Happy 4th Anniversary BrandCulture


Surrounded by happy chatter and bursts of laughter from the BrandCulture team gathered in Tosca, the Italian Trattoria in the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru, it dawned on me that I was probably the only guest (Read: outsider) among them.


The BrandCulture team at the poolside
outside Tosca, DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru

When I accepted the invitation from BrandCulture to join them for the agency’s fourth anniversary celebration, I sent a congratulatory message to Grace Chiam and her reply simply read as, “See you, Peggy #ffijb”


Since its inception in April 2020, Grace Chiam the PR personality, has become synonymous with BrandCulture, the Public Relations, Marketing and Communications agency.


Grace and I met at the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru some time in June 2014 when she first arrived in Johor Baru on her job appointment with the hotel.


Happiness is snapping a we-fie

I was in the hotel as a pre-opening media guest for a trial stay to provide value feedback for improvements before the new hotel opened its doors to real guests.


It was a memorable stay for many reasons. One was because I was back at Jalan Ngee Heng, the same road as where my grandfather’s house was once located at No.154, opposite the hotel.


That was when I became what Grace calls, her “first-friend-in-Johor-Baru” and earned the moniker as her, #ffijb.


In the following years, I had the privilege to work closely with Grace on various events hosted in the hotel and developed a warm relationship with the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru.


The BrandCulture team in Grey and White theme

With the support of the then General Manager, the hotel graciously hosted the book launch event for my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage on 15 July 2017.  In the first week of its launch, this book went to the Number One spot of the MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller list.


I had the pleasure to document many exciting events as 2017 turned out to be a momentous year for the hotel and for me.


As her career in Marketing & Communications continued to soar in Johor, I had much fun as I continued to work closely with Grace in her PR MarCom role.


Also a joint birthday celebration for three,
[Left to Right] Iqwan, Zoe and John

Then in February 2020, I (ahem!) her #ffijb, was honoured to be among her few guests to witness her wedding, hosted in an intimate reception. Not long after that, the global pandemic reached our shores and the nation went into lockdown.

I am happy that My Johor Stories was among the media partners who have had a long partnership with BrandCulture even during the challenging years of the global pandemic.


When I arrived at Tosca for the event, I discovered that it was a double celebration for the agency as well as for the recent birthdays of team members, John, Zoe and Iqwan.


A sample of digital poster by BrandCulture
for My Johor Stories in 2022

A day ago, Iqwan followed up with a reminder on the invite. When he added that the theme for the event was Grey and White, it sent me on a search through my wardrobe for garments that met with this theme.


While many in the team were dressed mainly in White and shades of Grey, Shahrul showed off his ethnic charm by dressing in flowing White kurta and pantaloons in Grey, with a patterned Beige shawl thrown over his shoulder, the perfect foil for his outfit.


Grace looked elegant in her White pantsuit teamed with a Grey long waistcoat so I did not appear too out-of-place in my outfit of Grey-pinstripes and White.


It was good to meet the team again and to see many new faces among familiar friends who have worked with me in the past.


Ready to blow out their candles ...

In 2021, when I celebrated 10 years of My Johor Stories, Grace and her team applied their digital skills and took my brand to new heights in social media.


Then in 2022, when Think City Johor Baru launched the Downtown Johor Baru grant, Grace encouraged me to apply and gave me professional support to engage in the My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru project that ran from January to April 2023.


Grace all a-glow with her
4th Anniversary cake!

My Downtown Johor Baru project comprised a Heritage Walk in the morning followed by a Book Reading session held in various downtown hotels in the afternoon, arranged in themes like The Segget Waterway, Our Heritage Traders, Teochew Heritage and Cantonese Heritage.


While the project with Think City was successfully completed in April 2023, I continued to receive enquiries for the next Heritage Walk, which (to me!) was proof of the positive impact of these activities.


I am deeply grateful for the professional support from Grace and BrandCulture in 2023, which set My Johor Stories on an encouraging footing to forge ahead with Heritage Walks and other My Johor Stories activities. Thank you ever so much!


...woosh...candles blown out!

As candles were lighted on individual miniature cakes and handed to the three celebrating birthdays and Grace on their 4th Anniversary, I felt deeply honoured to be counted among their esteemed media partners to join this cool celebration for the agency’s Anniversary, hosted in hotel that has a special significance for both Grace and I, her #ffijb.


