Category Archives: animal

“Tails I Lose, Tails I Gain” – So They Said

Looking back, the gecko (aka ‘lizard’/ ‘cicak’) might have been the strategy guru of modern-day also-ran “experts” who go around touting their “Win-Win” business plans.

During my kampong days (1950s~70s), lizards thrived and roamed freely in the house – on the walls, upside down on ceilings, and occasionally scurrying across the floor.  We normally observed a peaceful co-existence pact with them.  However, sometimes accidental skirmishes did occur.

Those little fellows usually made a quick escape, after leaving behind their twitching appendages to bewitch their “aggressors”.

As kids, we were very fascinated by those meaty tails abandoned by their ex-owners, as they wriggled for quite a while.  “How was that possible ?”

Of course, those hardy cicak which ran away like heroes, would gain new tails within days, and return to their favourite foraging haunts.

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”

Playing Chicken In The Bridal Chamber

Decades ago, it was a tradition among the Chinese to engage in fowl play as part of the wedding ceremony for a newly-married couple.

After the formalities were done at the groom’s place, the wedding party would go to the bride’s home for the rituals at the maternal side. Accompanying their return to their matrimonial home would be a rooster and a hen, which would then be released under the newly-weds’ nuptial bed.  If the rooster emerged first, that “augured” the first-born child would be a son, if the hen came out first, then a daughter.

In Chinese these are called 带路鸡  (or ‘chua lor kay’ in Penang Hokkien)

These days I believe most couples would chicken out at the prospect of having two live specimens foul up their love nest; don’t worry there are lots of mock ones available.

What’s Spook For The Goose Is Spook For The Gander

In the kampong days,  folks often reared chicken and ducks, and to a smaller extent, others like Muscovy ducks and geese.   The last of these were not to be trifled with.

Usually found sauntering around in groups, with their long necks held high and beaks pointed at 45 degrees upwards, they could be quickly provoked or startled and become fearsome Angry Birds.   Males and females were equally aggressive. They pecked and pinched with their strong beaks, causing painful blue-and-blacks and even severe bleeding.

Folklore has it that snakes are afraid of goose droppings — hence, geese were also kept to deter snakes (apart from snaky people) but it was also said that geese poo attracted centipedes.  In any case, all four are equally spooky – goose pimples forming even as I write !

Fly-By-Night Encounters

Up until the mid 1960s, there was no public lighting in our kampong.  It was pitch black after about 8pm at night.   The main road was about half-a-mile to our house.  We had to use a torchlight to find our way through.

So,when we had to come home late in the night, it was rather scary……maybe there were bad guys lying in wait, or unfriendly dogs running around…”  

But one of the more eerie sounds we often heard while our hearts went boom-bang-a-bang were the sudden “hoot-hoot-hoot” calls from somewhere above our heads.   Experience told us they came from the “cat-headed birds” – but we dared not look up….the thought of seeing two glowing eyes against a sinister silhouette already sent a chill up our spines.

That they were known as “Burung Hantu” in Malay did not help.

Killing Me Softly With His Salt

Aarrhhh !   Snails – those detestable slimy creatures.    In the kampong where I spent my childhood, these were everywhere.  Not contented with the freedom they had roaming in the open, they often made stealthy incursions into the house – leaving behind tell-tale tracks that shimmered against light.

Such flagrant violations of sovereignty of home space had to be decisively dealt with.

Upon sighting of these trails, we would track down the invaders and catch them, and put them into a pail.   Found guilty, they were sentenced to chemical execution using a handful of Sodium Chloride.   I thought I heard them sing, “Killing Me Softly With His Salt”…as they fizzled out and finally dissolved away.  Justice melodiously meted out!

But they never learned – and more kept coming, alas.  Very geram, so needed more garam.

What The Ducks Are These?

That is the red-faced question.

In my kiddo days, there was a breed of ducks which had red faces. We called them “Huan Arr” in Hokkien (or, barbarian ducks).  They were bigger and heavier than the regular “civilized” variety and, they could FLY !  So, we had to clip their wings to prevent unauthorized take-offs.

Folks said the meat of these ducks were “toxic” (in TCM terminology). A cross-breed between these barbarian ducks and regular ducks produced something called “Pua Chai Huan” (half vegetable barbarian)…and if I remember correctly, it was a delicacy.

I have not seen either the pedigree or the mix-blood type after I left my kampong in 1973.  Does anyone else have any recollection of these?

Some people call these “Manila ducks” – I have no clue as to its origins.  The Malay name is “Itek Serati“.  But the proper name seems to be “Muscovy Ducks”.