Health Management in the New Normal


Mum celebrated her 89th birthday in September 2021, a ripe old age where she has earned the right to relax and to enjoy her retirement.


Mum reads the daily news from a hard
copy of the newspapers

She still potters around the garden and reads the daily news the traditional way, from a hardcopy of the newspapers. If she came across an interesting bit of news, she would read it aloud to me. And even though I had already read it from other sources, I would acknowledge and respond to her about it.


In spite of treatment and medication, mum’s right knee still aches from the wear and tear of old bones and ligaments, most likely chronically damaged due to the nature of her work.


To stand up and walk, mum now needs the help of a walker frame to steady herself. Even with excruciating pain, she is brave and remains determined to stay mobile and independent.


Sometimes when her painful knees caused her discomfort, she would reminisce about a time when these same pair of legs used to take her on her daily duties, walking through narrow paths in kampungs and New Villages, uphill and downhill, to visit patients and to attend to baby deliveries in and around Masai.


Mum likes to potter around in the garden

While watching television or in the course of conversation, something she saw or heard might trigger off some thoughts and she would relive her past life by telling me (again!) about a time when she worked in Government service as a district midwife.


It was always good to listen to mum when she shared her reflections about her job that put her on-call 24-hours, 365 days a year, because nobody knew exactly when a baby was due to be born.


The world for the elderly would drastically shrink when their work life and social circles ceased to exist, so they tend to only talk about topics close to their hearts.


In the prevailing pandemic and lockdowns, the world for the elderly further shrunk with less physical contact with family and friends, and while video chats were a welcome compensation, it was not the same as in-person meet-ups.


Mum uses a walker frame to
steady her steps

Aware that it was necessary to let mum relive her old days, I patiently lend an ear to hear her out even though they were familiar and often retold experiences.


In my story, My mum the midwife (NST, Johor Buzz, Nov 2008) I brought to light the important role of a midwife, who was responsible for two lives – that of the mother and newborn – often in very challenging circumstances. 


I remember in the dead of night, when we were snug in bed, someone might wake us with a call, “Mee-see!” and mum would respond to her call of duty to go with this caller to help deliver a new baby.


Mum said sometimes the caller was just a youngster riding a motorbike and she would head out into the night, riding pillion with him. [In the districts, young people learned to ride motorcycles while they were not yet old enough to obtain a license.]


At that time, some villages were only accessible by boat so mum had to walk on a rickety jetty to climb into a sampan to cross a river to reach the villager’s house.


Looking back with a shudder, mum marveled that she was fearless when duty called but in fact, she was in a precarious position because she could not swim and only trusted God for her safety each time she left home for a case.


An unforgettable experience was when mum attended to a patient who lived in a kampung house built on stilts. When mum was ready to leave, she stepped out of the house directly into flood waters, and she had to wade her way out from the kampung.


Another shocking experience was when mum arrived to see a patient with a parang lying next to her. While she felt intimidated to see such a long-bladed knife there, mum proceeded to sterilize her patient to prepare for the birthing.


Just as the baby arrived, mum was stunned when the parang was used to crack open a coconut above the patient’s abdomen for the coconut juice to splash down in some archaic ritual, an act which also quashed mum’s effort to sterilize the patient…


These and other exciting experiences are familiar to me but when mum reminisces about them, often repeatedly, it was a way for her to reaffirm her value and contributions to the community at a time when she was strong and capable.


Mum's appointment card with
Klinik Mahmoodiah, marked 
with DEFAULTER in 2016

After helping to bring hundreds of babies into the world, mum has certainly earned the right to relax in her retirement. Now a pensioner, mum has regular health checks at Klinik Mahmoodiah, the outpatient clinic where she consults and receives a prescription for her ailments.


Over the years, we have faithfully kept all her appointments except once in 2016 when we were travelling and for this failure to keep her appointment, mum was very upset to see that she was labelled a DEFAULTER on her appointment card.


