The making-of our Merdeka video

It started with a phone message from Grace Chiam of BrandCulture PR MarCom which said, “We are planning to do a simple three-minute Merdeka video on behalf of our client, Zenith Lifestyle Centre, and would like to ask for your help.”


Zenith Lifestyle Centre, entrance from Jalan Trus

Our message exchange closed with an appointment for a video meeting where Grace and her team shared with me, the concept and job brief for a video to commemorate National Day 2021, dubbed #BangsaJohorUntukMalaysia or #JohoreansforMalaysia.


It was encouraging to hear their exciting ideas for a video that will feature a compilation of positive messages from some 20 Johoreans dedicated to Malaysians, aimed to encourage each other to stay strong and hopeful as we commemorate Hari Merdeka.


Independence Day, also known as National Day or Hari Kebangsaan and Hari Merdeka in Malay, is observed on August 31 to commemorate the Malayan Declaration of Independence from British colonial administration that took place on 31 August 1957.


Zenith Lifestyle Centre, entrance from
Jalan Wong Ah Fook

National Day celebrations at state and national level were often planned throughout the month of August but due to the global pandemic and resulting lockdowns, these celebrations have been toned down to avoid the spread of infections.


Every August, our National Month, flying the Jalur Gemilang or National Flag was a fun and patriotic activity for homes and business premises but recently, the sad situation in the community had spiraled down to such dire despair that the needy had to resort to flying White Flags to indicate their desperate need for help.


The sad fact is that the nationwide lockdowns since March 2020 and the aggressive spread of Covid19 infections had caused unspeakable sadness to affected families, many with the loss of lives, jobs and income.


When I considered the economic, social and political turmoil happening around us, I agreed with BrandCulture that it was timely to do something positive to lift the spirit of our nation through these dark days.


As Grace explained how this video will feature the beauty and harmony of our multi-cultural community through traditional dancers who represented the Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures, each shot to a backdrop of interesting sites within the Zenith Lifestyle Centre, along with encouraging messages from Johoreans, the idea of a video to commemorate Merdeka 2021 sounded more and more meaningful.

In short, I was more than happy to work with BrandCulture to produce this Merdeka video in collaboration with Zenith Lifestyle Centre.


Archive photo of Rex cinema

My relationship with BrandCulture goes back a while, back to when Grace first arrived in Johor Baru for a job appointment in her professional career. (I also inadvertently earned the moniker as her #ffijb.)


While I was working on the manuscript for Book Three of My Johor Stories, Grace, who is the PR Manager for My Johor Stories, was discussing with me about creating short videos from my collection of Johor Stories, using text and images, music and animation.


Grace and I were excited about sharing such valuable content that covered Johor culture and heritage, Johor food, Johor destinations, Johor personalities and organizations, memories of the Johor I know and of course, my grandfather stories.


Archive photo of Lido cinema

To do this, I needed a jingle or signature tune, unique to My Johor Stories that matched with my brand identity.


My go-to-person for music composition must be cousin, Karen Ng, who is based in Kuala Lumpur for her business at First Tempo Music, The Popular Music Store.


A graduate from Universiti Putra Malaysia who majored in Percussion Performance with a minor in Jazz Piano, Karen has performed with the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MYPO) and National Symphony Orchestra, and led live bands for corporate event shows.


Her versatility as a percussionist, drummer and keyboardist has enabled Karen to venture into an array of opportunities as a performer as well as in pursuing her passion as a music educator.


When I gave her the job brief for a signature tune that reflected the image of My Johor Stories, I was sure that Karen, a professional musician and composer, knew what I was after.


Having read my two books, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, Karen had no difficulty in grasping the concept for the music that I had in mind.


Zenith Lifestyle Centre, Amari
Johor Baru and Suasana Suites
are built on the site of the
former Rex and Lido cinemas

From the vintage to multi-ethnic, from traditional to modern musical instruments, we agreed that this tune should showcase the rich culture-heritage and grandeur which reflected the unique heart of Johor.


I felt confident that Karen would compose something simply special for My Johor Stories and could hardly wait for it … but I had to bide my time and patiently waited while her creative juices flowed…


A few days later, Karen sent me her original composition for the Intro and reminded me to listen to it with earphones. With eyes shut, I held my breath and carefully listened:


The opening strains of gamelan in “announcing the arrival” had the feel of Nusantara – a melting pot of cultures in the Malay Archipelago – along with claps of Indian tabla, the Chinese gong and the first phrase ended with the sound of the Western timpani (plural for timpano drum).


