At the end of Standard One in 1962, my kampong neighbour and good friend, Mike, came over and asked me if I could pass on all my textbooks to him (he was one year my junior).
Well, we were all poorer than church mice then. However, the good old neighbourliness spirit kicked in, and gladly I passed him my early childhood inheritance (with full approval of my parents).
One good turn deserved another. After Mike finished his Standard One, he passed “his” textbooks to his younger sister (one year his junior), and lo after she was done, she returned the entire heirloom to my own younger sister. Of course by that time, many dogs had left their ears on many of the pages, with an occasional paw print here and there.
This Re-use and Recycle practice went on for several years
Flashback some three score years, when I started to received kiddie lessons in rudimentary English. Back then, there were no nursery or kindergarten classes. So my late mum – with her very limited knowledge of the language – took it upon herself to each me the A,B,Cs..and slightly beyond.
I remember most clearly a textbook called “The Oxford English Course For Malaya”. The opening pages showed a man and a pan. And so off we went ranting : “A man; a pan; a man and a pan; a pan and a man”.
Alas, I cannot remember anything past these items. It would be nice to get hold of a copy of that vintage book. As a consolation, I went to Google, downloaded some old photos, and re-created the cover with Adobe PS, printed it out and pasted it on a dummy book.
These little booklets evoke a lot of nostalgia for the older folks amongst us. Have you ever wondered how the notation “555” came into existence?
These gained notoriety as “buku hutang” – a sort of credit booklet which villagers used to chalk up their debts as they bought household items and food on credit from the kedai runcit (sundry shops). The idea was to pay up lump sum at the end of each month when they debtors got their gaji (wages).
Unfortunately, this practice often became an insidious debt-trap, as it encouraged a “buy-now-worry-about-paying-later” mindset. Thus, for quite a number of folks, it became a Book of Woes.
Legend has it that the Chinese “victims” often looked inside these booklets and would cry aloud “wu wu wu” and, well that sounded like “555” in Mandarin. The rest is history.
And the Twain did meet ..
Mention the name Carnarvon Street (or ” lam chan na” 烂田仔, in Chinese, meaning “poor quality swampy fields”) and, am sure the old folks of Penang will remember that was the go-to place for Books/Stationery and, Coffins ! The street was lined on both sides with maybe two dozen bookshops and a dozen casket shops.
In my secondary school days, this street was my favorite haunt – of course I went only to see and buy the books and stationery, not those fabulous “longevity lumber” or “big houses” (Chinese euphemism for coffin). Well, I moved out of Penang in 1984, so no chance to patronize the latter business.
I have not undertaken a trip back to this place ever since moving out to Singapore in 1984. I think there must have been a lot of changes. People still die, but am not sure if people still read as much.