Meeting readers of My Johor Stories

“It’s pouring buckets out here. We’ll probably get into City Square at 2.30pm,” was the message Gwen sent as she inched her way through the city traffic. She was bringing her mum to my Meet-the-Author event arranged by MPH at their bookstore in Johor Baru City Square.

All set to meet the readers at
MPH Bookstore Johor Baru City Square
I glanced at my watch and figured that the stormy weather was another reason to deter readers from making their way into one of the most congested areas of our city during the weekend.

This Meet-the-Author event was yet another new experience for me. Because it was held in the mall and opened to public, I was prepared for the unexpected. But I did not anticipate such bad weather.

My brother Kenneth and his wife left their home in USJ and joined the North-South Highway at 4.30am that morning to make their way to JB in good time to have lunch with me before the event, planned from 2pm to 3.30pm

My family’s love and support throughout my book project journey, were essential ingredients that kept me going on, in spite of the many personal challenges.

Gwen, who was involved in my project from the start and who had also witnessed the book launch last month, told me she was coming to this event, just to kaypoh

Signing my books for Ahmad Fadhli [Right]
I laughed at her use of this colloquialism because it aptly described the positive support of a friendly busy-body!

But now, she was going to be late.

Then my phone signaled a message from a friend who said he was coming to the event but he was unwell and on medication, and gave his apologies as he couldn’t come after all. I sent him Get Well wishes along with a snapshot of the MPH Bookstore façade.

I was in the bookstore and took a few moments to walk about to get a sense of the place. I saw how MPH had set up the event area directly in front of the Bestsellers display wall, with a table and sound-system, ready for the author [me!] to meet the readers.

Speaking to the audience in an informal setting
A few chairs were arranged in front of the table for an audience, if they wished to sit, because I would give a brief introduction to my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

MPH staff displayed my book prominently as a backdrop to the table but soon after the event was over [I saw how] they rearranged the best-selling books with the Bestsellers Lists displayed on that same wall.

It was deeply humbling to see My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage among the best-selling Non-fiction titles for four consecutive weeks and once again, I must thank all the readers for their interest and support for this Johor storyteller!

Signing my book for Carol-Ann [Left]
This was one of the first statements I expressed to the audience in the brief intro to my book. Among them were friends, family members and readers whom I just met.

Ahmad Fadhli was an early-bird who made sure he could get his books autographed so that he could present them to his friends. He came well prepared with a written list of names to help me get the spellings right – and I was happy to address them – one-by-one book.

Among the names was YAM Tunku Mariam Iskandar, a sister of the Johor Sultan. I recently met Ahmad Fadhli, a young author who was researching the Johor royal family to write a book in Malay, on the late Sultan Ismail.

Signing my books for Tiang [Left] and a friend
Another reader, Muhammad Nassim, wrote to my blog to confirm if this Meet-the-Author event was on because he wanted to come over. And he did. He also brought along my book which he was already reading, for me to autograph.

After I signed the books for Carol-Ann, a Canadian who was living in JB for the past four years with her husband, an expatriate working here, she told me that she was looking forward to hearing me speak at their club.

It took a moment for me to realize what she was referring to because there are plans for next month to meet the ladies of the Johor Baru International Women’s Association to talk about my book. I assured Carol-Ann, a member of the JB IWA, that the contents of my book would certainly be enriching knowledge to new residents of Johor.

Young Jason giving me a high-five while his parents look on
A couple who were browsing in the store, told me they were not from Johor but since they have moved to live here for work, my book should help them get to know more about Johor, her people and her heritage.

The rain must have abated by then because there was a sudden surge of shoppers in the store and several came to me to have their books autographed. One of them was a lady who I distinctly remember, told me that her name was Tiang, as in lamp-post!

So I wrote in her name as Tiang and continued to address the other books to her former classmates - Sai Hiang and Sue – who now lived abroad. She told me they were SIGS alumni and are thrilled to read about their former school principal, Mrs Dawn Parry. The late Mrs Parry is among the Johor personalities featured in the Portraits part of my book.

Meet my "youngest" reader, baby Ezra with mum, Angela
Some familiar faces who turned up were Andy Loo and his family from Taman Daya. They were not able to join me at the book launch so they made it a point to drop by to get signed copies of my book.

Jason, Andy and Judy’s young son was going to be named the “youngest” reader of my book until Angela Ho turned up with her two and a half-month old son, Ezra!

If you think Angela sounds familiar, she along with her sister, Jennifer, and their family, run Niniq Javanese Cuisine in Taman Molek. So young Ezra now holds the record as my “youngest” reader!

I was pleasantly surprised to see Joseph Chia (read: dog rescue/shelter) walking into the bookstore with an older gentleman. I had a sudden flashback to my visit to St Joseph’s School with their old boys for a school reunion event several years ago. I fished around my memory bank for his name and it suddenly popped up: Mr Toh.

Signing my book for Mr Toh [Left]
with Joseph Chia [Standing 2nd from Right] and Fadzly
Joseph is a St Joseph School alumni who brought his former teacher to my event.

My brother, who’s also St Joseph School alumni, was certainly familiar with Mr Toh, so they had a good catch-up chat.

We had a good laugh later when my brother told us that only the “naughty” students would instantly recognise Mr Toh because he was (to put it mildly…) a strict disciplinarian who applied unforgettable methods of punishment!

It was some time since I last met Vimi and when she came in with a tall boy, I guessed it must be her son, Ajay, who has since grown up from his former scrawny frame. How time has flown! Now he was no longer bashful and he even boldly posed for photos!

Vimi [Right] with her son, Ajay!
And of course, Gwen arrived with her mum on time for the start of the event and I had the pleasure of signing in her book.

All too soon the time for the event was up. After I autographed the last book, I thanked the MPH team for their help in setting up the place for my event. They are a good-natured group and they too had fun posing for photos with my book.

After such an exciting afternoon, my family and I adjourned for coffee at the café next door. And just as I was relaxing with a sip of hot hazelnut latte, I looked at my phone (which was still on silent mode) and jumped.

The message from Emilda said: “Just came to MPH to see you and get the book signed but you just left. Aaaaahhhh!”  This was followed by a more sober question: “Are you still in CS?”

Gwen [Right] with her mum, Joanne, and my signed book
My quick reply: “Yes, I’m still here. Next door having coffee.”

She replied as quickly: “OK, will be there.” And she came to the café, armed with my book.

Not only did I autograph the book for her, I also took her back into MPH Bookstore to capture that moment with a photo memento.

After a brief chat to bring me up-to-date about the school choir’s recent success in an international choir competition, Emilda, a teacher with the JB Convent, left us.

Emilda with my signed book next to the
Non-Fiction Bestsellers wall display in MPH
[By the way, when the school choir participated in a previous international choir competition held in Hoi An, Vietnam, my sisters and I happened to be on holiday there and we had the opportunity to cheer the JB Convent choir on. In that competition, they came away with a Silver award but in the recent competition, the achieved a Gold!]

Thank you, MPH for arranging this event. Thanks also to all who came by. It really means a lot to me to see these readers, who took the time and trouble to brave the stormy weather and fight the city traffic – and also to hunt for an elusive parking space in JB City Square – just to meet me for my autograph!

I also thanked Emilda for her effort to come. I regretted her initial disappointment but was glad I could still meet her and made her trip worthwhile.

She replied: “It was truly my pleasure to support a former Convent girl who has done us proud! God bless.”

Indeed, I’m so very blessed.

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