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.

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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

Twists And Turns With An Ulterior Motive

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

Yes, the Rubik Cube, invented by Hungarian architect Ernȍ Rubik, is 46 years old (a/o 2020) and probably 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, 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). Many 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: if I try 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 OCD – Obsessive Calculator Dependency.

Of Couch Potatoes And CHiPs

What’s 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 :, for postage to other areas

thank you

Seeing Red All Over

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 tortoise, there would also be Red Balls (红圆)and some slender flattish configurations called ‘Ang Than’.  If the baby was a girl, then the set would be Red Tortoises plus peach-shaped varieties, called Ang Thoe (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 enjoys 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.

FIDS For Subang Airport

It really gave us the fits, both during manufacturing and site assembly.  But the final result was worth every bit of the headaches and heartaches. Here’s the story!

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 sub-units of individual yellow-colour LED-backlit LCD displays.  Upon contacting 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, so as to achieve a satisfactory uniform appearance when all the sub-units were assembled in one big array.

‘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!

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, The Playing Field Was Not

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 positions 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.

Fishy Memories

Two other 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 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.

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. 

Everyday there would be a long queue of ardent customers. While waiting for their “ketagihan” to be fixed,  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.

From ‘Work Conquers All’ To ‘Aim And Achieve’

Not a case of badge-engineering that is so prevalent nowadays. Rather it symbolized the coming of age of a school.

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 asked 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, $350,000 (equivalent to probably $7,000,000 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 $375,000 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.  

Hallo ! Dialling…

“…Nice to see you,

 …It’s been a long time

…You are just as shiny

…As you used to be…”         remember that oldie ?

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 Glass 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” For…

…”Liberty”, maybe.  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 “Lembu Lesen”. 

The new-found 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. Bye, Murphy!

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!

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

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 Rust Was History,…..,maybe.

My Jeanophobia Blues

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

The ladies were not spared this viral apparel infection too.  

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

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

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

Achtung Bitte: My “Bugs-Wagen” Sob Story

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

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

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

What The Fiat Was This Car?

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

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

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

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

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

Butterworth – At The Crossroads

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

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

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

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

The Skinny On Popiah Wrappers

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

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

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

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

Cutting-Edge Education

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

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

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

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

I made a return visit in 2015.

At The Heart Of All Things Bananas

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

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

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

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

This item is definitely getting scarcer by the day.

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-comb” 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 Roachie 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 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 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 started to set in after 2km – and that was, if the body was 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…

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 was the VW Beetle, 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.

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! 

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 sojurn.

Alas, Motorola today is a faint shadow of its former giant self – as a result of an over-confident leadership that rested too long on its laurels.  So sad indeed.

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 result excel in anything.

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 or early 1970s.

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 ushers to let in a friend, 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 that 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 to own 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.  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!  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, where 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, shxx, 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, There and 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.  And “dire consequences” awaited those who disregarded the warning.

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

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.

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,  the US aeronautical engineers and designers 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 takr 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 easily slipped past Mach 1,2 and they had a real fling from thence on. 

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 stick?  I would venture to bet that Millenials have no idea what that is.

Come with me to the early days in Penang, when Nasi Kandar was a poor man’s sole proprietorship, with two big baskets (containing the goodies) slung from a long wooden pole of 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.

…And 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” (碱水粽) 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.

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 rice discrimination was sumptuously rewarded whenever a piece of the cooked alkaline dumpling was opened and lo, before our eyes, was that glorious orangey-brown near-translucent bouncy pyramid of chewy 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 get up to speed, literally.

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 supersonic, 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.

I think they have been replaced by other modern jet fighters and fighter-bombers.

Interestingly, in Dec 2007, several of the J85-21 engines that powered these jets 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.

Volkswagon 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.

“Silver and Gold Have I None, Textbooks I Have Give Thee I…”

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.

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.   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 when I was a kid. 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 received 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.  It would be nice to 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.

If Yan Can Cook, So Can I

If there was any one person who has made light work out of a Wok, he was 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 Off 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, laminated together.

** “a chip off the old block”

Honey, They Shrunk The Connectors

Opening up my cache of computer cables that I have hoarded, I was awed by the miniaturization process that had taken place over the last 4 decades.   Not quite dramatic as per the 1989 movie where the kids got shrunk, but still it was amazing.

When I first joined the rat race in 1979, all PCs were desktop and printers were dot matrix – connected via a Centronics (printer end) and a DSUB25 connector (PC end).

These also had a set of 9-pin RS232 connector each.  The serial data transfer via these 9-pin ones was supposedly much slower than the 8-bit parallel mode of the former two.

