Monthly Archives: March 2018

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.

The Men With Golden Teeth

A recent visit to my dentist to get  a stainless steel crown done brought home memories of a time in the past when it was very fashionable for folks – especially the men – to have a tooth or two or several, capped or cladded in gold.

They were not the gypsies mentioned in “Love Potion No.9” but just ordinary (and rather poor) kampong dwellers.  Am not sure how the golden layer was done, but it intrigued me.   Perhaps, for most of them, they were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, so a gold-capped tooth or two psychologically placed them on even footing with the richer compatriots.

Anyway, I have not come across anyone sporting such glittering dental ornamentation in the last few decades.  I think the younger ones prefer to pierce their ears, noses, lips, etc.


While tidying up my store room, I uncovered this 2-decade old kitchen appliance that we have not used for a long long time. It has become a monumental testimony of my wife’s happy hours in many episodes of culinary Broiler-vs-Broiler drama in the kitchen.

The machine is a table-top broiler, which we used to broil chicken (aka ‘broilers’) for dinner. It is a pretty amazing piece of machine, though quite simple in concept.

Those were the days. However, now, as age catches up with us, we find it too tedious to do the broiling, and troublesome to clear up the oily aftermath. Moreover, as the Empty Nest syndrome sets in, the incentive to get embroiled with cooking diminishes rapidly.

If we want roast chicken, simple — just head to the supermarket, grab one from over the counter and start biting.

My First Gold Heist

Haiz! I missed the opportunity to partake in that momentous heist of gold – only remember that it was the first time (that I knew of) a goldsmith shop in Penang was attacked by robbers armed with pistols.

Penang folks probably recognise this shop, Nam Loong, as one of the earliest jewellers in the gold belt, aka Campbell Street.  One day, while I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, I heard that armed robbers went in and smashed up the glass showcases before scooping off everything that glittered.  Several shots were fired, though no one died.

From thence on, all the goldsmith shops in Penang had to build steel cages inside their glass showcases, in order to greatly hinder the picking up of the prized pieces in the event of another hold-up.  Am not sure if this is still practised.

Food And Shelter Provided

Wow !  Sounds like an irresistible deal, right?

Decades ago, we lived in a village wooden house, which had a roof made from pieces of attap leaves that had been previously “stitched’ together. These were strapped into place by skilled workers, and they withstood rain and sunshine for at least 5 years between changes.

But we never saw the plant – the Nipah Palm – from which the attap leaves were harvested.  Perhaps we never thought of looking for them.

These palms bear a kind of fruit with a multi-ridged pointed roundish shape.  We used to buy them from petty traders at the marketplace.  Once split open, the inside of the fruit yielded a smooth translucent ellipsoidal kernel which we called  “attap chee” in Hokkien (‘seed of atap’). Yummy !

These days both fruit and and leaves are getting scarce.

I Was A LUNA Kid

As a kid, I loved to draw and thus, as soon as I was able to tell blue from black, I was given colour pencils to to further develop my skills as a blooming artist.

My favourite brand was LUNA by Staedtler. If I remember correctly, LUNA was available in 3 kits :-

  • a Basic Pack with 12-colour, 4-inch pencils
  • an Extended Pack with 12-colour, 7-inch pencils,
  • a Premium Pack with 24-colour, 7-inch pencils.

I never saw the Premium Pack in real life.  However, I think I went through at least 3 sets of the Basic Pack – initially losing a number of individual pencils to the voracious appetites of pencil sharpeners.  (The best way to sharpen them was to use a razor blade).

The photo shows the livery of the packaging of the 1960s/70s.

By Hooke, Not By Crook

Clearing out my store room recently, I came face-to-face with an old “friend”.  It was that 50 kg capacity spring-activated weighing machine, that I acquired in 1997 when I started my 3rd business venture.

For those techie-minded folks, yes, it operated on Hooke’s Law; these types however, have been steadily replaced by electronically-operated ones over the years.

Nothing spectacular, but this machine brings back many memories of past follies and glories in my forays into business.  Many lessons weighed in, as I recall that doing business was not as simple and straight forward as applying engineering principles. 

Many times, it had to be either by Hook or by Crook to get a deal —  that went against my grain and so, finally I decided to get back to Bolts and Nuts,….and…,Springs.