Give us back our pavements, please?

I’m proud that Johor Baru was among the cities picked by Petronas for their #tanahairku campaign in this year’s National and Malaysia day celebrations. 

View of wall art entitled, Muafakat, at Jalan Trus,
will be obstructed by cars parked by the road over
the double yellow lines, especially during the day
Through this campaign, the national oil company aims to present Malaysia as a unique melting pot of cultures and traditions.  Local artists have given the old walls at five sites in the city’s heritage quarter, a creative facelift in this street art project.

I must confess that I did not notice what the artists were doing until one day while I was walking along Jalan Ibrahim and found my path blocked by a crane truck.  I stopped, looked up and saw artist, See Poh Chen aka Pauline, on the platform, calling out instructions to the crane operator to adjust its position for her to reach a spot to paint the wall!

Then I learnt about the Petronas #tanahairku campaign that roped in local artists to create artworks on old walls that portrayed their personal reflections of Merdeka and its meaning to them.

Cars blatantly park in front of the
Tow Away sign!
Led by Pauline and her husband, Yap Leong, the team from Eh He turned the wall of No. 1 to 7 Jalan Trus into a wall art that reflected our multi-cultural communities they call Magical Land.  A pair of artists, Taib Aur and Jefri Abdul (Jeps), designed their wall art entitled, Kita Jaga Sama-sama or “we protect together” on the wall of The Fitting Room at the corner of Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Trus.

At the corner of Jalan Trus and Jalan Dhoby, the artwork on the wall of Roost Juice Bar entitled, Bahtera Merdeka, by Muhammad Abqari Ahmad Shakri who goes by the moniker, Snake Two, and Muhammad Azri Zahri (Cuz One), is an image of a war ship dubbed Merdeka as a tribute to Malaysia’s naval heritage.

A towering piece of wall art featuring the profile of a roaring tiger painted on the UMNO Building at Jalan Segget, entitled, The Tiger Roars, is the creation of artists, Iqbal Hareez Osman and Cheong Jiun Wei.

Meanwhile the wall of an old city council building at Jalan Trus, situated diagonally opposite Hua Mui restaurant has been transformed by the artwork by Muhammad Danial Awang Samad (Nellaone) and Iskandar Noor Rahim (Akeem).  Their wall art entitled, Muafakat, depicts two children hanging out traditional costumes that represent our three main race groups, on a common clothes line that aptly portrayed the concept of Muafakat where each race is irrevocably linked together!

I saw this piece of wall art by night while the road was closed to vehicular traffic and free from parked vehicles.  As I admired the drawing in its entirety, my first thought was how this wall art will be blocked by cars that are indiscriminately parked here daily in spite of the double yellow lines painted on the road.  I’m familiar with the recalcitrant attitude of motorists and regret that visitors will not be able to take good shots of this interesting wall art as their view will be obstructed by parked cars.

Incidentally, the Petronas #tanahairku event was launched in the wake of the first Johor Architectural Sketches Exhibition that featured two artists from distinct and different backgrounds – Buz Walker-Teach and Yap Hanzhen.  An exhibition of their architectural sketches were aptly displayed in a gallery at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and officially launched by Johor Baru Member of Parliament, Tan Sri Datuk Seri Shahrir Abd Samad in the presence of Raffles University Iskandar President, Professor Graeme Britton, and invited guests.

After he launched the exhibition, Tan Sri Shahrir shared his thoughts with me about designing a new heritage walk map that should incorporate the meticulously detailed sketches of the city’s iconic landmarks by Yap Hanzhen.  He believed that a heritage walk map with artwork by Hanzhen, a savant autistic teenager, will be a real masterpiece.  And I agreed with him.

Drivers boldly park their cars on pavements meant
for pedestrians at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee
But first, we must do something about improving our pedestrian paths and pavements so that visitors will have a comfortable experience on heritage walks.  If you have been to other cities that offered heritage tours, you may have noticed how pavements are kept unobstructed for gpedestrians and the wheelchair-bound to pass comfortably.  They pay close attention to tiled pavements to keep them neat and even or the city may risk getting sued by visitors who happened to fall from tripping accidents!

