Monthly Archives: December 2015

Reflections Of My Light …

Back in the old days, in addition to white painted strips on roads to demarcate traffic lanes, there were also embedded into the road surfaces reflective devices called Cats’ Eyes.

Each set had a metal casing, in which sat a depressible body that had two “eye” reflectors facing front and two facing back.   These “eyes” shone brightly against the headlights of oncoming vehicles at night.   In places where a driver was not familiar with the roads on a dark night, these little strings of bright lights were a real blessing to moving ahead safely.

If a vehicle ran over any one of these, there would be a muffled “thum-thum” sound, corresponding to the instances when the front and rear wheels, respectively, hit the Cats’ Eyes.  No damage, as it would spring back into position.  No meowing sound, of course!

Silence Is Olden

Up until about the early 1960s,  George Town, Penang, had electric buses or trams serving many routes in the city.   The photo above shows one example, at the junction of Hill Railway Road and Ayer Itam Road.   Penang Lang called them “Dian Chia” (kereta eletrik).

The most salient feature of these buses was Silence – very little noise was heard except for the soft purring of the motors when moving off.

Each bus was powered by electricity drawn from a network of overhead cables, via a pair of “trolley” contact arms.  These can be clearly seen from the photo.

One big problem was the contact arms often tripped and fell off, especially at junctions.  When that happened, the bus conductor had to get down and use a specially made pole to restore the trolley arms back into position.

And the buses could not overtake one another, except at specially constructed “bypass” areas.

Of Scholars & Undertakers…

And the Twain did meet … 秀才遇到棺材

Mention the name Carnarvon Street (or ” lam chan na” 烂田仔, in Chinese, meaning “poor quality swampy fields”) and, am sure the old folks of Penang will remember that was the go-to place for Books/Stationery and, Coffins !     The street was lined on both sides with maybe two dozen bookshops and a dozen casket shops.

In my secondary school days, this street was my favorite haunt – of course I went only to see and buy the books and stationery, not those fabulous “longevity lumber” or “big houses” (Chinese euphemism for coffin).    Well, I moved out of Penang in 1984, so no chance to patronize the latter business.

I have not undertaken a trip back to this place ever since moving out to Singapore in 1984.  I think there must have been a lot of changes.  People still die, but am not sure if people still read as much.

Winter Serenade – in C Major …

Well, I mean ‘C’ as in ‘ Carbohydrate.

A long time tradition of the Chinese, celebrating the Winter Solstice – around 22 December each year, with this pure Carbo knockout punch, a.k.a ‘tang yuan’ or 汤圆.

In the past, this was an exciting event for kids especially, where family members gathered around the dining table, to make balls of hydrated glutinous rice flour by rolling a lump with their palms.  A certain % of  the balls were colored with red, yellow, green, etc.  (I have not seen blue ones, though).

An important requirement was to make 12 pieces extra large, in white only.  We called these “the mother of balls”.

These rice balls were then boiled in water, and then thrown into a big pot of sugary syrup, ready to be eaten.  Sometimes, brown sugar was used, with some ginger thrown in.

Good Tin Came on Three’s

Throw back to the  heyday of Tin as one of the two major exports of Malaya/Malaysia.   Along Dato Keramat Road, Penang stood the Eastern Smelting Company, where tin ore from the peninsular mainland was smelted and cast into ingots for export.

And running in and out of the gates of this smelting factory were trailer trucks with quaint, yellow 3-wheel prime movers.  Loaded with perhaps a couple of hundred refined  pieces of Tin ingots, these trucks made their way to the docks alongside Weld Quay.   I cannot remember clearly now the actual routes they used, but these Scammel Scarab three-wheelers impressed quite lasting tracks on my young mind then, and even to this day.

Eastern Smelting has melted into history now, and all the Scarabs scrapped, save one pitiful specimen in a deplorable state at the Penang Museum.

It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Kereta

When the batteries of our cars decided to take an unscheduled break, the much beloved Automobiles became obnoxious Auto-No-Mobiles.

Back in those days of manual transmission, we would resort to doing a push start.   How many of us still remember how to do this ?

Firstly, we needed to mount a charm offensive and sweet-talk some friends or neighbors or in dire cases, even strangers passing by, into showcasing their awesome muscle power.

There was a certain procedure to learn and master.  An unskilled driver could leave the pushers falling flat on their faces !   Other instances could see the car doing a kangaroo dance routine.  After a few tries, it usually worked.

Not sure if this could be done with Auto Transmission.

Haiz, perhaps they should bring back the “Encore” hand-crank !

The Silence Of The ‘M’

In the year 1978 thereabout, Mitsubishi came out screaming loudly about their Silent Shafts (what irony) Technology that it supposedly patented for use in their new Galant Sigma model.   The Silent Shafts were a long awaited solution that could cancel out all secondary engine vibrations (never mind if you do not understand the mechanics of these terms), and thus provided extra passenger comfort.  Does anyone remember that ? Was it that good ?

Being the nerdy techie that I was (and still am), I was quietly besotted by this new thingy and secretly wished I could buy one. But there came along so many other financial obligations that I had to settle for a second-hand Mazda 323 and …. the rest was The Silence of My Dreams.

The body was “huge” for a 1.6 Litre engine ( I think there was an upscale 2.0L version)