Weekend food and fun at Paragon Market Place

The Food Truck Alleyval event at the Paragon Market Place kicked off from end August 2020 with the Merdeka weekend for two consecutive weekends to offer a food and fun destination for the whole family.

The Paragon Market Place is located at Jalan Tampoi, JB
As its name describes, this carnival features an interesting menu of street food served from food trucks parked in the forecourt of the Market Place.

I made sure my face mask was securely fastened as I joined visitors queuing (at safe distances!) to complete the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) upon entry.

The sun was still shining brightly after 5pm and the number of people arriving behind me was swelling by the minutes.

After removing my shades, I let my eyes adjust before reading the signage at the ground floor unit where the culinary team from Grand Paragon Hotel Johor Baru had set up a stall.

The Grand Paragon Hotel stall at the event
Visitors may be familiar with the Grand Paragon Hotel at Jalan Harimau in Taman Century as some may have stayed there, attended events there and also dined there.

Several years ago, I was a guest at a Ramadan breaking-of-fast event hosted by the hotel and can recall the awesome taste of their signature specialty – cubes of deep-fried durian!

Creamy squares of real durian were frozen and then coated with a layer of batter before being deep-fried to golden brown.

Fans of durian have told me that they cannot stop at one nor can they ever forget the pleasure of sinking their teeth through the crispy batter and savouring the creamy taste of real durian within!

Event poster with details of activities
Grand Paragon Hotel general manager, Yeo Siu Ling, warmly welcomed me to the event and when she spotted her colleague nearby, she did not hesitate to introduce us.

Dato Sri Edwin Tan Pei Seng, managing director of Paragon Globe Berhad, was then helping his kids with their ice-cream cones.

Meanwhile the hotel team manning the Paragon stall were busy serving customer orders for popular items like Nyonya Laksa and Durian Goreng or deep-fried durian.

Now fans of the Paragon deep-fried durian need not wait for Ramadan to taste this specialty because it is available from their stall throughout this event.

It was already Day Three of the first weekend of the event and by then, I had learnt that the Paragon stall was also serving an all-new item in their small menu.

It was slices of Apple Pie exclusively baked for them by home-baker, Kak Mariam.

A familiar favourite, apple pie by Kak Mariam
It met with Kak Mariam in 2007, then based in Mersing, and after my story, Royal approval for apple pie, was published, she told me that her whole life had changed.

In 2019, some 12 years after my story on her amazing apple pies was published, Kak Mariam was still baking her apple pies for customers and I had the opportunity to create more interest in her home-baked specialty.

It was while I was reviewing my script for the TEDx Talk entitled, Connecting People through My Johor Stories, that I was to present at the event organized by the University of Southampton Malaysia.

When the organisers heard the part where I mentioned about how Kak Mariam’s life changed because of my story on her apple pies, they were keen to have a taste of her apple pies.

So the organisers placed an order for apple pies from Kak Mariam to share with the team and at the end of the rehearsal, everyone had a portion to savour, while some shamelessly asked for more.

Home-baker Mariam Hassan [Center] with Grand Paragon
Hotel GM, Yeo Siu Ling [2nd from Left] and Paragon Globe
Berhad CEO, Gary Goh [2nd from Right] met at the pre-event.
They enjoyed her apple pies so much that they decided to place another order (to replace the original dessert menu!) and served slices of it during the break between the presentations by scheduled speakers on the day for the TEDx Talk.

It so happened that after Gary Goh, Paragon Globe Berhad CEO, read My Johor Stories on Kak Mariam and her apple pies, he felt strongly that her home-baked specialty would fit perfectly into their menu for the Food Truck Alleyval event and asked me for her contact.

Once they connected with Kak Mariam, the team met her at the Paragon Market Place to discuss further details of the event and the rest – as they say – is history.

A slice of apple pie is served topped with
a scoop of vanilla ice-cream
It was my pleasure to connect them with Kak Mariam and so glad that more people can get a taste of her amazing apple pies, served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

In our conversation, I was delighted to learn from Ms Yeo that the hotel was in fact, seriously considering serving Kak Mariam’s apple pie at their hotel restaurant.

Well, why not? After all, her apple pies do meet with royal approval!