The music moved into a tune that featured strings, the horn and the flute/seruling that reflected the stability, peace and harmony in Johor state, rising to a crescendo that showcases the wealth of the multi-ethnic cultures here.


The Intro music then gently tapered off with the sounds of the sitar and di zi, a Chinese flute.


When I congratulated Karen for accurately capturing my sentiments in an artful blend of the Johor identity in this Intro piece, Karen and I unanimously agreed that this piece of music just gave us a further sense of pride as Johoreans.


The wall mural painted by local artist, Mulo

Karen assured me that the Outro music was already in the works and when she sent it to me, I again listened intently. At its closing notes, I could only gasp, “Wow!”


She explained that the wind chimes were reminiscent of the breezes blowing in from the Johor Straits, while the gamelan, pipa, sitar and accordion, entered in sequence to reflect the various cultures who live in harmony in this Southern state.


The background of cosmic vocals spoke of the great future envisioned for the state and the piece ended with the grand sounds of brass and horns in military percussion that symbolized the unique sovereignty of Johor through the ages.


I could only repeat, “Wow!” Because Karen had certainly exceeded my expectations.


Malay cultural dance performed
by Shahrul Othman

By this time, I had already shared with BrandCulture, this original composition by cousin Karen, as the signature music for the series of My Johor Stories videos.


Back to our chat about the proposed Merdeka video; Grace explained that while her team was brainstorming for ideas, they agreed that this signature tune for My Johor Stories was not only impressive but aptly reflected a special unity and strength in our multi-cultural Bangsa Johor identity.


So they proposed that this original composition for My Johor Stories made its debut through the Merdeka video because they thought this music ideally matches with the concept for their video in the theme #BangsaJohorUntukMalaysia or #JohoreansforMalaysia.


It was simply a capital idea!


True-blue Johoreans will know that the Zenith Lifestyle Centre, a building linked to the Amari Johor Baru and Suasana Suites Johor Baru, has the distinct heritage of being built on the site of two landmark cinemas in Johor Baru, named Rex and Lido.


Indian traditional dance 
by Mishalini Ganesan

In my published stories that featured Rex and Lido, I recalled movies we enjoyed in these stand-alone movie theatres, entertainment that were very much part of our lives in a bygone era before cable television and live-streaming became popular.


It was a wonderful time when going to the movies was the most affordable form of entertainment and these fond memories were also shared in, Escape to the Movies, published in my 2017 Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


The legacy of Rex and Lido in Johor Baru was not only documented in My Johor Stories but thoughtfully preserved in two function halls named, Rex and Lido, in the Amari Johor Baru.


Meanwhile the good people at Amari Johor Baru agreed with me that people liked to stay in a place with a story. And have placed my two books, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People* in their better rooms and suites for guests' reading pleasure.


Just as Rex and Lido were accessible from Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Trus back then, now the Zenith Lifestyle Centre remains conveniently accessible from these two roads and offers dining and entertainment experiences in International and locally renowned restaurant chains, specialty stores and convenience stores, all in one place.


Chinese culture in the art of the
24 Festive Drums by
Lim Wue Teik

At its Jalan Trus entrance, the legacy of these landmark cinemas is also tastefully preserved in a gigantic wall mural, a precious piece of artwork by local artist, Mulo.


Rendered in sepia tones for a touch of nostalgia, this attractive mural portrays the fa├žade of Rex cinema, complete with Akan Datang or Coming movie attractions posted on billboards and features two human figures inspired by popular Malay artistes, P. Ramlee and Saloma.


Meanwhile, the BrandCulture team got down to working on the project which kicked off with video shoots of the three cultural dancers, each arranged at separate time slots to limit the number of people present and ensure safe physical distancing at all times.


To represent Indian culture, Mishalini Ganesan presented the classic grace and expressions of the Bharata Natyam. Dressed in a beautiful trouser costume made of silk and satin, complete with flowers in her hair, she made music with every step from her ankle bells or sallangai.


The Malay traditional dance by Shahrul Othman combined movements from Johor zapin, joget and inang dances in polished choreography that symbolizes the Malay cultural identity of gentleness, grace and precision.


Chinese culture was represented by drummer Lim Wue Teik, who performed a routine in the art of the 24 Festive Drums, a dramatic art of drumming proudly born in Johor and now embraced by multi-racial communities both local and abroad.


