Sunday, August 31, 2008

Carlsberg and Lucky Strike

My father's favorite drink and puff. He was not an addicted drinker or smoker, just the stress of business made him drink and smoke daily. In those days we had Carlsberg, Anchor and Tiger beer but Carlsbeg was my dad's choice. Each time he wanted a drink he would gave me money and asked me to go to the sundry shop next door to buy a bottle. After that I would bring it to the kitchen, open the bottle and pour the beer into a glass. Before I bring it out to my father in his office, I'd steal a sip and clear the froth. I doubted my father noticed it. That was how I learned how to drink.

Lucky Strike was an American cigarette. Why my father like it instead of Rough Rider or States Express (he smoked this occasionally) I don't know. Perhaps, as a businessman, the name meant a lot. Lucky strike! I guess my father secretly wanted to be rich.

Unlike the beer, I never like smoking so I never tried to steal a puff. In fact I hated smoking and cannot stand smokers within 10 feet of my table when I have my meal.

My father stopped smoking on medical advice some 3-4 years before he passed away. As for drinking he cut down tremendously but would take a drink or two very ocassionally.

Snows of Kilimanjaro

I saw this movie in school and it was BORING. I remember we students had to sit through the nearly 3 hours of a show that was meant for adults, not for teenagers. I knew many of the schoolboys were fidgetting in their seats but it was one of the activities the school provided, to broaden the knowledge and awareness of the students out of their regular school curriculum. I forgot all about the film so I thought Wikipedia can help me out. Here goes:

The Snows of Kilimanjaro
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is a short story by Ernest Hemingway. It is also collected together with other stories as The Snows of Kilimanjaro collection.

Considered by Hemingway himself to be one of his finest stories, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was first published in Esquire in 1936 and then republished in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories (1938). In 1952 it was adapted into a film of the same name directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward.

The story centers on the memories of a writer who is on safari in Africa. He develops an infected wound from a thorn puncture, and lies awaiting his slow death. This loss of physical capability causes him to look inside himself—at his memories of the past years, and how little he has actually accomplished in his writing. He realizes that although he has seen and experienced many wonderful and astonishing things during his life, he had never made a record of the events; his status as a writer is contradicted by his reluctance to actually write. He also quarrels with the woman with him, blaming her for his living decadently and forgetting his failure to write of what really matters to him, namely his experiences among poor and "interesting" people, not the predictable upper class crowd he has fallen in with lately. Thus he dies, having lived through so much and yet having lived only for the moment, with no regard to the future. In a dream he sees a plane coming to get him and take him to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro

Goodbye, Bullworker 2

I bade a sad goodbye to the bullworker 2 that I have had for over 40 years. My brother had asked me for it and since I am not using it I decided to pass it on. I exercised religiously on the bullworker for about 4 years, put on some muscles, and then lapsed. I kept the bullworker because it reminded me of my youth, but now my brother believed he can resurrect it for better use, I hope that he will give it a new life.

From Wikipedia:
The Bullworker is an isometric exercise device used for strength training originally marketed and sold in the early 1960s. Designed and patented by German inventor Gert F. Kölbel, it continues to sell in Europe, Asia and the U.S.A.

Mine is model (b).

To the Beach

My hometown is near to the seaside, about 15 miles away. The nearest public beach was Teluk Batik accessible by taking a car or riding a motorcycle or even bicycling there. It wasn't a fantastic beach but we weren't fussy or critical. All we wanted was a place to soak our bodies, build sand castles, have fun and picnic with families and friends.

I could not swim, much as I tried to learn. Maybe I have a dense body and solid bones that made me sink rather easily. Also remember I wasn't the athletic type so I wasn't disappointed I could not swim although I wish I could.

At the beach I would spread out the mat, bring out the food baskets and enjoy eating with those who have decided not to wet their feet. Later I would go down to the shallow part of the water, up to my neck, and paddle furously or try freestyle swimming. I guess an observant person would know that I could not swim. It doesn't matter so long as I enjoy the outing.

The only thing I dislike about going to the beach was the salty feeling. My body would be so sticky and sand would get into my toes and hair and stuck inside my swimming trunk. There was a small public bath that we can use to bath and change. It cost 10 sen per entry.

Teachers I Remember

If ever I become a teacher (rather late to consider now) I would be a great one, someone who would change lives in his students. I was extremely thankful that I had several such teachers who gave of their best to bring out the best in their students. I wish to remember the following:

Mr Ho Lian Choon
He taught me metalwork and physical education. He inspired me through words that matter, words that spoke of doing and studying well. In his class I would strive to do my best because he was a teacher worthwhile to please because he taught me what excellence was.

Mr. Song How Ting
My mathematics teacher while I was in Forms 4-5 in 1964-1965. Although just a few years older, he taught because he was poor and needed the money to send himself to university. Mr Song made mathematics interesting and enjoyable to me. His teaching style was clear and logic sound. I could understand the many theorems and formulae because he made them appear so logical and easy to grasp. I did well in my public exams because Mr Song produce zeal in me towards this subject.

Mr. Soo Fong Beng
Slim but witty. He could see through us students whether we knew our understanding of geography or not. Mr Soo taught me geography for 2 years and like Mr Song helped me appreciate this subject that could be quite dry if not correctly taught. Mr Soo brought the world to the classroom, and explain how the physical structures came about. He shared the many geological wonders that we cannot appreciate by reading, and without National Geographics, Mr Soo gave a commendable substitute. I scored distinctions in geography because he made the subject so interesting to learn.

Mr Pang Ming Sing
Mr Pang was a scout master and a history teacher in 1963 when I was in Form 3. Maybe some would disagree with his rote style of teaching history but that was how we learn in those days. Mr Pang gave us question and answer style of learning which we used to memorize for our examinations. I was quite good in memorization then and through his excellent answers I managed to score distinction also in my LCE examination.

