This Farewell is not Goodbye

Some two years ago, in the morning of 1 September 2017, I had the privilege to lead a group of visiting young people from Kajang on a Johor Baru heritage walk in part of a youth retreat here.

Chong Jin Foong [Left] with his wife and family at
the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum on Sept 1, 2017
The bright sunshine and sweltering heat did not deter us from wandering around the heritage quarter to take in the sights and soak in our city’s heritage charm.

Our visitors thoroughly enjoyed a glimpse of old JB even though it was getting rather warm and when we stepped into the air-conditioned comfort of the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum, everyone agreed that it was a welcome reprieve.

On the ground level of the Museum, an entire wall is designed with a poster that charted the Chronology of Events of the Chinese community in Johor.

Helped by the events and visuals on this poster, I shared with our visitors, a brief summary of how the Chinese started coming to Johor at the invitation of the Johor ruler back in 1844…

Chan Tze Keat [Left], Jaya and his wife Su Mei [Right]
met with Jin Foong and his family again, in JB!
In fact, it was a quick history lesson that explained the strong foundation in the relationship between Chinese immigrants and the Johor sultanate.

Then I invited the young people to head upstairs to explore the Museum on their own and reminded them not to miss the interesting exhibits on the top level.

Among the visitors who lingered behind with me was Jaya, his wife Su Mei and their little girl, Asya, along with Chan Tze Keat better known as Zeke.

It happened that while Su Mei and Zeke were studying in the university in Kuala Lumpur, they attended Life Chapel, a church in Petaling Jaya.

And right there at the ground level of the JB Chinese Heritage Museum, they met with a mutual friend, Chong Jin Foong and his family who also went to Life Chapel!

Jin Foong's children feeding the camels in the Johor Zoo
It turned out that Jin Foong was from the same church as Zeke and it was such a pleasant surprise to bump into each other here!

After exploring the heritage quarter, Jin Foong, his wife Peng Chui and three kids were chilling out in the Museum lobby and when our group came in, they could not help but listen in to my commentary on Chinese heritage in Johor.

After introducing his family, Jin Foong explained that his family moved from PJ to live in Johor because he was based in Pengerang for work and during weekends, he and the family would explore JB and enjoy a city stay.

They attended a nearby church in Pengerang but it was in Chinese so they were in fact, seeking a suitable English-speaking church and this meeting at the Museum, marked the start of our fellowship with this young family.

Jin Foong and family capture a photo memento
at their visit to the Desaru Fruit Farm
More than two years has passed since that well-timed moment when we connected with Jin Foong and his family and we have enjoyed warm fellowship with them when they were in JB in the weekends or when we visited them in Pengerang.

Their young children joined the Sunbeam Club, our Children’s Ministry and this year, Jin Foong took the lead with the team in hosting our Vacation Bible School for kids.

On one of their family visits back to PJ, Jin Foong told me that his father showed him an old copy of Life & Times Travel with a feature on Teochew Traditions in Johor.

When he looked closer, Jin Foong was pleasantly surprised to discover my byline with that story!

Then he told his father about how we met in JB and that we go to the same church here.

A photo memento of our meal together in Sungai Rengit
As Desaru Coast was being developed, Jin Foong and I would exchange notes about the latest happenings in his neighbourhood (Pengerang is located nearby!).

When he and his team was at the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast for a business meeting, he shared with me, a group photo captured at the iconic hotel entrance – and when I was at the hotel for their Grand Opening Party, I too shared my stories with him.

Since major industrial projects were established in Pengerang, this rural area has vastly developed and Jin Foong’s children attended a good school that has a population of only 100 students, with a teacher to student ratio of 1:10.

Supported by her parents, Qi Hui, their eldest child trained hard to take part in the school’s annual Storytelling Competitions and she always performed with excellence.

Our food fellowship over a Japanese meal in JB
I remember having conversations with her two younger brothers, Zhi Yong and Zhi Aun, about our favourite Superheroes because these active boys were often dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with Superman or Batman motifs, complete with capes…

During a fellowship dinner in church, I sat with the boys. 

With our plates full of food from the buffet, I decided to eat with my hands – instead of using plastic cutlery – so I explained that we are Malaysians and eating with hands is the Malaysian way.

“Aunty Peggy, I’m Japanese,” Zhi Yong announced quite seriously.

I hid my smile and politely agreed with him because he was indeed born in Japan at that time while his father was based there for work.

On a recent Sunday, my family and I visited this family in Pengerang, and I had the opportunity to pick up the youngest boy, Zhi Aun, from school because his class had the shortest hours.

A family photo at the children's school in Pengerang
Even when he was accompanied by his father, Zhi Aun was pleasantly surprised to see us waiting for him in my car.

Meanwhile, Peng Chui picked up their two older children a little later and they joined us for lunch at a popular seafood place in nearby Sungai Rengit.

My family and I also had the privilege of sharing more food fellowship with Jin Foong and his family in JB.

And when I asked, “What is your choice of cuisine?” I was not surprised when the unanimous choice was, Japanese!

Two whole years seemed to have whooshed pass and suddenly it is time to bid farewell.

When the school term closes this year, the family will relocate back to PJ where the children will continue their studies the following year, just as Jin Foong’s work contract here will be completed.

We have made many memories with Jin Foong and his family and I’m sure they too have their fair share of experiences with us in JB.

Till we meet again:
Qi Hui [Right], Zhi Yong [Left] and
Zhi Aun [second from Left] with my mum
Even though their time with us in JB was brief, it was an important chapter marked by incidents and occasions that were significant in different ways.

For instance, on March 16, 2019, Jin Foong made his pulpit speaking debut with an encouraging message based on the Beatitudes in The Sermon on the Mount and challenged us to consider the code of conduct expected from believers.

The presence of this family was indeed a blessing to us as we witnessed how they were committed to travel from Pengerang to JB every weekend to fellowship with us.

And leave JB at the crack of dawn on Sunday to ensure that the children were on time for school in Pengerang that morning.

[The weekend in Johor is Friday and Saturday, with Sunday a school/work day for Government schools and offices.]

Looking back to how it all started, we just marvel at how wonderful it was for the uni-mates from PJ and Kajang to meet each other in the JB Chinese Heritage Museum, which led to two years of warm fellowship with Jin Foong and family.

The family may be leaving Johor, but for us this farewell is certainly not goodbye. May God be with you till we meet again!

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