I could understand her distress because it was typical of the elderly, particularly retired Government servants like mum, who would choose never to default on any appointment with the clinic.


While my sister and I have been cautious and hesitant about bringing mum to the clinic for her health review appointments in the lockdown periods, we still managed to do so safely, twice in the past 17 months.


As the virus variant continued to rage on with rapid infections, mum stayed safely at home and we kept a strictly No Visitors policy to avoid any contact and threat of infection.


Dr Low Wei Shyong during his
house-call in March 2021

In March 2021, when mum was feeling out of sorts, we had no alternative but to invite a private practitioner to make a house-call with a request to examine mum and take blood and urine samples for tests to better diagnose and treat her condition.


When grandmother was still with us, our family doctor at Kelinik Woo & Hong made house-calls to see her and we continued to consult with Dr Low Wei Shyong, who took over the practice in this clinic.


Dr Low made this house-call to see mum and with his professional and pleasant bedside manner, mum had a very comfortable consultation with him.


The next morning, I was at the clinic to collect mum’s prescription. And when mum’s blood and urine test results were ready, Dr Low discussed it with my sister and I over the telephone before I went to collect the hard copy of the report from his clinic.


I presented Dr Low with my 2017 
Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True
Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage

In this meet-up with Dr Low, he spared a few moments for me to share with him a little more about mum and her life as a former midwife, how she probably earned her aches and pains from squatting in awkward positions to help deliver babies from mothers who were lying on the floor of their kampung houses…


It was also my pleasure to present the good doctor with a copy of my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, for him to read about, My mum the midwife, our life in Masai in, Going back to Masai-chusetts and about dad in, My mentor, my dad.


Dr Low explained that due to the pandemic, he has adopted a New Normal to do more phone consultation and tele-medicine with patients. And as he got better acquainted with us, I was comfortable to reach him for phone consultations for mum.


When the doctor gave the all-clear that it was safe for mum to receive the Covid19 vaccination, we proceeded with the process for mum and in May, I had the pleasure to inform Dr Low that mum was fully vaccinated.


In his reply, Dr Low complemented me on my book and told me that he was reading my stories in his clinic, in between patient consultations. He said and I quote:


“My Johor Stories is a delightful read! Short, bite-sized stories which, as a Johorean, I can relate a lot to. Very soulful, especially the stories about your dad. He was so disciplined and loving to his children.”


Dr Low making his first ever
car-call from my parked car

In August, mum had an appointment at Klinik Mahmoodiah to draw blood for tests and prepare the results for her six-monthly health review in the following month.


As daily reports of new infections were still ranging high, my sister and I were reluctant to bring mum to the clinic for this appointment. Because it was necessary to get mum’s test results for the doctor to review and prescribe, we decided to seek Dr Low’s help.


This time, instead of a house-call, we arranged to meet him half-way. To avoid contact with others in the clinic, the good doctor agreed to see mum in my car, parked outside the clinic. This turned out to be Dr Low’s first car-call.


The next morning, I sent a sample of mum’s urine over to the clinic and a week passed before Dr Low reverted with the results of mum’s blood and urine tests.


As Dr Low congratulated us on what we were doing to manage mum’s health and well-being, it was indeed a comfort and relieve to learn that there was nothing alarming in the findings.


Weeks passed and the date for the doctor’s appointment to review mum’s health at Klinik Mahmoodiah was fast approaching but the number of new infections in Johor Baru continued to stay dreadfully high.


As we kept a close watch on the number of new infections around us, we also observed that mum was keeping in good general health.


As the appointment date drew closer, my sister and I made the decision to not let mum go to the clinic but to present a copy of her blood and urine test results and show the record of her daily Blood Pressure readings to the doctor, on her behalf.


This is truly an unprecedented time in history and it was important to reassure mum that it was all right for her not to be physically present at the appointment, but that I would go on her behalf. (I did not say it:) So she would not be labelled a Defaulter.


