Monday, March 31, 2008

Seven ain’t too bad

I have never been very fit physically. In my active NS (national service) days, it was always a struggle just to pass my running tests by a tiny margin. In BMT we had the 5 km run and in section leaders we had the 10 km run.

Still I was quite consistent in maintaining an average fitness and never had serious problems with my IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) during my reservist days. Most times I was able to pass with a comfortable margin; but with much effort of course, I must add.

Why this sudden talk about fitness? Yesterday I was at the National Canoeing Championships at the MacRitchie Reservoir and saw some young kayakers doing their chin-ups in the very strange fashion that I used to do in my kampong days. At that time, my brothers and I liked to do our chin-ups on the horizontal cross bar of our door frame. Instead of pulling upwards till our chins crossed the bar, we would bend our heads forward so that the back of the neck touched the bar. I wonder if there is a name for this style of doing chin-ups.

By the way, how do you usually do your chin-ups? Is it with the palms facing inwards towards you or outwards? I have been told that facing inwards is easier, but I always found it more comfortable to do it with my palms facing forwards.

Recently we had a reunion with my ACS classmates of 1968. We all could remember the “Chin-up king” in our class, my friend Lim Hock Kheng. He could to do something like 15 to 20 chin-ups (sorry cannot remember exact figure) during the annual physical fitness test. What is more impressive is that today, at age 56, when most of us cannot even manage 1 chin-up, he could still do several (again, unfortunately I cannot remember the figure).

As for me, I was able to do 7 back then; which ain’t too bad right?

My Sec 3 & Sec 4 results

This photo taken about 5 years ago at the Kent Ridge Park shows me struggling like crazy to challenge my son at chin-ups. I think I won that day with 2 chin-ups. But today, it would be difficult to beat him. Being in the combined schools kayaking team, he can easily manage 30 at one go.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Old Beauties Quiz (1)

I am starting another round of quizzes which I think will probably interest only the men.

Below are photos of two beauties that used to grace our roads in the 70's. Now, of course, you can only see them in Malaysia. I took these photos in Ipoh in 2006. Can you identify them?

Answers (posted 29 March 2008)

As expected, the guys are better at this sort of things. The first one is a Ford Escort. I had the pleasure of seeing how they were manufactured at our own Ford Motors factory here in Singapore. Read my full story here. Below is another photo of the same car.

The second was a Fiat124. Here are a couple more photos.

So you can see that during my trips to Ipoh, while my wife is busy catching up with her sisters, and my kids are playing with their cousins, I roam the streets taking photos of Ipoh beauties. More to come!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Old Buildings Quiz No. 7

I have been quite busy this week and couldn’t find the time to write a proper blog. So I do the easy thing and post 2 pictures of old buildings for you guys to identify.

No. 1 should be easy. But I think No. 2 is a bit tough. I suspect even our Old Singapore expert, Peter, will have a hard time.

For those who are not so interested in old buildings, here’s another quiz.

Which road in Singapore was quite popularly known, at one time, as the Wall Street of Singapore?

(I have not heard that name being used for a long time, so I assume it’s no longer called by this name)

Answers (05 April 2008)

Photo number 2 is the Tanjong Gul Camp which was formerly 6th SIR. It is located along Pioneer Sector 2 right in the middle of an industrial estate. What a far cry from the ultra-ulu deserted outpost that I blogged about here. At that time, it was accessible only by a dirt track from Tuas Village. Judging from the fences and the barbed wires, I would guess that it's another drug rehabilitation centre ..... we seem to have a lot of those don't we? Sigh.

Below are more photos of the former Rex theatre. Looks like some kind of sleazy bar or night club.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Greasy kids’ stuff

Influenced by pop stars like Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, boys of my generation, who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, liked to spot ‘karli pok’ hairstyles. The hair is neatly combed into a curry puff shape and kept in place by hair cream. Often our hair was so greasy that ‘even a fly cannot land on it’.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Just look at the 1960s photo (right) of my friend Brian Mitchell and his 2 buddies. Don’t you just envy their cool ‘karli pok’ hairstyles.

