingay parade.

Tey thanked the Johor ruler for gracing this year’s street parade as his presence was significant to the Chinese community.  Tey also echoed the sultan’s previous calls for Bangsa Johor to unite and continue to work together for the success of the state.

The monkey god was widely featured in the deco
on the floats in Johor Chingay 2016
He said the annual tradition of the Johor Chingay was making an impact globally, particularly to China, a nation which lost most of its cultural heritage after the Cultural Revolution.

Although the Johor Sultan witnessed the Johor Chingay street parade in 2006 while he was the Crown Prince, this was the first time he had attended as the as the Johor ruler.

A souvenir book on the history of this annual tradition of the Johor Gu Miao or Johor Old Temple, published by the JB Tiong Hua Association was presented to the Johor ruler by Tey.

Sultan Ibrahim receiving the souvenir book on Johor Chingay *
Festival organizer, the JB Tiong Hua Association for the Johor Old Temple, has continued with this annual tradition since the 19th century without interruption except once during the Japanese invasion in 1942.

While the festival originated as a religious tradition where the temple deities are taken on an annual “tour” to bless the city with peace and harmony, good weather for the cultivation of gambier and to celebrate good harvests, it has evolved into a cultural carnival and award-winning tourist attraction.

Sultan Ibrahim stole the hearts of the rakyat when he
reciprocated with the "heart" sign as they called out
to him, "Daulat Tuanku!"
While waiting for the street parade to reach the grandstand on Jalan Wong Ah Fook, the sultan and other guests enjoyed cultural dance performances and a skillful display by the award-winning dragon dance troop from Jalan Yahya Awal.

Roads in the city were closed for dragon dancers, lion dancers, stilt-walkers and giant flag bearers who showed off their skills while some 40,000 participants and spectators admired the gaily decorated floats that featured the legendary monkey king.

In spite of the pressing crowd, there was a spirit of camaraderie as the Johor ruler stole the hearts of the rakyat when he returned they waves and reciprocated with the “heart” sign as they called out “Daulat Tuanku!”

The celebration which started five days ago with a lighting ceremony at Xing Gong, a temporary shrine at Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek, and peaked with the street parade last night, ends today when the deities are returned to the temple after their annual outing.

* Photo credit: MAGistrate online media

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 29 February 2016

Souvenir book for Johor Chingay

Chingay Kuil Kuno Johor, a limited edition souvenir book on the history of this annual tradition of the Johor Gu Miao, was published to commemorate this year’s Johor Chingay festival.

A hardcover copy of the souvenir book for
Johor Chingay 2016 *
An editorial board assembled by the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association worked hard to collate relevant information and a selection of photos to publish just 2000 copies of the souvenir book.

Published in three languages – English, Malay and Chinese – copies of this book are available from the JB Tiong Hua Association as well as the Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Cantonese and Teochew associations from today, February 28.

“This publication is distributed free-of-charge but freewill cash donations are welcome,” said JB Tiong Hua Association chairman, Datuk Seri Tey Kim Chai, who was also advisor to the editorial team for the publication.

He said cash donations will go to the Johor Gu Miao Foundation, a charity of the Johor Old Temple founded by Yap Yeen Min, the book’s chief editor.  Yap was recognised in last year’s Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards for his contributions to social work.

Tey said that while the charity, which started some 10 years, has helped more than 360 families, they also welcome applicants from the multi-racial community who need support.

The montage of cover photos on the souvenir book were by Kenny Seah and Tang King Huat while information research was contributed by the sub-committee of the Johor Old Temple or Kuil Kuno Johor and the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum.

The layout design was by the team at Interesthink Sdn Bhd and members of the editorial team include Su King Siang, Lew Kee Keong (KK), Tony Wong Kok Poh, Shirley Lee, Yee Tuck Wee and Irene Chen Yeok Choo.

Chingay Kuil Kuno Johor was published in three languages,
English, Malay and Chinese, for the easy reference of
readers in our multi-racial community *
I had the privilege to contribute the English copy which was translated into Malay and Chinese by Jassmine Shadiqe and Mok Whui Ying, respectively.