Then in the late 1990s, the USB was introduced, with very substantial shrinkage in connector size.  Thereafter, came the mini-USB connector, and then the micro-USB connector.  All these may vanish altogether one day.

Terminal Recall

This photo was probably a scene from the early 60s, after the Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim was opened in 1959.  Oh, so peaceful and serene, as compared to today’s bedlam.

I was barely 10 years old then.  But I can still remember the 5 beautiful ferries that plied between this terminal and the one on the Island.

Four main bus companies made their “bases” there – they were the UTC, the Central Province Wellesley, the Sam Lian Omnibus, and one other which plied between Baling/Kulim and Butterworth.

The voices of those ‘bus ushers’ with umbrellas, hollering “Bukit Mertajam, Parit Buntar, Nibong Tebal, Kuala Muda, Kepala Batas, Titi Timbol, Padang Serai, Alor Star, Sungai Petani” etc., still ring in my ears.

Oh yea, we had Mercedes-Benz  taxis parked nearby too. And the sea waters came almost right to the bus/car park.

Stripping To Look Good

Disclaimer : This is not about flaunting of private assets in public.

In the late 70s through to the late 80s, it was fashionable to affix a thick strip of rubber, called “side molding” to both sides of one’s car doors.  These supposedly protected the sides of the vehicle against accidental knocks by the doors of other cars parked adjacent to one’s mobility pride.

More importantly, I suspect that these side moldings endowed the stripped cars with a perception of added strength and a touch of machismo. 

Thus, when I got my first ‘proper’ car in the form of a second-hand, first-gen Mazda 323, the first thing I did was to drive it to an accessories shop for a stripping job.  It looked great afterwards.

I think these days such side moldings are no longer cool or chic.

In An Eggshell, A Century Passeth In Weeks

Today’s memory replay takes me back to the late 50s.  Grandma and my parents were relishing on some “egg-shaped” things, which they said had been soaked in horse urine. Yucks!

When these “pi dan” (皮蛋)were sliced into pieces using a thin string, I saw the grayish “yolks” which sometimes looked like mud and, the outer jelly-like covering which had a dark brownish colour.  As for the smell…oh..please !!! No amount of intimidation or persuasion could get me to eat them.

It was decades later that I had the courage to try them – thanks to encouragement from my wife.

There is a lot of information online, on making “pi dan”.  But the greatest puzzle is how they became known as “century eggs” in the West, when the process of making them takes only weeks or at most a couple of months.

Hungry Ghost Soap Powder

One could be forgiven for thinking that this was the stuff those chaps from “the other world” used to wash up after having their once-a-year Happy Meals during Chinese 7th Month.

In the late 1960s,  a new washing powder came onto the market.

The English name was “DRIVE”, but the Chinese name was literally “Hungry Ghost Laundry Powder” – 饿鬼洗衣粉 (“Serbuk Cuci Hantu Lapar” when translated into Malay).

What a name !

The powder came in a yellow paper box, with the word “DRIVE” boldly emblazoned on it, plus a prominent exclamation of the “Bio-Zolve” agent it contained.

There were also those iconic Blue Dots which supposedly were champion eaters of stains.

My family tried out this detergent for a while, before reverting to our trusty old FAB. I cannot remember why – perhaps it was too aggressive for our hands.

Da Plane ! Da Plane !

Hong Kong could well be a Fantasy Island to many folks from around the world, but landing on the old Kai Tak Airport was something of a nightmare for airliner pilots.

Kai Tak was un-enviably sandwiched between the mountains (of southern China) and the deep blue sea (of the Fragrant Harbour), and the landing paths airliners took had to almost scrape the rooftops of the densely packed high-rise buildings.

One misjudgement could crash the plane into the mountain sides or the buildings or the sea. 

For the passengers who survived those landings, looking out the windows was either a thrilling or harrowing experience to recall.  Sometimes one could see people waving up from the roof-tops.  “Da Plane ! Da Plane !” perhaps.

The last flight out was on 6 July 1998 – some 20 years ago.

Confessions Of A Music Pirate

Like most of my peers in the 1980s, I thought of it as nothing seriously wrong.  We desired the music, and there were ready suppliers plying the trade, by day and by night. After all, we paid for it.

I would buy a blank 8-track cartridge (later, compact cassettes),  and drive down to a record shop in Penang Road, and then made my selections from a variety of LPs in the shop, and the latter would copy all the marked songs onto my tape. 

I think it cost about 10 ringgit per cartridge.   Everyone was happy (except the folks who produced the songs) – the shopkeeper was thankful and, I was delighted with my new set of “playlist”.   I was more concerned with the music pieces being copied right, than with the copyrights.

