Saturday, 12 January 2019

A Beautiful Myanmar Girl And A Gay Guy.



It was yet another slow day in the first week of January and I had just started my morning shift when I was flagged down by a twenty something girl in front of a condo at Cashew Estate.

She was accompanied by an old man who looks much older than me in a wheelchair. So I popped the trunk and got out to help with the wheelchair.

The girl tried to dump the old man into the back seat as I loaded the wheelchair. Somehow, the old man had difficulties landing properly and I tried to help.

"It's ok, I can do it myself" mumbled the girl softly.

She sounded foreign and had two yellowish-white paste on her cheeks. She must be from Myanmar as it's a Burmese traditional custom for girls to apply the cosmetic paste on their cheeks to protect the skin from the sun and for beauty purposes.

"Where to, Madam", I asked expecting her to say the nearest hospital.

"Sentosa Casino". she replied casually.

Hah?  Why would an old man who looks like someone with dementia and in a wheelchair would wants to visit the casino at that early morning.

Maybe he's out to the casino to chase his children back home or maybe he enjoys gambling his saving before his days are up.

Whatever reason was none of my business.

After a while, I tried to make conversation with the girl.

"Hi,  Are you from Myanmar" I asked cordially.

She replied in halting English, "Yes, How did you know?

I said, "Your two patches on your face are tell tale signs. If you remove them, you look like a local Chinese girl with clear skin and beautiful eyes".

She shyly replied. "Thank you".

All these while, the old man sat motionlessly with blank eyes staring at the ceiling.

"Do you know the "ET of Myanmar", a very famous fortune teller" I asked after a short pause.

"Yes, I heard of her". she replied.

"I met her and had my fortune read. I also wrote about her in my blog". I said. (Link)

"Really. amazing" she exclaimed softly.

I couldn't control a burning question and asked "Why are you going to the casino at this early hour".

"Oh, my father runs a business there and I'm bringing my Ah Kong there to visit him" she replied nonchalantly in clear English.

All along, I thought the girl was a poor Myanmar maid working in rich Singapore like thousands of her race.

The English idiom " don't judge a book by its cover" is shockingly apt and put me to shame with my prejudice thoughts.

After I dropped them, I joined the "Q" inside the casino taxi rank.

It was a quiet Saturday morning and the ten taxis ahead of me was hardly moving.

I got out to stretch a bit.

A man came out from the taxi just ahead of me.

Shockingly, it was William Tan, my long time taxi buddy who used to drive the night shift.

"Hi, Bro....shock to see you here!". I screamed.

"Oh, my hirer's younger brother passed away and I had to drive the full shift". he explained.

"You mean, Peter Lim. He's about fifty, right. Why?". I asked in disbelief and was flummoxed into a split second silence.

I knew Peter since his youthful days as we were neighbors in the same village. He was a bachelor and a bit effeminate by nature.

"Don't tell others. He's gay and died of HIV". William said without batting an eye.

I don't know why, but it never occurred to me that Peter might be guy.

I heard that he likes women dress with its elaborate designs and secretly wears them behind close doors.

Occasionally, he was caught with with traces of lipstick and nail polish on his lips and fingers.

Women's clothing notwithstanding, I didn't think Peter was gay as he never made advances to anyone of his male friends I know or me.

Maybe he did with some strangers. That I'll never know.

Statistically, 80% of HIV diagnoses in New Zealand are among gay and bi-gay guys.

So, am I prejudiced against gay guys if I say they are more likely to die of HIV?

Whatever, Rest In Peace, My Friend!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

First Day Driving After A Long Break


I must confess that on 2nd January 2019, as I walked towards the car park to start my first taxi shift after a sixteen months break, I was edgy and excited like a rookie on the first day at work.

Every instruments in the taxi seem intimidating, the taxi fare meter, MDT, Grab & SMRT driver application.

Even starting the taxi takes a bit of time to rationalize how to do it as new technologies has revolutionize every operation from manual to digital technology.

I used SMRT Taxishare application on my smartphone to unlock and lock the taxi door instead of a conventional key and token.

I believe you know that we don't need a taxi driver to drive a cab nowadays. In fact, driver-less taxi is now available in Singapore. (Link)

Anyway, on my first day at work, I was hoping to start the day off on the lucky mode with no traffic summons, accidents free and meeting friendly customers. Unfortunately, some unanticipated issues spoiled my day. SMRT taxi's MDT is the spoiler.


Before, I touch on my of my first day and subsequent days of grievances, please let me briefly explain what's a MDT.

MDT (Mobile Data Terminal) is a computerized device used in public transit like taxis, buses, police cars, trucking fleet, to communicate with central dispatch office. It has a screen with keyboard to view and key-in information. In taxis, we can use it to view our day's earning, details of each trip and also set "BUSY", "Change Shift", "TAXI", "HIRED" at roof top lamp.