Only 100 hardcover copies were published to present to royal guest-of-honour, the Sultan of Johor and other special guests at the Johor Chingay tonight.

“In addition to this souvenir book, the JB Tiong Hua Association also invites viewers to enjoy this year’s Chingay parade through live streaming telecast on,” said Tan Chai Puan, a cultural activist and co-founder of the art of the 24 Festive Drums.

Tan, an associate editor of the book along with Lim Kong Yong and Koh Lian Lee, was proud that the association was able to assemble a number of Johor talents and sponsors to participate in a host of activities organised for this year’s Chingay festival.

Since the Johor Chingay was documented by various Asian television broadcasting companies, Tan discovered that China’s Phoenix television station had produced several videos of the Johor Chingay parade that are available for viewing on the YouTube channel.

He said these videos, which showed some of China’s top scholars discussing the cultural value of the Johor Chingay, reminded him of the importance of Johor’s annual tradition to the Chinese not only in our local community but also to a global audience.

*Photo credit: Hanks Lai

Legoland launches new movie adventure in 4D

“The Lego Movie 4D: A New Adventure” was recently launched at Legoland Malaysia Resort by Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board director-general, Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.

Fans of “The Lego Movie” were invited to find out what happens after the end of the blockbuster movie in the debut screening of this new episode at the Lego Studio theatre.

Emmet, Wyldstyle, Unikitty, Metal Beard and Benny reunite in this episode to thwart a shady character named, Risky Business, who has an evil plot to open a theme park bearing a suspicious resemblance to Legoland.

"We are proud that “The Lego Movie 4D: A New Adventure” has joined our stable of attractions in Legoland Malaysia Resort as a permanent feature in the Lego Studio,” said the resort’s director of operations, Casper Bonavent.

The movie launch was also an opportunity for Legoland Malaysia Resort to announce that the park recently clinched the Best Tourist Attraction award in the Man-Made Attraction category of the Malaysia Tourism Awards 2014/2015.

“I’m so proud to be part of the team that has been working with Legoland Malaysia Resort since its doors first opened in 2012 as this award pays tribute to all the Park’s Model Citizens who have worked tirelessly to ensure that we are the best family holiday destination,” said park general manager, Mark Germyn.

Fans of The Lego Movie, waiting outside the Lego Studio
theatre for the debut screening of the new adventure in 4D
“We will keep on giving our best to ensure that all our guests have the most memorable experience while supporting Tourism Malaysia to contribute to its success in every way possible,” he added.

To celebrate this proud achievement and the exciting new attraction, the park is exclusively offering the people of Johor a Buy 1 Adult ticket to get 1 Child ticket free, deal throughout March and April.

Others may take advantage of the Buy 1 ticket and get the second ticket at half price offer available on the website.

Legoland Malaysia Resort is fully committed to adding new attractions to the park every year, among them the highly acclaimed Water Park and Legoland Hotel, the Star Wars Miniland and the Ninjago: Realm of Shadows live show, with an exciting ride – the park’s biggest investment to date – scheduled to open later this year.

Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammed Taiyab [4th from Left] launching The Lego Movie: A New Adventure in 4D,
flanked by representatives from Legoland Malaysia Resort and Tourism Malaysia
"We encourage every tourist attraction here to increase and improve their products to keep themselves competitive and attractive to tourists and local visitors,” said Mirza who added that the ministry is also looking into facilitating a smoother entry into the country for tourists who are arriving mainly from Singapore, Indonesia and China.

Datuk Seri Mohammad Taiyab - wearing the 3-D spectacles - to watch the debut screening of
The Lego Movie: A New Adventure in 4D [Notice I'm seated behind him!]
Also present at the event were the park’s director of sales & marketing, Thila Munusamy, JB Central Municipal Council president, Dr Badrul Hisham Kassim and the teams from Tourism Malaysia and Legoland Malaysia Resort.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 28 February 2016

Johor sultan to join rakyat for Chingay parade

While Chap Goh Meh, the 15th day of the Chinese New Year marks the end of the festival, the celebration in Johor is not over until the Johor Chingay festival has taken place on the 20th day of the first lunar month.
Dragon dancing troop at the Johor Chingay
History will be made this year when the Johor Sultan, His Royal Highness Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, joins the rakyat for the Chingay parade.