In my article, Let’s do better to attract visitors to JB [The Iskandarian, Jan 2015], I urged every individual who is proud of JB as our home to work in a concerted effort with the MBJB, Tourism Department, Police and Traffic Police, to improve the image of our city.  I suggested to start by enforcing “No Parking on Pavements” at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, to ensure that cars are parked in designated areas and to provide more rubbish bins so that the public have no excuse for littering.

The pavement at Jalan Meldrum has been claimed
by entrepreneurs!
Sadly, so far nothing has been done about improving the state of the pavements at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and Jalan Meldrum.  The MBJB paved these paths for a reason and I believe it was originally meant for pedestrians but entrepreneurs have claimed them, laid out tables and chairs to do business and motorists insist on parking here.  Over time, the pavements are damaged and dirtied while pedestrians, who should have the right of way, must find alternative routes around parked cars or furniture!

The Petronas #tanahairku wall art are now an added attraction in our heritage quarter and when we have a new heritage walk map, we can expect more walking tourists here.  But is JB ready for visitors who are keen on walking tours or are we going to disappoint them and embarrass ourselves with our unfriendly pavements?

It’s not too late for MBJB to start enforcing “No Parking on Pavements” at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and ensure that cars are parked in designated areas.  The city council and civic conscious people, are aware that these paths were paved for pedestrians so why not put the pavements back to its proper use?

A version of this was published in the October 2015 issue of The Iskandarian

Kim Teng Park residents breathe easier now

Residents of Kim Teng Park who have been living in limbo since May 2015 (TMI, Aug 25, 2015), breathed a collective sigh of relieve recently when they heard the announcement that their homes were no longer part of a compulsory government acquisition.

Kim Teng Park, developed at Bukit Ungku
Aziz, is a 52-year old residential area in JB
Special Representative for Johor Baru MP, Tan Sri Shahrir Abd Samad, Mok Chek Hou, made the announcement in the presence of residents and media members at a gathering held in Kerala restaurant, a popular restaurant in this 52-year old neighbourhood.

At the press conference, it was revealed that the residents committee received a letter from the Johor Baru land administrator’s office dated Oct 15, stating that the acquisition process has been cancelled.

“On behalf of the residents’ committee and the residents of Kim Teng Park, we thank the state government for listening to our plight and appeal not to proceed with the acquisition,” said residents’ committee representative, S. Rajasingam.

“We are indebted to Tan Sri Shahrir for standing with us from the start, for his help in taking this matter to the state government and succeeding in getting the acquisition process cancelled,” he added.

When the residents, many who are elderly, received the gazette notice issued on May 21, 2015, for the government acquisition of Kim Teng Park, they were understandably overwhelmed and many were severely traumatised.

YB Mok Chek Hou, speaking to the residents and media
at the press conference held in Kerala Restaurant
In the subsequent months, the residents’ committee worked hard to stop the state government from acquiring their housing estate and sought the help of JB MP, Tan Sri Shahrir.

In August, the residents’ committee received a letter from the Johor Baru land administrator’s office notifying that the hearing for the acquisition, scheduled for September, was postponed until further notice.

While the residents were then relieved that their homes were no longer being acquired, some voiced their concerns that this unfortunate situation may recur in the future.

Residents are all smiles, relieved that they will not be
losing their family homes at Kim Teng Park
“We want freehold to be truly freehold,” said Foo Lee Fei, who expressed her opinion that the relevant sub-sections of the National Land Acquisition Act should be amended to stop corporations from acquiring residential land for commercial purposes.

“I can breathe easier now and maybe live a little longer,” said Jaswant Singh who succinctly summed up the prevailing sentiment among the residents, of which some of the more elderly residents had been badly traumatised by the prospect of losing their homes.

