Celebrating in spectacular style


A spectacular drum show that featured top professional drum troops established in the North, Central and South of Malaysia, aptly marked the 36th anniversary celebration since the founding of the art of the 24 Festive Drums in Johor Baru.


Taking a bow at the close of the anniversary show
[Photo courtesy of Tan Chai Puan]

This celebratory drum show was presented in the evening of Saturday, June 8, at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House, the venue for the past season of Drum Up JB! shows staged here since January 2023.


The day’s activities kicked off at 3.30pm that afternoon with a celebration ceremony that included the official announcement of the next season shows dubbed, Drum Up JB! 2.0 that will showcase all-new performances by the artistes in JB Drums and Orang Orang Drum Theatre, scheduled for 4, 5 & 6 October 2024.


At the cake-cutting ceremony held in the
foyer of Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House
[Photo courtesy of Tan Chai Puan]

The drummers and drum enthusiasts then gathered in the foyer of the Opera House for a cake-cutting ceremony and tea reception to commemorate its 36th anniversary.


“It’s a full-house tonight,” the floor manager, Chingli, declared happily when we met in the lobby of the Opera House that evening. She, however, deeply regretted that she had to turn away three walk-ins (so far!) because it was already a sold-out show.


I agreed with her that it was good to be back again after a six-month break since the last Drum Up JB!


One for the album from the anniversary show
[Photo courtesy of Tan Chai Puan]

You see, when the Drum Up JB! shows kicked off in January 2023, I had the privilege to partner with them with a pop-up store in the lobby the Opera House.


During the Drum shows, the MC will make an announcement to alert fans that the story of the 24 Festive Drums was duly documented in My Johor Stories and that they could get their own copies and have their books autographed by the author.


It was my pleasure to autograph my books
for readers of My Johor Stories

I must say that this pop-up store had given me a great deal of opportunity to meet with readers who enjoy looking over my books, flipping the pages and having a chat with me before buying the trilogy of My Johor Stories and having them autographed.


I must also congratulate them because they are now proud owners of My Johor Stories books, a trilogy which is fast becoming a collectors’ item. 


That evening, as the audience trickled into the lobby, I observed that many did not pay much attention to my books. This, I am well aware, was probably because they were not conversant in English.


With Paul and his wife, 
from Batu Pahat, Johor

This temporary setback was compensated by others who approached me with queries, not only about my books but for the date for my next Heritage Walk.


They are familiar with my Heritage Walks that are based on My Johor Stories in a “live” experience with me because they have been following my stories on Facebook and were keen to join.


I thanked them for their interest and explained that for now, when the weather was so scorchingly hot, it was best to delay that date to avoid any risk of any participant feeling uncomfortable or suffering any form of heatstroke.


In fact (I told them!) I have been receiving numerous queries online. So I encouraged them to drop me a line on Facebook Messenger, for me to let them know of that coming date when they may register to join my next Heritage Walk.


With Yee Lin and her family

As more arrivals flooded the lobby, I believed that the audience for this anniversary show will comprise fans and drum enthusiasts who were keen to enjoy the performances by leading professional drum troops in the nation, all in one great show.


Yes, I had the pleasure to watch this spectacular show where the Johor Baru-based JB Drums professional drum team was joined by leading drum teams of the Kuala Lumpur-based Hands Percussion, Batu Pahat-based Shicheng Theatre and Penang-based Louds Percussion.


[I obeyed the strictly No-Photography rule in the theatre, so I do not have any photographs of the performances to share here.]


As for me, it was a pleasure to meet with supporters of the visiting drum troops who were in Johor Baru to enjoy this anniversary show. Among them was Paul from Batu Pahat, who were delighted to discover the trilogy of My Johor Stories that was published in English, and Yee Lin, who was there with her family.


Tan Chai Puan, snapping a we-fie
with a group of young people

On this auspicious occasion, I also had the pleasure to congratulate co-founder of the art of the 24 Festive Drums, Tan Chai Puan, and watched with amusement as young people chatted with this living legend.


After all, Tan was honoured with the Warisan Orang Hidup award by the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry in 2018, for his contributions to culture and heritage.


