Sharing insights with My Johor Stories


I was still sipping my Hazelnut infused coffee in a leisurely breakfast with my mother and eldest sister when my telephone signaled an in-coming call.


At Amaya Food Gallery in Amari Johor Baru
with His Excellency, The Ambassador
Dr Peter Blomeyer

The screen showed that the caller was an unregistered number in Kuala Lumpur, so I could not help but had a sneaking suspicion that it could be a cold call with a sales pitch or a dreaded scam call with a ploy to score a con.


My next thought reassured me it was just too early in the day for it so I dismissed all suspicions and accepted the call.


When the lady introduced herself as Shirley from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, I glanced at our wall clock that confirmed that it was already office hours in Kuala Lumpur.


Shirley told me that His Excellency, The Ambassador of Germany to Malaysia was new in Malaysia and while he was in Johor to make a courtesy call on the Sultan of Johor, it would be nice if he could also meet with the author of My Johor Stories for an insight into the True Tales and Rich Heritage of Johor.


Meanwhile I had already gleaned from photographs and information posted on Instagram and Facebook about the Ambassador’s meet-up with the Johor Sultan, Government agencies and various Non-Governmental Organisations in Johor.


I was sure that the embassy would have done their homework and background checks on me and I felt deeply humbled to be singled out from among the myriads of Johoreans to meet with the Ambassador. Out of curiosity, I simply asked, “Why me?”


My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real
People, Rich Heritage
went to No. 1
among MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers

Shirley then mentioned that her colleague, Sandra, has a copy of my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, and they firmly believed that the Ambassador would certainly enjoy meeting with me, especially after his tight schedule of meetings with so many parties in Johor.


It did not occur to me (until much later) that I had met Sandra when she just joined the team at Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) and over coffee at a charming café, Flowers in the Window, I shared with her my insights about Johor.


I soon learnt that the Ambassador had a very busy schedule here and could probably only avail a short time with me but I was happy to meet His Excellency to introduce Johor to him with My Johor Stories.


In an exchange of emails and telephone messages, an appointment was arranged for Evening Coffee with the Ambassador at Amari Johor Baru, the hotel where he was staying in Johor Baru.


Mindful of arriving on time, I started my drive half an hour ahead but realised (too late!) that I had failed to remember the road closures and detours to divert traffic away from the vaccination center in the heart of the city.


After inching through crawling one-way traffic in a bottleneck due to landscaping work happening along Jalan Wong Ah Fook, I was relieved to arrive at the entrance of the Amaya Food Gallery just ahead of the arrival of His Excellency, The Ambassador of Germany to Malaysia, Dr Peter Blomeyer.


I turned to look when the elevator bell sounded, “Ding!” and from photos that I had seen of him, recognised the gentleman who walked across the lobby towards me.


Aware that there is a certain protocol to observe when meeting an ambassador, it would be good to break-the-proverbial-ice from the outset as ours was an informal meet-up.


As soon as we exchanged greetings, with due respect, I asked if I should address him with the honorific, “His Excellency” or “Ambassador” or “Doctor,” and he replied without hesitation, “Call me Peter.”


Pleased with this comfortable start, I pointed out that we were two “P” people because our names started with the letter “P” and the Ambassador not only agreed but added that we both had names that started with “Pe…”


As we were welcomed into the Amaya Food Gallery and escorted to our table, the Ambassador cordially invited me to join him for an early dinner.


(I later learnt that his team in the embassy thought that he should only meet me over coffee and then retire for the day as he had two more appointments the next morning before leaving the city with another stopover in Kluang, on his return to KL.)


With coffee forgotten, we enjoyed an aperitif of the signature welcome drink served by the café – a refreshing, chilled lemongrass soda.


I did not hesitate to tell the Ambassador that I wished to share my experience about meeting with him – it was not every day that I would sit down with an ambassador – and sought his permission to take photographs, to which he kindly agreed.


After I formally welcomed the Ambassador to Johor and thanked him for his interest in My Johor Stories, he shared a brief summary of the people he met and the places he visited thus far as well as the appointments planned for the next day.


It was good to hear the familiar names and places in a list of Who’s Who in the city at the various organisations and must-see sights that ranged from IRDA, Yayasan Warisan Johor or Johor Heritage Foundation, the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum and the NGOs who are contributing towards the community and protecting the environment.


In addition to meeting with the various people in government and non-governmental agencies, it was good to know that he also met with the German community living in Johor Baru. (I had the pleasure of meeting some of them through the Rotary Club and the International Women’s Association in Johor Baru.)


As he shared about the people he met earlier that day, it dawned on me that he hardly paused for a proper meal and was more than ready to have a relaxing dinner.


Ravi, the serving staff at the café, was attentive yet unobtrusive when he topped up our drinks, took our dinner order and served dishes to the table, while we continued our conversation.


Having read, Prince of Pirates by Carl A. Trocki, the Ambassador was well versed with the history of the Temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore from 1784 to 1885.


Armed with this knowledge, we had a lively discussion about the people of Johor – the rakyat fondly known as Bangsa Johor – who has a unique relationship with the Johor Ruler.


The Ambassador was familiar with our Pepper and Gambier heritage in Johor – a story also published in my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage – where Chinese planters in Singapore and the Riau Islands were invited to open land in Johor for the cultivation of these crops.