The sultan is no stranger to the Johor Chingay, having witnessed the event in 2006 when he was still the Crown Prince.

“It is especially meaningful for the Johor Chinese community because this will be the first time for a Johor Sultan to grace the Johor Chingay,” said JB Tiong Hua Association chairman, Datuk Seri Tey Kim Chai.

Tey echoed the sentiment of fellow community leaders when he expressed his pride in Sultan Ibrahim who respects other cultures and promotes unity in a multi-racial community.

Organised by the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association, the Johor Gu Miao or Old Temple, has kept the annual Johor Chingay tradition since the 19th century without interruption except once during the Japanese invasion in 1942.

Facade of the Johor Gu Miao or Old Temple
seen from the front courtyard
The highlight of this festival is the street parade scheduled on the evening of the 21st day of the first lunar month, which coincides with February 28 this year.
The city will be at a virtual standstill when roads are closed for the street parade and the whole community will line the streets to watch skillful performances by prancing lions and dancing dragons, to the thunderous beat of drums and gongs.

A grandstand will be set up outside KOMTAR JBCC for the Sultan and other special guests to watch the parade when it keeps its traditional route and passes through Jalan Wong Ah Fook.

A sea of devotees outside
Xin Gong at the annual
Johor Chingay street parade
The festival originated as a religious tradition of the Johor Old Temple, where the temple deities are taken on an annual “tour” to bless the city with peace and harmony, good weather for the cultivation of gambier and to celebrate good harvests. 

Unlike other Chinese temples that usually bear the name of the deity to which they are dedicated, the temple is believed to be the first Chinese temple in the nation to be named after a State.  In Malay, the temple is known as Kuil Kuno Johor.

The strong relationship between the Johor ruler and the Chinese immigrant community was the reason “Johor” was incorporated in the temple’s name.

Built in the 19th century by a group of Chinese community leaders led by Tan Hiok Nee, then leader of the Johor Ngee Heng kongsi or society, it was dubbed the Temple of Unity because it uniquely houses the deities worshipped by the five main Chinese dialect groups under one roof.  

The street parade, which started as a religious celebration for the five deities, Zhao Da Yuan Shuai (Hainanese), Hua Guang Da Di (Cantonese), Gan Tian Da Di (Hakka), Hong Xian Da Di (Hokkien) and Yuan Tian Shang Di (Teochew), has since evolved into a cultural carnival and an award-winning tourist attraction.

The celebration starts with a lighting ceremony at Xing Gong, a temporary shrine at Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek, followed by a cleansing ceremony at the Johor Old Temple before the deities leave for their 3-day outing, with the street parade as the peak of the Chingay festival.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 24 February 2016

Tears and souvenirs

In the weeks while our family was together, we went through dad’s things to sort out what were still useful and which items to keep or give away.

Key ring I bought for dad which I'm using now
Dad has given us a lifetime of shared experiences and each item we looked at brought back a flood of fond memories.  It was bittersweet to see dad’s familiar handwriting and discover how he carefully stored what was important to him.  Besides old receipts that date back to the 1970s and user manuals for appliances that were no longer in use, we made a few exciting discoveries.

Mum opened dad’s nightstand to sort through his things and we saw a few books, old cassette tapes and knick-knacks.  She sorted through old documents, mementoes and photos and we saw some of dad’s black-and-white passport photos that were taken at different ages.  These were mandatory shots snapped professionally at photo studios and kept so well that we could see the details quite clearly, even as his hair was thinning and greying at the temples.  

Dad's recycled exercise book, a bit stained
but filled with his handwritten notes!
Looking at such nostalgic mementoes had its lighter moments especially when my sisters and I couldn’t help laughing at the sight of mum’s bee-hive hairdo in a photo from way back when it was fashionable to back-comb hair and set it into a huge helmet!

From the locker next to dad’s favourite chair, I found a few pairs of dad’s old spectacles as well as his Ray Ban shades among separate files for water and electricity bills, word puzzle books and recent magazines.  While most of the old magazines would go to the paper recycle bin, one old exercise book is a precious memento that I would like to keep.

