My Johor Stories in the Sultan Ismail Library

Once upon a time, my dad, my eldest sister and I were registered members who used to borrow books regularly from Perpustakaan Sultan Ismail or the Sultan Ismail Library at Jalan Datin Halimah.

Hardcover version of the trilogy of
My Johor Stories tied up in ribbons

As this library was a convenient drive away from our home in Larkin Gardens, we enjoyed reading books borrowed from the Sultan Ismail Library, that was established in 1964 by the Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru (MBJB) or Johor Baru City Council.


Around 2007, when the Johor Baru Public Library opened at Jalan Yahya Awal, it made sense to move our membership to the new library so that we could enjoy reading a collection of newer books.


With a healthy reading habit, frequent travels (that included shopping for preloved books!) and regular trips to bargain book sales, our collection of books at home gradually expanded to the point where we finally decided to cease renewing our library membership.


My Visitor Pass to the
MBJB Building, Bukit Senyum

Over the years, I went from reading books to writing and publishing my own books.


In December 2022, I shared a letter to my dad to update him on my journey that kicked off in 2017, that led me to publication of a trilogy of My Johor Stories.


I wanted dad, who left us in 2016, to know that my first two My Johor Stories books stocked at the Resource Centre of Yayasan Warisan Johor or Johor Heritage Foundation, were often used as reference material and about the exciting discovery that these very books were also among the titles kept by the Singapore Library Board.


After we lost two years to battling the global pandemic, I was pleased to publish My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, the third and final instalment to complete the trilogy of My Johor Stories, in partnership with MPH Publishing Kuala Lumpur.


I was deeply honoured that the Foreword for Book Three was penned by Dato’ Dr Abdul Rahim Ramli, President of the Johor Royal Court Council, himself a published author of several books on Johor history and heritage.


With Tengku Tarmizi [Right]
and Charmayne N. [Left]

In a simple event held in December 2022, Dato’ Rahim, as he is fondly called, officially launched Book Three, witnessed by my family members and distinguished guests that included most of the Subjects who were featured in this book.


Among the important guests at my book launch was Datin Patricia Lim Pui Huen, a historian by profession and author of several books on Johor history, including books on her great-grandfather, Wong Ah Fook.


Not long after Book Three was launched, I received an email from Datin Patricia who graciously said:


“Congratulations once again on the publication of your very enjoyable and informative books on Johor.


I am sure My Johor Stories would be greatly appreciated by the reading public and I hope you will not mind that I suggest that you donate a set of the books to Johor Baru’s public library for their Malaysia Collection.”


Facade of the Mayor's Office in MBJB Building

Datin went on to list the name of the library, Perpustakaan Sultan Ismail and the Librarian, Tengku Tarmizi Tengku Aziz, along with the library’s full address, telephone number and email address, essential info for me to donate my books.


I noted that her email to me was copied to Tengku Tarmizi so I replied with thanks and the assurance that I will make the arrangements very soon.


Soon after my book launch in December 2022, I went into preparing for the activities planned for My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru, an initiative under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Heritage and Culture, a collaboration between Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) and Think City, supported by Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru (MBJB).


With Tengku Tarmizi in a studio shot captured
at the Johore Heng Photo Studio

On one Saturday per month from January to April 2023, My Johor Stories (Yours Truly!) will host a morning Heritage Walk to Downtown JB destinations followed by an afternoon Book Reading session to share relevant portions documented in My Johor Stories books that featured the visited destinations.


With four different routes planned for the four dates in the first four months of the year, I was ready to receive registrations to join the first of the four Heritage Walks on January 14 in the theme, Segget Waterway.


Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to see Tengku Tarmizi and his wife’s names among the list of participants. Closer to that date, he asked if their two young children could also join.


 Mayor, Dato Noorazman, and I
having a chat in his office

As our route was mainly on the comfortable Segget Walk and the children will be escorted (Read: supervised!) by their parents, I welcomed the youngsters to join our first Heritage Walk.


While we were already e-introduced by Datin Patricia via email, it was good to meet with Tengku Tarmizi in such a casual setting with an opportunity to chat and discuss my donation of My Johor Stories books to the library.