To these teachers I salute you for making my life as a student meaningful and challenging.

Free Movies

There was general excitement whenever I saw and heard a passing vehicle blaring away from its megaphone or loudspeakers that there would be free documentary shows at the town's padang (field) on a particularly evening. In a time when home entertainment was not available (we had no television until the late 1960s), getting to pass time watching free documentaries, compliment of the Ministry of Broadcasting and Information, was something young and old appreciate and look forward to.

About 7pm after our dinner we would walk to the padang some 100 yards away and park ourselves in a nice spot not too far away from the screen the government people have erected. Awhile later the show would start and we would be glued to the screen for the next hour or so.

Most of the information screened would be on health, security, education and social welfare. It was to impart knowledge to the local people. Sometimes we would get a bonus like a real Malay or Chinese movie.

Ugggh! The Dreaded Immunization

Mention vaccination to a kid chances are he will run away crying. But no kid can avoid vaccination (or immunization which sound more 'medical' or 'scientific') since diseases spread and were contacted more readily some 50 years ago.

There was a community clinic ran by the missionary sisters that provide free vaccination services in my hometown (adjacent to the stall I used to buy iceballs). On the table was a methylated spirit lighted lamp which was used to sterilize a needle that was used to inject vaccine into the upper arm of a crying kid. I think it was a combination of needle, fire, pain and pyschology. Plus the fact that these sisters were usually quite big size! I would not meddle with one of them as they could be quite fierce if you are not cooperative!

My Favorite Things

Can the list be ever complete ? To a kid his wish is that he can have the entire world. There was a game in one of the school sports when we raced some 50 yards toward a pile of goodies on the grass and the rule is to grab as many as one can and race back to the starting point. It was bewildering to make instant choices when almost everything there you wish and want to grab. And so much competition ! Finally I only had a handful of sweets to show.

I had favorite snacks I'd like to write here. This is probably unheard off in the cities but in my hometown during my childhood we had iceballs. They were crushed ice rolled into a ball and syrups lathered generously over it. I can choose from either rose syrup, sarsaparilla (sarsi) syrup or melaka sugar syrup, or have red bean paste added. Mmmnnnn, the taste was so yummy especially on a hot day. I would suck on the iceball until my lips turned blue from the cold.

I remember there was a corner shop selling frozen sour plum juice in cups or as popsicles. These frozen juice were also exquisite on hot days. Typically I'd enjoy one on my way home after school. Do people still make this for sale? (probably not, I can't even find a picture on the Net to share)

Lastly, the ever popular ice kacang or ABC (air batu kacang or mixed nuts in ice). The ABC consists of a mixture of gelatine, sago , roast nuts, sweet corn and occasional diced fruits, with crushed ice over them and syrup with evaporated milk added. ABC makes a nice dessert after a meal, especially a spicy meal. There was a stall run by Ah Lai (my driving instructor) and his brother opposite the shop where I lived that I frequent in the evenings to enjoy their ABC.

Playing Truant

Did I told you that I was a naughty boy? As studious and obedient as I was, I was not saintly. In fact I was quite devious and knew how to manipulate myself. So playing truant to get out of attending boring classes was something I did especially after exams were over and I saw little purpose in going to class. I think I was quite normal in a sense. If any schoolboy never played truant I would say he must have been a boring boy. But I don't mean to judge anybody.

I played truant only a few times and even then on persuasion by 2-3 other boys. Boldly even with our school uniforms on, we played at bus stops but was glad to escape being caught. Every time we played truant we enjoyed the fun we got out of it. These moments added to the rich memory of my childhood.

My Driving Lessons

I think it was about 1969 or 1970 that I decided to sit for my driving tests since I would be graduating soon and I might have to drive a car. During a long semester break when I came back to my hometown I signed up with a Mr Ah Lai, a driving instructor. He had a Honda Civic, not the regular posh models you see nowadays. Then the Honda was an emerging car brand as it was known more as a motorcycle company, and the Honda car was a basic boxy shape design. But it was an easy car to drive.

I practise driving in the Honda Civic with Ah Lai sitting patiently (and nervously) by my side. He would let me drive from Kampong Koh to Lumut or to Air Tawar. At that time driving at 40mph (about 70kph) was considered fast. In the beginning I had trouble coordinating my gear change, pedal shift from brake to accelerator and steering. I also find it hard to reverse and park accurately. Nevertheless after 3 months of regular practices I was ready to sit for my formal examination, which included a section on understanding the traffic codes and giving hand signals.

I was proud that I passed on first attempt. I became a licensed driver in 1970 but only started driving from August 1972 when I bought my first car, a Datsun 1200.

Teacher's Pet

It isn't surprising that teachers always have favorite pupils. It is after all human to like some more than others. In my case I remember when I was about 10 or 11 I became the pet of my class teacher, a Miss Thanam. I guess I came under her attention because I was obedient, conscientious in carrying out my homework, and helpful.

I had always been an obedient sort of boy. My mother told me that. Even as a toddler I would quietly sit on a stool and watch her work and did not try to move about. In class I believed I was the same type of person. And I always do my homework and submit them in time to the teachers to be marked. If I were to teach me then I would surely like me a lot because such a trait makes teaching easy and happy.

I was helpful, and I think I had not changed over the years. Funny how you can tell a person's future behavior by the way he or she behaves as a kid. I helped carry schoolbooks for teacher and other stuffs from her car. I also remember been asked to cycle to her house to help add up the marks for the various test subjects and rank them for the class report cards. From that I had early knowledge of who come in first, second, third, ....

