Author Archives: happyrecall

About happyrecall

Just a very plain old man, with some knowledge of English

The Crossing Was Level, The Playing Field Was Not

Decades ago, a bus journey from Butterworth to Padang Serai (where my aunty lived) would take us through a little town called Tasik Gelugor (半路店 in Chinese, meaning ‘halfway shop’).

There was a gated railway level crossing at the fringe of this town.  For a young boy, the Great Expectation was, hopefully, the bus would arrive in time to witness a train passing. (And many times it happened!)  Wow, what a delight to watch the long string of heavy coaches and metal wagons go rumbling by, preceded by several long puffs of the airhorns from the locomotive! Choo-oo! Choo-oo!

There was a railway worker stationed at the crossing, to manually move the gates into positions to barricade the road traffic whenever a train was due to cross.  Size did matter – and always had the right of way. 

Putting All Your Eggs Into One (such) Basket

Putting all your eggs into one basket seemed like proverbial foolishness, but there were some redeemable exceptions.

Decades ago, we reared our own chicken in the backyard of our kampong house, and eggs dutifully laid by the hens were picked up and then stored in a nice basket made of wire-netting and wire frames.  This kind of baskets was very popular in those days.

I remember, after putting the eggs in, or retrieving a few, the baskets would be hung back onto a long hook suspended from the ceiling.  I was told that in this way, rats would not be able to poach (I don’t mean cook!) the eggs for their midnight suppers.  Fact or fable ?

The netting used on these baskets is commonly (and most appropriately) called “chicken wire” – consist of strands of wires intertwined into sizeable hexagonal patterns.  

Are Diamonds Forever? Time Will Tell

They have been hanging (and) around for a long time – literally, on both counts.  Yes, the Diamond brand wall clocks that seemed to be a must-have feature for any old-school coffeeshop worthy of its caffeine fixes.

These were powered directly from the 230V AC mains, and had a circular dial face with a prominent diamond logo, and a slender “seconds” red needle that went round and round the clock (oops, what else do you expect ?). They had a small thumbwheel on the rim for resetting the hands.

I remember the Type 1 was more popular, while Type 2 also found wide acceptance in homes.  Over the years, the market has been inundated with countless other brands and models – of which nearly everyone is battery-powered. Will the hardy Diamonds be able to take the beating and last forever ?

Only time will tell.

Pulling The Right Levers To Get On The Right Track

Sounds like a Success 101 tagline, right? 

Well, my train of thoughts today was hauled back into the past, with my journeys on the old Keretapi Tanah Melayu. Since young I noticed that at stations, the railway line split into several branch tracks, and so I wondered, “How does the train get on the right one?”

The inquisitive Early Nerdy me led to an interesting discovery that at each station, there was a set of large levers with several colours and a worker yanked at one or more of them, to shift sections of rails for alignment to the intended path of the train.  (Lesson: configuring a one-track mind  for multiple passage ways)

These days, computerized automation has largely supplanted these manually-activated mechanisms.  Nevertheless, some of these vintage lever sets can still be seen at several old KTM stations.

A Survey Of Rambutans In Tanjong

Keep Calm and Continue Reading!  In 1971, I was enrolled in Form 4 at the Technical Institute, Penang (also known as Tanjong).

My course of study was Mechanical Engineering & Workshop Practice, but somehow, there was a subject called “Surveying”.  I have forgotten much of it, save for the most enjoyable outdoor practical sessions.

The worksite is where the present Penang State Mosque stands. Back then, it was a rambutan plantation. So while we practised with our Theodolites, Measuring Tapes and Ranging Poles, half the time we set our sights on the irresistible globes of hairy, fiery red balls dangling tantalizingly from the branches around us.

Whenever the teacher-in-charge was not in view, up went our Ranging Poles (about 2m long), to whack down the rambutans – and exact sweet justification for our labour in the sun.

Alarmed At Being Hen-pecked?

Nah! It was OK decades ago; in fact I would even say it was kinda fashionable.  

Before you folks get the wrong idea, may I just let it ring loudly in your ears that I am referring to this ancient, but popular mechanical alarm clock.

It was a cutesy little piece made by the Shanghai Diamond Clock company. We had one in our home some time in the middle of the last century. Several of our neighbours also had the same in their bedrooms.

That ‘chik-chek-chik-chek…’ sound that went in sync with the mother hen’s pecking (the head moved up and down) could be annoying at first, but after a while it became a rhythmic hypnotizing sleep inducer.  The alarm could be startling though,…enough to trigger a cardiac arrest.  The alarm was cancelled by pushing down a knob.

Fishy Memories

Two other fishes have slipped off my menu for nearly half-a-century — the Catfish and, the Snakehead.  In my native Penang Hokkien, we called them “Thor Sat” and “Lay Hu” respectively.

I remember the Thor Sat had some venomous spikes in the fins, and so fishmongers used a pair of Pincer Cutter to clip the fins off for safety.  The Thor Sat was best cooked in a curry.

The Lay Hu were usually sold by individuals who carried them about — flipping and alive — in wooden boxes filled with water.  But they could live for quite a long while out of water; so the first thing before cutting them up was to grab them by their tails and smash their heads onto a hard floor, thereby sending them into concussion.

The Lay Hu was best savoured in a simple light soup.

Operation Dessert Storm

More than half-a-century ago, on trips to Penang Island with my late mum, we never missed a chance to call at one very unassuming 4-wheel pushcart cendol stall – along Keng Kwee Street at the junction with Penang Road.

Slurping down a bowl of that tantalizing santan-deluged, gula-melaka-laced icy dessert was pure elation, especially on a hot afternoon.  Yes, good enough to cause even the most insane health nut to crack up and dive in !

The stall ownership might have been passed down to the later generations or other people, but thanks also to the proliferation of social media, this dessert has definitely whipped up a storm of global proportions. 

Everyday there would be a long queue of ardent customers. While waiting for their “ketagihan” to be fixed,  cellphones would be out in force to do the mandatory selfies and wefies.

Aluminum Dinosaurs From Another Ice Age

Up to the late 1970s, refrigerators came with aluminium ice trays that were designed for easy removal of frozen ice pieces (we called these “ice cubes”).  The trays had multiple aluminium partitions which were loosely connected to each other in a detachable assembly.

One yank of the handle was all it took to dislodge the frozen cubes from their hibernation comfort zones.  The clever built-in levers system was not readily apparent to most users (except for the engineering nerds).  But never mind, job done, with ease.

Interestingly, these trays were patented by one E.H. Roberts of General Electric in 1952.

In more modern times, these trays have been replaced by simple and cheaper plastic ones, which require running under a tap to ease out the ice cubes, or one risks twisting the wrist joints in trying to get the cubes out.

From ‘Work Conquers All’ To ‘Aim And Achieve’

Not a case of badge-engineering that is so prevalent nowadays. Rather it symbolized the coming of age of a school.

My school in Butterworth – Assumption Boys’ School – apparently was an offshoot of St Xavier’s Institution, Penang, planted on the “ulu” mainland by the Christian Brothers.  And it also adopted the school badge of its more prestigious elder sibling, for a long time. 

When I entered Std One in 1962, we all wore that SXI cloth badge — stitched onto the pocket of our white shirts.  No one asked what “Labor Omnia Vincit” meant.

Then, circa 1968/69, a new Headmaster came onboard.  Brother Stephen was distinctly different from his easy-going predecessors. He decided it was time for us to step out of the shadows of Big Brother – with a new (metallic) badge and an inspiring  triple-A motto: Aim And Achieve.