Remembering our grandfather

Aunty Polly has her way of honouring the memory of her late father.

A formal studio shot of the Ng family,
grandfather and grandmother with their 11 children
She would buy and eat grandfather’s favourite kueh koleh kacang (Malay delicacy made with mung beans) and cook his favourite dish, steamed salted pork belly.

While obeying the prevailing nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO), she lamented that it was impossible to get kueh koleh kacang from her regular Nyonya kueh shop this year because it was closed.

The MCO however, did not stop her from preparing a dish of steamed salted pork belly at home to savour for dinner in fond memory of her dear father.

I know because Aunty shared her lament with me and sent me a photograph of her dishes for dinner on March 30 where I spotted the juicy slices of steamed salted pork belly.

Grandfather with his grandchildren,
the children of his first three children 
I’m pleased that my Stop and smell the Bunga Raya piece, with a brief recollection of grandfather’s passing on March 30 some 40 years ago, evoked reactions from family members.

In her response, Aunty Polly shared two group photos from her album, one of grandfather with his grandchildren and the other with the family celebrating grandfather’s birthday.

Grandfather was father of 11 children. While the grandchildren from his older children had the privilege to interact with him and have their own memories of grandfather, the grandchildren from his younger set of children have never met him.

That is why an article by Bobby Chee published in The Star dated 16 April 1980 that featured grandfather at his passing headlined, Ngoh Tee – Johore’s Maker of Champions, is so precious.

Grandfather or Ah Kong to his grandchildren, was the fifth son in the Ng family and was named Ngoh Tee, where ngoh in Teochew dialect means five or the fifth.

The old newspaper cutting from The Star, April 1980
Readers are familiar with my “grandfather stories” featured in My Johor Stories, some of which have been documented in my series of books, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

Under Memories, I shared childhood memories of growing up in grandfather’s house, a double-storey bungalow with an adjacent badminton court, formerly located at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.

Where champions were born, has a description of the house where my siblings and cousins used to lodge with our grandparents so we could conveniently walk to school.

At that time, our parents were based in the Health Sub-Centre in Masai for work, (Read: Going Back to Masai-chusetts) and as we were already attending schools in Johor Baru, they decided it was best for us to stay with our grandparents and continue with our education here.

In Family Ties, I shared about our link with the Wong family in Johor Baru and revealed how grandfather met with the Wong brothers when he was visiting their neighbourhood in the 1930s while he was courting our grandmother.

At that time, the Wong family and their extended families lived in the san pah or new settlement that was developed around a freshwater pond near Jalan Ah Siang and Jalan Lumba Kuda.

A studio shot of grandfather and his lovely daughters,
[L to R] Sylvia, Lily, Lucy, Annie and Polly
Grandmother and the Wong brothers were cousins. And when the Wong brothers recognised grandfather as the four-time Johor state badminton champion, they asked him to coach them in the game.

Happy to win their favour – particularly when he was courting their cousin sister – grandfather gladly agreed and helped the Wong brothers to build a court in their compound under the chiku tree, where he started to train them.

Then in 1936, the Wong brothers, Peng Yee, Peng Nam and Peng Soon, formed a team with grandfather to win the Foong Seong Cup, a challenge trophy donated by a Chinese businessman.

When Tan Sri Mohamed Khir Johari became president of the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) in 1960, he renamed the trophy, the Khir Cup.

While the Wong brothers were skilled badminton players, the most outstanding and talented among them was Peng Soon who went on to become one of the greatest singles players in the early post-war period.

He was four-time winner of the All-England singles title and a member of our first Thomas Cup team who won the inaugural tournament held in Preston, England, and brought home the trophy in 1949.

Grandfather was four-time Johor
  badminton champion in the 1930s
Malaysia, then known as Malaya, was the only Pacific zone participant and beat Denmark 8-1 to become the first nation to win this prestigious title! 

The inaugural games in 1949, was to become the most important men's badminton competition in the world.  

Wong Peng Soon did not have a foreign coach but he became a world-class player, acknowledged as one of the greatest badminton players of all time.

He was probably born with a gift in the game and with a good coach and the right attitude, he excelled in his game.  

Grandfather had his own badminton club, the Companion Badminton Party where badminton enthusiasts joined in the daily training at our badminton court in No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.

He not only trained badminton greats like Wong Peng Soon, but also equipped his children with the skills and tactics to become champions.  

His eldest son, Uncle Roland was Johor champion for consecutive years, taking over from his father who was reigning Johor champion for four years.  