Now, when I key-in my ID and PIN onto the MDT to activate my account, it rejected my details and said "I'm not allowed to drive this taxi".

Calmly, I called up the SMRT hotline to report the issue and drove the taxi for the rest of the day with a non-working MDT.

Shockingly, the same and other MDT related problems persisted in the next four days with no solution in sight till now.

In 4 days (from 2/1 to 5/1), I drove 4 different SMRT Taxishare taxis.

Out of thes 4 taxis, 3 had MDT faults. This is ridiculous to say the least.

It seems that frequent SMRT Train breakdown and faults are spreading to SMRT's Taxis Link

In desperation, I emailed SMRT and highlighted my grief in SMRT Facebook Group.

1). To: SMRT HQ dated 4/1/2019

I would like to use this email to report the frequent breakdown of SMRT Taxi's MDT recently.

I started driving SMRT Taxishare two days ago on 2/1/2019 driving SHB545P.

At the beginning of my trip I could not login to my MDT because a message said " I cannot drive this taxi" or words to the effect.

A verbal report of my problem was immediately relied to a Mrs Maria and Mr. Ghouse at SMRT TaxiShare hotline.

As I had abundant of petrol in my taxi, I continued to drive till the end of my shift without cancellation but my advance booking of the same taxi for the next day was cancelled and a refund was affected in the same afternoon.

I proceeded to book another taxi for the next day after receiving the refund.

On the next day (3/1/2019), I drove another taxi SHC4693M and I had NO problem logging in to the MDT.

But today, when I started to drive a new taxi SHB1770Z, I encountered the same problem like the former SHB545P taxi. 

I could not login to may MDT because I'm not allowed to drive this taxi".

It seems like some taxi MDT cannot recognize my ID and Pin.

Your IT department is aware of this recurring problem because according to Mr. Ghouse, other drivers also had the same trouble. Why your IT has not solved the hitch yet and it's causing many drivers a lot of unnecessary inconveniences.

I hope whoever read this email would follow-up with the relevant people in your big organization to resolve this issue as I do not wish to face the same MDT login problem when I drive another taxi (SHB545P) on this coming Monday 7/1/2019.

If nothing is done and the problem still persists, I'll follow-up with your top management and resign from SMRT TaxiShare.

Anyway your rental is not cheap at about $81.00 for 9 hrs. (7am to 4pm Tuesday).

A simple acknowledgement of this email is much appreciated.

P/S. No acknowledgement was ever received.

2). To : SMRT Facebook Group dated 5/1/2019 

Today I drove another taxi (SHC4778C) and luckily I could login to the MDT without a hitch but after it run for 3 hours, the MDT hung. 

Tried resetting by pressing the tiny button behind the MDT many times, but the MDT continued in "Hung Mode". What can I do?, Nothing...Just be calm like someone here advised and continued to drive till end of trip.

Its sickening to drive with a faulty MDT. Why?. 

One problem is I can't set "Busy" and only have green "TAXI" shown at roof top. 

With a permanent Green “TAXI” showing at my roof top, some nasty people pointed their middle fingers at me when I moved off to a Grab booking job without picking them. Some even hid my taxi and shouted vulgarities at me.

Why do I have to suffer such abuses through no fault of mine but the faults of incompetent SMRT maintenance and IT teams that failed to provide an efficient system?

Needless to say, I had reported the issue at the end of my trip.


In 4 days, I drove 4 different taxis and 3 of these taxi had MDT problem. i.e. 75% of faulty MDT. 

This is ridiculous to say the least".

It seems SMRT Train frequent breakdowns and faults are spreading to SMRT Taxis.  Link

Anyway, SMRT Taxishare rental is NOT cheap at $81.00 for 9 hours.

In Sept 2017, the rental was only $67.20 for also 9 hours.

In 1.5 years, rental had gone up by 20%. This increase is mainly due to a compulsory car washing of $3.60/day and an optional insurance purchase of $7.20 for 9 hours ($0.80/hr).

For a normal relief taxi driver of most taxi companies, the rental for 12 hours is usually below $60.00.

Why pay an extra $20.00 a day?. Time to jump ship?

Not for me yet . I'm just 4 days into my new adventure with SMRT.

In an optimistic mood and enjoying this music video, I hope to see a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow....Cheers!!


Monday, 24 December 2018

Back to Work - Driving a Cab Again


2018 is coming to an end soon.

It's pretty scary to know how quickly time flies. 

The last time I wrote a post about my cab driving was in September 2017 - sixteen months ago. Wow...how time flies.

Some of my friends and readers have asked, " Are you all right".

"Are you still driving a cab?" they quickly added.

Well, I owe it to my concerned friends and readers to give an explanation and an update.

I stopped taxi driving in September last year because I felt my eyesight was not at its best.

