Ten Thousand Mountains On New Street Head

Sounds strange to modern folks! In Penang, a market is called (at least in those days) ‘ban-san’ (萬山) and not ‘pasar’ (巴殺).

And ‘ban-san’ means Ten Thousand Mountains, or 𝒔𝒐 𝒊𝒕 𝒔𝒆𝒆𝒎𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒎𝒆. 😆😅

This iconic heritage building is located at the 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐭 (頭)of Campbell Street (‘sin kay’ = 新街), where Campbell Street meets Buckingham Street and Carnarvon Street.

In my childhood days, I had accompanied my late Mum several times to this ancient market, to buy her favourite stuff which could not be found over the other side of the harbour, ie Butterworth (where we lived).

Two Sides Of A Fleeting Memory

The Anglo-French Concorde was a technological masterpiece of aeronautical engineering of the 1960s-70s. 

However, when JFK airport denied landing rights to the supersonic airliner over objections to noise and sonic booms, British Airways decided to explore new routes for the Mach 2 speedbird.  It found an eager partner in SIA.  Aircraft “G-BOAD” had its port side (left) painted in SIA livery, and assigned to this joint-venture.

The London-Singapore (Paya Lebar) flights took only 9 hours (including a stop at Bahrain) and commenced on 9th Dec 1977. The flight path was to cross part of India and through the Straits of Malacca.  However, just after 3 flights, Malaysia withdrew permission for supersonic overflights. India also denied permission, resulting in a diversion of an additional 200 miles.

All that extra fuel burn simply hastened the demise of this unprofitable joint misadventure by 1st November 1980.

MALATA In China Was OK For Karaoke

Don’t be startled – 𝒋𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒂𝒏 𝒎𝒆𝒍𝒂𝒕𝒂𝒉, just keep calm and carry on reading/singing.

While working in China (2001-2007) was both fun and challenging, life after work hours was rather boring at the company-rented apartment.

Thus, in my 3rd year there, I decided to invest in a locally-made karaoke system, with the brand name of “MALATA” or 万利达. It came with a pair of main speakers, a central speaker, a 5.1 power amplifier, and a DVD player with an embedded HDD carrying  20,000 songs, plus a pair of microphones.

Costing less than RMB5,000/=, the set helped me sing the blues away – both in Chinese and English.

Alas, when my contract ended in 2007, I sold off the entire system – minus the DVD player (which I later brought back to Singapore)  —  to a 2nd hand dealer, for a song.

We’ve Got The Power — And Then Gave It Away

Another nostalgic item found in my store room – legacy from the days of my venture into electronics business some 29 years ago (as of 2022).  It cost me S$700 then.

A DC Power Supply used in the product development lab, it provided twin outputs of 30A DC (max) at adjustable voltages, plus a pair of fixed 5VDC terminals.  It served me and my fellow workers for about 5 years before we had to call it quits – as our business model did not have the power to meet new challenges posed by the changing economic order.

The beast was huge and heavy – something like 12kg.  (These days there are more compact, lighter and cheaper models on the market).

Recently, I had to give it away to a second-hand goods dealer, as my current smaller abode has limited storage space. Goodbye, old friend.

Before Jetstar, There Was JetStar

Most folks here probably have heard of Jetstarand even made flights with that budget airline.

But heakening back to 1961, the name of “𝐉𝐞𝐭𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐫” debuted in the form of the world’s first dedicated business jet – made by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

It was one of the largest aircraft in this class for many years, seating ten, plus two crew.  Externally, it was distinguishable from other business jets by its four engines, mounted on the rear of the fuselage, and the “slipper”-style fuel tanks fixed to the wings.  Strangely, Lockheed never made another model.

I first came across the story of this “first among unequals” circa 1965 in a magazine in the USIS Library, Penang.  (Btw, magazine stoked my early childhood interest in aircraft).

Oh yes, Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers and Frank Sinatra also each owned one of these.

The Other “Ekspres Rakyat”

Some people, perhaps among the millenials, might think that budget airlines are a fairly recent phenomenon.  However long before these upstarts got their wings dry and took to the skies, there was this  pioneering Grand-daddy Start-Up called “People Express Airlines” or simply PEOPLExpress.

It began in 1981, with a mission to provide more affordable fares to hitherto earth-bound folks by cutting out all the frills offered by legacy airlines, and just concentrating on getting them safely from departing  airport to destination airport.

At first it operated only domestic US routes using Boeing 737 aircraft but later in 1983,  B747 transatlantic flights were launched between Newark to London’s Gatwick Airport.  Fares started at US$149 each way.

But in the air transportation industry, there were always the unexpected turbulence, headwinds and dogfights.  PEOPLExpress eventually ceased in 1987 and was absorbed by Continental Airlines.

Wild Wild Whet

Recounting The Days Of Being Wild in my gastronomic history , where an exotic mix of traditional folklore, the kampong environment and, perhaps a need for affordable protein, all came together.

The Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes were sold seasonally at the marketplace by a Malay villager who had a shotgun – he made short work of the menace posed by these bats to ‘dusun’ owners.

We also trapped Musangs which tried to raid our chicken coop at night – and they paid with their lives and meat.

The Pangolin was a ‘novelty’ – someone had trapped it and then offered to share with all the neighbours.  Some kept the scales from the head as a charm to ward off evil.  Anyway, the process of slaughtering it and peeling off the scales was grossly gruesome.

Oh yes, there were also meat from the Crocodiles, Frogs and Snakes.

Something Ventured, Nothing Gained

Bolstered by the big success of the display signboard project at KLIA in early 1998, I sought to make a foray into the electronic signboard market in Singapore.

The opportune moment came when a local subsidiary of Messrs Industronics Bhd (called “Industrial Electronics Pte Ltd”) put in a bid to fit the MRT stations with new electronic signboards. Our proposal was to use my newly-developed Alphanumeric LCDs with fluorescent backlighting. 

Within just a few weeks, my team was able to put up a demonstration unit, which was then installed at the Ang Mo Kio station for a trial run. The display unit functioned beautifully and flawlessly. 

Alas, the handwriting was literally on the wall – by then, large-size full-colour LCD flat screens were becoming mainstream.  Thus, our proposal was rejected as being “too old-fashioned” – clearly a sign of the times.

Seeing Red Over A Black Cat

Manufactured by the British company Carreras Ltd, “Craven A” was one of the many popular brands of cigarettes in the previous century. It was available in several paper packs as well as in cylindrical cans. All package types featured a picture of a black cat on a crimson background.

However, its Chinese name was “红猫”(Red Cat).  Why was it not called “黑猫”(Black Cat) ?  It puzzled me for more than 6 decades.  Well, I suppose black or red mattered not when the nicotine addicts went “A-Craving“.

Even more audacious was its claim: “Will Not Affect Your Throat.  Who were they trying to smoke? In the later years, that slogan made people see red all over, and ultimately it had to be replaced with a warning statement: “Smoking Is A Health Hazard”.

They Had A Badge

The recent saga of “the badge lady” in Singapore evoked some old memories and soon I developed a badgering urge to cobble together a story.  So, here it goes.

I remember during my younger days in Butterworth, my Dad used to work as a lorry driver, and he had to wear a special “GDL” (Goods Driver’s License) badge that was pinned to his shirt pocket. And he also showed me the licence itself that came in the form of a printed sheet of paper with his personal particulars and classes of vehicles permitted, plus a photograph of him attached.

A similar “PSV” licence (and badge) was also required for drivers of public service vehicles such as taxis, buses, etc.

In modern times, I believe these have all been replaced with plastic cards.

Photo shows the mock-ups of the GDL badge and licence.

Chinese Household Names

Keep Calm: no Taobao, Oppo or anything like that.

Long time ago, when I was living in the Butterworth kampong, all the Chinese homes had a two-character name plaque prominently displayed above the main door of their houses. So did all the Peranakan houses in Penang.

One look at the name plaque (姓氏牌匾) was enough to know surname of the family housed therein. For example in my case, “NEOH” (梁) was denoted by the clan name “梅镜” (translated into ‘plum mirror’).  Some of the other common surname/clan name types are shown on the left side of the photo. There is a long ancient history behind this tradition, but sadly, this practice is fast disappearing from our modern societies.

Do note, in those days, the sequence of Chinese characters was from from right to left.

When Earthlings Met Martians For Coffee-In-‘China’

The saucer was not flying, but something came to mind while I was having my cuppa this morning.

This picture reminds me of the times during my childhood, when my Dad used to take me along to his Sunday morning coffee sessions with his friends at the local coffee shop.

He would pour out the piping hot Kopi-O from the cup onto its accompanying saucer, to cool it down, so that I could sip in the coffee without getting scalded. It was the way to go for kids in those days – I suppose our lips and tongues were much more tender when we were young. Am not sure if people still do that now. These days, the saucers have mostly been done away with. And in many F&B places those vintage porcelain cups have been replaced by glasses, plastic cups or even paper cups

Of Hungry Bugs & Juicy Butts

Since the days of our nenek moyangs, rotan or rattan has been used to make furniture and a myriad of other items. It is extremely strong and tough, yet can be coaxed into contorted twists and turns – properties which make it so endearing.

In younger days, we had several rattan chairs. Nice to sit on, quite relaxing. However, these were very prone to infestation by bed bugs. These little pests liked to hide in the crevices between strands, and once a nice juicy bottom settled in, they would come out for a gala feast. The itch would be unbearable and often led to rashes and some bleeding.

We would then overturn the chairs and banged them on the floor to forcibly evict those “illegal squatters” and then sprayed some Shelltox to kill them. Enemy temporarily vanquished! But…but…but, they would return, again and again.

The Plots Quickened

At the dawn of CAD in the early 1980s, hardcopy printouts were made on dot matrix printers. However, the results were far from satisfactory. Slant lines looked like staircases, and circles resembled the outlines of Oreo cookies.

Thus the advent of vector-driven Pen Plotters, which could produce eye-pleasing smooth straight lines and curves, with as many as 8 line widths and 8 colours, was a big leap forward. There were two types:  the Flat Bed type, and the Roller Feed type (more suitable for large formats).

But the basic principle was the same — a drafting pen carried in a mechanical gripper, glided over paper in trajectories as dictated by the host computer. However, these machines had serious limitations. A game-changer was needed.

Yay, today’s ultra-high definition inkjet and laser printers can produce photo-quality prints and dramatically quicken the plots. The Pen Plotters are now obsolete plodders.

‘Think Out Of The Box: Get Inside A Box’

Carlos Ghosn surely ranks as the greatest celebrity of all times, being the CEO and Chairman of two of the world’s best known automotive companies from two different countries across two diverse continents – simultaneously!

Getting his way around to become the legendary “Mr Fix-it” was no easy task for this French-Lebanese-Brazilian, especially in the notoriously proud and ancient Land Of The Rising Sun. He preached and practised “Think Out Of The Box” with spectacular success — reversing the flagging fortunes of both Renault and Nissan.

However, his commercial success also created many enemies among many laid-off employees, suppliers, and the upper echelons of the giant automotive alliance. This angst culminated in his arrest in November 2018.

But Carlos showed the world his audacious genius.  In 2019, he escaped by thinking out of the box again – got into a box and flew out on a private jet.


“bo pian” is an expression in Fujian Chinese dialect, meaning “no choice”, or “as a last resort”

A Cranky Way To Stay Sharp

It must have been at least 3 decades since I last used this type of crank-operated Pencil Sharpeners – thanks to the advent of “mechanical pencils”.

During my school days, most of us could only afford simple finger-gripped sharpeners. The “high-end machines” were way beyond our fiscal reach: so when we first laid hands on a specimen belonging to one classmate neighbour, we wasted no time in gathering all the pencils we had, and cranked away happily.

Somehow the sound (and feel) of wood being systematically “gnawed” away by this mechanical “rodent” triggered a free flow of dopamine (“happiness” hormone) to the brain. Sounds cranky, but it was true. 

These sharpeners seemed to have a built-in stopper to prevent over shaving the wood – but that also limited the sharpness of the point at the pencil tip.

Tall Story With Fashionable Sweeping Statements

It was a tall order for me, as I took on the challenge of piecing together an appropriate picture for this story – with nearly 8 hours of painstaking Photoshop manipulation.

Sometime in the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, bell-bottom pants became all the rage for young men who wanted to appear hip and cool.  The Chinese named it “喇叭裤” – meaning “trumpet pants”.

And going along with these flared pants were the Platform Shoes. Well, these shoes came as a boon for men who were “vertically-challenged” to varying degrees, as they now could be Walking Tall as well. 

The pants also had to be long enough to cover the platform shoes, to the extent that the hems were practically sweeping the floor or ground all the time.  Wear and tear quickly set in.  But, no complaints from the fashionistas.

The Cool Start To 168 — ‘一路发’

When we first settled down in Singapore in 1984, Service 168 (operated by SBS) was the only one with air-conditioned buses. It ran a loop service, between Ang Mo Kio Interchange and Orchard Road. (Actually these buses were re-assigned from the defunct SABS — Singapore Airport Bus Service).

That was the cool start, which eventually saw the entire public bus fleet fitted with air-conditioning. Gone with the wind was the need to open windows and let one’s hair be blown into a dishevelled bird’s nest. And a ride in high noon sweltering heat was literally “no sweat”. Similarly, on rainy days, there was no more agonizing choice to be made between suffocation and getting free showers from the sky.

