It was (and hope it still is) one of the most serene and beautiful places on Penang Island – The Air Itam Dam and Reservoir.
In the early 1980s, it was one of the favourite places that my GF (and now wife) and I loved to go there early on weekends, admiring the scenery (and each other) while soaking in the twin morning glories of fresh cool air and cozy gentle sunshine. Oh ! What A Feeling ! Those were most cherishable memories.
On most occasions, we drove via a small road through Air Itam village up to the Kek Lok Si Temple carpark, and then went on foot up the rather winding road to the dam.
After 1984, we only went back there once – in 2014. We were glad that much of the old scenery was still intact.
You needed not be a member of The Partridge Family to sing this out in celebration of the climactic thrill generated when the upgoing tram met the downcoming one, and passed each other at the mid-point of the funicular railway – with passengers on one car waving and hollering at those on the other track.
Yes, Penang Hill had always been a favourite destination for family outings. My first visit was made when I was around 5 years old.
Back then, the trams were of wooden construction and without airconditioning, but the natural ventilation was cool and refreshing, and the trams travelled at a tranquil, leisurely pace.
Sadly the trams today are too modern – fully enclosed, with aircon, and shoot up and down like express trains. To rub it in, the Middle Station has also been eliminated – sorry, can’t meet you halfway.
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 !
A big advantage of living in the kampong was that one could grow all kinds of fruits. Around our house then we had 4 papaya trees, of which 3 were prolific producers. (The sole barren one turned out to be a male tree, as we later learned).
My father used to put a dozen or two in a basket on the back carrier of his trusty Grandpa Bicycle, and pedalled all the way from Butterworth to Sia Boey Market on Penang Island to sell them.
Also, we would take along a couple of the fruits to our relatives and friends on the island when we went visiting. Haha, “buah tangan” in the very essence of the word.
These days, however, papayas have become ya ya in price. In Singapore, a sizeable one costs between SGD2.00 to SGD3.50.
In the 60s and 70s, when Adidas was mistaken for a mosquito breed, and before other so-called sports shoes stepped into the footwear scene, men took great pride in wearing leather shoes. Of these came a fashion – an essentially white-bodied leather ornamented with shiny black patches in strategic places.
In fact, as a kid and in my youth, I had worn through several such pairs. (My parents must have skipped many lunches to buy them).
Oh yes, one of my school principals was a dyed-in-the-leather fan of these shoes. Without fail, he would strut up and down outside the classrooms daily, making an unmistakeable B&W statement that he was serious with discipline in the school.
Of course views are different today – people prefer 50 shades of gray (or more), interspersed with a revolt of colours.
In the finest of tradition, they were slim and slender and ready to fall into the hands (not arms) of folks whose ears were itching for an excavation.
Enter the venerable Ear Wax Digger. In my kiddy days, we had a couple of these implements at home. I used to enjoy lying down with head on my late mum’s lap while she gently scraped the walls of my ear canals.
My ears did not yield much. However, I have seen cases of other folks whereby the diggers often struck the mother lode, with nuggets as big as half the size of a full-grown cockroach.
In those days, barbers also rendered this extraction service, but I never trusted their hands or eyesight. I think this practice has probably died out, as this form of mining has become unglamorous
My first encounter with this rather “upmarket” soap was probably in the 1970s. I vaguely remember that it had a unique fragrance that was unlike those from the other contemporary plebeian types like Lux or Palmolive.
Looking at the name, my initial reaction was “Hah!, someone spelled ‘Lather’ wrongly”. This was soap, wasn’t it? And “soap = bubbles = lather”. How can it be leather? Perhaps the maker was some thick-skinned member of aristocratic descent who did not know his spelling.
Quirky thoughts aside, I have not used this sabun for a long time. I hardly see any modern specimen on the shelves of supermarkets or kedai-kedai runcit or convenient stores.
Maybe the name is plainly too out of touch with modern aspirations, or other more attractive soapy enticements have lured away present day consumers.