In a prior phone call to Klinik Mahmoodiah, I explained to the nurse that I would be going for the appointment on behalf of my mother.


It was also an unprecedented situation for them because she paused to seek a colleague’s view before she came back to the line with a dull phrase like, “Tak tahu lah apa doktor kata…”


That afternoon, I went to the clinic on behalf of mum armed with a Que-sera-sera attitude, ready to face whatever was ahead in my encounter with the doctor.


The reception counter at Klinik Mahmoodiah

At the clinic reception when I presented mum’s appointment card, the nurse asked where mum was and if she was bed-ridden.


As I explained that I had the relevant reports for the doctor to review, she was rather blunt and unsympathetic but I kept my cool.


Then she wrote in Red, Wakil Ibu, on the Registration Number and passed this small piece of paper to me with a reminder me to bring the patient in for the next appointment.


Filled with relieve, I proceeded to the next counter and gave the young man this Registration Number to collect mum’s clinic record card.


When he passed mum’s card to me along with the Registration Number, he told me to go to BILIK 4 even though the chop in Blue on the Number read as, BILIK 2.


As I approached BILIK 4, I realized that it was where the patient’s Blood Pressure would be taken. Since I was not the patient and I had the record of mum’s daily BP readings ready, I proceeded to BILIK 2 where I dropped mum’s appointment card into the small box fixed at the room’s entrance.


My Registration Number with the words,
Wakil Ibu written on it

Through the glass panel on the room door, I saw it was still dark inside and guessed that the doctor was not in yet. After all, it was then just about 2pm, so I sat down to wait until mum’s name was called.


Moments later, the door of BILIK 3 opened and a doctor – from the white lab coat he wore, I guessed he was a doctor – came out and collected the patients’ cards from the small box outside BILIK 2.


When he picked a card and called out my mum’s name, I responded and was ushered into BILIK 3. There were three others inside this room, all wearing white lab coats.


Incidentally, these past two days I was working on the manuscript for my Book Three and had reviewed the draft for my story on the first Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the Johor Baru General Hospital, the former name of Hospital Sultanah Aminah.


To share this story, I also included a historical reference to the hospital’s Officers’ Ward or First-Class Ward, a building that was once the residence of the sister of Sultan Abu Bakar, Ungku Khatijah, built in 1928 on a hill known as Bukit Cengkih or Clove Hill after a clove plantation here.


When the First-Class Ward was relocated to the new extension of the main hospital in 2009, this building was used as the Hematology Ward and part of the Monash University Malaysia campus for the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences.


Then when I entered BILIK 3 and saw the other three young people clad in white lab coats, I safely concluded that they were trainees in the Monash University Malaysia campus for the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences here.


The doctor who ushered me into the room, invited me to sit down on the patient’s chair while the young lady trainee took her place at the desk as the consulting doctor.


When the doctor asked for my name, I started to explain that I was not the patient but was there on behalf of the patient. He still wanted to know my name and when I told him, it was like a confirmation because he had already recognised me from my voice. [We were fully masked and wearing face shields.]


“I’m Dr Ho,” he declared as I turned to look at his name tag which read, Dr Ho Loon Shin, and I too recognised him because I had forgotten that he was a Lecturer with the Monash University campus here.


Meanwhile Dr Ho gave me a glowing introduction to the three trainees and told them about our mutual friend, the late Michael Parry, who was his Headmaster in their school in Kulai while Dr Ho was then the Head Prefect.


With the introductions done, Dr Ho stepped away from the desk while I proceeded to consult with the young lady trainee in our roles as patient and doctor.


When I presented her with mum’s blood and urine test results and record of BP readings, Dr Ho went into teaching mode and helped to evaluate the details page by page for the benefit of the three trainees. [A copy later attached to mum’s record.]


