Counting my blessings in eventful 2019

On the brink of a new decade, I’m reflecting on the events in the past 12 months and beyond with much gratitude for the many blessings and opportunities where My Johor Stories could encourage others in our community.

My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage [Left]
and My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People
My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage was launched on 15 July 2017 and it went to the Number One spot in the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers List in the first week of its launch.

With the readers’ support, this title stayed on the Bestsellers List for consecutive weeks and months, and at end 2017, it was counted among the Best of MPH in 2017.

The success of Book One led to the launch its sequel on 1 December 2018, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People*, a community-centered collection of stories that featured inspirational people and Heritage Trades in various Johor towns.

While I was working on Book Two, I had the privilege to present Book One to different groups of people including students in local and international schools, university undergraduates, as well as clubs and associations.

Some hotels and resorts placed my books in their rooms and suites and when Book Two was published, they added this book sequel to their rooms.

In the same way, Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) placed special orders for the hardcover versions of my books to present to their Board of Directors and to present as premium gifts.

I didn’t think much about it until the last few days of Dec 2019 when I shared A tale of two books, because readers were still keen to have their own copies of my books.

In moments of quiet reflection, I counted my blessings and praised God for how far my books have gone to touch other lives.

Allow me to share some exciting highlights of the My Johor Stories journey in 2019:

The team at Amari Johor Baru, holding my two books
Hotel Amari Johor Baru agreed with me that travellers liked to stay in a place with a story and in January, my Book One and Book Two were placed in their hotel suites to enhance their guests stay.

This hotel, along with Suasana Suites Iskandar Johor Baru and the Zenith Lifestyle Centre are built on the site of our city’s two landmark cinema halls, Rex and Lido.

A hotel guest, the granddaughter of Basil Draper, contacted me after she read and connected with My Johor Stories during her recent stay with the Amari JB. [Please read: Johor heritage link-up at Amari JB.]

My books also available at selected
Popular bookstores 
While browsing around in a mall, I was delighted to discover that besides MPH bookstores nationwide and online via mphonline, my books were also available from selected Popular bookstores.

Before my first book was published, I went into a large bookstore to admire the beautifully bound books arranged on the shelves and thought, “Someday I would have my book on these shelves too…” 

It was indeed a profound pleasure to see my books on the shelf in a section labelled, Non-Fiction by Local Authors!

With a heart for heritage, I was happy to partner with the team who had ambitious but worthwhile plans to document the history of Soo Peng Hang Press, one of the earliest printing companies in JB, in a bi-lingual book.

This book project would be followed by the physical restoration of the printing press equipment and finally, setting up the printing press for display as a heritage institution.

Adding my autograph to the Foreword printed
in the Soo Peng Hang book, for a reader
For my contribution in writing its English version, I was honoured with the privilege to write a Foreword in this precious book.

When the organisers in the University of Southampton Malaysia invited me to participate in a TEDx Talk, I hesitated because it was a challenge to speak according to a script, on a topic I was passionate about within (only!) 18 minutes!

It was another first for me and with their encouragement and guidance, I rehearsed my presentation in the privacy of an empty lecture hall, with a camera trained on me…

I will never forget that morning in March when my TEDx Talk, Connecting People through My Johor Stories, was successfully presented (and recorded!) and is now available on the YouTube channel.

Speaking at the TEDx Talk organised by the University of Southampton Malaysia
Screenshot from Dr. Neil's Facebook post
In 2016 I met Dr. Neil Khor who was then Programme Director with Think City and it was his confidence in my local stories which encouraged me to publish My Johor Stories in partnership with Think City and MPH Publishing.

In March 2019, I was informed that Dr. Neil was leaving Think City for a new opportunity with an international platform, the UN-Habitat. Wow! The United Nations…

I’m ever grateful for his support and advance praise for Book Two, which is printed on the back cover.

I wrote a little thank-you tribute on Dr. Neil and was delighted when he posted it on his FB page with kind comments and further encouragement to progress with my next book!

With students and teachers at the Book Talk event 2019
In 2018, I had the pleasure to encourage student leaders at SMK Dato Jaafar Johor Baru through sharing my book-writing journey for My Johor Stories in a Book Talk event.

Then in May 2019, I was at the school again for a Book Talk organized by the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) Panel in a District Level event with 160 Form Six students from eight schools.

There was no short-cut to acquiring the basic skills for writing, so I took the opportunity to inspire and challenge the students by sharing my experience with, Reading & Writing: From hobby to career.