Those were the days….

Can’t Beat Them, Eat Them !

Please fasten your seat belts and get ready to puke !

Mice and rats are prolific breeders and have since time immemorial been the bane of human kind. They compete voraciously with us for food and also they spread many diseases.

So how to beat them ?  My dad told me that in his youth days, people used to hunt for freshly-born baby rodents (less than a day old or so) and then eat them alive, just like that, or else dipped in a sauce or wrapped with a large banana split.

Folklore maintained that those pinkish, hairless and blind newborns “were effective for treatment of asthma and a good general tonic for the human body”.

I learned that in China, this practice of “pest control” is still popular.  Anyone else game for this squeaky “delight”?

Confessions Of A ‘Kaki Bangku’

So the cat is out of the bag.  I was never a sportsman, much less a soccer fan or player.  Perhaps it was because of the allergic reaction of my limbs to grass.  But that was a different story.

In my youth days, we used to make low-rise stools to provide posterior support while we worked on household chores like washing and cooking or even while playing games.  

All that were needed were a piece of wooden plank (preferably half-an-inch thick at least), a handsaw, some nails and a hammer.  Just had the plank sawn into 3 suitable sizes and then bang-bang…voila, we had our “bangku”.   Length and breadth were flexible — could be custom to suit any bum size.

By the way, Penang Hokkiens call them in such Hokkienized way, that one would think “bangku” is a Chinese term.

‘Twas Brooklax For The Poop-less

My apologies for gloating over the exit miseries of some people.  But indeed, decades ago, this chocolate-flavoured remedy was highly-recommended and sought after by folks who happened to have persistent difficulties in doing big Export businesses.

Personally, I never had to resort to this weapon of poop expulsion, but in my childhood days, I remember, a couple of relatives had to deploy it from time to time.

We were warned many times by our elders NOT to steal and eat the contents, for the results could be catastrophe in the order of a napalm-bombing run.

I have not seen this product for ages: maybe it is not fashionable anymore; perhaps there are  many newer medications that have come onto the market, all vying to extract both cash and kind from suffering  souls.   

Going ‘Overseas’ To Study — Every Weekday

Never mind if it was actually over the sea. Just let this old man reminisce the thrills and spills of the days (1971-72) when he had to make the {12~14km} or so trip from Bagan Ajam to the Technical Institute on the island for his studies.

At first I tried cycling – getting up at 5am, I pedalled all the way to the ferry terminal, got onto the lower deck of the ferry, and then out onto the island….finally arriving at Jalan Ibbetson where TI was located.   School dismissed at 1.50pm and by the time I got back home it was around 4.30pm.   Alas, after 1 school term, I was reduced to just skin-and-bones.

My parents then ordered me to take the public buses.

Finally, in 1973, our family moved over to the island, in preparation for my Lower Six. Thus ended my odyssey over the sea.

Effective Dotted Line Management…

Searching for a pin in my wife’s needlework box today, I came across a vintage tool, which had somehow mysteriously stayed out of sight for a good 3 decades or so.

Circa 1980, my then GF decided to take up sewing lessons from her neighbouring Aunty.  So she acquired a good-size needlework box, with a full complement of scissors, measuring tape, a small box of pins and needles, a triangular piece of marking chalk, etc, and of course, this Tracing Wheel.

A paper pattern would be drawn, and then a piece of carbon paper placed in between this pattern and the underlying cloth.  The tracing wheel was then used to roll along the lines drawn on the pattern — producing a matching string of dots onto the cloth. Stitching was then done along these dots, after removing the papers.

Sun Tan Notions

Haha, it is not a typo on my part, but a recollection of that memorable cartoon character which appeared decades ago in the Asia Magazine.  Oh by the way, the latter came as a free supplement with the Sunday Times (or was it only once a fortnight?).

Sun Tan was almost always found resting under a coconut palm, concocting his favourite cynical ideas and satirical comments about things around him, and in some instances about himself. A sort of “ownself talk ownself answer” situation, with a fair dose of dry humour thrown in.

Am not sure about his nationality – I thought his headgear looked Burmese.  But that is a trivial secondary.  What I miss is Sun Tan’s notions as he rubbed it in on the twists and turns of life, while he “lepak” under his favourite shade.

*lepak = Malay term for “loitering” or lazing around


An Aye For An Eye

So, what’s the big deal about this pair of scissors?  To cut to the chase for this case, this “Eye” Brand pair of scissors was made by Carl Schlieper of Solingen, Germany – a company established in the 18th century.  Sadly, the company went bankrupt in 1993.

