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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012

                                           Wishing All Foyers and Viewers
                                      A Happy New Year for 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas 2011

My family celebrates Christmas with friends and relatives every year. We had an Australian friend who was our Santa Claus. The kids loved him for he brought presents to them. Instead of riding his reindeer sledge and coming from the sky, he came down from upstairs carrying a heavy load of presents for everyone. After Santa Claus had settled comfortably on a chair, he dipped his hand into the bag to fish out a  present. Everybody was looking at him anxiously hoping his/her name would be the first to be called. When a name was announced there was acclamations and cheers. The person went promptly to Santa to claim the present. In the end, each of us got about half a dozen presents but the kids got more.

Next it was time for Christmas carol. We had a pianist to provide the music. Song sheets were distributed and the singing began. After singing until our voice hoarse it was time for dinner. We had an arrary of Christmas food such as roast turkey, honey baked ham, baked salmon etc.

Tomorrow is Christmas day. We shall be going to church for Christmas service and Christmas celebration with the family. The Aussie Santa Claus had gone home and we shall have a new Santa Claus.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

Time for new PAP story

The Straits Times on Monday 5 December 2011 published an article Time for new PAP story.
Paragraph 3 said: "Every politcal party needs a story. A set of belief about what would lead to a better world, convictions that will draw man and women to stake their futures on the party".                           

Above statement reminds me of the PAP in the early 1960s. The party believed that the only way for Singapore to get independent from the British was through merger with Malaysia. The opposition Barisan Socialis thought otherwise. The PAP worked very hard to win the hearts and minds of the people for merger with Malaysia. The then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a series of talk through radio broadcast as well as rallies which were held till very late at night.
I could see he was very tired but it was very crucial for him and the PAP. I kept the little book
"THE BATTLE FOR MERGER" for more than half a century. It consists of a series of talk broadcast by then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew over radio Singapore between September 16 1961 and  October 9 1961. At that time the domino theory of communism coming from China was very real. North Vietnam had already fallen to the Vietmin communists in 1954 and the war was on the way down towards the south. Fortunately, the US and its allies stopped communism's southward march until the Vietnam War ended in 1975 or the domino theory could have come to pass.  

During the referendum majority of the people in Singapore voted for merger with Malaysia. When Singapore left Malaysia in 1965 I was surprised to see in the television that Lee Kuan Yew cried. He wanted Singapore to be an independant country but thought that the British would not let it.
However, he made Singapore's independent a sovereign country, not directly from the British but by a roundabout way.
 Many thought Singapore was surely doom but thanks to the PAP Singapore 'Boleh'.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Remembering My Teachers

I was a student at Telok Kurau English School (TKES) from 1945 to 1950. The primary education system then was seven years starting from primary one to two and standard one to five. Because of the war I was overage for school and had to start from primary two. I had a few form teachers but three of them were unique  and I remembered them all the time.

Miss Boey was my form teacher in standard one. She was in her late twenties and a very dedicated teacher. She took home our exercise books for marking when she could not finished marking them in class. There was a student in the class who came from a poor family. His grade in class was very bad. Miss Boey did her best to teach him. She always spent more time with the backward students. One morning she returned our excercise books after marking. The last book belonged to the poor student. He went to her but remained standing by her side. I was sitting at the front row and I saw many red ink circles and crosses in his book. Miss Boey went through the exercises in the book with him over and over again but he did not reponse. Finally I saw her broke down and cried. There were tears on her pretty face. It must be very stressful to teach such students. When I was in the secondary school, one of my school-mate who was her cousin told me that she had passed away. As the saying goes "the good dies young".

Mr Lee Keng Yew - Our paths first crossed during the Japanese Occupation. He was teaching Japanese in Choon Guan School aka Presbeterian Boys School and I was his student. Every morning he arrived in school dressed in all white. He went to the wash room to wash his hands each time after writing on the blackboard. He went there to wash away the chalks in his hands. So during his lesson he could visit the wash room more than once. He also washed his hands after handling school fees.

Our paths crossed the second time after the war when I attended the Telok Kurau English School. He was my form teacher in Standard III. As usual he put on white shirt and white trousers everyday to school. Again I noticed his peculiar habits of washing his hands. Then I realised that he paid special attention to personal hygiene. He owned a car Austin A40 S6002 which was parked in the void deck under the school office.

During our August school holidays in TKES he took his class students to Botanical Garden for an outing. His wife and a son were with us. The class excursion was his own idea and at his expense as it was not part of the school curriculum.

In the early 1960s he was the Principal of Haig Boys School. My wife, then my fiancé was one of his school staff. I saw him in his school as well as at public places and it was always the same Mr Lee Keng Yew.