Even though I entered the clinic with deep apprehension, everything changed when Dr Ho took me into BILIK 3 where I met with the three trainees, How Eng Han and Lim Wai Kit, both from Kuala Lumpur, and Ewurama Akroma Dontoh, the young lady from Ghana, Africa.


It was truly an unexpected encounter in an unprecedented time but an encouraging experience for me because mum’s health and well-being were evident from the findings in the test report.


Once again, I was reminded that God is always faithful and good.


Deeply grateful for being accommodated in the New Normal, I the Wakil Ibu, left the clinic with a prescription for mum and her next appointment fixed for January 2022.

NOTE: My Johor Stories series of books are available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from

The stage is set at Puteri Harbour...


Hard Rock Café, one of the world’s most iconic café brands with outlets established in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, will soon open its fourth outlet in Puteri Harbour, Johor.


Hard Rock Cafe Puteri Harbour, General
Manager, Jimmy Wong, with Shireyrl Ranger
[Left] and Grace Ho [Right]
Recently when the brand posters and hoardings appeared on site, social media was abuzz with hints of the arrival of Hard Rock Café in Puteri Harbour.


Very soon, fans of Hard Rock Café can look forward to tasting the iconic Hard Rock signature menu of food and drinks, view rock memorabilia at a Memorabilia Wall and shop for authentic Hard Rock merchandise in the Rock Shop, opened within the café.


When I received my invitation to the Press Conference, it was another step closer to this hint being turned into a reality.


My invitation to the Press Conference

While the date for the Press Conference was deferred due to circumstances beyond control, the stage was already set to host this event online.


Then this much-anticipated announcement of its soft opening scheduled for December 2021, was made at a Press Conference held virtually on Sept 21, with online attendance by some 70 media titles.


The Press Conference was neatly timed and professionally organized in a programme that flowed smoothly from the Welcome spiel followed by important speeches from invited key personnel for the Hard Rock Café brand.


Needless to say, it was a very different experience to attend a Press Conference virtually but I was still armed with my faithful pen and trusted notepad to jot down notes for reference.


Our virtual Press Conference
[Photo courtesy of Lisa Armani]

[There was no Press Release to hand yet but it was my practice to listen to the speakers to hear first-hand, what they spoke from their scripts or from the hearts.]


From the Opening Address by Area Vice President for Asia Pacific, Hard Rock Café International, Malcolm Chao, it was good to hear his infectious excitement as he spoke about the arrival of one of the world’s most recognized brands in Johor.


Hard Rock International has venues in 68 countries with 241 locations that included owned, licensed or managed Hotels, Casinos, Rock Shops, Live Performance Venues and Cafés and very soon, Puteri Harbour in Johor, will be numbered among them.


Words of welcome and support on behalf of the Johor State Government was presented by Chairman of the Tourism, Youth and Sports Committee, Johor State Executive Council, YB Datuk Onn Hafiz Ghazi.


He was thrilled that the stunning views from Puteri Harbour will be shared with the world through the brand’s presence here and envisioned that Hard Rock Café will become a platform for the performing arts.


Datuk Onn Hafiz applauded all efforts to put Johor on the world map and as Tourism is the gateway to meaningful moments, he emphasized that we should work together to present Johor to the world even as Johor Tourism lives up to their Nostalgic Johor branding.


Then Hard Rock Café Puteri Harbour, General Manager, Jimmy Wong, provided an overview of the café layout that covers two levels, with indoor and outdoor settings as well as a stage for live shows.


I am familiar with Puteri Harbour and its attributes particularly at twilight time, and was delighted to hear him say, “Our main highlight is the alfresco dining area which overlooks the scenic harbour, accompanied by a picturesque sunset view.”


When he talked about the Memorabilia Wall, my thoughts flashed to fond memories of the brand’s rock ‘n roll inspired ambience, its throbbing energy and exciting rock culture that permeates the entire property, and my anticipation went up a few more notches.