Uncle Roland’s last international title was singles World Veteran Champion held in Taiwan and he partnered the late Datuk Eddy Choong to win the doubles Veteran Champion title.

Grandfather [Left] with Frank Mongford Still,
Richard's grandfather in Johor Baru
Another son whom grandfather trained to excel in his game was Uncle Billy who was a member of the 1967 Thomas Cup team who brought the trophy home.

Grandfather’s youngest daughter, Aunty Sylvia, still holds the prestigious title as the only Asian women to win Gold for badminton in the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, a record which remains unbroken to this day.

Uncle Arthur, who was attached to the Royal Malaysian Navy, used to represent the Navy in badminton tournaments so whenever he was home on furlough, I remember grandmother would admonish him with, “Tah por wan sek!” in Cantonese.

Loosely translated this phrase means, “Playing badminton for a living,” because the bulk of his career seemed to involve playing badminton rather than in naval duties!

In Book Two of My Johor Stories, I documented Richard’s Quest which at first, may seem out of place but it was important to put this on record because we discovered from an archive newspaper cutting that our grandfathers knew each other!

Richard Dunn, an Englishman in the UK who read my story on Johor’s Hills and Palaces, came to JB with his wife to visit the familiar places here that were also recorded in his grandmother’s memoirs, Going Astern.

Richard, who was rather proficient with online research, discovered an archive newspaper from the Singapore Library website, published in the Straits Times dated 1 November 1936. 

The first line of a report headlined, “Johore Baru to hold tournaments,” read:

“At a committee meeting the Johore Baru District Badminton Association presided over by the vice-president, Mr Ng Ngoh Tee, in the absence of the president, F.M. Still, it was decided …”

It was indeed a pleasant surprise to discover that Richard’s grandfather, Frank Mongford Still, and our grandfather not only knew each other but also worked together in the same badminton association!

A formal photo of grandfather and
grandmother when grandfather
received his Long Service
award from the Johor Sultan
Grandfather’s skills and influence as a badminton player and coach were exemplary and he is well remembered for instilling a unique champions’ attitude among the players who trained under him.

In addition to badminton, his children, their spouses and grandchildren who had a relationship with him, have their own memories to share.

In his memory, Aunty Sylvia shared a formal photograph of her parents snapped in a photo studio – as it was fashionable in those days – to document that important occasion when her father was honoured by a Long Service award by Sultan Ismail, then Sultan of Johor.

Her husband, Uncle Mok addressed this message to his sons, who had never met their grandfather (and he shared it with the rest of the family too).

They only have photographs of him and at the 40th anniversary of his passing, Uncle thought it appropriate to share a brief portrait of the father of their mother. He said:

“I spent much time with your Ah Kong during those days while courting mum at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng. (By the way, they had a 10-year courtship!)

He was undoubtedly a righteous, disciplined and a no-nonsense man.

A man of few words but when required of him to voice his opinions, he spoke without fear or favour.

He had many accolades, but he was never a show-off.

To top it all, he had a good sense of humour and trickery up his sleeves…

This is my tribute to him, even though its late, but its better late than never.”

Grandfather receiving his Long Service
award from Sultan Ismail, the Sultan of Johor
Then my brother Kenneth, jumped in with his recollections of being among the boys (along with cousins Philip and Malcolm) who also lodged with our grandparents, and were often assigned the task of clearing dog poop from the badminton court in the evenings before the training commenced.

Grandfather had devised a poop pan from an old metal biscuit tin attached to a broom pole used to collect dog poop (dropped by our pets, Rajan and Bonzo) by gently putting-in the poop with the flat edge of a separate short plank, an exercise we fondly referred to as playing golf!

On wet days, the boys would have fun drying the court with old gunny sacks. One would sit or squat on an outspread gunny sack while the other would hold its top two corners to drag the sack across wet puddles left by the rain.

He said tasks such as these were often rewarded by grandfather who would treat them with a fizzy drink of chilled Coke or Fanta Grape, conveniently bought from the provision shop next door.

Grandfather and grandmother with their 11 children;
Photo was captured on the badminton court at No. 154
Besides building a jungle-gym complete with a see-saw for the children to play, grandfather had also built a wooden bench under the window that opened from the wall of our next-door-neighbour’s shop.

We could just step on the bench to reach the open window to place orders for soft drinks – and no matter what time it was – these orders were quickly served through.

Grandfather always had small change in his little bowl of coins. Very often he would reward us children with five-cents or ten-cents, which we were permitted to spend on treats from the neighbouring provision shops.