Mr Marica aka Taraboosh was an Indian Muslim teacher. He was my form teacher in standard four and five. He came to school always wearing on his head a red cap with black tassel or taraboosh. We nick named him 'Taraboosh'. He never put it on his head when teaching in class. When we saw him approaching the class, some of the boys would shout 'taraboosh! taraboosh!' and the class was quickly in order as everybody was in at his desk. Towards midday he would feel sleepy and dozed off. It was beyond his control. I observed a few times that he tried to wake up but in vain. We took this opportunity play and whisper but always on the look out in case he woke up. Except for his habit to doze off, he was a good teacher. He too became the principal of a primary school.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Peranakan Chef

Recently I met an old neighbour named Ah Heng. We chatted aboout the good old days that were more than half a century ago. He was a teenager then living in a kampong behind my house at Joo Chiat. He was an orphan at a very young age and was brought by a relative. As a teenager he did many odd jobs for a living. At age 16 he landed a job as an assistant to a Peranakan cook named Ah Hong (a fat Hainanese). Ah Hong was a live-in cook for Chew Joo Chiat's daughter who was also my grand aunt. I remembered Ah Hong well because he catered 'toh' panjang' (a long table displayed with Peranakan cuisine) lunch at my wedding.

Ah Heng was lucky to have the opportunity to learn cooking Peranakan food. After a few years he was so good at preparing Peranakan cuisine that a Peranakan restaurant, Guan Hoe Soon at Joo Chiat Road engaged him as the chief cooked. He left the restaurant service soon after he got married. The young couple started the Peranakan food catering business at their Pennyfather Road home. His food business was an instant success as many Joo Chiat/Katong residents loved to eat his Peranakan cuisine. I was one of his regular customers. I remembered seeing a long queue of people at his door steps, all waiting to take the yummy food in a tingkat (tiffin carrier) home for dinner. As a result, Pennyfather Road and all the side roads were jammed with motor vehicles and causing obstructions. There were complaints against him to the authority. His food catering business operating from home was unlicensed and illegal. He stopped his food catering business and opened a Peranakan food shop at East Coast Road between Jago Close and Chapel Road. His business was good but after a few years age caught up with him and he retired.

My wife comes from a Peranakan family. When we got married she had no cooking experience. Today Peranakan cusine is her speciality. During the Chinese reunion dinner she produced about ten variety of Peranakan cuisine, namely bua kulauk, itek sioh, kiam chye ark, arti babi bunkus, bak wan kepentin, chap chye, babi pontay, sambal udang, ngo hiang, nonya noodle with pineapple salad, curry chicken etc. Guests who came on Chinese New Year's day got to eat her nonya mee siam, laksa and kueh kueh.

Chinese New Year at my home was like a gathering of the clans. Visitors arrived from morning to night in an unending stream. Years ago I remember my wife's nephew was the life of the party. He gathered all his young cousins to have a dice game called 'si gor luck'. He always played the banker. There was so much excitement when he rolled the dices as all the players shouted: "si gor luck!" for the winning numbers.

Come this Lunar Tiger Year we shall miss all our guests who visited us annually as we shall be away from home on a holiday. I am sure they too will miss us. We break the tradition for the first time. I felt sentimental viewing past Chinese New Year video clips. I love the crowd, the noise they made and their laughter. I shall miss all this.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Racket Guard

Today the badmintong and tennis rackets are light weight. The frames can be of steel, aluminium, carbon firbre, graphite, ceramic, boron or a combination of some of these. Japanese brand rackets such as Yonex is the premeir manufacture of badminton rackets. Popular western brands are Dunlop, Wilson and others.

                             cheap wooden badminton racket from Pakistan

                                             wooden tennis racket

a wooden tennis racket within  a racket guard

In the 1950s and 1960s badminton and tennis rackets were made of wood and was quite heavy. The western world monopolised the premier manufacture of the rackets. The good brands were Head, Wilson, Dunlop, Prince, Donnay etc. The cheap ones were from India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the wooden badminton racket as well as tennis racket wobbled out of shape due to the weather. Therefore, a racket was always kept in a racket guard when not in use as in the above photo.

That was the way we were when playing racket games.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bucket Latrine

 What is a bucket latrine? To those who has no idea what it is, a picture is worth more than a thousand words.
Sketch of a bucket latrine

Bucket latrines outside a factory

                                 Night soil worker carrying night soil buckets
at Joo Chiat Road

In the early 1960s most shophouses outside the city used bucket latrines for disposal of human wastes. The latrine was usually located at the extreme end of the house so that removal of the night soil bucket could be carried out from the backlane. In the case of 3 storey back to back houses in China town, there were inadequate latrines in each floor. As a result the night soil buckets were often filled to the brim and waste liquids dripped all the way from the upper floor down the staircases to the ground level. Imagine the stinking smell the tenants had to bear daily.

A bucket latrine converted to wc squat pan.