Additionally, my taxi vocational license would expire three months later in December 2017, unless I validate it after passing a stringent medical examination conducted by a medical doctor and an occupational therapist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

In Singapore, a taxi driver can drive a cab till 75 years old but he/she must be certified medically fit upon reaching 70, 73 and 74 years old.

Last year, when I approached 70 years old, I had this lingering fear that I would fail my medical examination due to poor eyesight and was reluctance to waste my examination fee of $200.00.

My two adult children encouraged me to take a break and enjoy my retirement days in my twilight years.

Sadly, as most Singaporean would empathize, we live in the most expensive country in the world and costs of living is increasing relentlessly.

Our Government offers little help to the elderly poor and we had been indoctrinated since young to be self-reliance. They run this country like a corporation with policies that ensure the bottom line is always black and is absolutely adverse to social welfarism. 

Retirement is not a vocabulary in most working Singaporean dictionary unless you have a silver spoon.  

Somehow, I felt a compelling need to elaborate on this subject of Singapore elderly having to work to the grave and herein quote the following passages from a TOC's article: Singaporean - Speak Up. 

"Certainly, hardworking Singaporean do not expect an "free lunches" as they have already known that this PAP government doesn't give free stuff. So, many are prepared to work. 

However, the human body isn't made to last and when one gets old, his mind may be willing but his body will not. 

And indeed, many foreigners who visited Singapore for the first time would inevitably be shock to see many Singaporean elderly still working in their 70s or even 80s with hands and legs shaking collecting trolleys at airport, collecting cardboards from roadsides, collecting dishes at hawker centres, guarding condos or driving taxis 

In other words, Singaporeans literally have to work till they drop dead, even when their body is not willing. Elite civil servants, multi-million dollars PAP's MP and Minsters of course has no such problems since they are filthy rich with million dollar salary." 

Nonetheless, in my forty years of working life, I've never been out of work for more than six months. So with my children reassuring words to take my life easy and the circumstances then, I decided to take that dreadful plunge into a new world called retirement world. 

Since September 201, I've not work in any gainful jobs except for two days as a temporary delivery driver of moon-cakes for Hyatt Hotel and another two days in a tissue paper supplier. 

A common job option for people of my age is to become a security officer. One month into my retirement, I graduated with a license as a Security Officer but I never enter the trade. Why?. The twelve hours shift work is chilling and boring although the pay is reasonably good. Maybe I'll take up this job after 75 years old. 

Meanwhile, I ponder at other job options. 

"Hey, if you retire, how are you going to manage your daily expenses and time?". 

"Do you have a retirement plan?". 

Firstly and unfortunately, I've no much saving and no retirement plan but I'll simply manage my daily expenses carefully in this manner.

With a monthly few hundreds dollars from my CPF Life annuity and my two children allowances to me, I'll ensure that my expenses is within my budget of close to a thousand dollars.

To economize, I avoid hawker foods and cook most of my meals at home with portions for two days consumption. At "Giant SuperStore" I scavenge for "reduced to clear" stuff that are reasonably fresh and cheap. For example, a 2 kilograms duck would cost $6.00 and could provide 4 meals.

Generally, I spent about thirty percent of my money on food and the remaining seventy percent on utilities bills, conveyance charges, Medisafe contribution (compulsory for taxi drivers), phone, broadband and transport. At the end of a month, I usually end up with no saving. 

Surprisingly, I managed to give up smoking and saved $350 a month. This is a fifty years indulgence I had to drop out of financial necessity. 

How did I managed to quit smoking?. Honestly, It was extremely difficult in the beginning but the $350 saving was the strongest motivation. When my resolve weaken, I peeped at my "quitting jar" of saving. It has been two years since I quit smoking.

I buy only what I need and not what I want. With discipline, I can live frugally within my means. But I pray to God to let my old body stays strong and healthy to avoid astronomical medical bills. 

Now, with concerns of daily expenses out of the way, my greater predicament is how to spend my time meaningfully and joyfully at retirement. 

Beside an ascetic lifestyle, I believe if someone is cooped up at home with nothing to do, sooner than later, his/her mind will goes blank, bored and seriously depressed. 

I cringed at this eventuality. Therefore, I ventured into these home activities to keep myself physically and mentally occupied. 

- I started a corridor garden - Link : Gardening At Retirement.
My Corridor Garden of 150 plants
- Because of my poor eyesight, I do not read as much as I would like to. Instead, I spent about three hours at my computer reading newsletters, social media, forums, FB, and watching movies. 

- Leaning how to cook on YouTube. 

- Doing housekeeping and minor house improvements. 

- Sleeping a lot. Three hours afternoon nap and eight hours at night. I'm blessed with an ability to fall asleep easily at night in spite of having a long afternoon nap. Most elderly folks have difficulty in sleeping well, not me. 