When I observed how Tan happily agreed to snap a we-fie with them, I was pleased to see that there was clearly no generation-gap but pure unity among fellow drum enthusiasts.


The Drum Up JB! shows are an entertaining and exciting, family-friendly showcase that reaches out to unite the community through the language of drumming, percussion and music.


With the new show dates lined up for Drum Up JB! in October 2024, don’t miss the opportunity to get your tickets for the shows and visit my pop-up store set up at the lobby of the Opera House for autographed copies of My Johor Stories.

Taste the Middle East at Turmeric


From now till June 25, resort guests and the local community will have the pleasure of tasting Arabian hospitality and gastronomy at the Turmeric restaurant, an award-winning fine dining destination in the Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas.


View of the swimming pools from the Turmeric
at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas

This is made possible with the presence of specialty Chef Waed Norddin Qerqmaz who is here in Johor, visiting from the Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort.


At the entrance to the Turmeric, I paused to look closer at the poster which proudly announced details about the chef and his cuisine and eagerly anticipated meeting him and of course, tasting the Middle Eastern dishes.


It was a pleasure to be back at the Turmeric and be among the guests for a preview to experience the essence of the Middle East by tasting Chef Waed’s specially curated spread, served for both lunch and dinner but only for a limited time.


Chef Waed presents a specially
curated menu at the Turmeric

When Chef Waed emerged from the kitchen to introduce his cuisine, the soft-spoken chef proudly declared, “During my residency here, we will not only be revisiting the classics but will also be introducing innovative twists that merge the familiar with the novel.”


Diners who wish to pick from the ala carte menu, may enjoy time-honoured Middle Eastern recipes that are served with contemporary flair.


They may savour an array of traditional mezze like Hummus, Tabbouleh, Fattoush, the nutritious Falafel salad and the burrata cheese salad with dry zaatar.


The main dishes were both light and satisfying.


A serving of pan-fried Seabass with Tahini sauce

They included pan-fried Seabass with Tahini sauce, Lamb Ouzi, Moroccan Chicken Tajinen with tender vegetables and olives, and the Arabic Mixed Grill that featured meats like Chicken Shish Tauok, Lamb Kofta Khashkahash and Lamb Arrays.


To end the meal sweetly, Chef Waed created a choice of cold and warm desserts in a fusion of Eastern tradition with Western innovation: Turkish Labneh Panna Cotta was served cold while the Umm Ali puff pastry pudding was served warm.


Best of all, these specialty dishes are also featured in the buffet dinner spread priced at RM148+ per person, served at Turmeric restaurant on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


A choice of cold and warm desserts:
warm Umm Ali puff pastry pudding [Left] and
Turkish Labneh Panna Cotta [Right] served cold

Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas is the Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas group’s first luxury hotel in Malaysia, designed within lush tropical gardens on the exclusive Desaru Coast in Johor.


Located at Persiaran Pantai, Desaru Coast, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor, it is a smooth drive away from Johor Baru city via the Senai-Desaru Expressway.


For reservations, Tel: +607 – 8280 888 or email: fb.ades@anantara.com


For more information on Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, visit webpage: www.anantara.com/en/desaru-coast.

A spectacular show to celebrate 36th anniversary


Fans of the art of the 24 Festive Drums know that the 2023 season for Drum Up JB! was an entertaining and exciting, family-friendly showcase that reached out to unite the community through the language of drumming, percussion and music.


A brief drumming performance to kick off
the recent Press Conference

In a recent Press Conference, Drum Up JB! was pleased to announce that the 2024 season will kick off with four, all-new shows planned for 4, 5 & 6 October 2024.


This advance notice should help fans plan their travel to Johor Baru to coincide with these exciting drum shows which will be presented at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofia Opera House, R&F Princess Cove in Johor Baru.


Present at the Press Conference were Vice General Manager of R&F Development, Xu Jie (Jeremy) and co-founder of the art of the 24 Festive Drums, Tan Chai Puan, as well as the team from Shantou Media Convergence Group.


Event poster for Anniversary show

June 2024 will mark the 36th anniversary since the founding of the 24 Festive Drums’ dramatic art of drumming in Johor Baru in 1988 by the two Tan’s, Tan Chai Puan and the late Tan Hooi Song.


Tan Chai Puan was pleased to share that since the start of 2024, there was an unprecedented interest and growth in the art of the 24 Festive Drums in China, a performing art using the Chinese drum that was exported back to China.


The art of the 24 Festive Drums was often thought of as a Chinese performing art so it was important to clarify that the art of the 24 Festive Drums was founded by Johoreans in Johor Baru, and is in fact, a proudly Johor-born performing art.


Co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums,
Tan Chai Puan

When young drummers here went abroad to further their studies, they brought along their passion for the art of the 24 Festive Drums and established drum troops in their universities and colleges in China as well as in English-speaking communities abroad.


Tan was pleased that a drum troop was formed in the Shantou University since 2008 and he looked forward to visiting other universities in China where drum troops in the art of the 24 Festive Drums were established.


In 2009, the art of the 24 Festive Drums was recognised as a Malaysian National Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry.


A scene performed by JB Drums

Tan was thrilled to share that the art of the 24 Festive Drums was nominated by this Ministry to be considered as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2026.


With this in view, he anticipated much more activities by this performing art in the next two years as we counted down to the announcement of the official gazette.


A performance by Hands Percussion

Tan was also pleased that media representatives from the Shantou Media Convergence Group were in Johor Baru to learn more about the 24 Festive Drums and to get acquainted with this city which was once known as Little Swatow, named after a Teochew district in China.


Johor Baru earned its reputation as Little Swatow because Swatow (Teochew) or Shantou (Mandarin), one of the Teochew districts of the Guangdong province in China, was the hometown of most of Johor’s Teochew population here. 


A performance by Shicheng Theatre

[I was pleased with this interesting reference because in 2018, I featured a piece on, Johor Baru – Little Swatow, in My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.]


Tan then drew attention to the logo designed for the 36th Anniversary celebration that features the digits 3 and 6, with a stylish rendition of the symbol for infinity in its design.


While this logo also featured the years since its founding from 1988 to 2024, Tan said that the infinity symbol incorporated into the anniversary logo indicated the ‘unlimited potential’ of this dramatic art of drumming.


A performance by Louds Percussion

He was proud that the Celebration Show planned for Saturday, June 8, will feature performances by top professional drum troops in the nation based in the North, Central and South, all in one great show.


The Johor Baru-based professional drum team of JB Drums will be joined by leading drum teams from Kuala Lumpur-based Hands Percussion, Batu Pahat-based Shicheng Theatre and Penang-based Louds Percussion.


Xin Ying, who spoke on behalf of the Shantou Media Convergence Group, brought greetings from Shantou, China, and expressed their appreciation for the introduction to the art of the 24 Festive Drums.


One for the album: group shot from
the Press Conference

She was deeply impressed by this dramatic art of drumming that was exported back to China and suggested an artistic collaboration between the art of the 24 Festive Drums and the Teochew art of the Yingge dance, an art-form that was recognised as a National Heritage in China in 2006.


The history of the Yingge dance dated back to over 300 years with its origins in paddy planters who would usually sing along to the beat of drums while sowing seedlings.


To encourage farmers to work harder, this dance was traditionally carried out throughout the whole planting season. As such, this dance earned it local name as Yang Ge Wu or the ‘Dance for Sowing Seedlings.’


This dance gradually evolved into an open square-dance that portrayed the 108 ‘Heroes of the Water Margin’, a renowned piece of Chinese literature.


Xin Ying [Left] speaking while
Tan Chai Puan [Right] looks on

In Southern China, this cultural performance is fondly called Yingge or the ‘Dance of the Heroes’ where a large number of dancers will perform a parade through village streets and even across hills and valleys.


In response, Tan thanked her for the suggestion and said that the Teochew community in Johor already have plans to form its own Yingge dance troop to perform mainly in the annual Johor Chingay parade.


He also agreed that this topic may be discussed at the annual gathering of Global Teochew Associations, planned for November in Shantou.


Tan, in his role as the Cultural Consultant with the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House, has the prestigious task to build a cultural bridge to link cultural exchange activities, both local and from abroad.


Previously when Tan was with the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk Committee, this team was tasked to arrange weekend cultural events, presented at a makeshift stage set up in front of what is popularly called the Red House at the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.


Among the cultural events performed in the city’s heritage quarter, was a Yingge dance that left an unforgettable impression on all who witnessed it here in 2012 a Yingge dance that left an unforgettable impression on all who witnessed it here in 2012.


But before the Yingge dance returns to Johor Baru, fans of the 24 Festive Drums are invited to join the 36th Anniversary celebration by enjoying a spectacular show.


The 24 Festive Drums’ 36th Anniversary celebration show will be held at 8pm on Saturday, 8 June 2024, at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofia Opera House, Johor Baru, Johor.


Ticket prices at RM33, RM66 and RM99 only.


Hotline No: +6010 232 2580 and +6016 718 8654


Ticketing link on https://www.cloudjoi.com/shows/36th-anniversary-of-24-festive-drums

Legoland's Brick Fest is here again!


Brick Fest, one of the biggest events of the year at Legoland Malaysian Resort, kicks off from May to September 2024 for three epic months of non-stop fun for young adventurers, city heroes and kingdom dreamers.


Welcome to the Brick Fest at Legoland Malaysia

For a total of 126 days, Legoland Malaysia will celebrate Brick Fest from May 21 to September 22 to provide endless fun and adventure for LEGO fans of all ages.


“At Legoland Malaysia, we believe in the transformative power of play,” said Divisional Director of Legoland Malaysia, CS Lim.


“Brick Fest is our way of creating an engaging and educational environment where children can learn and grow through the joy of playing with LEGO bricks. Together with LEGO, we are excited to help fuel young, inspirational minds to go far with their imaginations,” he added.


Young guests joining in the fun while
they watched The Explorer's Story
at The Beginning Stage

So plan ahead to explore three unique LEGO worlds:


Be an Explorer from May 21 to June 30 and embark on an Egyptian expedition to uncover ancient treasures and build magnificent LEGO pyramids or cats.


Be a LEGO City Hero from July 1 to August 11 and join the LEGO City Police or Fire Department and train with the LEGO academy to help restore peace to the city.


Be a Kingdom Fan from August 12 to September 22 and create your own castles and swords, and get your spot in the Royal Parade dressed in your mightiest knight outfit or glittering princess gowns.


On your arrival at The Beginning, go to the Redemption Booth to collect your Activity Card to see the Mission of the Month and then embark on your special mission to redeem rewarding prizes.


Deeply absorbed with his LEGO build
at Fun With Crafts, The Beginning

When I arrived at The Beginning, I was on time to catch the live show on stage that featured The Explorers’ Story, a lively dance with the appearance of LEGO character, The Explorer, that invited guests to Be an Adventurer.


I reminded myself to be close to the Lost Kingdom at the Land of Adventure to catch the next live performance, dubbed the Egyptian Dance.


At The Beginning, I observed many young adventurers were already busy with their LEGO Bricks Class, learning to build a Sphinx or a Cat.


Come! Try your hand at Track Attack

Other fun activities at The Beginning included the Racer’s Workshop where young guests may try their hand at the Track Attack, the Speed Build and the Build-A-Car activity.


Guests are invited to build custom LEGO racing cars and test them on thrilling tracks.


There are also booths for Fun with Crafts, a Minifigure Trading Station and even a BRICKFEST Playground for guests to explore the fun of creative play at the LEGO inspired playground.


LEGO bricks version of Pasar Siti Khadijah

Guests can make new friends and expand their LEGO collection of minifigures by meeting and trading with other collectors.


They can also be part of a Record-Breaking LEGO Domino Trail by contributing to a massive LEGO Domino trail and watch it all come down in a spectacular chain reaction.


All-day activities to look forward to at The Land of Adventure are Build-A-Pyramid, the Sphinx Scavenger Hunt where guests can discover hidden LEGO sphinxes and a Ride-And-Snap fun on the Beetle Bounce.


Listen to the slumbering soldier 
as he snores...

On my way to the Land of Adventure, I took time to explore Miniland and was delighted to discover new attractions in Amazing Malaysia like the recently added exhibit on Kota Bharu.


I was delighted to see Pasar Siti Khadijah designed in LEGO bricks as a tribute to this interesting destination in Kota Bharu where 95% of the traders are female.


With LEGO Kingdoms nearby, I could not resist heading in again.


From a distance I could hear the happy roar of voices from the rollercoaster rides and when I walked pass that slumbering soldier, I stopped when I heard his familiar snores.


“Welcome to Planet Legoland,” said the signboard outside the building that used to house the LEGO Star Wars attraction and read, build.unbuild.rebuild, their tagline at the entrance.


'Builders' of all ages are engaged in turning their
imagination into unique LEGO models to add
to the collection at Planet Legoland

And when I stepped into the air-conditioned comfort of Planet Legoland, I thought that this was another ideal spot to enjoy the Brick Fest.


Inside, groups of ‘builders’ were engaged in turning their imagination into unique LEGO models to add to Planet Legoland. But before that, they were encouraged to take photos of their creation to share it with #RebuildTheWorld.


Yes, I finally arrived at the Land of Adventure and enjoyed all the fun activities here.


To plan your own Legoland Brick Fest adventure and for more information, visit to the Legoland Malaysia  official website or social media pages, Facebook and Instagram for details, tickets, and the complete BRICK FEST schedule.

A dazzling debut dance performance


I smiled as I read the invitation to the debut dance performance by Lim Shao Xi, a disciple of Dr Ajith Bhaskar, and recalled the time when I met them, the way Shao Xi respectfully addressed Ajith as Master, just as a disciple would address his Sifu.


Lim Shao Xi performing a dance in his
Rangapravesham, debut dance performance

In one of our chats, Ajith had given me the event date in advance and it was marked on my calendar to attend Shao Xi’s Rangapravesham, the debut performance of a student of Indian classical dance after years of training with his Master.


Ajith was particularly keen that I should witness this debut dance show because it will be history-in-the-making as his disciple, Shao Xi is the first Chinese young man in Johor to excel in performing the art of Bharatanatyam.


A disciple or apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.


Shao Xi also known as Sreehari, paying 
homage to his Master, Dr Ajith Bhaskar

I could not help it but my thoughts flashed to scenes from the 1970s TV series, Kung Fu, where Master Po imparted worldly wisdoms to Grasshopper, the nickname for his disciple, Kwai Chang Caine.


However the reality is, Shao Xi is a Chinese young man in Johor who chose to learn the art Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of Ajith Bhaskar of Suvarna Fine Arts, an Indian classical dance virtuoso in the art of Bharatanatyam.


Over the years, I had the pleasure to witness the Arangetram or debut dance shows of Ajith’s students as well as many high-quality productions staged by Suvarna Fine Arts where Ajith is the principal and artistic director.


Shao Xi's parents, Mr & Mrs Lim 
Kok Leng, presented a flower 
garland to Master Ajith 

I am familiar with Ajith’s illustrious career in the performing arts and had the privilege to document his story in My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, my book which turned out to be an MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller in 2017.


Last year, when Ajith introduced me to Shao Xi, I learnt that when Shao Xi was a student with Foon Yew High School, Chow Pei Foon of Chow Drama, a performing art school in Johor Baru, was the instructor in their Drama Society.


Shao Xi always interested in dance but was too preoccupied with studies and co-curricular activities like vocal and drama classes as well as playing the piano.


After high school, Shao Xi expressed his desire to dance Bharatanatyam.


Mr & Mrs Lim Kok Leng also presented garlands
to members of the Bharatanatyam orchestra

His choice of dance was Bharatanatyam because it was an art form which is linked to his Asian cultural background. It was Chow who introduced him to Ajith and he started training with Suvarna Fine Arts since 2016.


After seven months of dance training, Shao Xi left for Taiwan to further his education at the National Sun Yat Sen University in Taiwan where he studied Western classical music and trained as a vocalist for a Degree in Western Fine Arts, majoring in Western vocals. I remember asking him about this and Shao Xi told me that he was trained as a baritone.


