Giving thanks with a grateful heart

On this last day of 2018, I look back on the year which has indeed passed rather quickly. In a few hours’ time, we will usher in a brand new year, 2019, just a year ahead of 2020.

Some members of the Mak and Wong families who met
for the very first time at my book launch event.
When I look at the numbers, I can see that we are indeed on the brink of the era where our nation had set a target for achievements in Vision 2020, an ideal tabled in 1991 under the Sixth Malaysian Plan by Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad.

In June 2018, while the Prime Minister was on a working visit to Japan, he announced that Vision 2020 may be revised to Vision 2025 and achieved with the right policies in place.

In its definition, Vision 2020 or Wawasan 2020 listed nine central strategic challenges for Malaysia to achieve as a united and fully-developed nation.

Eugene [Left] and Emilda [Right] representing
JB's famous Kerala Restaurant at my launch event
There is yet quite a way to go before we achieved all that was set out in this Vision but when I started working on, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, the ideals of Vision 2020 must have been subconsciously driving me towards presenting a microcosm through this book!

As I worked with the people/subjects featured in my book, I saw so much in common in their origin and their destiny, that I was moved to involve them as much as possible in my book launch event!

In the Memories part of my book, I shared the reasons why and how Johor Baru, an early Teochew town, earned its nickname of Little Swatow.  

I got to know the people of Hainan, Hakka, Hokkien, Foochow and Cantonese descent and saw how they shared the same entrepreneurial spirit as the early Malay and Indian traders.

Haji Halim, son of Haji Wahid, of
Mee Rebus Haji Wahid fame in JB
From the subjects featured under Portraits and Heritage Traders, I heard their family stories about arriving in Malaya to seek their fortunes and how they survived the harrowing experiences during World War II.

I could link their experiences to what I know from the recollections shared by my parents and my late grandmother, and felt much encouraged to see how these families have emerged stronger and more successful as their businesses continue to thrive through the third and fourth generations!

I also felt deeply honoured for the privilege to share their true stories with readers who will be inspired by the struggles and triumphs of these real people, some of whom arrived in Johor as immigrants and bond servants.

I’m ever grateful for the partnership of MPH Publishing and Think City, who continue to give me their generous support since the success of Book 1, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

Barney Lim and wife [Left] with Jack Lim and wife [Right],
cousins who run the Kluang RailCoffee outlets in Kluang
When asked, who was the VIP for my book launch event? I spontaneously replied, “The book subjects are my VIP’s!”

They are indeed because without them, there will be no book!

So I made every effort to invite these subjects and their family members to the event because my book launch was also a celebration for them and their families.

Only a few of the subjects featured under Portraits were unable to come due to family reasons and for some of the Heritage Traders, it was due to work commitments and the peak season because my event was held on a Saturday morning during the December holidays.

I’m so glad that my book subjects recognised what my book was doing for them and their families – in keeping their family stories documented as a written legacy – and when I invited them to participate with me at the book launch, they readily agreed.

Presenting my book to Dr Lemuel Ng
of FOLO Farms at my launch event
Through prizes from a Lucky Draw and items catered for lunch at my launch event, readers not only read about these people in towns like Macap, Kluang, Batu Pahat, Muar, Kulai, Kelapa Sawit, Pontian, Ban Foo near Ulu Tiram, and Desaru, they also had the chance to taste their food or visit and have their own experiences there!

So my launch event was not just about me but in fact, about the subjects in my book.

It was a casual and fun community-centered event where some of my book subjects were highlighted through a brief video introduction and from the items they kindly contributed for guests to win in the Lucky Draw.

After the event, many told me that they secretly wished to win the traditional cotton-stuffed pillow and bolster which were kindly contributed by Sin Keng Wah Kedai Tilam!

I was so happy that guests at the event could taste some of the food served by Heritage Traders like Mee Rebus Haji Wahid and Kerala Restaurant, banana cake by Hiap Joo Bakery, and fresh fruits from Desaru Fruit Farm and freshly-grown microgreens and lettuce by FOLO Farms.

