My book at the 24 Festive Drums Fest

The 30th anniversary of the founding of this dramatic art of drumming in Johor Baru, was celebrated with two mega drum shows in the 5th International Festival of 24 Festive Drums 2018, last weekend.

Tan Chai Puan [Left] with VIPs and dignitaries at the 30th Anniversary
celebration of the 24 Festive Drums on Aug 25
While fans of drumming were focused on admiring the drum troops and their energetic performances – both in the National competition (Aug 24) and the drumming showcase (Aug 25) – many in the audience may have missed my part in the drumming event.

I’m not a drummer but just a storyteller and heritage-hunter who was keen to share the story about Tan Chai Puan, a cultural activist and one of the co-founders of this unique art-form which developed from a school activity into a worldwide phenomenon.

Last year, while I was planning to add exclusive stories out of Johor into my collection of My Johor Stories to be published in, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, I decided to feature Tan Chai Puan as a personality under Portraits.

Tan Chai Puan used a broad sheet of white paper to
write and illustrate as he shared his story with me
I cannot remember where I met Chai Puan but it was probably around 2009 when the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum was officially declared open by then Johor Menteri Besar.

His passion for promoting Chinese culture saw Chai Puan in multiple and complex roles that ranged from Teochew Eight Districts Association Vice-President, JB Chinese Association Committee Member, JB Chinese Heritage Museum Chairman, as well as the Southern University’s Head of Art Gallery and Director of Strategic Developments.

Back in 2009, I was in the crowd to witness the dramatic dance and drama in a walk initiated by Chai Puan, which dramatized a part of Johor history on the arrival of the Chinese to Johor on the invitation of the Johor ruler.

This dramatic walk, which aptly started from one end of Jalan Tan Hiok Nee where the OCBC Bank is located, was accompanied by a live performance of traditional Teochew music, and went all the way to the entrance of the JB Chinese Heritage Museum, which is situated at the opposite end of this road, close to the HSBC Bank.

A personal copy of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales,
Real People, Rich Heritage
, was presented to Tan Chai Puan
On that auspicious day, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee was declared a Heritage Walk by the Johor state government.

Over the next three years, Chai Puan, who was Chairman of the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk Committee, organised weekend cultural activities, shows and guest artiste appearances, for the public and this brought new life into JB’s heritage quarter.

Chai Puan made the effort to invite me to these weekend events and because he’s conversant in English, he painstakingly explained the significance of each performance/event to me – as most of the commentary was in Mandarin/Chinese dialects – and helped me to better appreciate Chinese culture and heritage in JB.

The meeting at Think City Johor Baru prior to the
Drums Festival, graced by YB Liow Cai Tung
He was instrumental in letting me get a good grasp of Chinese culture here and this went a long way to guide me as I wrote and published many cover and centre-spread stories about JB culture heritage in the (now defunct) Johor Streets, a pull-out section of the New Straits Times.

While most of the Chinese media may have full-page, detailed reports about Chinese heritage events, I was then, probably the only writer who shared about such local events in the English media.

It was my privilege to let Chinese readers who are not proficient in reading Chinese, to finally gain a further insight into the rich culture and heritage of the Chinese in JB.

At Think City JB, [L to R] Tan Chai Puan,
YB Liow Cai Tung and Lee Sheah Liang
My working relationship with Chai Puan continued into learning more about the Teochew culture through the Teochew Lunar 303 (Teochew: chiak moy thoy hee) annual celebration and the founding of the 24 Festive Drums here.

Since 2012, I shared the pride of the 24 Festive Drums when the biennial International Drum Festivals started in JB.

As Chai Puan shared his stories with me, I could write exciting and accurate stories that were published in Johor Streets, to literally drum up more interest in this proudly Johor-born tradition.

In 2016, I was invited by Chai Puan to participate with the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association to provide the English version to publish a tri-lingual (English, Chinese and Malay) souvenir book on the Johor Chingay.

Chai Puan was pleased to share this proud achievement
of getting the Drums Fest visually promoted around JB
I shared a quiet joy and pride with the Chinese community in Johor when a hardcover version of this limited edition book was presented to His Majesty the Sultan of Johor when he graced the Johor Chingay street parade that year.

One of Chai Puan’s recent roles is Chief Coordinator of the task force to study how the Johor Chingay parade may be listed with UNESCO as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage.

As I was well acquainted with Chai Puan’s cultural achievements for Johor and the nation, it was only natural for me to include him into the Portraits section of my book.

