Established in 1906, Kek Seng Cafe at 382-384 Penang Road qualifies as one of the oldest icons of classic Penang Heritage. The nostalgic interior fittings and furniture, and even ceiling fans remain much like they were 6 decades ago.
In my kiddo days, once a month or two, my parents would take us to this cafe for a mini-feast. What I cherished most was their signature Ice Kacang — which had generous toppings of red beans, sweet corn, a scoop or two of ice cream, and an optional lump of colourful jelly.
My mum did not like the jelly. So, for her order, the kopi boy would shout towards the kitchen, “Tao Yong Mai Hua” (I suppose they meant Ice Kacang Minus Jelly). Those 4 words still ring in my ears!
Besides the ice kacang, there were other yummylicious temptations, such as popiah, lor bak, asam laksa, etc.
Haha, it was not corruption on the cheap!
Some 50+ years ago, this kind of coin-operated pedestal weighing machines was very popular in places like restaurants, the lobbies of cinemas, etc. AVERY was the market leader.
A visit to the cinemas would see us stepping up onto the base plate, and inserting a 20-sen coin into the slot at the upperside of the dial. A second later, the needle would rotate nicely, and indicate our weights. (in pounds; kg unheard of then).
It seemed the scale always showed favourable readings, as there were smiles all round when we stepped off the base plate.
These machines are rare relics now. Perhaps, it is no longer cool to have personal “body prosperity index” checked in public and, only to discover that the scales no longer tip in one’s favour. Blame fast food — maybe.
Relax! It is safe for you to read this story alone on a dark moonless night.
From the mid-1960s, many homes started replacing traditional wood and charcoal stoves with kerosene-fuelled stoves.
A simple metal handpump was commonly used to siphon kerosene fuel from the big 18-litre tin, into an intermediary bottle, before the final transfer to the “reservoir” on our kerosene stoves.
It was easy to use. Just had to dip the mainshaft into the liquid, and move that metallic rod in the middle up and down steadily, until the liquid came out from the nozzle. The motion had to be maintained to keep the flow going.
At home, I was usually assigned this rather boring duty; but I as did my job, the dreamy I imagined myself to be some future Oil Sheikh extracting his liquid gold.
Reminiscing the bygone days of film photography, when we could see the results of our shutter works only after the exposed film was sent to a studio lab, developed and prints made from it.
Previewing of shots on film was not possible, so we had to be judicious with our shooting. There was no second chance. Alas, sometimes, precious moments, or those super lovey-dovey poses we thought we had captured turned out to be boo-boos – ranging from the hilarious to the cringeworthy — with no recourse for correction. It seemed good old Murphy was well into photography too.
Digital photography changed the rules of the game. Bye, Murphy!
Today, with the pandemic proliferation of smartphones, everybody is shooting everything and everyone else on sight. If one is not happy with the results, “Shoot again,…, and again”. What a stark contrast!
Pampered kids of today have midget mounts with outrigger “training” wheels, but in our times, learning to ride a bicycle was inevitably a thrill-and-spill adventure on a huge “Grandpa” two-wheeler.
Grabbing the handle bar with the left hand, and the seat with the right arm, and right foot on the right pedal, one had to “half-push, half-pedal” to try and gain some speed. After some trial runs, one would venture to also lift the left foot, onto the left pedal, and secure that elusive balance. For a second or two, things got rolling,…and then gravity took over the game. C-R-A-S-H !!
A few bruises on the knees, elbows or palms perhaps, but no big deal. We picked up our machines, and off we went again. And there would be many falls before a bona fide ride was finally achieved.
Per my reckoning, blue denim jeans came onto the local fashion scene some time in the late 1960s. Soon it became the universal below-waist cover-up for every Ah Beng, Arun and Ali. The supposedly casual wear began turning up at every occasion, location and function.
The ladies were not spared this viral apparel infection too.
At my workplaces, even the managers and the managing directors wore denim jeans. Yes, everyone, with one notable exception – ie., this writer himself.
I have NEVER worn a pair of denim jeans in my entire life! “Don’t ask me why…how come I did not try…”
Perhaps, the thought of putting on some thick, canvas-like fabric, with a rugged weather-beaten appearance did not jive well with my personal grooming habits. More correctly, the thought never entered my mind.
My long-time dream of owning a German-made car came to fruition in 1998 – in the form of a 4-year old secondhand maroon-coloured VW Passat. Being in Singapore, I had paid S$76,000 for that SOB (“Son Of the Beetle”).
I loved the clean sleek design, and the feel of tight, precision Teutonic engineering. Driving it was sheer exhilaration. However, my joy was short-lived. Spare parts were extremely expensive.
Worse, after about 6 months, the auto gearbox malfunctioned – always jumping back from 4th to 2nd gear unexpectedly. The agent – Champion Motors – told me the fault could not be fixed, and I would need to fork out S$10,000 to buy a new gearbox!! So, I took the car to an outside mechanic who did a temporary fix – and then I sold it for S$60,000/= (the Asian currency crisis was in full swing then). Sob, sob.
Lately, I came across one nostalgic “primeval-looking” gadget at a barber’s shop – I believe the proper name is “Wave Clip”.
I remember hairdressers of old-time perm parlours used these to clip on bunches of hair on their customers’ heads, as part of the process to create wavy forms. Oh yes, my late Mum also had half-a-dozen of these in a drawer of her dressing table.
It seems that these awesome (and fearsome-looking) grippers have fallen out of fashion these days, and no modern lady wants to be even seen in possession of the GrabHair thingy.
By the way, when I was much younger, my barber too used such a clip to grab a chunk of my hair at the sides of my head, so that he could do a clean trim. Maybe that was due to my “back-comb” style.
In the rough-and-tumble kampong environment of our childhood days, falling down and getting lacerations on our knees, elbows and other parts of the body was part of life at play.
Back then, usually no one sought professional medical aid for these minor injuries. At most, an antiseptic wash with a solution of Dettol was used, followed by a few dabs of a Blue Lotion. (cannot remember now what its proper name was).
There was a van from the local hospital which visited our kampong once a week, and it liberally dispensed this Blue Lotion for treatment of all kinds of wounds.
However, this Blue Lotion did not seem to work for me. Instead, my wounded knee worsened, after applying the medicine. And I had to be taken to see a doctor, who applied a different kind of medicine – in an ointment form.
I was never a sportsman, not even the armchair variety. But I loved martial arts movies, in those younger days of testosterone rage.
Apart from Bruce Lee, I was also a fan of Chuck Norris (7 times US karate champion). Thus inspired by the latter’s movie – Good Guys Wear Black – I decided to join my factory’s Karate Club. Of course, the karategi was all white. And, as a newbie, I had to wear a white belt as well (but dreamt of the ultimate black belt).
There were the punches, the kicks, the blocks and, not forgetting the classical chop-chop. But I was a poor learner, almost causing my instructor to vomit blood (though I did not hit him).
One day, during a mock sparring session, I kept hitting my “opponent” below the belt, and my membership had to be chopped off.