With creature comfort on the move, folks in Singapore gladly hopped on en masse, bestowing “168 (prosperity all the way) upon the bus operators!

The ‘Chief Differences Between His And Hers

This is a straight-to-the-face story and not about any hanky-panky heritage custom practised by folks of the previous century (maybe there are other stories unknown to me).

Back in those days, when “tissue” was almost always a matter of the flesh, we used rectangular pieces of fabric – mostly of cotton – to wipe grime and sweat off our faces, and our lips and fingers after a meal.  They were called “handkerchiefs” (at least in my part of this planet).

And there was distinction in size, colour and design between “His” and “Hers”. “His” was about 40cm x 40cm, with simpler, subdue-colour line patterns, while “Hers” measured around 30cm x 30cm, and came with bright attractive floral patterns against a white background. 

Male or female, they were 100% recyclable at home, leaving zero carbon footprints – Greta Thunberg would be pleased to know this.

One System Two Countries — The Last Hurrah

At 11.02pm, 30 June 2011, the last KTM train departed from Tanjong Pagar, with DYMM Sultan Ibrahim Ismail in the driver’s seat.  That marked the end of 108 years of operations at this station.

As Tren Khas Terakhir Stesen Tanjong Pagar, 1030UP – with a Type 26 Locomotive (the “Tanjung Kupang”) – inched away from the crowded platform, and headed home for the Golden Chersonese, emotions roared in like tsunami waves, with cameras and phones clicking away for posterity.

For many in Singapore and Malaysia, this one train system was the cherishable nostalgic connection between the two countries – the 1965 separation notwithstanding.

In 1984, my wife and I embarked on an epic 14-hour Express Rakyat journey from Butterworth and landed at Tanjong Pagar for the first time.  With two suitcases and two carton boxes in tow, we had come to seek greener pastures in Temasek.

ESSO Lupa, Harimau Dah Jadi PETRON Lah*

Excuse my travestying of the time-honoured Malay peribahasa; this post may be just as delicious and juicy.

From the time I knew what gasoline (petrol) smells like, there were the names like “Shell” and “Mobil”.  Then one day, a familiar Mobil station in my old hometown, Butterworth, was renamed “ESSO”.  Being the curious boy with unbridled imaginations, that fancy-looking “E” seemed like a laterally-inverted “3”. So with great excitement, I went home telling everyone about this “3-S-S-O” !

Now, Esso stations in Malaysia have morphed into “PETRON” with the change of ownership. Hopefully, this gives our millenials some insight into the history.  However, in Singapore, Esso stations still remain Esso.

Of course no Esso story is complete without the famous tagline: “Put A Tiger In Your Tank”.  Some Atuks may even recall the tiger-theme garbed Tiger Girls at the stations.

note: The title is in the Malay Language, and is a play on the proverb, “Esok Lusa, Cempedak Jadi Nangka”

The After-Meal “Pick-Me-Up”

In the past, at all (mainly Chinese) eating places — from humble roadside stalls to posh restaurants – that little wooden stick of about 2.5” long was a standard feature on the table.  Yes, the ubiquitous Tooth Pick.

Perhaps, in the 21st century, picking one’s teeth in public may rate as revulsive as digging for nasal gold nuggets. However, folks back then were more down-to-earth and we just “Do What You Gotta Do” as necessary.

Well, excuse me, when those little bits of whatever you chewed and ate decided to lodge themselves in the gaps between your teeth, some aggressive mechanical coaxing became unavoidable, right?  No dental floss —  what’s that?

Over time, teeth-picking became an ingrained habit among the Chinese (men, especially). And, picking with one hand, while slowly rubbing the tummy with other became a cryptic expression of contentment over a scrumptious meal well-enjoyed!

They Shone Under Pressure!

Literally so. Today the limelight is on the venerable, vintage Kerosene Pressure Lantern which for a long time, decades ago, brilliantly dispelled the gloom of darkness for many kampong folks who had no electricity.

The key element was the mantle — made from loosely woven cotton and soaked in a solution of thorium and cerium nitrates. At the first burn, the cotton was burned off, leaving a brittle “skeleton” of thorium and cerium oxides that emitted intense light at very high temperatures.  The residual mantle could be re-used many times before a replacement was due – care was needed, as the slightest shock or vibration could shatter it!

In use, initial ignition required the use of a small dose of alcohol. Kerosene in the base tank was pressurized using the built-in hand pump and vaporized to keep the flame going.  A continuous hissing sound would be heard in normal operation.

Did The Ride Thing, But Not Taken For A Ride

Comparing today’s “minimalist-design” bicycles (they come with monster price tags) to those made six decades ago, modern cyclists might have been taken for another kind of ride.  Back then, bicycles were affordable and came equipped with at least 10 standard items that are missing in today’s glamour machines:-

  1. front and rear mudguards (very useful on rainy days)
  2. a dynamo – friction-driven by the rear wheel
  3. a headlamp — powered by the dynamo
  4. a carrier – for goods and the occasional pillion rider
  5. a mechanical bell
  6. a full cover to protect the chain drive
  7. a pedestal stand to park and hold the bicycle upright
  8. a lock (for obvious reasons)
  9. a tail reflector (later ones had tail lights)
  10. a nice spring-loaded seat with butt-friendly contour

Lastly: their handlebar designs were ergonomically superior.

Mercedes+Benz = Mercedes-Benz

Globally, the Three-Pointed Star is the undisputed numero uno status symbol that those who have not only “arrived”, but “arrived at the upper layers” somehow die die* must acquire.

Other so-called upmarket cars did come along (and some went off too), but none could match the powerful image of riches, power and prestige that Mercedes-Benz projects. But how did the name come about?

Mercedes was the name of the daughter of Emil Jellinek – a early major investor in the Daimler Motor Corporation, while Karl Benz was the engine designer and engineer of his own company Benz & Cie. Eventually the two companies merged in the late 1890s, and the rest is auto history.

Interestingly, Hong Kong people call the marque “Pan-sy” while in China they call it “Ben Chi” (pinyin for “奔驰” which means “run fast”)

* “die die” is a Singlish term, meaning “near-pathological desperation”

Thumbs Up For Being Nutty

When I first joined FB many years ago, I thought perhaps Mark Zuckerberg might have gone nuts over this fabulous product from Menglembu, Malaysia. Well, that big iconic “Thumbs-Up” logo says it all.

On a more serious note, this “Chap Tangan” brand was all the rave decades ago in Malaysia on the peanuts scene. The Penang Chinese folks called it “Ban Li Bong”. And it became a staple in Chinese New Year tidbits/goodies – thanks to crunchy marketing, I suppose.

Personally, however, I did not find this brand to be of any particular liking to my taste buds and olfactory system. Maybe I am the oddball.

These days, I think “Thumbs-Up” has lost some ground to other brands. But demand seems still very strong, especially in these days of lockdowns. Munching nuts certainly is better than going nuts.

Something Fishy: Non-Stick Satay

I think it was in 1980 when I made my first and only visit to Pulau Pangkor. There and then I had my first encounter with this yummy snack called “Satay Fish” – well, it was not really satay in any conventional sense, and definitely was not skewered in sticks. 

It was love at first bite.  That crispy, fishy (of course), spicy taste with an optimal balance of saltiness and sweetness quickly became an irresistible oral temptation.

The delicacy came in the form of one or two pieces of the deep-fried fish in a small plastic sachet, and a dozen of these sachets were packed in a bigger plastic package.

Satay Fish is now well known throughout Malaysia, but it is not common in Singapore.  But I think both Shopee and Lazada offer these products.  Hmm, let me place an order soon – cannot tahan liao!

Birds Of A Feather, Names Asunder

In the earlier years of my youth, my Dad worked as a lorry driver, transporting goods between George Town and Betong (Thai border town). One day he brought home a pack of 6 pieces of soap, which had green wrappers with pictures of parrots and flowers, from Betong.

The name as I remember it was “POPINJAY”. The soap had a rather strong scent, quite unlike those of Palmolive or the occasional Lux that we were accustomed to.  Well, it did a good job of removing the grime and dirt from our bodies. 

Somehow, this soap totally vanished from our sight, for a long long time.  However, about 3 years ago, they came into my view again. But lo and behold, the Popinjay had become “Parrot”, and the wrappers were somewhat different.

My first thought: “Hah, a parrot copy?” Nah, perhaps these days “Popinjay” is politically incorrect.

Pengat ‘Dah Jadi Bubur…Cha Cha…

Back in those days In Penang, that sweet and lemak dessert known as “Pengat” was an iconic item of the Chap Goh Meh delicacies.

Cut pieces of keledek (sweet potatoes) of three colours – yellow, orange and purple – and keladi (taro) were cooked in a thick broth made from santan (coconut milk) and gula Melaka.  And, most significantly were the sliced pieces of banana (almost invariably, Pisang Raja). 

But after coming over to Singapore in 1984, I never hear the term “Pengat” again. Almost everyone called it and confused it with its lesser cousin – the Bubur Cha Cha. These days, I believe even among the younger generations in Malaysia, the confusion has become widespread and, haiz, Pengat ’Dah Jadi Bubur…cha cha!

Note: Bubur Cha Cha has no banana, but has globs of boiled starch in it, and is generally not so lemak.

My Way, Not The Highway

Well, I had no choice – the North-South Highway plot was not even hatched yet.  More precisely, it was the northern stretch of what is known as “Federal Route 1”.

Way back then, our road excursions between Butterworth and KL and other towns in between were usually done with express buses  that plied this trunk road. I estimate that 95% of the length of this road had only single lane each way, with no dividers in between.

Unlike the boring “white-line fever” of P-L-U-S highway, those journeys were exciting.  Some of the highlights along the way include:-

  1. the torturous inclines at Padang Rengas,
  2. the lion-shaped (some say camel) limestone outcrop near Chemor,
  3. the cave temples near Ipoh,
  4. the railway overpass near Sg Siput,
  5. Templer’s Park etc.

I had driven several times on this route, between 1979, and 1981.

The Bronze Age Of Bank Savings

Keep Calm! Am not taking you back thousands of years, but just a mere 6 decades or so.

Somewhere in the mid-1960s, the banks got into some animated frenzy of sorts, whereby they launched Savings Accounts for kids – each with a bronze “piggy bank”. These came in the shape of various animals – camels, elephants, kangaroos, rabbits, etc, and of course, pigs!

OUB, Chung Khiaw Bank, UMBC, etc, all got into the act.  I remember my Dad got me and my sister a set each (I think it was an elephant and a rhino).  We were all so excited!

Alas, our pocket money was very limited and only occasionally, could we spare a 10-cent or 20-cent coin to drop into them.  Then one day, my Dad decided to return the sets to the bank. That was the last we saw of them. Haiz!

We Did Fly-By-Wire!

Time flies. In 1970, with a fellow aircraft-enthusiast schoolmate, I decided to venture into flying model aircraft.

As soon as we had saved enough money, we went to a hobby shop along Penang Road (I think it was called “Seasons”) to buy some balsa wood (for building the airframe), an ENYA 2-stroke model engine, a propellor and other miscellaneous parts, and a plan for a Supermarine Spitfire. The construction process itself was fun.

We could not afford a Radio Control set; so the next best thing was to opt for a “Wire Control” type.  But this had serious limitations on the acrobatics, because the only control was over the elevators at the tail, executed via a special handle.

The engine used a fuel mixture of methanol, nitromethane and castor oil, and was quite noisy. A glow plug provided the ignition.

‘We Had The Numbers’

Yes, and they were printed in black-and-white, available for public scrutiny and of special educational value to school-going minors below 18 years of age.

They were packaged in a small booklet (roughly of A5 size), which we called “log tables” by way of habit.  Of course, besides the logarithmic functions, there were the trigonometric functions (remember Sine, Cosine, Tangent?), the Square Roots, plus a whole gamut of other mathematical calisthenic inputs-vs-outputs. 

Before the advent of calculators with so-called scientific functions, students from lower secondary upwards had to laboriously look up these tabulated numbers as an inseparable part of the curriculum to nurture and develop their innate calculative tendencies. Am glad, we do not have to do this anymore. Just clicking some buttons will get  you the numbers.  If not, just ask Google!

note: The title is a jibe at the words of one prominent Malaysian politician who made a big gaffe

A Case Of ‘Minum Lah Singa Merah’ !

Just reminiscing the good old days, when the Red Lion of F&N reigned supreme in the arena of “aerated” drinks. Never mind if there were juvenile upstarts and dodgy old-timers in the market: those were small game.

For Chinese New Year and other raya occasions, at least one wooden crate of 24 bottles – arrayed in a 3×8 matrix — had to be included in the festive goodies. Each bottle packed a mighty sweet-and-gassy punch of 400 ml.

Besides the classic Orange Crush, there were the Sarsaparilla, the Cherryade, the Cream Soda and even a Tonic.  I loved the Sarsi best; the flavour was wonderful and somehow it caused a lot of nice fragrant burping after drinking.  Next on my favourite list was the red Cherryade.

Both were “burpy” awesome with a piece of butter cake, or some peanuts!  Minum lah Singa Merah!

A Brief Case Of The Briefcase

At the start of my working life in the late ’70s, I began to notice that “professionals” always lugged a boxy-looking bag — called “attaché case” — when they went out to work.

These briefcases came in a variety of designs, and the most common types were constructed from fibreglass material, finished in various shades of brown to black, and often came with a built-in numerical locking device.

