One reason why I enjoy driving in the countryside of Malaysia is that you can get to see a lot of fruit trees growing in the compounds of people’s homes. Recently, my family made a trip to Kukup, a fishing town on the South-Western tip of the state of Johor. It was rambutan season, and we saw many trees fruiting by the roadside. We also saw many roadside fruit stalls, and it reminded me of Singapore in the 50’s and 60’s.
A 1960's Photo of a roadside durian stall along Farrer Road, courtesy of Memories of Singapore
In our kampong, we used to have lots of fruit trees. Tree climbing was one of our favourite pastimes. Do you know which tree is best for climbing? The guava tree - because of it’s strong branches. We called the guava fruit ‘pak kia’ in Hokkien and ‘kai see kor’, (literally, chicken shit fruit) in Cantonese. We had 2 types of fruits; one with white and the other with pink flesh. The seeds of the guava fruit are extremely hard and indigestible. The result of eating them was that we tended to, as they put it so nicely in the army, ‘shit bricks’.
My naughty niece with a piece of toy shit
My favourite fruit from the kampong days was the soursop. Our tree was very fruitful and produced huge fruits which were much bigger and tastier that those you can buy in the market today. Soursops are quite costly these days, and many fruit vendors do not like to stock them because they ripened very quickly, and cannot be stored for long. Talking of the soursop tree always reminds me of the fat, green caterpillars that tended to breed on it. I think they are from some kind of moth.
Me (left, aged about 14 or 15) and my brother James and our dog Nappie sitting of a coconut tree trunk. Behind us is our soursop tree.
We too had a durian tree which I have already blogged about here.
Of course we also had a few rambutan trees. I remember my mum brought three saplings all the way back by train from a visit to her relatives in Kuala Lumpur on one occasion. Apparently these were special and did not grow to be very large. I had a godmother in the kampong. In her house, they had a tree which produced yellow colour rambutans. Besides that they also had star fruits.
Another fascinating tree was the coconut tree which I have also blogged about here. I recall climbing up a young coconut tree once. The young tree tended to be curved and quite easy to climb up. But climbing down was a totally different ball game; and I remember having a scary time doing that.
The coconut tree is also interesting because it had a huge root base. There was one occasion when we got people to chop down a full-grown coconut tree. To save money, we decided to dig up the tree stump ourselves. I remember what a tough job that was. All the 4 males in the family, except for my kid brother James, were involved, and I think it took us a whole day to complete the job. In the process, we saw many centipedes. Maybe that’s why the Hokkiens called the centipede ‘yar kang’. (yar as in coconut, kang – I don’t know what that means)
The husk of the coconut makes a very good fuel and can burn for a long time. My father taught me how to use it to produce burnt earth for our gardening purposes.
Apart from the above fruit trees, we also had pomeloes – small ones unlike those from Ipoh, Tambun. They had long, sharp, needle-like thorns. We also had water apples (in Cantonese we call sui yong) and of course, papayas.
…….. to be continued
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