My version of Great Expectations

When I think about Pip and Magwitch, characters in Great Expectations, a novel by Charles Dickens published in 1861, it’s not too far-fetched to find a parallel in how I too was blessed by my benefactors.

My book [can you spot it?] remained in the
MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list since it
was launched in mid-July
Pip was an orphan who lived with an abusive sister and her blacksmith husband. He was an unhappy child and often played in the churchyard, close to his parents’ tombstones. While he was there, young Pip met Magwitch, an escaped convict.

The story unfolds with an anonymous patron and benefactor whose generosity lifted Pip out of his miserable circumstances and moved him to London where he was groomed into an educated gentleman.

All the while Pip thought that his benefactor was the eccentric Miss Havisham (who kept her wedding gown on after she was left at the altar on her wedding day!) so he was shocked to discover that his mysterious benefactor was in fact, Magwitch!

This is my version of the story:

Throughout the journey to the birth of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, I met with people with big hearts and the goodwill I received from their kindness and generosity was just overwhelming.
                        
It started with the grant sponsorship from Think City. This was followed by the advance order for 500 books by Member of Parliament for Johor Baru, Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad. This said a great deal about his confidence in me because even before he saw the Contents in my book, the order was placed!

At MPH 1Utama, my book was
displayed on the same wall shelf,
along with books by Tun Dr M
and Datuk Lat!
Looking back to the early stages of my book project, I remember working furiously on the manuscript to meet the Milestones agreed with Think City.

When I was close to completing my second Milestone, I remember thinking seriously about how my book would be distributed and praying earnestly for a solution.

Meanwhile Think City was talking to distributors – mostly based in Kuala Lumpur –but they had yet to revert about the progress of their pursuits.

Unlike other books that had a niche audience, for example a book on say, diving sites in Johor, such books had a natural distribution channel to diving clubs, schools and enthusiasts.

My book, however, was for a wider reading audience and for weeks, while I wondered how it was going to be distributed, I prayed without ceasing.

Around this time our missionary friends, Mr & Mrs Cheong, Whye Choon and Swee Gim, were visiting our church from Kuala Lumpur.

Over dinner, they asked about the latest happenings in my life so I shared with them about my book project and how it was coming together beautifully.

A most memorable dinner with the Cheong's, Whye Choon
and Swee Gim, mum [Left] and I [behind the camera]
With the final manuscript almost ready, I needed a publisher to help with the book distribution.

After Swee Gim conferred with her husband about their friend who’s in publishing, they proposed to share with him about my project to see how he may be able to help.

She asked me to send her the relevant info about my project to share with her friend. At this point, I had no idea who their friend was.

A few days later, I received an email from Sze Mei, General Manager of MPH Publishing, Kuala Lumpur which read:

“Swee Gim, a friend of yours contacted my CEO, Datuk Ng and told him about your book, My Johor Stories. I am happy to inform you that MPH is keen to explore this publishing opportunity with you. Please get in touch with me.”

I read and re-read the email, pausing at the phrase – my CEO – and praised God for answering my prayers with this amazing turn of events!

When Swee Gim said she would share about my book project with her friend in publishing, she never hinted that this friend was the MPH Group chief executive officer, Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan!

I later learnt that Datuk Ng and Swee Gim were friends in Taiping since their days in Youth Fellowship and remained in touch even after they moved to work in KL.

Irene Tan [Centre] brought a backpack of my books
for my signature; with Roseline Ong [Right]
I couldn’t help but recalled the Great Expectations story and saw the parallel in how Swee Gim and Datuk Ng were a blessing to me, just as Magwitch was to Pip!
            
At first Datuk Ng was like an anonymous benefactor but all was revealed when I received that email from MPH Publishing.

From his intuition and experience in this industry, I guess Datuk Ng probably recognized how readers could identify with the local flavour of my book and gave a local writer like me, the platform to showcase My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

Even as I’m grateful for the partnership with MPH, no one – not even me – ever guessed how well my book would be received by readers. In fact, readers are still seeking me out to autograph their books, not only for themselves but to present to others as gifts!

Elizabeth Louis [Right] brought her book along to a
meeting for me to autograph!
When I met Sze Mei at MPH 1Utama last Saturday for the Meet-the-Readers event in KL, I was delighted with her update that in addition to MPH bookstores nationwide and online, my book is now also available at Borders and Kinokuniya bookstores!