Happy 4th Anniversary BrandCulture PR Marketing & Communications, with my warmest wishes for greater heights of achievement in the coming years!


Since its inception in 2020, BrandCulture has achieved significant milestones, serving 75 brands, managing more than 250 projects and collaborating with over 200 influencers and media partners.


For effective marketing campaigns with an experienced team, connect with BrandCulture through Instagram (@BrandCulturePR) and Facebook (facebook.com/BrandCulturePR) or send email to grace@brandculturepr.com

A glimpse of Suzhou Ballet Theatre in Johor Baru


When I received the invitation to a Ballet Appreciation Event by the Suzhou Ballet Theatre, I read that this event was organized by the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House at R&F Princess Cove and co-hosted by the JB Ballet Academy.


The visiting team from Suzhou Ballet Theatre
at the close of the Ballet Appreciation Event
held at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House

From a brief introduction, I also read that the internationally renowned Suzhou Ballet Theatre was established in 2007 as the only professional ballet company in Jiangsu Province in China, that feature top-tier ballet dancers with both domestic and international backgrounds.


I agreed that this was an excellent opportunity for ballet practitioners in Johor Baru not only to interact and learn from them but also be inspired by this professional ballet company while they were here to spend time with students and teachers after their recent performance of Swan Lake at the Esplanade Theatre in neighbouring Singapore.


The finale of their performance of Swan Lake
at the Esplanade Theatre, Singapore, recently

Not willing to miss this chance of catching a glimpse of the visiting team from Suzhou Ballet Theatre, I accepted the invitation and made sure I arrived on time at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House for the Ballet Appreciation Event.


I have always admired the grace and elegance of ballet dancers, how they twirled and balanced on their tip toes and was deeply in awe of their skills in defying gravity with giant leaps…


On arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the lobby of the Opera House was already chock-a-block with people, queuing to enter the auditorium while arrivals (like me!) were directed to check with the reception desk to help me decipher the details on my e-ticket.


A narrator on stage led the Appreciation Event
The reception staff took a closer look at my e-ticket and directed me upstairs to the Princess Box where, she said, ushers will show me to my seat.


I was instead, warmly welcomed by founder and principal of JB Ballet Academy, Ye Pick Lian, who showed me to my seat and introduced me to Wang Quan Xing, the team leader of the visiting Suzhou Ballet team.


The event kicked-off promptly with an introduction to Suzhou Ballet Theatre, narrated by a gentleman, with the help of visuals posted on the screen.


The narrator used visuals and videos on the 
screen to illustrate his narration

Among their repertoire of dances were Chinese original dance dramas, World Classics like Swan Lake, Carmen, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet and Nutcracker, as well as Ballet Boutique Gala performances like Tchaikovsky’s Giselle.


As he shared about the evolution of ballet through the ages, using short video clips and visuals on the screen, I could tell from his graceful gestures, that this gentleman was an experienced ballet dancer.

The origin of ballet may be traced to the Italian Renaissance courts in the 15th and 16th centuries where it started as a stately form of dance, created to entertain the aristocrats.


Ballet started as a stately form of dance,
created to entertain the aristocrats.

When the popularity of ballet spread to France, King Louis XIV was so charmed by this elegant dance that he ordered the founding of the Royal Dance Academy.


The Paris Opera Ballet, the first professional theatrical ballet company, emerged from here and exists to this day. This also explains why ballet terminology is in French.


The Ballet Appreciation presentation went on to discuss the contributions by Rose Gad and Alexander Kolpin of the Royal Danish Ballet.


A solo male dancer performing
a jazz-ballet piece, Emergence

Meanwhile, the birth of the modern pointe shoe is often attributed to the early 20th century Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was one of the most famous and influential dancers of her time.


The elegance of dancing with pointe shoes was demonstrated in a brief video of the Suzhou Ballet team dressed in frilly white tutus, performing an excerpt from the classic, Swan Lake, in a short video.


To demonstrate how ballet has evolved, a solo male dancer presented a live performance of a modern, jazz-ballet piece titled, Emergence, to the riveting music by Maurice Ravel.