Shao Xi was in his element on stage

When he was back in Johor Baru during his term holidays, Shao Xi would undergo intense training with Ajith.


His Master gave him a stage name, Sreehari, which sounded like his Chinese name and matches with the first and last syllables of his Chinese name.


However, during the global pandemic and lockdown periods, Shao Xi was in Taiwan.


He shared with me about how he felt acute homesickness and wanted to continue with his dance practice in his free time.


In Taiwan, he worked part-time with a Chinese restaurant and after business hours, he asked for permission to use the space for his dance practice.


Shao Xi performed flawlessly to the rhythm
of the live music by the Bharatanatyam orchestra

So after he had shifted the tables and chairs to create a space to dance, he made use of modern technology to continue with his dance classes, online with Ajith.


After completing his Degree, Shao Xi returned to Johor Baru in 2022 and started training for his debut dance performance, the Rangapravesham, which marks an important milestone in the tradition of Indian classical dance.


On my arrival at the event, I was welcomed into the auditorium along with my media friend from The Iskandarian, the official newspapers of Iskandar Malaysia.


Shao Xi aka Sreehari captivated the
audience with his dance expressions

As Norfy was unfamiliar with such an event, I had the pleasure to brief her with informative tips that I had garnered from my experience with Suvarna Fine Arts.


I told Norfy that in my years of attending Suvarna Fine Arts productions, I was probably the only non-Indian person in the audience but a glance around the auditorium showed us that it was different at this event.


The front row was occupied by Shao Xi’s parents, Mr & Mrs Lim Kok Leng, and family members that included his grandmother, while many Chinese and Indian as well as Norfy and other Malay people were also in this audience.


On the souvenir programme, a printed quote aptly described what we were about to witness. It read as, “The blossoming of the lotus, akin to the budding young dancer, is a moment of celebration.”


Another engaging performance
by Shao Xi aka Sreehari

It was wonderful that Shao Xi has his family’s support to pursue Indian classical dance in the art of Bharatanatyam under Ajith’s tutelage and this was reciprocated in the event where the souvenir programme and event narration were presented in English and Chinese languages.


When the lights dimmed, I joined the audience to be enthralled by Shao Xi’s flawless performance of a repertoire of eight dances to live music by a Bharatanatyam orchestra.


The vocals were provided by Suganya Jegathesan Sharma and Ajith, as the nattuvanaar who played the nattuvangam, a pair of metal alloy cymbals, a rhythm instrument to maintain tempo, provide harmony and highlight the nuances.


This Bharatanatyam orchestra was c0mpleted by J J Prathap Sharma on the mridagam, G Manikantan playing the violin and Dr Ghanavenothan Retnam on the flute.


The stage belonged to Sreehari at his

On stage, Shao Xi transformed into a prolific storyteller who shared with us excerpts from Indian classics through the profound language of dance that transcended words in a beautiful and timeless expression that bridged us as individuals, cultures and generations.


Five hours with a brief intermission passed all too quickly as the audience sat, mesmerized by Shao Xi aka Sreehari, the budding artiste who scorched the stage with his engaging and entertaining performance.


The presentation began and ended the same way, with Shao Xi paying homage to his Master and the musicians for supporting him in his debut dance performance.


Sreehari [Third from Right] with his parents and
Shri Shankar Kandasamy [Far Left], Master Ajith
and Shrimathi Shanta Ratii [Centre]

Finally Chief Guest, Shri Shankar Kandasamy, Artistic Director of the Temple of Fine Arts and Guest of Honour, Shrimathi Shanta Ratii, Artistic Director of Shanta Ratii Initiatives Singapore, shared a few words to commend and encourage Shao Xi at the start of his journey in Bharatanatyam dance.


The event aptly closed with Shao Xi who expressed his appreciation, bi-lingual in Mandarin and English. 

As I slowly made my way out of the auditorium, dazzled by such a memorable debut dance show, I was pleased and proud to have witnessed a very special piece of Johor history.


Suvarna Fine Arts is located at Nong Chik Riverside, No. 17, Level 2, Jalan Kolam Ayer 2, Kampung Mohd Amin, 80200 Johor Baru, Johor.