We could pick from a range of preserved fruits but one of our favourite treats must be ice-ball which the provision shop uncle made from a live-action stall.

He would mould shaved ice into a ball and flavour it with rose syrup with a drizzle of evaporated milk for takeaways, a popular choice with students.

For those who preferred to eat at the shop, he would serve the shaved ice on an enamel-coated metal saucer for them to eat with a plastic spoon.

As for us – the friendly neighbours – we would bring our dinner plates (much wider than a saucer!) to buy takeaways.

A rare shot of grandfather in his garden
at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng
The provision shop uncle would kindly heap a mountain of shaved ice over a dollop of sweetened red-beans and top it with syrupy flavours – all for the princely sum of five-cents!

Then we would bring our sweet treat home and further top it with more evaporated milk from grandmother’s milk jug (kept in the refrigerator) before thoroughly enjoying this slushy cool refreshment!

Even after grandfather had retired from active coaching, his passion for the game kept him at the court side every evening during the training sessions.

When the serious training started, the court was off-limits for us children.

But before this, the court was for the children to play our games – often with our uncles and aunties joining us – for fun as well as for their warming-up.

To encourage the youngsters to play badminton, grandfather fashioned rackets with short shafts to match our shorter heights so that we would not damage the rackets (if we swung the racket and it hit the ground!)

Our cousins, Philp and Malcolm, were pitched against each other in a singles match – often with an attractive reward – to encourage them to play with their best efforts.

Sometimes grandfather would pick up a racket to play and he would challenge his opponent (one of the children!) to try his best to beat him.

He would often taunt his opponent by saying that he could (still!) beat him even when he had one hand tied behind his back!

And yes! Grandfather was the one who introduced us to swashbuckling heroes like Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto, gunfights, cowboys and Indians, among other heroes, first from his collection of comic books and later, at the cinema.
Grandfather and grandmother with their 11 children and grandchildren in the 1960s;
 [Front row on the floor, third from Right] That me scratching an unbearable itch on my ear!
In Escape to the movies, I shared about our thrill of going to the cinema with grandfather on weekends after we had completed our share of household chores.

These unforgettable movie treats were my earliest experiences of watching movies at JB’s landmark cinema halls, Rex and Lido.

Much later when our younger cousins were born, our doting grandfather would buy gifts of tricycles for them to play. And when they learnt to pedal, these kids rode their colourful tricycles around the badminton court.

I have yet to mention my introduction to Teochew opera through grandfather's Long-Play vinyl records...Ah…There are just far too many memories about grandfather to share!

This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but I hope our younger cousins who have not met grandfather would get to know more about the man who was our Ah Kong.

Stop and smell the Bunga Raya

I don’t advise putting your nose too close to the Bunga Raya or you risk breathing in its pollen, but this is an idiom coined with a local identity so that we can better relate to it.

Our Red hibiscus bush in the back garden
“Stop and smell the roses,” is in fact an English idiom that reminds us to relax, to take time out of one’s busy schedule to enjoy or appreciate the beauty of life.

As the Movement Control Order (MCO) with a strict Stay Home Notice (SHN) is keeping people at home, it’s a golden opportunity for everyone to Stop and smell the Bunga Raya.

The Bunga Raya or hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia.

An online search revealed that the Bunga Raya was introduced into the Malay Peninsula in the 12th Century and was among several flowers nominated by the Ministry of Agriculture as the nation’s national flower in 1958.

On 28 July 1960, the Bunga Raya was declared the national flower by the government of Malaysia.

A trumpet shaped bright blossom
The word, Bunga in Malay means flower while Raya in Malay means celebratory or grand and together, Bunga Raya is known as the celebratory flower in Malay.

I remember learning in school that the Red of the petals symbolizes the courage, life and rapid growth of Malaysians while the five petals represent the five principles of the Rukun Negara.

It’s also refreshing to be reminded of the principles of the Rukun Negara:

·         Belief in God
·         Loyalty to King and country
·         The supremacy of the Constitution
·         The Rule of Law
·         Courtesy and Morality

I cannot forget the Science lessons with Mr Raja who taught us the parts of the flower from a large diagram of a cross section of a flower.

The most obvious part of the flower is of course, its petals and we had to study the structure of the flower, names and functions of each part of the flower from petals, sepals, stamen, pistil, pollen to its ovary.

[By the way Mr Raja, if you are reading this, you should feel very proud that your lessons were so interesting that I can remember you and your lessons to this day!]

Red hibiscus in the morning sun
With several hundred species, the Bunga Raya thrives very well in our tropical weather and I remember the many types of hibiscus species that grandfather had in his garden.