My late grandmother had a pair, and I remember she vigorously endorsed it as “the finest in the world” – being able to maintain its keen edge cut after cut..after cut. 

After her passing in 1984, her belongings were divided and given to her children (my father, my uncle and my aunties).  Am not sure where the pair of scissors is now.  Perhaps it was thrown away, as the Chinese (at least in those days) have superstitions about giving away items like knives, scissors, etc.

I think it is a collectors’ item now.

Batteries Not Needed, Just Slide Along

Despite the gigantic strides made in electronics and software, the Slide Rule remains a masterpiece of engineering, a timeless showcase of the power of the human mind.

The photo shows the Staedtler-Mars model which I bought in 1976, when I enrolled into the Engineering Faculty, University of Malaya. Wow, it was a new tool that I never knew before, with awesome mathematical computation capabilities like  logarithms, geometric functions, squares, square roots, etc (I have forgotten most of them).

My biggest headache seemed to be finding the right set of figures for square roots (which was essential in tackling AC electricity questions), and under the tense atmosphere of a time-constrained examinations hall, it was a real odyssey of epic intensity.

So much so that at one point, my slide rule fell to the floor and cracked. (see the top left corner).

Before It Became Public Enemy #1

During my days as a young boy, very few homes – especially those in the kampongs – had telephones.   But Jabatan Talikom did erect some public telephone booths for the rakyat to use.

The picture here shows the “pondok talipon” which I clearly remember – a nice concrete enclosed cubicle, with glass panels and wooden louvres (which were painted in dark green).   The one nearest to my house was about a kilometre away.

Reliability was pretty decent, though occasionally the phone box did swallow up many coins without giving any service.  It was costly to call in the day time – something like RM2.40 for 3 minutes for a trunk call from Penang to KL.  However, folks cherished the availability and convenience.

These days however, public phone booths have become a favourite target of vandalism – I can never understand the wrath unleashed on them.

The Original “MPV”

In the old days – 1950s/60s/70s —  the Jeep-like Land Rover was a multi-purpose vehicle much favoured by the government agencies. 

Notably, it was almost always associated with the mata-mata (policemen), though the Department of Information, Fire Brigade, Health Department, and the Army also deployed substantial numbers of these “MPVs”.

The vehicle, with its 4WD, and high chassis was capable of taking on off-road terrain, flood-deluged mud tracks and shallow rivers.  It could even be equipped with a winch to haul itself out of miry bogs. Well, passenger comfort was not outstanding in anyway.  But it could carry a wide variety of payloads.

Over the years, many improvements and upgraded variants have been made. Competition also came from the likes of the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Landcruiser, but none has attained the legendary status of the Land Rover.

No Stopping ‘Em, Come Fire Or High Water

It has been that way for the last 110 years.  This UNESCO Heritage-class icon – the Beach Road Bomba, Penang (at the junnction with Chulia Street) was erected in 1908.  We salute the brave men who have risked limb-and-life in the service of the people.

My late mum had a friend whose husband was a fireman at this station. The family lived in the housing block just behind the main building.  We visited them several times during my kiddy days. 

It was interesting to see the guys practise on the rolling out of flexible hoses and connecting them to pipes, and also how they slipped down “quick-access” poles into the Vehicles Bay in times of emergency calls. 

Besides handling fires, these guys had a good number of calls for catching snakes, rescuing people who fell into wells, and other disasters, etc.


That “Geram” Feeling Again

Many people have experienced the thrills or chills of receiving a telegram. As for me, I had only received two telegrams in my whole life, both of which heralded good news. 

The first was in the middle of July 1975, from the University of Malaya, telling me that I have been accepted into the Faculty of Engineering.   The second one was almost exactly 4 years later, from Motorola Malaysia Sdn Bhd, asking me to report for work as a Process Engineer.   Ah! The excitement that came via the green-bordered folded piece of paper, after days of feeling “geram” at having no news.

In those days, a telegram was the fastest way to send a written message to another party. But it was “expensive” and Jabatan Talikom charged by the number of words, (and distance, I suppose).   The service was discontinued on 1 July 2012.

Mama’s Mee, Ya ?

Mamma Mia, Here I go again,  My, my, how can I resist you ?” No, I could not, though I was slow to succumb.

Today’s memory scroll takes me to that old-time classic fried yellow noodle that was the specialty of Indian Muslims. It was my late mum’s favourite. 

Her particular delight was found at the small garden-like annex adjacent to the old Cathay Cinema in Penang (now Mydin Stores).  On many occasions, a trip to a movie at Cathay invariably culminated in a plates of fried Mamak Mee for her.