 Aimlessly window shopping in malls. Hardly exercise and no socializing with friends. 

After sixteen months of mostly idling my time away with no income, it slowly drawn on me that these humdrum activities has to stop.

To me, retirement was no fun as I've to live from hand to mouth. 

There was always a little voice in the back of my head telling me  "you'll never be happy without work...get back to work driving a cab".

Two months ago, on a beautiful Sunday morning, I decided to walk into my neighborhood clinic to undergo a full medical examination as a first step to validate my taxi vocational licence. 

Michelle Obama's voice " Do not be afraid to Fail " rung in my ears as I entered the clinic. (watch YouTube video)
The young doctor has an angelic face with a benign smile. I explained the background and purpose of my visit and he was all ears to my causes. 

On the medical report which I've to submit to L.T.A. to renew my vocational licence, he wrote that I've green and red color deficiencies but I could clearly differential between red and green traffic lights. He certified me physically and mentally fit to drive vocationally. 

At the beginning of this month, I passed my occupational therapy examination at Tan Tock Seng Hospital albeit two tries at circuit driving. 

With these two critical huddles cleared, I validated my taxi vocational licence a week ago at LTA. My next medical examination will be in year 2020.

I'm now ready to get back to work - driving a cab again but at a leisurely pace with double extra care behind the stirring wheel. Even if I don't actually drive instantly, I can use my 
license as a back-up in case I'm dead broke.

I plan to join "SMRT Taxishare" that provides flexible rental scheme of minimum three hours rental per day at about $9.50 per hour. This scheme is most suitable for old man like me who drives few hours a day without being tired down with a permanent hire contract.  

Hopefully, when I start driving, I can maintain an active life for a few more years and do a bit more blogging of my exploits.

Now, having read what I've written, do you know the reasons why I'm getting back to work at ripe age of 72?.

Allow me to answer this question briefly and candidly in a few sentences, but you might want to read another of my blog posting written five and a half years ago on the same subject at "Why are you driving at 73?"

Briefly, my reasons are:-

- "Money Not Enough" to retire comfortably in this expensive country.

- Boredom quickly creeps in after initial "euphoria" of retirement and I lack ability to sustain interest in whatever I do in the long haul.

- Hate socializing and dubious companionship. Most so-called friends are at work, busy or uninterested to mingle. By nature, I appreciate solitude along with serenity in contemplation with a handful friends.  

In conclusion, back to work driving a cab again is the best choice in my dilemma.

Since now is Christmas eve, may I use this opportunity to wish you a "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" 



Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Story Time : A Story of Four Citizens.



Story Time...a story of four citizens.

1. Ah Kow from Penang is a Malaysian. He came to work in Singapore and became a permanent resident. After working in Singapore for decades, he collected his CPF SAVINGS and returned to Penang to retired comfortably in a bungalow with a Mercedes car.

2. Li Ning is a student from China who is sponsored by the Singapore Government to study in Singapore. From Zhongyi to the university, she received a living allowance and free education. After graduation, the Singapore government hired her and asked her to become a citizen. She refused, continued to work for five years, and then returned to China to find a higher-paying job (because of the sponsorship of Singapore, the English-speaking person was collecting her CPF savings).

3. John is a New Zealand (New Zealand) citizen. He was hired as an English teacher and obtained permanent residency three months later. He worked for ten years, collected his CPF SAVINGS and went home to buy a cottage and a Volvo car.

4. Toh Kia keng is a Singapore citizen who has been laid off before being a technician because the boss hired cheaper foreign talent. Then he became a taxi driver and found that he could not renew the taxi license unless he paid his CPF. When he was 55, he found that he could not withdraw his CPF savings. When he reached 65, he found that the CPF only used his own money to refund his $500 monthly living expenses. Then they told him that he had to pay medical insurance from November 1 this year or be put in prison.

Which government can treat its citizens in these unethical, immoral, illegal and abnormal ways? Who allowed them to do these evil acts?


Saturday, 4 August 2018

In My Twilight Years.

My Twilight Years
I’m now 73 but still young compared to Dr. Mahathir who is 93 and running Malaysia as the oldest Prime Minister in the world. But on second thought, it was only yesterday when I was 23.

You know. . . time has a way of moving swiftly and catching you unaware of the passing years.

It seems just yesterday I was young 23, and embarking on my new life. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where all the years went. 

I know that I lived them all. I have glimpses of how it was back then and of all my hopes and dreams. But, here it is... the twilight of my life and it catches me by surprise... How did I get here so fast? Where did the years go and where did my youth go?

I wonder if 50 years ago, at 23 when I first started working, what dreams I had for myself. At 23, I was strong, full of energy, with nothing but time and my imagination standing between me and the future.