Besides the classic Red hibiscus, there were Pink, Orange, Yellow hibiscus as well as a White one where the outer edges of its petals were trimmed in shades of Pink and Purple.

Among the Red hibiscus, there were species where the five petals were fused together while there were other with petals that were unfused or separate from each other.

One of the prettiest hibiscus species must be what we fondly call the Lantern Hibiscus which is distinguished by its distinctive frilly and finely divided Red petals.

Hibiscus schizoetalus is also known as the Japanese Lantern, Fringed Rosemallow, Coral Hibiscus or Spider Hibiscus, a species of hibiscus native to Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in tropical East Africa.

Red Japanese Lantern species of hibiscus
When grandfather’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng was demolished, a variety of plants was transplanted to the gardens at the homes of his children.

These hardy hibiscus plants grow quite easily from cuttings and those planted in our garden have grown into sturdy plants with bright and beautiful blossoms.

The Bunga Raya in our garden greet me every morning with their large, conspicuous, trumpet-shaped blossoms and they never fail to remind me of God’s faithful mercies which are new every morning.

Meanwhile the delicate blossoms of the Lantern Hibiscus that were grown from a cutting from the plants in grandfather’s garden, always reminds me of grandfather.

March 30 this year, marks grandfather’s passing 40 years ago on this day.

Grandfather had suffered two mild strokes but as a former sportsman, his fighting spirit helped him to gradually recover and was rehabilitated to walk and talk again.

Another Lantern Hibiscus in our garden
However, the third stroke that he suffered kept him in the hospital for a total of 33 days. Three days under Intensive Care and 30 days in the ward.

After his condition had been stablised, grandfather was moved to the Officers Ward, the building which is now the Hematology Department of Hospital Sultanah Aminah.

My parents were torn between staying or leaving for the UK to attend the wedding of Pearly, our second sister, planned for March 29, but grandmother graciously assured my parents that they should go to the UK to celebrate this joyous occasion.

With heavy hearts my parents, along with Ruby, our eldest sister, left for the UK to attend the wedding, leaving my younger brother and I behind (it was still school term time).

Meanwhile there was a duty roster for family members to take turns to be with grandfather in the ward.

He had a single room and it was quite comfortable by the standards of a Government hospital first class ward, in those days.

Red Hibiscus with unfused or separate petals
Every day I would be on the afternoon shift while our boy cousins and uncles would take the evening and night shifts.

It was also the Qing Ming season where traditional Chinese families would make their annual trip to the cemetery to carry out the tomb-sweeping rituals.

Grandmother then decided that the family would proceed with their annual Qing Ming on that day, so the extended family members were on the tomb visits while I stayed with grandfather.

Qing Ming was usually a half-day outing with an early start and the tomb visits should be completed when the sun was at its height. Then the family should be back home again to have lunch together.

After they got home from Qing Ming, several family members – aunts and uncles – came to the hospital to be with grandfather.

Beautiful bright blossoms of Bunga Raya
Surrounded by these family members (and me!), grandfather left us after suffering a massive heart attack at about 4.30pm that afternoon.

It was understandably, an emotional parting.

I can still remember, going to the public telephone installed in the lobby of the Officers Ward (there were no mobile phones then!) to make that call home to inform grandmother and the family that grandfather had left us.

So today, as we Stop to smell the Bunga Raya, we fondly remember grandfather and his garden where he carefully nurtured his precious orchid plants and a few species of Bunga Raya that continue to bloom and blossom in our gardens.

This MCO is also a good time for us to relax and reflect, to take time out of our usual busy schedule to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of life.

My Art & Sip experience with #ArtAtAmari

Art & Sip, a guided painting experience under the watchful eye of local artist, Lavannia Kumar, is part of #ArtAtAmari, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project by Amari Johor Baru in partnership with local creative individuals and organizations.

My Art & Sip experience with #ArtAtAmari 
Since February, Lavannia or Lava in short, had been conducting two sessions in the evenings on Fridays and Saturdays at the Amari JB with groups of up to 10 people who enjoyed a fun and relaxing time with painting while sipping on a glass of wine, cocktail or mocktail.

When I met Lavannia recently at the #ArtAtAmari event, the young artist reminded me that we previously met in 2017 when I was at the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru to recce the event hall for my book launch event.

She was then attached to the hotel’s Sales Department, in charge of my event for the launch of My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and she told me that she even bought my book and had it autographed by me!

