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.

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