“As new buildings are being developed nearby, we look forward to the state government’s help to give Kim Teng Park a facelift and upgrade this old housing estate to compliment the surrounding developments,” said Rajasingam as he thanked Mok for his continued support.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 26 Oct 2015

Walk for Hope in Senibong Cove

Walk for Hope in Senibong Cove last weekend created awareness for autism and raised funds in aid of Kiwanis Hope Garden, a training centre in Taman Johor Jaya for the intellectually disabled.

About 1,200 people took part in the Walk for Hope at
Senibong Cove, Johor Baru
Young autistic artist, Hanzhen Yap, worked with Front Concept Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary company of Walker Corporation, Sydney, and the developer of Senibong Cove to draw various species of creatures, from crustaceans and fish to insects and birds living in the mangroves.

Aware that mangrove forests are important for coastline protection against erosive wave action and strong coastal winds, and essential for the survival of the diverse species of flora and fauna that thrive here, the developer has a mangrove regeneration programme at the mangrove park reserve where the Lunchoo River meets the Straits of Johor.

This art project produced 28 sketches complete with interesting facts on each flora and fauna that were compiled and published in 2012 as a sketch book entitled, “River Biodiversity.”

The young artist, Hanzhen Yap [Centre] with his mother,
Yvonne Yap [Right] and brother, Zhihan Yap [Left] showing
off their medals, awarded for completing the walk
This set of sketches by the talented young artist is the inspiration and theme for the Walk for Hope organised by the developer to create awareness on the importance of river biodiversity and to promote special talent in autism.

Participants who bought tickets for the walk received a souvenir T-shirt printed with Hanzhen’s art, a souvenir medal for completing the walk, food and beverage vouchers and a chance to win prizes in a lucky draw.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to help Kiwanis Hope Garden equip their training centre and benefit the trainees,” said Senibong Cove Sales & Marking Manager, Foo Yee Chu, who explained that the Kiwanis Club of Johor Jaya had consolidated two care centres in Taman Saujana and Taman Johor Jaya into one new building.

She said all their staff were involved with organising and executing the event that attracted some 1200 registrations and it was an eye-opener for everyone to be aware of the needy in our community, in particular the intellectually disabled youths.

Kiwanis Hope Garden chairman, Anna Liew [Right]
receiving the gift cheque from Senibong Cove project
director, Quay Chew Keong [Left]
“I hope Senibong Cove will continue to partner us in future projects for our training centre,” said Kiwanis Hope Garden Chairman, Anna Liew, who received a gift cheque for RM50,000 from Senibong Cove Project Director, Quay Chew Keong.

Liew said their centre has 37 trainees at the moment and when their therapy rooms are fully equipped, the centre would be ready to accept more trainees who are autistic, slow learners, hyper-active or suffer from mild mental retardation.

The training centre is a sheltered workshop where trainees are guided with special education, living skills as well as vocational skills to lead more meaningful and independent lives.

Kiwanis Hope Garden, a 3-storey training centre situated at Taman Johor Jaya, welcomes visitors and donors.  For appointments, Tel: 019 – 791 7919 and 016 – 770 9473.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 26 Oct 2015

Hayati, the farm guide

“Equipping myself with knowledge gives me confidence”

When Norhayati Rabu joined Desaru Fruit Farm in 2004, she had two distinct advantages; one was her natural aptitude to learn and the other was Henry Goh, a pioneer with the farm when it opened as a tourist destination.  She shadowed Goh as he led groups of tourists on farm tours and Norhayati, better known as Hayati, learnt from the master himself.

By careful observation and staying tuned to Goh’s eloquence as he injected humour into facts about fruit trees and plants, she picked up speaking skills and a vast volume of knowledge and juicy anecdotes about the variety of fruits on the farm.

Hayati, a mother of three who hails from nearby Air Tawar 4, admits that she is a kampung girl with inherent knowledge about plants and animals.  So she found it quite easy to pick up a great deal of knowledge about plant life in the course of her work with the farm.

Armed with the English that she learnt in school, Hayati boldly stepped up to conduct farm tours and by interacting with English-speaking people regularly, she gained more confidence in the language.