With Chinese New Year safely behind us, the registrations for February activities more than doubled. I was delighted to note that Tengku Tarmizi was among the participants, this time to meet our Heritage Traders.


The Walk on February 18 took us to our final destination, the Johore Heng Photo Studio, a vintage photo studio where the participants had fun posing for their own studio shots, either by families, groups or individually – many of them at a traditional photo studio for the very first time!


The Mayor and I had a comfortable chat

Towards the end of the queue for a turn to pose for the studio photographer, I was pleasantly surprised when Tengku Tarmizi asked me to join him in a photo shoot and I quickly obliged to pose for a shot with him, next to the ancient box cameras.


By this time, Tengku Tarmizi and I had connected by email and arranged for a date in early March for me to present the trilogy of My Johor Stories – hardcover version – to the Sultan Ismail Library.


I explained that I wished to have a simple photo session at the library just to document this presentation of my books, and he happily agreed.


Dato Noorazman, showing me
an old photograph of a group shot

Soon after these activities in February, I plunged into preparing for the next outing planned for March 18 where I will share with participants, a little about the Teochew Heritage in Johor Baru.


Little did I know that Tengku Tarmizi so enjoyed his experience with My Johor Stories in Downtown JB that he shared it with his boss, the Datuk Bandar or Mayor, Dato’ Haji Mohd Nooazam Dato Haji Osman.


In fact, he went to Johore Heng Photo Studio again and brought the Datuk Bandar along for a first-hand experience of this charming vintage photo studio, located in the heart of the city’s heritage quarter.


Tengku Tarmizi also mentioned that I had arranged to donate a set of My Johor Stories books to the Sultan Ismail Library for posterity and they then agreed that it was best for me to present my books to the Datuk Bandar, who will receive on behalf of Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru.


While I was pleasantly surprised when Tengku Tarmizi told me about the change of venue for my book presentation from the libraty to the office of the Datuk Bandar at Bukit Senyum, I was also delighted that the Mayor was keen to meet me.


[It is not every day that you received an invitation to meet with the city’s Mayor!]


It was my pleasure to present
My Johor Stories to Datuk Bandar
who received on behalf of MBJB

Since the re-opening of the economy, I had witnessed two events where the Mayor was the Guest-of-Honour and then he ushered away to mingle with the VIPs. So it was my privilege to meet with him over my book presentation to the library.


With Charmayne N. of BrandCulture PR Marketing Communications, as my official photographer, we met with Tengku Tarmizi in the MBJB Building at Bukit Senyum before being escorted to the Mayor’s Office to meet with Dato Noorazam.


Incidentally, in my recent walkabouts downtown to prepare for my Heritage Walks, I witnessed MBJB tow trucks in action, doing their jobs in removing illegally parked vehicles in the congested city streets.


I had much pleasure in thanking the tow truck teams and shared a blog post to acknowledge their good work, with a word of thanks to the Johor Baru City Mayor and the Johor State Government authorities.


I even added an encouraging cheer in, “Keep up your good work in enforcing the rules for a better tomorrow!”


When I posted that piece, I never imagined that I would be invited to meet with the Mayor – though on a separate matter – so when we met, I also took the opportunity to thank him for their good work and encouraged MBJB to keep “educating” recalcitrant drivers.


The trilogy of
My Johor Stories in the
Malaysiana Collection at
the Sultan Ismail Library

In the company of Tengku Tarmizi and Charmayne, the Mayor and I had a pleasant chit-chat with an exchange of ideas that aimed to preserve the rich culture and heritage of our city for the benefit of future generations.


When our chat drew to a close, we proceeded to the official business of presenting the trilogy of My Johor Stories to the Sultan Ismail Library, duly received by the Mayor on behalf of MBJB.


The Mayor then handed this set of books over to Tengku Tarmizi who was pleased to add My Johor Stories to the shelves of their Malaysiana Collection at the Sultan Ismail Library.


