The most common injuries were stepping on broken glass bottles. Apparently, there were quite a lot of broken bottles lying around. How they got there I have no idea. Kampong kids our time liked to run around bare-footed. So it was inevitable that we occasionally stepped on broken glass (as well as pig dung which was also in plentiful supply because we had a neighbour who reared pigs and let them roam around). When that happens, of course our mother would do the bandaging using gauze and iodine. Sometimes, she would grind a white tablet called ‘luk-kou-sum’ in Cantonese or 693, into a powder to apply to the wound together with yellow lotion. But I believe it was a kind of anti-bacterial medicine.
Occasionally we also stepped on thumb tacks when we walked around the house barefooted. How on earth could thumb tacks be lying around so that kids can step on them, you may wonder. Truth is; I am not sure. What I am sure about is the pain that it caused. My own suspicion is that, it had to do with the rugs that we used to cover the wooden floors in the house, and these were held down by thumb tacks.
We also had a couple of pretty serious accidents. Regrettably they all seemed to happen to my younger brother Chun Meng. There was this one occasion when my older brother Chun Seong and I were playing with an empty condensed milk can. I don’t know what got into our heads to play such a stupid game. We were tossing it back and forth when Meng happened to get into the line of fire. He suffered a nasty cut on head. The culprit who threw the can was not me.
An even more serious accident happened to him when Seong and I played with spears which we made from the spine of attap leaves. We sharpened one end and hurled them at pile of freshly plucked coconuts. If you look at the photographs that I posted in the earlier article on Our Kampong, you would have seen that there were lots of coconut trees in our kampong. Many of them actually belonged to us. Once or twice a year, buyers will come around with sharp scythes tied to long bamboo poles to harvest the coconuts. It really was an amazing sight. We liked to watch if the coconuts would fall the workers’ heads. The plucked coconuts were then stacked into a tidy pile of maybe a couple of hundred to await other workers to come and de-husk them.
This was another interesting process. It’s a bit hard to describe but I try. Basically, they embed a huge knife in the ground with the blade pointing upwards to about the groin height. The workers, wearing leather aprons will then slam a coconut into the blade and push the coconut downward and forward with both hands to remove the husk in one swift motion. This they repeated swiftly and with great skill until all the husk is removed. Subsequently a lorry will arrive to load up the de-husked coconuts. One guy is stationed on top of the lorry while his partner will toss the coconuts 2 at a time up to him, which he caught with practised ease. We kaypoh kids would stand around to help in the counting to make sure that we did not get cheated. Then they would pay our parents and drive off.
So there we were, Seong and I, throwing our sharp spears at the pile of freshly plucked coconuts, and our younger brother Meng was happily seated on top of the pile. Unfortunately, my elder brother’s aim was not so good (remember the tin can?) and his spear hit Meng on the left thigh. We will never forget the sight of the spear dangling from the poor kid’s thigh. Nowadays, we occasionally joke that if the spear had landed a couple of inches higher, today we would have 1 niece and 1 nephew less.
Another accident that took place at our house happened to our cousin Chee Keong. The guy was climbing up our guava tree to pluck guavas. Lost his footing and had a nasty fall. We learned a couple of lessons from his misfortune. One, we learned the meaning of the ‘chim’ word “dislocation” because he suffered a dislocated shoulder (or was it elbow?). We also learned what a cast looked like when he returned from hospital. Anyway, that accident did not prevent him from getting an econs degree and subsequently rising to become a top dog at PSA.
Finally let me tell you about the time my brother Chun Seong stepped on a rusty nail. One night, we decided to sneak out of the house, he and I, to follow some of the other kampong boys to catch crickets at a deserted house nearby. It was very dark, and we had to use torch lights to hunt for the insects. Suddenly he gave a yell, and on examination, we found that he had stepped on a rusty nail which penetrated right through his rubber slippers. We were in a dilemma because we did not dare to tell my mother for fear of getting a thrashing. Fortunately, there was a budding doctor in our midst. He told us to use the slippers to slap the sole of the foot to dissipate the ‘poison’; and then to bandage the wound with ‘ti tan heok’ or iron-nail leaves in Hokkien. I believe the correct name for the plant is (落地生根), you know the type where, if you toss a leaf to the ground, days later, many small plants will grow from the edge of the leaf. I don’t know which hospital the kid is now practicing in, but his treatment apparently worked, and today, my brother Chun Seong is happily enjoying his retirement in that beautiful country down under.
There were many other accidents here and there and most of us have the scars to prove it; but I have only selected a few of the most dramatic ones for mention here. Maybe my brothers, on reading this blog may be able to add some more details.
My brother Meng who suffered because of our stupidity with me
(holding the Kodak Brownie camera case)
My brother Seong, who can’t aim straight trying to light a fire-cracker. Behind him is our durian tree.