One of her greatest challenges is to face various groups of visitors, particularly those whom she suspects, may be experts in plant science or botany.  She can never forget leading a farm tour with a group that included professors in horticulture – who kept very quiet throughout the tour – which made her anxious if she was saying the right things.

All her anxiety was for nothing because at the end of the tour, she was reassured by the professors that what she said was spot on!  Visit:

JARO, a beneficiary of the Star Foundation

The Star Media Group through its charitable arm, the Star Foundation, donated RM50,000 to Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO) in Johor Baru, recently.

Star Foundation trustee, Datuk Tay Puay Chuan [4th from
Right], presenting the cheque from Star Foundation to
JARO Chairman, Datuk Jimmy Low Boon Hong
[5th from Left] while JARO committee members look on
Star Foundation trustee, Datuk Tay Puay Chuan, met with JARO Chairman, Datuk Jimmy Low Boon Hong and JARO committee members to present the gift cheque to them.

The Star Foundation has an annual allocation of up to RM1 million to be awarded to charitable organisations that submitted their applications to the foundation for consideration.

“We are delighted that the Star Foundation has considered JARO favourably this year,” said Low, who had earlier applied to the Star Foundation for financial support.

JARO committee members presented Datuk Tay with a
photo album made by staff in the bookbinding workshop
Low said that the total sum of the annual grants from the State and Federal governments were insufficient and JARO had to subsidise up to RM35,000 per month to make up the difference to pay staff salaries, utilities and buy materials used for making handicrafts.

In 1952, JARO was founded by Dr Beryl Wilberforce-Smith as a rehabilitation centre in the then Johor Baru General Hospital (now Sultanah Aminah Hospital) to teach cured tuberculosis patients some trades and handicrafts skills in a sheltered workshop.

As the number of TB patients gradually reduced, JARO, a registered charity then under the leadership of past chairman Datuk Dr Lim Kee Jin, turned to helping physically-challenged and other disabled persons in their rehabilitation and training in various skills.

JARO Chairman, Datuk Jimmy Low [Right] with
Datuk Tay on a tour of the basketry workshop in JARO
Now JARO employs almost 60 staff in the basketry, bookbinding and tailoring workshops that produce a range of heritage products made of rattan and batik in support of the aesthetics and traditions of local cultures.

"This is a good start to the relationship between Star Foundation and JARO," said Tay who reiterated that the foundation tries to support a wide number of charities and those whose applications were unsuccessful this year, may reapply a year or two later.

"I’m touched to see that JARO is providing the disabled with a sanctuary where they can earn a respectable living while their dignity and independence is enhanced and where they are valued in our community,” he added.

After handing over the cheque to JARO, the committee members presented Tay with a photo album made by the staff in the JARO book-binding workshop.

Then Tay went on a tour of the various sections in JARO to observe staff at work in the basketry, bookbinding and tailoring workshops.

Applications by registered charities to the Star Foundation can be made through the Star Media Group Berhad at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Where physical disability is no handicap

"I feel that I’m contributing to the team

Born into a Felda settler family, Mohd Syazwan Jaffar is a deaf-mute with poor vision and cerebral palsy on the left side of his body.  But this did not stop him from going to school.  After completing his primary education in SRK Laksamana Kota Tinggi, he went on to secondary school at SMK Bandar Kota Tinggi.  Syazwan spent the next two years equipping himself with vocational skills at a Vocational School in Shah Alam.

Even though he was born with physical disabilities, Syazwan, who has two brothers and two sisters, was determined not be a burden to his family and always strived to be independent.  In April 2014 when he read from recruitment advertisements that DoubleTree by Hilton was opening in Johor Baru and hiring, he joined the throng of applicants in the Mass Recruitment Exercise.  When he learnt that the hotel did not have any suitable position for him, he left deeply disappointed.

Syazwan did not wallow in self-pity but instead, plucked up his courage to write a letter of appeal to the hotel.  When the hotel management read his letter, they were touched and impressed by his persistence and determination to be independent in spite of his physical disabilities.  After much consideration, the management developed the job description of Steward to match with Syazwan’s abilities and offered the position to him.