The Sultan Ismail Library, Perpustakaan Sultan Ismail, is located at Jalan Datin Halimah, 80350 Johor Baru, Johor. Tel: +607 – 239 1791.


P.S. When the next activities in the theme, Teochew Heritage, for My Johor Stories in Downtown JB happened on March 18, I was pleased that Tengku Tarmizi was among the participants who joined the Heritage Walk and Book Reading session that day.

Note: Photos are courtesy of Tengku Tarmizi and Charmayne N.

Drumming up excitement at Drum Up JB


The success of the inaugural Drum Up Johor Baru shows on January 7 & 8, led to two more shows that were presented on the evening of Saturday, February 25 and the morning of Sunday, February 26 at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House.


A dramatic drumming scene by JB Drums
in the Drum Up JB show

Drum Up JB, a collaboration between JB Drums and R&F Princess Cove showcases the art of the 24 Festive Drums in a 90-minute programme that features creative performances by the artistes in JB Drums and Orang Orang Drum Theatre.


From their experience in the January shows, the organisers tweaked the items in the programme to stage an even more engaging performance in the February shows that not only left the audience enthralled and exhilarated, but better informed that this dramatic art of drumming – while it made use of Chinese drums – was a performing art that was proudly born in Johor.


It was my privilege to work with
 co-founder, Tan Chai Puan

The audience learnt that the art of the 24 Festive Drums was founded in Johor Baru by two young men, the late Tan Hooi Song and Tan Chai Puan, in 1988.


While a great deal of news may be shared about this art of drumming, very little was known about the man, Tan Chai Puan.


Having worked with Tan to publish many stories on this dramatic art of drumming showcased in a number of exciting events including their bi-annual International Drum Festivals, I decided to document an exclusive story on Tan Chai Puan, featured under Portraits in my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


Then in December 2022, Book Three was launched. My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, is the final instalment to complete the trilogy of My Johor Stories.


I am honoured to be counted among the
partners acknowledged at the Drum Up JB show

In Book Three, I documented stories on several brands that were proudly established in Johor and successfully exported nationwide and even abroad.


Among the proudly Johor brands featured was the Art of the 24 Festive Drums, a performing art that was born in Johor and developed nationwide with drum troops now established in nations worldwide.


As the joy of practicing the art of 24 Festive Drums expanded to nations that may not read Chinese, Tan appreciated my contribution to share the pride about this Johor-born art of drumming that has impressed audiences the world over, documented in the English language for everyone to learn about its origins in Johor.


My Johor Stories with
Mrs Jennifer Ho

Since January, I have partnered with the Drum Up JB shows with a sale of My Johor Stories books, in particular My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, which documents my story on the founding of the art of the 24 Festive Drums.


Among the audience at the February Drum Show who came by to get My Johor Stories books was Mrs Jennifer Ho, who has lived here for 51 years, and still remains at the helm of the Hilltop Private School, a premier child education centre that was established in 1940.


When I met Jennifer again at the Drum Show, I had a flashback to the last time we met in 2015 when she and other pre-school teachers turned up at the funeral wake for our grandmother who passed on at the ripe old age of 103.


[Jennifer read the obituary I posted in the newspapers and recognised the family where two of my cousins were alumni of Hilltop Private School, so she and her colleagues went to the wake to show their support for the bereaved family.


However, the passing of our grandmother, whom I also featured under Portraits in My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage as The Real Champion, was according to Chinese tradition, a celebration of her life and our family were told to dress in auspicious Red colour.]


With the young ladies from
Crescendo HELP International School

After the Drum Show, I received encouraging messages from Jennifer who said:


“Have just started to read your first book… such wonderful memories you shared. Thank you for keeping our history alive,” said Jennifer.


“Loved your first book. Made me realise just how long I have lived here as so many people you mentioned in your book, I know or have met. Loved your stories. Johor is lucky to have you,” she added.


Jennifer succinctly voiced my sentiments because it was indeed precious to document these stories for the people and their families featured in My Johor Stories.


It was deeply reassuring to know that long after I am gone, these stories will remain as a lasting legacy for future generations of the families and organisations established in Johor like the 24 Festive Drums, who have a credible record documented in My Johor Stories.