Not wanting to be left out of the glamour, naturally I bought one (circa 1979) and initially carried it with me to office every working day. Looked cool, man!  Like James Bond On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Never mind if the contents were just a bunch of nondescript sheets of paper and an occasional packet of peanuts. I think these briefcases are no longer chic – largely superseded by more casual, piggy backpacks

It Ain’t Just A Number

During my childhood days, there was a very popular medicine that one could buy over the counter in traditional medical halls and even sundry shops. It came in the form of tablets, each marked with “693”.

It was a wonder drug, made by the British company, May & Baker. Crushed into powder form and sprinkled onto open wounds caused by injuries or insect bites, it killed bacteria efficiently and brought rapid healing.  It could also be taken orally for fever.  Apparently Winston Churchill raved about it for healing him of pneumonia in 1942. 

Chemically designated “sulphapyridine”, the brand name was attributed to the 693 experiments undertaken for its development. However, it was withdrawn from the market in the later years due to complaints of adverse side effects.

Well, if you remember this, then age is not just a number – you are really old!

Washing Dirty Linen In Public

In my many visits to Klang over the last few years, I witnessed a mushrooming of “DIY Laundromat” shops in town.  Washing dirty linen in public appears to have literally garnered a fashionable following.

That brought back memories from my very young days in Penang, of “Dhoby Ghaut”, around the confluence of Sungai Ayer Itam and Sungai Ayer Terjun.  There were several traditional Indian dhobi operators, who ran thriving laundry businesses by the banks, using water from the rivers.  I understand that some of these dhobi’s are still running today, though their cleaning processes might have been upgraded, with some degree of automation.

I learned that in those days, undergarments were not to be sent to dhobi’s (but “ownself-handwashed” at home).  In contrast, these days, at Laundromats anything and everything goes in – Victoria’s Secrets, Victor’s Mysteries, and all.

Let Your Fingers Do The Stalking

Keep Calm! It’s not about psychopaths getting digitalization upgrades, but am seizing this opportunity to evoke memories of how we searched for phone numbers of persons and commercial entities in the past.

All telephones were fixed lines or “land lines”.  Every subscriber was given a set of thick “Directory” (> A4 size), in which the names and telephone numbers – and addresses — of all subscribers were listed. Commercial subscribers – and advertisements — were listed in a distinct “Yellow Page” section. The user simply needed to use his/her fingers to flip the pages to search for the names (listed in alphabetical order).

In Singapore, the directories grew fatter and fatter and had to be separated into 3 separate books, viz., Residential Listings, Business Listings and a Yellow Commercial/Industrial Guide. I last retrieved a set from Singtel in 2012 – it weighed more than 6 kg!

“Bi Thang”(米桶) Versus “Png Thang”(饭桶)

Red is an auspicious colour for the Chinese people. Thus all decorations for the Lunar New Year embody huge proportions of red.

One of the heritage practices was to stick a large piece of red paper with the characters “常满” onto the exterior of the household container that was used to keep uncooked rice.  The idea was to wish that the container would “always be full”.

In Hokkien, we called that container “Bi Thang” (米桶); but in Singapore, I discovered that if someone says “you Bi Thang already”, it means you have struck the jackpot or made an unexpected gain!  Maybe like “tikus jatuh ke atas beras”.

But, universally, if you are called “Png Thang” (饭桶) , it means you are deemed to be useless except for taking in nasi.

Marble Marvel Of The Round Table

Affectionately known these days as “Kopi-Tiam Table & Chairs” these antique furniture sets are making a comeback, as younger folks have started to appreciate the rich legacy that revolved around these items.

The salient feature was a piece of polished marble for the round table top – various sizes available, from 36” to 42″ in diameter — which sat on a beautiful sturdy wooden frame.  Accompanying the table was a set of matching wooden chairs (which had circular seats, and frame members with circular sections).

In the good old days, these round table sets were a common feature in coffee shops, upon which people enjoyed their coffee,tea, roti and mee.

My late Mum inherited a complete set of table plus 6 chairs from her ancestors.  I once checked the undersides of the seats – lo and behold they were made in Czechoslovakia!

The Thrills Come Alive — With The Sound Of Music

Ok, I have zero musical talent; nevertheless I do have some appreciation of good music. On that note, I was never  satisfied with those popular monoaural radio-cum-cassette players that were in vogue in the 60s~70s.

In the later teen years, my ears and eyes were secretly set on the big “component” hi-fi systems that were coming onto the market. Yes, names like Sansui, Technics, etc. But these were mighty pricey for the poor me.

Then, in the early 80s came the trendy Mini-Compo systems, which promised to deliver crescendo leaps in music quality at “affordable prices”. I was thrilled and, with heart going boom-bang-a-bang, rushed out to secure that “elusive” dream machine.

The siren call of one JVC model, PC-55, persuaded me to part with RM800 to take it home. It came along with us, when we migrated to Singapore in 1984.

It Got Me Grooving

It struck me out of the blue, when at the end of the school year in Standard One (1962), my uncle (my dad’s younger brother) came over to our house and gifted me a pocket radio. I was completely bowled over.

That uncle of mine was a very stoic, thrifty man, and a disciplinarian extraordinaire. Thus such an “indulgent” present from him came as a total surprise.

That “Made-in-Japan” Hinode radio had 2 transistors (big deal then) – a feature proudly announced on the front fascia. It had only MW, but that bothered me not one least bit. From that day onwards, the precious little box seldom left my side, except during school hours.  It probably helped fire up in me an interest in songs and dances.

By the way, the gift was a reward for coming out first in class.

Value For Money — With A Song Thrown In

Most of us probably have only a fleeting memory of Valuair – that first budget airline to be set up in Singapore, in May 2004. I was thrilled that finally, the commercial aviation sector (99% hogged by the GLC’s) was going to be disrupted by an upstart from the private sector.

I had the opportunity to fly once with Valuair to Hong Kong in that year.  It was good value for money. There were no extra charges for seat selection, the 20kg check-in baggage, and a simple meal with drinks.

Most endearing of all, upon touchdown, a stewardess picked up a microphone and sang a heartwarming song to thank the passengers.  Wow! Everyone clapped.

Alas, due to lack of funding and voracious competition from the big bad hawks of the industry, Valuair sang its swansong just a year later – forced to merge and be absorbed by Jetstar.

Engaging In Serious Business

In the good old days, when “Love At First Sight” was not yet fashionable, arranged marriages were commonplace. 

Parents of eligible young men and women would seek the services of a senior lady matchmaker (媒人婆 – in Chinese), to scout for suitable life partners for their grown-up children.  Once the right couples were paired up, usually an auspicious date would be chosen for the first step, which is the Engagement.

As part of the formalities, arrangements would be made for the couple to go to a photo studio for a professional photoshoot of themselves to mark the occasion, which would serve as black-and-white proof of the pre-nuptial agreement. Interestingly, in most of the old photos which I have seen, there were no smiles on the faces.  Only serious expressions.  Perhaps the “rules” of engagement were different back then.

One Bad Apple — Spoiled The Whole Wide World

No one knew that the Osmond Brothers’ 1970 hit song, “One Bad Apple” was a harbinger of a sea change in communications technology – just kidding.

14 years ago (a/o 2021), Apple Inc., released the first iPhone and it took the world by storm. Its most salient feature was the lack of physical hardware buttons for inputs – relying almost solely on a software-driven LCD panel with a touchscreen.

The specifications looked pretty puny by today’s standards but the iPhone totally upset the apple carts of incumbent phone titans such as Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, etc.

The iPhone marked the start of the global Smartphone Revolution, and got homo sapiens from ages of 6 months to 60 years (and more) glued to the colourful display screens, 24/7 and round the clock.   And, besides Apple, today we are  spoiled for choice in range of brands and models.

Y2K — Ya ‘Tu Ke?

Y2K: it was a true honest-to-goodness “hoax” that has come of age this year (2021). 

Towards the end of 1999, the entire world was gripped by a “once-in-century” morbid fear that a global apocalypse was imminent, when computer clocks ticked past the last second of the 20th century.  It was believed that since year-designations on computers only showed 2 digits, the year 2000 could be robotically interpreted as 1900.

Many grave scenarios were imagined, including ICBMs automatically launching from their silos, aeroplanes dropping out of the skies, bank accounts getting wiped out, trains crashing into one another, etc.

At that time, I was broke.  So I secretly hoped that the Y2K bug would somehow cause a couple of million dollars to be “irrefutably legitimately” transferred into my bank account. Believe me?  You probably will say, “ya ke tu?”

note: “ya ke tu” means “is that right” in Malay language

The Empire Flights, Back In 1985

There were no Star Wars, though I did fly solo, on the Empire Airlines in 1985. Those were the connecting flights from JFK Airport, NY, to the city of Rochester, where the manufacturing bases of Xerox and Eastman Kodak were located.

The airliner used was a short-range jet called Fokker F-28 Fellowship; it had a high T-tail and a pair of stern-mounted engines. Being a small aircraft and on a short hop of only about 45 minutes, the cruising altitudes were rather low and the rides were a bit bumpy.

In the twinkling of an eye, 36 years have passed (a/o 2021) since that first trip to the USA – on a company assignment to work on the design of a control panel for a photocopying machine at the Xerox Company.

Those were the happiest days of my working career.

Familia, But Not So Familiar

Circa late 1977, several college mates visited me in Penang during the year-end vacation. So I decided to borrow a car from a relative to ferry them around.

Gosh, that vintage Mazda “Familia” 1000  had a Steering Column Gear Shift, and a hand brake that was mounted from under the dashboard – a radical departure from the driving-school Morris Minor.

But, like how Cliff Richard sang, “The Young Ones,..shouldn’t be afraid..”, I was ready to tackle both the Familia, and the unfamiliar. LOLX.

The real test came when we were going up Bukit Dumbar. For a split second, I forgot the gear change pattern: instead of changing to 2nd, I had moved the stick to 3rd while climbing.  The engine stalled, and the car started to roll down.  Finally, after some tense moments, I managed to stop the car, re-start the engine, and continue the climb

Flair And Squares For A Hungarian Rhapsody

To be fair, one needs a certain flair — for twists and turns — to get the 9 squares on each of the six surfaces of the cube to be of one colour.

Yes, the Rubik Cube, invented by Hungarian architect Ernȍ Rubik, is 47 years old (a/o 2021) and more than 500 million sets have been manufactured and sold.  My first encounter with this “3D Jigsaw Puzzle” was in the mid-1980s. 

In recent years, the popularity of this mind-teaser “toy” might have waned somewhat. But in China, there seems to be a perennial rhapsodic interest in this “魔方” (magic cube). TV stations organize competitions for the young and deft.  Some competitors could even do the shuffling with their toes and in record time.

My own best time was about 15 minutes – with hands: now, probably it would take 15 days. 

Calculators & The Onset Of OCD…

Prior to my second year at the University of Malaya, electronic calculators were banned from the examination halls. But once that rule was lifted, every one rushed to acquire one of those “high-tech marvels”.

Casio’s FX-19 was the hot favourite of the techie-nerdies at our Engineering Faculty. It offered a powerful range of scientific and mathematical functions, and came with an eye-pleasing cyan VFD display. But it was rather thick.

So, I set my eyes on another beauty – a slimmer new model, the CZ-8141, from Sanyo. Its VFD had a clear green visor over it, producing an alluring green colour.

These modern wonders quickly bestowed “museum status” upon traditional mathematical tables and slide rules. On the flipside, with the proliferation of calculators, my mental mathematical prowess declined substantially, causing me to develop a kind of OCDObsessive Calculator Dependency.

Couch Potatoes Loved ‘CHiPs’

What could be more soothing and therapeutic after a hard day’s study or work, than to slouch down on one’s favourite comfy sofa, and shift the brain from one “i-mode” mode to the other “i-mode” while soaking in some diversionary optical illusions from the goggle box, and munching on some junk food?

“CHiPs” was one of our beloved action crime series on TV in the late ’70s and the early ’80s. Most of the action was centred on those two loveable protagonists – the somewhat strait-laced Jon Baker and his more boisterous buddy “Ponch” Poncherello – whose screen chemistry won the shows a huge following.

There were, of course the almost “mandatory” car/truck chases but rarely was a gun ever drawn, and never fired in anger.

Oh yes, I was much attracted to their mounts – those big 4-cylinder Kawasaki Z1000 superbikes with huge twin disc brakes in front.

note: 1st    i-Mode = intelligent mode ; 2nd i-Mode = idiot mode

When Mice Had Balls

Not that rodents were more macho in the earlier years; just my musings on the design/construction of that indispensable pointing device known as Computer Mouse.

Moving the cursor on a computer screen entails positioning a locator in a two-axis (X,Y) plane.  So, in those days, the logical design was to utilise a ‘friction ball’ coated with a plastomeric material to rotate a set of cylindrical rollers within the body of the Mouse. (sorry, no electronics discussion here).

However, after prolonged usage, dirt and grime accummulated on the roller ball, causing the pointer to be erratic, and the ball would have to be taken out for cleaning, or even replacement.

Mechanical Mice have now been completely supplanted by Optical Mice. On the under side of the latter, each has a small cavity with a red light, but no balls.  But their durability is much higher.

The Perfect Half-Cooked Solution

What a paradoxical statement !

However, this seemingly simplistic low-tech contraption provided an idiot-proof process of getting that much desired “ngam-ngam-hou” (刚刚好, or ‘just nice’) soft-boiled eggs.