Dad had recycled this exercise book for his own use and the subject title on the cover originally written as, “Lectures on Infectious Diseases,” had lines drawn over it and another title written above was: “Jokes, Humours & Quotations.”  The date written under his name was 3.7.48 – 3 July 1948 – a date long before he met mum, and he even learnt to write his name in Chinese characters at the left side of the cover!

Samples of Japanese currency used during the Japanese
Occupation of Malaya
Because of a dark stain on the side of the cover, it looked like dad used a fountain pen to copy quotable quotes, jokes and funny definitions into this exercise book.  I was engrossed in reading page after page of his scrawl and couldn’t help feeling touched and tickled at some of the words and phrases that dad thought was useful or funny enough to keep for his own reference.

I guess in those days, young men like dad would be writing to young ladies and these words and phrases may be used to impress or amuse them.  Yes, back then there was an art to writing cards and letters.  In modern times, these words may be readily available online but in those days, I think if dad came across a cute or cheeky phrase in newspapers or magazines, he had to copy them down for future reference!

My brother, Kenneth [2nd from Left] with
his wife and family, wearing dad's
favourite home shorts!
Among his personal things, mum also discovered a stash of cash that dad had squirreled away.  But what was more exciting was a collection of currency known as banana notes that was used during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya.  Dad told us about how he had to learn to sing the Japanese national anthem and bow to the fierce Japanese officers whenever he met them.  It was an era when he picked up a smattering of Japanese language and he enjoyed teaching us common greetings and phrases.
While going through dad’s wardrobe, we saw how dad had organized his handkerchiefs in a little box and there were even a number of brand new unopened packs of handkerchiefs, underwear and singlets.  As mum sorted through which clothes to give away or dump, my brother and his family could not resist wearing dad’s favourite home shorts and posing for a photo in his memory!

We also discovered over half a dozen brand new Panasonic electric shavers that I had bought for dad over some time because he always insisted on having the same old model.  To avoid failing to find the same model, I usually bought a few to keep on standby so that whenever he asked to replace his old shaver, I would have one of the same model ready for him.  I must have forgotten where I kept the new shavers and bought more each time I came across the same model and so there were seven in stock!

Dad kept a record of the books he read in this pocket size
index book, the pages so full that he's writing this on the
inside front cover
From our bookcase, I uncovered a wide collection of dad’s books on theology and noticed his particular interest in topics like cults and isms, eschatology and current world developments that are fulfilling Bible prophecy.  Many of these topics are now available from an online Google search but dad was already studying this from books and magazines in an era when the internet was still uncommon in this part of the world.

From dad’s collection of books and magazines, the topics and genre that interested him was obvious.  While dad read widely, his interest was in non-fiction, true-crime and war stories.  My sisters and I used to buy him books from this genre while we were abroad but we stopped doing so a few years ago because dad’s eyesight was deteriorating and he could no longer read that font size of the print in most books.

Pages from dad's binder filled with war magazines!
In earlier years while he could still read the standard font size of newspapers, magazines and books, dad did not limit himself to his usual choice of subjects but often read books from my collection.  I noted this from a pocket-size index book that dad kept to record the book titles that he had read, probably because he could not remember all the titles and needed the easy reference to remind him of books which he had already read!

Meanwhile, dad's subscribed magazines are still arriving by post and I have written to request them to discontinue sending the magazines.  In the store room, I discovered that dad had stored away his old collection of war magazines that was accumulated from a subscription for “Images of War, the Real Story of World War II” which was my gift to him.

Dad's scrap books of cartoons, the oldest
at the top with two more of Lat cartoons!
Besides a box full of magazines, there was also a binder filled with a series of full-colour magazines.  Dad lived through the war and that was probably why he was keen on reading true accounts of what had happened in other parts of the world during the war.  In those non-internet days, book and magazine subscriptions such as this provided accurate accounts and good photos of any particular topic of interest.

In another box, I discovered three thick record books which dad had kept individually inside the protective cover of plastic bags.  When I spotted the word, LAT, pasted on the cover of one book, I recalled that the first of these was a scrap book that dad started ages before I was born!