Facilitators at the Basic Citizen Journalism Course
From secondary students to youths, I was then given the opportunity to encourage young people in our community to write and share news responsibly, equip them with the skill sets to do so and increase their marketability for job opportunities.

I was among several facilitators in the first of a series of three training courses under Youth Truth News – Basic Citizen Journalism Course organised by The Iskandarian newspapers that invited participants from the public.

This series of training courses aimed to empower interested individuals, was held in June, August and October as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) contribution to the community and offered Free-of-Charge.

My presentation on three screens at the Malaysiana Forum!
In October, I was deeply honoured to be among three local authors invited to join the panel for the Malaysiana Forum 2019 organised by KDU College University in Shah Alam.

This year’s forum in the theme, Appreciating Works of Malaysian Authors, featured My Johor Stories along with authors in two other genres in Politics and Horror.

This was yet another first experience for me and this event ended with a forum where the panel of authors spontaneously answered questions from the audience.

A screenshot from the TV screen sent by Dr Lemuel Ng
FOLO Farms, Johor’s urban farmers, was featured under Portraits in Book Two and early this year I was invited to join them when the crew from RTM2 TV series, #OBB, short-form for #Orang Baik-Baik came to film a documentary on the farm’s inspiring work.

The filming started documenting the activities of how kitchen waste was collected in this recycling project in partnership with Renaissance Johor Baru and ended at the farm with packing of fresh produce, with a snippet that featured my comments.

As I was leaving the KDU premises, I received a message and photo from Dr Lemuel Ng, one of the urban farmers, who said: “Thank you Peggy. We are so happy that you are on National TV with us.”

Wow! Appearing on National TV – no matter how brief – was also a first for me!

I was a member of the Award Committee again for IMB2P
This year, I was again invited by IRDA to participate as a member of the Award Committee in their Iskandar Malaysia Beyond Boundaries Programme (IMB2P), to meet Batch Two shortlisted applicants, over two days of review.

It was a challenge but a privilege to help IRDA assess the Art & Culture pursuits by artists, practitioners and performers who were keen to explore or get involved in a collaborative project with international partner/s in Iskandar Malaysia, within Malaysia or abroad.

This year, I also had the opportunity to attend several events of successful applicants from Batch One and witnessed how they had constructively used the awarded funds.
. . .

With Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture,
Datuk Mohammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik at Tourism
Malaysia's Media & Industry Appreciation event in KL
To wrap up this eventful year, I joined a trip hosted by Tourism Malaysia in December where I was pleasantly surprised to meet (on separate occasions!) with Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datuk Mohammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik and Tourism Malaysia Director General, Datuk Musa Yusof, both of whom have their own copies of My Johor Stories and who recognised me from my books!

I’m more than pleased that two more exciting new experiences are just ahead, happening in the first few days of 2020. But more about this later.

Suffice to say that one entails speaking to a group of diplomats-in-the-making and the other, for My Johor Stories to be listed among distinguished names and honoured in a museum!

As we look ahead to a promising start for My Johor Stories in the new decade, I take this opportunity to thank readers, friends and family for your encouragement, love and support, and wish you all that you wish for yourselves in 2020 and beyond. God bless!

I’m thrilled that Heritage Traders featured in my Book Two have developed their businesses after their stories were published in my book, since December 2018.

Volcano Thunder Tea, a Hakka specialty [Non-Halal] that started in Kelapa Sawit, has expanded to a new outlet at No. 279, Jalan Kenanga 29/9, Bandar Indahpura, 81000 Kulai.

Look at for this Johor brand at food-courts in modern malls!
The next generation of the family that serves popular Haji Wahid Mee Rebus has opened in food-courts in Johor and beyond to serve their family recipe of noodles.

Besides Plaza Angsana in JB, these noodles are also served at @mart Kempas, Aeon Tebrau City, Aeon Bukit Indah, Aeon Bandar Dato Onn, Aeon Danga Bay and Toppen Mall; Outside Johor at Aeon Ayer Keroh, Aeon Nilai and by March 2020, also at Aeon Shah Alam.

Family recipe Mee Ho Seng Kee [Non-Halal] located on Level Six of Johor Baru City Square is expanding their businesses to the adjoining premises to serve a wider menu.

JB’s famous place for traditional Indian cuisine, Kerala Restaurant, has relocated to new premises at No. 55 Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, Susur 1/1, 80300 Johor Baru, and open for business in January 2020.

Read their heritage stories and more in My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online at mphonline.

Johor heritage link-up at Amari JB

My Johor Stories the blog, regularly receives email messages and I will take my time to read and reply them. I must admit that I do not open my blog mailbox as often as my work mailbox, least of all during the year-end holiday season.