My books are placed in the rooms
and suites of Amari Johor Baru for
the guests' reading pleasure

National Day 2021 will be very different for Malaysians, especially for people personally affected by the Covid19 pandemic, with the loss of lives and livelihoods.


We are truly living in an unprecedented time in history where every nation is battling with and trying to cope with the Covid19 pandemic and its consequences.


Malaysia, however, has the added challenge of dealing with political upheavals, a situation which was unheard of since this nation’s Independence 64 years ago.


Even as uncertainties loom ahead, we can hold firmly onto a proud history of strength and resilience in our multi-cultural community who emerged from hardship and worked together since Independence to build a strong and successful nation.


A nation is made up of its people. And we are the community of people who will make a difference to our nation in the coming days and for generations to come.


These landmark cinemas are featured in my
2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True
Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage
This Merdeka video, produced by BrandCulture PR and MarCom for Zenith Lifestyle Centre in collaboration with My Johor Stories, will be posted in the Zenith Lifestyle Centre website as well as on Instagram and Facebook on 31 August 2021.


To view video #BangsaJohorUntukMalaysia or #JohoreansforMalaysia, go to Instagram and and Website:

Take time to read the positive messages from Johoreans posted in this video that encourages fellow Malaysians to anticipate a better tomorrow for us and the nation.


Selamat Hari Kebangsaan and Selamat Hari Merdeka from Johor to fellow Malaysians: May we stay strong and resilient as we rise up and rebuild our nation together.


Zenith Lifestyle Centre is located at No. 82C Jalan Trus, 80000 Johor Baru with convenient access via Jalan Trus and Jalan Wong Ah Fook.


For more info on First Tempo Music, visit website:


*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 from 

New image Mee Rebus Haji Wahid

In Johor, Mee Rebus Haji Wahid hardly needs any introduction.


A logo in the new image for
Mee Rebus Haji Wahid

My family and I are familiar with Hj Halim, the sixth son of Hj Wahid, whom we fondly call Bai – Punjabi for brother – probably because he wears a full beard, and faithfully followed his trail to wherever he served this popular Mee Rebus at various locations in the city.


I remember eating his servings of Mee Rebus at the Public Bus Terminal at Jalan Trus and then at the original Tepian Tebrau, a food-court situated close to the Johor Baru seafront, and finally at the food court at Angsana Johor Baru Mall.


In the 1970s, when we often hosted parties at home, our family arranged for Hj Halim to serve Mee Rebus from a live cooking station set up in the garden.


This was where I met with Hafiz, Hj Halim’s son, who would help his father serve plate after plate of their Mee Rebus to our guests.


The Mee Rebus Haji Wahid brand identity
is repeated in the wrapping paper for noodles

The distinct taste of this family recipe noodles has earned a faithful following who enjoy the fragrant plates of warm stewed yellow noodles drenched in thick gravy, with a side of hardboiled egg and a slice of lime to squeeze, garnished by ku-chai vegetables, bean sprouts, chopped green chilli, and topped by a special crispy pendaram condiment.


Pendaram are the savoury crisps sprinkled on the stewed noodles as a topping, not only as a garnish but also for a crunchy bite, in sharp contrast to the soft noodles.


In 2018, while I was considering the Contents for my book sequel, I did not hesitate to include the legacy of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid into the section for Heritage Trades in My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.


The air-tight packet of pendaram
is sealed by a logo sticker

This familiar Mee Rebus was also in the menu at the tea reception hosted after my book launch event for my guests to savour a taste this recipe which had remained consistent since 1918.


Hj Halim or Bai, said back then his grandfather Wak Baidali, used to peddle his Mee Rebus every afternoon using a kandar – two rattan baskets hung from two ends of a pole which he carried across his shoulders – around the Bukit Zaharah building and Kampung Ayer Molek area.


In 1938, his son, Haji Wahid, operated the only Mee Rebus stall in the Satay Club, a food court dedicated to serve satay, situated along Jalan Campbell (now Jalan Tun Abdul Razak) opposite the former Johor Baru Railway Station.


While Hj Halim operated the outlet at Angsana JB Mall, his son, Hafiz, made their family Mee Rebus conveniently available from outlets opened at food courts within shopping malls.


Chicken Pepes AKA Chicken Otak2

Outlets were opened at Aeon Bukit Indah, Aeon Bandar Dato Onn, Aeon Danga Bay and Aeon Tebrau City in Johor Baru, as well as outside Johor at Aeon Nilai, Aeon Ayer Keroh, Aeon Puchong and Aeon Shah Alam.