The Food Truck Alleyval, a food truck and carnival weekend event held at the forecourt of the Paragon Market Place, is open from 5pm till late. Please read poster for more details of the event.

Paragon Market Place is located at No. 135 Jalan Tampoi, Kampung Melayu Majidee, 81100 Johor Baru.

Quest for info on Johor's Sultanah Fatimah

It all started when Lim Mei Fen, a graduate of Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan (ASWARA), visited the Malaysia Chinese Heritage Museum in Wisma Huazong in Kuala Lumpur and discovered the rich history of the Johor Sultanate.

With Lim Mei Fen [Right] at the Tan Hiok Nee
Heritage Walk, Johor Baru
[I was in Wisma Huazong for an event in 2018 but it was late 2019 when I finally visited this museum and shared my experience in, Johor Heritage in Malaysian Chinese Museum, published in the February 2020 issue of The Iskandarian.]

Mei Fen, better known as Mei, confessed that she made three visits to the Museum and she concluded that two things compelled her to pursue her project in seeking more information on Sultanah Fatimah, the third consort of Sultan Abu Bakar.

Firstly, she was curious about Sultanah Fatimah who was ethnic Chinese, and secondly, a July 2019 newspaper report she read, discussed the Chinese heritage of Her Majesty, Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah.

Relentless in her search for more information on Sultanah Fatimah, Mei consulted the curator of the Malaysia Chinese Heritage Museum and her lecturers in ASWARA, all of whom encouraged her to go to Johor to verify the information she had garnered from the museum and her online research.

Info on Sultanah Fatimah from the
Malaysian Chinese Museum, KL
Then someone, who is familiar with My Johor Stories, told Mei to get in touch with me in Johor Baru.

It was Saturday morning when I read a private message from Mei posted in Facebook and this started our conversation about the reasons why she was in JB. This set me thinking about how I could connect her with the resources here.

As an introduction, Mei showed me a copy of the event programme for a theatre production entitled, Tanah Ahkhirku, that was staged in 2018 at the prestigious Istana Budaya theatre in Kuala Lumpur for her Third Year Project.

Mei, who was the show’s producer and lead actress in the role of a Chinese migrant worker, said that the story came from a script she worked on for her final year exams at ASWARA.

By the way, ASWARA is the only institute of higher learning in performing arts which is fully supported by the Malaysian Government under the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Art and Heritage.

Event programme for Tanah Akhirku, a
theatre production staged in 2018
The show’s title, Tanah Akhirku, loosely translated means The Last Land for Us, for a story about multi-racial harmony from a Chinese perspective, about settling down and becoming part of the community here.

As she was already in JB, I decided to meet her and get a better understanding of her proposed project on Sultanah Fatimah.

I asked Mei, “What are you doing tomorrow?” and continued, “Shall we meet at the JB Chinese Heritage Museum?”

Her reply was spontaneous, “Yes, can.”

It was cloudy and drizzling when I headed into JB’s heritage quarter and in the lobby of the JB Chinese Heritage Museum, I saw a young lady who resembled the photograph featured in the flyer and obviously was Mei.

She was accompanied by Gary Goh, a friend who (I later found out!) initially planned to drop her off at the museum to meet me but he decided to stay on for our time together.

With Mei [Left] and Gary Goh [Right] at the JB Chinese
Heritage Museum, Johor Baru
Mei and Gary had tickets to visit the museum, so I shared with them an overview of the Chinese community in Johor with various highlights, based on the chronology of events posted on the wall in the lobby.

Incidentally, both Mei and Gary are from Penang, a state with a wealth of culture and heritage so they could easily relate to how Johor is carefully preserving its culture and heritage in galleries, museums, heritage foundations and documents.

In fact, Mei was already in touch with the authorities in the Royal Abu Bakar Museum – which is currently closed – who said they will help to arrange an appointment with Dato Abdul Rahim Ramli, President of the Johor Royal Court Council and author of several books on Johor culture, heritage and Johor royalty.

Mei with Cheng Chee Tong [Right] at the
JB Kwong Siew Gallery
Mei had also arranged to track down references that document relevant portions of Johor history from the Documentation Division of Yayasan Warisan Johor or the Johor Heritage Foundation.

