Johor Bahru 2020…

JB pre 2020


Excerpt from:

How Johor Bahru in Malaysia, long in Singapore’s shadow, is on the rise and making the most of its Chinese heritage

  • Johor Bahru is often dismissed as a cheap and cheerful border town for Singaporeans seeking low-cost shopping malls, spas and theme parks
  • But it’s challenging that notion by celebrating its rich Chinese history and cultural connections to the mainland
Stuart Heaver

Stuart Heaver

Published: 7:15am, 17 Jan, 2020

Separated from cosmopolitan Singapore by a causeway that spans a muddy strait, the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru tends to be overshadowed by its more illustrious neighbour.

Often dismissed as a cheap and cheerful border town for Singaporeans seeking low-cost shopping malls, spas and theme parks, JB, as the locals call it, is challenging that traditional misconception by celebrating its own heritage and Chinese cultural connections.Writer, local historian and Johor Bahru native Peggy Loh has written two books called My Johor Stories that chronicle people and places from the city’s past. She says there is a new enthusiasm for Johor Bahru’s heritage.

“I think a lot of the interest is about nostalgia. People miss the old city so they connect with my stories,” she says. Loh adds that such was the influential role of the Chinese community in the city’s development that it was known as Little Swatow, a reference to the city in Guangdong province known today as Shantou.

The Chiuchow dialect is still widely spoken and Johor is exploring those Chinese roots and developing a range of cultural heritage attractions that promote its identity. High-end restaurants, community museums, art galleries and coffee shops are popping up in heritage streets named after the city’s founding fathers from the Chiuchow-speaking region of eastern Guangdong province.

The first leader of the Chinese community in Johor Bahru, Tan Hiok Nee, lends his name to the street at the centre of this neighbourhood, the location of a small museum that opened in 2009 in a tastefully converted two-storey Chinese shophouse.

“At that time, the retro-trend was at its peak and nostalgia-themed cafes and coffee places opened in the heritage quarter alongside traditional coffee shops and other traditional businesses,” Loh explains.

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