I took night-classes hoping to qualify for university, wanted to travel the world as a sailor, or start my own business. Perhaps I figured working was a part-time endeavor, something to tide me over and help my mum. Perhaps I looked at all the other middle-aged men struggling at the desk or behind steering wheels and told myself, "I'll never let myself turn into that, God forbid!". 

Then I met a girl, got married, had one kid, then another, and suddenly all those doors closed. I had responsibilities, bills to pay, obligations to keep. All my dreams evaporated like my breath on a cold morning. And years later I looked in the mirror one morning. I saw my face staring back with the greying temples and the thinning hair and the dark circles my his eyes and I asked himself, "OMG, where did the last forty-five years went?"

Life can take a sudden turn and we've no control over it no matter how we monitor our health and safety. We all have only one shot at life and nobody knows when it will end. So, before it's too late, let's take stock of our life now. 

Unfortunately, for poorer Singaporean like taxi drivers, there's no much stock to talk about, when faced with escalating costs of living, scarcity of suitable jobs, no welfare, no money. 

To me, life was then a daily struggle to place three meals on the table, paying household & medical bills and keeping the roof above our head.

I remember well seeing older people through the years and thinking that those older people were years away from me and that winter was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like. 

But, now here it is...my friends are retired and getting grey... they move slower and I see an older person now. Some are in better and some in worse shape than me...but, I see the great change... Not like the ones that I remember who were young and vibrant..but, like me, their age is beginning to show and we are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we'd be.

Each day now, I find that just trying to squat and bending is tough.! And taking a nap is not a luxury anymore..it's mandatory, because if I don't on my own free will, I just fall asleep everywhere I sit!

And so...now I enter into this new season of my life..my twilight years, unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and ability to go and do things that I wish I had done but never did!

But, at least I know, that though the winter has come, and I'm not sure how long it will last... this I know, that when it's over on this earth...it's NOT over. A new adventure will begin somewhere. I don't know and I don't care!

Yes, I have regrets, many. There are things I wish I hadn't done...things I should have done, and done it in any way but indeed, there are many things I'm happy to have done. It's all in a lifetime.

So, if you're not in your winter yet...let me remind you, that it will be here faster than you think. So, whatever you would like to accomplish in your life please do it timely and NOW! Don't put things off too long!

Life goes by quickly. So, do what you can today, NOW! as you can never be sure whether this is your winter or not! 

You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life...so, live for today and say all the things that you want your loved ones to remember...and hope that they appreciate and love you for all the things that you have done for them in all the years past!

"Life" is a gift to you. The way you live your life is your gift to those who come after. Make it a fantastic one.

REMEMBER:....

"It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver."

LASTLY, consider the followings:

Today is the oldest you've ever been, yet the youngest you'll ever be, so - Enjoy This Day While It Lasts.

~Your kids are becoming you......

~Going out is good. Coming home is better!

~You forget names... But it's OK because other people forgot they even knew you!!!

~You realize you're never going to be really good at anything.... 

~The things you used to care to do, you no longer care to do, but you really do care that you don't care to do them anymore.

~You sleep better on a lounge chair with the TV blaring than in bed. It's called "pre-sleep".

~You miss the days when everything worked with just an "ON" and "OFF" switch..

~You tend to use more 4 letter words ... "what?"..." when?"... "what?"  "where?"

~Now that you can afford expensive jewelry - it's not safe to wear it anywhere.

~You notice everything they sell in stores is "sleeveless!?"

~What used to be freckles are now liver spots.

~Everybody whispers.

~You have 3 sizes of clothes in your closet.... 2 of which you will never wear.

~Empathy is few as we struggle with the fear of getting old but in the end we shall find peace and even a kind of happiness in caring.

~But Old is good in some things: Old Songs, Old movies and best of all..OLD FRIENDS!! 

It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of winter yours is or is going to be. Enjoy life before winter or enjoy the winter.

Enjoy your life while you can.

- Do not wait until you cannot even walk just to be sorry and regret.

-As long as you are able, visit places you wish to visit.

-When there is an opportunity, get together with old friends.
  The gathering is not just about eating.
  It’s just that there is no much time left.

-Money kept in the banks may not be really yours.
 When it’s time to spend, just spend.
 Treat yourself well as you are getting old.

-When you feel like eating, just eat.
  Eat often and more healthy food.
  Eat less often of unhealthy food but do not abstain from it totally.

-Treat sickness with optimism whether you are rich or poor.
  Everyone has to go through birth, aging, sickness, and death.
  Do not be afraid.
  Let the doctor handles your body.
  Let God handles your life.

-Our kids will make their own fortune.
  
-Look after four treasures.
  
  1ST, Your body.
  
  2ND. Your retirement fund.
  
  3TH. Your old companion, spouse.

   4TH. Your old friends.












Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Lunar New Year of the Dog - 2018


Soon after Christmas 2017, came New Year 2018 and now, Chinese Lunar New Year is just two days away.

Wow!, three festivals in two months. It must be a hectic month for both cabbies and revellers.

I'm not driving anymore but my buddy told me that JustGrab jobs were plentiful, with thousands of shoppers thronging the ubiquitous shopping malls and everywhere in Singapore. However, he lamented that it could have been better for him if not for the recent UberFlash that competed directly with JustGrab.

His JustGrab's booking had dropped a bit recently but he was not short of customers. But for how long? He hopes the status quo would not change too drastically but stabilises at an equivalence between Grab and Uber.

Now, how do I celebrate Chinese New Year?.

Briefly, like most Chinese Singaporean of my age, CNY to me is like an ordinary day. The halcyon days of joyful excitement, fun and frolic in celebrating CNY had long dissipated.

To me, it's now more a financial burden than anything else. Giving "any pow" (red envelopes filled with money) to unmarried juniors, buying goodies, decorative materials, new clothing and food for feasting, drill a big hole in my pocket. But I still pour money generously to prepare a lavish reunion dinner for my family on New Year Eve. 

I consider it's the most important event of the year, similar to a Christmas dinner.

Usually, my family will have a seafood steam-boat dinner with the more expensive items like abalone, lobster, oyster, scallops, crab and pomfret fish. If leftover of wine from last year feasting is available, I'll have a few glass of it with my grown up children and wife.


Before the big day, I cleaned up my flat, sweeping away all ill fortune and decorated it with red couplets in the popular theme of prosperity and happiness.

On the first day of CNY, I would visit my mother-in-law and close friends, followed by rounds of mahjong games with my taxi buddies till daybreak.

With both parents gone and being the eldest of 8 siblings, my siblings with spouses and offsprings would visit me on the second day of CNY. Though we hardly see each other on the other 365 days, they would surely pay me a visit on this day without fail.  This tradition of home visitings has been going on in our family for the last 30 years.

Like my reunion dinner, I splurge a sumptuous lunch and dinner for them. My sixty plus relatives would spend the whole day in my apartment, often creating a "ruckus", eating, KTV singing, watching movies and gambling. 

The joy in seeing my extended family tightly knit together and growing are worth more than the money I splurged for this occasion.

This visiting ritual is part of the Chinese culture similar to Malays and Indian culture. It's important to pass this tradition down to each generation and not to put it on the burner. 

Another Chinese tradition that should be promoted is the "Ching Ming" festival, (Remembrance of Ancestor Day), a day when the living pays their respect to the dead ancestors. It's an extension of the CNY visiting, albeit visiting the dead.

The only activity that I missed about CNY of today is the playing with firecrackers. 

As a teenager, I play the cheaper type of firecrackers that are bonded in a long roll with 2 or more extending out at each level.

I remember dislodging a single piece from the string and placing it under an open condensed milk tin. With one hand pressing hard on one ear and the other hand igniting the firecracker with a lighted joss stick timidly, the thrill and trepidation of a sudden explosion were beyond description. Upon exploding, the tin would fly high into the sky like a space capsule and falls back, crushing like a fallen.......tin.

As a naughty kid, I would indiscriminately throw a lighted firecracker at unsuspecting siblings or friends and ran away laughing at their fright.

Nowadays, I hear only fake noises of firecrackers from recordings and see dummy crackers serving as doorway decorations. These come nothing close to the real ones.

Firecrackers were banned in Singapore in 1967, due to many fire and fatal accidents. The joy that comes from playing with it was then gone forever and I felt privileged to have enjoyed the cheap thrills of good old days.

Nonetheless, some loving parents bring their family to neighbouring regions like Batam (Indonesia) and Johore (W.Malaysia) that allows playing of firecrackers to enjoy the thrills of a traditional CNY activity.

May I use this opportunity to wish all my Chinese readers,

"A Happy, Healthy and Prosperpous 
Lunar New Year of the Dog -  2018"

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Good Old Days of the Sixties.

Skipping with a rope all day long.
I wish I could press the pause button of my life and rewind it to the Good Old Days of the Sixties when "The Beatles" was my favourite rock band and Quah Kim Song was my beloved football player.

In the sixties, as a country teenager, I catch Siamese fighting fish from the hyacinth plant ponds at the end our village and rear them for "fish-fighting" session with my friends' catch. 

I catch spiders too from the hibiscus bushes in my neighbour's farms or the nearby forest without worries of Aedes mosquitoes or dengue fever. The worst disease one could get was a *lock jaw* caused by a rusty nails.

In school, I trap giant black ants from the holes in the ground of my school compound by getting the ants bit at a fresh grass stem and pull them out of the hole. Later, I arrange the ants to battle each other to their death.