Aware that Sultanah Fatimah was a Chinese of Cantonese origin, I set up an appointment for Mei to meet with Cheng Chee Tong, of the Johor Cantonese association and who is also the curator of the JB Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery.

Ahead of her visit there, I shared with Mei, relevant details of the Wong family in JB and their link with Johor pioneer, Wong Ah Fook.

Armed with this knowledge, Mei met with Cheng at the JB Kwong Siew Gallery the next day, where I later learnt, she had a most interesting and informative experience, learning more about the Wong family and the Cantonese community in JB.

Dato Abdul Rahim Ramli providing comprehensive
replies to Mei's questions
Generous with his time and info, Cheng even arranged for Mei to meet with the traditional goldsmiths at Jalan Trus, Kwong Lee Soon Kee, who shared with her their recollections of doing business with the Johor royal family.

Earlier on, I had informed Dato Rahim about Mei and her quest for more info on Sultanah Fatimah because I know that he is the most reliable source to verify all her queries about the history of the Johor royal family.

I could only hope that he had time to meet with Mei on such short notice because his input will provide the solid details for her to craft her script that will eventually be used to stage a theatre production or produce a film project.

Dato Rahim is a fountain of information!
A few days later I received Dato’s polite query, “Is she in JB?”

When I replied, “Yes, she is here this whole week,” Dato promptly gave us an appointment to meet him at his office in Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim, Bukit Timbalan.

When I told Mei about this appointment, her response of, “Wow! Great, great!” expressed how thrilled and thankful she was for this opportunity to meet with Dato.

On that appointed afternoon, we spent a most profitable time together at Dato’s office, getting facts verified by Dato, an authority on Johor culture and heritage who is well respected for his knowledge and experience with Johor royal protocol as he had served under three Johor rulers.

One for the album: I'm with Mei and Dato Rahim
When Dato understood what Mei proposed to do in her project, I was all ears as Dato explained in meticulous detail, all that Mei needed to know.

He opened by saying that in Johor, Maharajah Abu Bakar invited other ethnic groups like the Chinese, Indians, Punjabi and Arabs to settle here and these newcomers were not considered as immigrants but were in fact, welcomed guests.

As Dato discussed how Abu Bakar encouraged the newcomers to practice their own religions and traditions, my thoughts flashed to our Street of Harmony in the heart of JB where churches, temples and mosques were literally located on the same street, all still standing proudly as a legacy from him!

Books authored by Dato Abdul Rahim Ramli
Established by Abu Bakar, this concept of accepting each other’s differences and living in racial harmony, was the principle that undergirds the development of a united community in Johor which is uniquely dubbed as, Bangsa Johor.

Dato explained that this concept remains very much alive today because the clarion call of the Johor royal family continues with, “Muafakat membawa bakat!” which translated means, “Consensus or Concord brings blessings!”

To strengthen the bond between the Malay community and the other communities, Abu Bakar encouraged inter-marriages and the Maharajah married Wong Ah Gew, a Chinese woman from a wealthy family in Rengit, as his third consort.

While Wong shared the same surname as Johor pioneer, Wong Ah Fook, they were not related by blood but were members of the Wong clan with a common surname.

Wong Ah Gew took the name, Fatimah Abdullah, and when she was married to Abu Bakar in Singapore, in December 1885, her title was, Enche’ Puan Fatimah Abdullah.

Mei had an enjoyable and profitable time with Dato Rahim
After the Jementah War, the Muar district was created after Abu Bakar was offered ownership of the Kesang area by the followers of Sultan Ali in 1876.

Abu Bakar honoured the district by naming its capital, Bandar Maharani or Queen’s Town, after his consort Maharani Fatimah.

When Abu Bakar was crowned the Sultan of Johor in 1886, she was conferred the title, Sultanah Fatimah.

As Dato answered the queries from Mei, I absorbed everything, learning a great deal about Sultanah Fatimah, details of which merits a separate story…

In response to Mei’s query about the Chinese heritage in the Johor royal family, Dato opened the pages of the books he authored and pointed to relevant portions that clearly clarified and thoroughly satisfied the curiosity of both Mei and myself.

Interestingly, the royal family’s Chinese heritage was not from Sultanah Fatimah!