Dressed in a dark suit but boldly bare-chested, his mesmerizing moves spoke volumes and kept the audience enthralled.


As Shakespeare said:
"Parting is such sweet sorrow!"

In the performance of an excerpt from Glorious Clouds, the audience (me included!) could easily identify with the pair of dancers who beautifully portrayed a loving couple who were bidding each other a fond farewell.


Finally, the audience was treated to a charming performance of, The Dream Interrupted, that shared the true while seemingly unreal love story between Du Linlang and Liu Mengmei, inspired by and based on the Kungu opera, Peony Pavilion.


A scene from, The Dream Interrupted

While this brought the showcase to a fitting end, ballet students and teachers stayed back to benefit from an interactive teaching session with the team from Suzhou Ballet Theatre.


When light flooded the auditorium again, I paused to consider how the Johor Baru arts and culture scene sorely needed to be revived and supported so that it may be developed to its full potential in tandem with the city’s modern development.


After this brief stop in Johor Baru, the Suzhou Ballet team will leave for heritage city, Melaka, where they will present, Reminiscing Jiangnan, A Ballet Collection of Excellence, April 12 to 14, 2024, at the Encore Melaka Theatre.


Ye Pick Lian of JB Ballet Academy
[Left] with Wang Quan Xing of
Suzhou Ballet Theatre

Thank you, Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House, R&F Princess Cove and my friends at JB Ballet Academy, for the pleasure of enjoying a live performance by the team from Suzhou Ballet Theatre in Johor Baru.


With three studios in Johor Baru, JB Ballet Academy provides professional training in Classical Ballet certified by the Royal Academy of Dance, United Kingdom. For more info, visit Facebook page for JB Ballet Academy.


For more info on the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House, go to website, pzsoh.com.my


For more info on the Suzhou Ballet Theatre, visit website, suzhouballettheatre.com


Photo Credits: Courtesy of JB Ballet Academy and Tan Chai Puan

Arches in downtown Johor Baru


Once Upon a Time in Johor, was one of the pieces I documented in My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, where I listed a few interesting things that I considered uniquely Johor.


The Jubilee Arch marks the entrance
to the Istana Besar at the Istana Gardens

Among them are the quaint arches in the heart of the Heritage Quarter, situated between Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and Jalan Dhoby and one each along Jalan Trus and Jalan Segget. 


We may have walked pass or driven pass these places but remained oblivious to these structures because they have always been there.


I learnt that in the early years when the old town was developed, roads were used by pedestrians and early vehicles like bullock carts, bicycles and trishaws, that were the taxis in a bygone era.


Quaint old arch at Jalan Trus
in downtown Johor Baru

The paths where the arches were built across were narrow – just a lane – which reminds us that these routes were not designed for cars.


These quaint structures give us an idea of the way old Johor Baru was divided into various enclaves because each archway marked the entry into another section of the town. 


In 2011, this arch along Jalan Trus was painted a vintage Brown colour but recently, many parts of the Heritage Quarter were given facelifts with colourful wall murals.


While I was on a downtown Heritage Walk recently, I saw that this same archway was repainted in psychedelic shades along with the distinct feature of Johor’s iconic pepper and gambier motif.


The same old arch but in bright colours

Its bright colours caught my eye but personally, I am not sure if I liked the idea of painting this ancient arch with motifs.


Since the olden days, the setting up of arches, whether temporary or permanent, was a way for the community to commemorate certain celebrations.


To commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the rule of Sultan Sir Ibrahim, the Jubilee Arch was built at the entrance to the Istana Besar in 1925.


Sultan Sir Ibrahim, who ruled for 64 years from 1895 to 1959, was the longest reigning Johor Sultan in history.


The Coronation Arch is now a popular
destination for visitors to Johor Baru

Fast-forward to our present-day Sultan Ibrahim and his majesty's coronation in 2015.


To mark the occasion, the Coronation Arch that features a jewel studded crown on top, was built at the entrance to Istana Bukit Serene, the Sultan’s official residence.


Designed with adjacent landscaped gardens, fountains and a parking area, the Coronation Arch is now a popular destination for visitors to Johor Baru.


