Celebrating 10 years of My Johor Stories

As an eventful 2021 draws to a close, I do recall that this year also marks the 10-year anniversary of My Johor Stories, the blog, since it went ‘live’ on 11 March 2011.


I wish to thank readers for your interest and support – you know who you are – each one of you who would take your time to read my stories and respond with a Like and/or comments. Thanks so very much!


Looking back, it seems like ages ago when I told readers about the New Era in March 2011 and then six months later, I shared the excitement with, Six Months on 


On the blog’s first-year anniversary, I humbly confessed that I did not know that the live-launch of my blog on that morning of 11 March 2011, was the same date as when the horrific earthquake and tsunami devastated the north-eastern coast of Japan


Readers familiar with my writing probably started reading my stories from the Travel Times, a pull-out section of The New Straits Times (NST), dedicated to Travel.


Travel Times and its Editor, gave me the opportunity to share my experiences about travel destinations – both local and abroad – hotel and restaurant reviews, interesting personalities and I particularly enjoyed sharing quirky and annoying experiences in my Traveller’s Tales.


In early 2008, the Travel Editor assigned me to join a Southern Craft Trail to see the One District, One Industry initiative of Kraftangan, the Handicraft Development Corporation of Malaysia, hosted by Kraftangan Malaysia under the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts & Heritage. 

It was an eye-opening trip where I met traditional craftsmen of local products that were unique to Malacca and Johor. After this exciting experience, I wrote a two-part feature that were published in the Travel Times. 


This section of the newspapers was published just once a week and enjoyed nationwide circulation.


I, however, felt so strongly that these Johor craftsmen deserved further exposure and recognition that I approached the NST Johor Baru Bureau Chief to feature each of them separately in Johor Buzz, the Southern section of the NST. 


After my features on Johor craftsmen were published in Johor Buzz, the JB Bureau Chief encouraged me to contribute more regularly to this pull-out section.  


This started me on contributing regularly to various columns for community events, food reviews, interesting people as well as to the Opinion page where I shared my experiences in what became popularly known as my grandfather stories.


At home, we have a vast collection of old photographs because of my dad’s hobby in photography and our Black & White photos aptly supported my nostalgic tales.


By sharing my Johor stories in this column, I garnered a reader following who enjoyed my storytelling, particularly for my grandfather stories which evoked a strong sense of connection to Johor.


I was deeply humbled when I learnt that some readers (they told me!) bought the NST for the sole purpose of reading my stories in Johor Buzz, a section that was later rebranded as Johor Streets.


It was also very encouraging when the JB Bureau Chief told me that he was receiving calls from readers who asked about this writer (me!), expressed positive comments about my stories and gave many kind compliments…


Readers did not want to miss any of my stories but if they failed to get a copy of the daily newspaper, they would ask me, ‘What was yesterday’s story?’ or ‘What is your story tomorrow?’ to which I would reply, ‘I don’t know.’


The team at BrandCulture PR & Marketing
Communications, working on a fun project
like My Johor Stories
The Streets section was published daily on weekdays and because my stories joined a queue and waited to be published, I really did not know when the pieces would be out.


These questions and the readers’ keen interest made me think of a way for readers to enjoy reading my stories at their own leisure and convenience.


To do this a blog, My Johor Stories at www.peggyloh.com was created to store published stories in categories like By the Way, Travel, Food, People and Memories as well as a wide range of stories Exclusive to the blog.


As my blog was accessible to readers worldwide, My Johor Stories started to connect people to Johor and I had my fair share of exciting adventures from meeting people, both local and from abroad, who turned up in JB because they had read my stories.


Meanwhile Think City, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Malaysia, was reviving cities from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and when they came JB, they too discovered My Johor Stories.


When Think City Johor Baru approached me to publish a collection of My Johor Stories to document a slice of Johor history in a book, I was in no frame of mind to do so because I was grieving at the sudden passing of my dad in January 2016.


It was some 12 months later that I decided to accept the challenge from Think City to work on a book project in partnership with MPH Publishing, as a tribute to my dad.


On July 15, 2017, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People and Rich Heritage was launched and in the first week of its launch, this book reached the Number One spot in the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list.