Dato pointed to the lines on the page which recorded that the second consort of Abu Bakar, Enche’ Puan Zubaidah Abdullah nee Cecilia Catherine Lange, was of mixed parentage: her father was a Dane while her mother was Chinese.

Dato Rahim pointing to the record in his book on the
consorts of Sultan Abu Bakar
It was indeed an amazing revelation that the Chinese heritage in the Johor royal family was in fact, attributed to Enche’ Puan Zubaidah Abdullah, the mother of Sultan Sir Ibrahim, and not Sultanah Fatimah.

After the meeting, I followed up with a message to Dato, to express our gratitude and his reply, “My pleasure, Peggy. Glad to be of assistance,” rang aloud with an attitude of gracious generosity, a response which I deeply appreciated.

I know that the enriching discoveries from our meeting with Dato and other sources in Johor will go a long way to guide Mei when she works with her team to write the script for the proposed project.

Thanks Mei, for your passionate pursuit of more info on Sultanah Fatimah of Johor, a royal family member who worked behind the scenes to support Sultan Abu Bakar, the Father of Modern Johor.

While your project may still be at the research stage, I wish you the best for every success and give you full marks for your tenacity in seeking out all the essential details to build the base of something that will certainly wow us someday. All the best, Mei!

Dim Sum buffet with a difference at Thistle JB

“Yay! Another hotel that serves halal dim sum!” I think to myself when I received the invitation to a preview of the Merdeka Dim Sum spread at the Thistle Johor Baru.

Some varieties of dim sum in the Merdeka Dim Sum buffet
“Looks that the hotel has a dim sum chef to oversee this festive promotion…” I wondered and made a note to find out more about the chef.

With a gentle query in this direction, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a link to my own story, published in 2011 on Elegant Chinese Cuisine that featured an All-You-Can-Eat dim sum buffet at one of the first hotels in Johor Baru to serve halal dim sum, presented by Chef Vincent Yap Gin Kee.

Apparently (I later learnt!) Chef Yap kept this publication in his portfolio and shared it to remind me that our paths had crossed way back in 2011.

A serving of steamed Chicken Siew Mai
With more than 30 years of culinary experience garnered from working with renowned five-star hotels in this region, multi-award-winning Chef Yap has come full circle with his return to JB to lead the culinary team as Executive Chef here.

With Chef Yap at the helm, Thistle JB is ready to celebrate the nation’s 63rd Independence Day (August 31) and Malaysia Day (September 16) with an All-You-Can-Eat Merdeka Dim Sum Buffet, that comes complete with table service.

I call it a dim sum buffet with a difference because diners are welcome to reorder their choices of steamed or fried dim sum and the meal comes with side dishes, freshly cooked from the wok, as well as a signature dish of deep-fried crispy seabass fish, especially for a table of four adult diners!

Pandan Chicken is among the items in the buffet menu
Every table of four diners will receive a complimentary choice of deep-fried crispy whole fish and if they wished to reorder a fish, the second serving will cost only RM38 nett.

Diners may pick their choice of deep-fried crispy seabass prepared in spicy and non-spicy options of zesty tiga-rasa (Three flavours: sweet, spicy, and sour) or sweet and sour sauce.

This signature dish is perfect for fans of fish who know how to enjoy every part of the fish, finish every morsel of flesh, and only leave its bones behind.

The side dishes, freshly cooked from the wok, include Fried Rice flavoured with Salted Fish and Fried Kway Teow or flat rice noodles, with slivers of fresh chicken and chicken Chinese sausages, stir-fried and served with a delicious wok-hei aroma.

Crispy Seabass in zesty Tiga-Rasa spicy sauce
When the steamed and fried dim sum are served, I am pleasantly surprised to see items like deep-fried Vietnamese Chicken Rolls and pieces of Pandan Chicken (boneless chicken wrapped in pandan leaves) among the fried dim sum.

There are three choices of deep-fried spring rolls to enjoy: Vegetable spring rolls – best savoured with a dip of chilli sauce – and two more sweet versions of spring rolls, one stuffed with Apple cubes and the other, filled with Pineapple.

I like the taste of the deep-fried Five-Spice or Wu Xiang Rolls and discs of Chicken wrapped in Beancurd skin, with a bit of chilli sauce.

