One more Heritage Walk in 2023


There was no better way to close 2023 than to have another Heritage Walk, this time with foreign students who were in Johor under Antarabudaya Malaysia, a student exchange programme formerly known as the American Field Service (AFS).


One for the album: Our group at the foothills
of Bukit Timbalan with the iconic Sultan
Ibrahim Building as a majestic backdrop

A volunteer for AFS, Tan Bee Lian, told me that she read online about my Heritage Walks arranged under the My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru project earlier this year and asked to hold one more specially for these students and members of their host families here.


When Bee Lian reached out to me with the proposal to do this Heritage Walk, she said that a guided Walk with me around our city’s heritage quarter was an ideal activity for the students while they were here over the Christmas holidays.


She explained that the group will comprise students from the United States of America and Venezuela, aged between 16 and 17, along with members from their host families at ages that ranged between 10 to 60.


With the group at the start of our Heritage Walk

To plan my Walk, I needed to know more about the participants and in a matter of days, Bee Lian coordinated the participant details and rushed the relevant info to me.


In response to my query, she confirmed that the group was truly an intercultural one, made up of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.


From experience, I knew that the group should be kept small so I told Bee Lian to limit the number to only 12 participants.


By keeping the group small, participants will benefit from the Walk experience when everyone can be within earshot to hear my commentary.


Participants checking out the Contents in
Book Three of My Johor Stories

With a date set for the Heritage Walk from 10am to 1pm, Bee Lian wasted no time in compiling the name list, complete with ages and home countries of the participants.


On the night before our Walk, I reminded Bee Lian about our outing planned for the next morning and her reply was very encouraging. She said:


“Everyone is very excited! Foreigners want to know more while locals are curious to find out how much they really know. But I am pretty sure nobody knows much about Johor history and heritage.”


Early the next morning, we woke up to a heavy downpour. While Bee Lian was concerned about the inconvenience due to the wet weather, I assured her – because I was earnestly praying – that heaven will cooperate to keep the rain away until our Walk was over.


A "we-fie" of the group while
walking on the promenade at
Jalan Wong Ah Fook

When I arrived at the meeting point to await the arrival of the participants, the rain had abated to a light drizzle.


I was prepared for delays due to the rain during this monsoon season but it was moments later when a young man approached and introduced himself as Solomon Khit, an AFS volunteer who was joining our Walk.


While waiting for the others, we chatted and was pleased to learn that Solomon was a student with the Newcastle University campus here. The mention of this university reminded me of Dr Ed Ong, a lecturer who was among the speakers with me in our 2019 TEDx Talk and it was fun to discover that Dr Ed was a mutual friend.


We happily folded up our umbrellas as the drizzle had already ceased.


Our chat was interrupted by the next arrival, a lady who asked me to guess who she was… And I guessed right. She was Bee Lian.


At one end of the Tan Hiok Nee
Heritage Walk, next to OCBC Bank

In the next 10 minutes, the participants arrived one after the other, so our start time was only slightly delayed.


Our Walk started along the promenade by the Segget River at Jalan Wong Ah Fook before turning into Jalan Segget and the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk towards the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum.


It was my pleasure to lead the group to the foothills of Bukit Timbalan for a good view of the façade of our iconic Sultan Ibrahim Building and shared with them, the uniqueness of the Johor Military Force and the beauty of Johor’s Street of Harmony.


Throughout the Walk, I was pleased to note that the participants listened attentively to my commentary and cooperated by keeping close together as we moved safely from place to place.


Participants listening to my commentary at
the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum

While I kept an eye on the time, the participants assured me that they did not mind if the Walk exceeded the given time because they were simply enjoying themselves.


In My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, I documented stories on heritage traders who are still doing the businesses that were started by their forefathers and was happy to let the group have an experience of them.


After visiting the Johor Old Temple and the Indian Heritage Centre, we walked down Jalan Trus to visit a heritage trader, Sin Keng Wah traditional mattress-makers.

An Abbey Road (Beatles!)-inspired shot captured at Jalan Ungku Puan, Johor Bahru

It was uncanny that at the end of our Walk, just minutes after we parted ways, it started to rain again.


A fun-photo memento at the
Indian Heritage Centre

As I watched the monsoon rain turn into a storm, I was deeply grateful that the heavens held back the rain until our Walk was over.


When I sent a Thank You message to Bee Lian, I also asked her to follow-up with the students to give some feedback about their Walk experience.


Over the next few days, I received the students’ comments and am pleased to share their views about my Heritage Walk:


“The Heritage Walk was definitely enlightening. Bits and pieces of the history of Johor Bahru are well connected to match up with the glory today.”


“I was enthusiastic to learn that the late Johor sultans actually developed Johor by inviting the immigrants from China and India here, and the roads were named after the leaders among the clans in memory of their contributions.”


Participants watching a demo in making
a traditional cotton-stuffed cushion at
Sin Keng Wah Kedai Tilam, Jalan Trus

“I really enjoyed the Heritage Walk and would like to participate in other activities organised in the future.”


“I enjoyed it a lot. Each place was new and interesting. My favourite part was when Peggy was talking about how Singapore and Malaysia were once one country and how other cultures came here.


“I think you should do this (heritage walk) for the next students because its really helpful to understand the history of Johor and Malaysia.”


As I read each feedback comment, I could not help but felt much encouraged.


Another Heritage Walk was indeed a good way to close an eventful year while looking forward to more exciting projects for My Johor Stories in the new year.


Happy New Year 2024, everyone!


Photo Credits: Courtesy of Florence Liew and Tan Bee Lian

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