I was not a pet to other teachers later. Perhaps I had become naughty, or other students moved into their sight. But I was happy not to be in focus since other students could get jealous of the special attention I got. Remember Chui Sang in an earlier post? Well, he detested I was favored by Miss Thanam and given money reward for my nicely colored weather charts. He threatened me but I reported him so escaped any form of physical abuse by him.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The All-Purpose Lard

Nowadays I hardly hear of anyone using lard. It has been relegated to an unhealthy status because of its high saturated fat content. However, in my younger days, lard (or oil from pork fat) was popular both as a cooking oil (people were less health conscious and did not understand what cholesterol was then) and as a rubbing oil to reduce swelling and bruise. Whenever I had a fall and developed bruised joints I would slap some lard on the spot and rub vigorously to reduce the swelling and bear the pain in the process.

Lard was cheaper than cooking oil sold in tins from sundry shops. These cooking oils were mainly peanut flavored vegetable oil which lacked the fragrance and taste that lard offer, so most Chinese housewives prefer using lard. After all lard was literally free. Pork had so much fat that pork seller gave away the fats that housewives would heat up cut pieces of pork fats on hot saucer (or kuali) to recover the oil. The residue also made great tidbits or flavoring to vegetable dishes.

I remember my mother would always keep a jar of lard by the side of the family stove next to the window. For each dish she cooked, she would ladle about a spoonful of lard into the smokey hot kuali, add in meat or prawns and then vegtables and then a little salt and sugar to taste. Mark my word, any food cooked with lard ALWAYS taste better. However, Muslims are not allow to eat food cooked with lard.

Ovaltine, My Favorite Chocolate Drink

O Wa Tien, that's how I pronounce it when I was a little boy. Although it has lost its market share and leadership to the more popular Milo, Ovaltine was the leading chocolate malt beverage drink in the 1950s and 1960s. I love it thick and hot, and with an egg stirred in and slowly cooked with the yolk breaking in patches to the surface while the egg white turned translucent and opaque. I would drink it slowly and enjoy every sip.

My mother would prepare a glass for me when I return from school in the late afternoon. Sometimes she would substitute hot water with hot porridge water as it had added nutrients. Yummmm, I just love the great feeling of drinking this nutritious malt drink.

Sometimes I get to enjoy the other chocolaty drink, the Van Houten brand. The Van Houten is a pure dark cocoa powder that when mixed with hot water and milk give a nice aroma. Taken thick it could rival the Ovaltine.

I particularly enjoy either of these drinks when my mother was in confinement after delivering my younger siblings. The confinement lady would make these drinks for her and I would take a sip off it. In a way I like it when I have baby brothers or sister.

Today I still drink Ovaltine and Van Houten on the side. But they have been superceded by white coffee that has become more popular.

Listen !

After so many posts, I guess I've overlooked letting those of you viewers who like to listen to the theme song of my blog. Sung by Herman's Hermits, you may click HERE to listen to 'Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter'. I hope you like it.

MidAutumn Festival

Back then I recognized this as the mooncake festival or lantern festival and not by its proper name. The mid autumn festival celebrated the fairy tale of two lovers, a man and a fairy who goes to live on the moon. On the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its brightest, if you aim a telescope towards the moon you may catch a glimpse of the fairy with her pet rabbit. Sigh! fairy tales such as this are really nice, if only they are true!

I learned about such stories from Chinese story books as well as from my teachers. This helped me to appreciate the root of my ancestry.

I loved the festival because I got to eat mooncakes. And parade with friends and neighbors at night after dinner carrying my lantern. It was always an excitement to children to walk about in darkness with only the dim light of the candle in your lantern to guide you. Once my Chinese school decided to hold a mass lantern parade through the town and all the schoolchildren had to make a lantern each. Mine was made out of a wooden frame and covered with thin translucent paper. At the base was a wired holder for a candle.

When the parade started I would light up the candle and join the rest. It was an awesome and grand sight. I really enjoyed this self-made lantern using my own efforts. Later I would afford to buy lanterns of animal, boat, areoplane and other shapes in multi colors.

Coincidentally now is also the season of the mid autumn festival. The real date this year is September 14. I have already bought mooncake to eat and there are all sorts of various tastes and shapes to entice buyers. They are also quite expensive but I prefer the original taste. I had introduced the lantern to my grand daughter and hope that she will remember the significance of this tradition that Chinese all over the world hold dear.

There is a degree of romance attached to this festival. A little like Valentine's Day, young lovers may celebrate this mid autumn festival by watching the bright moon on a starry night, singing love songs to each other or go to a movie.

We all need a little mid autumn to spice up our lives.

My Grandfather's Sauce Factory

Right until he died in 1967, my grandpa carried out a business of making soy and chili sauce to sell to customers in our local community. The factory was situated on his land away from the shop where my father had his rubber dealing business inherited from my grandpa. That land was also where my grandma had her pig farm (see another post earlier). And where my second grandma lived. You see, my grandpa had 2 wives ... (more on that later)

The sauce business was a family effort. We all, sons, daughters and grandchildren, dug in to do what we could. I helped out in washing the bottles, peeling the garlic, labeling the bottles, capping them after filling the bottles, and stringing the packed bottles in sets of sixes or eights.

The soy sauce was made from fermented soya beans in covered ceramic vats stored under the sun. The extracts from the process would be removed from the vats, combined and additives added to enhance flavors and storage life. There are 3 basic products from this line: light soy sauce (premium and regular grades), thick and dark soy sauce (with caramel and sugar added) and soya paste (by-product after fermentation).

Grandpa also produced garlic chili sauce using sweet potato as base, garlic and chili. In the factory building was a huge cauldron about 8 feet diameter and a large ladle. In this cauldron, fired by wood charcoal, the peeled potatos were boiled and the other ingredients added and stirred for many hours (days) until they were softened into slurry and gluey consistency. A lot of efforts were involved and it was a very physical process as we did not use any mechanical stirrers. When the sauce has cooled, it was then packed into clean and dried bottles, labeled and capped. I enjoyed putting the bottle caps and press them close using the manual press.

