Ready for My Johor Stories in Downtown JB


The Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Heritage and Culture, was recently launched by Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) in collaboration with Think City, and supported by MBJB, the Johor Baru City Council.


Facade of Think City Johor Baru at Jalan Dhoby
in the heart of Johor Baru's Heritage Quarter

This grants programme is in line with IRDA’s efforts to build a strong community that contributes to reactivating the heritage core of Downtown Johor Baru and to complement the refreshed Sungai Segget and its renewed promenade, to make Johor Baru an amazing place to live, work and play.


It also aims to support community-based initiatives that provide exciting, surprising and meaningful opportunities to rejuvenate Downtown Johor Baru.


In June 2022, I was among the guests invited by Think City Johor Baru to an introduction of this grants programme, hosted at the premises of Infinity8 Reserve in Menara JLand, the first Grade A office building in the city, situated next to KOMTAR Johor Baru City Centre.


The flyer for the Downtown Johor Baru Grants
Programme received at its introduction

It was interesting that this event was held in Menara JLand, a building located at the top end of Jalan Wong Ah Fook, where our position on Level 18 commanded a panoramic view of the city’s main street, the refreshed Sungai Segget and its parallel pedestrian promenade.


At this community engagement session, Think City outlined the objectives of the grant programme, invited applications and gave the assurance that the application results should be revealed by the end of September 2022.


Think City held five more engagement sessions, both physical and virtual, to invite applications and by the deadline for submissions on July 25, they had received some 79 applications.


With Mohd Shahril and the BrandCulture
team at Think City Johor Baru

On July 27, I received an email from Think City that acknowledged safe receipt of my project application.


Later, I learnt from Think City that my application was reviewed by their Technical Advisory Panel (TAP), an external party they engaged to evaluate and provide comments and any recommendations that may add value to the project.


It was encouraging to know that the TAP acknowledged that my project, dubbed My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru, should bring to live the histories associated with family, town and state through literary means and would create space for local participation.


Daniel Lim of Think City, welcoming
grantees to the Grants Workshop

On September 29, I was delighted to receive an email from Think City that said my project under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme, was approved by their Grants Approval Panel.


This email also included an invitation to a Grants Workshop where the grantees will receive further clarification and guidance on the grants process in terms of their project timeline and specific deliverables.


Prior to that date, I was invited to meet with Mohd Shahril of Think City to provide further details on my project and I was happy to meet him with my friends from BrandCulture PR Marketing, the team who is supporting My Johor Stories in my Downtown Johor Baru awareness campaign.


A presentation by Mohd Shahril at
the Grants Workshop

Then on October 16, I joined fellow grantees at the Grants Workshop hosted at the R&F Sales Gallery, located adjacent to the Raja Zarith Sofiah Opera House.


It so happened that this particular date was (suddenly!) declared a Public Holiday and while the majority of grantees turned up for the Workshop, some were not present.


It was nevertheless, a good gathering of creative souls and as Think City introduced the list of successful grantees in the Downtown Johor Baru project, I recognised some familiar faces and was pleased to meet new ones.


I had one minute to introduce and share briefly
on My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru

After two years of uncertainties, it was so good to gather again and meet with friends from Think City and IRDA, and to share the exciting anticipation of the variety of events and activities planned in the Downtown Johor Baru project.


When I was told that IRDA Chief Executive, Dato’ Dr Badrul Hisham Kassim would be there, I looked forward to renewing my acquaintance with him.


[We last met in 2015 while he was Johor Tourism Director and we shared an exciting experience together, exploring the city’s Heritage Quarter.]


One for the album: Dr Badrul and friends in IRDA and Think City with the grantees

In the workshop event, Think City invited each of the grantees to provide a brief introduction of themselves and a description of their project in just one minute.


IRDA Chief Executive, Dr Badrul 
sharing his closing remarks at the event

When it came to my turn to speak, I had the privilege to share about my history with Think City Johor Baru as their first book project in Johor Baru and that in the first week my book was launched in 2017, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, went to the Number One spot in the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers’ List.