He was thrilled to accept the job and started working with the hotel from May 26, 2014.  His job scope includes maintaining the cleanliness of the team member facilities like the recreation room, knowledge room, prayer room, sick bay as well as the team member restaurant.  He is very proud to be part of the team and by doing his job well, he’s is doing his part to contribute to the team.

Syazwan is a friendly guy who carries a note book and pen in his pocket to write and communicate with other team members.  By doing his duties with discipline and dedication, Syazwan has earned the respect of team members who warmly accept him as a team-mate.

When he received his first salary, Syazwan sent a Thank You card to the General Manager to thank him for the opportunity to work with the hotel and promised to continue doing his best at work.   Syazwan’s physical disability is certainly not a limitation.  He has proved beyond a doubt that with the right attitude, everyone has an equal opportunity to build a career in the hospitality industry.

Pink October promo at KPJ Puteri

KPJ Puteri Specialist Hospital Johor Baru introduces Tomosynthesis 3-D Biopsy, a new dimension in breast health, at a promotional price during Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The Pink October promo is on now
at KPJ Puteri Specialist Hospital
Puteri Specialist Hospital (PSH) was the first private hospital in JB since April 2015, to offer three-dimensional digital mammograms that have more advantages over the previous process.

The hospital’s promotion this October, dubbed “Think Pink” offers 3D mammogram screening at a promotional price of only RM180 (Normal price at RM280) from now till Oct 31.

“In line with our tagline, “Care for Life” we strive to care for patients continuously through roadshows, awareness programmes, health talks and promotions because we are aware that the best prevention is early detection,” said KPJ PSH Operations Manager, Muhammad Tareq Mamat.

“We encourage women to go for regular health and mammogram screening and stay healthy to protect their loved ones and be there for them,” he added.

He also explained that the Tomosynthesis 3-D Biopsy process has the benefit of producing less radiation while giving more precise diagnosis, more accurate biopsy, faster detection and above all, feels more comfortable.

The “Think Pink” promotion is available in PSH from Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 4pm and on Saturday from 8.30pm to 12 noon.

PSH will be holding their next Health Roadshow at AEON Bukit Indah on Oct 24, from 10am to 4pm and the public are invited to join them for a blood donation drive and to learn more about what they can do to protect their own health.

Besides receiving more information about the benefits of the 3D mammogram through Tomosynthesis 3-D Biopsy, the public can also learn Breast Self-Examination (BSE) and more about breast cancer.

The roadshow also offers basic health screening, learning about hand hygiene and tips on healthy cooking from a cooking demonstration.

For more information on the Think Pink promotion, Tel: 607 – 225 3222 and 6019 – 744 2692.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 18 Oct 2015

DoubleTree Hilton hosts lunch with JARO staff

As part of Hilton Worldwide’s annual Global Month of Service, DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru (DTHJB) recognised the efforts of Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO) by hosting lunch with their staff recently.

DoubleTree by Hilton JB team members with friends
from JARO in the hotel lobby 
After DTHJB General Manager, Simon McGrath, welcomed them to the hotel, the JARO staff helped themselves to a sumptuous spread from the lunch buffet at the Makan Kitchen.

Seventeen GMs from Hilton and Conrad properties in South East Asia who were in JB for their General Managers Leadership Meeting last October, participated in a Corporate Social Responsibility activity by giving a section of the JARO building a new coat of paint.

This kicked off the hotel’s relationship with JARO, a registered charity where disabled staff are employed in the bookbinding, basketry, tailoring and handicraft departments of their sheltered workshop.

Pat McGrath arranging JARO handicrafts displayed in
the Food Store while JARO representative, Letchumy
Supramaniam, looks on
The hotel continues to support JARO by providing a space in the Food Store at the lobby to display a range of their quality handicrafts for sale.

“Some of the most popular JARO products among our guests are the recycled paper notebooks with fabric covers,” said the hotel General Manager's wife, Pat McGrath, who is also a JARO volunteer.

“We are honoured that DoubleTree by Hilton JB recognises the efforts of JARO and supports us in the promotion our products,” said Jaro Finance & Admin Executive, Lee Lai Ying, who was at the lunch with some 50 JARO staff.

