A community-centered celebration

“Am glad to witness your successful book launch this morning.”

“Very impressed with your presentation.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed your walk through the book!”

“The sponsorship of gifts and food from the subjects in your book connects us with your book.”

The author, presenting My Johor Stories 2: Interesting
Places and Inspirational People, with selected readings
These and other encouraging comments came pouring in from my guests after the book launch for My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, recently.

As I read on, I was more than happy with the successful community-centered celebration, planned with the focus mainly on the subjects in my book.

In My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, I introduced my family through stories like Going back to Masai-chusetts, My mum the midwife, We are OCBC, Where champions were born, and The Real Champion – our grandmother, Mak Cheng Hai.

The cover design mainly features rare
photographs of our family members
So under Memories in My Johor Stories 2, I continued with Our Family Ties which reveals our link to Johor pioneer Wong Ah Fook through his nephew, Wong Kwong Yam, the patriarch of the Wong family in Johor Baru.

In the course of my work, I met several people who I later discovered (by asking my mum), are related through our link to the Wong family here.

My mum is the eldest daughter in her family of 11 siblings and because she used to accompany grandmother on visits with relatives, she had first-hand experience of meeting members of the Wong family.

Finally, I understood that grandmother’s aunts (her father’s two sisters!) married Wong Kwong Yam to become Mrs Wong’s and this was our link to the Wong clan.

As such, I was determined to invite the younger generation of Wong’s to my launch event so that our relatives could meet – some probably for the very first time.

Presenting my book to Iskandar Regional Development
Authority, Chief Executive, Datuk Ismail Ibrahim
From the start of this book sequel project, Think City’s Programme Director, Dr Neil Khor, encouraged me to share more stories not only from Johor Baru but also from other Johor towns.

After our discussions, I gave serious thought to the people in towns like Kluang, Macap and Muar, with whom I have a special connection.

And as I pondered over the possible subjects to go into My Johor Stories 2, it was quite easy to choose them and they neatly fell into two categories: Portraits and Heritage Trades.

A 100-year old lady in Batu Pahat, who is being cared for by her daughter, Chan Sau Pheng, however, is the only subject in my book who “chose me.”

This was because the old lady’s grandson, Ian Lee, messaged me about his grandmother and asked me to include her in my next book!

Presenting my book to Ian Lee, grandson of the legendary
Han Cher Soh, or Madam Sweet Potato in Batu Pahat
Ian insisted that the legendary Han Cher Soh (Hokkien dialect), a midwife who was so well-known for her selfless attitude that anyone in Batu Pahat should know her!

But before accepting Ian’s challenge to write about his grandmother, I did my “homework” and wisely sought information from my Batu Pahat-born relative.

And when I asked Aunty Joy, she instantly recognised the nickname! 

It was both uncanny and amusing to discover that she was in fact, delivered by Madam Sweet Potato, the midwife known as Han Cher Soh in the local community.

For obvious reasons, the grand lady and her daughter could not attend my event but I was glad that her son, John Chan, as well as Ian and his wife, Polina, were present.

Presenting my book to Dr & Mrs Lim Boon Seng,
representatives of the Lim Family in Muar
To complete this project, I went on road trips from Johor Baru to various Johor towns to meet with the subjects/people who shared with me their stories and life’s experiences.

Besides JB, these trips took me to towns like Macap, Kluang, Batu Pahat, Muar, Kulai, Kelapa Sawit, Pontian, Ban Foo near Ulu Tiram, and Desaru, as well as Melaka and Singapore, where the families now live.

As I wrote their stories and prepared my manuscript to submit to MPH Publishing, I saw a common thread that runs through these true stories of the struggles and triumphs of real people, some of whom arrived in Johor as immigrants and bond servants.

I made every effort to encourage my book subjects to attend the launch event because it was their “moment” too and for many, their untold stories are exclusively documented in My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People as a legacy for their families.

A queue waiting for their books to be autographed
While preparing the event programme, I decided to involve some subjects to let my guests at the launch event to not only read about them but to also have an experience of them!

This was accomplished through a Lucky Draw where subjects contributed items for guests to win and by tasting the food catered by some heritage traders at the reception.

When I shared my ideas with these subjects, they responded positively and I was overwhelmed by their generosity, especially Kluang RailCoffee who kindly contributed their packs of coffee for door-gifts!

It was indeed a special experience where guests tasted pesticide-free fresh greens grown by FOLO Farms, fresh fruits from Desaru Fruit Farm, banana cake by Hiap Joo traditional bakers, South Indian specialties by Kerala Restaurant and Haji Wahid’s famous mee rebus.

This celebration was graced by Iskandar Regional Development Authority Chief Executive, Datuk Ismail Ibrahim and his wife, the Singapore Consul-General for Johor, Rajpal Singh, JB Tiong Hua Association President, Datuk Seri Tey Kim Chai, and other guests like hotels and resorts, NGO, university and college representatives, as well as my school friends and family members.

A section of the guests as Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, gives his opening address at my book launch event
A guest succinctly summed up their consensus with this encouraging message:

“Was speaking to Dr. Lim and he was much impressed by your passion and ability to bring people from different races and backgrounds into your book. This helps to unite the people’s hearts in sharing and caring.”

His feedback is deeply humbling as I share this kind commendation with the inspirational people and their families who shared their stories with me and gave me the privilege to document them as a lasting legacy in my book.

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

A version of this was published in the January 2019 issue of The Iskandarian

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