Arch at the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk,
facing the HSBC Bank in Johor Baru

Meanwhile at the official opening of the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum in 2009, the then Johor Menteri Besar declared Jalan Tan Hiok Nee a Heritage Walk and was named, the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.


The Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk committee was formed to organise and curate interesting weekend cultural events at the Heritage Walk and the nearby streets gradually transformed into a heritage destination which became popular with both local and foreign visitors.


To celebrate its identity as a significant heritage destination in the city, the Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) endorsed the plan to build two arches at opposite ends of the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.


Completed in 2013, the twin arches beautifully complimented the paved road while the charming heritage identity of this quarter, attracted self-motivated young people to start businesses here.


Under the archway at the OCBC Bank
end of the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
with a group on my Heritage Walk

I was, however, deeply disappointed to observe the bad attitude of recalcitrant drivers who deliberately parked their vehicles – cars, 4WD and lorries – on the pavements, causing damage to the tiles and paving while blocking the paths that were rightly prepared for pedestrian use.


In early 2024, the work was completed on the road for the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk, re-paved for pedestrians to enjoy a more comfortable walk through this area.


I was pleased that this time, the pavements were designed to deter drivers from parking on the pavements. I remain hopeful that the authorities at the Johor Baru City Council will continue to be vigilant in towing away indiscriminately parked vehicles in downtown Johor Baru.


Now these two arches at both ends of the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk proudly stand sentinel to welcome visitors to explore Johor Baru’s heritage quarter.


#ancientarches #myjohortoriesheritage


Revived at Bali 9 Reflexology & Spa


Since 2012, we started to see development plans for Iskandar Puteri that turned brown fields into buildings for commercial, residential and leisure destinations.


Facade of Bali 9 Reflexology & Spa
at Sunway Boulevard 88, Sunway Iskandar

Developed on a site that spans across 1,800 acres in Iskandar Puteri, Sunway City Iskandar Puteri is Sunway’s largest integrated township to date.


Planned with a full range of services that comprise education, hospitality, entertainment, retail, commercial and residential components.


Sunway Iskandar, as it is popularly called, became my regular destination for grocery shopping and dining at the Citrine Hub and Sunway Big Box, the first retail hybrid park, since 2019.


It was exciting to witness the opening of Sports Direct.com in 2020 and later, Sports Direct USC in 2022 but my deepest joy was when BookXcess opened at Sunway Big Box in 2020.


The reception counter in the lobby

I also had the pleasure to participate in food reviews hosted at the Pendas Café in Sunway Big Box Hotel and joined events held at the Sunway Avianna Residences.


When the commercial area dubbed, Sunway Boulevard 88, opened, I was pleased to discover a range of restaurants, charming cafes and boutique businesses here.


For those who are unfamiliar with the layout of Sunway Iskandar, Sunway Boulevard 88 comprises rows upon rows of interesting shops, located between Sunway Big Box and the Sunway International School.


Bali 9 occupies two shop units plus upstairs

Readers may know that I have been busy with my Heritage Walks in downtown Johor Baru in the past few months, with the most recent Walk on March 23, so the rest in between the Walks was very welcome.


When a friend suggested that I should go for a relaxing treatment at Bali 9, I replied with a deluge of keen questions like, where it was located, what type of therapies they offer, who are the therapists, among other queries.


With a name like Bali 9, my guess was that Bali was the inspiration for this place and I was right because the owners enjoyed their experience in Bali so much that they decided to bring that experience here for everyone to enjoy.


A straightforward menu with
Happy Hour rates at Bali 9

I could not help but continued to ask, “And what about the ‘9’ in its name?”


Their reply – which reeks of confidence in their treatments – was that their professional treatments hold a promise to send guests to Cloud Nine, a phrase that describes a sense of well-being.


Such a reassuring explanation simply made me to head out to Bali 9 for my own therapeutic experience.


To reap the benefit of not meeting the weekend crowd, I checked for their Happy Hours and found that it was from 11am to 5pm on weekdays and from 11am to 3pm on Saturday and Sunday.


I arranged an appointment for 2pm on midweek Wednesday, right smack in the middle of Happy Hours to enjoy some 35% off the published rates, and headed out with Florence, fellow food-taster and trusted assistant who deserved proper pampering for all her hard work.


