Monthly Archives: June 2016

Fire In Their Bellies

Remember that 5kg mass of brass with which our mothers used to iron our clothes ?  The charcoal iron, of course.

These heavy implements required frequent fanning (by hand mostly) to blow away the ashes on the embers, and also topping up of the charcoal pieces in order to maintain the heat.

In those days, married women were a very hardy lot; besides painstakingly taking out the creases and putting a glistening shine on the clothes of their hubbies and children, they were expected to do the same for all other unmarried male members of the extended family staying in the same house.  

Heat, Sweat and Tears — as they toiled day in day out, with no complaints.  The Fire In Their Bellies impassioned these Iron Ladies of our times to serve their families.  Kudos !

Stressed Be The Ties That Bind

I first encountered neckties in 1963. 

I disliked those “kiddy” types  – one which came with an elastic band, and another with a Y-shaped plastic catch (this one made my skin sore).  I wanted to have those which adults wore.

But getting the knot “right” with the correct lengths to be left dangling was quite tricky.  In those days,  the prevailing style seemed to resemble a scalene triangle, which I called the “ketupat”.    I hated that shape because it was asymmetrical.

I spent many hours perfecting the twists and turns to get that ultimate symmetrical “samosa” knot, along the way inadvertently producing some  “bak chang”, and “kuih abok abok” as well.  Quite stressful indeed, just to put a tight noose around our necks !

Do you have a knotty story to tell ?

A Case Of Vanity

What is a vanity case ?  

Asking our younger folks this question might be in vain.  But for the ladies who were in their primes in the 60s~80s, this would be a prized showcase item of pride — a vivid testimony of their beauty which needed utmost tender loving attention.

A bride-to-be would look forward gleefully to a spanking new case to house all the colors and fragrances that would make her totally irresistible.    At other times,  ladies would carry these with them in their travels.

Over the years, I think this item has slowly fallen out of favour and I have not seen one for a long time….till this morning.  Haha, this red one hidden in my wardrobe was one of my first gifts to my GF 40 years ago (as of 2020).

Wow Everyone Could Fly

A quarter of a century before Tony Fernandes laid claim that “Now Everyone Can Fly”, Boeing rolled out its first 747 Jumbo Jet (Sept 30 1968).

It was a truly milestone for aviation history.   With a capacity that doubled those of the prevailing 707 and DC-8, and powered by 4 super-efficient turbofan engines, it made air travel much less costly.    Few people now realize that.

Whereas in the past air travel was the domain of the rich and famous, WOW, EVERYONE COULD FLY thenceforth.   Yes, every Abu, Ah Kow and Arun boleh juga.

Interestingly, whereas previously air travellers dressed smartly (coat & tie for men), a new breed of passengers in skimpy shorts, Japanese slippers, singlets and backpacks had come to form a major and important class of customers for the airlines.

Harmony — On A Wind and A Player

I wonder if the younger folks know what these are.  

The Harmonicas – these affordable wind instruments were very popular decades ago. My dad and my late uncle used to be quite good at playing these (self-taught).

Somehow, I have not heard anyone playing these for a long long time.  Perhaps the harmonious soothing notes that flow out from the vibrating metallic leaves inside do not go down well with successive generations of people who are more into cacophonic ear-jarring, nerve-wrecking noises of drums, guitars, synthesizers, keyboards.    Or perhaps I am from  Another Time, Another Place.

I regret not learning to play any musical instruments in my younger days,  having just bolts and nuts in my mind all that time.  Or could it be that my MQ (musical quotient) was simply very low?  Haiz!

Imitation Was The Swiftest Form Of Flattery

Quite unexpectedly, on 31 December 1968, the Soviet-made TU-144 made its maiden flight.   It beat the much-publicized Anglo-French Concorde as the world’s first supersonic passenger jetliner to fly, by slightly more than 2 months.

The western press nicknamed it “Concordski” as it closely resembled the Concorde. Powered by 4 gigantic turbojets, it could fly faster than its rival.  Two retractable front canards were added later for improving low speed handling.

It was rumoured that the Soviets were snooping on the Concorde’s design in the earlier years, and Anglo-French counter-espionage agents deliberately let loose a lot of bad design data for the Soviets to pick up and put into the TU-144.  Perhaps some of that was true, possibly contributing to the infamous crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show, and putting an unflattering end to Soviet SST ambitions.

