Mee Ho Seng Kee and my book

“Wantan mee!” declared my aunties, a unanimous decision on their first choice for lunch upon arrival to Johor Baru for a staycation with food trail with me.

At Mee Ho Seng Kee on Level 6, Johor Baru City Square,
[L to R] Auntie Polly, mum, yours truly and Auntie Sylvia
Since they relocated to Kuala Lumpur with their families, my aunties often longed for the familiar taste of their favourite food in JB. As often as they lamented about it, I would reply, “Come to Johor Baru and I will take you there!”

When they finally took up my offer in early September, it was a week-long stay where we revisited some of their favourite food haunts in JB, that started with Mee Ho Seng Kee.

It’s not that my aunties have not tasted these noodles for such a long time because they often had a stock of these classic handmade noodles, sent to them in KL in takeaway packages. The main difference is, they were here now for a dine-in experience.

The air-conditioned modern café on Level 6 of Johor Baru City Square clearly had no resemblance to their original stall set up at that corner coffeeshop at Jalan Meldrum.

The shop's brand name was inscribed on the wooden chairs
At the entrance, I read signs with instructions on where to queue for dine-in and takeaways. This gave us an idea of how well they were organized in an attempt to provide more efficient service.

So we joined the queue for dine-in and I said, “Four,” to the staff who was helping to seat diners at the first available tables.

It was then a little after the peak lunch hour so there was not such a crowd of diners and we were soon shown to a table.

As we walked pass the kitchen, I peeked through the window in the wall and spied the young proprietor, Elton Ho, working alongside his kitchen team.

While menus were on the table for our viewing and selection, my attention was riveted to the wooden chairs – more specifically, the top of the chairs – where the shop’s brand name was beautifully inscribed. To me, this was something new.

Original dry-tossed wantan noodles with a side of soup
and an additional order of dry-tossed wantan
Armed with a forward-thinking enterprising spirit, Ho had done well to keep their noodles shop’s brand in the forefront!

As my aunties studied the menu and placed our orders for servings of the original dry-tossed noodles, they requested for their signature chillie sauce to be served on the side. 

In this way, they could add the chillie to their own desired level of spiciness and enjoy the full flavour of these familiar handmade noodles.

While the menu offered a choice of deep-fried wantan and wantan in soup, my aunties preferred the taste of its dry version, served with wantan dry-tossed in chillie sauce.

Autographing his book in the noodle shop!
Seated in air-conditioned comfort to wait for our order to be served, we commented on how different it was from the old days when diners would be waiting in abject discomfort…

On the wall, a flat-screen television had coloured photos and short videos playing on a loop for diners to see some of the items on the menu and witness how the wantan noodles continue to be traditionally handmade – using duck’s eggs – in the family’s noodle recipe.

Just as our order was served and before the serving staff could leave our table, I asked him to please say “Hello” to Ho, and let him know my name was Peggy. I repeated my name to the staff – just to be sure that he got it right.

And I guess he did.

We had almost finished our meal when a smiling Ho came out of the kitchen, wet with perspiration and dusted with a coat of fine flour, even though he was wearing an apron.

With Elton Ho and my book!
He was not only familiar with me but his family was also acquainted with my mum and aunties, especially Auntie Sylvia, whose husband’s family used to live next door to the Ho family, back then in Jalan Meldrum.

It was good to see Ho again and after chatting a while, he apologized to me because he failed to go to the MPH Bookstore on Aug 26 while I was there to meet my readers.

He deeply regretted not being able to leave his workstation that afternoon – in spite of the fact that MPH Bookstore was in the same building – and assured me that he did buy a copy of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

My aunties chatted with Ho at the counter and just as we were about to leave, I was pleasantly surprised when he suddenly whipped out my book and asked me to autograph it!

Of course, I happily obliged.

My aunties were happy to snap photos of us from different angles!

I'm deeply grateful that readers like Ho have helped to keep my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage on the MPH Non-Fiction [Local] Bestsellers list for nine consecutive weeks since it was launched in mid-July. Thank you, everyone!

My Johor Stories, book review

On Sept 16, Malaysia Day 2017, my book review by Putri Zanina Megat Zainuddin was a 2-page feature in NST Life & Times Pulse. In the closing paragraphs, Putri wrote:

A two-page spread in NST Life & Times Pulse on Sept 16,
view of the online version 
“She attributes the New Straits Times, particularly the newspaper’s past pull-out sections, the Travel Times [rebranded as Life & Times Jom] and Johor Buzz for her prolific writings on Johor in the early years of her foray into the mainstream media.”
  
I do indeed! And I also attribute my success with Johor Buzz, [rebranded as Johor Streets] to former JB Bureau Chief, Shahrum Sayuthi, for the opportunities and encouragement to contribute to this Southern section of the newspapers. This pull-out section ceased to be published after Dec 2014.

Just before 10am on Malaysia Day 2017, MPH Publishing general manager, Sze Mei, sent me a photo she took of the 2-page spread of Putri’s review. MPH was then discussing dates with me for a Meet-the-Readers event at their bookstore in 1Utama.

The two-page newspaper spread!
At about 11am, I received a message from Intan Maizura Kamal, Life & Times Pulse editor, with a reminder: “Hi…don’t forget to get today’s NST!”

Thanks for the reminder Intan, I certainly did not. I deeply appreciate how the 2-page spread for my book review turned out – complete with old photos from my book!

When I thanked Putri for her glowing review of my book, she replied saying: “I’m happy it turned out so well.” And ended with a question: “When is your appearance in KL?”

I met Putri for the first time in the offices of The New Straits Times at No. 31 Jalan Riong in Kuala Lumpur. She was then editor of Travel Times, a pull-out section of the NST newspapers, dedicated to travel related news and stories.

As in most interviews, I felt rather nervous. I had responded to a print ad in the Travel Times seeking writers and as requested, submitted a few sample pieces of my writing with my application.

It was simply nerve-wracking, waiting for her comments on my writing but Putri quickly put me out of my misery. She told me the interview was just a formality for them to meet me in person and assured me that my letter of appointment should be received in the next two weeks!

And that was the start of my working relationship with Putri.

I still remember how she used to encourage me with brief comments on the words and phrases I creatively coined and while I was their Johor-based writer, she often gave me assignments with interesting travel experiences.

On her retirement, Putri continued as a contributing writer and I went on working with the newspaper, rebranded Life & Times Jom and the new editor, Zalina Mohd Som.

When I told Zalina, now Editor of Travel & Food, about my book launch, she said: “Wow! That is awesome! Congrats Peggy! So proud of you, so proud of Travel Times too for being part of this milestone.

When I invited Putri to my book launch in Johor Baru, I was thrilled that she not only accepted my invitation but also told me that she will write the book review. To me, it was such a privilege for my former editor to review and comment about my book!

MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list for week
ending Sept 7, published in the Sunday Star
Meanwhile, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage continues to appeal to a host of readers and kept my book on the MPH Non-Fiction [Local] Bestsellers list for consecutive weeks since its launch in mid-July 2017.

As I said before, its a bonus to be on the Bestsellers list. Just getting the book on the shelves and sharing my stories with readers was all I wanted to do.

Yet I’m ever grateful to all who appreciate what I shared in my book and I enjoy getting interesting and sometimes amusing feedback from readers. Here’s a recent example:

“Yes, the kuaci!” a friend quoted what his grandmother said and how his mother unanimously agreed when they discussed my story about the old cinemas in JB. They could relate to what I wrote as they recalled their own experiences with kuaci or toasted melon seeds, a popular snack – before the popcorn era – while watching movies!

Two days ago, I received a Facebook message from a reader who wrote: “I was in Borders yesterday and saw a book written about Johor. When I flipped the pages and saw the photos, it triggered off a memory recall…” and she went on to introduce herself.

This message not only reconnected us but reminded me of a conversation I had with Sze Mei some time ago. She told me Borders bookstore was receiving enquiries on their website for My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and to meet this demand, they ordered a consignment of my books.

So now, in addition to MPH bookstores nationwide and on line via www.mphonline.com my books are also available at Borders in Kuala Lumpur!

Speaking about KL, I’m so looking forward to meeting my readers there very soon!

Amari JB - Angry Birds launches partnership

Red Jungle Run, Red Bird Sona, Anti-Gravity Trampolines, Lazer Maze Spaceship, Air Parkour Track and the Space Drop Airbag. These are some of the exciting attractions in the Angry Birds Activity Park Johor Baru that young visitors to JB can enjoy in an international brand theme park here.

Guests gathered at the launch of partnership between
Amari Johor Baru and Angry Birds Activity Park Johor Baru
All this and more are offered in a recently launched special Angry Birds Family Package through a partnership between the Amari Hotel Johor Baru and the Angry Birds Activity Park Johor Baru.

This family package includes a 2-day 1-night stay at Amari JB with breakfast for two adults and one child with 15% discount on food and beverage from hotel outlets and 15% discount off treatments at the Breeze Spa.

On arrival, the guests will be welcomed by a refreshing drink and fruits and best of all, this package includes tickets to the Angry Birds Activity Park!

Strategically situated along the city’s main street, Jalan Wong Ah Fook, the Amari JB and the theme park are literally a few steps away, situated on opposite sides of the road!

The cake-cutting ceremony that symbolically
launched this new partnership
This new city centre 242-room hotel with its lobby on level six, is a brand with its origins in Thailand that celebrates the colours and rhythms of modern Asia.

Locals, familiar with landmark cinemas, Rex and Lido, will recognise that the hotel is situated on its former site and enjoys convenient access from two routes – on foot via bubble lifts from Jalan Wong Ah Fook and by car, from Jalan Trus.

The launch event was also an opportunity for the hotel to exercise their Corporate Social Responsibility.

Some 25 children and their supervisors from the Calvary Welfare Home were invited along to meet the Angry Birds Activity Park mascots, Red and Chuck, and witnessed the launch of the partnership in a cake-cutting ceremony.

Damansara Assets Executive Director, Tuan Haji Yusaini Haji Sidek, Damasara Assets Senior General Manager, Md Zin Md Yasin, Amari JB General Manager, Wayne Lunt, Tourism Malaysia, Johor, Acting Director, Aaron Gan and Ahmad Nizam of Tourism Johor took part in the cake-cutting ceremony.

Red and Chuck with the Flock from Angry Birds Activity
Park lead the children in taking part in an action song
Lunt was confident that through this partnership, hotel guests will enjoy a memorable stay with the Amari JB with an exciting visit to the Angry Birds Activity Park which is located within Komtar Johor Baru City Centre.

“Our location is absolutely perfect because the hotel is right in heart of downtown Johor Baru and situated opposite Komtar JBCC,” he said.

After an action-packed day at the park and shopping in the JBCC mall, guests may rejuvenate at the hotel’s Breeze Spa or indulge in a hearty meal at the Amaya Food Gallery for some of Asia’s best street food.

The Angry Birds Activity Park is one of the major attractions for youngsters that downtown JB has to offer and it’s not only popular with local, Singaporean and Indonesian visitors, but also for visitors from throughout the globe.

He also said that Amari JB is strongly committed to an active role in making the communities they live and work in, a better place for all.

The children enjoying refreshments in the hotel at
the close of the launch event
While the hotel engages their staff, guests, community partners and owners to develop effective ways to create a sustainable value for their businesses, they also believe that they must address environmental and social challenges in the community.

To this end, the launch of the partnership between Amari JB and Angry Birds Activity Park included how it may also benefit the children from the welfare home.

Besides being entertained by Red and Chuck and the Flock from the park, the children each received a complimentary entrance ticket to the park (on a separate date!) and an Angry Bird lunch box from the park as well as a box of chocolate cookies from the hotel.

Angry Birds Activity Park Johor Baru is at Level 3, KOMTAR Johor Baru City Centre, Jalan Wong Ah Fook while the Amari Johor Baru is at No. 82-C Jalan Trus, Johor Baru.

The Angry Birds Family Package starts from RM520, with the price based on the guests’ choice of rooms. For enquiries and reservations, Tel: 607 – 266 8888. Website: www.amari.com

Rocking good meal at Rock Bottom

The evening sun is still bright as I drive my friends to Puteri Harbour for dinner so I take a detour into Kota Iskandar for a drive-through to let them admire the magnificent buildings around Dataran Mahkota.

Facade of Rock Bottom Kitchen & Bar, Puteri Harbour
Since the state administrative center moved to Kota Iskandar, not many people have reason to visit simply because most of our necessary administrative work could be completed quite conveniently at the one-stop Urban Transformation Center or UTC in Galleria Kotaraya.

Looking back, I don’t know if it was this detour which delayed our meal at Rock Bottom Kitchen & Bar and in turn, increased our appetite because we did justice to all the food we ordered from the menu!

As its name suggests, Rock Bottom Kitchen & Bar is essentially a restaurant and bar.

A glittering wall behind the bar at Rock Bottom!
At the entrance, one of the first things that grab our attention is a long bar set up to a glittering backdrop of a mirrored wall and decorated with liquor bottles. The other must be the wide screen at the back of the dining hall, which is playing non-stop music videos.

We are shown to our seats designed in a classic circular sofa around a round table and when my eyes adjust to the light, I’m pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by wall posters of the King of Rock ‘n Roll himself – Elvis Presley!

After a quick scan of the wall décor, we study the menu and discover a wide range of European dishes with a number of Indian-inspired items.

Crab Claw Salad - look out for them firecrackers!
This is probably because Rock Bottom is among the brands under the Olive Tree group of restaurants that specializes in North Indian cuisine. 

There is also a Bar Menu for snacks and promotions and a Beverage Menu with lists of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

We are simply spoilt for choice but after conferring over our preferences, we decide on sharing the dishes so that we can taste a wider range of items.

We start with an appetizer of Crab Claw Salad (RM32) and in our excitement, we probably missed out on reading the small print with ingredients which – we soon discover – includes chopped chilli, those small firecrackers hidden in the salad that kind of exploded in our mouths!

Whole prawns in the Seafood Spaghetti Olio
This fiery kick certainly whet our appetite for the rest of the meal.

Tossed in garlic, chilli flakes and white wine, we find prawns, squid, clams and scallops in the tasty Seafood Spaghetti Olio pasta (RM40). The pasta is al dente, cooked to our preferred bite even without our giving any instruction when the order was placed!

The traditional braised lamb shank on a bed of mashed potatoes looks like what we expect from a serving of Lamb Shank (RM57) and it even feels tender under my knife.

We help ourselves to small portions and eat in silence, savouring its taste while we gently bop to the beat of the music videos.

When we finished, all that was left was a lean, long bone!
After tasting the lamb, we all agree that there’s something about this serving where the meat is not only soft and succulent but the savoury gravy is just right. 

It is quite amazing how we gradually polished off the meat and potatoes, leaving just a lean, long bone!

Outlet Manager, Narayan, says burgers are popular here and recommends the barbecued beef burger (RM38). Layered with onion rings, tomato and cheese slices, the tender minced beef patty is topped with barbecue sauce and served with a side of potato fries.

Rock Bottom's Barbecued Beef Burger
It’s an easy-to-eat item for youngsters – and there are many kids with their families in the restaurant – who seem rather at home here. 

One little girl, who’s clearly an aspiring dancer, is so captivated by the music videos that she’s dancing in front of the screen and even mirrors the artiste’s every move!

Kent, the Outlet Manager for the Olive Kitchen & Bar, which happens to be located just next door, graciously recommends the Chicken Tikka Masala (RM37). 

We agree that a bit of rice will be interesting as this serving comes with fragrant chat rice, a juicy chicken breast with a side of creamy sauce.

The table suddenly seems too small for all the items but the serving staff is efficiently clearing away empty dishes and even offering to change our plates as we savour different dishes and get various flavours mixed up on the side plates.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Then it’s time for dessert. While the choices are limited, the size and quality of the servings more than makes up for it.

The block of Chocolate Brownie (RM18) topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, is deliciously rich and moist. 

And we also like the slices of Caramelized Banana (RM18), topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, swimming in a boat of brandy and Kahlua coffee liqueur.

Feeling full and relaxed, we are tempted to linger over drinks long into the night but instead, we wisely choose to stretch our legs and take a leisurely walk on the promenade to enjoy the balmy breezes at Puteri Harbour before calling it night.

Chocolate Brownie [Foreground]
and Caramelized Banana [Background]

Rock Bottom Kitchen & Bar is at Lot LG-13, Lower Ground Floor, Puteri Harbour, Persiaran Puteri Selatan, Puteri Harbour, 79000 Iskandar Puteri, Johor.

Open daily from 12pm to 12.45am (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), 12pm to 1.45am (Thursday, Friday, Saturday).

For reservations, Tel: 607 – 509 6617 and 6017 - 774 5929.

Traditional handcrafted mooncakes at Wan Li

It’s the Mid-Autum Festival again and Wan Li Restaurant at the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel is celebrating the season by presenting a range of handcrafted mooncakes.

A range of traditional baked mooncakes by Wan Li Restaurant
I’m at Wan Li for a media preview of these traditional pastries and I cannot wait to sample the mooncakes – which I guess – will be served as dessert after our lunch menu of Chinese dishes.

I thought it must be quite harrowing for Dim Sum Sous Chef, Go Yong Jia, to demonstrate the art of hand-making mooncakes under our watchful eyes, as cameras clicked and videos filmed.

But Chef Go remained focused on his task and hardly broke a sweat as he deftly moved around his work station to shape the pastries into traditional wooden moulds, aptly designed with an embossed rendition of the capital letter “R” for Renaissance Hotel, on top of the baked mooncakes.

As our non-Chinese media friends ask curious questions about the tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival and how it is practiced here, my thoughts race back to childhood days when the family would gather for dinner in our Ah Kong or grandfather’s house.

Chef Go Yong Jia demonstrating the
art of handcrafted traditional mooncakes
However, mooncakes or the dinner menu were far from my thoughts because my fondest memories of this season must be playing with lanterns. It was that time of year when my cousins, siblings and I had permission to play in the dark!

I remember lighting up candles to stand them within paper lanterns and walking down the pitch-dark passage behind the bungalow and badminton court, where the lanterns glowed the brightest.

The looming tall bamboo fence that surrounded Ah Kong’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng, would cast menacing shadows and made our night adventure even more exciting.

There would be much jostling about in the dark and I recall that incident of a candle which was accidentally tilted against the side of a paper lantern and our shock to see how quickly the lantern went up in flames!

Most traditional Chinese homes would celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with a family dinner, not unlike the reunion dinner held on the eve of the lunar new year, and this year, the annual celebration on the lunar calendar coincides with October 4.

While the menu for the Mid-Autumn Festival may not be as elaborate or rich with auspicious ingredients, this reunion dinner will bring the family together again and mooncakes are significantly featured from the start to the end.

Chef Go presenting a variety of baked
mooncakes [Left] and snow skin mooncakes
It’s a tradition for families and friends to present each other with mooncakes and these are usually brought to the reunion dinner and presented to the host with pride.

After dinner, the family and guests will savour the mooncakes with sips of quality Chinese tea, usually set out in the porch or garden – under the glow of the full moon – and their conversation often includes exchanging anecdotes and legends about the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival!

Over the years, I observed how mooncake gift boxes were becoming more creative, elaborate and attractive. This is all good because I’m happy to keep the lovely boxes and recycle them for my own use!

Family members or friends who know which type of mooncake filling their host prefers, can pick from choices like Pure Lotus Paste, Lotus Paste with Single or Double Yolk and those filled with Assorted Dried Fruit and Nuts.

I’m familiar with these fillings in traditional baked mooncake varieties and my personal favourite is Pure Lotus Paste while my dad enjoyed the ones with fruit and nuts.

Close-up view of baked mooncake filled with
Green Tea with Single Yolk
Renaissance JB is taking a contemporary approach to the traditional baked and snow skin varieties of mooncake and have created trendy types of fillings to meet the tastes of modern mooncake connoisseurs.

In addition to the traditional fillings of Lotus Paste in the baked mooncakes, there are also choices like Jade Custard and Green Tea with Single Yolk.

While snow skin mooncakes are a relatively new creation for the Mid-Autumn Festival, it has gained popularity and the increasing choices of fillings is proof that it’s here to stay.

Some of the exciting flavours to choose from include Dark Chocolate Crunchy Pearl, Coffee Truffle, Taro Paste Truffle, Mango Paste Truffle, Green Tea Matcha Truffle, Passion Fruit Truffle, Peppermint Chocolate Truffle, Strawberry Truffle and the tempting taste of fresh durian in Durian Madness.

Pretty pastel coloured snow skin mooncakes, with a view
of the Durian Madness mooncake stuffed with fresh durian!
These handcrafted delicacies are made with natural ingredients with no preservatives and when the snow skin varieties are brought home, they should be kept refrigerated to preserve its quality.

I’m making a mental note of this important info as Chef Go presented a variety of baked and snow skin mooncakes for us to sample.

The snow skin varieties are distinguished by a range of pretty pastel colours like purple for Taro, green for Green Tea Matcha and pink for Strawberry but it is rather challenging to tell which shade of yellow is Mango or Passion Fruit.

It is however, very easy to spot which snow skin mooncake is stuffed with fresh durian because its pungent aroma preceded it!

These handcrafted mooncakes are exclusively available from Wan Li for a limited time – until Oct 4 – so rush over to enjoy Early Bird discounts before Sept 15.

A set of eight snow skin mooncakes is priced at RM108 nett and a set of four baked mooncakes cost RM98 nett only while the Durian Madness set of eight snow skin mooncakes is at RM168 nett.

Wan Li Restaurant [Pork-Free] is on the lobby level of the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel, 2 Jalan Permas 11, Bandar Baru Permas Jaya, 81750 Masai, Johor. 

For advance orders and enquiries, Tel: +607 – 381 3388 or email: MuhammadZachary.ChewAbdullah@renaissancehotels.com

Heritage walk with friends from Kajang

September kicked off with a long weekend of public holidays for National Day and Hari Raya Haji plus a bonus day off declared for the nation’s medal haul at the recent SEA Games.

Friends from Kajang at
the start of our heritage walk
For most Malaysians, it was only natural to take advantage of this break to chill out or to make a short trip. Our friends in Kajang decided that Johor Baru was their destination.

As they planned their itinerary in JB, I was asked to take them on a heritage tour to let the young people have an insight into our city’s heritage quarter.

I agreed to do so because it will be interesting for the visitors to have a heritage experience at the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum and walk around the old streets where it was also hip and happening.

Through my research and writing I’ve become familiar with Johor heritage but I told them that I’m not a tour guide. I’m just a person who’s passionate about sharing our city’s heritage with others.

On the morning of our tour, the weather was bright and clear. And because the group was rather big – seven guys and eight girls with one toddler – it was important to give them an overview of the sights with some background info before we headed out to the streets.

An Instagram-worthy shot of young Asha
taken at a destination along Jalan Dhoby
Besides sharing with them the landmarks in our Street of Harmony, I wanted to show them that the dodgy image of Jalan Dhoby had long been wiped clean and it now has some of the most ‘Instagrammable’ destinations here.

The main advantage of visiting the heritage sector on a stretch of major public holidays is the absence of traffic congestion and where less cars were parked indiscriminately.

[It was a public holiday and parking was Free-of-Charge on the city's public parking lots, yet some drivers were just too lazy to park there and walk a few steps into the heritage quarter!]

This allowed us to take a scenic drive through the streets to point out the places of worship of the main ethnic groups here, on the trail known as the Street of Harmony.

The main setback of a public holiday however, was that many outlets and businesses were closed. But this certainly did not deter our group from enjoying the heritage walk.

Here is a collection of photo momentoes of our walk around JB’s heritage quarter:o


Our visitors listening attentively to my commentary on the chronology of events that took place in early Johor
A lovely group shot - spoiled by an indiscriminately parked car [Shame on you!] at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk


For the first time, I saw this building facade at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, without any vehicles blocking my view!
By the end of the walk, our visitors were richer by the wealth of information they received through this exciting experience. Among other interesting historical facts, now they know how pepper and gambier earned their place of honour in Johor, what are kangchu, who was Tan Hiok Nee and why this road was named after him.   

A major milestone for My Johor Stories

When I started my book project in February 2017, I did not know that it was the start of an eventful journey where my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, would end up at the No. 1 spot on the MPH Publishing, Non-Fiction Best-sellers list, for the week 14 July to 20 July.

Presenting a giant mock-up of her book, My Johor Stories:
True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage
to guest-of-honour,
Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad at the book launch event
This was achieved only because readers are keen to have copies of my book and are happy to present it to others as a unique gift with a Johor flavour.

Most readers are familiar with my work, first published in The New Straits Times, The Iskandarian and in my blog of the same name, and are aware that I write, not only about my family in ‘grandfather stories’ but also about interesting Johor personalities as well as Johor-centric stories that encourage unity and increase understanding.

I appreciate the partnership of The Iskandarian which provided me with an avenue to share more Johor stories and have even dedicated an entire page to My Johor Stories in their monthly publications.

A display of items from a bygone era to set the mood for
the launch of My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People,
Rich Heritage
, a collection of best-loved stories on
Johor's social history
As Johor is rapidly developing into a modern metropolis with new leisure, education, business and residential developments in Iskandar Puteri, investors and new residents are moving to live and work here. 

While everyone is keen on economic and social progress, I thought that it was also good to balance the new with the old and share about local heritage in my stories.

Among the stories first published in The Iskandarian that garnered a wide readership are my recollections in Old Markets and Bus Terminals, and my memories on Johor Baru’s First Food Court.

Many readers could identify with the details I described and they wrote to me with comments and even shared their own memories!

Guests responding spontaneously to my question about their partiality to the food served at the pasak-kia, JB's first
food court; My nephew, Aaron Loh [Standing] recording the event, live-streaming to share with our relatives
in the UK and Australia  
Recently, I read that Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) is considering to rebuild the food court at Jalan Ungku Puan as part of the Sungai Segget rejuvenation project.

While I like the idea of giving new generations the experience of an upgraded version of JB’s first food court, a great deal must be done before they can even consider creating a modern food court near Sungai Segget. This includes improving traffic control, public parking habits and proper food sanitation and disposal facilities in the heart of the city

I wonder what IRDA Advisor and Member of Parliament for Johor Baru, Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, have to say about it?

When he was elected to the role in 1978, his political career brought him to JB and the city is now his adopted home. Over the years, we met regularly at community events and he was familiar with how I was connecting people to Johor Baru through my work.

When I approached Tan Sri Shahrir to invite him to write the Foreword for my book, his reply was spontaneous and positive. When we met to talk about it, he also generously placed an advance order for 500 copies of my books!

Then I learnt that he wanted to distribute my books to the libraries of all the secondary schools in his constituency to encourage the reading habit. I was simply stunned and humbled by his overwhelming support.
                   
I was also pleased that Tan Sri Shahrir graciously agreed to be the guest-of-honour who will launch my book.

My book launch event was graced by guests in a veritable Who’s Who in Johor Baru list and I was deeply honoured by their presence. It did not matter if they were titled or not because to me, it was particularly meaningful that everyone gathered for my event, wanted to be there.

I also appreciate the professional partnership of MPH Publishing and Think City, and their support to make my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, a reality.

Linda [Left] who was in charge of the book sale
at my book launch event held at the
DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru
A MPH book sale table was set up at the event and even before the event programme started, guests were buying books. Early this year, I started the book project with no expectations but I’m deeply grateful for the positive response to my book.

At the close of the event, Linda, who was in charge of the book sale, told me with much amazement, that in her 20-year career with MPH, she participated in many book launches but never before were the books sold-out. All the books they brought for sale – not counting the bulk pre-orders that were set aside – were sold!

Later I was told that in the history of MPH book launches, never before, even in Kuala Lumpur, were all the books sold-out at a launch event. Not until my book launch on July 15, 2017 in Johor Baru!

On July 24, I received an email from MPH Publishing with the message:

"Dear Peggy,
My Johor Stories made it to the MPH weekly bestsellers list for last weekend!
Heartiest congratulations!!!"

This message was followed by the list of book titles and authors, with my book title and my name topping the list at No. 1.

It really didn’t matter if my book was a bestseller or not, but to be added into the MPH Bestsellers’ list and hitting the Non-Fiction, No. 1 spot, is undeniably, an added bonus!

In August, I received another message from MPH to inform me that my book stayed on the MPH Bestsellers’ list for two consecutive weeks. 

The most recent update I received from MPH informed me that My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, was the No. 3 Non-Fiction Bestseller for the week ending Aug 24, 2017, and by then, it had been on the Bestsellers list for five consecutive weeks!

Autographing my book for Grace Chiam [Right] while
DoubleTree by Hilton JB general manager, Daniel Alcaraz,
looks on
I share this humble achievement with readers who appreciate how I enjoy sharing my Johor stories. I couldn’t have achieved it without you, the readers, and I thank you, ever so much!

While I’m still receiving positive feedback and comments about my book, one reader succinctly sums it up by saying, “You’ve put all my fondest memories of JB into the book and more that I wasn’t aware of!”

Through social media, I see photos of friends and family in KL, the UK and Australia, reading my book. It’s both heart-warming and amusing to see how far – physically – my book has gone.

My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, is available at MPH Bookstores nationwide and online through www.mphonline.com

A version of this was published in the September 2017 issue of The Iskandarian