It was always fun to recall a bit of history about how Eric Clapton inadvertently started the trend of a signature showcase of rock-star artifacts in Hard Rock properties worldwide, when he left his guitar behind to reserve his favourite spot in the hotel bar…


While this vast collection started from one solitary guitar, now Hard Rock owns the world’s largest and most valuable collection of authentic music memorabilia of more than 86,000 pieces, displayed at its locations around the globe.


Hard Rock Cafe Puteri Harbour,
General Manager Jimmy Wong [Centre]
has a love connection to Johor!
For die-hard Rock fans, the pleasure of admiring the Memorabilia collection is already worth a visit.


Then my curiosity was piqued when I heard him say, “Johor has always held a very special place in my heart…” and it made me wonder if he was Johorean.


[Later I discovered that his mother was from Muar and worked as a teacher in Batu Pahat… and his dad met her in Johor. Ah! So, his was a love connection to Johor.]


The Rock Shop here will let fans get hold of a range of Hard Rock merchandise like T-shirts, pins, mugs, accessories and collectibles as well as unique Hard Rock Puteri Harbour merchandise, not available elsewhere.


Tay Keyin, Malaysia's first female
freestyle saxophonist in her
funky rock performance.

Any Hard Rock Café announcement will not be complete without a Guest Performance and I was thrilled that Johor’s very own talent was featured in this momentous event.


Alumnae of Johor Baru’s prestigious Sultan Ibrahim’s Girls School, better known as SIGS, Tay Keyin, who has established her reputation as Malaysia’s first female freestyle saxophonist, brought the Funk Rock into the Press Conference with her rendition of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, a piece made popular by Bruno Mars.


Then it was back to serious talk when the media’s queries were answered during the Question & Answer session.


As travel restrictions were being eased and the economy gradually reopened, there was an air of confidence that the Café should open according to schedule in December. Meanwhile regular updates will be provided through social media.


Mindful of the seriousness of the situation, the Café will implement Hard Rock International’s Safe and Sound protocols as well as the local requirements and regulations when the Café opens its doors to welcome guests.


As we anticipate the taste of the Café’s signature menu of burgers, steaks and salads, it was good to learn that the Café will obtain fresh produce from local sources and it also has a proper plan to manage food waste.


The Café also has plans to contribute to the community through the Hard Rock Heals Foundation, a charity platform with a common goal: To make the world a better place through music.


With December just a few weeks away, we can look out for the pre-opening promotions and giveaways for families, kids and Hard Rock fans during the year-end festive season.


Aunty Sylvia's favourite mug
featuring King of Rock 'n Roll,
Elvis Presley!

[On Sept 24, we celebrated Aunty Sylvia’s birthday virtually and she replied with a Thank You Very Much meme that featured the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, doing his signature pelvis grind, with a message, “Let’s rock together!”


In reply, I invited her to come (back!) to Johor in December because we have a date to rock together at Hard Rock Café Puteri Harbour!


Thrilled with this exciting prospect, Aunty replied with a photo of her favourite mug…that featured who else but the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley!


Yes, she is his Number One fan who had the privilege to watch him perform live in Les Vegas before he passed on suddenly in 1977.]


At the close of the Press Conference, winners of the Lucky Draw were announced.


Now the stage is set for the show to open in Puteri Harbour, Johor.


For more information on Hard Rock Café Puteri Harbour, visit website:


Visit the online Rock Shop at to purchase Hard Rock Café merchandise.

What is a Malaysian family?


When the first poster in the series of teaser posters for our Merdeka video was posted on Facebook, I received a number of reactions, the most notable must be the one from Kak Mariam who said, “Seeing the poster, I feel proud to be residing in Johor…”


Form Four Arts, Johor Baru Convent, a group
photo with caption: Here's one for unity!
Another reaction from Dr Kim, a medical doctor, bluntly asked, “Why no face mask?”