After my grandpa died the business was taken over by my 2nd uncle from my 2nd grandmother side. He ran it for a few years, and finding it hard or lacking interest, he shut down the business and went on to start a hardware and construction material supplies business which became very successful for him.

The sauce business died but had my uncle, or my father decided to carry on, it would be very successful too because out of my hometown has emerged a well know chili sauce brand, Kg Koh Chili Sauce, that is being sold nationwide and very popular in noodle shops and hawker centres. I wasn't very business minded in the 1970s when this business was closed. If I was I could have made use of my Chemistry knowledge to make my grandpa's sauce business a bigger success. Well, all this is speculative but I had used what I studied in another line of business (more of this later).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lunar New Year Celebrations

I always look forward to this happy occasion. That was because I would be able to wear new clothings, new shoes, get red packets, eat sweet stuffs I don't get to enjoy on other days of the year, play fire crackers, visit friends (and perhaps get more red packets from their parents) and enjoy school holidays. I'd also enjoy playing with hydrogen-filled balloons, bamboo canons and indulge in some card games (with some gambling involved).

New years were such fun! On the eve of a lunar new year I would look forward to the reunion dinner. That's when all family members would sit down at the dining table and mother would serve delicious food that we only get on new years, such as roast chicken and duck, pork and salted vegetable soup. After dinner we children would wait expectantly for our parents to call us and gave us their red packets with advice to be good and study hard. We would nod our heads obediently and gallop away with our money.

As the clock draw closer to midnight, we would gather around my father and help him set up the fire crackers he had strung up days earlier on a long pole from the window upstairs. When it was midnight my father would lit the first cracker and we would ran away and cupped our ears as the crackers fired loudly in welcome of the new year. Other families nearby would do the same so the sound was quite loud. Those who had gone earlier to bed would surely be awakened by the din.

The following morning, on new year day itself, I would be wearing my new clothings and happily enjoy all the goodies laid out, such as groundnuts and soft drinks. We had no television so the only enjoyment would be through the radio. We children also gang up and roam the neighborhood, buying toys and tidbits using the new year money we received the day before.

Now that I have grown up my pleasure of new years have diminished and it was the memory of my childhood that bring a smile to my face.

To Market, To Market

As the eldest child I had to do many chores at home including scrubbing the floors, feeding the poultry, chopping firewood and doing marketing. The wet market was not very far from the shop where I lived, some 300 yards away. I would be asked by my mother to go to the market sometimes alone to buy vegetable, meat and fish for her to cook. (The wet market has since been demolished and relocated nearer to where my mother now lives)

The front of the wet market sold vegetables while at the back the fishmongers would sell their catch. The poultry and meat (pork) sections were located further back. Going to market meant carrying a basket with me. I could remember the names of what vegetable to buy but through lack of practical usage I have forgotten most of them. I would buy the fishes from piles laid on the floors for buyers to choose. Sometimes I could find very good deals as such piles of assorted fishes were cheaper that those placed on the stands.

Should I have to buy pork, I would go to the stall that my grandfather managed. Back then we eat liver, spleen, kidney, brain, ear and tongue even beside the regular meat. Today some people deem these parts unhealthy or unhygenic but we grew up just the same without any ill effects. Maybe it is changed perceptions we have now.

The Backlane - Part 2

It did not seem to me that it was bad omen to live with a coffin shop behind our house. As a child I was quite fascinated by what went on inside but never ventured in to look. All I knew was that the operator used the store to keep ready made wooden coffins for sale. At any one time there would be 10 or more coffins, some of which were quite old because people don't want them as they did not appeal to them. Or they wanted newer ones to bury the dead. An open space between our house and the store was used to make the coffins. This is how they made one.

A large wooden log about 3-4 feet diameter was sawn into half lengthwise by first elevating the whole log onto a cantilever and pegging one end down to the ground and using thick cable wires to anchor it at the sides. An expert sawyer would climb up with a long vertical saw and began sawing the log into two equal halves lengthwise. Halfway through the log was cantilevered the other way and he repeated the process from the other end of the log. When the log is nearly sawn through, pegs were plunged into the crack and using a heavy hammer a great force was applied to crack the cut log into two halves. Each of the halves were cut down to about 10 feet length which was then anchored on the ground and using axe and sharp chisels expert workmen would carve the log into the top, bottom and sides of a coffin. These were later fitted, trimmed further and varnished. It was a very laborious process and took at least a month to finish one. I looked upon the process as a work of art. Nowadays it take less effort to make coffins using electric saws and cutters.

An opium den was hidden away at the back of the coffin store. As a boy I sometimes sneaked in to peep at when the men were doing. I would see 2-3 men lying huddled together on a flat wooden platform sniffing into nozzles dipped into opium tar over a lighted candle. That was how people while away their time and money puffing opium to get high. Most of these men were elderly and unemployed. A little room was camouflaged as a prostitute den that I knew but never had a chance to witness the action.

The Dreaded Dentists

Dentists were hated people because they give so much pain to the patients. Today dentists have a wide arsenal of drugs and high tech tools to make each dental visit a pleasant one. Not while I was a kid!

Then the dentists had to use his fingers if necessary to help extract a tooth. And the drill, oh the high pitch scary tool that 99% people dread, would make even the bravest of man shrink in terror. Fortunately for me, my dental visits were not as nightmarish as many people had. I did not have good teeth, maybe I ate lots of sweets and did not brush my teeth as regularly or properly as I should. Mmmmnnn, maybe I was not correctly taught. I remember I had decayed molar teeth that stunk of putrefied food that I would use my fingernail to dig out to scare my classmates. I was a bad boy when I was in primary school.

