Silver and Gold

“Make new friends but keep the old, for one is silver the other is gold.”  These are familiar lines that we used to quote when signing into our friends’ autograph books as we were about to part after spending some 12 years together as schoolmates.

Four former schoolmates in Yong Peng [Left to Right]
Wei Leng, Julie Lim, Agatha Bong and Lee Chin
Through the marvel of social media, most of our schoolmates have been reconnected over the years and are now in WhatsApp chat groups. These old friends who are now scattered worldwide, are keeping in touch daily with messages, pictures and videos, sharing updates and just staying connected.

We started out together as schoolmates, wearing the same school uniforms, taking part in class work as well as society and sports activities. There were good and bad times but looking back on those carefree years, it all seems so trivial.

I’m mindful of how we have each chosen different paths in building careers and climbing the corporate ladder, singlehood or marriage, or marriage and divorce and even remarriage, having children and now even grandchildren!

Having coffee and dessert together,
[Left to Right] Florence, O'Keef and I
The cycle of life goes on as we get invitations to weddings – not of our friends but that of our friend’s children – and more often now than ever, our gathering together to attend the wake or funeral of our friend’s parents.

As our friendship mellows with age, it is indeed a blessing to be part of our friends’ celebrations of their wedding anniversaries and their children’s weddings as well as the birthdays of their grandchildren. 

When someone breezes back into Johor Baru from abroad and it’s a reason to organise a get-together for a catch-up session over good food. All ad hoc and always interesting! 

I remember how Lee Chin and Agatha Bong arranged to fly in from Kuala Lumpur and Kuching, respectively, and I went with Wei Leng to pick them from the airport.  Then drive to Batu Pahat to meet with Julie Lim who’s based there.  Along the way, Julie rings and said to meet in Yong Peng instead. There she brought us to one of the highly recommended restaurants to enjoy a feast on local Foo Chow specialties!

Danny Koh and I at Level 6, JB City Square
It’s just a joy to continue the friendships that were formed way back when we were back in Primary and Secondary school!

Besides school friends, I also have church friends who are more than just friends but more aptly described as ‘church family.’  After all, we meet more often (sometimes more than twice a week!) than we meet our own relatives!

When Florence invited me to join her for a meal with Uncle O’Keef, I did not hesitate to say “Yes.”  While Florence and O’Keef have music teaching in common, Cyril Claude O’Keef is more than just “uncle” to me because he was my Sunday School teacher way back when I was a child!

At 87, uncle is still spritely with an appetite for good food so we often plan an outing with a meal followed by coffee and pastries.  It was always good to hear him reminisce about the old days when he was based in Ipoh and acquainted with Florence’s mum and my dad, who were the folks at Elim Gospel Hall.

A family friend, Danny Koh, who once lived opposite our grandfather’s house at Jalan Ngee Heng, stumbled upon My Johor Stories and started reading about familiar places and people.  Recently he was in JB to renew his acquaintance with the places he grew up in and to seek a taste of food that he sorely missed.

He told me about a place near the Rex and Lido cinemas, where his father used to take him to eat mee rebus but I was probably too young to know it.  So I took him for a taste of the mee rebus that I like, to Haji Wahid Mee Rebus at Angsana JB Mall.  When he had his first spoonful, he savoured it for a while and declared, “This is the closest to that taste I’m familiar with!”

Later when we talked about the Chinese noodles that he used to enjoy here, he was quick to say, ‘Ho Seng Kee’ and was surprised when I told him that they were still in business.  So we went to JB City Square where their outlet is opened on Level 6 of the mall.  Danny not only enjoyed a satisfying noodle meal, he also packed takeaways to share with his sister and brothers who were longing for its familiar taste!

Aidah Rahman and I, at the end of an event held at Medini
In the course of work, I have the privilege of meeting lots of people and new friendships are formed with some of these lovely people.  It may start with work only but over the years, we realised that it’s something a little more than just work.

I first met Aidah Rahman at a golf resort and from the onset we noticed that we have a good working relationship.  With every career change that took her higher up the corporate ladder, she invited me to continue working with her.

