Wong Ah Fook was the main government contractor in Johor Bahru in the 19th century, contributing to the successes of the city. His legacy was thoughtfully documented and published into a book by his great-granddaughter, Datin Patricia Lim Pui Huen Nee Wong.
Born in Hong Kong in 1932 then raised in Singapore, Datin Patricia was working as a librarian at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) when she wrote her first book. Before this, she studied arts at the University of Malaya, where she met her husband, a medical specialist. At the ISEAS library, researchers approached her in search of books surrounding certain topics. As a librarian, it was her job to keep track of books and resources to assist the patrons. Back then, information was not at our fingertips as it is today. Through observing and sharing knowledge with the researchers and becoming interested in what they sought out, she learned how to write her own historical book.
Before writing her historical book, she had already written several books on Library Science; on life before the computer, the art of organising books, and on managing information that is accessible to the reader. “Wong Ah Fook: Immigrant, Builder, and Entrepreneur” took 15 years for her to write, as she had to collect anecdotal stories from her relatives in Hong Kong, interview various people, browse through the national archives and patch up the data to write a comprehensive collection that accurately illustrated her great-grandfather, a historical legend.
Datin Lim also wrote several noteworthy books such as “Johor: Local History, Local Landscapes 1833 – 1937”, “Through the Eyes of the King: The Travels of King Chulalongkorn to Malaya”, and “War and Memory in Malaysia and Singapore”, all of which opened up doors of rich history for ordinary people. She described ISEAS as an exciting place to work in, “the best place for intellectual stimulation”. Forty years of travel across the causeway was not a problem for her, because she enjoyed her work and the congestion was not as it is today.
Her contributions to the local library cannot be forgotten either. By request of the local town council, she helped set up the Sultan Ismail library with the help of the US Peace Corps.
“There is no room for opinion in historical writing,” says Datin Lim. Her books are aimed to project the progress and development of Johor in a positive light, though she thinks Johor is advancing a bit too fast.
Datin Lim is also a committee member at the Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO), in-charge of the designs, purchase, and overall guidance of the sewing department, where she spends most of her Monday mornings.