I was quite brave when I sat on the dentists chair. Maybe I had a fatalist approach, thinking that since the dentist knew best, I better trust him and put my teeth (and life) to his mercy. The only thing I dislike was having to keep my mouth wide open and control the saliva and drilling water from seeping down my throat. Throughout my life I counted at least 50 dental visits and I have several fillings and crownings and one denture to prove.

The Barber's Visits

Going to the barber was always a pleasant time for me as a kid. There was no rush like nowadays to finish a haircut in 10-15 minutes. My barber then would spend even half an hour to give me a good haircut. With lots of talcum powder to smooth away the prickly hair clippings.

Most of the time I had to walk to the barber shop on the next block. Sometimes the barber would come to the shop if needed. There would probably be just one customer ahead of me or none. The barber would seat me up on the high swivel chair, drapped me up in a clean white sheet and started snipping away my hair. Later he would use the clipper to razor away the back of my neck and side of my head. Zoom up and down until the hair was smooth to the feel. No electric clipper in those days, everything was manual and patiently carried out without any rush. I could spend the afternoon sitting quietly while my barber take away as much hair as he had. Each barber visit was a peaceful and leisurely experience.

He would end the job with cleaning up any nose hair that were long enough to be trimmed. Some wetting of my newly cut hair and some hair cream, then he would combed it and then ushered me down the chair and collected RM1 from me. And yes, my barbers were Chinese. Nowadays, it is hard to find Chinese barbers. The trade had been dominated by mostly Indians.

My Childhood Years

My mother told me that I was not the first child but that I was supposed to have an older sister who unfortunately died stillborn. I would have loved to be number 2 and to experience the love and care of an older sister. As it is I am the eldest of 5 children.

My mother was the youngest daughter of a Chinese martial art teacher. She was very beautiful and her beauty caught the eyes of my father who was the eldest in his family. At that time which was soon after the unsuccessful Japanese invasion of Malaya, my grandfather ran several businesses, one of which was producing cigarettes from tobacco leaves he bought from farmers, cured them and have them processed and wrapped into individual cigarettes before packing them. It was very laborious and my mother was one of the workers. That was where my father saw her. Being a shy man he sent her love notes through intermediaries.

My grandmother disapproved of their relationship but the power of love won the day and my parents were married. My mother did not have an easy life in the beginning of her marriage, partly because she was not favored by my grandmother and partly because the Yew family was quite big and having no servants the daughter-in-law had to do much of the housework. I suppose I lost my elder sister through over exertion during my mother's first pregnancy. I felt no anger towards my grandmother and I don't think anyone should be blamed. It was very circumstantial. I grow up without any animosity towards anyone and took the news as a matter-of-fact when I was told about it when I was an adult.

My mother told me stories of my childhood. She said that I was very playful; that I played with my own faeces in bed. That was so gross when I thought about it but in those days, when my mother was busy with housework, and without a maid to help, it was normal to leave me alone inside a playpen or on a bed. That was when I decided that my faeces were like something nice to play with. My mother also told me that I was an obedient boy. She said that I would sit very still in the same spot when commanded. I was also told that I was a very helpful kid. Except for the faeces part I always felt good whenever she narrated my childhood days to others.

Mrs Brown's Daughter

For obvious reason, I cannot identify who she is. Mrs Brown's daughter was much younger than me but she appeared more matured than she was. In her blue and white pinafore school uniform she looked lovely, even lovelier when she was on her bicycle. I guess I was attracted by her beauty as well as by her voice and popularity to both boys and girls.

Since I was a rather reclusive boy I dare not make a direct and aggressive approach to woo her. Plus I was still rather young, too young to be courting a girl who was much younger still. Those 2-3 years were flurrying years when my adolescence took control of my thoughts and made me wishful and dreamy. It helped impoverish my report cards and I studied badly! But not too bad as to fail in my exams.

Mrs Brown passed away in those years and I was sad. I wanted to comfort her daughter but we were not even close friends. Later we did knew each other better but our age difference did not let our relationship grew further. It was not meant to be.

This episode is fondly remembered as one that ripened my emotion towards the opposite sex. It made me aware that they are special creations that can excite, build or hurt me. Where is Mrs Brown's daughter today? I don't know but I hope she is doing well too, and have a great family that love her.

The Cut on My Left Eyebrow

Even today I can feel that cut that came about from something, probably a stone, thrown at me when I was a kid studying at the Kuok Min Chinese School in Kampong Koh. I was walking back home one day when a boy whom I later found out to be Chui Sang (he was a gangster like boy) who threw the stone. The cut was quite deep but fortunately did not injure my eye. Did I bear any grudge against the boy? No!

Incidentally he was also the same boy who threatened me in class when I was rewarded by the class teacher for drawing beautiful weather charts using the fine money collected from students who speak in dialects rather than English while in class, and Chui Sang was among those who paid the most fine! I don't know his whereabout today but I hope he is doing well.

I Almost Became a Soldier!

The military was looking for the best students to join them as cadets to be groomed to become future officers. The country would need the best brains to help defend the territory. In 1963 I was among the better students selected to go for an interview at the Royal Military College or RMC at its Sungei Besi base in Kuala Lumpur after my Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) examination.

Together with 4 other students we boarded a bus from Sitiawan to Ipoh from where we took a train to Kuala Lumpur's main railway station. I remembered with awe stepping out, while waiting for the army truck to come pick us up, to look at the first flyover in my life. The truck whisked us in the dark night to the military base where we would stay for 3-4 nights and underwent both physical and academic tests to ascertain our suitability.

I was rather playful and remembered staying up past curfew time and when an officer checked us I pretended to be asleep. From my dormitory bed I could see a grand view of the parade ground and the gigantic building block. I drew a nice picture which unfortunately I lost it when I moved on to study in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.