Oh Deer They Could Fly

Between 1966 and 1973, RMAF received 18 of these rugged short-haul transport planes. Made by DeHavilland Canada, the DHC-4A, was also better known as Caribou (which is a very large species of reindeer).

I remember seeing these rather ungainly-looking aircraft — note the huge tail fin — flying at low speed around the airbase in Butterworth, with the typical low-frequency droning from its two piston engines.  They could carry up to 36 troops, or 3640kg of cargo, and land on grass strips (they had STOL capabilities).

These workhorse aircraft had been retired since September 2000, and replaced by Indonesian-made aircraft.   But there are specimens on static display, one at the RMAF Museum in Sungei Besi (KL), and another one at the Army Museum in Port Dickson.  I have visited both places a few years ago

First To KERETA ….Then To School

Borrowing BATA’s tagline …

Long before Bas Sekolahs drove into the school transport scene, there were KERETA SEKOLAHs of all shapes, sizes and colors ferrying kids to and from their schools.

My first encounter was with a black vintage Vauxhall Wyvern, owned by an enterprising neighborhood Uncle.   The car had a column-mounted gearshift and a one piece sofa-like front seat.

Uncle also ingeniously added a long wooden bench onto the back seat and another one of half length onto the front seat.  With these mods, the capacity was raised to about 15 Standard One kids, including me.  By the time we got to Standard Three, the capacity maxed out at 12 — we were growing fast.

Though it was quite reliable, the car often needed some robust hand-cranking to cajole the engine into working mood.

What Spooked The Goose, Spooked The Gander

In the kampong days,  folks often reared chicken and ducks, and to a smaller extent, others like Muscovy ducks and geese.   The last of these were not to be trifled with.

Usually found sauntering around in groups (aka gaggles), with their long necks held high and beaks pointed at 45 degrees upwards, they could be quickly provoked or startled and become fearsome Angry Birds.   Males and females were equally aggressive. They pecked and pinched with their strong beaks, causing painful blue-and-blacks and even severe bleeding.

Folklore has it that snakes are afraid of goose droppings — hence, geese were also kept to deter snakes (apart from snaky people) but it was also said that geese poo attracted centipedes.  

In any case, all four are equally spooky – goose pimples forming even as I write!


Sabre-rattling Over Butterworth

Living just 4km from the airbase in Butterworth from birth till 1973 “enrolled” me into an Early Childhood Aircraft Appreciation course.

The F-86 Sabres were the earliest jet fighters from the RAAF to appear in the skies.  They had clean body design, with a prominent bubble canopy.  As they circled the area low in their landing approaches, around my attap house, I remember I could even see the pilots inside them.

Later I learned that these RAAF fighters played a prominent role during the Confrontation with Indonesia, where Butterworth-based Sabres chased off marauding MiG-21 fighters.   No shots were fired in anger; perhaps the kill reputation of the Sabre (from the earlier Korean War) was enough to dissuade the intruders.

p/s : Am wondering to this day, why these RAAF aircraft wore RAF decals on their wings.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

A flash of yellow gleam caught my eyes one afternoon while I was in the supermarket. Ah hah! Gold Coin chocolates!  Donkey years have trotted by since I last saw them – let alone ate a piece.

These were my childhood favourites.  I remember they were somewhat firm and chewy, and full of cocoa fragrance and creamy sweetness.  (No doubt they contributed sacrificially  to my early dental degradation).

Not wanting to pass up this golden opportunity, I bought a small pack of 20 pieces.  The photo shows 19 – well, the 20th piece went into my mouth for qualitative biochemical assay.  Haiz, any expectation of a resurrection of the old ecstasy was quickly smothered — all that glitter notwithstanding.   It tasted rather bland.   Maybe my ancient taste buds were not working that day.

So Good You Can Even Eat It On Its Own

Gardenia’s tagline must have been inspired by this old-time delicacy, LOLX.  Yummy !  In fact,it is best eaten on its own !  Well, I wonder how many of the younger folks out there know what these are !

Not sure what they are called in English, but in Malay they are known as ‘tombong’, a term which the Hokkiens in Penang use very freely and naturally.