Later sewers were laid in the backlanes and house owners had to convert a bucket latrine into a water carriage system squat pan as in the above photo.

My house had about 10 people living together. The night soil bucket was not only often full but also stink. I was forced to light a cigarette to counter the melodorous assault. My mother smoked and I took her tobacco to roll my own cigarettes.

That was the way we were!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Joo Chiat Road In The Past

Last month my son and his family flew in from US to visit us. I took the opportunity to show my grand daughter her Joo Chiat heritage. I walked down memory lane once more. It was a sentimental journey to relive the past. The vacant land between Joo Chiat Terrace and the Joo Chiat Complex evoke fond memories. On that piece of land once stood a block of 2 storey shophouses where I lived. Chew Joo Chiat's house was in the block of 3 storey building. The two blocks of buildings were separated by a lane leading to Langsat Road.

Behind my house was a small kampong where Chinese, Malays and Indians lived in harmoney. I had Malay playmates and learnt to speak Malay and played dum (Malay board game) with them. One of them, his father made very good chepak (leather slippers) for me. He also made songkoks and supplied them to the shops for sale in Geylang Serai. Another, his mother not only spoke Chinese dialect but also played si seks (4 coloured cards) and mahjongs with her Chinese neighbours. We grew up together. Yusof became a police detective and Ramlee a postman.

I lived in Joo Chiat Road from the day I was born till 1957. It was also my growning up years. The Pacific War ended with the return of the British. Singapore was then under the British Military Administration aka BMA. There was food rationing and black markets were thriving. Many people was out of job. There was a sudden mushroom of hawkers, especially cigarettes stalls. They were at street corners, roadsides and pavements.

Joo Chiat Road from Joo Chiat Place towards Geylang Serai was a very busy place. There were 2 wet markets side by side. One was facing Joo Chiat Road and the other was facing Changi Road. Lining both sides of the road were shops selling a wide variety of consumer goods including Chinese medical shops, clinics, dentists, tinsmiths, photo studios etc etc.

There was also an open air cinema known as Lily Cinema. It showed Chinese, Malay and Indian movies. It had wooden benches without back rests. An unwritten rule allowed movie goers to reserve seat by tying a handkerchief to the bench. During a popular movie show the benches were full of handkerchives. Late comers were frustrated at such a sight resulted in quarrels and fights.

My house was at Joo Chiat Road and my bedroom was facing the road. Each morning about 5.00 am onwards I could hear the 'click clock' noise
from the wooden clogs worn by housewives on their way to the markets. As the morning got brighter the noise increrased in intensity as more housewives charged to the markets. I got used to the noise disturbance and made it my alarm clock each morning to get ready for school and later for work.

My house frontage had a recess from the road. Food hawkers set up stalls for breakfast. Housewives gathered to socialise and gossip. Some remained until the announcement of 'chap jee ki' result. I observed their faces. Very few smile but majority frown with disappointment.

Nearby my house was a sidelane crowded with hawkers selling fresh fish from the kelongs, vegetables and fruits from our local farms and cooked food such as mee siam, bachor mee, prawn mee soup and others. Our family owned the land. Each hawker paid a fee including water supply. On week-ends and public holidays I was on duty. Occasionally I barter with the hawker for a plate of mee siam, or a bowl of mee.

During the night a popular hawker stall selling satay and porridge aka choke in Cantonese occupied the frontage of my house. Every night after the open air cinema show ended, streams of movie goers walked pass my house. Many stopped by to have supper. Due to its popularity the hawker stall had become an icon in Joo Chiat Road.

My next door neighbour was a tyre shop. The owner had a Ford car and every morning drove his car to his other shop in town. In the morning on my way to school I had the opportunity to watch him starting his car. Today we started the car engine by the turn of a key. It was very laborious then. First the driver took a crank rod from the car. The metal rod had a 'z' shape with one end longer than the other. Next he walked to the front and pushed the longer end through a hole under the radiator to connect it to the main shaft. He used the shorter end as a handle to crank start the car engine in clockwise motion. He could never start the car engine with one go. Strength was needed to crank up the car engine and doing it continuously a few times could be very tiring. Once the car engine started, he pulled back the metal rod and put it back to the side the car.
Finally he drove the car away. It was a daily ritual for him.

Photo from PICAS Background on the left, a red arrow shows a lane leading to the open air Lily Cineman.
A white arrow in the centre shows the side lane that led to Langsat Road.
In the morning it was like a wet market crowded with people

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jurong Bird Park

Jurong Bird Park was opened on 3rd January 1971 by Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Minister of Defence. It is now the largest bird park in the world with 20 hectares of land area for about 5000 birds with 380 species. One of its main attraction is the bird show.