I even remember reading a Facebook post that Professor Kassim Thukiman posted with a photograph of a plate of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid and a text that declared how delighted he was to discover a favourite Johor dish at the food court in Aeon Ayer Keroh.


When Toppen opened in 2019, I was thrilled to see that Mee Rebus Haji Wahid had an outlet at the mall’s food court to serve shoppers there and from nearby IKEA.


My most recent taste of these familiar noodles was in July 2021 when my sister went grocery shopping at Aeon Bukit Indah, and came back with takeaway portions of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid.


Tasty morsels of Chicken Pepes

Due to the global pandemic and subsequent Movement Control Order lockdowns implemented since March 2020, my family and I did not venture out for Mee Rebus so that takeaway lunch was such a tasty treat for us.


When Singapore commemorated its National Day in early August, I watched with interest, documentaries on Singapore history screened on the Discovery Asia channel.


One of these documentaries was on archive films that showcased old and fuzzy Black & White films that documented the precious heritage of street food in an era when Singapore and Malaya were still one country.


When I saw scenes of peddlers selling food carried on the kandar across their shoulders, my thoughts flashed to Wak Baidali who used to peddle his Mee Rebus here back in 1918.


A portion of takeaway Mee Rebus Haji Wahid

Meanwhile, I was working with BrandCulture PR MarCom to produce a video in collaboration with Zenith Lifestyle Mall to commemorate Hari Kebangsaan or National Day 2021 and the first teaser poster was posted a day ago, with a few more due to appear in the coming days before the video is aired on August 31.


After Hafiz saw the teaser poster yesterday, he sent me a thumbs-up emoji with a message assuring me that he will be looking out for the video.


In another minute, he sent the next line: “Can you give me your address…want to send Mee Rebus especially for you… with my warmest compliments.”


A plate of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid with gravy

Sometimes dreams do come true. And this was a dream come true for me because ever since I saw the archive film of a peddler selling food using a kandar I was longing for a taste of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid.


I confessed to Hafiz that I rindu makan and last had a takeaway Mee Rebus from their outlet at Aeon Bukit Indah in July so I was deeply humbled and happy to accept his kind offer to send my family and I a Mee Rebus treat!


In his reply, Hafiz proudly declared that while my previous takeaway was served by his staff, now he will personally prepare and serve me Mee Rebus from his kitchen.


Since June 2021, Hafiz was serving Mee Rebus from his kitchen based in Kampung Ubi Baru (I looked it up on the map and found it near Tampoi-Pandan) with a delivery service mainly to addresses in Johor Baru, Senai and Kulai.


He explained that the pandemic with long periods of lockdowns, had deeply affected their family business and they had no alternative but to cease operations of outlets at Toppen, Aeon Bukit Indah, Aeon Bandar Dato Onn, Aeon Danga Bay, Aeon Nilai and Aeon Ayer Keroh.


The outlets that remain opened at mall food courts are in Aeon Tebrau City, Aeon Puchong and Aeon Shah Alam.


How to place your order for
Mee Rebus Haji Wahid

By this time, I had given Hafiz my address and was eagerly anticipating the delivery of my order, scheduled for 12.30pm.


At about 12.10pm, I received his message to notify that the delivery was on its way.


He also told me to expect a pack of Chicken Pepes and sent a photo of the banana leaf-wrapped morsels commonly called chicken otak-otak, which he recommended to eat along with his Mee Rebus.


When I quizzed him about it, Hafiz explained that this delicacy was made in collaboration with Mr Noh of Otak-Otak JB.


My delivery arrived safely and the first thing I noticed from the see-through bag was a logo for Mee Rebus Haji Wahid, a brand identity that was repeated on the paper wrap and sticker which sealed a bag of crispy pendaram condiment.


I took a closer look and smiled when I read the tagline: RECIPE SINCE 1918. A LEGENDARY LEGACY by BAI Jr.


I thought it was very apt for Hafiz, the son of Bai, to adopt the moniker, Bai Junior, as he was taking a heritage recipe to new heights by serving it with a modern touch.


I liked the logo colour and motif, and could not help but notice that the tagline for Mee Rebus Haji Wahid was in English and not Malay.