Noraini Goh Abdullah [Left] and Noraizah Mokhtar
enjoying the sumptuous lunch at Makan Kitchen
Speaking through a sign language translator, two staff members from the JARO tailoring department, Noraizah Mokhtar and Noraini Goh Abdullah, were all smiles as they expressed their delight at the wide variety of good food in the buffet spread.

The Global Month of Service is Hilton Worldwide’s annual celebration of volunteer service and a true expression of the company’s vision to “Fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.”

This year, DTHJB joins the hotel group’s sister properties in 97 countries worldwide with ten initiatives to benefit the local community in JB.

They include Recycling & Repurposing Hotel Amenities, Career Talks, City Clean-Up, Children’s Day Outing, Hotel Tour, Cookie Baking Workshop, Hotel Housekeeping Workshop, Teaching Kids to Care Craft Session and a Book Donation Drive.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 14 Oct 2015

Kak Ina bakes it right

“I would like to bake my cookies on a larger scale”

Every year for the past 20 years, Musinah Jamal has been baking and selling her cookies during the Ramadan season.  She would rent a space in a mall for festive shoppers to buy a range of her homemade cookies.  After the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) this year, she noticed a slower pace in shopping for cookies but remains confident that business will pick up by the third week of Ramadan.

Musinah, better known as Kak Ina, started baking at the tender age of twelve.  Looking back, she recalls with a laugh, her first foray into baking, not just one type but a variety of ten types of cookies.  She forgot to add baking powder to her recipes and they turned out rock hard and quite inedible!

She certainly learnt to bake the hard way.  But since then Kak Ina has got her recipes right and come up with a range of delicious cookies to sell during the festive season. 

Kak Ina, a single mother for the last 22 years, has the added advantage of speaking fluent English.  Besides baking for her business, she held various jobs from office work, selling insurance to distributing library books, to earn a steady income to bring up her three children.

She has the far-sightedness to conduct a survey of the light industrial areas around Kulaijaya and is challenged to start her own business in producing baked cookies not only for the local market but also for export.  With a good rapport with her neighbours and fellow villagers, she has devised a plan to work in cooperation with them to bake cookies in a large scale production.  

Armed with her command of the English language and a healthy dose of tenacity, Kak Ina is also confident that she will achieve her aim in exporting her baked goods.

Royal patron of arts visits SHOWCASE

The Permaisuri Johor, Raja Zarith Sofia Sultan Idris Shah, and her daughter, Tunku Tun Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, graced the SHOWCASE to view the art and meet the artists, at the 12th Johor Baru Arts Festival [JBAF] in Nusajaya.

Permaisuri Johor, Raja Zarith Sofia, JSPA founder Yap
Siong Cheng, Festival Director Suzie Yap and SHOWCASE
curator Yap Leong [Front Row Left to Right] viewing the art
Escorted by the exhibition curator, Yap Leong, founder of the Johor Society for the Performing Arts (JSPA), Yap Siong Cheng, and Festival Director, Suzie Yap, Raja Zarith admired the art displayed in the White Box of the Mall at Medini, Nusajaya and chatted with the exhibiting artists.

“The main objective of SHOWCASE is to identify, nurture and support young and budding artists and provide them with a platform to present their talents,” said Yap Leong, adding that the art exhibition was for the people of Johor by artists who were born here or have adopted Johor as their home.

It was his privilege to escort Raja Zarith to view the paintings by Adeputra Masli, Wong Fook Liung and Lok Kerk Hwang and meet some of the artists like Goh Lye Hock and Tan Suz Chiang.

Artist, Pauline See Poh Chen [Left]
discussing her creation, "Song of Dreams"
with Permaisuri Johor, Raja Zarith Sofia 
Raja Zarith spent time with Pauline See Poh Chen discussing her collection of paintings and sculptures entitled, “Song of Dreams” that featured a girl wearing a red dress, before going on to meet Wee Chiang Lung who created a series of designs that featured polka dots.

After viewing the signature Black & White art installations by the creative team of Beverly Bee and Cally Chin, collectively known as Bev C, Raja Zarith enjoyed the range of photographs captured by the lens of professional photographers, Az Tew, Raynce and Calvin Yew.

When Raja Zarith completed her tour of the exhibition, she commended the organisers and artists for an excellent collection of art presented in the inaugural SHOWCASE exhibition.

“I am impressed by the work of these artists that show originality, skill and talent,” said Raja Zarith, who is also an accomplished artist, adding that they deserved to be noticed by both local and international art lovers.

Permaisuri Johor, Raja Zarith Sofia, with some of the
exhibiting artists and photographers
“Raja Zarith’s wish to visit the SHOWCASE came as a pleasant surprise and we see it as an endorsement of our efforts,” said JSPA founder, Yap, who reiterated that her support of the arts was an invaluable source of encouragement not only to the JBAF but also to all the artists who met with Her Royal Highness.

“The visit by Raja Zarith truly encouraged all the artists and motivated us to do better in the next SHOWCASE,” said Yap Leong, who joined the various artists to express their appreciation to Her Royal Highness by presenting her with gifts of their art.

SHOWCASE is on till Oct 10, the final day of the 12th JBAF.  Open weekdays from 12pm to 10pm and weekends from 10am to 10pm.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 8 Oct 2015

Thirty years together

This is one of those encouraging stories about a married couple who are celebrating their marriage and being together for the past thirty years.

Then - thirty years ago in JB
I congratulated the happy couple when I received the invitation to the 30th wedding anniversary party of former classmate, Yee Yin (YY) and her husband, Gerald Yong (GY).  We must celebrate such a joyous occasion so I marked that important date in my calendar to ensure that I will be there for their party.

The invitation was made with an insert filled with photos of the couple and I know YY spent much time to create a uniquely designed card for their special celebration.  YY is good with handicrafts and she certainly did well with the invite.

Looking back, it was just like yesterday when they were married in Johor Baru.  Some of us were at the wedding in 1985, proof of which was seen in their old photos.  The point of interest about this couple is GY married YY, who was once his sister’s classmate.  YY and GY are blessed with two children, Maurice, 26, and Lifen, 23.

Our classmates met YY when she joined us in secondary school and our friendship developed as we interacted not only as classmates but also in sports and society activities.  

Now - thirty years later...
She was one of the initiators for our first class reunion and since the three major reunions we had in recent years, YY is still taking the lead in organising mini get-togethers either in JB or across the causeway.

With the convenience of modern technology, our classmates are kept in constant touch, updating each other on various activities, sharing news and nostalgia and of course, silly jokes.  Through these updates, we learnt that YY and GY are fitness enthusiasts who are keen participants in marathons – annually!

YY fondly recalls that their wedding was officiated at the JB registration office in the presence of a registrar and their wedding photo was taken at Campbell Photo Studio.  This studio, like many traditional photo studios in JB, no longer exists now.

I spotted this precious little memento!
GY is familiar with his sister’s former classmates (us!) and this is probably why he’s cool and comfortable around his wife’s friends (also us!)  But he’s a good sport who often send’s YY to meet us for our jalan-makan sessions and when we organised a stay at a holiday resort in Malacca, he also joined us, not just to eat familiar food but also to reminisce by playing nostalgic games like five stones or Batu Seremban!

I’m sure every marriage has its ups and downs but with a great deal of love, support and mutual understanding, YY and GY has struck a balance in their marriage and continues to be as in love as when they were, more than 30 years ago!

On the evening of their celebration, held in a hotel in JB, YY invited us to their suite of rooms after the banquet and there I saw a gigantic poster with a collage of their old photos and mementoes among the anniversary gifts.

At their marriage registration with two witnesses 30 years
ago; yes, they were also present at the 30th anniversary party!
One of their wedding photos was pasted on a yellowed card that reeked of Hallmark sweetness but I couldn’t help feeling happy for YY and GY because the words read: “This day I will marry my Friend; the one I laugh with, live for, dream with, Love …

I’m pleased that YY and GY got it right from the very start.  They were good friends who fell in love with each other and decided to spend the rest of their lives together.  Friendship is a firm foundation for marriage and as they shared interests and supported each other in their individual pursuits, their bond was strengthened.

Checking out their wedding mementos that include
YY's traditional embroidered gown or kwa
While YY would accompany GY to his Toastmasters meetings, GY volunteers to be the logistics officer for YY at artisan bazaars to promote her handicrafts.  And they enjoy running and are still taking part in annual marathons!
. . .
As more of our classmates received invitations to be guests at their anniversary celebration, we talked about the gift we should present to this couple who seemed to have everything.

Rather than give them something they don’t need or want, we boldly asked YY for an idea and she was gracious to say, “No need!” because all she wanted was for all of us to enjoy the celebration with them.

YY and GY on holiday together last year
We know it was just not done to go to such a happy occasion without a gift as a special memento so we insisted on presenting them with something.  Finally YY relented and said they would like a stay-cation, maybe to the place where they first had their honeymoon 30 years ago – Penang!

This helped us to decide on buying them a resort stay in Penang but the choices were endless at this destination.  So I was given the task to identify a hotel that should be suitable for their second honeymoon.

After researching the options, I narrowed down to a choice of heritage hotels that are within walking distance to places of interest in Georgetown, and shared this info with the others for their comments.  The feedback came back quickly and we agreed on a 3day-2night package with breakfast at Hotel Penaga, a heritage boutique hotel.

The marathon running couple!
I picked the Hutton Deluxe Room (with balcony) because the pictures on their website boasted a charming 4-poster bed which should be ideal for this couple.  When I told the hotel reservation staff that this hotel stay was for our friends who were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, she took note of it.
. . .

The anniversary celebration in JB kicked off with cocktails in the foyer before the dinner which was held in a nearby banquet hall.  It was also a reunion of sorts as former classmates came from across the causeway and from the north, for this celebration.

YY and GY even had an official photographer to snap photo mementoes and when it was time to proceed into the banquet hall, YY slipped away to change into an evening gown.

We lingered for a bit to look at the display of wedding mementoes like their 30-year old wedding banquet invitation card and photos as well as the kwa or Chinese traditional two-piece embroidered gown that YY wore for their wedding banquet 30 years ago!

The happy couple, thirty years on and beyond!
The entrance to the banquet hall was decorated with a flower arch and typical of weddings, the raised platform (stage) was furnished with a wedding cake and a champagne glass pyramid.

YY and GY, however, did not enter the hall in a formal march but with a casual wave and a walk among the tables to say “Hello” to guests gathered there.  They also did away with the silly food presentation routine and the waiters served the tables in an orderly manner.

Their children, Maurice and Lifen, did a commendable job as the event MC’s and got the evening’s programme going smoothly.  The intimate group of friends and family members laughed at (their own!) familiar faces (hair and clothes too!) among the photos in the visual compilation that marked the milestones in the lives of the anniversary couple’s 30 years together.

She always has the last say, GY?
Later, YY and GY, were invited to cut their wedding cake and pour champagne into that pyramid of glasses.  And in the tradition of Chinese weddings, they raised their glasses for three toasts, accompanied by raucous yells of “Yum Seng!”

One of our classmates, who is a proficient pie maker, helped to make little chicken pies that were prettily packed as door gifts to guests.  After distributing the pies to everyone, there were still a number left over so YY let us share them among us!

As I’m writing, I receive a message from YY saying:  “Thanks Peggy.  Just landed. Now back home,” in reply to my welcome back message because they were due back from Penang today.  She shared a few photos from what looked like a memorable trip.

Thanks, YY and GY, for letting us be part of your 30th anniversary celebration.  Our wish for you is more love as you cherish each other in the next 30 years and beyond!  God bless.

Friends celebrating with YY at the banquet table!
Friends celebrating with YY in their suite of rooms!
GY and YY enjoying our gift to them at Hotel Penaga, Penang, for their second honeymoon