An Art & Sip experience guided by artist, Lavannia Kumar
It was awkward and embarrassing (for me!) because I failed to recall this, but I was pleased that she had taken the bold step to leave her career with the hotel to pursue her passion in art.

Art & Sip is a fun workshop activity for art amateurs like me to have a go at painting with step-by-step guidance from Lava and would I feel more confident with the artist on hand to guide amateurs to achieve better results.

It was already mid-March when I finally joined the Art & Sip one evening, in a second session set up in a private section of the Amaya Food Gallery.

Lava warmly welcomed me in and let me choose my spot among the easels set up with blank canvases in a semi-circle.

My blank canvas with the reference painting set up in front
As she told me about the previous session that she had with a large group of participants, she mentioned that this would be a small group – just me and another couple.

I was (privately!) pleased because then Lava could then divide her attention among fewer participants.

When Paul and Johana arrived, and we were invited to put on our aprons and to look at the beverage menu to place our order with the waiter, for a choice of drinks.

For this Art & Sip session, Lava had set up a completed painting on an easel in front of us for reference.

Just follow instructions to add paint
according to the artist's instruction
It was painted in a background of shades of blue to black with outlines of two wine glasses superimposed on it and heart-shaped freehand strokes drawn against the blue background into the two glasses which were tipped toward each other.

Next to this she had a blank canvas to show us, step-by-step how to add colours to create the effects so that we would ultimately achieve the completed version.

Lava assured us that we did not have to create the exact copy of her painting, but it was only a visual reference and we were free to adjust our versions to express our artistic individuality…

I was more than ready to start our painting experience and listened closely as Lava guided us to use which brush, which paint colour, which colour to mix with which for a lighter shade, and even the way in which to sweep a stroke across the canvas for the best effect.

Holding the palette and paintbrush in each hand gave me a flashback to my schooldays, which was probably when I last did any painting.

Adding in shades of Blue to the background
Lava explained that we were using acrylic paints and discussed its effect on the canvas while she demonstrated the recommended way to use the paintbrush.

With painting my own nails as my most recent painting experience, this acrylic painting on canvas with Lava was an all-new but fun experience for me.

I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, but Lava was gentle and encouraging when she saw my canvas.

We know art is subjective and there was no right or wrong way to express one’s art.

Then as more colour was added to the canvas, an image started to form.

The completed background colours on my canvas
And when Lava said that if I did not want my painting to look too dark and that I can use more shades of blue and less black, I felt confident to adjust my colours and continued to paint my canvas quite comfortably.

When the background was completed, we paused to allow the paint to dry before moving to the next step – tracing on the outlines of the two wine glasses.

So absorbed was I with the painting that I had almost forgotten about my glass of Halle Berry, a chilled mocktail topped with berries and (melting) ice chips.

This brief break was an opportunity to chat and enjoy sips of my refreshing drink.

Ta da!! My painting completed with background of
fireflies and a sparkle where the wineglasses meet!
This was also my chance to be a busybody and peek at the other participants’ work because Lava had encouraged Paul and Johana to create a double-canvas by painting one wine glass on each of their canvases.

When Lava confirmed that my canvas was dry and ready to be painted on, I traced the outlines of the wineglasses and painted it Yellow.

The most challenging bit was yet to come.

Then I was encouraged to draw the heart shape using free-hand strokes!

Once again, Lava reminded that my drawing need not be exactly as the reference and this prompted to draw my heart shape smaller than that in her reference painting.

So pleased with my experience to
paint like a pro with Lavannia Kumar!
Before the final bit – creating a sparkle on the spot between the two wineglasses – Lava showed us how to use the fine tip of the small paintbrush to dot “stars” in the night sky.

I thought I followed her instructions quite closely, but my stars somehow turned out to look nothing like her stars but mere blobs of paint…

The ever-encouraging Lava took one look at my rendition of “stars” and agreed with me that instead of shining stars, my dots in the sky looked more like fireflies!

Art & Sip is a fun and relaxing time for amateurs to explore and discover their artistic gifts under the gentle guidance of a self-taught artist.

Thanks Lava, for the experience to paint like a pro with your help (I have my completed canvas as proof!) but I think I should stick to writing.

For more information and reservations for your own Art & Sip experience, visit Facebook page, Art by Lavannia Kumar, Email: or Tel: +6016 739 2592

Priced at RM150 per person or RM280 for a couple, that includes art supplies and one glass of house wine, cocktail or mocktail. The Onyx Hospitality Group Foundation will benefit with 5% from the proceeds.

Amari Johor Baru is at No. 82-C Jalan Trus, 80000 Johor Baru. 

For more info, visit website: