AmCham staff visit to Johor


“Err… what is AmCham?”


When you read the word, AmCham, I guess this question popped up.


Group shot in Hua Mui restaurant

In our kopitiam culture, a beverage blend of coffee and tea equals, “cham” or mixed in the colloquial tongue. So, is AmCham a type of blended drink?


When I met members of this group for lunch at Hua Mui restaurant, I was told that the shortform of their name, American Chamber of Commerce was simply, AmCham.


I learnt that 12 in their group travelled by train while five took the bus across the Johor Straits to reach Johor Baru that morning to start their visit to the heritage quarter.


It was interesting to hear that planning for this visit started since last September.


Three books autographed for Bibi

As for me, I learnt about this plan from Jane Iyer of Jane’s Tours in Singapore since last October when she wrote me and said:


“Pleased to say we’re finally able to work on a tour to Johor Baru in January next year.” She said that the tour was with a group of about 15 from the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.


Then Jane told me that she had checked at but failed to find My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, among the catalogue of my books and asked if I could help her get a copy.


I explained that this book was my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller so by 2023, stocks may be running very low at MPH bookstores but I assured her that I am keeping a small stock and would be happy to put one in the post for her.


Facade of Hua Mui restaurant

Jane went on to invite me to join the tour group for lunch (if I was available) and said that the leader for this tour was her colleague, Bibi, short for Berit Karlsen, who is Danish, married to a Singaporean and speaks fluent Malay.


Jane also shared with me their proposed itinerary for the group to experience local street scenes with a (mandatory?) stop for banana cake and breads from Hiap Joo traditional bakery.


When Jane asked me about working with local tour guides for the morning walk in our heritage quarter, I did not hesitate to connect her with my friends in the Johor Tourist Guides Association.


It was mid-November when Jane wrote again to say she was back from her travels and was delighted to see that my book had arrived by post, safe and sound.


Two days later, Jane wrote to say: “I’m so enjoying your book which brought back memories of when I lived at BBC Tebrau (near Masai) in February 1963. Must tell you more when we finally get together…”


The wooden flight of stairs
to the upstairs
dining hall at Hua Mui

In early January 2024, Jane connected me with Bibi, her colleague who would be leading the AmCham group to Johor Baru.


Then Bibi told me that while she was reading My Johor Stories – borrowed from Jane – she would like to have a set of the trilogy of My Johor Stories books of her own.


I assured her that I would arrange it and even autograph the books and bring them along for her when we met for lunch.


On that appointed day, the weather was fair and cloudy as I walked to Hua Mui, a landmark kopitiam located at the corner where Jalan Trus meets with Jalan Dhoby.


I was pleased that table reservations have been made in advance as this restaurant was a popular destination for diners seeking a taste of nostalgia at this landmark kopitiam in downtown Johor Baru.


Celina with a bag of baked
Coconut Buns by Hiap Joo

To me, every creak that sounded from the wooden staircase that linked the ground floor to the upstairs dining hall, was pure nostalgia. (If the stairs/walls could speak, I was sure they had loads of tales to share about the generations who have dined here since the restaurant was opened in 1946.)


It was good to meet Celina, Aisyah and Jayden from the group, who had arrived just ahead of me, and while waiting for the others to trickle in, I quizzed them for more info about their group’s visit here.


Then I learnt that the group of AmCham staff included Singaporeans, two American Koreans and an American Taiwanese, some of whom were in Johor for the very first time.


I was not surprised to hear that these three were familiar with the attractions in the downtown area because they and their family members were regular visitors from across the causeway.


With Berit Karlsen AKA Bibi
at Hua Mui restaurant

While Jayden (Indian) and Aisyah (Malay) were also familiar with their respective pre-festive-season-shopping-destinations here, Celina (Chinese) did not deny that she absolutely enjoyed the juicy taste of the Coconut Buns baked by Hiap Joo.


Bibi was thrilled to receive her set of My Johor Stories books and when she packed them away in a tote bag which she just bought from the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum, I saw that it was a useful souvenir item printed with a sketch of a landmark building drawn by Yap Hanzhen.


It gave me much pleasure to tell Bibi that I had documented Hanzhen’s story under Portraits, among other Johoreans whose lives have impacted others, in my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller.


Hua Mui's kampung fried rice;
[Watch out for the 'fire cracker' chilli bits inside!]

Meanwhile, coordinating the food and beverage order for a group such as this was quite a challenge but everyone was pleased when the drinks and dishes were (finally!) served to our tables.


As I savoured my choice of their signature Hainanese Chicken Chop, I observed how the plates were passed around the table for the colleagues to taste each other’s orders of kampung fried rice and stir-fried noodles, prepared the Hua Mui way.


With lunch comfortably done, the group was ready to head out again to do their own Rest & Recreation “thing” during the next few hours of Free Time on their itinerary.


We-fie taken by Christina Wong, their
Johor tourist guide for that morning

I overheard from the chit-chat, that some were heading to Jalan Ungku Puan to buy some traditional cooking ingredients while some had (already!) made spa treatment appointments at Johor Baru City Square.


Bibi and I were among the last to leave the restaurant. Before we parted ways, she graciously thanked me for joining them and said she looked forward to the next opportunity to meet up again.


A few days later, Bibi shared a brief update about the great time they all had in their Free Time before heading out for dinner at the Hard Rock Café Puteri Harbour.


It was good to know that their experience at the Customs Immigration & Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint for the return trip across the causeway, was what she dubbed, “…a breeze!”


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