It was there at the RMC common bathroom that I stripped naked for the first time before the other boys. I also remembered coining a new acronym for OBS (supposedly to be Outward Bound School), Outer Banana Skin. I was quite mischevious in those days.

Outcome of the interviews? None of us got in, which was actually a relief to me as I disliked army life! It was too rigid and serious.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Road to Emmaus

When I was about 15 I took an interest in a free Bible study course advertised in the newspaper. It was called 'Road to Emmaus' and I learned about the ministry of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Road to Emmaus was about the meeting He had with some of His disciples after He had resurrected. On that road He gave His final bit of advices to them before He ascended into heaven. You can read about this story in Gospel of Luke, chapter 24.

The course involved reading and answering questions and mailing them back to the school in Singapore. I scored quite well in the papers and completed the study. During the ensuing years I was also exposed to other cult materials like The Plain Truth as well as books by WatchTower under the Jehovah Witness. They were very enticing and believable but beneath the stories the readers were led into beliefs that did not conform to the Christian doctrines. I read many issues but later threw them away when I discovered their real identity and purpose.

Siang Siang

There was a bench outside the shop, placed at the five-foot way, where I used to spend quite of lot of time. It was when I was free, or meeting with classmates in the evenings, or waiting for the postman, that I could be found there, as well as watching the traffic pass by along the busy road. That bench was also where I chatted with the town's fool, Siang Siang, a homeless and penniless vagabond. He worked as a general laborer for his daily puffs and meals. In the 1990s when I went home I sometimes saw him in front of the shop, looking very frail and weak. He must be around 80 then and would ask for money to buy a pack of cigarettes or food and I would give him some. A few years later he died and well wishers gave him a decent burial.

The Backlane

Behind the shop was a piece of unoccupied land that my mother claimed to rear chickens and ducks. Inside was a tree that I loved to climb. It was also there that I caught bumblebees and tied their legs with cigarette paper to prevent them from flying high. I learned to differentiate the males from the females that would not sting. I also learn to look for duck eggs and watched the chicks hatched from the eggs. In the late evening I would help call home the ducks that were freed to seek for food during the day. Looking after the poultry was fun but dirty. It was a childhood experience that urban children would not be able to experience. I don't think they would miss it but certainly an experience like this even for a few hours would be well worth the time.

The back lane was where I spent much of my childhood days. Behind the back lane was a large open store to keep wooden coffins made from large timber logs. Next to the store were an opium den and a room that was used as a prostitute den. On the far side of the store was the garage that my grandfather used to keep one of his cars that I believe was BB 4641, an Austin saloon. In that garage I remember climbing the walls and play. Next to the garage was where a blacksmith fired and hammered out tapping knives, parangs and other iron tools.

A big monsoon drain bordered the front of the shop before the main road. I used to climb into the drain barefooted looking for coins. Back in those days, Kampong Koh experienced flood every few years. The water would rise to about a foot and we had to lift every stool and valuable things to higher grounds. It was fun wading around and trying to avoid the drain and any deep places. As a kid, floods were always fun times. I was oblivious of risks such as snakes and broken glass. One flood nearly took away my life, if not for the alertness of a neighbor shop assistant, who plucked me up before I was swept away.

My Grandmother

My grandma reared pigs at the farm on the land about a kilometer from where we lived in the shop to earn an income for herself. Each evening she would walk to the farm to feed the pigs and I would accompany her. I was about 10 years I guess. The farm wasn't big and I think she had just a few sows there. Periodically someone would drove a male pig there to mate with the sows. I would help to feed them and wash the pen and the floors. It was fun doing that as a kid. I didn't mind the smell or dirt. Once I witnessed the piglets castrated and soot was used to keep the wound clean.

The land where my grandma kept her pigs belonged to my grandfather. On it were some fruit trees. I remember there were pomeloes, soursop and olives. I can still savor the tastes of these fruits even today.

Reminiscing My Home - continued 1

Behind the L-shaped high worktable was the office area which has 4 desks occupied by my father and 2 managers. The fourth desk was for general use such as reading newspapers or playing Chinese chess by some of father's friends in the evening. I also used this desk to do my homework in the afternoons and during weekends. There were 2 high chairs, like umpire stools, at the worktable where my father would sit when conducting his business. That high worktable was also where we kids sometimes play on, and sometimes fell off. It was also on it that my grandfather would keep a few dozens of his chilly and soy sauces for retail sales to buyer who dropped in. Later when my father retired, in 1995, that this worktable held a fish aquarium that he enjoyed watching.

Behind my father's desk were two safes, one of which could not be used as the key was missing. Father liked to hang his wall calendar on one side of the safe. He liked to have it displayed prominently whenever he turned his back. I remember these calendars were given by hardware shops and tend to show girls in bikinis. It was quite fashionable in those days. On top of the safe were his radio and a Garrad gramophone (record player). My father was a music lover and he loved listening to the BBC news. That was why he kept these two appliances. Because of the heavy dusts, they were constantly under cover. The radio and gramophone also helped me develop interest in music. Perhaps that is why I loved to sing. It was from the radio that I won a radio competition. In 1963, after my examinations, I entered the 'Top Tunes of the Week' radio contest and won a JVC radiogram that I treasured for several years. The radio was also where I learned to copy my collections of lyrics of popular songs of the day.

Above the radio on the wall was a pendulum wall clock that father would faithfully rewind every few days. It kept faithful time and was later shifted to the family living areas after father retired from business in 1993.

Inside this office zone was also a big cupboard that my grandfather stored his stuff and a couch for him to take afternoon naps. I used to disturb him for pocket money to buy sweets and he would oblige with 5 cents each time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Unathletic Me

I was not born to be a physically active person. Perhaps that explains why I did not participate much in sports or games. Yet these are requirements in my early school years. I was OK during morning drills but I detested cross country runs that were somewhat competitive. I hated to be far back in the race yet my health did not allow me to keep up among the best. I remember I had to stop several times to catch my breath and sometimes even felt fainted.