Initially, the most popular brand of hair cream was Brylcreem. Practically every guy used it. It was white in colour and quite soft. You used your finger to dig out some from a circular container, dab it on your other palm, rub your palms together and then massage it onto your hair.

Later another brand came along. It was a Japanese brand known as Tancho. It was marketed aggressively and became quite popular. It was green in colour and much thicker than Brylcreem; a bit like the Tiger Balm ointment. It had a very nice fragrance.

The final product that came along and attempted to replace such hair creams was the Vitalis hair lotion. Greasy kids’ stuff was their tag line. I think it was quite effective and many of us switched to it.

Judging by the greasy look that young men spot nowadays, it looks like the fashion has gone 1 full circle. The ‘greasy kid’s stuff seems to be back in fashion.

But it no longer makes any difference for guys our generation ..... because we don’t have much turf to work on anyway (:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Our first kampong barber – Lam Chun Chew

(** this article was first posted on 9 June 2007)

My younger brother, Chun See wrote in one of his earliest articles about Our Kampong in Lorong Kinchir, off Lorong Chuan. He wrote about the barber who operated his shop across the road from our house. But Chun See was probably too young to remember that before this gentleman, there was another barber who operated in a cubicle inside a grocery shop (kek ai tiam in Hokkien) on our side of the road, just to the left of this photo.

This barber, who I addressed as Mr Low, was a short man with big round eyes with sharp eye-sight, rather skinny, but very talkative only losing his verbal skill to his thin, tall and skinny wife who always complained something. They had 2 sons and 1 daughter.

His special trade-mark was wax clearing of the ears, the job being done with deft skill, using a wax plastic scrapper, a thin reed-like loosener, and a chrome steel pincer to pick out pieces of stuffed waxes from his client’s ears, making the customer felt ‘shiok’ in the process. For safety reasons, a lighted bulb would be hung near the client’s head for the on-going task. This service had endeared many old kampong folks, including my father to this skilful barber. He had another skill that enabled him to clear sand or small particles which got in his customer’s eyes by accidents. I saw him on one occasion lift a guy’s eye-lit, picking out a sand particle using a chrome pincer deftly. While doing his job he would engage his client in small talk, usually on whose children did well or not in their studies. This was his pet topic, probably because his elder son did quite well in a Chinese language medium school (Catholic High).

His elder son, Ah Hoon was a good friend of mine. One day Ah Hoon fell sick with typhoid and the sickness persisted despite seeing many doctors. He became weaker by the day, face as pale as a white sheet of paper, thin as a stick, and not able to attend school for a long period of time. He was approaching death and both parents cried bitterly over him. By a stroke of good fortune, a new doctor was engaged to treat him and things took a turn for the better. The medicine worked well, and Ah Hoon slowly recovered to his. It brought great relief to his family. Chinese believes that patients possess good karmic relationship with certain doctors who are able to bring them good health. Ah Hoon’s parents certainly held on to this belief. Later on my friend went on to pass his senior middle three examination and subsequently got a job in the civil service. His father was so proud of his son that he would relate his son’s achievement to everyone, especially to his customers, as though his son had passed some high level imperial exam in ancient China.

In the late fifties luck smiled on barber Low. One day I saw him holding a piece of paper excitedly as he ran and leapt over a drain, announcing that he had touched big sweep, winning some ten thousand dollars, which was a big sum of money at that time. Now he felt that he should leave for a bigger and nicer place. Eventually he moved into another barber shop at Serangoon Road (3rd mile), opposite the present SCDF depot, with his younger son carrying on his trade. One day, I met Ah Hoon. He was no more with the civil service, and had become a successful renovation contractor.

Below are a couple of photos from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore showing a Chinese barber performing ear cleaning and his tools he used.

Check out a related post at here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Itinerant food vendors of yesteryears

Scenes like the one above were a common sight in the Singapore that I grew up in. (Photo taken in Ipoh last year). Today, of course you won't be able to see hawkers on mobile stalls like this anymore. Hence, reading YG’s recent post about the roving hawkers from his kampong days brought back some fond memories. In my kampong we too had such itinerant vendors who came around regularly to peddle their foodstuffs to the delight of us kampong kids. Let’s see how many I can recall.

