A few things happened recently that set me thinking about going back to Masai for a visit and I did so with my mum and eldest sister.
We took a leisurely drive to Masai via sections of the two expressways and saw the quarters we lived in within the Health Sub-Centre compound at Jalan Sekolah before touring familiar sites, all the way to the jetty at Kampung Kong Kong Laut and back.
Throughout the trip, our comments were mostly about the changes we saw in the way Masai has developed and how nearby estates were now replaced by buildings.
My thoughts about Masai were triggered off at, Bicarawara Tokoh – Lada Hitam dan Gambir, an event where a guest speaker on the topic of Johor’s pepper and gambier heritage, was UTM Associate Professor Dr Haji Kassim Thukiman.
We met at the tea-break and the first thing Prof Kassim said was, “I bought two of your books!”
He was referring to my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage and expressed how thrilled he was to read about Masai, a town mentioned in my story, Going back to Masai-chusetts.
He was fascinated with my experiences in Masai while our parents, transferred to work with the hospital’s Health Sub-Centre, were based there for 13 years.
Prof Kassim was born in Kong Kong, specifically in Kampung Cahaya Baru, a FELDA development, but as the nearest Police Station was situated in Masai, his birthplace was thus registered as Masai.
As we chatted about familiar places, I felt a strange sense of pride in Prof Kassim, an academic and university lecturer, and his humble beginnings in a kampung near Masai.
Not long after meeting the professor, I was at Dine, Puteri Harbour for a food-tasting experience and was introduced to a menu of recommended dishes by Chef Kalidass.
As the items were served, I began to notice distinctive and creative Western-Asian fusion ideas applied to the meats and sauces that were not only unique but rather gutsy.
When the chef finally came out of the kitchen, I invited him for a chat to learn more about his culinary journey and the inspiration behind his creativity.
Kalidass, better known as Chef Dass, then shared his story about how he was guided by strong mentors and trained in international brand hotels in Germany and Singapore, before coming back to run a restaurant here.
His determination and passion was evident from his voice and when I asked where he was from, Chef Dass told me he was from Taman Sungai Rinting, a former kampung near Masai!
A few days later, I was at another event in Bandar Seri Alam, a township on the edge of Masai, and stumbled upon an interesting café, Grumpy Goat and Friends Specialty Coffee House.
I could hardly believe that Grumpy Goat was in Masai. As I reminisced about the old town, I marveled at how far Masai had progressed since those early years when Johor Port was created in Kampung Pasir Gudang.
When our parents started work in Masai, my siblings and I lived with our grandparents at Jalan Ngee Heng so that we could conveniently walk to school.
Our term holidays was with them in Masai and I can never forget the fun we had at beautiful Palm Beach in Kampung Pasir Gudang, how dad taught us to lose the fear of water and the way we used to swim-race with each other.
In the latter years when we moved back to live with our parents, we witnessed how Masai gradually developed from a one-street town into a thriving business centre as it grew in tandem with Johor Port and the Pasir Gudang Industrial Area.
Many businesses opened to meet the needs of a budding shipping industry and to support the manufacturing and heavy industries happening in Pasir Gudang.
Masai folks were suddenly seeing a new wave of people coming into their once sleepy-hollow town and the enterprising ones started more sophisticated businesses here.
The stylish décor in Grumpy Goat, a specialty coffee house, sent me on a flashback to the first coffee house in Masai, located at the last shop in that row on the main road.
Named, Ocean Coffee House, it was not only designed with a glass-panel door and covered by curtains across its insides, it was of course, air-conditioned.
At that time, it was the place in Masai to entertain clients and visitors in air-conditioned comfort.
I’ve dined in Ocean and remember it had a coffee house menu of food and beverages – both local and European – as well as ice-creams and they also served beer!
Not long after that, visitors to Masai could have a drink or two at a pub-restaurant (if my memory serves me right) called, Seaman’s Paradise.
In our school-going years, mum arranged for my sisters and I to commute daily from Masai by school bus or Bas Sekolah and we travelled by the winding old road.
But when we joined more extra-curricular activities and our hours became irregular, we opted to travel by public bus.
At that time, the bus service between Masai and JB was provided by Alec Bus, commonly called ‘the Green bus,’ and its number was 39.
When our brother started Standard One at JB’s St Joseph’s School, mum arranged the same Bas Sekolah driver for him.
One of the most unforgettable incidents must be that day when my brother did not come home as expected because the bus driver forgot to pick him from school!
The driver was oblivious to it until the moment mum went to ask him for her son.
Filled with anxiety, mum and the driver rushed to the school and were relieved to find my brother in the office, safely with then headmaster, Alex Anthony.
Since that horror incident, the driver took extra care to ensure that my brother was safely on board his bus before he left the school for Masai!
This and many other memories came flooding back on our return to Masai-chusetts.