Penangites stake claim that they have the best Mamak Mee in the country but there is no lack of contending claims from elsewhere. Over the last 3 decades my taste buds have been tuned to the Singapore style, but I think the Penang version/s are still the best.


note : opening line is a pun on ABBA’s hit song “Mamma Mia”

The BiC Deal in Ballpoint Pens

Few modern inventions have attained a status as ubiquitous as the ballpoint pen.  In fact, a “pen” has come very invariably to mean a ballpoint pen, bar none.

It was in my primary school days when ballpoint pens made their debut. The first ones were prone to leaking and often produced ugly ink blobs at the beginning and ending of pen strokes – resulting in smudges.

Then came along a brand call “BiC” which promised to produce neat, clean lines without blemishes. These pens had long, orange-colour bodies and caps that matched the ink colour. (I did not like the long, unwieldy body, which made it hard to “park” in a shirt pocket).

Not forgetting, of course, the catchy, “Bukan Blig Bukan Blok, ianya BiC” slogan.  Wonder if anybody remembers. 

Alas, today, BiC is lost in an ocean of also-rans (more like “Also-Writes”)


When ‘W’ Was Not ‘Wilayah Persekutuan’

This may surprise many, especially those who are below 45 years of age (a/o 2018).  

I remember seeing, when I was still a kid, motor vehicles that had registration plates beginning with “W”.  The W stood for the “Wellesley” in Province Wellesley.  Whereas vehicles from the island itself had “P” plates.   This practice was discontinued in 1957. 

Oh, by the way, does anybody still remember where Province Wellesley is or was ?

17 years later, in 1974, the “W” series was resurrected, but then it was given to the newly-demarcated “Wilayah Persekutuan” or Federal Territory.  Sources said the new W never started alone; it began with WA, then WB,…… I think today the W series had run out.  I have seen plates with “V” series :  are these the successors?

Oh! No VD for me, please!

I’d Rather Keep The Hammer And The Nails….

Yes I could and I would, keep these to show my grandson.

While sorting my three vintage tool boxes, I had Simon & Garfunkel’s classic El Condor Pasa play in the background.  And then….

Lo and Behold, I re-discovered my old friend – the vintage Claw Hammer – and a bunch of semi-rusted nails, which I have not found occasion to use for probably 20+ years.

The hammer has been with me for probably over 30 years, and was one of the first tools I acquired upon re-locating to Singapore.  Perhaps it was nostalgia baggage from living in the kampong as a youth;  there was always something to saw, hammer and nail.  However,upon settling in Singapore, I soon discovered that  D-I-Y was trending as redundant and “uncool”.

In the last few weeks I had discarded a lot of “junk”, but I won’t be dumping these.

On Wings Of Gold

The Gold Wing GL1000 marked Honda’s foray into the “touring bikes” category and Honda sprouted wings of gold as it hit the motherlode in the US market.  It was quite a sight to behold – with a flat-four boxer engine with a water-cooled radiator.

Over the last 44 years, the Gold Wing underwent many upgrades and refinements, often with increased gross weights, physical dimensions and engine sizes.  The 2018 edition is a consummate melding of beastly beauty on two wheels.

The GL1800 has a 1800cc flat-six engine and even a reverse gear, plus a 7” TFT display, a hi-fi music system, and a host of apps, so that the rider and pillion companion can experience many happy hours on long rides.

Wow !  So, will the next version will have a bathtub and kitchen sink built in ? 

Angels’ Chaly

Back in 1977, my sister was sent to a school in rural Kedah, a few miles from Alor Star, after finishing her teachers’ training college course.

The “road” to her school was really an unpaved sandy earth path, with paddy fields on both sides.  The only way to go through was on foot, or with a bicycle or a motorbike.  My dad bought her a cutesy little Honda, which went by the name of “Chaly”.  It was really a bike designed for girls.

It must have been quite a sight for the villagers and farmers to see two Chinese girls (she and her colleague) making their way to the local school on these bikes. 

In fact I was told that her colleague was stopped one day and asked for her hand in marriage by an admirer from the village.

Grandpa’s Shaver…

Just kidding, folks!  The Spokeshave used in carpentry work — to take fine shavings off pieces of wood — was one indispensable tool for all “tukang kayu” of olden days.

There were two main types, one with a flat base, and another with a convex base (for finishing work on concave surfaces)

Strange to say, since my final school class of Industrial Arts in 1970, I have never used nor even encountered another specimen.  What happened ?  I suppose master craftsmen have been replaced by mere machine operators.