My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage
[Right] and My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and
Inspirational People
[Left] on the table where I met
Sarah and Stuart at the Amaya Cafe in Amari Johor Baru
But something made me check this blog mailbox late on Boxing Day, December 26.

It opened to an intriguing message sent by Sarah, received on Christmas Day, December 25.

As I read on, my interest was piqued because she said:

“Hi, just really enjoyed your second book. Is there any chance you have heard of Basil Draper, his wife Grace, her sister May or Charles Fraser? Basil was my grandfather and was architect to the Sultan around 1902 – 1935. I am in JB now but usually live in HongKong. Happy Christmas and Best Wishes.”

A brief message like this revealed that Sarah was probably Caucasian, maybe English, because her grandfather was Basil Draper.

And if she had read my book – whether in parts or in its entirety – she must have had the books earlier on or maybe she was staying in a hotel which has my books in the rooms for guests to read at leisure.

With Sarah and Stuart Heaver
at the Amaya Cafe 
Some hotels here agree with me that travelers like to stay in a place with a story and have placed my two books in their higher-level hotel rooms and suites for the guests’ reading pleasure.

These hoteliers know that my books would enhance their guests’ stay and understand that modern travelers who read My Johor Stories in the comfort of their rooms may be keen to explore the sites on their own.

It was late in the day when I read Sarah’s message, so I decided to reply her first thing the next morning.

But it was later, about 11am on December 27 when I finally wrote a reply to Sarah.

I thanked her for her kind comments about My Johor Stories and shared that in Book One I shared a story on, Where Champions were Born, our grandfather’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng, featured under Memories.

Grandfather’s house was located walking distance to our school, the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Johor Baru, and my sisters and I used to walk to school.

I told Sarah that one of my regular routes to school was from Jalan Ngee Heng to the back gate of the Convent via a road named Jalan Draper!

“This was why your message struck a familiar chord!” I wrote to Sarah.

Sarah and Stuart Heaver have
autographed copies of my books!
I told her that this road still exists and that it was named after Basil Draper, who contributed to the early development of our city.

Absolutely thrilled that Sarah, the granddaughter of Basil Draper, had got in touch with me, I asked a few questions like how long she would be in JB and if time permitted, perhaps we could even meet up…

I hoped she could share with me about her grandfather, any recollections about his life or any anecdotes, and of course, share some good photographs of JB in a bygone era.

After sending out this email, I went out to a scheduled appointment at a nearby city hotel.

Midway through the event, I looked at my phone and was happy to read a reply from Sarah!

She explained that they would be leaving tomorrow morning so if I was free to meet, then it should be some time this afternoon or evening.

Her next line confirmed my guess because she said they were staying at the Amari JB and could get a taxi to come and meet me.

The Amari JB has the unique heritage of being situated on the site of two landmark cinemas – the Rex and Lido – and the hotel also overlooks Johor Baru’s Street of Harmony where places of worship of our multi-racial community, are located.

My story, Escape to the Movies, featured under Culture Heritage in Book One, was my fond recollection of watching movies in stand-alone cinema halls like the Rex and Lido.

So I was more than pleased that two of the hotel’s function rooms were named Rex and Lido as a tribute to these two landmark cinemas.

The Amari JB acknowledged the significance of its heritage site here and for this, I wish to thank the hotel management with a special mention of Bobby Subramaniam in Marketing-Communications, who arranged for autographed copies of my two books to be placed in their suites, early this year. 

The Amari JB is built on the site of former landmark
cinemas, Rex and Lido [Pictured here]
Just as I guessed, Sarah must have read my books during her stay in the Amari JB and found a special connection with My Johor Stories!

I sensed that Sarah was here with a mission to uncover more information about her grandfather and she probably felt the connection with my “grandfather” stories in my books.

A check on the time (it was almost 3.30pm then), revealed that I could in fact, meet with Sarah in the hotel immediately after this event so I replied and shared my telephone number with a request that we should liaise more quickly by WhatsApp.

About 30 minutes later, I received a WhatsApp message from Sarah, who said she was using her husband’s phone to contact me. (So Sarah was here with her husband.)

She told me they were in the Amari and could meet me in the lobby for coffee anytime.

I smiled when I read the message which ended with, “Will carry a copy of your book.”

Archive photo of Rex cinema hall 
We had never met before so it was a good idea to help us identify each other. In just under an hour, the elevator doors opened at Level Six when I arrived at the lobby of the Amari JB.  

It was easy to spot a couple seated in the Amaya CafĂ© who were looking expectantly in the direction of the bank of elevators…

They must be Sarah and her husband, Stuart, because their identities were instantly confirmed by my books on the table!

For a moment, I thought they may have brought the books that were placed in their room until I noticed the large discount stickers pasted on the front covers.

Sarah then told me that they went to the MPH bookstore in JB City Square to get my books but were advised to go check at the book sale downstairs (in the concourse),

Here, they managed to get both my books, Book One and Book Two, and even enjoyed a festive discount! So I had the pleasure of autographing my books for them…

These readily available books confirmed that stocks had been duly replenished since my recent quest for my elusive Book One here! (Please read: A tale of two books).

Grace Chiam, the hotel’s Director of PR and Marketing, stopped by to say “Hello!” and I had the pleasure of introducing Mr & Mrs Stuart Heaver to her.

An ancient stamp/chop for the Gamier & Pepper Society
Grace was familiar with them as she had earlier written to Stuart, a professional writer and journalist, to discuss about doing a feature on the Amari JB for the South China Morning Post and the magazines he contributes to in the region.

Mrs Sarah Heaver, the former Sarah Draper, told me that they went to explore Jalan Draper, the road for which her grandfather, Basil Draper, was named.

While we talked about Johor heritage, Stuart took out his pen and notebook to jot down notes and names and mentioned that he was keen to do a feature on Johor heritage and how they connected with My Johor Stories!

The wide lawns in the English-style gardens of JB's Istana
Gardens; Trick-photograph of my mother on her aunt's palm!
Having lived in HongKong for some time, Sarah and Stuart were familiar with Asian culture and could easily identify with what I shared about Johor’s unique culture and heritage, our Pepper & Gambier heritage, and the basis of a special unity among the race groups in our local community.

Sarah said that while her grandfather was based in JB, her father was born here. In fact, she remembered seeing photos of her father – as a child – playing in wide lawns.

She assured me that when she returns to the UK in January, she would find relevant photos to share with me.

And because my grandfather used to work with the Johor government in administration, first with the Public Works Department and later with the Land Office, Sarah strongly felt that there might be another connection there.

Grandfather, Ng Ngoh Tee, was four-time
Johor badminton champion in the 1930s
She said her family also enjoyed playing badminton, a sport which my grandfather excelled in and figured that our grandfathers might have known each other through work or badminton!

In passing, I mentioned that I met an Englishman, Richard Dunn, who wrote me when he discovered many names of the places listed in his grandmother’s memoirs were the same as those places in my story, Historic Hills and Palaces.

Later when Richard and his wife, Lindsey, visited JB, I took them to see the list of places he wanted to see here and during that stay, we suddenly discovered that his grandfather, Frank Mongford Still, and my grandfather had served together in the same badminton association in Johor!

That was indeed an uncanny and incredible experience. Now I wonder if this meet-up with Sarah and Stuart in the Amari JB, at such short notice, might just be the start of yet another…

Amari Johor Baru is at No. 82-C Jalan Trus, 80000 Johor Baru, with its reception and lobby on Level Six. Tel: 607 – 266 8888.

Visit website: for special promotions at the hotel and restaurants.

My books, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, are available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online via

UPDATE 17 January 2020

Read this article by Stuart Heaver, published in the South China Morning Post on 17 Jan 2020, How Johor Bahru in Malaysia, long in Singapore's shadow, is on the rise and making the most of its Chinese heritage.

A tale of two books

In late November 2019, I received an email from Joanne, a friend who had relocated from Johor Baru to Melbourne, saying she wanted to get my books and have them autographed for her two daughters.

This was the last copy of my Book One
from the MPH bookstore in the airport!
Her younger daughter, Janet, had just completed her A-Levels and their family was planning a trip back to JB. Besides visiting family, one of her objectives was to get my books to let her daughters read about her hometown to give them a sense of where she grew up.

Joanne said since she discovered My Johor Stories online, she had been following my stories to stay in touch with the happenings here.

After we exchanged a few emails, I did not hear from her again.

Not until early December when I received a WhatsApp message from Joanne, declaring that she had just arrived in JB!

In between her family visits here and across the causeway, Joanne managed to get a copy of Book Two, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

She was however, getting anxious because after visiting several bookstores, she learnt that there was no stock of Book One, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

Christopher Ling with my Book Two at the
MPH bookstore in Johor Baru City Square
Recently I was at the MPH bookstore in Johor Baru City Square with Christopher Ling, Artistic Director of Theatrethreesixty, as our heritage walk ended in the bookstore for him to get my books.

At the bookstore with Christopher, I learnt that they had run out of Book One, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage so I asked the staff to check on their computer system for which MPH bookstores in Kuala Lumpur which still had stock.

With a few clicks of the mouse, the system revealed the list of bookstores that still carried stock of Book One and Book Two in KL, so Christopher got on the telephone to speak to his colleague in Theatrethreesixty (based in USJ), who promptly stepped out to get my two books.

With Joanne's two daughters, Celine [Left] and
Janet [Right] holding autographed copies of my books
Recalling this experience, I quickly phoned the MPH bookstore in JB City Square to ask the staff to check on their system to find out if my Book One was still available at the nearest (other) MPH bookstore here, located in Senai International Airport.

After a few clicks, she replied, “Ada!” and it was their last copy!

She wisely asked me to wait while she called her colleague in the bookstore at the airport to do a physical check to confirm that this last (precious!) book was there, before I went all the way to the bookstore for it.

I was relieved when she called me back with a smile in her voice and the confirmation that one last copy of Book One was indeed in their bookstore at the airport!

Signing my books for Florence to present to her
family members now relocated to Perth
She also assured me that her colleague had kept this book aside – no longer on the shelf for a shopper to buy – and was there for me to collect from them.

She reassured me that they were duly informed that the author was coming over for that book.

Senai Airport was only a drive away, so I hopped into my car and made that important trip to get hold of Book One for Joanne.

I reasoned that if Joanne could come all the way from Melbourne to get autographed copies of my books, the least I could do was to track down Book One for her!

Cindy with my book in Perth,
"Received with joy!"
When I walked into the MPH bookstore at the airport, the staff probably recognised me from my avatar printed on the book cover, and they promptly whipped out Book One from a secret compartment under the counter.

Just as I reminded the staff at the MPH bookstore in JB City Square, I repeated the reminder to the airport bookstore staff, to rush for the urgent replenishment of the stocks of my book from MPH Publishing KL.

[In the next story, I discovered that stocks were indeed replenished for the festive sales.]

Meanwhile my friend Florence, was packing to leave for her year-end family visit in Perth. She told me that among the gifts she was bringing, were copies of my books which she wanted to present to family members, relocated there.

She just needed to get these books autographed.

In all her busyness of work and packing, she overlooked this until one day when I received her message that read: “Realised I forgot to ask you to sign your books. I’ll come over tomorrow for your signature, can?”

Of course. I would certainly make time to autograph my books for her.

On her arrival in Perth, Florence (didn’t wait for Christmas!) presented my books and promptly sent me a photograph of her cousin, Cindy, holding up my book, captioned “Received with joy!”

Signing my book for Mary
Unknown to me, Emily, another friend of mine, had presented Book Two, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People to an American lady, on holiday to visit her son who’s working with a school here.

I remember it was about 8pm, after my eventful visit to the Sepang International Circuit, as our media group was travelling back to JB by coach through heavy weekend traffic, when I received a message from Emily that read: “I’m wondering if you are free for coffee Tuesday morning?”

Emily explained that she had given a copy of my Book Two to an American visitor and she loves it so much.

She also took Mary, the American lady, to visit the heritage quarter and even dropped by at the last and only handmade mattress shop in our city, featured in my book under Heritage Trades.

I couldn’t help smiling when Emily explained about how excited Mary was when she read my book and told me, “Just two days after I gave it (my book) to her, she kept on quoting from the book!”

This was both amusing and most flattering because I felt deeply honoured for a reader to not only recall my stories but also quote from my book!

She went on to say: “I would dearly like to bring her to meet you with my sister too.”

Mary [2nd from Left] with Michelle [Left] and Emily [Right]
We then arranged to meet but Emily and her sister, Michelle, who invited Mary out, deliberately refrained from saying that I would be joining them for coffee.

It turned out to be a delightful surprise for dear Mary when she saw me and easily recognised me, again probably from the avatar on my book cover!

Over brewed hot coffee, chunks of chocolate and toasted walnuts, Mary and I enjoyed a lovely chit-chat, getting to know her and discussing some of my stories from the book.

While it was most encouraging to observe how Mary appreciates My Johor Stories, I just wished that we had a copy of Book One, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage to present to her too.

While writing this, I received an update from Emily saying that her online order for Book One was just delivered, on time to present to Mary who was scheduled to leave next Monday!

Thank you, Emily for helping to fulfill my wish for Mary.

Now she can carry home to Colorado, not only fond memories of her experience here but also my two books to reminisce about her time in Johor each time she reads My Johor Stories!