This book stayed on the MPH Bestsellers list for consecutive weeks and months and in December 2017, this book was counted among the Best of MPH in 2017.


A great deal of effort but a lot
of fun while working on the
project with My Johor Stories

Nobody, least of all me, ever thought that my book would become a Bestseller but I was deeply humbled and grateful for my readers’ support which resulted in this success.


This book was reviewed for the NST newspapers by none other than my former Travel Editor and it was a whole new experience for me when I was interviewed and featured in newspapers and magazines, and filmed for videos.


Following the success of Book One, Think City Johor Baru urged me to continue with a sequel and on December 1, 2018, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, was published also in partnership with MPH Publishing.


In the following year, I was thrilled to receive a photo taken from the Royal Press Office Instagram Page, that showed His Majesty, the Johor Sultan holding a copy of my Book Two. The caption said that His Majesty was presented with my book among his birthday gifts.


Putting the final touches to
to the approved artwork

Well-received as a published author, I was invited to give talks to students in local and international schools and universities, and at club meetings, to share about My Johor Stories with the aim to encourage and inspire.


Some hotels and resorts here know that visitors liked to stay in a place with a story, and I was delighted that they decided to place my books in their better rooms and suites for their guests’ reading pleasure and to enhance their stay in Johor.


I was deeply honoured when Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) placed special orders for the hardcover versions of my books to present to members of their Board and as premium gift to their guests.


In 2019 I had the privilege to present a TEDx Talk on, Connecting People through My Johor Stories, an exciting challenge to speak according to my script in just 18 minutes.


The social-media savvy team at BrandCulture
is giving My Johor Stories a
new and refreshing touch!

On this 10-year anniversary of My Johor Stories, I wish to pay tribute to my dad, who started me on this exciting journey in appreciating the written word, encouraging me to enjoy playing word games, reading books and writing journals, that led me to a career in writing, both for clients and the mass media.


I have gone from writing for newspaper columns to writing a personal blog and then to documenting precious memories in the My Johor Stories series of books, which are not only precious for our family but also a proud legacy for the Johor families, brands and organisations, whose valuable stories are now documented in my books.


Along this journey, I was privileged to meet with many inspirational people and have gained the respect and support of readers, friends and associates.


As the My Johor Stories brand developed organically, I was deeply encouraged when the team at BrandCulture PR & Marketing Communications came alongside to offer me their professional support.


The global pandemic and the resulting lockdown periods since the start of 2020 through to 2021, was truly an unprecedented time in history.


But while staying home to stay safe, I had more time to work on the manuscript for Book Three, the final instalment for a trilogy of My Johor Stories, which is also fondly dedicated to the memory of my beloved dad.

In August 2021, BrandCulture, who shares my passion in Johor culture and heritage, approached me to partner with their client to create a short video for Merdeka Day 2021, that aimed to encourage people as they faced challenges in this difficult time.


Now as we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of My Johor Stories, I thought it was also timely to share some of my published stories, safely stored in my blog, and direct new and regular readers to these inspiring stories, to enjoy reading them again!


The professional team at BrandCulture then started working with me to develop a series of attractive and animated posters and videos to post in Facebook and Instagram.

I am sure many readers were intrigued to see the first in its series that featured Vintage Cars, that kicked off in December 2021.

It is a token of my appreciation and my gift to all readers, so look out for the next series which is scheduled to be posted every month in Facebook and Instagram.


Once again, THANK YOU readers for your interest and support for My Johor Stories. There are indeed, a lot more stories to tell.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites is open!


Johor Baru, an important city in the South and a connecting hub between Malaysia and Singapore, is the first choice for the first Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Malaysia.


The reception counter in the lobby of the
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Johor Baru

On 15 December 2021, Johor Baru welcomed the opening of Holiday Inn Express & Suites in the heart of the city. [Holiday Inn is a familiar hotel brand here as it was one of the first international hotel brands to open in Johor Baru, some decades ago.]


The all-new Holiday Inn Express & Suites is where leisure and business travellers can expect efficient and seamless experiences with a speedy check-in, a good night’s rest, power showers and the convenience of complimentary Wi-Fi connection.