I was encouraged to proceed with a book sequel and again with the support of Think City Johor Baru and MPH Publishing, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, was published in 2018.


The Johor stories in Book Two featured inspirational people in various Johor towns as well as Heritage Traders who are still doing the businesses started by their forefathers.


It was good to chit-chat with Dr Badrul again

After the closing remarks by Dato’ Dr Badrul, there was a photo session to capture a memento of this exciting start to the Downtown Johor Baru project, one that aims to revitalize the heart of Johor Baru and draw interest to the refreshed Sungai Segget.


Incidentally Sungai Segget, the main waterway through Johor Baru, is documented in Once Upon a Time in Johor, one of the stories in My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, the third and final instalment to complete the trilogy of My Johor Stories books.


By the way, I not only have history with Think City Johor Baru but also with IRDA who supported me by presenting the hardcover versions of My Johor Stories, Book One and Book Two, to their Board of Directors at Board Meetings and to use as corporate premium gifts.


Back at Think City Johor Baru to sign my
LOA, in the presence of Mohd Shahril and Nabila

When I had a chat with Dr Badrul and friends in IRDA, I had the pleasure to share with them that Book Three of My Johor Stories, My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, published in partnership with MPH Publishing, would be released nationwide by mid-December 2022.


With the grants workshop behind us, Think City Johor Baru prepared the Letters of Award (LOA) to the grantees and arranged for the signed copies to be officially stamped.


The proverbial clock has started ticking (again!) as this grantee gears up to execute all that was agreed upon to meet the first Milestone for My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru, an awareness campaign which kicks off in January 2023.


Watch this space for more updates, shared closer to the dates, for your opportunity to participate in the My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru awareness campaign.


Note: The My Johor Stories series of books are available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from mphonline.

A wedding rich in Sri Lankan traditions

My smile widened as I read the pretty poster invitation from Thanam Visvanathan Suresh with a WhatsApp message that said, “Hi Peggy, Do please accept this invitation to my daughter’s wedding, Aug 15.”


The signage with directions to the event venue

A wedding invitation!


I do so enjoy wedding celebrations and did not hesitate to accept.


It was significant that after two years of uncertainties, this was a wonderful opportunity to meet again as guests at the traditional wedding celebration of Suhanya and Ryan Trowbridge.


When international travel reopened early this year, Thanam and her husband, Suresh Gunaratnam, travelled to the United Kingdom to witness the wedding of their only daughter, Suhanya, to Ryan in a charming English-style wedding ceremony.


Only married women should carry the trays

Then in August, the young couple were in Johor Baru to celebrate their union, witnessed by family and friends, in a wedding ceremony rich in Sri Lankan tradition.


On my arrival at the event venue, I found my way to the event hall by following the posters with directions and was amused by a hashtag coined from the bride and groom’s name with a clever play on words in the Malay language #SuHanyaSayangRyan.


Groups of guests were gathered in the foyer and my eyes were riveted to the glitz and glamour of traditional Indian costumes and accessories worn by both men and ladies.


The proud parents,
Thanam and Suresh

It was a wedding celebration after all, and a very good reason to dress to the hilt.


While I was familiar with seeing Thanam dressed in the elegant saree at formal events, this was the very first time I saw her dressed in a stylish saree of fuchsia-red shot with gold threads, complete with handbag in matching bright colour and her ears, wrists and neck, dripped with glittering gold jewellery.


I must confess that I almost did not recognize her because her hair was swept up into a grand coiffure, adorned with gold-bling accessories, as was fitting for her role as Mother-of-the-Bride and newly-minted Mother-in-Law.


As soon as she acknowledged my high compliments for her dazzling ensemble, it was back to business for her as I watched her oversee the final arrangements for the start of the traditional (should I add, elaborate?) wedding ceremony.


A brief ceremony at the entrance with music 
by live traditional musicians

I could not help overhearing as a number of ladies assembled to carry trays filled with various traditional wedding items like flower garlands, flower posies, whole coconuts and fresh fruits, among other paraphernalia for the ceremony.