From the wok: a plate of Fried Kway Teow 
It is not too wide a menu of dim sum, so I can easily identify most of the steamed items like Chicken Siew Mai with Prawn, Chicken Siew Mai with Mushroom, Prawn Dumpling or Har Kao, and I guess, the dim sum tinged with green must be the Jade Dumpling.

Fans of steamed buns or pau can savour three types of pau: one savoury and two sweet, stuffed with Chicken Char Siew or barbecued chicken, Red Bean and Custard.

I am familiar with steamed pau and know that it takes a certain skill to reap the results of what I call, “smiling pau” where the perfectly timed steaming results in the split soft pastry on the pau that resembles a smile.

Chicken Char Siew "smiling pau" are in the menu too!
So, when a plate of “smiling pau” is served, it made me smile even wider.

When I sink my teeth into the soft pastry of the Chicken Char Siew Pau, I am pleased that the pastry does not stick to the ceiling of my mouth. And this (to me!) is what sets apart smiling paus from the others!

I remind myself to save some space for dessert because the All-You-Can-Eat menu also includes desserts.

There are choices of Lemon Tarts, Egg Tarts, Mango Pudding, Chocolate Pudding and Panna Cotta, in addition to a traditional Chinese dessert of deep-fried Chinese Pancake with a layer of sweet Red Bean paste sandwiched within.

A range of desserts to enjoy with the Dim Sum buffet
After a generous buffet lunch of sweet and savoury items, I must say that the tangy taste of the tiny Lemon Tarts just hits the spot. The serving comes with a set of four Lemon Tarts, so I do not hesitate to place an order for another serving.

I am delighted to meet with Chef Yap again in JB and to experience his culinary creations, beginning with this tasty Merdeka Dim Sum buffet.

The Merdeka Dim Sum All-You-Can-Eat Buffet [Halal] is available for lunch from now till September 16. Served daily at Glass Restaurant at the lobby level from 12pm to 2.30pm.

With Chef Vincent Yap again at Thistle JB
Price at RM63 nett per adult and RM33 nett per child aged between six and 12 years and seniors aged 60 and above.

Take advantage of the 3 + 1 promotion where one diner eats for Free with every three paying adults.

Every table of four adults will enjoy one Free serving of the signature Crispy Seabass with the second serving charged at RM38 nett only.

Just a gentle reminder: Please order only what you can finish because there should be no leftovers and there is no provision for takeaways.

Reservations are recommended as seats are limited.

Tel: +607 – 2229234 or email: fnbcoordinator.jb@thistle.com.my

Thistle Johor Baru is situated at Jalan Sungai Chat, 80100 Johor Baru, Johor.

Celebrate Mid-Autumn with Wan Li mooncakes

In anticipation of the coming Mid-Autumn Festival, Wan Li the Chinese Restaurant at Renaissance Johor Baru is preparing a range of traditional handcrafted mooncakes and trendy snow skin mooncakes to celebrate the season.

Chef De Partie, Lim Pei Shi, presents Wan Li mooncakes
And in the weeks prior to the festival, the Chinese have a tradition of presenting each other with quality mooncakes as an expression of affection and auspicious wishes.

While we are familiar with the Spring Festival when families reunite to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival is yet another reason for families to gather for a grand feast and to savour mooncakes with sips of quality Chinese tea.

This tradition of eating mooncakes is often enjoyed in their own garden as the children have fun exploring the moonlit darkness by the light of their lanterns.

A platter of Wan Li mooncakes on display
When the family reunites and spends quality time together under the full moon, the Chinese believe that this reunion reflects the beauty of family unity and joy.

With mooncakes and lanterns that feature prominently in this festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also often called the Mooncake Festival and the Lantern Festival.

Led by Chef De Partie, Lim Pei Shi, the pastry team at Wan Li Chinese Restaurant are preparing traditional baked mooncakes and snow skin mooncakes filled with various fresh, quality, natural ingredients and flavours, without preservatives.

A choice of four baked mooncakes presented in a gift box
I meet Chef Pei Shi as she was introducing the range of mooncakes on display and made a note of the new flavours offered this year when she pointed to the Orange Truffle and Blueberry Truffle snow skin mooncakes.