With Puteri Astrini 
and her daughter
Two young ladies who were keen to get their copies of Book Three, told me that they were alumni of Crescendo HELP International School and remembered me as the guest speaker at their Book Week event in 2018.


So thrilled were they to complete their collection of the trilogy of My Johor Stories that I could not help but shared with them about my uncanny experience with their former principal, Mr Philip Brisley, who was now retired and lived in the UK.


During the Drum Show in January, two school staff brought him to the Opera House as a tourist and they were pleasantly surprised to meet me with My Johor Stories books.


Like these young ladies, Mr Brisley already have Book One and Book Two, and he was pleased to meet me again and for the opportunity to complete his collection of the trilogy of My Johor Stories with the recently launched Book Three.


I was much encouraged by the young ladies who were among the young people who still enjoyed reading books and gladly autographed their books for them.


Young Lewis with Book Three
while I autograph Book One for him

It was so good that schools and parents continue to instill in young people, the joy of reading for a unique avenue to explore new places and gain new experiences by reading good books.


Among the familiar parents I met at my book sale with the Drum Shows, were mother-and-daughter, YM Gusti Raden Ayu Retno Puteri Astrini Mangkoenegoro VIII, fondly known as Puteri Astrini, with her daughter, as well as father-and-son, Allan Fernandez with young Lewis.


Recently, I had the pleasure to meet Puteri Astrini again at an event to present My Johor Stories to the Iskandar Puteri chapter of the Soroptomists International Club and Puteri was delighted with the opportunity to get My Johor Stories books at the Drum Show.


As for Allan, he was pleased to share with me that he and his wife had cultivated the reading habit with their son early in life, encouraged him to read by example and had a collection of his favourite books for him to read at leisure.


Allan was ready to get the entire trilogy of My Johor Stories to add to this collection but I was sorry to disappoint him because Book Two was already sold out.


My Johor Stories with Allan
Fernandez and Lewis

When I shared our photos with Allan a few days later, it warmed my heart to read his reply which said: “Lewis is an avid reader, quite advanced for his age. He already added your books to his ‘library’ at home.”


Meanwhile, too many people were asking for Book Two of My Johor Stories and I deeply regretted the shortage… which made me even more determined to restock before the next Drum Shows in March.


The Drum Shows certainly lived up to its promise of a spectacular show, in particular the Drunken Drummers by JB Drums and Memories, a collaboration between JB Drums and Orang Orang Drum Theatre.


As the organisers analysed the timing for the shows staged in January and February, they reached a decision to better accommodate the audience and decided to stage two shows on Saturday, March 18, instead of one show each on Saturday and Sunday.


Catch the next Drum Up JB shows scheduled on the same day, at 2pm and 8pm staged on Saturday, March 18* at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House.


Tickets priced at RM85, RM105 and RM150 only are available now from


Drum Up JB is an initiative under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Culture and Heritage, a collaboration between Iskandar Regional Development Authority and Think City, supported by Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru, R&F Princess Cove and Malaysia Digital Districts.


*It so happened that Saturday, March 18, was the same date for activities arranged for My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru with a Heritage Walk from 10am and Book Reading session at 2pm, a time which coincides with the 2pm Drum Show that day.


As such, the book sale for My Johor Stories will only open for the 8pm Drum Show, with Book Two available again to complete a trilogy of My Johor Stories.

Meet the new generation LEGO Friends


It’s the school holidays again and so good to see families at LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort, keen to meet the new generation of LEGO® Friends characters and join in the fun activities arranged from 22 February to 9 April, 2023.


Come join the celebration and meet
the new generation LEGO Friends

It was significant that I was at the park again with two of my dearest friends, Wei Leng and Florence, who have stood by me through some of the most momentous times of my life.


To celebrate our friendship, we had the privilege to share a park experience with a most memorable overnight stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel in 2019. This was followed by many more visits to the park for various events and here we were again.


