At Bukit Timbalan, in Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim

The Johor identity is synonymous with the majestic Sultan Ibrahim Building on Johor Baru’s Bukit Timbalan and a picture of this iconic building was designed into the cover for my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

My security pass to enter the building
I've had the privilege to tour this building - more than once - when it was still open to the public and I remember having to take a separate elevator to reach its tower. Our presence up there only disturbed the birds nesting there!

I also had the opportunity to visit the offices of the previous Menteri Besar or Chief Minister before the state administrative center was relocated to Kota Iskandar. In each visit, I was fascinated to see how the pepper and gambier motif was widely used in its interior décor.

My recent visit was not as a tourist but on official business (ahem!) and yet I was thrilled to be inside this iconic building again. I just couldn’t help taking notice of the plush décor which still featured the pepper and gambier motif on mirror frames and even on wooden frames designed around elevator doors.

At the gates, it was quite an intimidating experience to face an armed guard. I stopped my car to present my identity but he was gesticulating with his one free arm while the other was holding a slung gun.

The sparkling white lift lobby and first floor landing
Then I figured out he was in fact, trying to tell me that I need not get down from my car but only to pass him my identity and tell him the purpose of my visit.

So I told him I had an appointment with Johor Royal Court Council president, Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli. It was too lengthy to explain the purpose of my visit so I summarized it as briefly comprehensive as possible before he handed me an entry pass and waved me in.

My phone signaled a message from Josh de Silva that read: “Morning Peggy, we’re at Bukit Timbalan!”

This white marble plaque with gold
lettering was the signboard to the
Johor Royal Court Council offices
Josh of Monomania (MNMN) is working on a video project and when he invited me for a coffee, I learnt more about what he was doing and thought that he should meet with Datuk Rahim to have a clearer perspective about Johor history.

Datuk Rahim had served under three Johor rulers and his vast experience and expertise in the Royal Court made him an authority, not only in matters pertaining to the royal court but also in Johor history.

He compiled the history and practices of the Johor sultanate and the royal family in a book, Adat Istiadat Kesulitan Johor Moden 1855 – 2012, which was published in 2014.

Among the books authored by Datuk Rahim was, The History of the Royal Customs and Traditions of Johor on the traditions of the Johor sultanate including the clothes in the Teluk Belanga design, the Johor Military Forces, the State anthem and the government crown.

In 2016, he launched a book on, The Coronation of HRH Sultan Ibrahim of Johor.

Books authored by Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli,
 in the Zarith Sofia Library in UTM Skudai
At the time when I was contributing my family and heritage stories to Johor Streets, the southern section of The New Straits Times newspapers, Datuk Rahim also contributed articles on the practices of the Johor Royal Court regularly. So we were fellow writers.

He was not only acquainted with me and my column but also with my family because he used to train in badminton with my Aunty Sylvia, back in the days when she was an active international sportswoman.

So when I set up an appointment for Josh to meet with Datuk Rahim, I was told that the meeting would be held at his office in Bukit Timbalan. When I gave details of the appointment to him, Josh invited me to come along so there I was that morning …

Datuk Rahim [Left] showing Josh and Moe his books
Josh and his colleague, Moazan Emran Iskandar Pino or Moe in short, were waiting in the porch of Block C. As this threesome walked in, we paused at the guard’s desk (who was closely monitoring a CCTV screen!) to tell him we were heading upstairs to see Datuk Rahim.

It was an amazing feeling to walk up the wide staircase with its mosaic tiles polished into a shiny sheen and I wistfully wondered how many dignitaries and foreign ambassadors had tread on these very same steps...

The décor in the first floor lift lobby and landing was sparkling white and my eyes were riveted to a painting on one wall where I recognized the stately flight of stairs of the Istana Besar or Grand Palace.

Check out the pepper and gambier motif
on the glass frame
We could not miss the signage designed with gold lettering against a block of white marble which read, Jabatan DiRaja Johor and walked in that direction, looking for the office door.

No willing to waste time searching through a labyrinth, I gave a call to Datuk’s personal assistant and she answered my query as to which door is their office by swiftly opening the door immediately in front of us! [Both of us were still on the phone!]

No wonder we could not find it! The sign above the wooden door was written in Jawi and neither one of us was conversant in the language…

Datuk Rahim graciously welcomed us in and we had a fruitful time together, starting with a presentation of the project, followed by Datuk’s interesting and informative input.

He was a fountain of information and only paused for moments before recalling names and dates in Johor history as he recounted rare details with us. I’m sure we could have gone on for the rest of the day but Datuk had another scheduled appointment.

A little memento of our initial meeting with Datuk Rahim
At the close of our meeting, he asked Josh and Moe if they have read his books which were available from the Zarith Sofia Library in UTM. Then Datuk invited us back again and said he was looking forward to review the fine-tuned version of their video.

With the office door firmly shut behind us, we could not resist the opportunity to take a we-fie in the lift lobby as a memento of our initial meeting with Datuk Rahim. (I guess the guard downstairs was also keeping an eye on these three, doing our we-fie!)

Hearing from Datuk Rahim, who spoke with such passion on a subject close to his heart, was indeed an illuminating experience which not only enriched our minds but also enlarged our hearts with greater pride for Johor and its rich heritage.

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