In my recent house renovation work, I happened to peep into the tool boxes of the carpenters who came in to work.  Inside, all sorts of manual and powered tools inside. But no sign of this tool.

I think the nature of commercial carpentry has changed very dramatically.

Swedish High Five

After years of making tank-like cars, Volvo made a radical departure in the early 1990s.  Enter the model 850.

It came with a 5-cylinder engine, transversely mounted and driving the front wheels !  The body underwent some slimming, but the end result was exotic sexiness in boxiness.  The Volvo look was still unmistakeable (what a relief), albeit no longer stolid nor stodgy.

I like the clean, straight lines, the regal front, and elegant rear.  And the windows were large and there were glass panels in the C-pillars.

I was saving as much as I could in the hope of buying one, but until the day its manufacturing stopped, I still did not have enough money. Poor me !

Sadly, Volvo cars today no longer have any product differentiation. Worse, Volvo Cars had been sold to Geely of China.

Final Nail In The Chinese Coffin ?

They were built from the finest timber, curved up at both ends, well smoothened and lacquered, and probably weighed half-a-ton.  That describes the traditional Chinese coffin, that is so rarely seen these days.

The Chinese have euphemized names for them, viz., “big house” (大屋子), “longevity planks” (寿板), etc.  Despite the more cheery aliases, one look at these massive final earthly abodes for departed souls never failed to arouse feelings of sadness and eerie, gloomy beckoning.

Perhaps for these reasons, the traditional coffins have almost been entirely replaced by modern “caskets” – which have a much less depressing appearance, and are much lighter.  Many even sport a glass window for loved ones and friends to take one last look at the occupant.

So, has the final nail been driven into the Chinese coffin ?

Yellow Old Foggies

In the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s when the industrialization process was taking off in Malaysia, motor cars became a telling symbol of “I have arrived”.

This old fogey remembers many young-blooded hotshots would proudly roar in and out of town in saloons that had been “macho-transformed”….with sports rims, extra-wide tyres, throaty-exhausts…and invariably one or several sets of halogen fog lamps in front !

Never mind that a fog in Malaysia is as rare as a blue moon, these lamps emitted a piercing yellow beam that was quite menacing and even hazardous to oncoming traffic.  I guess the idea was to tell the lesser beings in the oncoming vehicles, “look, tai kor (大哥, ‘big brother’) is here”.

I believe such lamps might have been outlawed, as in recent years I have hardly seen any vehicle with these mounted.

Making Time For Love

Going through some old albums, I came across this photograph which showed a digital clock that I hand-crafted circa 1980, and a second one in the process of being built-up.

The first model was made for my own use, while the second model was made as a gift to my GF (now wife) in 1981.

The casings were hand-sawn from pieces of 3mm thick plywood, which was then carefully glued together and finally finished with wood-grain patterned PVC lamination.  A piece of brushed aluminium fascia nicely adorned the front in both cases.

At the heart of the clock was an IC from National Semiconductor, while the 7-segment LEDs were from HP.  The buzzers were salvaged from some pager rejects in the factory where I was working.

Those were the days when we were brimming with youthful energy, passion and creativity. 

Happy Ending To An Unhappy Call

It must have been like 10 years ago (as of 2018) when a Korean-made product “Happycall” made its debut onto the local kitchenware scene.  Widely touted as the wonder non-stick pan, it promised to keep all flavours in, and cook everything to perfection.

I quickly tried out every Flip and Flop – from antiquity to modernity – to make it happen. Sadly, nothing worked out. (The fish that I was trying to fry turned out half-cooked and looked more like an aircrash victim). Or that I was a culinary catastrophe.

My old faithful old Wok-horse was still the best.  Disappointed, I decided to go for Amicable Separation after the Un-Happy Call.

It took one yank from a small screw driver to unhinge everything – and then, voila, I had two non-stick pans, and all parties were a lot happier afterwards.

By Hook And By Brute

Never mind the bad English – I just needed to give this post a catchy title, by hook or by crook.

In my young days, I used to see lorries that came by to the shops that lined the two roads in my kampong.  Tough, brawny men would off-load goods in wooden crates, bamboo baskets, gunny sacks, etc, using only raw muscle power, and nearly always with the help of a vicious-looking hook.

In local Hokkien dialect, we called it “Dar Gao” … it was only much later that I learned the right English description is “Stevedore’s Hook”

Elsewhere, there were variants known as Baling Hooks (I suppose for picking bales of hay, wool, etc).

Locally, I have not seen such hooks for many decades – thanks to trucks with powered cranes and hoists.