These new flavours join the popular snow skin mooncakes by Wan Li like Dark Chocolate Crunchy Pearl, Coffee Truffle, Taro Paste Truffle, Green Tea Matcha Truffle, Passion Fruit Truffle, Peppermint Chocolate Truffle, Strawberry Frizzy Truffle and Lemon Paste Truffle.

And for durian lovers, snow skin mooncake filled with Fresh Durian are also available!

A live demonstration on how a salted egg
yolk is packed into the pastry and mould
Connoisseurs of snow skin mooncakes that are served chilled, have learnt how to appreciate the fragrant taste and smooth texture of each variety of these delicate pastel coloured mooncakes.

Meanwhile, traditional baked mooncakes remain an all-time favourite delicacy for fans of mooncakes to nibble and savour with sips of Chinese tea.

The square-shaped baked mooncakes stuffed with Assorted Fruits & Nuts reminded me of my dad because it was his favourite but I prefer the taste of mooncake filled with fine quality, Pure Lotus Paste with a sprinkle of toasted melon seeds or kuaci.

It was interesting to learn that – salted egg yolk – an ingredient that is round in shape in the filling of baked mooncakes, represents the full moon.

More importantly, its savoury-powdery taste is the perfect foil for the sweetness in the recipe.

At Wan Li, there are Lotus Paste and Green Tea Paste mooncakes packed with Single or Double yolks.

My pick of baked mooncakes filled with Pure Lotus Paste
Other popular choices of traditional baked mooncakes are Red Bean and Jade Custard, the jade green derived from the natural flavour of fragrant pandan leaves.

These quality mooncakes are a joy to receive and a pride to present in beautiful gift boxes. All mooncakes are made fresh daily at Wan Li and are available from now till October 1.

Wan Li mooncakes presented within a gift box in a set of eight snow skin mooncakes is priced at RM98 nett, in a set of four baked mooncakes is priced at RM98 and snow skin mooncakes stuffed with Fresh Durian at RM168 nett in a box of eight.

Wan Li baked mooncakes filled with Red Bean Paste
Enjoy attractive promotional deals for the purchase of mooncakes in a single receipt: 15% discount for early-bird buys from now till August 31, 15% discount for purchases above 25 boxes and 25% discount for purchases of above 100 boxes.

Club Renaissance JB members are entitled to one complimentary box of mooncakes for every purchase of eight boxes.

Standard Chartered Bank card holders are also entitled to 15% discount on purchases.

Wan Li Chinese Restaurant (Halal) is on the lobby level of Renaissance Johor Baru, at No. 2 Jalan Permas 11, Bandar Baru Permas Jaya, 81750 Johor Baru, Johor.

For advance orders, please call, Tel: +607 – 381 3388 or send email to: henry.lee@renaissancehotels.com

Enquiries and orders may also be sent by WhatsApp to Tel: +6018 – 7800787.

A documentary on our National Living Heritage

My interest was piqued when I read the opening line of the text message received from Johor cultural activist, Tan Chai Puan.

Tan Chai Puan [Center] with the production team from
the Department of National Heritage,
the drummers and me, at the Museum
He said: “The Department of National Heritage in Kuala Lumpur is sending a team to document C P Tan as a National Living Heritage…”

I was happy for him because I know that in October 2018, Tan was declared a Living Cultural Heritage of Malaysia by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, the same year which marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of the 24 Festive Drums in Johor Baru in 1988.

This was timely because Tan received his award exactly 10 years after co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, the late Tan Hooi Song, was honoured by the same award in 2008, just ahead of his demise.

Tan’s text message continued with further details of when and where the recording of the documentary would be done.

Tan showing Aerriscia and Khatijah the
display on the National Living Heritage
He said, “…of course the hot spot is at the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums.”

I am familiar with the founding of the 24 Festive Drums, an art of drumming that was proudly born in JB and was also privileged to witness the official opening of the Museum on 1 January 2020.

Having worked with me on several heritage projects, Tan probably knew that I would be interested in the-making-of the documentary on him as a National Living Heritage by the Department of National Heritage.

In a recent conversation with Tan about the contents I was working on for Book Three of My Johor Stories, I shared with Tan that there will be a section dedicated to brands that are Proudly Johorean.

