Monthly Archives: July 2016

Jar & The Beansprouts

One of the first biology experiments we had in primary school was the germinating of green beans in a jar.  We lined the inside bottom of these jars with some moist cotton wool, threw in some green beans and waited.

We were thrilled to see the beans sprouting and growing each day.   By the 4th day or so, our sprouts were standing tall and proud.

Our young minds and imagination were all fired up.  Mine went further, having read the story about one guy named Jack.   I quietly took some more green beans, red beans and soya beans from my mum’s treasure trove in the kitchen and threw them out onto the soil outside my kampong house.   Waited and waited,….,but no Beanstalk ever came out, not even a small one let alone a giant.

Haiz, maybe I used the wrong beans

The Need For Speed

It was keenly felt long before 2014 (recall the movie ?) – some 6 decades ago, during the Cold War years.

Great strides were being made in aeronautical engineering, and flying machines of all imaginable shapes and sizes were launched in rapid-fire succession, each faster than the preceding one.   Mach 1 was exceeded on 14th October 1947, followed quickly by Mach 2 and then Mach 3 by the second half of 1966.    That was 3 times the speed of sound.

The Lockheed SR-71 with twin turbo-ram jets was the fastest of them all at 3,540km/h, while the North American XB-70 bomber (with 6 engines) reached 3,309km/h.

In 1970, the Soviets came out with its MiG-25 which could attain Mach 3.2 in short bursts (but the engines rpms were red-lined at Mach 2.8)

Those were the days when speed was king.

A Hair Razing Experience

Haha, the manual clipper that was the barbers’ signature tool of the trade.   I have not seen one-in  40 years.

Hard to forget that ‘tek-tek-tek-tek’ sound as the skillful hand of our favorite ‘Haircut Uncle’ clasped and released the movable handle of the tool repetitively, and guided the clipper  through hairy trails on each head.

It must have taken between 200~300 clips to groom each customer — depending on whether it was the steppes or equatorial rainforest.  Quite tiring indeed.  Anyone heard of “barber’s fingers” ailment ?

With the advent of electric clippers, it now sounds like a mini lawn mower buzzing from ear-to-ear around my head. But for a novice barber, the learning curve might be gentler.  Efficiency, however, has risen  a million-fold…much like a farmer with a sickle versus a combine-harvester.

Shoe Whitening Was A Piece Of Cake

Most of us probably remember the good old school days, when we wore white canvas shoes to school.  And yes, there was the dreaded weekly grind of having to wash them on weekends, and then lovingly (grudgingly, for some) applied an overcoat of Liquid Whitener (perhaps from Kiwi).

But long before Kiwi and others became that clever, shoe white came in the form of a cake of compressed white powder.  There were several brands — the local made ones were cheap, something like 20 cts a piece.  To apply, we just removed the wrapper, and then rubbed the cake all over the still-wet shoes.

Upon contact with the wet surfaces, the powder turned slightly bluish.  Once fully dried in the sun, a brilliant white finish was attained.  ‘Twas that easy !

What Goes Around Comes Around

So goes the saying.  Indeed. And it went on for half-a-century.

The Wankel rotary engine promised to put an end to the Ups-and-Downs experienced by conventional piston engines.   In reality,  the Dream was also a Nightmare, posing tremendous, if not insurmountable problems for engineers.

In the early 1960s, Mazda took on the Wankel, and went on to develop a fully working engine which debuted in the Cosmo model of 1967.  The rotary engine was powerful, smooth, and free-revving.  However, issues with rotor sealing resulting in high fuel consumption and dirty emissions continued to impose serious constraints on its acceptability especially in an age of rising concerns with Global Warming.

The last Mazda model, RX-8, saw its final production in 2012.  But research is still ongoing on a future ‘clean’ version. Hopefully, it will go round and round more happily the next time.

What’s The Colour Of Your Stool ?

Mine came in various shades of brown, and very hard !   They smelled good too. Before anyone throws up, am talking about the home-made wooden stools that we had in our home decades ago.  LOLX.

Apart from the bedroom set that my parents bought for their wedding, almost everything else was D-I-Y by my dad (of course aided later on by me 🙂 ).   We made a total of 6 stools as per illustration, a dining table, a workbench, a couple of racks and cabinets too.

We were blessed with the advantage of being in the vicinity of a sawmill — which had ample supplies of discarded timber odds & ends — and  a basic set of woodworking tools, a tradition of ‘berdikari’ and spirit of ‘jimat cermat’.  Those were the good old days, really.

Learning To Drive Was A Minor Thing

Realizing that ability to drive was a key enabler, my dad got me into one of the Driving Schools as soon as I reached 18.  

To me, it was really a minor thing, because I had already observed a zillion times how people drove, eg., how the clutch-and-gear change synchronized, how gears were to be used, how reverse and parallel parking were done, etc.  Oh yes, I had also memorized all the traffic signs and hand signals too !

The venerable Morris Minor was the favourite workhorse of all the driving schools in those days.  It was fitted with a standard 4-speed manual gearbox.

Very rugged and simple to maintain, it could gallantly take all kinds of stunts from rookie drivers, including kangaroo hops, gear-teeth gnashing, asbestos-burning (moving with handbrakes ON), and an occasional bumping into another’s bum.

Half A Can Was Better Than No Dustpan

Can anyone recall those squarish 20-litre*  kerosene tins ?  The fuel that we needed in our kerosene stoves came packed in this form, routinely bought from the neighbourhood sundry shops.

Empty tins were usually returned to the shops, but sometimes we would retain one, and cut it diagonally into two halves.  After trimming the edges nicely, a wooden pole (could be an ex-broom handle) would be fixed to the back wall, and voila,  we got a nice dust pan. In fact, two sets could be made from one can, if one was skillful enough.

Back then, there were no plastic ones. Almost all of the kampong folks used this type of D-I-Y dust pans.  There was little waste — we re-used and re-cycled. We practised eco-friendliness and sustainability long before the modern-day “experts” were born.

*note : cannot remember the exact capacity

From Rags To Rugs

Once Upon A Time in Malaysia during my teen days, there was a fad involving gathering discarded odds and ends of colorful fabric, and then intricately folding the pieces and stitching them into arrays of various shapes — circular, oval, rectangular, or anything else that fancied the creator.

The resultant rugs — ahh, actually pieces of art, were simply too beautiful to be trodden under foot.  Really, sayang lah !  So, in many instances, they ended up as seat covers in cars.

Nowadays, I seldom if ever, come across any lady who does this stuff.  Too laborious perhaps for the hectic lifestyle of modern day.  Maybe some among us can breathe new life into this art and, who knows, create a Rags-To-Riches story in the process.

A Touch Of Grass

Before the advent of super cheap plastic raffia strings,  we used a humble and environmentally friendly, 100% organic and biodegradable “string” called “咸草” or “kiam chao” in Penang Hokkien.  Not sure what it is called in Malay.

These grassy strings were sold in bundles of about a metre long, and they were used everywhere — at home, in sundry shops, wet markets, etc — for bundling up loose goods that had not been factory-prepacked.

Cannot remember ? Perhaps recall the old days how bak chang dumplings were tied up.   Haiz, these days we can hardly find these kiam chao anymore.

I understand that a lot of these kiam chao have gone into high fashion, where they are turned into hats with a touch of class for ladies.   That could be the reason for its scarcity !