Apparently, it was invented in 1973, by a Malaysian, Datuk Hew Ah Kow — a bulldozer operator at a lumber camp — who always wanted his eggs perfect.

We had this ‘Half-boiled Egg Cooker’ in our home a long time ago.  All we had to do was to put in one to four eggs into the cooker, and then poured in boiling water up to the appropriate recommended marks. 

The water would slowly drip from a hole in the bottom of the cooker into the collector base. By the time the hot water was completely drained, the eggs were guaranteed to have reached that optimum state of “setengah masak” delight.

A Picture Speaks With 140 Words

Hah, did I get it right? Yes, each page has a colour picture with a standalone story of up to 140 words (thereabouts). Fonts are senior-friendly with Franklin Gothic 11.5 point

A refreshing departure from boring, long-winded twists and turns that lead to nowhere. Just reading the title alone (of each story) will get you gasping for more!

OK, so, finally after 5 years, from the time I started this blog, I have compiled the best 400 stories and put them into 2 volumes and printed a short run of 50 sets. Just to help me recover the printing costs, I am offering these books for sale.

Price : USD32.00 (SGD45) …. for 1 set of 2 Volumes

Airmail Postage : (depends on your location on this planet)
Singapore : USD2.15 (SGD3.00)

Malaysia : USD6.85

USA : USD31.00

Payment : by PayPal, internet transfer, or PayNow (SGP only)

Please email me : ksneoh1955@gmail.com, for postage to other areas

thank you

Four Shapes Of Red

Probably everyone has eaten Ang Ku Kueh before (Penangites simply call them “Ang Ku”, meaning “Red Tortoise”).  But do you know that besides the standard tortoise-shell shapes there were 3 other shapes that were popular in the past?

Ang Ku used to be one of the traditional goodies made for the celebration of Chinese babies’ 1st month on planet Earth.  These, along with other stuff, would be sent out to relatives and friends.

If the baby was a boy, then in addition to the standard tortoises, there would also be Red Balls (红圆)and some slender flattish configurations called “Ang Than” (红蛏).  If the baby was a girl, the Red Tortoises would be accompanied by peach-shaped varieties, called “Ang Tho” (红桃). 

I suppose the shapes said it all.  Oops, will this revelation make anyone see red? 

VAIO Lah! What You See Is What You Want To See

Circa 2006, I bought a new, state-of-the-art Sony VAIO 13.3-inch notebook pc. And, discovered that it came with a  pre-bundled application called “Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0”

My curiosity was piqued.  I found that one could make so many changes to a digital photo.   Changes to background, removal of unwelcome features and characters, changing grey hair to black, improving hue and saturation of colours, addition of characters, etc. etc.   Even imparting colours to an old B&W photo that had only 50 shades of gray. 

Soon I was hooked.  And photoshopping became my favourite hobby.  I went through several upgrades, and am currently at version 14.

The VAIO gave up the ghost after about 5 years; I let it RIP and bought a Thinkpad, because repair cost by Sony was prohibitively expensive. I did not want to see that repair bill.

Baby Seaters For Baby Sitters

“One Size Fits All”.  Regardless whether you were a cutesy 3-month old panda cub, or its 100kg chubby mummy, or anything in between, this environment-friendly all-bamboo contraption provided firm support for your butt.

In the old days, probably till end of the 80s, this Baby Seater was a universal family item in nearly every home where there was an infant or toddler.  In its primary orientation, the baby could be nicely seated and guarded on all four sides; a platform in front provided convenient support for food, toys, etc.

Flipped around appropriately, and the Baby Seater became a steady stool for seating the baby sitter (to take a break and have a Kit-Kat maybe).

I remember in 1985, my MIL and SIL from Penang came to visit us, and they brought along one set as a gift for my then 12-month old son.

VSOP – Very Smelly Old Product

If you think our King of Fruits is smelly, then you ain’t smell no nothing yet. 

I assure you that this stinky old-school Durian Cake or Lempuk Durian will knock the daylights out of the  uninitiated. Even for me, who enjoy the sweet creamy insides of the thorny fruit, it took me several valiant attempts before those smelly chunks (taste delicious though) could get past my mouth into the gullet.

Made of almost 100% durian (used to be from unsaleable leftovers), and lovingly cooked in a big wok, and later wrapped into sausage-shaped rolls, somehow the flavours intensified by 300%.

I think these old-time products are on the wane now. Younger folks and Millenials may have no idea what they are.  In fact, when I googled for “Durian Cake”, 99% of the images that appeared were of modern-day cakes with durian flavouring.

Giving Subang Airport The FIDS

27 years ago (a/o 2020), Subang International Airport decided to upgrade its FIDS (Flight Information Display System).

The new FIDS was to be made up of small individual sub-units of LCD displays which were backlit by yellow LEDs.  Upon enquiry by Messrs Industronics Bhd – the main contractor – my company seized the opportunity to supply these sub-units which could publicly flaunt our display capabilities.  In total, we designed and built about 800 of those sub-units.

Gosh! In those days, it was difficult to obtain yellow LEDs with  consistent colour and tight brightness range.   So we had to devise an extremely laborious sorting-and-trimming scheme to achieve a satisfactory uniform appearance when all the sub-units displays were assembled in one big array.

The ordeal really gave us the fits, both during manufacturing and site assembly.  But the final result was worth every bit of the headaches and heartaches.

‘Rolls Rolls I Love You…’

“…Flour of Malaya, I can’t stay away

Pandan-scented crepe wrapping

Sweetened grated coconut inti

Fragrant and slender ‘neath tropical skies…”

Photo shows a recent rendezvous at my home with my Rolls of Joy.  “My Kueh, My Kueh, 我愛你 …”

Am sure everybody loves this old-time Peranakan delight.  In the days of my childhood, this stuff was a regular feature on our breakfast menu. Well, flour was cheap, coconuts were gifts that dropped down from the skies (we lived amidst a coconut plantation), and eggs were faithfully delivered by our obedient chickens.  Well, we just had to add some gula melaka or brown sugar, and some deft handiwork.

I used to know them as “Kueh Tayap”, but per my knowledge, they are also called “Kueh Dadar”, “Kueh Ketayap”, etc.  Oh never mind the name, just let my sweet tooth sink in.

Talk Was Cheap! And Perfectly Honourable!

Yes, only 10 cents for every 3 minutes; no monthly subscription and no prepaid cards.  Of course, it was talk only and no action (of any other kind possible).

When we first migrated to Singapore in 1984, we were awed by the fully-working conditions of all public amenities.  And then there were these cute, somewhat plump orange-colour payphones.  They were everywhere – at hawker stalls, bus interchanges, sundry shops, coffeeshops, etc.  In fact, if one threw a 10-cent coin in any direction, there was a 99% chance it would have struck one of  these “Coinafones”.

There were no mobile phones in those days of course.  So these orange babies played important roles in enabling people on the move to communicate verbally with folks at home and offices.

The earlier ones did not have LCD displays – so, extra care was needed when dialling.

My Seven-Year Read

I had been itching to write this.

In early 2001, I was despatched to head the Design department of an American company in Shenzhen, China.  So overnight, burnishing my proficiency in Chinese became mandatory. 

In the first week, I bought a copy of the local newspaper to read and study.  Gosh, I discovered that the simplified script was often radically different from the complex script that I learned in my primary school, and  the PRC literary sophistication was so much higher.

I had to consult a dictionary (a daunting challenge in itself) for almost every other character, and worse, the explanations in the dictionary also required the use of a dictionary.  Undeterred, I plodded on painstakingly.

Guess what?  By the end of 2007 when my China assignment ended, I still had not finished reading that copy of the newspaper!

The Crossing Was Level, But Size Did Matter

Decades ago, a bus journey from Butterworth to Padang Serai (where my aunty lived) would take us through a little town called Tasik Gelugor (半路店 in Chinese, meaning ‘halfway shop’).

There was a gated railway level crossing at the fringe of this town.  For a young boy, the Great Expectation was, hopefully, the bus would arrive in time to witness a train passing. (And many times it happened!)  Wow, what a delight to watch the long string of heavy coaches and metal wagons go rumbling by, preceded by several long puffs of the airhorns from the locomotive! Choo-oo! Choo-oo!

There was a railway worker stationed at the crossing, to manually move the gates into position to barricade the road traffic whenever a train was due to cross.  Size did matter – and always had the right of way. 

Putting All Your Eggs Into One (such) Basket

Putting all your eggs into one basket seemed like proverbial foolishness, but there were some redeemable exceptions.

Decades ago, we reared our own chicken in the backyard of our kampong house, and eggs dutifully laid by the hens were picked up and then stored in a nice basket made of wire-netting and wire frames.  This kind of baskets was very popular in those days.

I remember, after putting the eggs in, or retrieving a few, the baskets would be hung back onto a long hook suspended from the ceiling.  I was told that in this way, rats would not be able to poach (I don’t mean cook!) the eggs for their midnight suppers.  Fact or fable ?

The netting used on these baskets is commonly (and most appropriately) called “chicken wire” – consist of strands of wires intertwined into sizeable hexagonal patterns.  

Are Diamonds Forever? Time Will Tell

They have been hanging (and) around for a long time – literally, on both counts.  Yes, the Diamond brand wall clocks that seemed to be a must-have feature for any old-school coffeeshop worthy of its caffeine fixes.

These were powered directly from the 230V AC mains, and had a circular dial face with a prominent diamond logo, and a slender “seconds” red needle that went round and round the clock (oops, what else do you expect ?). They had a small thumbwheel on the rim for resetting the hands.

I remember the Type 1 was more popular, while Type 2 also found wide acceptance in homes.  Over the years, the market has been inundated with countless other brands and models – of which nearly everyone is battery-powered. Will the hardy Diamonds be able to take the beating and last forever ?

Only time will tell.

Pulling The Right Levers To Get On The Right Track

Sounds like a Success 101 tagline, right? 

Well, my train of thoughts today was hauled back into the past, with my journeys on the old Keretapi Tanah Melayu. Since young I noticed that at stations, the railway line split into several branch tracks, and so I wondered, “How does the train get on the right one?”

The inquisitive Early Nerdy me led to an interesting discovery that at each station, there was a set of large levers with several colours and a worker yanked at one or more of them, to shift sections of rails for alignment to the intended path of the train.  (Lesson: configuring a one-track mind  for multiple passage ways)

These days, computerized automation has largely supplanted these manually-activated mechanisms.  Nevertheless, some of these vintage lever sets can still be seen at several old KTM stations.

A Survey Of Rambutans In Tanjong

Keep Calm and Continue Reading!  In 1971, I was enrolled in Form 4 at the Technical Institute, Penang (also known as Tanjong).

My course of study was Mechanical Engineering & Workshop Practice, but somehow, there was a subject called “Surveying”.  I have forgotten much of it, save for the most enjoyable outdoor practical sessions.

The worksite is where the present Penang State Mosque stands. Back then, it was a rambutan plantation. So while we practised with our Theodolites, Measuring Tapes and Ranging Poles, half the time we set our sights on the irresistible globes of hairy, fiery red balls dangling tantalizingly from the branches around us.

Whenever the teacher-in-charge was not in view, up went our Ranging Poles (about 2m long), to whack down the rambutans – and exact sweet justification for our labour in the sun.

Alarmed At Being Hen-pecked?

Nah! It was OK decades ago; in fact I would even say it was kinda fashionable.  

Before you folks get the wrong idea, may I just let it ring loudly in your ears that I am referring to this ancient, but popular mechanical alarm clock.

It was a cutesy little piece made by the Shanghai Diamond Clock company. We had one in our home some time in the middle of the last century. Several of our neighbours also had the same in their bedrooms.

That ‘chik-chek-chik-chek…’ sound that went in sync with the mother hen’s pecking (the head moved up and down) could be annoying at first, but after a while it became a rhythmic hypnotizing sleep inducer.  The alarm could be startling though,…enough to trigger a cardiac arrest.  The alarm was cancelled by pushing down a knob.

My Childhood Fishy Memories

Two fishes have slipped off my menu for nearly half-a-century — the Catfish and, the Snakehead.  In my native Penang Hokkien, we called them “Thor Sat” and “Lay Hu” respectively.

I remember the Thor Sat had some venomous spikes in the fins, and so fishmongers used a pair of Pincer Cutter to clip the fins off for safety.  The Thor Sat had an earthy smell, so it was best cooked in a curry.

The Lay Hu were usually sold by individuals who carried them about — flipping and alive — in wooden boxes filled with water.  But they could live for quite a long while out of water; so the first thing before cutting them up was to grab them by their tails and smash their heads onto a hard floor, thereby sending them into concussion — ouch!

The Lay Hu was best savoured in a simple light soup.

Operation Dessert Storm

More than half-a-century ago, on trips to Penang Island with my late mum, we never missed a chance to call at one very unassuming 4-wheel pushcart cendol stall – along Keng Kwee Street at the junction with Penang Road.

Slurping down a bowl of that tantalizing santan-deluged, gula-melaka-laced icy dessert was pure elation, especially on a hot afternoon.  Yes, good enough to cause even the most insane health nut to crack up and dive in !

The stall ownership might have been passed down to the later generations or other people, but thanks also to the proliferation of social media, this dessert has definitely whipped up a storm of global proportions. 

Daily, there would be a long queue of ardent customers. While waiting for their cravings  to be satiated,  their cellphones would be out in force to do the mandatory selfies and wefies.