1) Roti (bread)

This guy came around in a bicycle with a huge wooden box mounted on the back (see photo courtesy of Flickr member Justin.z). The bread he sold was the traditional ‘chow tar’ roti with burnt top. You can still find some places in Singapore selling such bread; for example here and here. He would slice off the burnt portions on the spot and if requested cut the loaf into thin slices for the customer. We used to enjoy watching him deftly slice the loaf of bread and marvel at how sharp his bread knife was.

He also sold home made kaya. Unlike the modern versions that come in plastic or glass jars, his kaya was packed in recycled tin cans with a circular piece of banana leaf covering the top. His kaya was brown in colour. I never saw green colour kaya in my kampong days.

Oh yes; the burnt portions were not discarded but used to feed our dogs.

2) Ice cream

I think I blogged about this fellow before. He came around every afternoon, at around 2 o’clock. We would look out for the sound of his bell. He sold two types of ice cream. One was ice cream cut into rectangular blocks and sandwiched between 2 wafer biscuits. The other was two scoops of ice cream sandwiched between two small slices of bread.

Unusually one of us boys would take the orders from the other siblings and walk out to his tricycle along the main road, which was a dirt track, to do the purchase. Sometimes, on the way back, with both our hands full, we would encounter a passing car. We tried in vain to shield our precious ice cream from the cloud of yellow dust churned up by the passing vehicle.

3) Ham Chim Pang

Another sound our young ears were well tuned to was this cry; “Ham chim pang … pak tong koeeee…” We liked to imitate his cry, especially the way he dragged the last word. I guess there is no need for me to explain what this chap was selling to local readers. For oversea friends like Tom and Brian, it’s quite difficult to visualize anyway if you have never seen it before.

4) Nonya Kueh

There was also an Indian boy who came around, also in the afternoons, to sell home made nonya kuehs. I think I blogged about this Bartley School boy here where I described how we became friends with him and often exchanged stamps with him. The kueh I remember best from him was a banana kueh (photo on right is not banana kueh).

5) Yong Tau Hoo

I finally I come to the most amazing of the itinerant hawkers of all – the yong tau hoo seller. He was a young man who stayed not far from our house on a hillside. He did not come around in a vehicle but carried the load on his shoulders like what you see in this photo of a satay seller. Among the many things stuffed into his tiny 'stall' were a huge pot of soup, stove (and presumeably, charcoal), ingredients, bowls and utensils.

I remember how he would come to the front of our house, took the various orders and then proceeded to cook the yong tau hoo on the spot. Often he would take the opportunity to top up the soup by adding some water from our well. My siblings and I often found ourselves admiring this guy for his strength.

Besides the five vendors I have described above they were others; but I cannot recall much. For example, we had the popular tick-tock mee and an Indian guy who sold putu mayam. Although I don’t remember much about him, I enjoyed his putu mayam tremendously. Nowadays, when I get the chance, I would still like to order this item from the coffee shop near my house at Sixth Avenue; but somehow it doesn’t taste as nice as the ones from my kampong.

And even as I try to recall all the wonderful stuff that we ate in our kampong days, I simply cannot figure out how we were able to eat so much snacks in the afternoons!

For the benefit of Tom and other British friends, here is a photo of the Pak Tong Koe (白糖糕 for the younger Singaporeans who may not know) I mentioned. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any ham chim pang at the place where I took my lunch today. Maybe another time.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The correct term is ‘Living in Sin’

I just read something really stupid and irresponsible in the Today newspaper. Peter H L Lim, a prominent and respected member of society actually wrote a lengthy article in praise of women who live in sin with other people’s husbands.

Titled, Mistress? Me? No, I’m Ms, the article traces the progress that modern women of Singapore have made over the years. In his parents’ time, a woman who secretly lives with a married man is called a mistress. Today, such a woman is financially independent and does not need the man’s money, only his company whenever she can get it - that is when he is able to steal away from his wife and children.