Entrepreneur Hong Say Tee [Seated] with
Sarah Lee [Left] and Evonne Lee [Right]
I soon learnt (from the photos they shared with me!) that guests who won the Food Vouchers from the Lucky Draw, wasted no time to go to enjoy the popular cuisine at Kerala Restaurant, Mee Ho Seng Kee and Volcano Thunder Tea Rice!

I’m so thankful for all the people who were present at the event who made the entire experience even more exciting for everyone.

For instance, the Asian Pie Ladies from Kluang – Evonne Lee and Sarah Lee – finally met with Hong Say Tee, the grand old gentleman who’s known as Johor Baru’s Coffee Shop King!

Sarah told me about her childhood experience of tasting baked chicken pie when she and her father visited Wato Snack Bar – the first coffee-house in JB opened by entrepreneur Hong.

It was her first taste of Wato chicken pie which inspired and compelled her to experiment with her own pie-baking in a journey which culminated with the publication of their Asian Pies recipe book!

Presenting my book to James Lim
Toh Shian at Hiap Joo Bakery
Meanwhile in Batu Pahat, Madam Sweet Potato, the midwife known as Han Cher Soh (Hokkien dialect) to the community, is now 100 years old so the grand lady and her daughter who is caring for her, could not attend my event.

However, her son, John Chan, as well as grandson, Ian Lee and his wife, Polina, were present when I told guests that this was the only story in this book which “chose me.”

This was because last year, Ian Lee messaged me about his grandmother, the legendary Han Cher Soh, and asked me to include her in my next book!

It was my pleasure and to introduce the Chan family members to my Batu Pahat-born relative, Aunty Joy, (also present at the event) who was one of the many babies whom Madam Sweet Potato had helped to deliver!

The Asian Pie Ladies, JB’s Coffee Shop King and Madam Sweet Potato are featured under Portraits in my book.

I appreciate how my nephew, Aaron and his wife, came all the way from Perth just for the weekend, to participate with me at this event.

Presenting my book to Alex Liew at
Johore Heng Photo Studio
As he did for my first book, he made use of modern technology for a live-telecast to let my other nephews and nieces in Perth to virtually be at this event.

Besides these two who came from Perth, I’m so thankful for friends and family who travelled from Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Singapore, to witness this event.

I’m more than pleased with the support from my friends in the hotels and resorts who have bought bulk orders of Book 2 to join Book 1, to be placed in their hotel rooms and suites to enhance their guests’ stay.

To add to the excitement when I recently went to Le Grandeur Palm Resort to autograph my books there, I met with Mr & Mrs Thompson, their guests who have been enjoying their read of My Johor Stories book during their regular stay with the resort!

…I cannot fully express how humbling it is for me when I meet with readers who appreciate my story-telling…

As well-travelled people, you will agree that there is indeed something so special about staying in a place with a story!

Wong Lee Lin, representing the
Two Wongs of Senai, with my book
And with the help of my Rockstar Team, made up of dear friends, thank you for applying your experience from my previous book launch to successfully coordinate and smoothly execute this launch event for my sequel, into an even more memorable event.

I’m deeply grateful for everyone – you know who you are – for your friendship, prayers, love and support, throughout my book-writing journey.

From the volunteers to the unsung heroes who helped to usher in and welcome my guests, to the book subjects and their families who came to grace the event and made it ever more meaningful – thank you all so much!

I’m also glad that over the past few weeks, my book has safely reached family members both in Australia, the UK (by hand) and elsewhere (by post), and especially to the subjects featured in my book but were unable to come for the launch event.

I’m so grateful for the help to deal with all the ups and downs throughout the year (and there were plenty!) but above all, I thank God for His faithfulness, for answering my prayers and for blessing me in countless ways.

My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, is now available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online via

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