Dad had such a wacky sense of humour that he even had a hobby in collecting cut-outs of cartoons from newspapers and magazines and pasted them into these scrap books.  I hardly know some of the cartoon characters in the first book because they were published way before my time and the only ones I recognised were Nancy and Sluggo and Blondie and Dagwood.tly recalled ecordd thick record books that dad kept inside the protective cover of plastic bagsteaching us greetings and phrasesnever  I realise that I first started to enjoy the scrap book by colouring in the black-and-white cartoon strips with my Neo-Magic pens!

Old bill for cotton mattress ordered for me!
But I clearly remember the next two scrap books that were filled with newspaper cut-outs of Lat cartoons.  In those days when the cartoon was published weekly, we often picked up the newspaper and found a hole on the page because someone – likely to be dad – had cut out the cartoon!  I used to help dad paste the Lat cartoon cut-outs on the scrap books and my siblings and I used to enjoy hours poring over the pages, laughing at how clever Lat was at observing those Scenes of Malaysian Life. 

Lat cartoons were a family favourite and when collections of vthese cartoons were pvublished in a series of books, we bought them for dad.  But I guess our scrap books of Lat cartoonsv may be a wider collection than those published in books because we diligently collected the cut-outs from the weekly newspapers for years. 

The newsprint may be yellowed and the edges of the cut-outs dog-eared from being flipped about so often but I think we are going to have many more hours of reminiscing pleasure when we go through those books again.

Check out the letter to editor I wrote in 1979!
When I turned to the back of the scrap book, I discovered that dad had pasted his picks of newspaper cut-outs of interesting news articles.  Among the reports published about family members, there were some of my articles and letters to the editor in the New Straits Times and Malay Mail.  I must admit that I had forgotten about ever having written them but seeing them again in dad’s scrap book was like opening a floodgate of memories.

Dad was notorious for cutting out news articles without headlines, dates and names of the publication but on one page where he pasted a photo story on our Aunty Sylvia on her return from the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, my eyes were riveted to a small cut-out pasted next to it.  Dad had scribbled my name and date, 21/8/1979, on that piece I had written under the pseudonym, Dog Lover.  This to me, is a precious memento of how dad was encouraging me to write even back then in the 70s.

While I was in the UK a couple of years ago, I found key-ring souvenirs for mum and dad embossed with words which aptly voiced my thoughts.  While mum is still using that key-ring with her set of keys, I’ve claimed back the one I gave to dad to use with my keys.  The inscription on the leather tag reads: “My Dad – Throughout my life you have been there with the love and support that comforts me each and every day.”  Dad, you know that I always treasured your quiet pride in my achievements, no matter how small.  Thanks, D!

Rotary Club plans second haemodialysis centre

The Rotary Club of Johor Baru (RCJB) which has been providing highly subsidised treatments for hundreds of patients at their haemodialysis centre in Johor Baru, plans to set up their second centre in Bandar Seri Alam this year.

A nurse attending to a patient undergoing
haemodialysis treatment at a Rotary Club
Haemodialysis Centre in Johor
It will be located in a 4-storey shop lot in the Fortuna Hub Premier Shop Office precinct of Bandar Seri Alam and is a contribution from the family of the late Ng Quee Nam, founder of Chee Tat Plantations which was developed into the modern township of Bandar Seri Alam.

In 1989, Rotarians of the RCJB were encouraged by the late Sultan Iskandar Almarhum Sultan Ismail, previous Sultan of Johor, to establish large scale projects that truly make a difference to the community in the long term.

This spurred the Rotarians to set up their first haemodialysis centre at Wisma Abad in 1992, a project which expanded to a 4-storey shoplot at Jalan Tun Abdul Razak and was officially declared open by Sultan Iskandar in 2004.

For more than 20 years, this pilot haemodialysis project by the RCJB has been benefiting patients and its success has inspired other Rotary Clubs in Johor to set up similar centers to support hundreds of patients in JB, Kulai, Pontian, Kota Tinggi, Kluang, Mersing and Batu Pahat.

The staff in front of the first RCJB
Haemodialysis Centre in JB
As the community grows, the need to provide affordable haemodialysis treatment has also grown and the queues of patients in need of treatment keeps getting longer.

This growing need demands a response and RCJB President 2015 – 2016, Freddie Lee, mooted the idea to set up a second haemodialysis centre to serve the needs of patients in the area around Masai and Pasir Gudang.

"We expect to start renovations in the first quarter of 2016 when we have obtained the necessary licenses and approvals from the relevant authorities,” said Lee.

The estimated costs involved for building renovation, dialysis machines, a reverse osmosis water purification system and other fittings, is in the region of RM700,000, which the RCJB aims to raise through public donations.

To this end, the RCJB is organizing a fund-raising Charity Gala Dinner on March 5, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Amansari Resort Hotel in Bandar Seri Alam and the Johor Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Mohd Khaled Nordin has been invited as the guest of honour.

Patients in a section of the haemodialysis centre
set up by the Rotary Club of Kulai
The public is also invited to partner with the RCJB in raising funds for the new haemodialysis centre by buying dinner tables at the charity dinner in two categories, VIP Tables at RM10,000 and Gold Tables at RM5,000 per table of 10 guests.

The names of cash contributors will be permanently acknowledged on a Donors’ Wall in the centre in the form of a Platinum Plate for donations of RM50,000 and above, a Gold Plate for RM20,000 to RM49,999 and a Silver Plate for RM10,000 to RM19,999 donations.

To make donations and table reservations, email to: or Tel: 607 – 3881111.  All donations will be acknowledge by official receipts.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 20 February 2016

JARO celebrates Chinese New Year

Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO) committee and staff members, volunteers and well-wishers enjoyed a sumptuous lunch treat at the New York Hotel Johor Baru recently to celebrate Chinese New Year.

JARO chairman, Datuk Jimmy Low, presenting ang pau
to the JARO staff at the Chinese New Year lunch
Jaro celebrates Chinese New Year, along with Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and Christmas, every year with its staff, who are artisans with disabilities.

Founded in 1952 as a rehabilitation centre for TB patients, JARO has evolved into an established charity with a sheltered workshop where people with disability are trained and employed in the book-binding, basketry and tailoring sections.  Their products are sold in a gift shop run by JARO.

JARO is proud that their book-binding section continues to receive job orders not only from local customers but also from an international clientele who appreciate the fine quality of their work.

Datuk Jimmy Low sharing a light moment with JARO
staff in the basketry section, Khairuddin Ong Abdullah
“JARO has been able to train and provide employment to our disabled staff for the past 64 years through the support of generous donors and sponsors,” said JARO chairman, Datuk Jimmy Low Boon Hong as he expressed his appreciation for their loyal support and generosity.

“I hope your support will continue in the coming years and wish to encourage corporations to consider offering employment to people with disability,” he added.

He also thanked the hotel management for their kind sponsorship of the Chinese New Year lunch with JARO staff.

Low, who has been JARO chairman for more than ten years, leads a committee of socially conscious aprofessionals to manage the charity which also has a gift shop that sells quality handicrafts.

Chairman of JB Tiong Hua Association, Dato Seri Tey
Kim Chai [Left] and members of the youth wing [Right]
presenting their donation cheque to Datuk Jimmy Low
Low said Think City, a community-based urban regeneration body and subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, was studying JARO so that the sheltered workshop could be upgraded to offer a better working environment to its staff and more employment opportunities to the disabled.

Also present at the event were Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association and Chinese clan associations representatives, as well as friends of JARO such as Helen Lim of Fizzio Health, who distributed ang pau or red packets to JARO staff.

JARO also received donations of RM1,500 from Holiday Plaza management and RM15,233 raised in a charity event organised by the youth wing of the JB Tiong Hua Association last November.

JARO is run on an annual government grant and public donations, the bulk of which goes towards staff salaries and operation costs.

To make a tax-exempt donation email: or visit JARO at Jalan Sungai Chat, JB.  It is open Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 5pm daily.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 18 February 2016 

Till death do us part

It’s a month since dad left us on 17 January and as we grieve, we are grateful for the love and support from friends, our extended family and the church family.

Mum and dad at JB's iconic Istana Gardens
All grief is personal.  One may grief differently from another.  Some may take longer than the other.  While each one of us held up a brave front, it doesn’t diminish the grief we feel for the loss of someone as dear as our dad.

Some well-meaning people asked me, “How’s your mum?” and my reply was a frank, “I really don’t know.”  I understand that they mean well and were showing concern but I cannot possibly know what a widow goes through at the loss of her spouse.  

All I know is that it’s something deeply personal.  Imagine the adjustments as mum deals with the absence of her life partner of more than 60 years.  Unlike some couples who may have drifted apart over the years, mum and dad continued to share a caring relationship, well into their advanced age.

Since dad underwent his angioplasty in 2010, mum paid particular attention to dad's healthcare, catered to his choice of food and tried to be creative with her cooking when she observed that he was losing his appetite. 

Mum and dad seated on the steps of the Grand Palace
at Istana Gardens
I remember a time when dad had a bad bout of persistent coughing and one night, he carried his pillows over to sleep in the guest room to avoid keeping mum awake with his coughs.  He was being considerate to mum but guess what?  Mum came to me, concerned that when dad moved out of their room, she could not keep an eye out for him during the night!  This is just an example of their bond, and the mutual care and concern for each other.

Looking back, mum and dad have stuck together through ups and downs even from the very start of their relationship.  Many years ago, while looking through old photo albums, I observed the absence of mum’s eldest brother in our parents’ wedding photos.  Curious to find out more, I boldly asked my parents and discovered the sad story about how mum’s brother did not approve of dad as a life partner for her!

Mum, a pretty young lady in 1952
It was interesting that while mum’s parents approved of dad, her eldest brother did not.  I guess dad’s reputation as a popular guy with the nursing fraternity might have caused uncle to think that dad was not good enough for his sister.  I suppose it also took one rascal to know another – and uncle, who was a colleague in the then Johor Baru General Hospital (JBGH) – was aware that dad was nicknamed, The Dancing King, for obvious reasons.  We have many old photos of dad dancing in the nurses’ hostel but the exciting end to this saga was how dad ultimately chose mum, a non-dancer, as his life partner!
Mum shared with me, interesting anecdotes about their dating days and one that I vividly remember was when mum rode pillion on dad’s motorcycle.  At that time, grandfather and his family lived in hospital quarters at Jalan Sungai Chat, a semi-detached house opposite the English College (now demolished but new shophouses, Nong Chik Riverside, occupy that same site).

When mum and her eldest brother started working at the then JBGH, they commuted to work by bicycle and uncle would ride with mum, unless they had different work shifts.  In those days, there were no street lights but it was a relatively safe route between their home and the hospital.  Relatively safe because mum said one night, when she was riding home alone in pitch darkness, she realized that someone on a bicycle was following her!

This pervert suddenly rode alongside with mum, reached out his hand and stroked her cheek!  Mum screamed in shock but managed to pedal home safely and she remembered how she flung her bicycle to the ground, ran indoors and burst in tears!

A precious photo of mum and dad taken
at great-grandmother's house
Since that terrifying incident, mum was always escorted to and from work.  When mum and dad started dating, mum would ride pillion on dad’s motorcycle.  One night as they were riding home, mum said the bike lurched over an unfamiliar bump.

And when dad reached their destination, he suddenly realized that he was riding alone because mum had bounced off when the bike hit that bump!  Dad was of course, finally forgiven for his negligence and having learnt his lesson the hard way, he made sure that such neglect never occurred again!

Mum shares a special bond with her aunt, grandma’s youngest sister who is just four years older than mum.  Grand-aunt Sim and mum were dating about the same time and I saw from dad’s collection of old photos that they used to double-date at JB’s iconic Istana Gardens.  Dad’s trusted old camera was well used with the tripod stand to capture photo mementoes of their double-dates in the park.