Kite fighting was my favourite sport during the December school holiday when the monsoon wind was strong and gusty. I pound broken glass into powder and coat the string (thread) using horse glue. Only string tension is used to control the kite and the aim of a kite fight is to cut down an opponent kite with pulling and letting go the strings to exert right tension like a sword duel. The thrill of cutting down (defeating) an opponent's kite was like winning a 50 meters dash and losing was reverse.

Young kite runners were aplenty with long poles and their eyes fixed at the sky for a defeated, falling kite. Occasionally, I would join them and run with all my might over broken glass, nails, fences, drains, chasing dogs and dangerous traffic risking limbs, bones and life for a mere 10 cents kite.

In the beginning, I bought my kites from a young Teochew man at his run-down shed for 10 cents a piece. After a period at observing his method of making a kite, I made my own kite, albeit crude using resilient bamboo and old newspaper.

In the forest reserves, I shot birds with catapult made from guava tree branch for pleasure and with adults, I trap wild boars with shape bamboo spikes in 6 feet deep pits for sales in the wet market, denuded of all morality.

For those who could afford it, I remember goat milk was house delivered punctually by our affable and robust Mr KK Singh on his bicycle. He uses a stainless steel container, mounted at the back of his bike to hold the milk. And the container cap served as a funnel.

Old and scrawny Uncle Tan sells home-made light soy sauces at 10 cents per ladle full and will fill up your bottle at your doorstep, while energetic Uncle Lim will sharpen your kitchen knives or scissors, sitting on a wooden stool with grinding and sharpening tools.

Kacang puteh (peanuts) man came peddling, walking and balancing on his head 6 compartments of different types of peanuts and spicy fired pastries ... and sometimes I barter our old exercise books for a paper cone of kacang puteh.
A Kachang Puteh Man
At pasar malam (night market), I rented comic, storybooks and magazine for 5 cents a piece, some of which I never return to the owner.

F&N orange juice in glass bottle was served in wooden crates and displayed on tables during festivals like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, etc. Double Ace, 555 and Captain brands cigarettes were the crazes of the day and my parents favourite. 

Eating chicken or birthday cakes was rare and was a treat during festivals or church celebration.


Driving test was at Maxwell Road and driving license renewal was by pasting an additional slip at the back of a small red booklet.

To pass a theory test, we need to memorise only a few highway codes and correctly push toy cars on a wooden board with a traffic junction diagram.

A Travelling Barber

A crew cut haircut by the travelling Indian and Hokkien barber was only 30 cents, all the way to the top. Reason:- easy to dry when swimming in the stream, river or in the sea, mostly with no swimming trunks and completely naked.

M&M's was called Treets ...

We always carry a one dollar note at night in case we were stopped by corrupt police for not having tail lights on our bicycles.

Chor kway teow (fried noodles) was only 30 cents and some brought their own eggs. One roti prata (dough) without egg cost 15 cents and a goreng pisang (fried banana) for 5 cents.

We would buy only a piece of beef or chicken satay for 20 cents and finished the whole bowl of delicious gravy and another plate of union and cucumber for free. After a while, the old Malay satay man would chase us away and banned us from their stall.

We bought Pakistanis bread from KK the Indian bread man who paddled his bicycle around the neighbourhood with the familiar ringing sound.

At times we bought Cold Storage bread wrapped in waxed paper. Spread the bread with butter and kaya (sweet coconut paste), wrapped back with the same waxed paper and take to school.

On Sunday mornings, we listen to Ong Toh's Hokkien radio epic sword fighting Chinese stories and on Saturday nights *Top of the Pops* by DJ Patrick Teoh.

Saturday mornings, we entertained ourselves with cheap matinees, usually a cowboy or Greek mythology movies like Hercules at our village wooden cinema for 30 cents a ticket for children. 

Only on Chinese New Year, grandmother would give 50 cents for the night screening. Sometimes, one ticket admission for 2 persons or I would sneaked in with adults pretending to be their kids, without paying.

Iced ball was only 5 cents with half red sugar and black sugar. It cost 10 cents with additional red beans. 

Never talked or mixed with girls until Sec 4. Learned the waltz, cha-cha,  rhumba, foxtrot and offbeat cha-cha from a classmate's sister. 

When first time dancing with a girl at a friend's birthday party, my heart nearly froze; my heart went boom…boom….boom. At a start, I was sitting quietly at a corner waiting hopelessly for a girl to invite me to dance. She never comes until my friend pulled one to me. It was the only dance with a girl in my secondary school days.

The housemaid was never in our vocabulary. My mother cooked, cleaned, washed and took care of us at the same time while having a full-time job in a nearby shoe factory... singlehandedly. 

We took aspirin, candy floss, fizzy drinks, shaved ice with syrups and diabetes were rare. Salt added to Pepsi or Coke was a remedy for fever. Tonic water was taken at the first hint of malaria and we plastered our rusty nail cuts with chicken fats, not tetanus injection.