Aluminum Dinosaurs From Another Ice Age

Up to the late 1970s, refrigerators came with aluminium ice trays that were designed for easy removal of frozen ice pieces (we called these “ice cubes”).  The trays had multiple aluminium partitions which were loosely connected to each other in a detachable assembly.

One yank of the handle was all it took to dislodge the frozen cubes from their hibernation comfort zones.  The clever built-in levers system was not readily apparent to most users (except for the engineering nerds).  But never mind, job done, with ease.

Interestingly, these trays were patented by one E.H. Roberts of General Electric in 1952.

In more modern times, these trays have been replaced by simple and cheaper plastic ones, which require running under a tap to ease out the ice cubes, or one risks twisting the wrist joints in trying to get the cubes out.

Coming Of Age — With Triple A’s

Not a case of badge-engineering that is so prevalent nowadays.  Perhaps it was a pioneering case of re-branding. 

My school in Butterworth – Assumption Boys’ School – apparently was an offshoot of St Xavier’s Institution, Penang, planted on the “ulu” mainland by the Christian Brothers.  And it also adopted the school badge of its more prestigious elder sibling, for a long time. 

When I entered Std One in 1962, we all wore that SXI cloth badge — stitched onto the pocket of our white shirts.  No one laboured to ask what “Labor Omnia Vincit” meant.

Then, circa 1968/69, a new Headmaster came onboard.  Brother Stephen was distinctly different from his easy-going predecessors. He decided it was time for us to step out of the shadows of Big Brother – with a new (metallic) badge and an inspiring  triple-A motto: Aim And Achieve. 

‘Tao Yong Mai Hua’ … What’s That?

Established in 1906, Kek Seng Cafe at 382-384 Penang Road qualifies as one of the oldest icons of classic Penang Heritage. The nostalgic interior fittings and furniture, and even ceiling fans remain much like they were 6 decades ago.

In my kiddo days, once a month or two, my parents would take us to this cafe for a mini-feast.  What I cherished most was their signature Ice Kacang — which had generous toppings of red beans, sweet corn, a scoop or two of ice cream, and an optional lump of colourful jelly.  

My mum did not like the jelly.  So, for her order, the kopi boy would shout towards the kitchen, “Tao Yong Mai Hua” (I suppose they meant Ice Kacang Minus Jelly).  Those 4 words still ring in my ears!

Besides the ice kacang, there were other yummylicious temptations, such as popiah, lor bak, asam laksa, etc.

The Phone That Went Bananas

Before the advent of mobile phones, few if any, have heard of the name NOKIA.  Yet this little known Finnish company soon became the fastest rising star of the cellular phone world.

In 1996, it launched the model 8110 — that iconic, somewhat quirky banana-shaped phone that had everyone going gaga. It featured a full matrix LCD screen and a sliding cover that also acted as an ON/OFF button.   Several of my colleagues each bought one within a week of its launch in Singapore.  It seemed cool to be seen with this novel  design.

I too was hugely tempted to jump onto the trendy bandwagon. But after fiddling with a unit belonging to a friend, I opined that the curve shape did not really go well with fitting into a pocket, or waist pouch.  And so, I chose a conventional flat Ericsson instead.

The Big Bang Was Not Just A Theory

It was not a nebulous idea originating in the faraway limitless tracts of the universe.

Three score years ago, RM350,000 (equivalent to probably RM7,000,000 today) was a gigantic bang for the buck – I bet no one will disagree with me.

That was the first prize for the Social and Welfare Services Lottery draws, which took place every 20 days – the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow passionately pursued by ever-optimistic punters.   Never mind if the majority never even struck any teapot or coffee pot.  The lure seemed irresistible.

The first prize was later raised to RM375,000 and progressively increased to RM1,000,000 by 1988.  Well, by that time, I had already settled down in Singapore, and have lost track of its development.

Is this lottery is still alive in Malaysia now? What’s the trophy amount?

For 20 Sen, The Scales Tipped In My Favour

Haha, it was not corruption on the cheap!

Some 50+ years ago, this kind of coin-operated pedestal weighing machines was very popular in places like restaurants, the lobbies of cinemas, etc.  AVERY was the market leader.

A visit to the cinemas would see us stepping up onto the base plate, and inserting a 20-sen coin into the slot at the upperside of the dial. A second later, the needle would rotate nicely, and indicate our weights. (in pounds; kg unheard of then). 

It seemed the scale always showed favourable readings, as there were smiles all round when we stepped off the base plate.

These machines are rare relics now.  Perhaps, it is no longer cool to have personal “body prosperity index” checked in public and, only to discover that the scales no longer tip in one’s favour.  Blame fast food — maybe.

Blowing The Whistle On My Past ECA

KEEP CALM, and take it easy, OK?  It is only about my participation in a uniformed Extra Curricular Activity in my lower secondary school — not any secret society!

When we entered Form 1, it was compulsory for us to pick our ECAs.  So besides the Art Club, I decided to join the Red Cross Society. (I did not choose the Scouts group due to  its “curi ayam” reputation).

I loved the white uniform with black buttons and the Red Cross decals, the black beret and the rather antique whistle that was attached to the end of a pleated lanyard. Well, I never found occasion to use the whistle — it was always inside the left breast-pocket.

I also remember a lady officer from the RAAF Red Cross who drove to our school on Saturday  afternoons to give us first aid lessons.

Long In The Teeth, But Old Is Gold…

To the Atoks, am sure this photo brings back wonderful memories of the supremely talented brother-and-sister pair of Donny and Marie Osmond. “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock & Roll…”

In a career spanning more than 4 decades, they brought many happy hours to folks of all ages and all walks of life.  Their witty banter, seamless on-stage synergy, singing talent and dance moves were all so captivating.  And they started out when Donny was a mere 19-yr old, and Marie, two years younger.

An endearing feature was their signature smiles, that sported those very beautiful – and rather longish – dental sets. (Oh how I wish I have those teeth!).

Many years have passed since I last watched one of their shows, and was so glad to “re-discover” them on YouTube recently.

Before Zeroes And Ones, There Were Dots And Dashes

Ah hah, modern-day kids probably have not a  morsel of an idea what Morse Code — or telegraph — is.

I learned about this invention by Samuel Morse, from my primary school history textbooks.  I quickly fell in love with it, and could even memorize the codes for all the 26 alphabets + 10 digits.  Alas, now due to very Successful Ageing, I can remember only “SOS”.

Morse Code represented the very beginnings of digital electronics – though at that time no one had fully grasped the potential and implications.

The ill-fated Titanic had also been equipped with wireless telegraph.  After striking the iceberg, the distress signal of “CQD – Come Quick Danger” was sent out.  In Morse Code:- [−●−●] [−−●−] [−●●]. 

Later, the international community simplified the distress signal to “SOS”, which was much easier to remember, especially in panicky situations.

Thus, with much genuine remorse, it became:- [●●●] [−−−] [●●●]

The Forgotten Lions Of Singapore

Achtung! This is not a fishy tale of lions with fishy tails.  Rather, a sad story of what was once a iconic landmark of Singapore.

I remember, when I was much younger, seeing postcards with a beautiful photograph that showed a tall mosaic pillar with a stone lion, “in the middle of the road”.  Some folks told me it was a place in Johore; others said it was in Singapore.

In fact, there were two such ‘pillar-and-lion’ monuments, one at each end of the Merdeka Bridge — which was opened on 17 August 1956 with much fanfare by Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock to commemorate the 2 April 1955 elections.

The two lions were removed in 1966 due to the widening of the Nicoll Highway. After several re-locations later, the lions are now placed at the SAFTI Military Institute, out of public’s sight and mind.  

Hello ! Dialling…

“…Nice to see you,

 …It’s been a long time

…You are just as shiny

…As you used to be…”         remember that oldie (Rose Garden) ?

The last time I used a rotary dial telephone was in 1984, when I was working in the Purchasing Office of Motorola, Penang.  Dialling local numbers was bearable, but it was an agonizingly painful circle game when it came to calling places like Japan (we had a number of suppliers there). 

It was 00-81-xx-xxx-xxxx…something like 13 digits.  Gosh, often, in the midst of dialling, I would forget where I was and had to re-start. If the line failed to connect, then “oh-oh” my head would spin.

Initially  I used my index finger to ‘crank’ that dial, but after countless times of going round and round, it was “Finger Hurting Bad” (no point licking). Not to worry.  A pencil would come in handy.

The Monkey That Got Me Going Nuts !

In my kiddo days, breakfast usually consisted of several slices of Roti Benggali, with some home-made kaya spread on, or else with Planta margarine and some sugar sprinkled on.  And all that washed down with a big cup of kopi-O.

Then one day, a relative came and gave us a bottle of peanut butter.  I remember clearly the monkey character in a khaki uniform and a hat, and the name “Apie” on the label. 

Wow, to a kampong boy, it was like unto “Kera Kena Kacang”  Indeed it was the delectable start to a lifelong addiction to peanut butter.  I believe it was relatively expensive in those days, as we bought the stuff only on special occasions,

As the years passed, somehow this Apie brand went “amissing’, while many other brands showed up in the market. 

Colourful Tall Storeys From Penang

For a long time, the architectural landscape of Penang Island had largely been preserved in its nostalgic British colonial heritage.

That all changed when the state government decided to build a modern 10-storey building in Downing Street, at the site of an old godown. The completion of Bangunan Tuanku Syed Putra in 1962 made it the tallest building in Penang, with colourful facades of yellow and red, and “wrapped” at the ends with greyish-blue walls.  It housed various offices of the state and federal governments.

For the man in the street, the most frequented office was the General Post Office – located (appropriately!) on the ground floor. 

Over the last 50 years or so, this once “tallest-and-colourful” iconic building has been dwarfed by countless nondescript high-rise structures all over the island, and is currently painted a sad yellowish white colour!

Kisah Usaha Kipas USHA

Millennials may not even have heard of the name “USHA”.  I did; but due to my acquaintance with the Malay Language, in my youth days I risibly thought someone had misspelt the word “USAHA” !

“Missing” one “A” notwithstanding,  USHA ceiling fans (along with GEC) were reliable, sturdy workhorses, and widely used both in homes and commercial premises (such as barber shops, coffeeshops, etc). I later learned that USHA was made by the Jay Engineering Company of India.

What made me remember these fans were their flattish bulbous motor hubs, which had several concentric red circles painted on them, and the USHA labels prominently displayed on the two end covers of the connecting rods.

In later years, USHA seemed to have been blown away, in the wake of massive market invasion by the Japanese, Taiwanese and lately, Chinese brands.

Green Green Cups Of Old

I remember my late Mum inherited a set of 6 translucent green cups and matching saucers from her grandfather. Checking with Mr Google, I believe they were from the Fire King Jane Ray Jadeite collection (made by USA company Anchor Hocking).  She used to keep them in an old wooden chest.

In those days, we knew nothing of the vintage value; but we used them only on occasions to serve hot drinks (usually Milo) to guests and visitors. (Back then no one had refrigerators, and so, no cold drinks).

These milky jade-coloured glassware were beautiful, and stood out distinctively from the many run-of-the-mill opaque porcelain types in common use.

Alas, due to re-location to Singapore, and multiple re-relocations on the Little Red Dot (crazy!), I have lost track of the whereabouts of these Green Green Cups Of Home.

Confection Of A Cracky Kind

I confess — that oblong tinny sheetmetal box shown here evokes fond memories of my kiddy days, when eating a piece of that square, crispy biscuit was a sort of luxury.  Especially, if some condensed milk had been applied on it.

The evergreen Cream Crackers from Jacob’s are now of 135 years vintage (as of 2020). Of course the packaging has been totally modernised (but sadly, the crackers have also undergone some slimming exercise).

In those days, a tin of these biscuits (known as ‘咸饼’ in Penang Hokkien) was a popular gift when one went visiting friends or relatives – in particular, those who were recuperating in hospitals. (We nicknamed them ‘The Sick Man’s Biscuit’, LOLX).

Oh yes, that tin was also ‘legendary’ in its role as a container for mums’ sewing and needlework kits in many homes.

“L” Was For Liberty

1973 was the year when I started learning to ride a motorcycle.  Of course, it was the ubiquitous Honda Cub (mine was a 70cc), otherwise affectionately known as “kap cai”.

In those days, learner-riders had to prominently display a pair of white plates with a big red letter “L” – one in front and the other at the back of their mounts.  People used to call these “Lesen Lembu”, but I was not cowed.

The newfound liberty and mobility was sheer exhilaration for an 18-yr old, and running errands to town became happy excuses to get the motorbike for a spin.

I am not sure if it is still required by law to display such “L” plates for newbies, as I have not seen even a single motorcycle bearing such plates…in quite a long while (both in Malaysia and Singapore).

Dicing With Snakes And Ladders

This was the favourite board game of my childhood and the only one that I have ever mastered (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, please).

Unlike chess – both ‘international’ and Chinese types – very little (almost zero) cerebral prowess was needed to play this game.  Just rolled a dice or two, and let nature take its course, as whether to climb up a ladder or be swallowed by a snake.

Maybe this game is too old-school and a no-brainer for the young folks of today.

In a way, it represented my working life.  As I toiled to climb the corporate ladders, plenty of snakes – anacondas, pythons, etc – laid in wait to ensnare and pull me down, and tried to swallow me.  Therefore I always had to watch out in all directions, at all times.  Still, occasionally, the dice rolled unfavourably.

Kisah Orang Minyak

Relax! It is safe for you to read this story alone on a dark moonless night.