A few words of welcome from Mr C S Lim,
Legoland Malaysia Resort, Divisional Director

On our arrival, the park was already a hive of activity as guests were getting to know the eight new generation LEGO Friends characters and their interests at various activity booths arranged at The Beginning.


With Autumn, guests may join in the Build-An-Animal activity and learn to play a part in saving the planet with Autumn’s Save the Planet activity.


Music-lovers may test their rhythm skills by playing tunes with Paisley in the Play-A-Tune activity.


A family all wearing stripes, pose for a shot
at the LEGO Friends photo booth
Guests may have fun in testing their building skills at the Speed Building Challenge with Nova who is seeking the fastest builder in the Resort.


Budding artists may express their individuality through art in a showcase at Fun with Art with Liann.


At Olly’s Photo Studio, guests may dress up and strike their best fashionista pose for a photo shoot.


For a taste of delicious LEGO® pizza, guests may join Chef Leo at his Pizza Making Class!


Wei Leng and Florence taking a 
spin to record a 360 degree video

Everyone enjoys a good photo opportunity so don’t miss snapping a photo, posing with Aliya’s giant book.


Meanwhile guests were invited to enjoy brand-new, in-park shows that feature the new generation LEGO Friends.


They include Zac’s BMX Stunt Show, Zac’s Groovy Party, Paisley’s Retro Flashback, Leo’s Football Freestyle and Aliya’s School of Dance among other fun activities.


“Children today face a host of modern challenges, passions, obstacles, and differences while trying to understand the world around them and create new lasting friendships.


With the introduction of LEGO Friends at LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort, we hope to give parents and kids more tools to navigate friendships and their emotions as they grow and learn about the world around them,” said CS Lim, Divisional Director at LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort.


Guests chilling out and watching the new
LEGO Friends show, Aliya's Movie Projection
“We know that friendships aren’t always easy, especially with the coming school year, and want to help children be better friends to themselves and others.


At the LEGO Friends Party, we have curated activities that will encourage emotional and social development through play to help them better understand their individuality and diversity,” CS added.


It was exciting to learn that LEGO fans can also look forward to experiencing the brand-new LEGO Friends-themed room at LEGOLAND Hotel, scheduled to be launched in April 2023.


Kids learning to pick up rubbish at
Autumn's Save the Planet activity booth

This refurbished LEGO Friends-themed room will join the current exciting line-up of rooms designed in the PIRATE, KINGDOM, ADVENTURE and LEGO NINJAGO® themed rooms.


At the close of the event, guests sat down and relaxed on beanbags to watch the new LEGO Friends show, Aliya’s Movie Projection.


Note: From now to April 9, customers can enjoy 20% off LEGO Friends Sets at LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort’s retail stores.


For more information on LEGO Friends Party, visit the official website at or LEGOLAND social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.

A taste of Citarasa Serantau at Makan Kitchen

When I arrived at DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru for the preview of their Ramadan spread, I was warmly welcomed into the Makan Kitchen by hotel General Manager, Andreas Justkowiak, and the Communications team.


Welcome to Makan Kitchen, located on the
lobby level of DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru

I am familiar with the layout of the Makan Kitchen which has sections to serve Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine along with counters for salads and appetizers, soups, hot beverages, European dishes and of course, the all-important desserts.


This Ramadan, among the best of traditional Malay specialties and Middle Eastern favourites will be served in the theme, Citarasa Serantau, where flavours of this region will be featured along with those in neighbouring nations like Indonesia and Thailand.


“Ramadan is a time for reflection, renewal, and coming together with loved ones,” said GM Andreas, who was better known as Andi.


The Tower of Dried Fruits

“We are proud to offer a dining experience that captures the essence of this special time. Come celebrate with us as we feast and create lifelong memories,” he added.


It was my privilege to be introduced to the highlights in the spread by none other than Executive Chef, Chef Hassan Mohammed, who showed off a menu of Ramadan delicacies in the hot buffet as well as from live-cooking stations in Makan Kitchen.


With a daily rotation of dishes, diners can be assured of tasting something special each time they broke their fast here.