Grand-aunt also used to sew dresses for mum and the evening gown that mum wore at the wedding banquet was sewn by her.  After grand-aunt and grand-uncle Leong were married, they lived in Singapore.  When we visited them a few years ago, I discovered a rare photo from their album that grand-uncle took of mum and dad at great-grandmother’s house in Jalan Lumba Kuda.  It’s such a precious photo because it captured a playful side of our parents in a carefree era, long before we were born!

Mum and dad's formal wedding photo
kept inside their wedding certificate
Nonetheless, our grandparents accepted dad as their first son-in-law and our parents’ wedding was a grand affair with a dinner banquet held at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.  In those days, it was the norm to invite restaurant cooks to set up their kitchen at the event venue to serve the meal and our parents’ wedding banquet was hosted on the badminton court adjacent to the bungalow.

I’m sure every married couple have their share of challenges and while our parents were imperfect, they complimented each other in a unique way.  While she looked fair and pretty, he was dark and mysterious.  No one could tell what was dad’s race and I was oblivious about it until I was older and often quizzed with blunt questions like, “You orang apa?”  It got to a point when it seemed rude so I further confused these nosey people by replying, “On paper, I’m Chinese.”

For a long time, I did not know that dad was brought up by Christian missionaries in an orphanage and given a Chinese name but even from old photos, dad certainly looked non-Chinese.  As a result, my siblings and I have our share of fun with people who are curious about our ethnic origins.

Notice the red banner above!
As we sorted through dad’s things, we discovered his mementoes and I was deeply touched that dad kept birthday and Father’s Day cards from me.  Among them was a cute birthday card that mum wrote him in 1996 where she signed off, “Love, Lucy.”  This reminded me of how dad used to enjoy the old TV series “I Love Lucy” that featured the madcap Lucille Ball and we too learnt to enjoy this crazy comedy series.

Another of dad’s mementoes were separate pages torn out of dad’s pocket diary that marked important dates like the birth of my sister, Pearly, and me – complete with time of birth, weight and our full names!

The page that recorded my birth was particularly special because dad recorded that on October 12, he was admitted to the Officers’ Ward for hepatitis and on October 13, mum was admitted to the maternity ward.  I turned the page and saw how dad recorded on Monday, October 14, mum delivered me, female at 5.20am and I weighed 7lb 11ozs at birth!  This was the record of what my parents told me about that day I was born, when both mum and dad were in the JBGH but lying in different wards!

A sight I miss seeing at home
One of the pages listed what looked like a school report, in mum’s handwriting, with scores for subjects but we couldn’t figure out whose report it was.  What struck me was the red banner pasted above.  The date on that page in 1956 was 26 October (dad’s birthday!) and the banner read: “Today is my husband’s birthday.”  It appears that it was a reminder on this page from mum or dad’s pocket diary or did they share the same diary?  Still, it was a beautiful insight into the love they shared back in the 1950s!

At the passing of his grandfather, Andrew, our nephew in Perth, posted several photos in Instagram with interesting comments.  One special shot was of mum and dad at home, seated and reading in companionable silence.  Their restful posture with Trixie, the sleeping pet between them, was typical of how they shared time together in their retirement.  This is a sight I miss dearly because each time I look at dad’s chair now, it’s empty.

"...In sickness and in health..." mum and dad
in Dr Yap's waiting room on Jan 14
Andrew, now a young father, also posted a photo that I took of our parents seated in Dr Yap’s waiting room on 14 January 2016.  He commented that in an age when the world took marriage vows lightly, here is a portrait of how his grandparents were keeping their vows, “…in sickness and in health…”  They were indeed, living out their vows as they accompanied each other to consult the doctor.  This poignant photo was among the last I took of our parents in the doctor’s waiting room.

In an attempt to answer that question, “How’s your mum?” I should say something like, I believe that while mum is missing the presence of her beloved husband, she is at peace.  I know she has done all that she could as a wife to cherish and care for her husband, even to the very last.  For every married couple, the reality is one will leave before the other and the final separation will always be painful.

We just praise God that our parents shared an eventful life together and were blessed with a family, complete with children, grand-children and great-grandchildren who live in three continents.  The way ahead will be different without dad but I trust that the legacy of our parents’ married life will be an inspiration to couples as you cherish each other in your life-long journey together.