I think they are the embryos of coconuts.  Found only in mature nuts, they range in size from as small as grapes to as big  as completely filling the chamber inside, depending on age.  The small ones are sweet and crunchy, the big ones spongy.  The best ones are slightly smaller than a tennis ball.

These are rarely seen nowadays, because few people sell or buy mature coconuts other than in processed form.

Putting The Good Guys Behind Bars

Some call them ‘collapsible gates’, others call them ‘scissor gates’.  At one time, these ubiquitous geometric pieces of art in steel were fashionable throughout Malaysia and Singapore.

Many shops installed these in front of their normal doors, as deterrent/protective barriers against break-ins.    Home owners too have them affixed to their front and rear doors, to keep out the bad guys and uninvited guests of dishonour.  Most of these installations were painted silver in colour, though other colours were used occasionally.

This tradition spawned a thriving metal fabrication industry, with many small workshops throughout the country enjoying brisk sales year round.

Alas, these days we see fewer and fewer of such installations for homes – perhaps they are now regarded as ‘ugly’ and ‘uncool’.  However, someone told me that this ‘Retro’ style is making a comeback.  That would be nostalgic renaissance indeed.

WMI or Undivided Lack Of Usefulness ?

I cannot recall clearly  when box of mathematical instruments (aka ‘WMI’) first showed up in our school yearly to-buy “book list”.  Among the items in that box was a strange two-legged creature with sharp points.   We later learned that it was called “Dividers”

But how many of us really found an occasion or even a faint excuse to ever use it ? As for me, it was next to none, even though I was at the forefront of technical drawing in my later years.

 I have seen pictures and even movies where some folks seem to be manipulating this instrument over maps.  Perhaps I am really lacking in knowledge of this instrument, or perhaps it was and is really useless.  Am sure opinion is divided on this matter.

A ‘Vibrant’ Old Ferry Tale

The Grande Old Dame of the Penang ferries.  Built in Singapore in 1948, it was a one of a kind — it could dock at both the old terminals (Mitchell Pier & Church Street Pier) and the new (1959) terminals (Sultan Abdul Halim & Raja Tun Uda).

The Pulau Pinang was subtly different from the other 4, which were built in Hong Kong in 1959, viz., the Pulau’s Aman, Tioman, Langkawi and Pangkor.   It had wide gaping ‘mouths’ at both ends (maybe like Ronald McDonald’s) and, had only a single funnel (smoke stack). The other 4 had twin funnels (though one of the twin was a dummy).  

Compared to the current generation ones, this ferry was certainly more elegant-looking.

But for some uncanny reason, its engines seemed to resonate with the structure, causing vibrations that occurred every one to two minutes.  I remember this “vibrant” feature to this day.

Tanjung Pagar – Final Irony Derailed

On 01 July 2011 train operations ceased at this iconic station of British colonial legacy (opened in 1932).

It also marked the end of acrimonious bickering between Singapore and Malaysia on the relocation of the Malaysian CIQ, as well as the “one-upmanship” contest between LKY and Dr M.   In the preceding 5 years or so, a train traveller from Singapore to Malaysia had to “enter” Malaysia first before leaving Singapore 30 minutes’ journey later — a ironical (some say comical) drama of the immigration saga. 

Personally, this place reminds me of the day that my wife and I officially emigrated to Singapore in June 1984.  With 2 suitcases and 2 carton boxes in tow, we disembarked from the Express Rakyat after a gruelling 14-hour ride from Butterworth, tired but looking expectantly to greener pastures on The Little Red Dot (that’s an irony in itself).

Threw In My Vests, They Did The Rest

Well, almost … some time-honoured hand scrubbing was needed. OMO, FAB and BREEZE were the detergents of choice in the 50s-60s.

OMO was my earliest encounter. Not sure what OMO stood for; I thought it should have been OWO (one-woman operation) since my mum single-handedly did all the washing.

Not long after that came FAB – which could fabulously evict scums of any nature. Oh yes, later there was a solid-state variant called “Power Laundry Bar”, which came in the form of a blue  rectangular slab.

Finally came BREEZE which I suppose could make laundry work a breeze.

These old timers have long been overshadowed by so many other new brands, with offerings in both powder and liquid emulsified versions, including one that promises to make unsightly things (including your money, of course) VANISH.