INDOMITABLE: A Malaysian overcomes hardship to make a name for herself and a flourishing business in America
HER real name is Pon Jumat, but not many have heard the name, with the possible exception of family members and friends from her hometown in Pagoh, Johor.
For the Malaysian community in the United States, especially in California and Nevada, she is better known as Joyah Vegas or JV, for short.
Some Malaysians travelling to the US on a limited budget might have heard the name Joyah, or were guests at one of her 10 houses in Las Vegas that she rents out to travellers who cannot afford to or do not like staying at hotels.
For three days a week, Joyah also organises cooking classes on Malaysian/Asian food for local residents, and operates an online store selling a variety of goods. Joyah also caters Malaysian/Asian meals.
What is interesting about the woman is that she does not have any paper qualifications, having never set foot in a university. The fifth of 12 siblings to a family of rubber tappers in Pagoh, her experience of hardship and fear of calamity is what motivated her towards success.
I was introduced to Joyah while in Las Vegas last week to attend the annual seminar and exhibition organised by the National Association of Broadcasting.
“If you have any problems in Vegas, like finding Malay food or a place to stay, just call Joyah. She will find you,” said a friend in Malaysia who contacted her to find us in Vegas.
The name Joyah suits her. Throughout the hour we spent in the hotel lobby where we stayed, Joyah not only did not stop talking and asking us all sorts of questions, but often joked as if we were old friends reunited.
“I had a difficult life. After SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia), I came to KL (Kuala Lumpur) and had various jobs, including being a maid and an assistant remisier. I once ate biscuits with plain water and walked from a rented house in Keramat to work at Jalan Silang for a week, just to save money.
“Because of that, I do not want my two children to undergo such hardships, nor do I want to see other people in difficulty. If there are any Malaysians in trouble here, I will try to help as much as I can.”
Joyah migrated to the US in 1988 to follow her husband, an American, who returned home after losing his job as general manager of a chemical plant in Klang during the economic slowdown at the time.
Before marrying her husband John (Muslim name Yahya), a chemical engineer, Joyah was an assistant remisier at a brokerage firm. There, she learned the ins and outs of stock investing, until she could afford to buy an apartment in Bukit Tunku
She met John while living at the apartment, and they were married for less than a year before they had to migrate to the US when John got a job offer in Delaware.
Because she couldn’t sit still, by the second week in Delaware, when her husband was out to work, Joyah would cook and send samples to her neighbours as an introduction.
After two years there and a second child, Joyah was introduced to John’s former brother-in-law, who worked with a company distributing phone cards. The cards were popular among foreigners at the time, as calls with them cost 12 cents per minute compared with the normal charge of 45 cents a minute.
“The company offered a 25 per cent commission. Within four months, I contacted all Malaysian agencies in Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to promote this product. I was able to enroll about 2,000 Malaysians across America as clients. This was my first success,” she said.
Joyah and her family lived in Delaware for six years before moving to Las Vegas when John got a new job. There, Joyah started dabbling in real estate, taking advantage of the sub-prime crisis that hit the US at the time.
“Every day, home prices were falling. With savings from the sale of our house in Delaware and profits from the phone card business, I started looking at houses that were being auctioned. Incidentally, the Fed (the Federal Reserve) was also cutting interest rates to encourage people to buy homes.
“Many factories closed and Americans lost their jobs. They had to hand over their houses to the bank when they could not meet payment obligations.
“As Americans were abandoned their homes, I bought those that I could afford. It was certainly worth the investment. For example, a house that I bought for US$51,000 at that time, has increased in value to US$399,000 two years ago,” she said.
Joyah bought 10 houses in the vicinity of Las Vegas that she now offers for lodging. She had to invest in repair and renovation because the original owners removed all fixtures, such as doors, roof tiles, kitchen cabinets and toilets before surrendering the homes to the bank.
“Initially, I rented them out for longer periods, but then the houses were damaged and there was not much profit. Therefore, I decided to offer them for shorter stays. I rent them out at US$300 a day and can accommodate 10 people, complete with drinks and snacks,” she said.
Despite her success, Joyah has been cheated twice, both times by Malaysians who took advantage of her kindness. She lost several hundred thousand dollars in both cases, but the courts ruled in her favour and Joyah managed to recoup some of her investment.
Unlike others, who may love to spend or shop, Joyah remains thrifty even though she doesn’t need to. “For six years in Delaware, I never went shopping except for groceries and clothing for the children.
“Until today, I still wear clothes that I brought from Malaysia. Every penny I make, I save. With that money I can take risks in business. And even though I’ve been cheated twice, I haven’t given up and will continue to work hard to improve our lives and prepare for hard times.”
For several months in 2012, Joyah kept a blog “From Estate to the United States” that chronicled the ups and downs of life in her homeland and overseas. But work and raising her two daughters, aged 14 and 15, eventually forced her to stop blogging.
Nevertheless, in a recent email to this writer, Joyah said she and some friends were collecting MMM (Malaysian Mixed Marriages) stories to be turned into drama scripts. In jest, she asked this writer to find producers in Malaysia who could one day bring the drama to the small screen.
Joyah Vegas (second from left) with participants of her cooking class.
source : The New Straits Time