I can remember Tan’s enthusiastic response when I mentioned that the 24 Festive Drums’ art of drumming is a Johor-born brand that will fit beautifully into this section as its influence has not only spread nationally but had already gone global.

My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People,
Rice Heritage
, my book is also in the Museum
So, I knew that by listening in while Tan was being interviewed by the team from the Department of National Heritage, it should supply the relevant information for me to flesh out my Proudly Johorean piece on the 24 Festive Drums.

On the appointed afternoon, I arrived at the Museum entrance just as the production team from the Department of National Heritage was unloading the recording equipment from their van.

Besides the videographer and photographers, the team was accompanied by Siti Khatijah Othman, Curator with Department of National Heritage who was the Director of this documentary, and Aerriscia Epple, Assistant Curator and the Assistant Director of the documentary.

Tan took the team on a tour of the Museum and provided them with a brief commentary on some of the artefacts on display.

Walking around the Museum gave the team an idea of the building layout and when they had chosen an ideal spot as a backdrop for Tan to be videotaped, they got down to setting up the lights and cameras. 

The videographer setting up the cameras for the recording
Meanwhile, Khatijah and Aerriscia told me that making a documentary on Tan Chai Puan, as a National Living Heritage, was an initiative by the Department of National Heritage to promote the recipients of the Living Cultural Heritage of Malaysia award.

So far there were 23 award recipients in total while only 18 recipients are still alive.

When the lights and cameras were being arranged, Tan was rigged up with a microphone to begin the sound-checks and trial recordings.
In the next hour or so, there was complete silence inside the Museum except for Tan’s voice as he replied to questions posed by Aerriscia, while the cameras rolled, and I paid close attention and took copious notes.

Tan, speaking on the subject close to his heart
I could not help smiling when Aerriscia kicked off the interview by asking Tan to share some background about himself.

I was smiling because this scenario was reminiscent of my interview with Tan in 2017 when I recorded similar details to write a Portrait about the man, his passions and pursuits – not only about the 24 Festive Drums – and published it as an exclusive story in my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

From where I was seated, I could turn to look at the nearby display in the Museum that included two copies of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, with one book opened to the pages that featured, Tan Chai Puan, Cultural Activist.

When this book was launched in mid-July 2017, it went to the Number One spot of the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list and stayed on this list for consecutive weeks and months. At year-end, my book was counted among the titles in The Best of MPH 2017.

Tan sharing info about the 24 Festive Drums
Later that year, I was pleased to witness as Tan proudly received the Arts & Culture (Individual) Award for his contributions to art and culture in Johor at the 4th Iskandar Malaysia Social Heroes Awards (IMSHA) 2017.

The following year, when the 24 Festive Drums celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding of the 24 Festive Drums in JB in 1988, Tan was also declared a Living Cultural Heritage of Malaysia by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

When the videographer was satisfied with the recording of Tan’s interview, he wanted to record as segment with Tan playing the drum.

Two skilled drummers who were waiting in the wings then joined Tan in performing a simple drumming routine for the purpose of this recording.

In the recording of the next segment, the two drummers performed a smartly choreographed routine that totally mesmerised the team from the Department of National Heritage.

Filming the drumming action
Tan was all smiles and said that if they were so impressed with the performance of just two drummers, they would be simply blown away by the artistic performance of not two or four, but 24 drums!

Meanwhile the photographers were looking at the photos of drum troops in action during performances at the previous Drums Festival, totally impressed by the choreography captured by the camera skills of talented photographers.

Tan explained that these shots were from a collection selected from a Photography Competition that was held concurrently with the Drums Festival.

Tan [Left] was filmed drumming along with his drummers
Encouraged by their enthusiastic response, Tan then generously extended a personal invitation to the team to attend the next International Drums Festival to experience first-hand, the dramatic drum performances of the 24 Festive Drums.

The videographer then made a final tour the Museum to film various artefacts to use as further footage in the documentary.

Even as they wrapped up the day’s work, there was much work ahead for the production team to edit the raw footage before the documentary will be finally done.

We eagerly anticipate the pleasure of viewing the final version of this documentary on Tan, a Living Cultural Heritage of Malaysia and co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, an art of drumming that was proudly born in Johor.