In a sense I was angry why I could not be as active as my other classmates who exceled in football, hockey, swimming or running. I guess what I lacked I tried to do better in my studies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Disappearing Years

In my intro post I mentioned about a book of the above title I wanted to write. I started off strong but stopped to work on other more urgent projects. Then I started blogging actively and this book project was again pushed into the background. Somehow I must regain its priority since it will be a book I want to leave behind for my children, grandchildren and their children.

When I thought about the title, I realised how much I will be losing my past unless I capture them on paper or digitally while my memory is still intact. In a sense, my years are disappearing, and fast.

It is a frightening thought, to be losing one's memory, like dementia or developing Alzheimer's Disease. I wanted to remember as much of my children and youth, places and things, events, joy and pain, heartaches and happy moments, physical and spiritual experiences, etc.

Some of the earlier posts were extracted from this unfinished book, with some editing. In future posts I will take other interesting passages for sharing.

Evergreen Tree

O darling, will our love be like an evergreen tree
Stay evergreen and young as the seasons go
Your kisses could make love grow like an evergreen tree
Bloom in the summer sun and the winter snow

On every branch will blossom
Dreams for me and you
Our tree of love will stay evergreen
Our hearts stay ever true

O darling, I love you so don't you know that I'll be
True till the leaves turn blue
On the evergreen tree

This is one of the earliest songs I learned to sing and it was at a time when I discovered what love was. Love was so pure, innocent, simple, and genuine. I wish it has been this way throughout my adult life. The gist of this song has been my guiding light. Indeed, love must be evergreen to enable a marriage to last many years. Perhaps, many loves nowadays are seasonal, and end in divorces and separation.

I still hum this song, made evergreen by Sir Cliff Richard. And I feel nostalgic each time I hear it over the radio or on CD. if you like to listen to this song or download it, click HERE.

Reminiscing my Home

The shop at Main Road, Kampong Koh, Sitiawan, Perak where I was born and raised was a double storey wooden structure partitioned from the neighboring shops by galvanized zinc sheets. It has been sold many years ago and is vacant. But it held dear memory of my childhood and youth.

Privacy was poor because the sound insulation was bad. We could hear the neighbors talking or arguing. That also meant they could hear us doing the same so we had to be careful. The lower walls were concrete and the floors cemented. We stayed on the first floor that has wooden plank floors. The partition room walls were made of planks as well.

The shop was 20 feet wide but 100 feet deep. It was divided into a front business section and a living area at the back. The entire first floor was for living. The people who lived at this shop were my parents, my grandparents, my uncle, second auntie, my 4 siblings and I.

My father ran a rubber dealing business in the shop that faced the main road. In those days the traffic were mainly bicycles and motorcycles with some cars and lorries. Because the shop was fully opened (we had no air-conditioning then) it was rather noisy and dusty.

The front business section of the shop was partitioned into two zones separated by an L-shaped high table worktop. In the evening the shop would be secured by wooden planks and a middle door that my father, or his worker, would set up around 6pm. Every morning at about 8am, except Sundays and public holidays, the door and planks would be removed for business.

Thursdays were the main trading days when the rubber tappers and smallholders would bring their produce by bicycles, on motorcycles, and some even in cars and lorries, to sell. On other days business would be more leisurely.

The whole shop was very smelly as well as dusty from the talcum powder used to dust the rubber sheets and bales to prevent them from sticking to each other. Situation was particularly bad on Thursdays. On other days the worker would lay out the undried scrap rubber and cup lumps under the afternoon sun to dry. The ribbed and unsmoked sheets were hung on bamboo rods to air dry inside the shop.

When sufficient cup lumps and scrap rubber stock have built up father would get them baled in gunnysacks. A sack was first hooked on 3 corners and suspended from the wooden ceiling so it would stand loosely on the floor. The cup lumps or scrap rubber were scooped into the sack. Using a thick wooden plunger the worker would ram down the rubber to compact them. When the sack was full it would be strapped closed using strings and a very thick needle.

When the rubber were ready for delivery to a rubber factory to which father had earlier made a sale to, he would arrange a lorry from a transport company in Taiping, to carry them to either Simpang, Taiping or to Kuala Kangsar. Sometimes, if he sold the rubber to a local dealer, the dealer would bring his own lorry to take away the goods and pay father the money.

(to be continued)

My Hometown

I was born in this little rustic village called Kampong Koh. It was and is still an idyllic place where time somehow moves slower than in the cities. Although some developments has overcome some of my good memories it is still a place I want to go back to relax and take in sweet memories of the bygone days. Going back is like taking a time machine to the past.

Kampong Koh is situated in Lower Perak in the Dindings (now renamed Manjung) district. People are more familiar with the name Sitiawan that represents a cluster of several smaller towns and villages. When I received a quizzical stare after I mentioned Sitiawan, I would be quick to add either Lumut or Pangkor for these are more popular destinations nearby Sitiawan. Lumut is a port on the Dindings River and the access point to the island of Pangkor well known for its emerald beaches. People recognized Pangkor Island either because they have been there or that celebrities like Joan Collins and Luciano Pavarotti have stayed there before. Other towns nearby that you may like to know are Air Tawar, Simpang Empat, Simpang Dua, Simpang Tiga (also known as Pekan Gurney), Segari, Pantai Remis and Lekir.

Because the entire stretch of Sitiawan and its vicinity is situated on the Perak coastal area we can get seafood at relatively cheap prices.

Until about 1988 Kampong Koh can only be accessed from the north via Air Tawar. With the completion of a bridge over the Sungei Perak near Teluk Intan and the construction of a connecting road, access to Kampong Koh was made possible from the south so that travelers have a choice of taking the shorter route.