From the mid-1960s, many homes started replacing traditional wood and charcoal stoves with kerosene-fuelled stoves.

A simple metal handpump was commonly used to siphon kerosene fuel from the big 18-litre tin, into an intermediary bottle, before the final transfer to the “reservoir” on our kerosene stoves.

It was easy to use.  Just had to dip the mainshaft into the liquid, and move that metallic rod in the middle up and down steadily, until the liquid came out from the nozzle.  The motion had to be maintained to keep the flow going.

At home, I was usually assigned this rather boring duty; but I as did my job, the dreamy I imagined myself to be some future Oil Sheikh extracting his liquid gold.

Another Time, Another Place

A man nonchalantly riding his bicycle, a woman sitting peacefully at her front gates, kids having fun on the road and a dog freely crossing (without fear of being flattened into a carpet),…and look at the coconut palm trees and the row of casuarina trees.  Oh, what peace and serenity!

That was how Pantai Bersih (Bagan Ajam, Butterworth) looked in the days of my childhood and early youth. Only about 10 minutes’ walk from our attap house, the beach was the family’s go-to place for cheap and good recreation in the late afternoons.

We had  lots of fun, playing with in the sea, and the sand, and of course, digging for siput (plentiful in those days). 

Alas, today, the place is a mess, with all kinds of makeshift food stalls sprouting all over like wild mushrooms.  ‘Bersih’ no more!

Note : photo is not mine – taken from the Internet

What You Got Was What You Shot…

Reminiscing the bygone days of film photography, when we could see the results of our shutter works only after the exposed film was sent to a studio lab, developed and prints made from it.

Previewing of shots on film was not possible, so we had to be judicious with our shooting.  There was no second chance. Alas, sometimes, precious moments, or those super lovey-dovey poses we thought we had captured turned out to be boo-boos – ranging from the hilarious to the cringeworthy — with no recourse for correction.  It seemed good old Murphy was well into photography too.

Digital photography changed the rules of the game.  Today, with the pandemic proliferation of smartphones, everybody is shooting everything and everyone else on sight. If one is not happy with the results, “Shoot again,…, and again”.  What a stark contrast!

Bye, Murphy!

About Dummies…For Dummies

In October 1991, a quaint book, with yellow covers and a quirky title of “DOS for Dummies” was published, promising to simplify and de-mystify nerdy jargon into everyday idiot-friendly plain-speak.   Sounded a bit snobbish and perhaps insulting at first.   But, then I fell in love with the humour.

Since then, many titles have been published (I have lost count) and in the years that followed, these yellow books have populated prominent bookshelves in many a bookshop.  The range of subjects has been widened to cover almost any topic under the Sun, not just the technical stuff of the earlier years, like “Understanding PC”, “Excel”,etc.

I suspect that with the advent of high speed internet, the appeal of the Dummies series might have waned.  So, it might be useful to let present-day Dummies know that there is a Dummies series of books.

Carry On…Writing

A missing episode of the “Carry On” series?  🙂 As kids, we did all our writing with pencils, until sometime in Standard 5 or 6. 

Aaah! Each pencil had to be sharpened frequently with a “sharpener” (which seemed to have a voracious appetite for slender wooden things with a graphite core).  Every sharpening shortened the instrument by about 3 mm. Eventually the length was reduced to about 2 inches; then it became difficult to grasp properly in the hand and produce good handwriting.

Help came in the form of an “Extender”, into which the shortened pencils could be inserted and locked.  In that way, the short pencils were given a new lease of life, and we happily carried on writing, until all that remained of the pencils were stubs of half-inch lengths or so.

Are these Extenders still being used?

The Rides And Falls Of Our Times

Pampered kids of today have midget mounts with outrigger “training” wheels, but in our times, learning to ride a bicycle was inevitably a thrill-and-spill adventure on a huge “Grandpa” two-wheeler.

Grabbing the handle bar with the left hand, and the seat with the right arm, and right foot on the right pedal, one had to “half-push, half-pedal” to try and gain some speed.  After some trial runs, one would venture to also lift the left foot, onto the left pedal, and secure that elusive balance.   For a second or two, things got rolling,…and then gravity took over the game.   C-R-A-S-H !! 

A few bruises on the knees, elbows or palms perhaps, but no big deal.  We picked up our machines, and off we went again.  And there would be many falls before a bona fide ride was finally achieved.

1010 – For Starters

An anxiously-anticipated telegram in mid-1979 brought me one of the greatest joys in early adult life. Motorola (M) Sdn. Bhd., Penang, had offered me an engineer’s job @ RM1010 per month.  Wow! 

That was huge in those days, considering one other offer from a printing company coming in  at only RM800 and another from Singapore at S$850.  Without a second thought, I took the plunge into the electronics industry, though my training was in mechanical engineering.  (Money lah!!)

Competition for engineering manpower in the Bayan Lepas FTZ was intense in those years. Thus, neighbouring factories like those of Intel, Monolithic Memories, Mostek, HP, etc., embarked on a wage race to lure the nerdy ones.  Motorola responded by generously giving “market adjustments” of around 20% yearly, to everyone — on top of individual performance merits.

Those were the truly “GOOD OLE DAY$”

The Rust Was History

In the earlier years, motor cars were prone to rusting and were often seen with patches of the lower regions of body panels eaten through by rust.  European makes, notably Alfa Romeo, seemed specially vulnerable, though Japanese brands were not spared either.

Then circa the mid 1970s, a chemical treatment called “Tuff Kote” splashed onto the automotive scene.  It was touted as the wonder coating that could prevent one’s gleaming trophy on wheels from morphing into an unsightly chunk of brownish iron oxide. 

I remember salesmen of both new and pre-loved cars, quite persistently coaxed their customers to send in their mounts for this “extra protection” (of course they earned a commission).

Later on, as full-immersion cathodic protection technology became mainstream for auto manufacturers, Tuff Kote appeared to have a tough time selling their proposition. 

The rest — and the rust — was history.

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 either.  

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” (司公源豐) 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.

*skinny = confidential information (American slang)

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.

GrabHair : Making Waves With A Clip

Lately, I came across one nostalgic “primeval-looking” gadget at a barber’s shop –  I believe the proper name is “Wave Clip”.

I remember hairdressers of old-time perm parlours used these to clip on bunches of hair on their customers’ heads, as part of the process to create wavy forms.  Oh yes, my late Mum also had half-a-dozen of these in a drawer of her dressing table.

It seems that these awesome (and fearsome-looking) grippers have fallen out of fashion these days, and no modern lady wants to be even seen in possession of the GrabHair thingy.

By the way, when I was much younger, my barber too used such a clip to grab a chunk of my hair at the sides of my head, so that he could do a clean trim. Maybe that was due to my “back-combed” style.

“Woo,…,Woo, My Wound Is Blue…”

In the rough-and-tumble kampong environment of our childhood days, falling down and getting lacerations on our knees, elbows and other parts of the body was part of life at play.

Back then, usually no one sought professional medical aid for these minor injuries.  At most, an antiseptic wash with a solution of Dettol was used, followed by a few dabs of a Blue Lotion. (cannot remember now what its proper name was). 

There was a van from the local hospital which visited our kampong once a week, and it liberally dispensed this Blue Lotion for treatment of all kinds of wounds.

However, this Blue Lotion did not seem to work for me. Instead, my wounded knee worsened, after applying the medicine.  And I had to be taken to see a doctor, who applied a different kind of medicine – in an ointment form.

T-Square Knight Of The Drafting Table

In Form One, 1968, we were introduced to Technical Drawing, whereby we learned concepts such as 2D projections of 3D objects, cross-sections, dimensioning protocols, line types, etc. 

Looking back, it seemed that I took to Technical Drawing like a duck to water.  Everything was like second nature to me, as I drew lines and curves with pencils of various hardness grades.

One basic tool used in drawing practice was the indispensable T-Square, which served as the movable horizontal datum, upon which set-squares were placed, to produce lines which were to be at 90/30/60/45-degree angles to it.  And of course, that wooden “drawing table” which supported the drawing paper.

Later on, in the Technical Institute, Penang and even in the University of Malaya, many hours would be spent hunching over the Drafting Table, with T-Square sliding up and down.

My Hang-Ups About Rolling Off

I remember in my parents’ wardrobe there were a dozen large wooden clothes’ hangers. 

The upper frame was a gently-sloping bar, while the lower member was in the form of a long wooden rod, attached to the upper piece by stout wires at both ends. 

The interesting thing was that wooden rod could roll without much effort. This feature enabled a pair of suspended pants (or other garments) to be pulled off without fear of abrasion damage by friction.  However, it also meant that anything suspended on it had a tendency to slip off at the slightest provocation.

So, usually we used those trusty wooden clothes’ pegs to clasp the hung-up items, thus preventing any unscheduled “wardrobe malfunctions”.

I believe these hangers are no longer manufactured. But then these days, who wants to have hang-ups about rolling off?

Noob Guys Wear White

I was never a sportsman, not even the armchair variety. But I loved martial arts movies, in those younger days of testosterone rage.

Apart from Bruce Lee, I was also a fan of Chuck Norris (7 times US karate champion).  Thus inspired by the latter’s movie – Good Guys Wear Black – I decided to join my factory’s Karate Club.  Of course, the karategi was all white.  And, as a newbie, I had to wear a white belt as well (but dreamt of the ultimate black belt).

There were the punches, the kicks, the blocks and, not forgetting the classical chop-chop.  But I was a poor learner, almost causing my instructor to vomit blood (though I did not hit him).

One day, during a mock sparring session, I kept hitting my “opponent” below the belt, and my membership had to be chopped off.

“Squeezy Does It”

Some senior folks may remember the pre-machine days, when we had to use a manual scraper to forcibly “evict” coconut meat in strips and bits from its tempurong encasement.  “Easy does it”, you may say.

Next, if we wanted coconut milk from the scrapings (nowadays we call them “grated” coconut), we would put several scoops into a piece of tough cloth (in those days, usually from flour sacks)  and, then bundle them up and use raw muscle power to twist and “perah” the package.

With hands firmly gripping two ends of the package, a powerful twisting action was applied and, out flowed  that white, delectable and lemak santan.  “Squeezy does it” !

A tribute here to womenfolk of those days, whose hands were often roughened and toughened by work such as this.  I was glad to have helped my mum.

note: “perah” means “squeeze” in Malay language. “santan” means coconut milk


Close Encounters Of The Roach Kind

I remember when we were kids, one day my cousin was taking a bath and suddenly she let out a terrifying primordial scream and the door crashed open and out dashed she in her birthday suit — all because of one roach that crawled out of the drainage hole and started to fly…….

OMR – Oh My Roach!

Actually cockroaches can be used for medicinal purposes. In my very young days, when kids sometimes got a boil (bisul) on their bodies, the parents would go and catch a cockroach, twist its head off (but leaving its entrails stuck to the head) and then apply the entrails onto the sides  of the boil.

Within minutes, the entrails would become bloated, and the swelling and redness around the boil would be alleviated. That was another kind of TCM (Traditional Cockroach Medicine).

Of Hen-Packed Love And Quacky Gifts…

During my pre-teen days, I used to accompany my late Granny on her bi-monthly trips from Butterworth to a small town called Padang Serai in Kedah, to visit her eldest daughter.  We would wait at the bus stop nearby for the red-and-yellow liveried Central Province Wellesley bus (service 52) to take us on the 90-minute journey.

On each visit, Granny would pack at least one chicken (sometimes a duck as well) from her own hand-raised “broods” in our backyard, for my Big Aunty and her family.

Usually, the chicken was quite cooperative (legs tied, no doubt), but the ducky fellow could be quite an embarrassing nuisance with its non-stop quacking all the way.   Well, in those days, no one in the bus complained or made a hoo-hah.  It was an accepted way of life. (In these days of smartphones, the fowl saga would have gone viral).

The Other Side Of Mid-Life

Crossing that half-way mark probably was nothing dramatic, like trying to beat the red light, but tell-tale signs of “successful” ageing were starting to show up. 

Rippling muscles of the Incredible Hulk were giving way to flapping blubber of incredible bulk, especially around the waist.  Once a 10-km jog at 5am seemed like a stroll in the park, but now panting starts to set in after 200m – and that is, if the body is able to pick itself up at 7am.

Once I was able to sit up at the PC, work till 3am, went to sleep and get up again at 5am…..and still be fresh at work for the following 10 hours.  Now if I work on the PC up to 10pm, my eyes would glue shut till the next morning, as though Loctite had been applied.

Aiyoh, what happened?

“Tails I Lose, Tails I Gain” – So They Said

Looking back, the gecko (aka ‘lizard’/ ‘cicak’) might have been the strategy guru of modern-day also-ran “experts” who go around touting their “Win-Win” business plans.

During my kampong days (1950s~70s), lizards thrived and roamed freely in the house – on the walls, upside down on ceilings, and occasionally scurrying across the floor.  We normally observed a peaceful co-existence pact with them.  However, sometimes accidental skirmishes did occur.

Those little fellows usually made a quick escape, after leaving behind their twitching appendages to bewitch their “aggressors”.

As kids, we were very fascinated by those meaty tails abandoned by their ex-owners, as they wriggled for quite a while.  “How was that possible ?”

Of course, those hardy cicak which ran away like heroes, would gain new tails within days, and return to their favourite foraging haunts.