Fast And Snappy

In my baby years and teenage era, when my late Mum and many other aunties and kakaks were expert seamstresses, Spring Snap Fasteners were a common sight, found in the needle boxes and drawers of Singer sewing machines.   We called them “Tac-Tac Buttons”.

Per my memory there was only one brand, “NITA”, which came in card that carried 36 pairs.

They were favoured for their ease of use – just press to close and pull apart (the clothes) to open.  I remember all our pyjamas had these fasteners.   So were a lot of ladies’ blouses.

I think these days, a lot of these buttons have been superseded by zippers (I could be wrong) – as the latter seem to provide a better insurance against “wardrobe malfunctions” (accidental or otherwise). Labour-wise, attaching zippers lends itself much more readily to automation.

The Classic Bean Counter

Long before the advent of calculators, merchants of Chinese origin depended on this simple yet ingenious machine for doing their math on their day-to-day transactions and business P & L.  The “click-clack-click-clack” sounds of the Abacus beads beating against one another was the music of money to their ears

Honestly, it was amazing to see how deftly the experts manipulated the beads up and down each column. I ever tried learning this art of “Finger-Flicking-Good” at an early age, but gave up after a short while.   Well, maybe because I was not born to be a bean counter.

I think there are some shops, such as Chinese “medical halls” where these ancient calculating machines are still in use.   But I do not think their use is going to outlast me on this planet.

Giginya Tinggal Di Luar*

My first encounters with dentures took place in the early 60s, when both my parents started to put on full sets of gigi palsu**.  It seems in those days, dental health was a problem among the folks, and sooner or later, fillings and extractions became necessary.  And before long, many teeth would be lost.

For those who previously had bad-looking teeth, dentures also provided a set of beautifully fashioned upgrade, enabling them to smile with brimming confidence.

In any case, many if not most wearers would remove their dentures for cleaning before they retire to bed,  leaving them in a glass of water.

I think these days, full dentures are a measure of last resort.  With modern dental engineering techniques,  most of the defects and wear-and-tear could be repaired without having to do extraction.

* Pun on the Malay song “Burung Kakak Tua”

** Malay word for “false teeth”

Fun Memories Of An Old-Timer

In the world of electronics, the 555 Timer IC surely ranks as one of the Greatest Simple Ideas that works wonder.  Designed by one Hans R. Camenzind in 1971, and introduced by Signetics in 1972, it is estimated that over a billion pieces of this unassuming integrated circuit device are still being made each year.  Whoosh! That is one old-timer whose popularity has not waned with age.

In the years that followed almost every semiconductor company worth its silicon had a 555 in its product line-up.

With fond memories I recall how, after bumping into a specimen in 1980, I became wildly fascinated by the myriad of applications achievable using this 8-pin IC.  Flashing lights, dimmers, buzzers, etc, etc.  It was the era of fun for me.

Who would have thought that a simple Square Waveform could be harnessed to do so many tricks?

Tough Cookie With Rock-Solid Reputation

I recall a delicacy which I used to eat with relish in my  young days in the kampong in Butterworth. 

90% of my neighbours were of Indian (nearly all Tamil) ancestry.  During the Deepavali festive season,  they would send their children over to my house with plates of goodies – among them was a kind of very hard ball.

These required a hammer or a batu lesung* to shatter them into smaller chunks.  Even then, it took some strong jaw muscles and very robust molars to pulverize the smaller pieces into minuscule bits that can be savoured by the taste buds.

I think these are called Kallu Urundai.  It has been donkey ages since the last time I saw them,  let alone ate one.  Alas, now my teeth may not be able to handle them anymore.

*batu lesung = a mortar & pestle set (in Malay)

Obsessive Compulsive Photo-Perfect Disorder

“Three things are too wonderful for me; four, I do not understand”.

As I was clearing my junk, I came face-to-face with not 1, not 2, not 3,..but 4 sets of Camera Tripods.  In the days before Smartphones and Selfie-Sticks, these tripods were necessary if one wished to have oneself included in a photo that one was shooting. 

I disliked asking strangers around me to help me shoot a photo, because almost all of those shots failed to meet my expectations. Using a tripod, I could take my own sweet time to re-compose and re-shoot a thousand times till I was happy.

But how on earth did I ended up with 4 of them ?

Initially I had one set at home, but I kept forgetting to pack one along in my travels.  So, I had to buy another one on location.  Repeat.

Powerful Heavyweight Of Old

Yet another nostalgic item found in my store room – legacy from the days of my venture into electronics business some 25 years ago (as of 2018). I think 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 could not cater to the new economic order.

