My Jeanophobia Blues

Per my reckoning, blue denim jeans came onto the local fashion scene some time in the late 1960s. Soon it became the universal below-waist cover-up for every Ah Beng, Arun and Ali. The supposedly casual wear began turning up at every occasion, location and function.

The ladies were not spared this viral apparel infection too.  

At my workplaces, even the managers and the managing directors wore denim jeans.  Yes, everyone, with one notable exception – ie., this writer himself.  

I have NEVER worn a pair of denim jeans in my entire life!  “Don’t ask me why…how come I did not try…”

Perhaps, the thought of putting on some thick, canvas-like fabric, with a rugged weather-beaten appearance did not jive well with my personal grooming habits.  More correctly, the thought never entered my mind.

Achtung Bitte: My “Bugs-Wagen” Sob Story

My long-time dream of owning a German-made car came to fruition in 1998 – in the form of a 4-year old secondhand maroon-coloured VW Passat. Being in Singapore, I had paid S$76,000 for that SOB (“Son Of the Beetle”).

I loved the clean sleek design, and the feel of tight, precision Teutonic engineering.  Driving it was sheer exhilaration.  However, my joy was short-lived.  Spare parts were extremely expensive.

Worse, after about 6 months, the auto gearbox malfunctioned – always jumping back from 4th to 2nd gear unexpectedly.  The agent – Champion Motors – told me the fault could not be fixed, and I would need to fork out S$10,000 to buy a new gearbox!!  So, I took the car to an outside mechanic who did a temporary fix – and then I sold it for S$60,000/= (the Asian currency crisis was in full swing then). Sob, sob.

What The Fiat Was This Car?

Going back to the mid-1960s, I had a neighbour who used to sell cloth at the market several miles away from the kampong. One day, his son brought home a funny-looking car — apparently to help in transporting the family business merchandise.

Firstly, the driver seemed to be sitting in the rear, and facing rearwards!! And the car actually went “gostan” most of the time – at least that was what my young and imaginative mind thought!! 

As can be seen in the photo, the sloping end was actually the rear (engine was rear-mounted) , while the much more upright end was the front.

Interestingly, it had “suicide doors” in front, and even more intriguingly, the spare wheel was kept inside the front passenger compartment.  Legroom must have been tight.

It was only recently that I learned the model was the Fiat Multipla.

Butterworth – At The Crossroads

To be taken literally, this photo shows the junction in the middle of town, circa 1965.  It was where 4 roads met, viz., Old Jetty Road (towards left), Jalan Telaga Ayer (towards right), Jalan Kampong Gajah (into the background) and Jalan Bagan Luar (in the direction of the cyclists).

No hesitation for me though, as I made my way to school every weekday through it for the first 9 years of my school life. (Except, of course when the traffic lights in my path turned red).

The red bus belonged to the United Traction Company, and probably was on its run from Sungai Petani, or Alor Star.

The row of shophouses beside the bus was occupied by several cloth retailers – Chinese and Mamak ones.  That corner shop, “Hong Guan Company” was a favourite with my female relatives and my late Mum.

The Skinny On Popiah Wrappers

In my younger days, I used to accompany my late Mum on her visits to Chowrasta Market, along Penang Road.  There, along the adjoining side lane, was a  stall making and selling popiah skins. 

It was intriguing  to watch how that Uncle snatched a lump of sticky dough from a tub, jiggled it in his hand, and then dabbed it onto a round hotplate, and rubbed the lump on it in a circular motion, before pulling back his hand. That left a thin layer on the hotplate, which quickly hardened.

His assistant then moved in to peel off that cooked wrapper, leaving the hotplate ready for the next cycle.  In the mean time, the Uncle went on to work on another hotplate.  Quite efficient.

Haha, if I were to try it, I think I would get the skin of my palm burnt.

Cutting-Edge Education

Bidding goodbye to my old alma mater – Assumption Boys School, Butterworth – in 1970, I applied for entry into The Technical Institute of Penang, located along Jalan Ibbetson.   There I was, from Form Four (MCE), right up to Upper Six (HSC).

“TI” was a unique secondary school of sorts, which combined the twin pursuits of nurturing academic brain power, and acquiring useful hands-on engineering design and workshop practice.

For us in the Mechanical Engineering course, we had many hours of very enjoyable experience, learning to use machine tools, such as the Milling Machines (horizontal & vertical types), the Shaping Machine, and the Lathe.  In a nutshell, using powered cutting tools to fashion objects from steel and other metals to the precise shapes and forms desired.

Among the items I made were a Bolt & Nut pair, and a Spur Gear.

I made a return visit in 2015.

At The Heart Of All Things Bananas

The Malay name for this elongated-heart shaped flower is “Jantung Pisang” or “Banana Heart”.

In the early days of my kampong life, it was a common sight – a big purplishly-red bulbous bud danging temptingly at the end of a stalk of banana fruit on each tree.

My family had our own banana trees in our compound, but we did not know what to do with those Jantung! However, we had many Indian neighbours around us, and so there was no lack of “suitors” for the beauties. 

I have never eaten any food prepared with this flower, until 2 Nov 2019, when  a good Indian friend treated several of us to a Kerala Restaurant – and there was a plate of Jantung Patties, for us to relish to our hearts’ content.

This item is definitely getting scarcer by the day.