When I finally pinned this busy-man-who-wears-multiple-hats down for a one-to-one chat-interview, it was already 5 March 2017.

I still remember it was a bright Sunday afternoon when we sat down for a drink at Roost at Jalan Dhoby, a cafĂ© significantly situated in JB’s heritage quarter.

At the very start of our chat, Chai Puan frankly declared that unlike other media who pursued him for details about culture heritage events, I was the first to talk to him about “the man” and his life story in relation to the development of culture and heritage here.

My full-page story on Mega drum fest in
NST, Life & Times Jom on 16 Aug 2018
Chai Puan, who is familiar with how an interview should go, is also a writer and poet who contributes his Chinese articles to various publications here and in Singapore.

And because he has such an eventful life with such a complex role, he came prepared with a broad sheet of white paper to write/draw out details and illustrations, to help me better understand his story.

So it was a most beneficial time together as Chai Puan shared with me many interesting anecdotes and details, most of which I have written in my story on Tan Chai Puan, cultural activist, under the Portraits section in my book.

At my book launch event on 15 July 2017, I had great pleasure to present Chai Puan with his personal copy of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

This year, as the 24 Festive Drums celebrated its 30th anniversary since its founding on 12 June 1988, Chai Puan invited me to join them in a small event held at the forecourt of the Johor Gu Miao or Old Temple.

At the close of this anniversary celebration event, he announced details for the 5th International Festival of 24 Festive Drums 2018, planned for Aug 24 & 25 at the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium.

Between June and August, I had the privilege of getting regular updates from Chai Puan who was thrilled to share with me about how the work was progressing in his promotion of the Drum Festival in the city.

Sin Chew National edition;
My book is behind the plaque
presented to YB Liow Cai Tung!
For the first time in the history of the 24 Festive Drums, Chai Puan managed to share the pride of this Johor-born heritage with the non-Chinese-speaking community on a larger scale.

This was made possible with the cooperation of the JB City Council and Pasir Gudang Municipal Council as well as main and co-sponsors, who supported the event with wide publicity throughout the city particularly from LED lighted billboards, buntings and banners.

Meanwhile I worked with Chai Puan to get the event details published in a full-page story (NST Aug 16) on the coming Drums Fest in Life & Times Jom, a pull-out section of the New Straits Times, which was distributed nationwide and online, to drum up more interest with the non-Chinese community.

Think City Johor Baru also played a significant role in encouraging more interest in this drumming art-form by hosting an event with non-Chinese-speaking media, tour agents and heritage enthusiasts. 

At this event, graced by Johor Women Development & Tourism Committee chairman, YB Liow Cai Tung, Chai Puan presented a brief introduction on the 24 Festive Drums and showed how it has reached an international audience since its humble beginnings here.

After the thrilling National Championship competition on Aug 24, the 2-day Drum Fest for the 30th anniversary celebration of the 24 Festive Drums was at its peak on Aug 25.

The VIPs and dignitaries on Day 2 included YB Liow Cai Tung, representative from Department of National Heritage, Khalid Syed Ali, Singapore Consul-General in Johor Baru, Rajpal Singh, Pasir Gudang Municipal Council president, Hasrin Kamal Hashim, Malaysia 24 Festive Drums Association deputy president, Bernard Goh, and JB Tiong Hua Association president, Datuk Seri Tey Kim Chai, among others.

China Press Johor edition;
My book is hidden behind the plaque
presented to YB Liow Cai Tung.
In our regular chats, Chai Puan and I had talked about my book that featured him as an exclusive story in the Portraits section and we agreed that it would make a meaningful gift for presentation to the Guest-of-Honour.

I remember telling him that stocks were running low at MPH Bookstores nationwide and only a few more books were available at their JB City Square outlet.

In all his busy-ness, I guess he may have missed out on this.

However at the Aug 25 event, I was pleasantly surprised and deeply humbled when Chai Puan honoured me by presenting my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, to the VIPs, YB Liow Cai Tung and Khalid Syed Ali.

When the event MC, Rahim, made the announcement in English, some of my friends who were in the audience, were also taken by surprise.

In the presentation, the VIPs received a fruit basket, an event plaque and my book – it cannot be seen – because it was hidden behind the plaque!

I trust YB Liow and En Khalid will derive much pleasure from reading about Chai Puan and other stories under Memories and By the Way, filled with my recollections on Johor personalities, my family as well as JB culture and heritage.

Nevertheless, it was indeed a moment to treasure because I had somewhat of a small but significant part in the 30th anniversary celebration of the 24 Festive Drums!

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