He was also familiar with the kangchu land management system adopted by the Johor Ruler, that was introduced by Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore for pepper and gambier cultivation.


It was an opportunity to share with him that when the Johor Ruler, Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim, invited the Chinese, Indians, Punjabi, and Arabs to settle here, these newcomers in Johor were considered as welcomed guests and not immigrants.


I pointed out that the harmonious relationship among the various communities in Johor was reflected in Johor Baru’s Street of Harmony – the very street where the hotel located – and named the locations of the places of worship of the main race groups here.


I also shared with the Ambassador about the benevolence of the Johor Ruler who presented the Christian, Chinese, Indian and Sikh communities with the land to build their places of worship located along the same street, which still stand to this day.


Having met the good people in the Johor Baru Chinese Association, the Ambassador was familiar with the five main clans or dialect groups of the Chinese, made up of the Teochew, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka and Hainan and how – after a period of anarchy – they were united in a common place of worship.


Unlike other Chinese temples which were named after their deities, this temple located just across the road from the hotel, honoured the Johor Ruler by adopting a name which included the state’s name in, Johor Old Temple.


My books are placed in the rooms and
suites of the Amari Johor Baru

In passing, I also mentioned that this hotel we were in, was built on a heritage site that was once occupied by two landmark movie theatres – the Rex and Lido – and the Amari Johor Baru honoured its memory by naming two of its event halls, Rex and Lido.


This hotel (and some other hotels!) know that guests liked to stay in a place with a story and I was deeply honoured when they chose to place my books in their better rooms and suites for the guests’ reading pleasure.


I shared with the Ambassador about my unforgettable experience with guests, a couple who read My Johor Stories while staying with this hotel, and when I received their email with comments and questions, I managed to meet with them at the Amari Johor Baru.


It was most humbling to learn that they even went to the nearest MPH bookstore to buy their own copies of my books and as a result of our meet-up, the gentleman – a professional writer and journalist for the South China Morning Post – published an interesting feature in the South China Morning Post dated 17 January 2020 that included his experience with My Johor Stories and meeting me in Johor Baru.


When the Ambassador said that he had a stopover at Kluang on his drive back to KL the next day, I mentioned that My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, also featured stories about people in various Johor towns like Kluang, Batu Pahat, Muar, Macap, Desaru, Pontian, Senai, Kulai and Kelapa Sawit.


Presenting an autographed copy of
my book to the Ambassador 

It was my privilege to document the stories about these inspirational people, some of whom were third or fourth generation Heritage Traders who are continuing the family businesses started by their forefathers.


On his way to Johor Baru, the Ambassador visited to Muar, the Royal Town of Bandar Maharani, so I told him that one of the stories I will feature in Book Three of My Johor Stories – a work-in-progress – was on how this Royal Town was named after the third consort of Sultan Abu Bakar, Sultanah Fatimah, a Chinese lady.


His telephone suddenly signaled a call and the Ambassador reached for his telephone and politely excused himself to take the call from his wife.


He spoke briefly in German and paused to say in English, “My daughter wants to speak to you,” and turned his telephone around for me to have a video chat with his charming eight-year-old.


Another view of the Ambassador receiving my
book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real
People, Rich Heritage

After the call, the Ambassador mentioned that during the recent school term holidays, he and his family enjoyed a relaxing holiday at a resort on Sibu Island, located off Mersing.


Knowing that they would enjoy the sun, sea and sand, I introduced the Ambassador to the many attractions on the east of Johor at Desaru Coast and suggested that they plan their next holiday here.


I guessed the Ambassador may have yet to discover the interesting places to enjoy in Desaru that ranged from an ostrich farm, a crocodile farm, a fruit farm to the premium destination designed with international brand hotels and beach resorts like the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, the Westin Desaru Coast Resort, the Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas and the One&Only Desaru Coast.


With dinner done and the table cleared, dessert was served.


Time had surely flown by as we chatted on a wide range of topics that included my grandfather stories which Johoreans, both local and living abroad, can easily connect with, our family’s link to the Wong family in Johor Baru and the way My Johor Stories was connecting people to Johor.


These and other exciting stories were documented in my book sequel, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.


He listened with interest as I told him about foreigners who read My Johor Stories, wrote me and met me when then visited Johor Baru, and how uncanny it was when we suddenly discovered that Richard Dunn’s grandfather, F.M. Still, and my grandfather knew each other.


This, I told him, was also shared in part of my 2019 TEDx Talk entitled, Connecting People through My Johor Stories.


The Ambassador taking a closer look at
My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and
Inspirational People

When Food & Beverage Manager, Murthi, came over to say Hello, I asked for his help to capture a photo memento while I presented the Ambassador with an autographed copy of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage for him to read at leisure and to share with his family.


In parting, the Ambassador gave me his best wishes as I worked on Book Three of My Johor Stories, along with grateful thanks for gaining further insights into the culture and heritage of Johor.


The next morning while I was still at the breakfast table, my phone signaled a call and it was Shirley who also put Sandra on the speaker-phone to ask me how my Coffee with the Ambassador went.


I assured them that it went very well but we did not have any coffee because he invited me to dine with him. Thanks Shirley and Sandra, for the privilege of meeting the Ambassador and for letting me share some insights with My Johor Stories.

1 comment:

  1. Great to know a 3rd book is in progress! Another must have.