Probably everyone has eaten the Nasi and savoured the various mouth-watering lauk pauk, but have you ever seen that big stick? I would venture to bet that Millenials have no idea what that is.
Come with me to the early days in Penang, when Nasi Kandar was a poor man’s sole proprietorship, with two big baskets (containing the goodies) slung from a long wooden pole of flattened elliptical cross-section. That pole was made from a special wood, that had a high elastic modulus.
Our family had one such kandar stick in our old kampong house. It was about 2m long. Apparently the olden Chinese folks also wielded the Big Stick, for a variety of tasks.
Nasi Kandar has come a long way and now occupies a pole position in the Malaysian F&B industry – Syabas to the Indian Muslim community.
Up to the ripe old age of 25, I did not own a camera. Mainly, it was because I had never felt I looked good enough to warrant parting with a substantial percentage of my hard-earned income for a “frivolous, narcissistic” activity.
All that changed, when my GF came into the picture. One of the first questions she posed to me, “Why don’t you buy a camera?” I replied, “I was waiting for you to show up”.
And since then it was Happy Snappy — till this day.
That first camera was a rangefinder – Ricoh 500G. At that time, I knew little about photography, so it was literally just point-and-shoot.
The rest was history – one of acquiring at least 20 other cameras (various models) in the last 39 years. 6 of those are still with me, including the latest Olympus OMD EM10 Mk2.
You might not believe this.
Yet half a century ago, when I was living in the Bagan Ajam kampong, with the sea just 10 minutes’ walk away, this was true.
Fishermen beached early in the morning with their overnight bounties and carted them to the wet market near my attap house. And they were cheap. Yes, crabs – and prawns and fish — were cheaper than pork or chicken.
In fact, our family often had crabs for both lunch and dinner. My late mum would deftly de-shell the cooked crustaceans, and gather their meat into delicious piles for the kids. (That is the reason why till this day, I cannot ‘handle’ crabs properly).
Lately, I checked out the prices at a nearby hawker centre. SGD60 per kilo. I was so stunned that I started walking sideways!
Situated along the main road in Air Itam town, Pulau Pinang, just a little distance from the wet market is an unassuming shelter that houses what I call a true UN Heritage Class food legend.
Yes, the Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee stall. The two sisters, Mdm Lim Kooi Heang (87) and Mdm Lim Kooi Lye (85) have been in this business since 1947 – that is an amazing span of 72 years !
It is tough work – getting up at 4.30am each day to prepare the soup base and the ingredients, and to get ready for business by 7am. We salute these two Kakak for their indefatigable spirit.
As age creeps up with the march of time, we wish them more years of good health. Curry On ! More years of yummylicious Mee or My Fun (Cantonese for beehoon) for the customers
In the old days, having a baby delivered in a hospital was somewhat of a luxury, which the kampong folks could not afford, or maybe had a prejudice against.
Thus, the services of a “Bidan” or midwife were highly sought after. In my kampong at Bagan Ajam, Butterworth, there was my neighbour Aunty Bidan. She must have had a very busy schedule, as many of the couples back then had at least half-a-dozen children.
In fact, two of my cousins were helped out into this world by her skillful, loving hands. No storks needed.
Aunty Bidan (she was a Mrs Tan) had also the distinction of being one of the two persons in the village to own a car (I think it was a Simca) and a telephone (which she graciously ‘shared’ with all her neighbours). I still remember that 5-digit number.
It has been years since I last ate one “kee chang” (碱水粽) and decades since the last occasion when we made them ourselves.
Back then, we had to sort out the glutinous rice first. For some unknown reason, the “pulut” rice was always adulterated with perhaps up to 10% of ordinary rice. Maybe glutinous rice was much more expensive then, so the rice millers tried to make some unethical gains.
The family would gather around the dinner table, and painstakingly pick out the unwanted grains with a “lidi” (wooden skewer made from the spine of coconut leaves). But all that labour of love and rice discrimination was sumptuously rewarded whenever a piece of the cooked alkaline dumpling was opened and lo, before our eyes, was that glorious orangey-brown near-translucent bouncy pyramid of chewy temptation.
Reading of newspapers began when I was 10 years old – The Straits Echo first, then later The Straits Times.
I was awestruck by the old English font used for the header on the front pages. It looked so artistic and stylish – especially the graceful embellishments on capitals. In the years that followed, I managed to gather the complete set of alphabets in both upper and lower cases.
I even got myself a “manuscript” pen so that I could emulate these fonts with my own hand. That went on for years. Notably, after wrapping my textbooks in brown paper, I would write the names of those books in this old English font.
Oh yes, one of my favourite pieces of handiwork was a reproduction of the popular poem “Desiderata”, which drew a lot of attention from my peers.