“Only married women!” I heard someone say clearly and understood that traditionally, only married women were to hold the trays for the walk-in parade to the wedding ceremony.


The ceremony was about to start so guests were being ushered into the ballroom, to go to the tables assigned to them.


The bridegroom and his brother-in-
law had hands linked by their pinkies

I was given a small card with the floorplan that indicated the carpeted pathway that ended at the Main Stage with my assigned table, DOME 5, highlighted in colour.


As I figured out its perspective, I was pleased that this table was close to the stage and right next to the carpeted pathway for me to enjoy a good view of the happenings during the ceremony.


Based on the event programme and my previous experience in Hindu traditional weddings, I was well prepared for a long and elaborate ceremony.


While guests were ushered into the ballroom, I hung back for a bit to observe a brief ceremony conducted at the entrance, accompanied by live traditional musicians beating drums and blowing trumpets.


It was interesting to watch as the bridegroom arrived with his hand linked by their pinkies to that of his brother-in-law, Sanjeeva.


The bridegroom and his brother-in-law
seated on the wedding dais with
the groom's family [Right] looking on

Led by the ladies bearing the various trays, the groom and his brother-in-law, walked into the ballroom – with their hands linked – followed by an entourage that included the groom’s parents and brother, to the tune of traditional musicians.


This entourage took their places on the grand wedding dais set up on the stage for the start of the Muhurtham or traditional wedding ceremony (from 7pm to 9pm).


When I reached my assigned table, I was delighted to meet the familiar faces who would later share dinner with me.


Edey Suresh [Centre] and distinguished guests
shared the table with me

I guessed Thanam had put much thought into the seating plan because the gentlemen at the table included the Iskandar Malaysia Social Heroes Awards (IMSHA) co-founder, Edey Suresh, along with distinguished gentlemen who are associated with IMSHA as Council Members, award winners and keen supporters.


A glance around the ballroom showed me that the guests gathered at this wedding celebration was a veritable Who’s Who in Johor Baru that included NGO representatives and IMSHA award winners and associates.


Allan and Miin with young Lewis at the event

I fondly recalled that in May 2015, I had the pleasure to witness the wedding celebration for Allan and Miin and this August, I was delighted to meet this lovely pair again, this time with an energetic youngster in tow.


As the traditional ceremony progressed, guests were still trickling into the ballroom and then when Thanam and Suresh made a discreet exit, I anticipated the next exciting part of the ceremony… and then the moment we were all waiting for.


The bridal procession into the ballroom was led by lovely pairs of bridesmaids followed by the blushing bride, resplendent in her wedding saree and veil, along with an entourage and her proud parents.


The bride and groom on the wedding dais

The traditional wedding ceremony continued when the bride’s brother stepped away from the dais for the bride to take her place next to the groom.


As I watched from afar, I was sure that each step of the ceremony had its traditional significance but did not understand as much until my friend, Ajith Baskaran, arrived and joined us at the table.


Well-versed in Hindu traditions, Ajith was in his element when he pointed out what was going on as the priest directed the newly-weds through each step of the traditional ceremony.


An interesting part of the ceremony,
not for our eyes...

There was a ripple of excitement when a group of ladies started to distribute small pouches among the guests and when I saw its contents, I understood why.


The pouch was filled with traditional crisps – murukku and omapodi – and a cube of coconut candy, a welcome snack and appetizer before dinner. Then at about 8.30pm, our vegetarian dinner was served.


I must confess that my favourite part of the meal was its dessert of payasam, a traditional must-have pudding for special occasions and a fitting end to a grand celebration such as this.


Thank you, Thanam and Suresh, for letting me be a part of this special celebration and best wishes to the newly-weds, Suhanya and Ryan, as you start a new chapter in your lives together. #SuHanyaSayangRyan


Note: The delay in sharing this memorable wedding experience was due to attending to work-in-progress for Book Three of My Johor Stories and the review of my manuscript to ready it for publishing in partnership with MPH Publishing Kuala Lumpur.


Look out for the soon-to-be-released, My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, the final instalment to complete the trilogy of My Johor Stories.