This 203-room hotel aims to be the smarter choice among travel-savvy guests who are seeking a simple and engaging place to rest, recharge and get a little work done.


Facade of the hotel viewed from
Jalan Syed Mohd Mufti

In the hotel tour to view some of the room configurations, I was delighted to discover that while the rooms may be compact, they were created with comfort in mind.


Comfortable beds that come with a promise of good sleep, a plush duvet to snuggle up in and even a choice of soft or firm pillows to rest on.


Cosy accommodation is provided in a range of Standard Rooms with Queen or Twin beds, One-bedroom suites and Two-bedroom suites and there is even a spacious Accessible Room, specially equipped for physically disabled and elderly guests.


While this may be a smaller hotel, it is equipped with a restaurant, a Meeting Space, ideal for hosting corporate and social events for up to 120 people, as well as Fitness Centre and Laundry Room, both open 24 hours for the guests’ convenience.


Standard rooms are compact yet comfortable

As the world adjusts to new travel norms and expectations, the hotel has adopted the IHG Clean Promise standards to maintain cleanliness and provide guests with greater confidence and protection.


In addition to the IHG Clean Promise, the hotel also uses new, science-led protocols and service measures in partnership with industry leading experts like Cleveland Clinic, Ecolab and Diversey.


This hotel is also the latest addition to one of the world’s largest hotel loyalty programmes, IHG Rewards, where guests can earn and redeem points at nearly 6,000 hotels and major airlines globally.


A cosy two-bedroom suite

In a simple ceremony held at the front porch, General Manager of Holiday Inn Express & Suites Johor Baru, Melanie Rahayu, shared her aspirations for the hotel on its opening here.


“I am excited to unveil Holiday Inn Express & Suites as the latest addition to the IHG Hotels & Resorts’ portfolio of hotels in Johor Baru, one of the most vibrant cities in Malaysia,” said Melanie.


“Our hotel concept will enable even more business and leisure travellers to experience a smarter way of travelling as we provide what matters most to travellers,” she added.


Guests can expect more of what really matters especially with the hotel’s central location, close to shopping malls like KOMTAR JBCC and Johor Baru City Square, the international convention centre, government offices like KWSP or Employees Provident Fund, and the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC) as well as walking distance to the city’s charming heritage quarter.


A choice of Soft or Firm pillows

The hotel is also a short walk away from the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration & Quarantine (CIQ) Complex which houses the checkpoint into Singapore and the railway station, and the nearby Singapore-Johor Baru Rapid Transit System (RTS) terminal, which is currently under construction.


To drum up good fortune and a favourable future for the hotel at this auspicious occasion, it was fitting to feature a dramatic drum performance by the drum troop of the 24 Festive Drums.*


The hotel has the advantage of enjoying dual road frontages so while its entrance is from Jalan Syed Mohd Mufti, access to the carpark is through Jalan Dato Dalam.


Guests who arrive on foot by way of Jalan Dato Dalam can take a convenient shortcut via a flight of stairs and covered walkway, located next to the building to reach the front of the hotel at Jalan Syed Mohd Mufti.


An impressive performance by the
24 Festive Drums on this auspicious occasion
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Johor Baru is located at Lot 512, Jalan Syed Mohd Mufti, 80000 Johor Baru, Johor. For reservations, Tel: +607 218 3333 or email to: holidayinnexpress.com/johorbahru


For more info and latest news, visit the hotel’s Newsroom or follow the hotel’s page on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.


*The 24 Festive Drums art of drumming is a proudly Johor-born tradition and I had the privilege to feature Tan Chai Puan, co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums in an exclusive story under Portraits in my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


Balloons were released at the end of
the hotel's opening ceremony

And for this, My Johor Stories earned a place of pride in the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums, a destination which is located in the city’s heritage quarter.


[When I arrived at the event, I recognised the drummers from their traditional costumes. Then while waiting for the event to start, I was pleasantly surprised when two of the drummers approached me simply to say, “Hello.”


I was much impressed that they not only know me (even behind my mask!) but had the courage and initiative to step up and speak to me.