With the presence of an encouraging Saturday afternoon crowd, the Meet-the-Readers event at MPH 1Utama went very well. Little did I know that Sze Mei was then keeping Datuk Ng informed of the event happenings through her photos and short videos!

At the close of the event, I was happy to autograph a hardcover copy of my book for Sze Mei to present to Datuk Ng later.

On Sunday morning, together with the Cheong’s, my family and I went to church where we met with Datuk Ng and his wife. It was a special moment for me when I finally shook his hand and personally thanked him for the privilege to publish my book with MPH.

Peggy with Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan, MPH Group CEO
Datuk Ng casually showed me his phone where he received photos and videos of my event at MPH 1Utama the day before – proving that he was aware of the happenings …

I was deeply humbled when Datuk Ng apologized for not being able to attend my book launch in JB and assured me that he will be there for the launch of my next book!

Next book? My head was still spinning from the exciting thought of working on a sequel as we proceeded to the foyer for morning coffee.

I’m ever grateful for the support and partnership of MPH and especially for readers who have kept My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage on the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list since my book was launched in mid-July. THANK YOU!

Meet-up with KL readers

“I’m here,” read the phone message from Harban Singh and continued, “Finding a parking lot is a challenge.” I put away my phone and whispered an arrow prayer for him.

The author [Center] with [L to R] Wendy, Khatijah,
Barbara, Mastura, Emma and Kausar
1Utama mall in Bandar Utama Damansara, Petaling Jaya, one of the biggest shopping malls in the world, on Saturday afternoon, 2pm to 4pm at MPH bookstore: the venue and time at the mall for my meet-the-readers event in Kuala Lumpur.

I’m deeply grateful for the support of readers, relatives and friends like Harban, who braved the city traffic and challenging parking conditions in this massive mall, to get to the event.

Among the early arrivals was Wendy Lam, a bubbly young lady whom I met on a travel assignment to Macau a few years ago. I was touched that she kept her word to be there early.

William Goh, formerly from No. 138 Jalan Ngee Heng
My JB Convent kakis now based in KL, also kept our appointment and in trooped Emma Suki, Kausar Kassim and Mastura Jaffar. More former classmates followed closely behind and while I easily recognized Barbara Lim, I took some time to place Khatijah!

William Goh introduced himself as a former neighbour at Jalan Ngee Heng, Johor Baru, giving me descriptions of his father’s bicycle shop at No. 138, situated next to a dhoby shop. Now based in KL, he explained that his wife also belonged to the JB Convent alumni and they follow my blog, My Johor Stories.

I reminded him that I was then a school-going child when I lived with our grandparents at No. 154 and did not have permission to venture very far from home so I do not have any recollection of the shops that were located on that part of the long road.

[In those days, Jalan Ngee Heng used to span the length of present-day Jalan Tun Abdul Razak from the junction of Jalan Kebun Teh Lama all to way to the junction with Jalan Gereja.]
                                      
With Lawrence Voon
William, who admitted that he was kampong kid who had a free run of the area, commented that compared to him, I must have been very ‘sheltered.’ Indeed, all the girls who lived in Ah Kong’s house – his daughters and grand-daughters – were sheltered enough from harm but back then, it was also very safe for us to walk to school.

I was pleased to introduce William to my older family members at the event, like Auntie Sylvia and her husband, who could probably reminisce more about the Jalan Ngee Heng neighbourhood with him.

The space in front of the Wrapping Counter (used for the event) in MPH bookstore 1Utama, was getting crowded with people and I saw store staff bringing out more chairs for the guests.

I was much encouraged by the crowd gathered, that included family members from Sydney and Perth who were still here from last week’s family event, who came to the event along with members of our church family who were now based in KL.

A section of the audience during my reading
It was particularly meaningful for Lawrence Voon who picked up copies of my book to share with his sisters because their mother, Auntie Betty, was like an older sister to our dad while they grew up together at the Home in Elim Gospel Hall, Ipoh.

As the event kicked off with an introduction of the author (me!) by an MPH team member, I did not see Harban in the crowd and felt a tinge of regret that he had yet to find a parking space in this massive mall …

The next hour passed in a flash as I presented an introduction to My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, with the reading of excerpts from selected stories in the various sections in my book under Memories, Portraits and By the Way.

Autographing my books for readers
During my presentation, which was casual and interactive, I enjoyed the audience’s spontaneous responses and it gave me much joy to observe how they were engaged throughout the time.

It was good that many in the audience had my books on hand so they could turn to the relevant pages to follow the portions I was reading and better appreciate it.