The beast was huge and heavy – something like 12kg. I believe 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 I prepared to move to a smaller dwelling. Goodbye, old friend.

A Fluke — But, Not A Fluke By Any Measure

Clearing my store room today, in preparation for relocation, I came upon a a well-sealed carton box that I had not opened for 18 years (as of 2018).  Inside was this beautiful piece of rather vintage bench digital multimeter, made by Fluke Corporation of the USA.

Upon power-up, on came the brilliant cyan-colour VFD (vacuum fluorescent display….something that has been totally supplanted by LCDs today.  Overall, it was a very well-made piece of precision equipment.

I bought it for around SGD2,000 in 1998, in the heyday of my small electronics assembly business.  At that time, the business was good, but looking back I think it was a kinda fluke, given that I was 99% engineer and only 1% businessman.

Business failed in 2000, and I had to “lelong” most of the equipment; but I kept back this one.

*lelong = auction, in Malay

Speedy Gone Sully

On that fateful day circa 1979, I was driving the amber-coloured Datsun 120Y (borrowed from a cousin), ferrying my parents from Alor Star to Butterworth. 

Traffic was light and, unlike the Penang folks who loved to drive like tortoises, everyone was going at exuberant paces.  “Arriba Arriba” as I imagined myself to be some kind of Speedy Gonzales.    And then some.  

As I was negotiating a bend just after the town of Gurun, out from behind some bushes popped two traffic policemen, armed with a radar gun.

They flagged me down and asked to see my driver’s licence and told me I was going at 70mph!  I was too traumatized to remember what my reaction was. They told me that for 70mph, I had to pay a fine of RM70 at the Gurun Police Station.   Our day was ruined.

Bridge On The River Prai

1964 was milestone year of great significance for rail travel in Malaysia, as KTM finally made that great leap forward over the River Prai.  The opening of the Swing Bridge allowed the railway tracks to move onward to Butterworth.

Prior to that, goods and passengers had to be transported via a special “train ferry” between Penang Island and Prai Town.

The swing bridge could be swivelled around to allow ships to pass through. 

I had a frightening experience once, circa 1972, when with a friend, tried cycling along the railway track on it.  We heard the train whistle, and in my panic, had my bike pedal caught in the steel rail. Adrenaline gushed in, and I was able to extract myself in time – albeit with a gashed toe — and live to tell you the story.

The bridge was replaced by a twin-track one in 2013.

Not A Shirt On My Back, ‘Twas A Monkey To Be Blamed….

It was not 500 miles from home, but at the Waterfalls (Penang Botanical Gardens). In 1963 or so, several of my primary school teachers took the whole class from Butterworth for a picnic there.

I had a most memorable experience then.  When I came out from the water to get my bag, I found it had been opened by “someone”, and the packet of peanuts and the bananas were gone !  Worse still. my shirt inside had been ripped apart.

When we left the pool later that evening, I was too shy to put on a badly torn shirt, so I travelled without it for the journey back home.

I was fearful that my mum was going to give me an earful.  Instead, she said, “Never mind, that monkey was very bad”

I have not visited  the Botanic Gardens for ages.

note : The title is a pun on one line in the lyrics of the old song, “500 Miles”

What’s The Shape Of Your Bottom ?

Does it matter ?  Yes, I mean in the old days, the shape of the bottom of your shirt (called “hem”, right?) determined whether or not your shirt should be tucked in.

If the shirt was a long-sleeved one, it came with a nice rounded hem, which must be tucked into the pants.  For courtesy, modesty or formality, or all three, having an exposed rounded bottom was a frowned-upon “No-No”.   But it was OK, if the shirt, especially a short-sleeve “hawaiian” type which always came with a straight bottom.

But times have changed.  These days, we see our young men strutting smugly around town in shirts with exposed, untucked rounded hem (worse still, with a half-done tie, and shorts) going arm-in-arm with  girlfriends dressed to the nines.  

Tastes have changed too. Ironically, anything goes, just tuck it in.

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Eggs

Or one could call it the best thing for cutting hard-boiled eggs into slices.  I remember we had one of these simple kitchen aids at home…a long time ago. 

It was a simple, yet effective tool.  The thin, highly-strung steel wires cut through an egg neatly, without messing up, yielding  slices with uniform thickness – a result that could not be achieved using a knife.

But somehow, we lost it and more interestingly, never missed it or found an another occasion to use it.  Why is that so? I wish I know.

My guess is that these days, food is plentiful, appetites have  bloated and people live to eat. No one would be happy with mere slices – thus, only a whole egg or maybe even two, would satisfy gastronomic expectations.  Thus, the slicer was gradually assigned museum status.