That's me [Centre] with the drum troop of
the 24 Festive Drums, taken after the event

It was rare for young people to approach me – mainly because they lacked confidence to converse in English – but these drummers were not only disciplined and skilled in drumming but they also had the confidence to speak up. Well done, guys!


After the ceremony, while everyone was invited indoors for refreshments, I was slowly making my way to the entrance when the drummers approached me again.


This time, to invite me to pose for a photo with them. Two drumsticks were handed to me and when I accepted, I hesitated because I was overwhelmed with such honour and pleasure. I did not know what to do with those sticks… so I just held them up.]


Congratulations Holiday Inn Express & Suites Johor Baru and thank you drummers of the 24 Festive Drums, for a memorable experience at the hotel’s opening ceremony on 15 December 2021.

Japanese comfort food at Sakaba


When my friends and I arrived at the restaurant, it was not lunchtime yet but we noticed that diners were already trickling in and the tables were fast filling up.


A section of the dining hall at Sakaba Cuisine

Our Japanese friend, Yoshiko, who invited me along for our first visit, agreed with me that these diners appeared to be regulars and seemed familiar with the menu.


Yoshiko explained that the word, Sakaba describes the light bites which accompanied a leisurely time of casual drinking (hard drinks!) but from the menu, we saw that the cuisine here featured a range of familiar Japanese comfort food.


I knew that there must a story behind this name and asked to speak to the proprietor, Sam Wong, to find out more.


Traditional Japanese green tea
[Foreground] with auspicious
Chinese couplets posted next to
the wall mural behind the counter

While Sam was keen for us to taste their signature Ramen and Don bowls, I was (as always!) keen to hear his story about the origins of this Japanese restaurant.


Well, it all started with a few friends – Sam with Jimmy and Robert – who enjoyed the Sakaba lifestyle of having a few casual drinks along with light bites of Japanese delicacies.


While drinking and eating snacks the Sakaba way, these friends would reminisce about their many trips to Japan, their favourite Japanese dishes and often wondered why they could not set up their own restaurant to serve authentic Japanese food.


So this was how the restaurant was opened and earned its name, Sakaba.


Incidentally, before he became a restauranteur, Sam learned to appreciate the Japanese culture and its cuisine when he was working with a Japanese company established here.


Side dishes of light bites

When Sam mentioned its name, Idemitsu Malaysia, I recalled that it was also the company where the co-founder of the art of the 24 Festive Drums, Tan Chai Puan, used to work with.


[This information was garnered from an interview with Tan when I featured him in an exclusive story under Portraits in my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.]


On hearing Tan’s name, Sam made an instant connection because Tan was in fact, his former boss… [Ah! What a small world!]


Sam went on to share about how he, with his friends and business partners, came up with the design concept for a wall mural created with pieces of wood that showcased the cross-section of cut wooden logs, posted as the backdrop to the reception counter.


He was proud to tell us about how they pieced together this design with Chinese couplets that reflected traditional Chinese auspicious wishes for good fortune and prosperity.


Oyako Don topped with chicken and Onsen egg

Working closely with Chef Lun, a local chef who acquired his skills in preparing Japanese cuisine from Michelin Star chefs, Sakaba Cuisine has a small menu which features Ramen and Don dishes with a range of familiar light bites.


With some 10 years of culinary experience in Japanese cuisine, Chef Lun has put his own touch into the traditional recipe for brewing the rich pork broth as the base ingredient for the signature Ramen bowls served at Sakaba.


As Chef Lun described the process of brewing the broth from pork bones for 18 hours to achieve a broth, naturally sweet and rich with collagen, I could not help but started to get rather impatient for my first taste of this mouth-watering Ramen.


Buta Shogayaki Don topped with pork and ginger

I must confess that I was privately glad when the chef returned to the kitchen to prepare a range of popular dishes for us to taste.


As requested by Yoshiko, the side dishes were first served, followed by Don or rice bowls and to end with the three special Ramen bowls that featured original pork broth in Tonkotsu Ramen Special, the spicy version in Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen Special and with black garlic in the Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen Special.


Edamame, boiled beans still within their pods, was a good start to our meal. A small empty cup was provided for us to dispose of the opened bean pods, neatly.