At the close of my presentation, it was time for the book-signing.

I assured William that he was first in the queue because he had placed his three hardcover books on the table, ready for me to autograph!

During the event, I noticed how the crowd had swelled as curious shoppers paused to watch and listen.

My brother, Kenneth, and his wife were standing at the back of the rows of chairs and a few other people were standing next to them. When these people approached me, I realized that they were not just curious on-lookers.

Peggy with Norimah [Left] and her husband, Zainal,
[2nd from Right] and his brother, Ismail [Right]
These two men gave their kind compliments on my presentation and as I acknowledged it, they asked if I remembered them. No, I must admit that I could not. But when Zainal said his name, it triggered off a memory!

In 2012, Zainal Yusof and his wife Norimah came to JB on a quest to verify the details recorded in his late mother’s autobiography because he was preparing the manuscript to get it published.

I had connected them with Amy Wong, a pioneer of the Kirkby College in the UK, where his late parents were also trained, and we met for tea at the Mutiara JB.

The late Amy Wong (Pillar of JB Convent) was among the Johor personalities featured under Portraits in my book. My blog post, The Quest, is a record of Zainal’s meet-up with her.

When I saw Norimah next to Zainal, it confirmed who they were and as the memory flooded back, I asked if his book was already published. He pointed to his brother, Ismail, in an attempt to pin the blame on him for the delay…

Peggy with Harban Singh
Their sister, Mai and her husband, who were on holiday in KL, were also present in an incredible reunion of sorts (for me!) because one of the personalities featured under Portraits in my book, was their late uncle’s wife, Ramlah Mohamed (Her Convent Bond)!

When I looked up from autographing the books, I was glad to spot Harban – who must have arrived at some point during my presentation – standing tall, dark and … talking to Veronica, my sister-in-law.

They were friends from the Malaysia Nature Society before he got acquainted with me several years ago while I was on a travel assignment in Johor National Parks. Now based in KL, Harban clearly spared no effort to come to the event.

In spite of all the excitement, I know I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd than this.

Thank you all for your presence and support. Your interest in My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, has kept this title on the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list since it was launched on July 15.  THANK YOU!

The Johor pineapple - inspiration for invention

Five students in the Research & Development Team of the Science & Mathematics Society at SMK I.J. Convent Johor Baru, has done the nation and Johor proud for their invention of an Infinity Spoon.

The winning Malaysian team from SMK I.J. Convent
Johor Baru [L to R] Alicia Dixon, Kok Jie Yi,
M. Krisharani, Christine Ling and Janarnii Ramesh Kumar,
proudly holding their awards and certificates
The Convent Johor Baru team, comprising Alicia Dixon, Kok Jie Yi, M. Krisharani, Christine Ling and Janarnii Ramesh Kumar, was among four teams that represented Malaysia at the prestigious Euroinvent 2017, an international science competition held in Romania early this year.

Their invention of the eco-friendly Infinity Spoon clinched the Euroinvent 2017, Diploma of Gold Medal and was also awarded an Honor of Invention by the World Invention Intellectual Property Association (WIIPA).

During the prize-giving ceremony, the team was pleasantly surprised to receive a special recognition for scientific creativity and originality by the Romanian Association of Alternative Technologies ARTA Sibiu. This unexpected bonus was a wonderful surprise that simply thrilled and encouraged the young inventors.

The SMK I.J. Convent JB team was awarded with an Honor
of Invention by the World Invention Intellectual Property
Association (WIIPA) [Left] and by Euroinvent 2017 with
a Diploma of Gold Medal [Right] for their invention of the
Infinity Spoon
When I saw their photos on social media, I felt a surge of pride not only because I’m a Convent JB alumnus but also because I believe this invention was the start of something BIG.
                   
Recently I met the winning team with their teachers and mentors and learned more about their exciting journey to such an amazing achievement.

Head of Physics Department, Farrah Zainol, who taught Physics, Science and Mathematics to Form Four classes, talked about how she would get students involved in their class projects to fire up their interest in Science and Physics.

After she had laid the foundation for a passion in Physics, these students who moved into Form Five classes, would then be guided by Geetha Nair, who would prepare them for exams.

In a brainstorming session, the teachers and the R & D Team finally agreed on creating an Infinity Spoon using four types of flour.

But why did they choose to create a spoon?

When the team gave serious thought to inventing a product that will combat two major problems in the community - plastic pollution and agricultural waste - they observed how plastic spoons were widely used and discarded. 

This prompted the idea of an eco-friendly Infinity Spoon.

Samples of their Infinity Spoon dubbed Pinespoon
displayed at Euroinvent 2017, held in Romania early this year
Supervised by Farrah and mentored by Aziemah Zaini, the team worked on creating a biodegradable spoon from various types of flour and the prototype from this research project was presented at the Asian Young Inventors Awards and Expo 2017 last February.

A team of 10 Form Five and Form Four students who participated in this international event held at the Putra World Trade Centre, Kuala Lumpur, received two Silver awards.

While this outcome was encouraging, Farrah still pondered upon the judge’s comments: “… to add something – use waste and turn it into wealth…” and she wondered what kind of waste Johor has in excess that could be turned into wealth.

Farrah, who furthered her studies in the UK, remembered how she used to long for a taste of juicy Johor pineapples and how expensive it was to buy them there. Each time she enjoyed fresh pineapple, she felt sorry to throw away such a large part of the fruit.

This memory inspired her to consider how pineapple peel – a fruit waste and biodegradable substance – could be recycled into material and blended with their flour formula to create a more robust Infinity Spoon!

A special recognition for scientific
creativity and originality!
When Farrah shared her ideas with the R & D Team, they researched and experimented with pineapple peel.

Janarnii recalled that for about three months, the team researched methods to extract and implement the pineapple fibers, and tested the durability, eco-friendliness and shelf-life of their spoon, with encouraging results.

To gain more information about pineapples and how pineapple waste was being used, they visited a pineapple farm in Pekan Nanas and the institute for pineapple research.

“Our state is a leading producer of pineapple and while pineapple waste is used in many fields, it has never been used for cutlery,” said Kok about the inspiration to use Johor pineapple for their first pineapple-based cutlery which is both edible and eco-friendly.

They soon discovered how the fiber from the pineapple crown was the strongest and most suited for their Infinity Spoon so their invention was aptly named, the Pinespoon.

Farrah felt that the time was ripe for their invention to be presented at Euroinvent 2017, a 3-day competition in May, and believed that the exposure would boost the morale of the team who had worked tirelessly on this project.

“We had no money but we had moral support,” said Farrah as she described the challenges they faced and with the support of the school administration, in particular former principal, Tay Suat Gan, and students’ parents, the team went to the city of Lasi in Romania.

“Presenting our Infinity Spoon at an international platform like Euroinvent was a major step in promoting our product,” said Ling who shares her team’s desire to see their Pinespoon becoming commercially viable with the help of investors to partner them in developing and marketing this product.

SMK I.J. Convent JB teachers who led and mentored the
winning team, [3rd from Left] Geetha Nair, [4th from Left]
Farrah Zainol, [5th from Left] former principal
Tay Suat Gan and Aziemah Zaini [4th from Right]
Krisharani agreed that their spoon needs aesthetic improvement and with a proper mould, it should be more marketable and its shape, more user-friendly.

“All our hard work and sacrifices for this project was worthwhile because we proudly brought honour to our team, our families, our school and even our state and nation!” said Dixon who succinctly summed up their feelings about the recognition they received.

Established in 1927 with a tradition for excellence, Convent JB has earned a prestigious reputation as a High-Performance School for achievements in education and co-curricular activities, and has produced countless successful professionals who are contributing positively to society.

The recognition for the R & D Team’s invention is yet another accolade for the school but I believe, this is only the beginning.

With the investors’ partnership, this uniquely Johor Pinespoon may someday replace plastic spoons and make a huge environmental impact worldwide as people use this eco-friendly spoon everywhere!

Investors keen to partner the school on this project are welcome to express their interest by email to: geethanairchandra@gmail.com

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

A morning with Peggy Loh and IWA JB

When the organizer and I finally found a mutually agreeable date, an invitation with the headline, A Morning with Peggy Loh and IWA JB, was circulated among members of the International Women’s Association (IWA) Johor Baru and their Book Club.

A morning with Peggy Loh and IWA JB recently
IWA members from nations like Australia, Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Korea, Japan, Netherlands, England, Scotland, the United States, Singapore and Malaysia have made Johor Baru their home with their husbands, who are based here for work.

Established in May 1999, the IWA is a non-profit charity organization which organizes fund-raising social events to contribute towards healthcare, education and other social needs in JB. Its tagline, Connecting – Caring – Contributing, reflects how IWA recognises its role in the community.

While IWA helps expatriate women adjust to living in a foreign country, they also have a social purpose. As IWA becomes more aware of the needs of local charities, they are working in partnership to support them.

Since its inception, the IWA has raised funds to support various causes including the welfare home in Saleng, the Rotary Haemodialysis Centre and several Tamil schools in Kulaijaya. 

Peggy with Jane Perkins-Mackenzie [Left] and
Leila Nordgren [Right]
Before Johor Streets, the southern section of The New Straits Times newspapers ceased to be published in 2015, I often covered community events and had the privilege to work with the IWA and shared their community projects in this newspapers.

The members soon became familiar with what I was doing to share with readers, their community projects and how people were benefiting from it.

In mid-July several IWA members witnessed the launch of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, and showed their support not only by buying it but also by inviting me to introduce it to IWA at one of their Coffee Mornings.

I was in touch with Jane Perkins-Mackenzie (England) for the event arrangements and as we discussed the details, I agreed to check with MPH if they would set up a book sale table at the event. And they said, “Yes!”

The MPH book sale table at the event
With the venue arranged at the Amari Johor Baru Hotel, I was later informed that the place assigned for this event was the Lido Hall.

This was particularly relevant to the local heritage that I was about to share with the IWA– who are mainly expatriate ladies – and who may find it exciting that the spot we were sitting on at the event, was the site of two of JB’s popular landmarks, the former Rex and Lido cinemas!

Later when I highlighted this in my presentation as proof of the rapid development in this city, I saw their reaction to this interesting fact. I explained how the hotel owners recognized the local significance of this site and they decided to name their two event halls, the Rex and Lido!

“So now I know…” was the prevailing sentiment as I showed them more photos from my memories of the old markets and bus terminals – which were once situated on the site of present-day Johor Baru City Square mall.

Presenting my book to the IWA JB members
Even before the event programme started, some of the ladies were keen to buy my books while some brought theirs (bought earlier) along for me to autograph later.

Three ladies, Priya Preet Kaur (India), Maike Neelsen (Germany) and Tajana Holleboom (the Netherlands) approached me for a chat and Priya was quick to tell me that before moving to Johor, she read My Johor Stories on line and my stories helped her connect with this place even before she arrived!

While the number of attendees was small, the IWA members were a good audience who listened avidly as I introduced them to My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

Autographing my book for IWA members and their friends
I invited them to feel free to ask questions, during or after my presentation, and they kindly kept all their questions and comments till after.

I was deeply encouraged to hear their interesting feedback and among them was a suggestion for me to take the IWA members on a heritage tour!

It was IWA Vice-President, Anne Taylor (England) who said it would be wonderful if I could do a walk-around JB to show them the places from my book.

They also suggested that I add a map into my book to show them the relevant sites mentioned in my stories. This is worth considering simply because readers unfamiliar with or new to Johor, would get a better perspective of where these places were situated.

Signing my book for Jane Perkins-Mackenzie
Leila Nordgren (Finland) who was not able to attend my book launch event because she was back in her home country, told me she really enjoyed reading my book and my presentation at this meeting, made my Johor stories even more alive.

Akiko Kosug (Japan) was interested in my book and that was why she came to meet me.

Rocio Silva C. (Mexico) told me she learnt a lot from what I shared in the meeting and now she loves Johor more!

All too soon, our time together was nearly over but before that, we had a photo session to add these shots to the IWA newsletter, and finally, the book-signing.

I was pleased to share with IWA that for the week-ending Sept 24, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage remains on the MPH Bestsellers Non-Fiction [Local] list.

Books are available at MPH bookstores nationwide, the nearest in JB being in JB City Square or on line via, www.mphonline.com

At Bukit Timbalan, in Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim

The Johor identity is synonymous with the majestic Sultan Ibrahim Building on Johor Baru’s Bukit Timbalan and a picture of this iconic building was designed into the cover for my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

My security pass to enter the building
I've had the privilege to tour this building - more than once - when it was still open to the public and I remember having to take a separate elevator to reach its tower. Our presence up there only disturbed the birds nesting there!

I also had the opportunity to visit the offices of the previous Menteri Besar or Chief Minister before the state administrative center was relocated to Kota Iskandar. In each visit, I was fascinated to see how the pepper and gambier motif was widely used in its interior décor.

My recent visit was not as a tourist but on official business (ahem!) and yet I was thrilled to be inside this iconic building again. I just couldn’t help taking notice of the plush décor which still featured the pepper and gambier motif on mirror frames and even on wooden frames designed around elevator doors.

At the gates, it was quite an intimidating experience to face an armed guard. I stopped my car to present my identity but he was gesticulating with his one free arm while the other was holding a slung gun.

The sparkling white lift lobby and first floor landing
Then I figured out he was in fact, trying to tell me that I need not get down from my car but only to pass him my identity and tell him the purpose of my visit.

So I told him I had an appointment with Johor Royal Court Council president, Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli. It was too lengthy to explain the purpose of my visit so I summarized it as briefly comprehensive as possible before he handed me an entry pass and waved me in.

My phone signaled a message from Josh de Silva that read: “Morning Peggy, we’re at Bukit Timbalan!”

This white marble plaque with gold
lettering was the signboard to the
Johor Royal Court Council offices
Josh of Monomania (MNMN) is working on a video project and when he invited me for a coffee, I learnt more about what he was doing and thought that he should meet with Datuk Rahim to have a clearer perspective about Johor history.

Datuk Rahim had served under three Johor rulers and his vast experience and expertise in the Royal Court made him an authority, not only in matters pertaining to the royal court but also in Johor history.

He compiled the history and practices of the Johor sultanate and the royal family in a book, Adat Istiadat Kesulitan Johor Moden 1855 – 2012, which was published in 2014.

Among the books authored by Datuk Rahim was, The History of the Royal Customs and Traditions of Johor on the traditions of the Johor sultanate including the clothes in the Teluk Belanga design, the Johor Military Forces, the State anthem and the government crown.

In 2016, he launched a book on, The Coronation of HRH Sultan Ibrahim of Johor.

Books authored by Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli,
 in the Zarith Sofia Library in UTM Skudai
At the time when I was contributing my family and heritage stories to Johor Streets, the southern section of The New Straits Times newspapers, Datuk Rahim also contributed articles on the practices of the Johor Royal Court regularly. So we were fellow writers.

He was not only acquainted with me and my column but also with my family because he used to train in badminton with my Aunty Sylvia, back in the days when she was an active international sportswoman.

So when I set up an appointment for Josh to meet with Datuk Rahim, I was told that the meeting would be held at his office in Bukit Timbalan. When I gave details of the appointment to him, Josh invited me to come along so there I was that morning …

Datuk Rahim [Left] showing Josh and Moe his books
Josh and his colleague, Moazan Emran Iskandar Pino or Moe in short, were waiting in the porch of Block C. As this threesome walked in, we paused at the guard’s desk (who was closely monitoring a CCTV screen!) to tell him we were heading upstairs to see Datuk Rahim.

It was an amazing feeling to walk up the wide staircase with its mosaic tiles polished into a shiny sheen and I wistfully wondered how many dignitaries and foreign ambassadors had tread on these very same steps...

The décor in the first floor lift lobby and landing was sparkling white and my eyes were riveted to a painting on one wall where I recognized the stately flight of stairs of the Istana Besar or Grand Palace.

Check out the pepper and gambier motif
on the glass frame
We could not miss the signage designed with gold lettering against a block of white marble which read, Jabatan DiRaja Johor and walked in that direction, looking for the office door.

No willing to waste time searching through a labyrinth, I gave a call to Datuk’s personal assistant and she answered my query as to which door is their office by swiftly opening the door immediately in front of us! [Both of us were still on the phone!]

No wonder we could not find it! The sign above the wooden door was written in Jawi and neither one of us was conversant in the language…

Datuk Rahim graciously welcomed us in and we had a fruitful time together, starting with a presentation of the project, followed by Datuk’s interesting and informative input.

He was a fountain of information and only paused for moments before recalling names and dates in Johor history as he recounted rare details with us. I’m sure we could have gone on for the rest of the day but Datuk had another scheduled appointment.

A little memento of our initial meeting with Datuk Rahim
At the close of our meeting, he asked Josh and Moe if they have read his books which were available from the Zarith Sofia Library in UTM. Then Datuk invited us back again and said he was looking forward to review the fine-tuned version of their video.

With the office door firmly shut behind us, we could not resist the opportunity to take a we-fie in the lift lobby as a memento of our initial meeting with Datuk Rahim. (I guess the guard downstairs was also keeping an eye on these three, doing our we-fie!)

Hearing from Datuk Rahim, who spoke with such passion on a subject close to his heart, was indeed an illuminating experience which not only enriched our minds but also enlarged our hearts with greater pride for Johor and its rich heritage.