Fast rewind 40 years back, I brought my family to Jurong Bird Park for the first time. My children were all below 10 years old then. We did not know what attractions there were at a bird park. But, we knew for sure that there were many birds to feast our eyes. It was a hot sunny day and we were sweating profusely. The children enjoy running around the big open space but I was looking in vain for a shade. There was not a single tree that was good enough to provide a cover for us to cool down. Maybe the instant trees in the public parks today were not implemented yet. The black and white photos below showed the bird park's wide open ground without trees. I remember there was a aviary with a waterfall within it. All the big birds were in cages but the flamingoes and the pelicans had their own pools. The penguins were in a special enclosure. The children loved to watch them walked in a swinging motion before diving into the water. There was a tram with a few open carriages for a quick look around of the park. We preferred to walk and see the birds at close range.

Recently, we visited the bird park with my son and his family. It was a nostalgic visit after 40 years. My son was a boy then. During the recent visit he brought his 2 children with him. It is like history repeating itself. The present bird park is a world of difference from the 70s. The bird park now has many tall trees and there is no lack of shady places whether under the trees or at the eateries. An above ground panorail (monorail) has replaced the tram for a quick look around. In addition there are a few golf carts with a guide each for hire. We booked one golf cart to cover as many attractions as possible as we wanted to avoid the afternoon heat. The cart driver was also our tour guide. She gave commentaries about the birds such as their country of origin, species, habitats etc. We were wiser at the end of the tour. The two main attractions for us were feeding the birds and the bird show. I do not remember there was a bird show in 1971. I enjoyed the visit and wonder when will be the next one.

Pictures of Jurong Bird Park in 1971

Photo credit to NAS

Golf cart tour

Photo credit to NAS

Penguins enclosure then and now

Photo credit to NAS

African waterfall aviary then and now

Feeding the birds

Birds show

a photo to remember

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lor Arh (Braised Duck)

Lor Arh (braised duck) stall

Above lor arh (braised duck) stall is currently selling at Queen Street Food Centre. On the left hand corner of the photo is a picture of a pushcart and written on the attap roof four Chinese characters (六十年代) meaning the stall has been in lor arh (braised duck) business for 60 years. I was disappointed when the stallholder answered me that he was not aware of the 'si go luck' dice game that accompanied the lor arh business before. He did not look very old, so I assumed that 60 years ago, his father was the hawker and not him.

Today's gourmet has to travel to a food centre or an eating house to eat lor arh or braised duck. In the 50s and 60s the reverse was true. The itinerant lor arh hawker would come to your door announcing his braised duck "lor arh, lor arh!".

Recently, a fellow blogger Jame Seah and I had the opportunity to act a lor arh hawker and his customer as in the old days, for a tv documentry on Heritage Food. The scene acted out was nostalgic and unique because only the lor arh hawker would play a game of dice with his customer, giving him a chance to win the braised duck instead of buying directly from him.

Lor Arh vendor and a customer getting ready for action

Sound, Lighting, Camera & Action!

Itinerant hawker acted by James Seah
Customer played by Philip Chew

Above picture shows only the main stuff - braised duck, egss and dices in a bowl for the game.

The Dice Game (4,5,6 or si go luck in Hokien)

Three dices are used. The customer throws the dices first into a bowl and let them roll. The dices must resulted in a paired number (say two 3s) and a single/challenged number (say 4). When there is no paired conbination, the player must continue to play the dices until there is a result. If the 3 dices show number 1, 2 and 3, or a pair with the challenged number 1, the customer loses outright. That is the odd against him. If he wins the first round, he has to continue playing until he wins the best of 3 games to claim his prize of 3 eggs. He could return the 3 eggs to play for a quarter duck, and then to half a duck and finally the whole duck. For each bet he must win the best of 3 games. The basic price per game was 30 cents for the prize of 3 eggs. A customer could pay more to play for a quarter duck instead of starting with the basic 30 cents for 3 eggs.

Fast rewind back to the 50s and 60s at Joo Chiat.

Every Sunday my home was like a club house. My friends, mostly shopkeepers in the vicinity gathered to drink beer, hard liquor and played mahjong and cards. That was where I learned all the vices as a teenager. The itinerant braised duck hawker usually arrived at my house about lunch time. His mobile stall had lor nun (eggs) and lor arh (braised ducks), plus gizzards etc. He gave free sauce(lor), cucumber and chilly sauce. Many of us took turn to play against him until somebody won a whole duck or two and some eggs. Unlike today's hawker stall where you can buy a bowl of rice or porridge, this guy had no rice at his stall. Anyway, no rice was fine with us drinkers. I remembered there was one or two occasions we won all his ducks, eggs and all. He did not mind at all for we lost to him a sum of money which could be more than the cost of his goods. The players had the satisfaction of winning the briased ducks and the hawker was happy to make more money by playing the game of dice. It was a win win situation for both. No wonder it was so popular in those days.