Three choices of Special Ramen [Clockwise]
Spicy, Black Garlic and Original pork broth

To enjoy the dishes lined up ahead, I was careful to sample smaller portions of each of the light bites of Cha Shu or chunks of braised pork, Kakiage or deep-fried vegetables, Gyoza dumplings, Tori Karaage or deep-fried chicken, and Shishamo, crispy deep-fried whole fish, native of Hokkaido.


While these are distinctly Japanese dishes to savour with sips of sake, wine or beer, we noted that the flavour of the Cha Shu and Tori Karaage were tweaked to match with local tastes.


When the bowl of Oyako Don, steamed rice topped with pieces of Chicken and a wobbly Onsen egg was served, Yoshiko commented that it was a “Mother and Child” dish.


Tonkotsu Ramen Special

At first, I thought it was a dish for a kid’s meal because I somehow pictured a mother feeding her child with this delicious bowl of rice and ingredients.


A moment later, as I digested (more food!) and what Yoshiko just said, I bulb seemed to light up in my mind when I suddenly figured out that the Chicken and Egg was in fact, the “Mother and Child” in her comment.


Another popular item in their rice range must be Buta Shogayaki Don, a comforting bowl of steamed rice topped with slices of Pork and Ginger.


Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen Special

When the three signature Ramen bowls were served, we took our time to first savour its rich broth, starting with the original pork broth, followed by the spicy broth and rounded off with the broth with black garlic.


With every mouthful, we could taste the passion and effort in creating the perfect pork broth for its Ramen served with Kyushu-style noodles, topped with chunks of ingredients.


For a while there was no more talking but only the gentle sound of slurping (in Japanese tradition!) as we focused on enjoying the Ramen noodles in its rich broths.


Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen Special

When our bowls were empty, I was delighted to hear Yoshiko declare that Sakaba Cuisine will be a regular destination for Ramen, for her family.


I can understand where this was coming from because to the Japanese, this was authentic comfort food served in the right portion at a fair price.


[Even while we were busy eating, I could not help but notice the number of diners who arrived, enjoyed their meal and had left. And this was happening on a weekday.]


Sakaba Beauty Rose Tea, a
Chocolate Cheese Tart (on plate),
(L to R) Chcolate, Ondeh-Ondeh
and Tiramisu cakes

Besides drinking traditional Green Tea, there was a range of flower teas including their signature Sakaba Beauty Rose Tea served in elegant transparent teapots and teacups.


After lunch, diners were welcome to linger for afternoon tea and savour cheese tarts and fruit tarts as well as cakes in flavours like Tiramisu, Chocolate and Ondeh-Ondeh.


So the next time when you are in the Skudai neighbourhood, you can enjoy casual dining at Sakaba Cuisine for an authentic taste of Japanese comfort food.


Sakaba Cuisine [Non-Halal] is at No. 71, Jalan Impian Emas 22, Taman Impian Emas, 81300 Skudai, Johor. Open daily from 10.30am to 9pm. Tel: +6011 6512 7122.


Seating is limited so please make advance reservations to avoid disappointment.

Update: Sakaba Ramen – By popular demand


A takeaway set of Black Garlic 
Tonkotsu Ramen Special

Having received countless requests for takeaways of their Ramen served in rich pork broth, the good people at Sakaba Cuisine have now made it available for takeaways.


The takeaway Ramen, topped with ingredients like chunks of chashu or braised pork belly and Onsen egg, are served in a deep bowl with the broth packed separately.


The sheet of seaweed is also packed separately to keep it fresh and crispy. Before adding in the broth, just tear or cut the seaweed into your bowl.


Just add the rich broth to your Ramen

If you prefer your Ramen with piping hot soup, just heat up the broth before adding it into your bowl of Ramen.


A tiny cup of soy sauce is provided for you to add into the broth, to your own taste.


Sakaba Cuisine serves three special Ramen bowls that featured original pork broth in Tonkotsu Ramen Special, the spicy version in Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen Special and with black garlic in the Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen Special.


For a Ramen meal in the comfort of your home, place your order for your choice of Ramen takeaways now.