Keeping a bird in a cage was a very popular hobby among many of the menfolk in Malaysia in the kampongs and smaller towns in the olden days, and probably the hobby might have gone the way of the dodo in modern times – or so I thought.
I was surprised when I moved to Singapore in 1984 and saw that this pastime was very much flapping and alive. Even today, the government has allocated specific corners of HDB void decks, and playing fields for enthusiasts to hang up their feathered captives, and hear them sing (or maybe cry) and gossip about their unfeathered captors.
Oh yes, these birds are not cheap! The record price stands at S$96,000 for a super merbok that could out-croon anything with wings. So much truth in that age-old proverb !
That is what one gets when Robin, Batman & Superman got together for a wefie – in triumphant celebration of the immense power and allure of sporting underwear on the outside, augmented by a matching cape over the shoulders.
Red, Dark Blue, Green…you made your choice depending on what you wanted to do – taking off like a jet fighter, gliding down from tall buildings after nightfall, or simply chirping around happily. The power was unstoppable.
Those were the traditional, enduring superheroes of our youth days. We knew they were all fictional, but they were good for firing up the imagination of our impressionable young minds. But not to worry, we still wore our underwear inside, as we still do today.
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.