I replied to assure him that the film crew was ever mindful to managing good physical distances and each artiste in the video was filmed at separate time slots.


Other reactions included phrases like, “Can’t wait!” “When will it air, what time?” “Don’t forget to share the link with me,” and “Wow! Looking forward!”


This series of teaser posters were designed to create interest in the lead-up to the launch of our Merdeka video produced by BrandCulture PR MarCom in collaboration with Zenith Lifestyle Centre, timed precisely at 12.01am on National Day, August 31.


A former classmate Kausar Kassim, who saw this video responded with a single line.


“Here’s one for unity,” as the caption sent with an old group photograph of our Form Four Arts class taken on the field of Johor Baru’s only Convent School.


Coloured shot captured when we
returned to school to collect exam results?

When I scrutinized the faces of our friends in this precious group shot, I was struck by two main thoughts; One, this was a class made up of girls from our multi-cultural community and two, at least two in the group seen here, had already passed away.


As far as I know, only one other girl (and me!) still lives in Johor Baru while the others have moved to Kuala Lumpur and abroad to the UK, Australia and elsewhere.


Back then, only a few girls had cameras so the photos captured in school are precious mementoes as proof of our fun and friendship among our multi-racial group.


After we had established our careers and settled our families, former schoolmates and I connected again and met up in Johor Baru for our special reunion gatherings. 


Another precious shot captured in colour,
at the famous front steps outside the Bookshop.
These were properly organized events where girls joined from near and far and I had the privilege to share this experience in, Going forward in the spirit of1Malaysia (NST, Johor Streets Oct 2009).


After reconnecting again, various groups met up regularly for informal gatherings, went on short trips both local and abroad, and in 2014 I recorded these happy reunions in, Fifty years of friendship.


In 2015, when the Johor Baru Convent celebrated its 90th anniversary, many schoolmates returned to their hometown, to join the gala celebration here.


There was so much for us to catch-up on that one event like this was just not enough.


Again on the front steps
outside the Bookshop.

To make good use of this time together, we arranged an extended itinerary to explore our city’s Heritage Quarter in a day tour that ended with a dinner together. Read about it in, New sights on old streets (My Johor Stories, Sept 2015).


It was very special to observe how the friendships formed in school, the shared experiences in important formative years, had created a special bond among us.


This bond crossed racial, religious and cultural boundaries because we not only hung out together in school, we also visited each other’s homes – not only on festive occasions – but regularly, and often ate together and stayed over just like family.


Long before the various forms of slogans like Keluarga Malaysia or the Malaysian Family, Muhibbah and OneMalaysia were introduced, we had in fact, already adopted these principles and put into practice the sentiment of, Unity in diversity.


Recently, there were many podcasts and interviews, discussions and conversations posted on YouTube that highlighted difficult and sensitive subjects which I thought were downright heart-breaking but also enlightening, educational and encouraging.


My two older sisters, Ruby [Right] and
Pearly [Left] with me at the front porch 
of our home at Jalan Dato' Wilson.

I particularly appreciate the style of veteran journalist, Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, when he hosted guest speakers on his YouTube channel, The Real Chun Wai, the way he moderates the discussion and touches on topics that were once considered taboo.


These honest discussions are not only welcome but absolutely necessary because we have lost that spirit of unity – introduced by our nation’s founding Fathers – that was once a natural, prevailing sentiment among Malaysians in past decades.


When I listened to the conversation Datuk Wong had with Professor Dr Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi, I was amused when I heard that Prof Tajuddin grew up reading Enid Blyton books. It struck a familiar chord because I too enjoyed reading Enid Blyton books.


In fact, I shared about how I cultivated my reading habit and continued to find joy in reading various genres of books in, Cultivating a Reading Culture (NST, Johor Streets Oct 2012).


When I heard Prof Tajuddin, a Professor of Islamic Architecture in the School of Architecture and Built Environment, UCSI University, talking about his joy in reading, I was also glad to hear that he would never consider candidates he interviewed who do not read.


