Many years back, my late uncle operated a small import business. Shipments of bicycle parts came in from China, packaged in wooden crates – these were boxes constructed of wooden planks which had been nailed together.
To un-crate, firstly we had to remove the nails. Gladly we had that awesome Nail Puller. A simple “Bang-Bang & Yank-Yank” and out came each nail, from head to tail, no matter how stubbornly it clung on, or how deeply it was rooted.
Now that those days were long gone, I have not seen any specimen for the last 40 years. However, every time I see wooden crates anywhere, the sound of that “chitty-chitty, bang-bang” song would ring in my ears.
It was the solution that gripped the nail by the head, but today the younger folks may not know what this tool is for.
Before the advent of spring-activated weighing machines with dial faces, the “dacing” in varying sizes, was universally used in all kinds of retail business.
It was also widely known that sellers sometimes manipulated the implement to cheat customers either through deft handwork while shifting the counter-weight, or by stealthily pre-loading the weighing pan (a favourite technique was to coat the underside of the pan with assam paste – thus gaining several tahils’ worth for the seller).
Our family used to have one set at home, with which we re-weighed everything we bought. The neighbourhood sundry shop knew we had this Weapon of Mass Discernment and wise enough never to have tested its awesome power. In fact, the proprietor always added a little bit more to what we asked for, as a “safety margin”. Nak Hiduplah dia !
A recent shopping trip in Johor Bahru brought me into eye contact with a childhood delicacy that I have not savoured for the last 30 years or so.
Yes, it was the Sweet-and-Sour Pickled Leek. In my native colloquial Penang Hokkien, we call it “Lor Gio” (蕎頭 – in Mandarin).
Without hesitation, I bought a kilogram, and finished half of that within 10 minutes. Ooh, the sweetness accompanied by a tinge of sourness, in 80:20 ratio – my taste buds came alive again, and saliva glands went into overdrive !
Alas, that awesome childhood memory re-run was so overwhelming that I did not realize the seller had ripped 50 ringgit off my wallet in 2 seconds.
Upon reaching home, reality set in – and the 80:20 ratio became 20:80, and I felt like wanting to pickle that seller 00:100
The attap house of my youth “squatted” in the midst of a coconut plantation, surrounded left, right, front and back by flora of the towering kind.
Once a month or so, teams of climbers came round to harvest the nuts. Unlike the learned academic* who was brainy and chubby, these professionals were invariably brawny albeit skinny and could out-climb a monkey.
A kind of sarong-like cloth was bundled into a rope-like configuration and used as a tensioner between their two feet. That was all they needed to zip all the way up to the top where the nuts beckoned, “Come, get me !”
Of course, those plucky pros had to get picky. Only the mature nuts got to be man-handled — they would plucked and dropped to the ground, to be collected and sent for ripping apart.
* referring to the movie, “The Nutty Professor”
Up to the early 1970s (if I remember correctly), all lorries above a certain tonnage were required by law to have an Attendant at the back. Apparently, it was to help the driver in front navigate safely through the streets, especially when going in reverse.
“Kelindan Lori” was not a glamorous job by any measure; rather, it was often fraught with danger, toils and snares. Be it rain or shine, the person had to sit or stand among the goods onboard, without any physical protection. On top of that, the attendant also had to double up as the primary loader and unloader for the goods.
But in those days, jobs were hard to come by, thus there was no lack of takers for this strenuous work.
Thankfully, these days life for workers in the transport industry has seen substantial improvement.
In Malaysia and Singapore it used to be “Sepak Raga” but in other SE Asian countries the game went by other names.
Then in 1960, these nations got together and after much kicking, head-butting and bickering (or maybe wickering), decided to adopt the Thai version. Hence Sepak Raga became Sepak Takraw. Perhaps, “Sepak Raga” sounded dangerously close to “Kicking The Bucket” when translated into English.
I have always been fascinated by the high-flying upside-down kicks executed by the experts. But as a kid I was also warned not to do head-butts, as too many hard knocks “could lead to PHD (permanent head damage)”
I have not played a game for ages now; and was surprised to learn that the old rattan ball is now superseded by colourful ones made from synthetic resins.
A big advantage of living in the kampong was that one could grow all kinds of fruits. Around our house then we had 4 papaya trees, of which 3 were prolific producers. (The sole barren one turned out to be a male tree, as we later learned).
My father used to put a dozen or two in a basket on the back carrier of his trusty Grandpa Bicycle, and pedalled all the way from Butterworth to Sia Boey Market on Penang Island to sell them.
Also, we would take along a couple of the fruits to our relatives and friends on the island when we went visiting. Haha, “buah tangan” in the very essence of the word.
These days, however, papayas have become ya ya in price. In Singapore, a sizeable one costs between SGD2.00 to SGD3.50.
In my younger days, a visit to the barber’s – also known as “Hairdressing Salon” inevitably meant a close shave with one of the most sinister-looking tools on this planet.
One look at that Cut-Throat Razor and I could feel lumps in my throat as I stuck my neck out. I did not have much facial hair, but the barber took pains to execute precision scrapes to ensure every single bristle that appeared at the wrong place would be sliced off at its root.
However, at the end of the somewhat hate-and-love session, it was a clean and cool feeling – especially with a dab of aftershave lotion.
These days, these tools have largely been superseded by disposable razors. Yes, with the prevalence of HIV, the old method would have presented itself as a very real close shave with death.
A bit of exaggeration perhaps, but the self-proclaimed “Famous Pink Tablets” were probably the most highly-favoured over-the-counter medication of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
It was like the grand-mummy of the present-day Panadol. As the claim went, 2 tablets of these pink tablets could quickly take the misery out of Headches, Fever, Body Aches, Influenza and Toothaches. I suspect women of those days must have used them for other needs too.
In any case, I must have eaten at least 10 dozen boxes of the pinkish stuff in my younger days, as usually we did not (and could not afford to) visit a doctor unless we were about to die.
These days, I think Vinac is not popular anymore; the familiar red-and-yellow packaging has been replaced by something nondescript. I have not seen a modern specimen in real-life.
Before the early 1970s, making a cake was somewhat of a hit-and-miss affair, having to deal with the unpredictable mood swings of a highly-battered dough taken to task in a charcoal-fired makeshift oven.
All that changed, when we bought a circular flat contraption called an “Ovenette”. After the dough was put in, and the cover closed, and the switch was flicked on, all that we had to do was to wait, see and smell.
The cover had a circular window on top through which we could see our rising expectations.
Though there was no temperature control for user manipulation, the results were usually very pleasing and palatable. At last we could have our cake and eat it as well.
These days, we have upgraded to built-in ovens in the kitchen, thanks to a wifey with very cakey tendencies.