Writer Peggy Loh regales readers with colourful tales of her beloved city in her new book, writes Putri Zanina
HER Ah Kong’s or grandfather’s house once stood at No. 154, Jalan Ngee Heng. Try and look for this house today in Johor Baru, you’ll never find it because it was torn down 40 years ago. Looking at the tiny wedge of land which is now part of a highway never fails to envelop Peggy Loh with a bout of nostalgia.
The author of the newly released book My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, let her tears flow during the launch of the book at the Double Tree by Hilton recently.
“Cry along with me!” she called out to the audience, some 100 friends, relatives and acquaintances, who have all mattered in her life in one way or another, or who have called Johor their home since the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.
“This journey was long, eventful, emotional,” said Loh, adding that it has been filled with joy, culminating in getting the book printed and launched.
Her Ah Kong’s house held memories of a bygone era when sports, specifically badminton, was the pride and passion of Loh’s family. A badminton court, that had stood adjacent to the house produced the country’s badminton champions, including All-England champion Wong Peng Soon, the first Asian ever to win the coveted title in the 1950s.
Loh’s grandfather, Ng Ngoh Tee, four-time Johor badminton champion in the 1930s, was called the Maker Of Champions, for he trained his children and others to win state, national and international titles, including the Thomas Cup.
The roots of Loh’s large family can be traced also to Wong Ah Fook, one of the pioneering Chinese who contributed to the development of modern Johor. Jalan Wong Ah Fook was named after him; it cuts through the city and holds numerous memories and historical significance, all of which are immortalised in Loh’s 168-page book.
Its three main sections are Memories, Portraits and By The Way, and the book contains vivid details that bring to life Loh’s memories that are imbued with the rich and colourful history, culture and heritage of Johor.
The author recounts the life stories of not only her family members but also past and present personalities who have left an indelible impression on the cultural life of Johor’s community. The persons include unsung heroes like Muar High School headmaster Desmond Paul Pereira and cultural activist Tan Chai Puan, whose name is synonymous with 24 Festive Drums which is renowned for the art of drumming.
Loh also takes readers down memory lane by revisiting Johor Baru’s heritage landmarks, from palaces and movie theatres to markets and food courts.
Peppering her stories with delicious personal and amusing accounts of days gone by, Loh keeps her stories short and snappy, which makes for easy reading. For instance, when her parents moved to Masai in 1964, little Loh panicked as she thought it was a Masai village, home to an East African tribe that drinks cattle blood mixed with milk. What a relief when she learnt that Masai was a town in the fringes of Johor Baru and not some distant place far away from her homeland. Going Back to Masai-chusetts leads the collection of Loh’s memorable accounts, and encapsulates the informal and enchanting tone of the entire book.
Johor Baru Member of Parliament Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad launched the book. In penning the Foreword, he said that he was inspired by the genuine connection Loh has with Johor Baru’s people, places, culture and heritage.
Loh credits the New Straits Times, particularly the newspaper’s pullout sections the Travel Times (rebranded as Life & Times Jom) and Johor Buzz for triggering her prolific writings on Johor in the early years of her foray into mainstream media. In 2010, she launched her personal blog My Johor Stories (www.peggyloh.com) where she also archives her published stories.
She also contributes stories on Johor culture and heritage to The Iskandarian, the official newspaper of Iskandar Malaysia, Johor’s main southern development corridor.
Following the release of the book by MPH bookstores in mid-July, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage has made it to its weekly bestsellers list. It is available in both hardcover (RM50) and paperback (RM32.90) at MPH bookstores nationwide. It is also available at MPH’s online store www.mphonline.com
Pictures courtesy of The Iskandaian