A family photo captured using a tripod stand;
Mum is wearing a traditional sarong costume
(No, we are not Peranakan) Lido seafront, JB

I also found another thing in common with Prof Tajuddin: We lived in government quarters, among neighbours of multi-cultural backgrounds.


His father was a Policeman and they lived in Police barracks while my parents were with the Health Department and we lived in hospital quarters.


In fact, when I was born in the Johor Baru General Hospital, my first home was an address in the staff quarters at Jalan Dato’ Wilson, a road within the hospital compound.


What prompted me to write, Jalan Dato’ Wilson Revisited (NST Johor Buzz, April 2009) was a call from a stranger – a man – who said he probably knew me when I was a toddler because we lived in the same neighbourhood.


I learnt from my parents that it was a safe and friendly place where residents mingled freely and the kids played together. Neighbours would stopover for chit-chats and as I was the youngest, and probably the cutest, I was often cuddled and carried by them.


Mum and her children outside our house, the
staff quarters for the Health Sub-Centre, Masai

When I heard Prof Tajuddin say that the neighbourhood kids whom he grew up with were mainly Sikhs, I had a sudden flashback to our neighbours who lived in the staff quarters when our parents were with the Government Health Sub-Centre in Masai.


I shared our Masai experience in, Going back to Masai-chusetts, a story published in my 2017 Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


Our house was a single-storey bungalow with a wide grassy garden that separated our house from the Health Centre or clinic.


Mum and dad developed this garden as a hobby, to grow vegetables and flowers, documented in a story, Green Fingers, also published in my 2017 Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


Mum and dad with colleagues at Health
Sub-Centre Masai [L to R] En Aziz,
A/N Kamariah, Mum, Bainon, S/N Yeo, Dad.

Our immediate neighbours on the other side of our house were Staff Nurse Lily Cheang and the Assistant Nurse and their families who lived in two semi-detached units.


Over the 13-year period while my dad was based in Masai until his retirement in 1977, I remember the three Assistant Nurses who lived next door, transferred to join the staff at the Health Centre.


There were Aunty Kamariah, her husband Nizam with sons, Nahar and Najib, then Aunty Irene, her husband Raymond Kumar with her two children, Adrian and Sandra, followed by Aunty Janet, her husband Mr Basil with kids, Mathilda and Zachery.


I also remember the children of Staff Nurse Cheang: Chun Yoon, Chun Yeen and their sister, Wai Yee, along with her husband, Mr Chee.


We got on well with our neighbours probably because we simply emulated our parents who had a great relationship with the staff, not only as a team but also as friends who often gathered to enjoy parties that featured food and fruits like durian. 


Mum and dad on the grassy patch between
our house and the Semi-D units; Mum
wore a Baju Kurung to attend an event.

When some of their colleagues were transferred in or out, we were sad to part with our playmates but like resilient kids, we were also happy to meet and get to know the children of the newly transferred staff.


There were no fences between our houses and the semi-detached units (lined up on the same row) but these two buildings were separated by a grassy slope.


Behind this row of houses, two staircases down, there were two blocks of barracks with smaller residential units allocated to staff like Health Officer En Zul, Mat Jan the gardener, Mohd Dom the water-pump staff, Encik Aziz the Attendant, and Aunty Bainon the AhMah.


This grassy slope between our houses was a favourite outdoor spot for rolling about, playing hide-and-seek and masak-masak with leaves and flowers plucked from plants in this sprawling compound.


Prof Tajuddin’s candid sharing had triggered off thoughts about these youngsters – when I knew them – but by now they would be grown up, may be holding responsible jobs, some may be living abroad, married, divorced or even retired.


I found it so uncanny that on Sept 3, I received a phone message that read: “Hi Peggy, I am Adrian, your neighbour in Masai. My sister Sandra and you were friends… I’m retired now and live in PJ.”


