Thursday, January 23, 2014

Retracing the Iceball Trail - Edmund Arozoo

Last month, I had the pleasure to meet with another 'new old friend'. He is Edmund Arozo. Like me, Edmund grew up in a kampong and we shared many common memories. Like me, he too received a 30-cts allowance a day during primary school to pay for bus fare and recess. He recalled how he sacrificed his bus fare home one day in order to enjoy an ice-ball; and walked the few km from school to home. Here is his story.

Your whole life flashes in front of you when you experience a near death moment. Memories come flashing back. Memories of all the good times and bad – and times that one had forgotten or chose to forget come back vividly. Having been in that position almost two years ago there is one strange memory that strangely stood out in my mind and often came back to me after that.

It takes me back fifty or more years ago when I was in primary school at the then Holy Innocents School (which later became Montfort School). Those were the days when the Ponggol Bus Company or aka the “Yellow Bus” Company serviced routes in the Serangoon and Ponggol District. My generation of users of this service would remember the wooden louver windows these buses had in those early days!

Well, the average daily “pocket money” for school kids our age then was 30 cents. 10 cents for bus fare to and from school, 10 cents for a plate of Char Kuay Teow or Mee Siam etc, 5 cents for a drink and 5 cents for Karchang Puteh or sweets.

On certain days after our morning school sessions when the urge for a “cool” after-school treat was high a group of us, living close to each other, would decide that if we walked home we could use the 5 cents saved to buy the refreshing “ice ball” – shaved ice shaped into a ball (like a snowball) and sweeten with various coloured sweeteners and a dash of evaporated milk. This was handmade and looking back was pretty unhygienic but it was a special treat for most of us to quench our thirst.

Well the walk from our school, which was next to the Church of the Nativity, back to our homes in Jalan Hock Chye, off Tampines Road, covered a distance of about a mile. We were usually hot, sweaty and thirsty by the time we reach the “kaka” (Muslim Indian) shop that sold iceballs. However walking the last few yards home sucking on an iceball was simply “heavenly” then.

I was in Singapore recently and a strange urge came over me – I wanted to walk the iceball trail again! (I did not think it was the progression of a second childhood coming on).

Well on 10th August 2012 I and my wife caught a bus from Upper Thompson Road to Houggang Central to do the trail. Sadly my old school is no more there but the Church of the Nativity is still there and that was my starting point. With camera in hand I recaptured memories of various roads and lorongs that were landmarks then. Fifty years has seen lots of improvement on what was then on a whole a rural environment. Some lanes like St Joseph’s Lane have gone but it was nostalgic to recap what was and still is present. Very few landmarks of old remain. I knew we were getting close to our destination on approaching Lim Ah Pin Road. By then we were thirsty and welcomed a cool soya bean drink at a shop opposite Lim Ah Pin Road before heading for Kovan MRT station. This station used to be the terminus for the STC bus company that ran services into town and other parts of the island in those days.

Sadly too Jalan Hock Chye is no more around, being replaced by Hougang Avenue 1. However other landmarks are still there to pinpoint precisely where we used to get our iceballs. The Kaka shop used to be directly in front of the start of Jalan Teliti which is still there; and where my old home used to be is where Block 230 now stands and diagonally across there was a small lane that is now the present Jalan Hock Chye.

Well fifty years on I am glad I still could do the ice ball trail again and to all the old Monfortians who did the walk with me then – life was very simple then but very much cherished. However no ice ball for me at the end of the walk this time – had to settle for an ice kachang as a substitute!

Related post: Iceballs


Lawrenz said...

For people of other ethnic groups, growing up in Awkang and Ponggol, a Teochew enclave, means most of them could speak the dialect fluently. I have an ex-colleague, an Eurasian, who was very fluent in Teochew. I am currently staying in Hougang and when I moved in in the early 80s, my newspaper vendor, who delivered the papers every morning, was an Indian and an ex-Awkang boy, and when he spoke to me in fluent Teochew, my jaws almost dropped. I am sure Edmund can speak the dialect very well too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lawrenz – yes when 30 plus of your classmates and the majority of your neighbours were Teochews you picked up the language pretty fast. Some of the mass sessions at the Nativity Church were also entirely in Teochew too!
I was fortunate to catch up with three of my Pri 1 classmates and a few old neighbours when I was in Singapore last Dec. I also had the privilege to get to meet and befriend Chun Seng, Jerome Lim and Hercules Lim. Old and new friendships that I will always cherish!

Lam Chun See said...

Yes, I can fully relate to Edmund's experience. In 2009, a primary classmate who had emigrated came back, and three of us went to explore our primary school. I blogged about that outing here. We were more fortunate than Edmund becos our school bldgs. still standing. But not for long though.

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry; here.

Lye Khuen Way said...

This ice ball thing also brought back sweet memories for me. Was in SJI then and did frequent the National Library nearby . There was this lone push cart stall selling Ice Kacang balls under a shady tree (banyan ?) between the Library and National Museum . Those were the days !

Lam Chun See said...

I don't remember this iceball push cart at library. But certainly remember the corner stall selling ice kachang; where you can see the bees hovering around the syrup. This was much later of course.

Hey I think the tree Khuen Way mentioned might still be there.