Over the years, I was working in partnership with her for reviews on hotels, resorts, restaurants and spas and also for news on Corporate Social Responsibility events. There may be long periods of silence when we were each busy with our own projects but when we meet again, we just get on like wildfire!

Grace Chiam [Left] and Executive Chef Jaffery Othman
I remember meeting Grace Chiam when she first arrived in Johor Baru to join the team at the DoubleTree by Hilton.  It was probably her first or second day on the job and when I quizzed her about what she knows about our city, she honestly admitted to not much.  As a true-blue Johorean, I couldn’t do nothing about it. 

So I offered her a Peggy’s Private Tour ®, also known as my famous Fifty Cents Tour ®, tailor-made to give her an overview of the city which she has adopted as her home – and she accepted.

It was all worthwhile when I showed her a glimpse of the old in the city’s heritage quarter and the new at Kota Iskandar. We also made a stop at Restoran Saga for a meal and for her to have a pictorial peek of the ancient sights and renowned personalities posted in their gallery (read: walls!) of our State’s rich history.  As a result of this adventure, Grace now proudly introduces me as her first friend in JB!

Grace Chiam [4th from Left] with her women media friends
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, Grace extended a gracious invitation to her women media friends and I’m happy to be among her guests at a private celebration.  It was all very elegant and pretty in a Purple, Pink and White themed event, sipping on premium Dilma tea and indulging in their delectable Strawberry High Tea.

Over the last two months, I had the privilege of meeting more new friends while I was dining at a new restaurant and on travel assignments.

At Fat Fish JB, I was impressed with the dining concept where they are serving Chinese fusion food in a trendy café, designed with an industrial ambiance.  While my friends and I were introduced to their menu, we learnt that they had just opened.  They must be doing something right because the restaurant was full and a queue was waiting outside!

Executive Chef Teo Wang Jieh [Left] with his partner,
Xue Nie, at Fat Fish JB
Then I met with Executive Chef Teo Wang Jieh and his partner, Xue Nie, who shared with me their story and the inspiration for their restaurant.  

I can sense their determination to step out of the ordinary and do something extraordinary for diners to enjoy and return again and again for more.  It was a bit chaotic at the start but it’s the norm for any new business and I’m sure by now, they are better organised.

To go on the media tour arranged by Causeway Link and join a group arriving from KL, I discussed the logistics with Shelia Shamsuddin because I was joining them from JB. She was keeping me informed on the group’s estimated arrival time and welcomed me to join them at Puteri Harbour, their first stop on the itinerary.

Sonny Cosme [Seated] presenting me with the Causeway
Link, Travel Bus Pass, in Puteri Harbour
Her next message took me by surprise because it had nothing to do with our arrangements.  She texted: “My staff is a fan of yours so he’s very excited to meet u!”

I was both humbled and flattered that someone appreciates my work but Sheila’s choice of word, “fan” got me a bit worried.  

When I met Sonny Cosme, there was nothing to worry about because this young Filipino was such a gentleman.  He told me about how he follows my food reviews and enjoys the way I describe each dining experience.  He said it simply made him long for the same!

On the morning when I was to leave JB for Sebana Cove, I received a text message from Afiqah Hashim, along with a map to guide me to the destination.  This gave me a positive impression of her work attitude and in the course of our conversation during my 2-day stay with them, I commended her for it.

At the lobby of Sebana Cove Resort [Left to Right]
Afandi Junaidi, me and Afiqah Hashim
I saw that while the resort was established since 1995, the new management is doing a great deal to promote its refurbished facilities to a new generation of golfers, mariners and holiday-makers.  This low-density property exudes an air of tranquility and exclusiveness, and it’s no wonder that the resort remains so popular. 

Front Office Manager, Afandi Junaidi, took his time to introduce me to the facilities in the property and the panoramic views of the marina as well as nature set in lush greenery in the matured gardens.  Interacting with Afiqah and the multi-tasking and affable Afandi, I saw how these enthusiastic team members were an asset to the resort.

I do meet with many people but every now and then, I meet some people whose company makes everything much better because of who they are.  Silver or gold, they are friends to treasure for always.

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