Sunday, August 20, 2006

Memories in a Tin Cup

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the book launch of The History of Changi at the Changi Museum and took home a tin cup as a souvenir. This tin cup looks just like the ones that folks used during my kampong days in the fifties. Whenever I accompanied my mother to visit our neighbours, they would serve us coffee using a tin cup such as this one, although at that time it looked bigger.


Tin cups or mugs were widely used by kampong folks. They came in an assortment of sizes and designs. I remember we had a neighbour who manufactured tofu in his house. We called him Tau Kua Kwan or Beancurd Kwan in Hokkien. Sometimes, we would buy soya milk from him using a big tin mug. He charged us only 10 cents per mug. Such tin mugs were valued household items. They were often used until the rims and corners got chipped and rusty.

When I grew up and joined the army, one of the first things they issued us recruits was a metal food tray and a gigantic mug. I remember telling myself, "Why on earth do we need such a huge mug?" Well, it didn't take long before I discovered that army trainees have a huge capacity for liquid and that the mug actually wasn't excessively big at all.

And that reminds me of a funny incident that happened in the OCS (Officer Cadet School) cookhouse. On certain days, they served us 'bandung', a drink made from rose syrup and evaporated milk, which the cook scooped from a gigantic tub. After a hard morning of training, the bandung tasted heavenly. Those of us who went to the cookhouse early and were in front of the queue would gulp down the first cup and refilled our mugs on the spot. Owing to our "kiasu-ness" (selfishness) those who came later found that the huge tub of bandung was fast depleting. So what did the cooks do? Simple. They turned on the tap and topped up the tub with a huge rubber hose!

And that reminds me of a tv advertisement of the 70's. At that time, our government was running a "Stop At Two" campaign to discourage couples from having too many babies. There was this advertisement where a family with many children rushed to the dining table to grab the snacks at meal time. A little girl was too slow; and when she reached the table, her older siblings had already grabbed every thing. The pathetic look on her face was unforgettable. "Two is enough. The more you have, the less they get." was the message. I think the advertising agency which produced that ad is the chief culprit for today's baby shortage problem in Singapore.

Stop At Two Poster

On a more serious note, I find that many people of my generation have developed a 'survival of the fittest', 'grab as much as you can' mentality. In today's climate of plenty, some of us who have difficulty discarding this 'kiasu' mentality ended up with a weight problem.

Please pardon me if you find that I am being too judgmental. It could well be a simple case of deferred gratification because it was not uncommon for kids to go to bed empty-stomach in those early days as you can see from this blog article (Block 13: Humble Beginnings). Consequently, many older Singaporeans have developed a habit of not letting food go to waste. Even in primary school, our children were taught this ancient Chinese poem.

悯农 (by 李绅)
Empathy for Farmers (by Li Shen)


Hoeing under the midday sun
Sweat dripping into the tilled soil
Do you know in a plate of rice

Every grain is yielded by such toil.

Source: Tang Poems Revisited;
Translated by Lien Wen Sze and Foo Check Woo,
EPB Publishers Pte Ltd


Victor said...

So I see that you were one of the stubborn ones who blatantly defied the gahmen's call then, huh?

This post is very appropriate - I just heard the PM's National Day rally in Mandarin live on TV. He just lamented about Singapore's low birth rate (yes, again).

If I am not mistaken, that tin mug is also called an enamelled mug. The inside colour of those I used when I was a kid was usually white. It should still be available today from traditional shops in Joo Chiat area.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, I got married in the mid-80s; by which time Spore already having the great graduate singles debate. By the time my no. 3 arrived, there were already some 'procreation incentives'.

iml said...

The latest trend. To tempt anyone into doing anything with "A free gift is yours if you answer a few simple Q " I was actually peeved when I heard it. I would have gladly done it if asked ernestly.

Chris Sim said...

And every grain matters, going by the National Day message by our PM last evening. How come you only got three? Hee.

Woa, from tin mug to "stopping at 2" to waste of food... you sure covered every nook and crany, Chun See. But that's what I love about your blog. It always evokes a sense of warmth and brings out the sentimental fools in us. In my NS days, there was no tin mug. In it place, we have the plastic kind.

Lam Chun See said...

IML: sorry .. cannot understand your comment leh.

iml said...

You wrote about:
'grab as much as you can' mentality' This statement still holds true till today. Anything that is free is a, must have.

Victor said...

Haha, did you really go to the book launch all because of the free mug, Chun See?

Lam Chun See said...

Not only free mug, plus free dinner and hefty discount on the book. What more can a KS guy ask for?

Lam Chun See said...

Regarding IML's point - like to share something. I was once offered some free cash to go with some trip by a telemarketeer. (frankly I wasn't listening carefully). When I said I was not interested, she totally could not accept it. She even got her boss to grill me to understand why anyone can be so stupid as to refuse free cash.

As for the marketing surveys, sometimes, I really pity them; especially for landed housing estates like mine. One guy, looking all sweaty and tired, told me he had tried more than 10 houses before somebody (me)agreed to be interviewed. Trouble is; these companies like to target the 'rich' areas; and so we have so many of them ringing your door bell on Sunday afternoons that it is really hard to be kind.

Chris Sim said...

About free stuff. I once drove my mum to maxwell food centre. Before I could even properly park my car, 2 men in a van stopped his vehicle in front of me and offered me a free hi-fi system. They said they got more stock then they could deliver and told me it was a hassle to return it to their company, and asked if I wanted them - FOC. Such strange and tall tale. There ought to be a catch. I told the men I was not interested. As if to tempt me further, he told me not to worry and assured me that those were not stolen goods. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I just parked my car and walked away. So, contrary to popular belief, not eveyone of us will take things that are so-called free.

Anonymous said...

Chun See/Victor

One of you should blog about those "free $$, free holidays and you won a car" incentives to attend a sales talk on time-sharing holidays. I attended one because of my wife - women got soft ears. I got thrown many insults until I put my foot down by making "dirty jokes" to stop them.

Anonymous said...

Someone called me on the phone sometime back informing me that I won a free trip to Europe. In order to claim that prize, I have to attend a presentaion for at least 90 minutes with my wife. I told him to donate the prize under his name to whoever he wished....he then slammed down the phone... what does that tell you????

Anonymous said...

There is a Cantonese saying which explains that if a person lives to a hundred years old he could still experience new and funny things happening every day. Take for example when I took breakfast in an AMK coffee shop a hunchback middle age man (stranger) would come and sit opposite me staring at me while I was eating, meaning that I should pay him to go away. Another dirty looking man who go round coffee shops (AMK) harassing customers and would go away only when gets paid something or getting free cigarettes from the shop owners. The funny thing I notice is that these two fellows never harass tough-looking coffee shop owners or customers. The law of the jungle still applies.

Victor said...

Peter, I've already done one in Feb this year here. The post is quite long but you should not miss the portion of the text in blue near the end where I threw insults back at them for you, hehe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Victor. I believe that's the same company at Shaw House. Rcently I read in the newspaper that this company was singled out as the biggest culprit on CASE list. The cheek of it all was I won a prize after opening a combination lock safe. But here's the catch,; you need to send a check to the firm to cover postage and delivery to hour house. No cheap: think it was S$84.00++

I am never a sucker for these things but I was free that day and to keep the wife happy, just went along with it.

On credit card, maybe somone could advise me. Recently MAS introduced the 5 Day Week check clearing system. ON my due date which was a Friday, I "quick-checked" the payment to them. Imagine to my horror when next mont bill came, I was charged for Interest. I checked the fine prints but could not find a reason why they had to chrage me interest. So I called them up. YOu know what the Customer Hotline girl said: Becaus eof the new 5-Day Check Clearing, our bank could not clear the check and had to do it on the following Monday. As a result we had to charge you interest. This bank refused to budge until I say OK I report you to MAS and then they relented.

Can anyone tell me got such rules meh?

Victor said...

Peter, it's no surprise that the banks are always thinking up new ways to squeeze more money out of you. Yesterday, I received a letter from the bank to which I mortgaged my home. Wef 18 Sep 06, only 67% of my deposit with them can be used to offset the mortgage interest of the loan (it used to be 100%). There were several rounds of interest rate increase in recent months and yet the bank chose this time to slap me with one more big whammy. With this new measure, I have to cough up a couple of hundred bucks more each month just to cover the increase in interest charges brought about by their 'innovative' way of calculation. It is driving me to the brink of bankrupcy. Plain ridiculous.

Incidentally, this is the same bank that charges $5 if you settle your credit card bill over the counter. Their excuse is "to shorten queuing time" at the bank for other customers. I think this bank holds the dubious honour of being the only bank here to do such a thing. You should know which bank I am talking about.

Alan Heah said...

Dear Mr Lam,

I remember part of a Stop-at-2 TV advertisment that has unfortunately
burned permanently into my mind,
even after all these years.

A woman's voiceover keeps getting
recalled, "Two is enough. Call 538766
for more information on family

(Horrors: an even more partial Mandarin
version is just as loud inside my

Our late mother did take the advice,
stopping at my younger brother & me.

Now, it's "3 or more if you can afford
it". My wife & I are in our 30s,
trying for a 2nd one, and no success

We all know better now: once a
population starts having fewer kids,
it becomes very difficult to reverse