At the entrance, one cannot miss the Tower of Dried Fruits where diners were welcome to break their fast with dried fruits like a variety of dates and apricots, creatively pinned to the tower on small skewers.


Chef carving the whole roasted
Harissa marinated lamb

The buffet starts with a selection of appetizers and local salads or ulam-ulam to savour with a range of sambal sauces, pickles and crackers.


Taking centerstage was a whole roasted Harissa marinated lamb with complimenting sauces to enjoy with Kabsah Rice and matching salads.


Middle Eastern flavours continue in the kebab section for Shawarma filled with mixed lamb and chicken kebabs to savour with Pita bread and Tortilla wraps.


Shawarma filled with mixed lamb
and chicken kebabs in Pita bread

To warm the stomach after a day of fasting, the Soup station will serve Sup Daging  Berempah, a Malay traditional beef broth brewed with spices, to enjoy with bread rolls known locally as Roti Bengali.


A Ramadan staple of Bubur Lambuk, traditional lightly spiced rice porridge, will be served in popular recipes like, Daging Tetel (beef), Ayam (chicken) and Pantai Timur (East Coast), with one choice per day on a rotation basis.


At the grill, there were juicy sticks of Beef and Chicken satay to drizzle with peanut sauce and savour with condiments like slices of raw cucumber, onion and ketupat, rice cakes.


The Noodles station will feature Laksa, where noodles in gravy were served in local favourites like Laksa Johor, Laksa Sarawak and Penang Assam Laksa, complete with its condiments.


A traditional serving of Beef Rendang

The Asian staple of rice will be presented in a choice of rice sets served with traditional dishes like Nasi Minyak to savour with Daging Masak Hitam Kentang (beef) and Acar Rampai (mixed pickles) and Nasi Hujan Panas paired with Ayam Masak Merah (chicken) and Pajeri Nenas (pineapple pickles).


Two choices of rice sets will be served on rotation to offer diners a different taste experience when they dined at Makan Kitchen.


In the Raya Comes Early section, there were festive steamed rice and glutinous rice cakes like Nasi Impit, Lemang, Ketupat Palas, Ketupat Nasi and Burasak, to savour with Chicken and Beef Rendang, Beef Serunding (meat floss) and traditional peanut sauce.


My individual serving of Hyderabad-style claypot
Lamb Shank, slow-cooked 48 hours in Biryani

Preview guests were then invited to sit down while a special featured item will be served warm to the table.


This was individual portions of Hyderabad-style claypot Lamb Shank marinated in Mughal (Ottoman) Shahi Masala and slow-cooked for 48-hours in Biryani (rice).


The rice was fragrant with the natural juices of the marinated meat, an organic Australian juicy and tender lamb shank, a special item of the Citarasa Serantau Ramadan buffet at Makan Kitchen, that will be served to diners individually.


Help yourself to servings of Serawa Durian

The buffet spread was completed by a range of delightful desserts with cakes, tarts, local kuih, puddings and jellies along with Middle Eastern sweets like Cheesy Kunafa, Baklava and Om Ali.


Local favourites like Durian Tempura and assorted fritters will round off this meal nicely, as will a warm serving of Serawa Durian, steamed glutinous rice topped with a drizzle of creamy durian sauce. Selamat Berbuka!


The Citarasa Serantau Ramadan buffet at Makan Kitchen will be served daily from 6.30pm to 10.00pm, from March 23 to April 21, 2023.


Delightful dessert of Cheesy Kunafa

Dining Vouchers are priced at RM198 nett per person and RM99 nett per child aged between six and 12 years old while kids aged 5 and below may eat for Free.


Take advantage of the Early Bird deal for Voucher purchases from now to March 15 where you buy four and get one Free or buy five and get one Free.


In addition, Private Dining Ramadan packages are available from March 23 to May 31 for groups of minimum 100 guests at RM178 nett per person, which also offers advance arrangements for Hari Raya open-house celebrations.


DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru is located within Menara Landmark at No. 12 Jalan Ngee Heng, 80000 Johor Baru, Johor.


For reservations and enquiries, Tel: +607 268 6868 or email: or visit webpage: