Jalan Ngee Heng Connections

My nostalgic stories about No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng, never fails to elicit some exciting responses from readers who are connecting with My Johor Stories.

Road sign on Jalan Ngee Heng in Johor Baru
Last June, I received a comment from a reader based in San Francisco, who said his family lived at No. 160 Jalan Ngee Heng before they moved to Jalan Sentosa in Larkin. He makes an annual trip back to Johor Baru to visit his mother and siblings and hopes to meet me when he’s back here.

Last December, a reader who calls himself Dr K wrote to ominously say, “Our paths may have crossed decades ago when you went to school at SIGS or CHIJ.”

Later I discovered that he used to live on the main road, Jalan Dato’ Jaafar, in Larkin Gardens before they moved to Malacca. But his childhood memories of Jalan Ngee Heng, before they moved to Larkin, included (to him) the best kway teow soup noodles from a pushcart hawker who plied his trade down Jalan Ngee Heng all the way to the pasak-kia or food court at Jalan Ungku Puan.

Dr K's favourite kway teow soup is still being
sold at the food court in Melodies Gardens
He said when his parents were staying in Larkin, he used to buy takeaway kway teow soup for breakfast whenever he visited them and lamented that it used to be just RM4 per pack then.  He was even aware that this noodles business was taken over by the hawker’s son and the business continues in a morning food court in Melodies Gardens!

When he told me his mum was known as Nurse Cheah, it all clicked as she was a friend and former colleague of my parents in the Johor Baru General Hospital. He said she was attached to the Maternal & Child Health Unit of the hospital and her team went to primary schools for screening tests and BCG vaccinations.

I can never forget her friendly and chirpy image, dressed in her crisp uniform and how she used to wear her long hair woven in two braids and wound up into buns at the side of her head – pretty much in the hairstyle sported by Princess Leia!

Once I figured out who his mum was, it was rather amusing because that meant that his dad, Uncle William, was my driving instructor!

Smooth tau-foo-fah with a side of syrup is how
some cafes serve this sweet treat now! 
He said his father taught both him and his brother to drive and was quite busy with students until he fell ill.  He recalls the driving lessons with his dad and commented that the pressure felt like slave driving but it ultimately made him a good driver.  So it turns out that Dr K and I obtained our driving skills from the same source – his dad!

During our email exchange, I kept my mum updated because his mum and mine were former colleagues.  Then my mum, the former midwife, reminded me that when Nurse Cheah was in the maternity ward after delivering her baby by C-section, they had a conversation about naming her newborn son.  Since he was born by C-section, my mum had a brainwave and suggested that Cheah name him Caesar!

I reminded Dr K about this and he admitted that his childhood name was indeed Caesar and many of his relatives still call him by this name and don’t even remember his Chinese name.  It was so interesting how we have connected through our parents!

In January, I accepted an invitation for food tasting at a Nyonya restaurant in JB and when I met the proprietress, one of my questions to her was whether she was a nyonya?

Devotees at the annual Johor Chingay parade which still
uses its traditional route along Jalan Ngee Heng
She candidly replied, “No!” She was in fact, Hakka and her grandfather, who used to sell beancurd from a pushcart, lived at Jalan Ngee Heng and his route to down to the pasak-kia at Jalan Ungku Puan was also via Jalan Ngee Heng!

I asked her for their address at Jalan Ngee Heng but she didn’t know as it was one of those houses nearer to Jalan Kebun Teh Lama, next to present-day Danga City Mall.

One of my childhood memories about living with our grandparents at Jalan Ngee Heng was buying street food from hawkers en route to the food court downtown.  I distinctly remember a Chines couple who sold beancurd drinks and dessert from a pushcart which regularly passed by our house.

Our Aunty Polly – a fan of street food – often sent us, the children, on errands to stop the hawkers to buy food or snacks from them.  In fact, we were so familiar with the beancurd couple that unknown to them, we gave them a nickname – Beano!

International sportswoman, Aunty Sylvia, at
the peak of her badminton career in 1976
Another reader, Dr Jo, Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton (Malaysia Campus) wrote me a heart-warming message.  He said:

I am an avid reader of your nostalgic JB stories.  Being a born-bred Johorean 80s baby, your stories always manage to keep me on tenterhooks, all the way to the last word.  Your recent story on the changes that happened to Jalan Ngee Heng, however, tugged my heartstrings on a totally different level.

This is because I also have lots of fond memories growing up in my own Ah Kong’s house at 72-C Jalan Ngee Heng.  It is on the other side of Danga City Mall, as opposed to 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.

Thanks for detailing how Jalan Ngee Heng was like from the 60s to 70s.  I can now fill in my own knowledge of Jalan Ngee Heng from the 80s to the present day, creating a nice little moving picture of how Jalan Ngee Heng evolved in the last 50 years.

My mum and I had a great mother-and-son night trying to piece out the surroundings of Jalan Ngee Heng last night, using your story as the guide.

Jalan Ngee Heng would again take the spotlight, with the annual Chingay happening this Friday.  This reminds me of a little tidbit of info that I would like to also share.

My mum and I spent the last Chingay, watching the parade near the Convent JB area with your Aunty Sylvia.  I also had the pleasure to take a photo with such a legendary sportswoman.  I hope to be reading more of your stories in the foreseeable future!”

Uncle Robert with his sports trophies
during his secondary school days at
English College, Johor Baru
This month, I received yet another cool message that opened with these lines:  “It is with a sense of nostalgia and some degree of emotion that I am writing this.  I was searching for photos of old Johor and Jalan Ngee Heng in particular, and among the photos, I noticed one where I recognised a familiar face – that of your grandmother!”

This JB-born reader who now lives in Brisbane, Australia, went on to describe his memories of JB and the people – our family members – whom he and his parents were acquainted with and his vivid memories of how they used to live at No. 30 Jalan Ngee Heng before moving to Taman Kebun Teh.

Among other things, he mentioned that his parents may have attended a couple of weddings in our family and he certainly remembers his parents going across to No. 154 to pay their respects at the passing of Uncle Robert.

I remember that sad period in 1970 when uncle – a sportsman and non-smoker – lost the battle to cancer.  His funeral wake was held on the badminton court at No. 154.

He concluded by saying, “Coming across your blog has made me realise I still have that Johorean in me!  Perhaps it is high time for me to make a special trip back to my roots.  I hope you don’t find this message too rambling – I have just poured out my thoughts impulsively, writing this straight after reading you blog posts.”

I’m deeply touched by the candid comments and special memories shared by readers who are responding to My Johor Stories, all of which encourages me to share more stories to inform, interest and involve Johor-born people like you!  Happy Reading!