The History Of Sitiawan
My father nicknamed this place City A1. He was obviously proud to be staying there. But that wasn’t the real name. Legend has it that two elephants were taken a bath along the banks of the river in this place. One of them was caught in deep current and was struggling to get to bank. The other came down to help. The villagers who saw this incident were impressed by the concern one elephant showed to the other that they named this place Setia Kawan (faithful friends in Malay), which later was shortened to Setiawan, then Sitiawan.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Vanity

I was a skinny kid in my early teens. I think I followed my father who was skinny like Frank Sinatra was skinny when he was a young man. I wasn't proud of my physique and took pain to try to get 'bigger' mainly to impress the girl students. To make things worse, I was in my adolescent years and had blackheads on my face and neck. I was very conscious of both 'problems' and I became a recluse and shied away from socialising.

I would use my pocket money to buy high protein supplements that body builders use to add muscles to my body. I would take up bodybuilding exercises like lifting dumb bells, and engage in games like badminton. I also bought a Bullworker muscle building exercising machine but I did not have the determination to make real good use of it.

As to my looks, I tried to reduce my acne problems through using skin creams like Clearasil and Nixoderm and facial cleanser like PhisoHex. I did not think that my diet and hormones were direct causes that I could not help much. My acne problems grew bad and only subsided many years later. I am relieved that it did not cause serious facial scarring although its evidence was there.

I think I overcame my look through my personality and other skills I developed later after my education.

My Musical Interest

I confessed I wasn't good with my hands. I could not pick up skills in playing a guitar, not even with my future wife's encouragement. I could not play a keyboard but I managed to get my children interested in piano. The only talent I can claim to was learning to blow a mouth organ or harmonica. I did not learn this skill professionally. Rather I bought a China made mouth organ from a book store in Kampong Koh and learned notes and how to suck and blow them on my own. Through sheer practice I was able to play many tunes, mainly popular Chinese and English songs. Blowing a mouth organ can be messy, with saliva dripping sometimes!

In the years I was courting my future wife, I would play my mouth organ to entertain her. Later I dropped this hobby but I think I can still play some rudimentary pieces quite amateurishly. I lost my original instrument but bought a replacement several years ago.

My Other First Assets

In 1963 I took part in a radio competition hosted by Radio Malaysia called Top Tune of the Week. Participants had to guess the winning song that was the most popular choice the week in question. Three prizes were offered and the winner had to await anxiously for the real prize to be read out from the winning envelope. If I am not mistakened, my winning song that week was Send Me the Pillow I Dreamed On by Johnny Tillotson.

It was in November or December that year after my LCE examination. When I heard my name announced over the radio station by Mr James Masang, the radio disc jockey, I was ecstatic. The prize I won, the JVC radiogram, was the most expensive of the 3 prizes offered. In the coming 2-3 weeks I waited daily for the Dindings Transport Company to deliver me my prize, which I got one evening. The lorry attendant brought it upstairs into my room and I anxiously watched it unpacked. In the coming months and years I would play records and listen to my very OWN radiogram. I suppose this prize helped me improve my musical interests.

The other prize that I won which I appreciated a lot was the Kodak Flashfun camera which I still possess. Although it was like a toy camera, it was an introduction to photography for me. Perhaps the reason why I like photography today was due to this winning prize.

Aside from these 2 prizes I also won cash prizes, the highest was through a newspaper contest sponsored by a whiskey brand. I think I won over RM200, a handsome prize in those days. The year was about 1962, I think.

My First Motorcycle

Owning something that comes from my own money was the pride I longed to achieve. Prior to my buying my first motorcycle, a second hand unit, I was the proud owner of prizes I won in contests: a JVC radiogram and a Kodak Flashfun camera.

In 1968 I was offered a temporary teaching post at the Nan Hwa Private School in Sitiawan after my HSC exam and while waiting for admission to the University of Malaya. The salary I earned was not very high but the money I received I used it to buy a Honda Cub motorcycle so I can move about when I enter university. I tried to reduce financial burdens on my father. I still remember the registration number. It was MB3195. It not only served me in taking me to lectures but also when I was courting my future wife. Later, after I graduated from the university in 1971 and when I was teaching at the Methodist Girls School, Klang, and staying in a rented room in Berkeley Garden there this faithful 2 wheeler took me back and forth Klang and Petaling Jaya when I drove to meet my future wife in the evenings and during weekends.

MB 3195 was my faithful companion right until after I bought my very first car, a Datsun 1200, in 1974.

That's me on my motorcycle! Don't I look cool in my shades?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

School Excursions

One of the joys of being in school was the occasional outings my class teachers would organize during the school holidays. Back then, going out of our hometown was such a great affair. Usually it would be after a term exam or a major public exam that such excursions were organized to celebrate our hard work as well as learn new things outside the scope of our studies.

I vividly remember outings to Penang where we visited the Straits Echo, a local newspaper. There we were taken to the department where technicians set up the printing blocks manually. These blocks were cast in tin alloy and would be melted down later after the printing was done, to be reused later. I asked if I could have a block with my name on it and was so happy to have my wish granted. I used the block to print my name on my school text books, paperbacks I bought and other books I want to establish clear ownership. Unfortunately I have misplaced that block which to me is a valuable momento of my schooldays but here's a rubberstamp on one of my books ..

Another location I remember going was the Cameron Highlands. It was a cooling experience. I had my first camera then, a Kodak Flashfun, that I used to take several black and white pictures. Again, I regretted not keeping a good dossier of these memorable pictures but I know they are somewhere in my collections just waiting to be found ...

And of course the movie trips to the Lido and Cathay cinemas in Ipoh. At that time most of the good movies never get to the Grand cinema as they were too expensive to rent due to low audience in Sitiawan. The teacher who organized such trips was Miss Heng who later married my geography teacher, Mr Soo.


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