Separate cubicles with "O" windows on side walls
that can be opened by drawing back the curtains

A smooth drive from the city along the Iskandar Coastal Highway brought to Sunway Iskandar. I exited the roundabout adjacent to Sunway Big Box and headed towards Sunway Boulevard 88 where Bali 9 is located nearby.


I liked that there were ample parking lots along the shopfronts and parked just steps away from Bali 9 which occupies two units, plus upstairs, in Sunway Boulevard 88.


Upon entering the lobby, the sight of low shelves arranged with pairs of guest slippers reminded me that we were required to remove our footwear to put on their slippers.


Feet washing before foot reflexology treatment

With feet shod in comfortably light foam slippers, we looked at the menu to select our treatments while the receptionist answered my queries about the facilities.


I was pleased to note that theirs was a straightforward menu of treatments in choices for Foot & Shoulder and Body Massage either with oil or traditional massage.


On the lobby level, I saw cubicles arranged to the left with the Men’s Changing Room at the rear while the Ladies Changing Room was through an archway in the unit to the right.


Inside, there were toilets and lockers complete with keys to store personal items safely before we started the treatments, beginning with a foot reflexology treatment.


The therapists invited us to wash our feet before leading us – each to a separate cubicle – furnished with a comfortable deck chair with foot rest.


In separate cubicles for foot reflexology
treatment, with the "O" windows opened

It was interesting that the row of three cubicles were designed with large round windows on both of the side walls for guests who may wish to draw back the curtains and chat with their friends in the cubicles on either side.


As we sat back for the foot reflexology treatment, we agreed that this was a fun arrangement to kick-off a Girls-Day-Out activity at Bali 9.


In addition to these cute cubicles, there were twin chairs in a double room upstairs for pairs of people to enjoy foot reflexology in the same private room.


Our therapists, who were from Myanmar and Thailand, could speak/understand basic English so we could say what pressure was preferred. But if I let out a yelp when she pressed on a tender point, my therapist certainly understood such universal language…


I could not help snapping shots of
my therapist in action

After our tired feet and calves received the relaxing pampering they deserved, we were ushered into a therapy room for the next part of the treatment, body massages.


Since Florence chose an oil massage, I picked the traditional massage so as to have a different experience.


Before the therapists left the room for us to prepare for the treatments, her therapist left Florence with disposable items for her to wear after she removed her clothes.


She was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a set of disposable panties complete with brassiere for her to protect her modesty.


I learnt ahead (from quizzing a friend who had prior experience in Bali 9) that we need not remove clothes for the traditional massage so I was dressed in comfortable sports attire with no worries about getting my clothes crushed.


Skillful therapist at work
on my tired calves

When the therapists returned to the room to start our treatments, all conversation ceased as we surrendered our bodies to the strong hands of the skillful therapists.


[I noticed that curtains provided privacy on the doorways for the therapy rooms and not doors. The shut doors were only for the Male and Ladies changing rooms.]


When my therapist worked her magic on my tired body, I felt the fatigue lifting bit by bit as she undid the knots and realigned my body to normality again.


I knew she was well-versed about pressure points on the human anatomy as my therapist systematically exerted bearable pressure on me. Meanwhile the song playing on a loop in my playlist was John Cougar Mellancamp’s rock tune, “Hurts So Good!”


Revived and restored after the treatments, I then understood why Bali 9 claims that they would send their guests to Cloud Nine…


A peek into a single
therapy room located upstairs

Back in the lobby, we were invited to make our tea from the tea choices available at the counter and enjoy warm tea before leaving.


And yes, we remembered to change the comfy slippers for our own footwear. The receptionist chuckled and told us that some guests literally floated out after the treatment and left wearing their comfortable slippers!


The best part about this therapeutic experience was our chat – as soon as we got into the car – on when we will be back again, with our friends and family, for the next rejuvenating treatment.


Our chit-chat continued about our Bali 9 experience which was an interesting mix of therapies where Chinese foot reflexology paired well with both the Balinese-style oil massage and Thai traditional massage.


Bali 9 Reflexology & Spa is located at Unit L75 & L76 Sunway Boulevard 88 of Sunway Iskandar in Iskandar Puteri, Johor. Open daily from 11am to 1am, with last entry at 11pm. 

For reservations, Tel: +6010 762 5757.