It’s A Bug’s World After All …

In the late spring of 2004, my company CEO despatched me to the city of Chihuahua, Mexico – to deal with a quality issue that had doggedly bugged the production line of our customer, Honeywell Mexico.

It was a long, circuitous  journey, flying via Newark, then to El Paso, and finally to Chihuahua — taking more than 30 hours. 

Fixing the so-called quality bug was  a piece of taco for me, as I found out the factory had a laissez-faire management and, tended to pass the buck and their bugs to the suppliers.

With the job done, there was plenty of time and the Mexican amigos took me for a tour of the city.  And guess what, I realized that It’s A Bug’s World after all.   Everywhere, on every street, every nook and corner, there were the VW Beetles, of every age and vintage. 

Those Knotty Days

As a young school-boy, I did not join the Boy Scouts, because they had a naughty “curi ayam” reputation. (It still puzzles me how that came about). 

Nevertheless, I had some opportunities to learn the ropes in the art of making several types of knots — when I joined the Red Cross society instead.  Alas, I can only recall four types of such knots, as shown in the picture. 

Granny’s Knot needed no introduction, as we had already been lovingly tutored by our own grandmas (without knowing the name). We called it “Dead Knot”. 

The Reef Knot fascinated me, as it could perform the same security as the Dead Knot, but could be undone much more easily.

The Fisherman’s Knot was supposed to be very useful if the rope was slippery.  As for the fourth one,…,I have forgotten everything lah.

Wont To Or Won’t, Cry For Thee Motorola

[..It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange…When I try to explain how I feel..]

35 years (a/o 2019) have passed since I quit Motorola, Penang, and went south, in search of greener pastures on a Little Red Dot.  Memories – both heart-warming and heart-breaking – came flooding in, as I looked at this old photograph.

This was my first place of work and also the place where I met my GF who is now my wife.  We had some pretty awesome workplace interactions during the 5 years’ vocational sojourn.

Motorola was then the world’s leading portable communications equipment maker, which made it a hotly sought-after employer. We employees used to stride in pride in our distinctive batik-style uniforms even after work, in town!  Alas! Today it is a mere faint shadow of its former giant self – as a result of an over-confident leadership that rested too long on its laurels.

*pun on the oldie “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”

It’s A Gaol !

No football games here. It is about the Penang Jail.  Informed sources say that it is the second oldest establishment in Malaya, where food, clothing, lodging and 24/7 security are provided absolutely F-O-C.

Stay Calm…and breathe normally…I was not a inmate at anytime, though, so no insights from the inside. 

For many days in 1967, my late Mum and I walked past the high walls, while we made our way to the General Hospital nearby, to visit my father, who had met  an accident downtown.  Being a young boy, I asked my mum, “What’s inside?”  She said, “There’s where they lock up bad people and make them eat curry rice everyday”.

At that time, there was a currency-related crisis which led to racial riots, and subsequent curfews.  So we had to move quite hurriedly to make best use of the curfew-lifted hours.

note : “gaol” is a now-rarely-used version of “jail”

The ABC’s Of Lotus 1-2-3

I purchased my first PC in 1985, for a princely sum of SGD3,500 — never mind if it was all DOS and no Windows.   And my favourite app then was Lotus 1-2-3.

As a Product Design engineer who also tasked with costing.  I faced the “formidable” challenge of compiling the costs of BOMs (bill-of-materials) which had up to 100 different components.  I would do the calculations 10 times on my trusty calculator – but I always ended up with 10 different answers!

With the 1-2-3, all that became as simple as A-B-C. The arithmetical turbulence became a breeze.  And editing of the BOMs no longer triggered explosive attacks on my poor heart.

Alas, with the rapid onslaught of Windows, my favourite spreadsheet was quickly decimated by MS Excel, though IMHO, this latter copycat offering by Microsoft did not excel in any spectacular way.

Gripped By Vices

All vices will have a grip on you, but not all of them are evil. In fact some types can help you hold a job steady while you work on it !

My first encounter with a vice was in my Form One Industrial Arts class in 1968. That was a massive chunk of cast iron, bolted onto a sturdy workbench.  We gripped pieces of metal between its jaws, whereupon we did our manual sawing, hand filing and drilling.

Later on, in my studies at the Technical Institute, Penang, there were more occasions to “indulge” in  vices of all sizes and configurations, while the class underwent advanced training in metalcraft at the Engineering Workshop.   I enjoyed these lessons a lot, as I was and still am a very much “hands-on” guy.

I bet many younger folks have not seen one.

Of Fauna, Flora and Bola…

This article may rile some folks.

Football (aka Soccer) is a game that is accorded a near-cult status these days – with the players almost being worshipped like gods. 

But strangely, to me it is nearly impossible to understand what is so exciting about 22 specimens of living Fauna chasing after 1 spherical piece of dead Fauna (footballs used to be made of leather), on a flat patch of Flora (the field).

My psychologist told me that perhaps it has to do with my childhood encounter with the game.  My skin was (still is) allergic to grass – once the bola* has touched grass and hit my legs, an unstoppable itch developed.  Haiz, this particular Fauna indeed has an aversion to some Flora.

So since that first day of Standard One in school, I had to avoid contacting grass, even in PE lessons. 

*bola = Malay word for ball

Butterworth’s Very Own T-Rex

Haha, a precious photo by one “Rod Farquhar”…. taken probably in the late 1960s, and PS-transformed by me.

Well, Theatre Rex was not quite as jurassic as its cold-blooded carnivorous counterpart – Tyrannosaurus Rex — but by now it definitely is a dinosaur in its own right.

In its heyday, thousands of warm-blooded “Butterworthy” inhabitants flocked into its cool cavernous interior whenever they needed a quickie hallucinatory diversion from their daily grind of life.

In those days, when I was not so old yet, I did enjoy many Shaw Brothers movies at this iconic cinema, with my friends and family.

Ticket prices ranged from 40 sen (3rd class) to RM1.40 for “Dress Circle” (or upstairs) per seat.  But poor kids like me sometimes just bought one ticket and used cute persuasion on the Kakak ushers to let in a friend together, FOC.

Psyched By PSY

2012 was not the Year of the Horse – but on 15 July 2012, suddenly a K-Pop music video galloped onto the world scene, gaining unprecedented popularity in a very short time.

“Oppan Gangnam Style”…..

To be very honest I have never been a pop fan nor was I ever into any kind of dancing, in my whole life. Yet, that catchy beat, and amusing dance steps of PSY (that chubby-looking but extremely agile superstar whom I had never heard of till then) got the latent horse in me prancing and trotting the very first time I accidentally clicked on that video on YouTube.

In the 2 years which followed, my wife and I were somehow so psyched by PSY, that “horse-style” became our photo wefie favourite pose.

By 21 Dec 2012, “Gangnam Style” chalked up 1 billion views on YouTube, and by 25 Jun 2015, 3.2 billion views were clocked.

Getting Shot In Public

When I was a kid, most people could not afford a camera.  But that did not stop us from wanting to capture memorable fun moments of our lives.  

Poor as we were, folks managed to have family outings at popular scenic and recreational spots such as the Botanical Gardens, Penang Hill,  and even Batu Maung (where there was a horse for rent). Of course, there were the ever-present professional photographers with their cameras staking out at these places, patiently stalking their potential customers (and their wallets).

A super-friendly approach and sweet persuasion by these pros inevitably ended in getting us shot a couple of times, and somewhat poorer.  We then gave our addresses to the camera men for sending the finished photographs to us.

Back home, it was an agonizing two weeks’ wait for the postman to deliver the eagerly-awaited pieces of printed joy.

Taken For A Ride

One morning, sometime in my 2nd year of stay in China, my wife and I hailed a red VW Santana taxi for a trip to downtown Shenzhen.

The agreed price was RMB80/=, and the ride proceeded smoothly, till we were about 5 km to the destination.  Suddenly the car stalled. The driver told us to pay him the RM80, while he would call in a replacement car. 

So  I gave him a RMB100 note, but he quickly returned to me, saying it was a fake note. Stunned, I pulled out another RMB100 note for him, and the same happened.  Sheepishly, I handed him yet another note: incredibly, it happened a 3rd time.

After we got home, I discovered in my wallet three RMB100 notes  with identical serial numbers!  Oh Silly Me!  无三不成礼。That driver had swapped fake notes for my real ones. 

Of ‘Apiahs’ And Nerdy Memories…

A photo here from the graduating Class of 1979 — vintage year 2 score and no more (as of 2019).

Remembering the days, when we – the ‘Engin’ were the nerdy ones, and fondly (or perhaps disdainfully) nicknamed the ‘Apiahs’. (Am not sure what this last term meant).

While students from other faculties (most notoriously, the Arts) were having a whale of a time in their prime, we just did “eat, sleep, sh**, and study study study“.

Our favourite pastime was to “mug” in the campus library; our food hotspots were in Section 17, PJ; and our favourite PMDs (personal mobility device) were the Kapcai’s (Honda’s, Suzuki”s, Yamaha’s)

Most, if not all these classmates have had very successful careers and businesses after their graduation.  Thanks to our lecturers for their teaching and guidance.

Press Here, Press There, Press Anywhere

In public buses of the old days, there were a number of “Push Once” buttons placed along the length of the interiors.

Apparently, passengers were “warned” to push or press any of these buttons ONLY ONCE, to tell the driver that they wanted to disembark.  “Dire consequences” awaited those who otherwise disregarded the warning.

But as these buttons were spaced out at quite big intervals, sometimes it was hard to reach any one of them, especially when the buses were jam-packed with passengers, with hardly any elbow room.

Thus at a later time, newer buses with fitted with a kind of continuous “bell strip” that ran the whole length of the interior, on both sides.  These were usually mounted above the window frames.  With these strips, it meant that the bell could be activated by pressing anywhere along the central rubberized zone.

But the high placement was a problem.

To Sir, With Love

Those schoolboy days

Of telling tales and catching snails are gone

But in my mind

I know they will still live on and on..

But how do you thank someone

Who has taken you from crayons to Brylcreem ?

It isn’t easy, but I’ll try

If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters

That would soar a thousand feet high…


This photograph was taken with my beloved Standard One Form Teacher, Mr Francis Heng, at the 1st reunion dinner of the 1970 LCE-graduating batch of the Assumption Boys’ School, Butterworth. It was the first meeting after 45 years.

* “To Sir, With Love” : famous oldie song by Lulu in 1967 movie.

Prevention By Frustration?

When wearing of helmets for motorcyclists became mandatory in 1973, business boomed for retailers of helmets.  The headgear protected the riders, but also gave them a new headache – THEFT!

Folks who were naïve enough to leave their helmets attached to the side locks on their mounts would find them gone in no time.  The alternative would be to lug along these cumbersome spherical “shells”wherever they ventured on foot, after dismounting.

I was not ready to be encumbered. So, I fashioned a galvanized iron cover to fit my trusty Honda C70 Kapcai (the cover had a hinge too), and then relocated the helmet lock from its default position to the side of the basket (that came along with the bike) to secure the cover. 

I figured my “invention” would deter a potential thief as it would frustrate his efforts at getting the bounty.

Once Upon A Time In China

Going to China to live and work there was the last thing I had ever imagined would happen to me. Yet it did.

In the autumn of 2000, I was hired by an American company, which despatched me to its China factory to start up an R&D department. Later two more portfolios, Quality Assurance and Project Management were added.

I soon discovered that besides work, the PRC Chinese also had a boisterous appetite for play. They would organize monthly dinners which always ended with karaoke sessions, and inevitably, the “expat” managers always had to oblige, by rendering their croaking at the microphone.

The big event was the annual CNY celebration.  With 3500 employees — 90% of whom were females — I rendered one “女人是老虎” (Women Are Tigresses) in tribute to them at the 2007 dinner, followed by “Don’t Forget To Remember”. And they went gaga!

“The Real Thing” For The Real Fling

In the mid-1950s,  aeronautical engineers and designers in the USA were struggling with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  That is, no matter how hard they tried, they could not get their latest fighter aircraft, the F-102 Delta Dagger, to break the sound barrier.

The shock waves encountered in the transonic realm proved too formidable…..until someone re-visited the theory of The Area Rule.  That simply meant that the cross-section area of the aircraft had to progress smoothly from tip to tail, without abrupt changes.

In practice, it meant that the fuselage had to be “pinched” in to take on a Coke-bottle shape – in order to compensate for the cross-section area of the wings. 

Once they had “The Real Thing” designed in, everything went smoothly – the re-shaped F102 had a real fling, easily slipping past Mach 1.

Letting The Cats Out Of The Bag

Today, I will reveal a secret to all – it may upset some, though.

In my kampong days, we kept a couple of cats, Tom and Tabby. Before we knew it, they produced 3 kittens, and then another 3…and soon our house and compound began to look like a mini Safari park.  The young ones were very cute and playful.

But then the home stank…with all the cat-a-poo and cat-a-pee, and the  situation was near catastrophe. 

So we decided to put half of the tribe into a bag and took it to a far-off place, about a mile away and let the deportees out.  Problem solved – so we thought.   

Meow! About a week later, all 4 of them showed up at the house …. Amazing.    How did they do it?  Folklore said the felines could smell their way back!!

Rice & Rise Of The Big Stick

Probably everyone has eaten the Nasi and savoured the various mouth-watering lauk pauk, but have you ever seen that big Kandar stick?  I would bet that Millenials have no idea what that is.

Let me take you back to the early days, when Nasi Kandar was a poor man’s mobile sole proprietorship, with two big baskets (containing the goodies) slung from a long wooden pole (with flattened elliptical cross-section).  That pole was made from a special wood, that had a high elastic modulus.

Our family had one such kandar stick in our old kampong house. It was about 2m long.  Apparently, the olden Chinese folks also wielded the Big Stick, for a variety of tasks.

Nasi Kandar has come a long way and now occupies a pole position in the Malaysian F&B industry – syabas to the Indian Muslim community.

Beginnings Of Narcissistic Tendencies

Up to the ripe old age of 25, I did not own a camera. Mainly, it was because I had never felt I looked good enough to warrant parting with a substantial percentage of my hard-earned income for a “frivolous, narcissistic” activity.

All that changed, when my GF came into the picture.  One of the first questions she posed to me, “Why don’t you buy a camera?”  I replied, “I was waiting for you to show up”.

And since then it was  Happy Snappy — till this day.

That first camera was a rangefinder – Ricoh 500G.  At that time, I knew little about photography, so it was literally just point-and-shoot. 

The rest was history – one of acquiring at least 20 other cameras (various models) in the last 39 years.  6 of those are still with me, including the latest Olympus OMD EM10 Mk2.

The Poor Ate Crabs For Lunch & Dinner

You might not believe this.

Yet half a century ago, when I was living in the Bagan Ajam kampong, with the sea just 10 minutes’ walk away, this was true.

Fishermen beached early in the morning with their overnight bounties and carted them  to the wet market near my attap house. And they were cheap. Yes, crabs – and prawns and fish — were cheaper than pork or chicken.

In fact, our family often had crabs for both lunch and dinner. My late Mum would deftly de-shell the cooked crustaceans, and gather their meat into delicious piles for the kids. (That is the reason why till this day, I cannot ‘handle’ crabs properly).

Lately, I checked out the prices at a nearby hawker centre. SGD60 per kilo. I was so stunned that I started walking sideways!

Curry On : Mee And My Fun

Situated along the main road in Air Itam town, Pulau Pinang, just a little distance from the wet market is an unassuming shelter that houses what I call a true UN Heritage Class food legend. 

Yes, the Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee stall.  The two sisters, Mdm Lim Kooi Heang (87) and Mdm Lim Kooi Lye (85) have been in this business since 1947 – that is an amazing span of 72 years !

It is tough work – getting up at 4.30am each day to prepare the soup base and the ingredients, and to get ready for business by 7am.  We salute these two Kakak for their indefatigable spirit.

As age creeps up with the march of time, we wish them more years of good health.   Curry On !  More years of yummylicious Mee or My Fun (Cantonese for beehoon) for the customers

Be Done With The Stork

In the old days, having a baby delivered in a hospital was somewhat of a luxury, which the kampong folks could not afford, or maybe had a prejudice against.

Thus, the services of a “Bidan” or midwife were highly sought after.  In my kampong at Bagan Ajam, Butterworth, there was my neighbour Aunty Bidan.  She must have had a very busy schedule, as many of the couples back then had at least half-a-dozen children.

In fact, two of my cousins were helped out into this world by her skillful, loving hands.  No storks needed.

Aunty Bidan (she was a Mrs Tan) had also the distinction of being one of the two persons in the village to own a car (I think it was a Simca) and a telephone (which she graciously ‘shared’ with all her neighbours). I still remember that 5-digit number.

Rice Discrimination

It has been years since I last ate one “kee chang” (碱粽) and decades since the last occasion when we made them ourselves.

Back then, we had to sort out the glutinous rice first.  For some unknown reason, the “pulut” rice was always adulterated with perhaps up to 10% of ordinary rice.  Maybe glutinous rice was much more expensive then, so the rice millers tried to make some unethical gains by mixing grains.

The family would gather around the dinner table, and painstakingly pick out the unwanted grains with a “lidi” (wooden skewer made from the spine of coconut leaves).

But all that labour of love and pursuit of rice discrimination was scrumptiously rewarded whenever a piece of the cooked alkaline dumpling was opened and lo, before our eyes, was that glorious orangey-brown near-translucent pyramid of chewy-bouncy  temptation.

Old Font Memories

Reading of newspapers began when I was 10 years old – The Straits Echo first, then later The Straits Times.

I was awestruck by the old English font used for the header on the front pages. It looked so artistic and stylish – especially the graceful embellishments on capitals. In the years that followed, I managed  to gather the complete set of alphabets in both upper and lower cases. 

I even got myself a “manuscript” pen so that I could emulate these fonts with my own hand.  That went on for years.  Notably, after wrapping my textbooks in brown paper, I would write the names of those books in this old English font.

Oh yes, one of my favourite pieces of handiwork was a reproduction of the popular poem “Desiderata”, which drew a lot of attention from my peers. 

The Fine Lines Between Imagination And Fruition

35 years ago (as of 2019)  I entered the second phase of my working life – doing what I love best, ie., designing products.

In those days, there was no CAD yet, and everything had to be done by hand, aided by drafting machines.  Many people were still using pencils, but in the company that I worked for, we used “Drafting Pens”.  These were high quality instruments that produced very uniform lines of precise widths.

There were several brands then, such as Faber-Castell, Staedtler, etc.  But the “Rolls-Royce” of these pens were from Rotring – every draftsman worth his lines had to be seen in possession of a set.

With these pens, our ideas were put onto drawings, which were then used by toolmakers to produce the tools and products as required.

Alas, these prized instruments are now museum pieces.

Give The Men A Tiger !

Circa 1975, after years, if not decades of putting up with flying junk from the obsoleted fleets of other countries’ airforces, TUDM decided it was time to upgrade and go supersonic.

Bravo!  Give the men a Tiger!  And yes, 14 single-seat F5E Tiger II fighters and 2 two-seat versions were purchased from Northrop and added to the fleet. For the first time, the airmen went faster than the speed of sound, at Mach 1.6.

The salient features of this aircraft were the long sharp nose and small wings.  It is amazing that such “tiny” wings could bear up to more than 11,000 kg maximum take-off weight.

All of these have been retired in 2015 and replaced by more modern jet fighters and fighter-bombers

Interestingly, in Dec 2007, several of their J85-21 engines were stolen and sold in the Uruguayan black market.

Oh My Oats !

Hah ! It took me about 50 hours to create this composite “photo”, using a combination of some old photos from the internet, extensive painstaking Adobe Photoshop makeovers, a glossy paper printout, an ex-Milo can…..just to show the good old Quaker Oats as I knew it in my childhood days.

The can came with a “key” with which we engaged the tear-away strip on the can body, and rolled it up to separate the lid from the body of the can.  Interestingly, once separated, the lid could be inverted to close back on the body.  But the can was tightly packed with oats and these would spill out once the lid gave way.

Quaker Oats used to be a staple breakfast item in our youth days….until “economic progress” struck us, and soon many other “goodies” came along to supplant it.

Oh Ghia ! The Karmann — Glam Bug From VW

Can you glam up a Beetle ?  Apparently, it could be and was successfully done in the early 1950s.

Volkswagen engaged the Italian design house Ghia, and German coachbuilder Karmann to create the eye-catching VW Karmann Ghia, and started production in 1955. (up to 1974 in Germany).  But the engine was still the venerable rear-mounted flat-four-boxer, air-cooled powerplant that drove all the Beetles.  (Later versions had more powerful engines)

My first encounter with one specimen was in the mid-60s – it was all-white, owned and driven by a lady dentist who worked at the Butterworth District Hospital.  (She used to do up the many ‘potholes’  on my teeth when I was a kid).  

Sleekness and glamour notwithstanding, the signature “chug-a-chug”  sound of the Beetle engine was unmistakable.  A close look at the badge verified the car’s bugsy heritage.

Bath Tub On Wheels ?

As I was in the bath tub this morning, an old memory flashed by.  Yea, I recalled seeing a very cute, stubby motorcar in my early primary school days.

It was a 2-seater, with a convertible top (at that time, I thought it was funny that the car had no roof) and the driver seemed to be yanking a stick that was stuck to the steering wheel (I did not know that was called a ‘column shift’ gear stalk).

The other interesting feature was that it had the spare wheel mounted prominently (almost ornamentally) at the back. Last but not least, the  other four regular wheels were half-hidden by the body panels.

Even at that tender age, I had mischievously thought the car looked like a bath tub on wheels.

I later learned it was called Nash Metropolitan.

One Book Turn Deserved Another

At the end of Standard One in 1962, my kampong neighbour and good friend, Mike, came over and asked me if I could pass on all my textbooks to him (he was one year my junior). 

Well, we were all poorer than church mice then.  However, the good old neighbourliness spirit kicked in, and gladly I passed him my early childhood inheritance (with full approval of my parents).

One good turn deserved another.  After Mike finished his Standard One, he passed “his” textbooks to his younger sister (one year his junior), and lo after she was done, she returned the entire heirloom to my own younger sister.  Of course by that time, many dogs had left their ears on many of the pages, with an occasional paw print here and there. 

This Re-use and Recycle practice went on for several years.

Chill In From Down Under

It is now unimaginable for anyone buying a car – new or preloved – that it would come without an airconditioner built-in.  Yet, up to the very late 70s, airconditioning was an optional item.

And so, my very first full-size car (a 2-yr old Mazda 323 Hatchback) did not have one.  After sweating it out for a couple of months, and with my hair blown into a bird’s nest after each ride (windows had to be down), I decided enough was enough.

A trip to a workshop, and about RM1,400 poorer, ah ha, got me a brand new Sanden kit installed, with the blower/evaporator unit mounted under the dashboard.  Cool !  Wow, “to chill it out” had taken on a new wonderful literal meaning. It was cool, Mate!

The first stop after that was to go over to my GF’s home and pick her up in cool comfort.

Sweetness In Sickness

For kids of the 50s~60s, falling sick now and then – perhaps a bout of fever, coughs and colds — was commonplace.  We just took some off-the-shelf oral medication and had some good rest in bed.

Of course, oftentimes, our appetites went awry for a season, and none of Mummies’ special delights could tempt us.  No worries, though.

There was this Sweet Old Thing that came in a light blue tin – yes, GLUCOLIN ( 葡萄糖).  It was principally Glucose – sugar that could quickly get into the bloodstream, without burdening the digestive system too much.  It claimed to contain other nutrients – but who cared; it was sweet and nice.  At least it made the sickness bearable…LOL

Photo here shows the packaging as I knew it back then. I have not seen Glucolin for decades – maybe it is no longer in fashion.

How It All Began — “A Man And A Pan”…

Flashback some three score years, when I started to receive kiddie lessons in rudimentary English.  Back then, there were no nursery or kindergarten classes.  So my late Mum – with her very limited knowledge of the language – took it upon herself to each me the A,B,Cs..and slightly beyond.

I remember most clearly a textbook called “The Oxford English Course For Malaya”.  The opening pages showed a man and a pan. And so off we went ranting : “A man; a pan; a man and a pan; a pan and a man”. 

Alas, I cannot remember anything past these items.  I could not get hold of a copy of that vintage book.  As a consolation, I went to Google, downloaded some old photos, and re-created the cover with Adobe PS, printed it out and pasted it on a dummy book for this story.

If Yan Can Cook, So Can I

If there was any one person who has made light work out of a Wok, he is Martin Yan – whose “Yan Can Cook” series made its debut many years ago. 

His contagious, affable chatter in heavy Hongkong-accented English  — while his hands performed the deft cutting, chopping and stirring work — deeply endeared him to his audience.

The climax of each show was undoubtedly that rhythmic “chop-chop-chop-chop…..chop-chop-chop-chop…” rapid-fire slicing action on the chopping board, which always drew a huge applause from his audience.

He is something of an inspiration for me, each time I have to cook a meal.  Cooking is not something I am good at nor love to do. So, to survive each session, I would subconsciously provoke myself – “If Yan Can Cook, So Can I”

Don’t ask me for recipes – I just follow my feelings

Look Ma, No Props !

In 1962, Malayan Airways inaugurated their Silver Kris jet service with a single De Havilland Comet 4, leased from BOAC. 

Renamed Malaysian Airways in December 1963, it expanded the jet services by propping them up (pun intended) with two more BOAC jets.  By September 1965, it had purchased a total of 5 Comets from the British company.   These jetliners, each powered by 4 “Ghost” turbojet engines, cruised at 800km per hour and well above 30,000 feet — much faster and higher than what propellor-driven planes could do.

For financially well-endowed folks who were not afraid of heights, and had a need for speed,  a new label was conferred upon them – the jetsetters !  

Malaysian Airways morphed into MSA (Malaysia-Singapore Airlines) in 1966, with the Comet fleet serving regional routes in South East Asia.  The entire fleet was retired in late 1969, and replaced by newer ones, viz., the Boeing 737 and 707.

A Chop Of The Whole Log

Hope am not putting my head on the chopping block by travestying the old saying. **

In the old days, every home used a round wooden chopping “board” that was made from a cross-cut section of a good-size log.  Thickness varied from about 1” to 3”, depending on the diameter of the board.

On these boards, we cut everything in the kitchen, from vegetables to meat. One could deliver heavy blows with a chopper or cleaver, to cut through thick animal bones that were laid on the them – no problem.

These “old school” style chopping blocks (as I call them) are still much favoured by professional butchers in markets, as they are tough and hardy.

But for home use, they are getting scarce – replaced mostly by those made from plastics, or from pieces of wood that have been laminated together.

** “a chip of the old block”