I guessed it was probably because both Hj Halim and Hafiz – Bai and Bai Jr – are also conversant in English and they know that the taste of their family recipe Mee Rebus crosses all boundaries and can be appreciated by international food connoisseurs.


So it was very wise of them to present their brand image with a tagline in an International language.


The legacy of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid is
documented in My Johor Stories 2: Interesting
Places and Inspirational People

With such a proud heritage preserved in their family recipe for Mee Rebus, it was good to see the next generation being involved with the business and giving it a refreshing image while promoting a familiar brand.


Read the story about the legacy of Mee Rebus Haji Wahid under Heritage Trades, documented in my book, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People*.


Place orders for Mee Rebus Haji Wahid conveniently for delivery through two platforms: and


With delivery fees as low as RM5 depending on location, they offer three slots for delivery during Lunch Hour, Evening or Dinner.


Mee Rebus Haji Wahid is also available from Almizan Satay House, located at PTD 64399, Jalan Tebrau, Kampung Ubi Baru, Taman Ekoperniagaan, 81100 Johor Baru, Johor. Enquires welcome at,


*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 from 

Tony Wong and his mini mooncakes


Friendship may be expressed in many ways and two friends quietly arranged to do something which not only pleasantly surprised me but also touched me deeply.


A gift card enclosed, designed by Tony Wong

In recent years, I often met with members of alternative media club, Johor Collective Media or JOCOM in short, for exclusive events and food reviews but due to the global pandemic and consequent lockdowns, we have not met for many months.


We have however, been in constant touch through a WhatsApp group chat to keep abreast of current news and chit-chats to encourage each other on through this challenging time.


Unknown to me, food, travel and lifestyle bloggers, Tony Wong Kok Poh of Oh! Funtastic (Chinese & English) and Sis Lin of AKU Sis Lin (Malay & English), were conspiring to spring a surprise on me and a few others for the Mid-Autumn Festival.


Pretty packaging for a set of six

When Tony sent a message to ask for my address to make a delivery, I quizzed him thoroughly because I needed the answers to Who? What? When? Why? and How?


Tony is keen on cooking and baking so making snow skin mooncakes was just up his alley, also because he liked eating snow skin mooncakes.


With a taste for good snow skin mooncakes, he worked hard at achieving the desired results from using fresh ingredients in making the mooncakes from scratch, until he was personally satisfied and ready to share it with others.


I was impressed when Tony explained that all his ingredients were locally sourced and made from scratch, except for the dried peach which he used to make the Peach Custard filling for his mini snow skin mooncakes.


Each snow skin mooncake is
individually packed

“This custard is what the Cantonese call, Nai Wong,” he explained.


He also showed me a photo of the fresh purple sweet potatoes he uses to make the Purple Sweet Potato with Blueberry filling and added, “I also cooked the Blueberry sauce.”


Just as most enterprising young people were sharing info and photographs of their activities and adventures on social media, Tony posted a showcase of his proudly homemade-with-love products on Facebook.


His excellent photography and styling skills came into good use because his FB posts garnered much interest, and among them was Sis Lin, who made excited enquiries.


Snow skin mooncake filled
with Peach Custard

When I received a pretty box of snow skin mooncakes, made and delivered by Tony, I read from a card, designed and printed by Tony, that the sender was in fact, Sis Lin.


Before leaving, he reminded me to savour the freshly-made snow skin mooncakes chilled to enjoy its best taste, and to keep them refrigerated and consumed within three days.


I quickly sent a Thank You message to Sis Lin in appreciation for her thoughtful buah tangan, and she replied, “Yaa Peggy, cuma sedikit hadiah untuk kawan2 – rindu nak makan sama2 – I hope you like it,” she replied.


I can understand how she missed our regular meet-ups for events and food reviews and assured her that we will do that again when it was safe to dine-in again.


Meanwhile I reminded her, “We must diam-diam duduk rumah!”


Snow skin mooncake filled with
Purple Sweet Potato and Blueberry

“Yaa Peggy …that’s why I send a small gift to kawan2 and also to support Tony’s business,” she added.


It was a very thoughtful gesture, one that I deeply appreciated not because I was presented with a gift but because these two – Tony and Sis Lin – personify friendship and are doing something to support each other through these trying times.


Thank you for blessing me with your friendship and your mini mooncakes, handmade with a special ingredient called love. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!


To savour Mooncakes by Tony, Handmade with Love, order via Tel: +6017 383 1163

Photo Credit: Tony Wong Kok Poh