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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Growing Up In Joo Chiatt

I lived at Joo Chiat Road with my grandmother, an uncle and his family since I was born until 1957. Behind the house was a small kampong where Chinese, Malay and Indian families lived side by side in harmony. As a kid the kampong was my playground and kids learned to speak each others' language easily. A Malay friend's mother not only spoke hokien dialect fluently but also learned to play mahjong and si sek pai ( 4 coloured cards sample below) with her neighbours.

Fronting my house was a vacant area. Actually it was part of the house with wooden pagar (fence) and flower pots on stands on both sides of the pagar. During the war the wooden fence was removed. Illegal hawkers set up stalls there every morning and cooked food hawkers got free water from us. Whenever there was a raid by the Hawkers Department they took refuge in my house. My grandmother was a friendly lady. Kampong folks took advantage and used our house as a short cut to Joo Chiat Road. At peak time in the morning it was like a public thoroughfare.

My uncle's friends were shopkeepers, traders and hawkers in Joo Chiat area. At evening time our house was like a club house. They came to chat and drink beer and hard liquor. But their actual motive was to gamble later. The played pah kow (3 cards), poker or mahjong when there was enough kaki (players). Occasionally two games were played at the same time in the house. It was like a gambling den. My uncle did not gamble as he was the horli (a person who shuffles and distributes cards to the players like a croupier in casino) and collected taxes from the betting pool. I learned the game and at times relieved him as horli.
I could still remember three players clearly. One was the proprietor of a furniture shop aka panjang (lean and tall). He lived nearby. The other was a business man aka ah sia (a rich heir in Teochew dialect). The last guy was the famous laksa hawker aka jangok (he had a few strands of long hairs growing from his chin). The first two guys were opium addicts. Coincidently, there was an opium den behind my house. They always had their puffs first before coming to our house from the back door to join the other players.

Si Sek Pai (Chinese four coloured cards)

In the 1950s Joo Chiat area had many secret societies from gang 24, 18, and other numbers. Their members then were mostly youngsters. They were quick tempered and often resulted in fights. The more serious gang fights were over collections of protection money. When there was a gang war innocent bystanders were common victims. Sometimes I was tipped off not to go near certain area due to impending gang fight. Below are a few newspapers cuttings about gang fights in Joo Chiat. There were much more incidents of gang war in 1950s. So, Joo Chiat area was not a good place to raise a school kid like me.
Newspapers Cuttings of Gang War in Joo Chiat 1950s


Tony said...

Uncle Philip,
Have not seen those games around for awhile now. Do you still remember how to play? Can teach?

PChew said...

I can still play but do not know how to count the points for I have not been playing it for a very long time. One game is played with 21 cards and the other 25 cards. Furthermore, there are variations in counting the points. It has to make clear to the players before the start of the game.