He concluded his article with these words:

“Such women also symbolize the progress the female sex has made with their financial independence, their freedom of choice – and their self-esteem according to their own values and preferences.

Yes, in case you have not noticed, I admire such women, as I admire all women anywhere who have come into their own despite the barriers that still exist for the female sex.”

Dear Sir, I have three simple questions for you.

1) Would you admire such a woman if you were her boy friend’s wife?
2) Would you admire such a woman if you were her boy friend’s son?
3) Would you admire such a woman if you were her boy friend?

You call it self-esteem, I call selfishness. For her own pleasure and enjoyment, she is prepared to bring misery to another woman and ruin the lives of innocent children.

You call it independence, I call it immorality. That’s why the dictionary has a name for such a life style; it’s called Living in Sin.

You call it progress, I call it depravity. In your mother's time, some women have no choice. But today's women?

You sounded as if such women have been discriminated against by society and somehow society has robbed them of their human rights. You salute them for overcoming such ‘barriers’.

Can you not see that such ‘barriers’ as you called them were created by civilized societies to protect women in the first place?
Here's the LINK to the article.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The first English song that I learned

To my more senior friends; can you remember the first English song that you learned? I am not referring to those nursery rhymes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep that they taught us in school. Well I can; and it’s a song from 46 years ago.

It was blogging about that feathered visitor earlier that reminded me of this English song that I learned in 1962. I was in primary 4 in Braddell Rise School. Kampong kids of that era do not listen to English songs. Other than a few nursery rhymes, we never sang English songs.

But my teacher at that time, Mr Chew liked to sing English songs. One day, he brought his guitar to class and taught us this song. Surprisingly, after 46 years, I can still remember the lyrics ….. well at least some parts of it.

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Did your lady friend, leave your nest again?
That is very sad, makes me feel so bad.
You can fly away, in the sky away.
You’re more lucky than me.


Wish that I were a yellow bird.
I’ll fly away with you.
But I am not a yellow bird,
So here I sit, nothing else to do.

The song was Yellow Bird. Have you heard it before? If not, you can listen to it here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

My theory of the Great Escape of Mas Selamat

By now I think even our friends in UK would have heard about Singapore's great embarrassment: the escape of the suspected Jemaah Islamiah terrorist from the Whitley Road detention centre. Having been bombarded by the news I cannot help coming up with my own theory. Heck, just for the fun of it, this is what I think.

I think very likely, he had help. This looks like a very well-planned 'Prison Break'. The people who helped him probably have knowledge of police procedures. So they anticipated what the police would do and that's why he was able to evade capture during the first day.

Any ex-National Service man would know that our uniformed personnel are very good in following SOPs - Standard Operating Procedures. All our contingency and emergency plans are preplanned and laid out in great detail. For example, when I first performed the battalion duty officer function, I had to familiarise myself with various operational plans for various disaster scenarios; such as a plane crash. Even though this was three decades ago, I think the operational style would still be the same. Thus it wouldn’t be difficult for Mas Selamat’s helpers to find out the kind of procedure the police will take once his escape was discovered.

Like YG, I think he would have headed for Bukit Brown cemetery, which is quite deserted. He would have met his accomplice there, changed into jogging gear and cross over Lornie Road and hide in the MacRitchie Nature Reserve which is linked to the Bt Timah nature reserve. Here there are plenty of places to hide, and where food and clothing can be left behind for him.

Hence, I don't understand why during the first few hours, the police concentrated their search in the Malcolm Road and the Dunearn Road areas. Afterall, in order to get to Malcolm Road, he has to cross a very busy Pan Island Expressway, one way or another. Could it be because they were worried that this guy would catch hold of some school kids from St Joseph's Institution or Singapore Chinese Girls School and used them as hostages?

If Mas Selamat had indeed escaped to MacRitchie Reservoir, it would be quite ironical. On the very same afternoon of his escape, I was at MacRitchie Reservoir, and I saw many police personnel and vehicles there for some kind sport event.