Wow! It was just wonderful to reconnect again. This started an exchange of messages where he updated me about his parents’ passing in 2008 (dad) and 2019 (mum), and that his sister with two kids, now live in Atlanta in the US of A.


English was our main language at home so when I first heard mum speak in Malay, I was simply stunned because she spoke the language like a native speaker. Later I discovered that she could also speak different Chinese dialects, each with the right tone and accent. 


If I was shocked by mum, I was absolutely amazed when I first witnessed dad speaking to an Indian man in Tamil.


One incident engraved in my mind was when the cowherd came to deliver a load of cow-dung which dad used for his vegetable garden. Dad was certainly not making it up because the Indian man responded naturally and seemed to understand him.


I asked dad and he explained that in those days when he was with the Johor Baru General Hospital, he learnt the language from his Indian friends during night duty. They would do paperwork after their rounds and on quiet nights, they would pass the time teaching him Tamil.


Mum and dad certainly showed by example, how we should integrate ourselves into the local, multi-cultural community, and as they did so, they gained a great deal of respect and friendship with many from all walks of life among the Masai folks.


Dad’s keen interest in Tamil rubbed off on us and I’ve learned quite a bit of Tamil vocabulary from him as described in, Tamil & Thousand Island (NST Johor Streets, July 2011).


On that same grassy patch again;
My brother, Kenneth, with neighbour, Najib.

Incidentally, my friend Kak Mariam, felt a strong connection to the conversation between Datuk Wong and Prof Tajuddin, not only because they share common origins as Penang-nites, but also because the content of their discussion triggered off feelings of nostalgia from her childhood days.


She told me that she used to follow the Taipusam crowd and enjoyed eating the vegetarian food at the temple located near the Penang Botanical Gardens.


On Christmas eve, she would go with friends to the annual Midnight Mass and fondly recalled the Christmas gifts she used to buy for her friends.


During Chinese New Year, she would bake cookies for the festive season and would also receive lots of festive goodies during Deepavali.


She happily recalled those carefree days and lamented that now there was no more of such compassionate bonding like we had before.


This Malaysia Day season, I had the pleasure to appreciate the “Aku Malaysia” series of videos that featured Malaysian personalities like Jo Kukathas, Ramli Ibrahim, Amy Dangin, Nandini Balakrishnan and Patrick Teoh, just to name a few.


After Kak Mariam saw the video that featured Ramli Ibrahim, she confessed that she shared his wish for our beloved country.


She grew up in a friendly neighbourhood where she learnt to speak Hokkien and English and even a little Tamil, and also went to a Christian School.


It was heartwarming to know that she shared the sentiments of Ramli Ibrahim and Prof Tajuddin and felt so blessed to be a true Malaysian too.


Like Kak Mariam, my siblings and I had a well-rounded upbringing where we learned that there can be unity in spite of our ethnic differences. The friends my siblings and I have now are a clear reflection of the values we were brought up with.


It was not about the colour of skin or the curl of hair but it was simply about the heart. So it was just natural for us to form firm friendships with people of all races and to feel comfortable in different cultural settings.


The global pandemic had somehow proven that we are no different at all because all of us are susceptible to this dreadful virus, and may survive or succumb to it.


Commemorating National Day and Malaysia Day during the pandemic is a ripe time to revive this precious legacy among the present generation by starting with ourselves.


Remember: There is no taboo in visiting temples or other places of worship, in wearing other traditional costumes, speaking a variety of languages and dialects, sitting crossed-legged on the floor, eating cuisine from other ethnic origins, sometimes from banana leaves and comfortably with our fingers.


Let us build relationships with people of different cultures in a more inclusive community and set fine examples for others to emulate. Don’t be surprised to discover that we have much in common with each other in our Malaysian family.

NOTE: This post is dedicated to all our former schoolmates, dear friends who have left us.