As children, we would ride with our parents on bicycles/ motorcycles for 2 or 3. Richer ones in cars with no seatbelts or airbags.

In a small shed (latrine), we shit into a bucket underneath or into a deep pit in the ground or into ponds or running stream. Our children will not know the danger of visiting the outdoor toilet at night nor jumping in fright when the night-soil man collected the bucket while we were still doing our business. 
A nigh soil man 
Toilet paper was torn up newspapers which we have to crumble first before using. White toilet paper or liquid soup was an unknown luxury.

Girls would play the five pebbles (stones) and boys would have an endless game with a ball (tennis ball best), and run like crazy for hours.

We caught guppies in drains/canals and when it rained, we swam there.

We ate salty, very sweet & oily foods, candies, bread and real butter and drank condensed milk coffee/ tea, but we weren't overweight because we ran and ran and cycled all day only returning home at sunset or when hungry.

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and we still continued the stunts. !!!

Most of us never had birthday parties till we were 21. Some don't even know what's so big about 21st birthday.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and just yelled for them. We don't have cell phones!

When our parents found out that we were caned in school, it's certain we would get another round of caning. Parents always sided with the teachers.

We were the last generation to know how to use logarithm tables and slide rulers.

AND I believe this pioneer generation produces the best parents because we remember the hard times.

Some parts of this blog post were from an unknow writer.




Monday, 22 January 2018

My Halcyon Days of Youth at Grandmother's Mandai Farm.

Rambutan and Chiku Fruit Tree.
I am a sentimental slob who loves to reminisce the memories of my halcyon days and frequently too now that I am in my twilight years.

During school holidays in the 60's, I roamed free like a butterfly in my maternal grandmother’s large farm in Mandai Village that is now part of Singapore Zoo.

I had cats, dogs, chickens and goats for companionship and the occasional rabbit for a pet. I especially took loving care of the white rabbit. However, one day the rabbit disappeared mysteriously and reappeared on the dinner table. My uncle had double-boiled it with herbs to pretentiously nourish my grandmother’s failing health.

Luckily, there were lots of other recreations for a young slob like me and I soon forgot about Bugs Bunny.

I love the acres of fruit tree garden that my grandmother took years to laboriously cultivate and nurture till her grandchildren were spoiled with choices and enjoyment.

We had several rambutan and mango trees and they fruited regularly. One of the few times I was canned, was when I climbed up the tree risking life, limb and my new clothes and stuffed myself silly with the barely ripe fruits. 

To make matter worse, my bottom was bitten red and swollen by the resident colony of red ants which saw my intrusion with great indignation.

The mulberry by the garden gate was a lot friendlier. Its low branches hung heavy with deep red and purple fruits and you didn't have to work very hard to pick up freshly fallen berries. The only setback was when I wiped my juice-stained hands on my clothes. 

I enjoyed playing with the leaves too, rolling them up into "cigar" and "smoking" them just like my uncle with his cheroots.

There were a few guava trees close to a "longkang" (small stream) that runs through the boundaries of my grandmother farm. Like any mischevious kids, I love to clamber up a particularly short and strong guava tree that has branches stretching over the stream and dive into the stream especially after a heavy thunderstorm when the stream is deepened with overflowing stormwater. That was how I acquired my secret diving skill and my elders never knew. 
Climbing a guava tree.
The guava trees also fruited regularly when small guava turn pink when ripe and become pungent and delicious.

I remember making a catapult out of "Y" shape branch of the guava tree and used it to shoot birds on the farm. My grandfather made walking sticks or "tongkat" out of the strong and hard-wood too. 

We had sugar cane in the backyard and the little bracket included both the green variety and the thicker purple canes. The cutting of the canes was an occasion to celebrate and the whole family would gather as a couple of fat, juicy stems were chopped down and stripped of their barks and leaves. 

We'd each get a generous stick and the chewing kept us quiet for a bit, eyes slowly glazing as we hit the sugar high. By the time we finished, our jaws would be tired and we would all need a bath to clean up the sticky drips. 

There was a huge chiku tree tucked to one of the two wells near the fence separating us and our neighbour. This chiku tree gave us delicious fruits in certain season and was sometimes the cause of dispute between my uncle and the neighbour. 

My asinine uncle objected to our neighbour savouring the chiku fruits that fell into their compound. My grandmother was more generous and would send them a basket of chiku fruits when we have more than we can devour. 

The delicious chiku fruits are round and brown with milk-coloured inside and shiny black seeds. My mother used to pluck the half-ripe fruits in her attempts to pre-empt and avoid quarrels with the neighbour. She would wrap them in the newspaper and placed in the bin of rice to ripen. 

The only fruit tree my grandmother refused to plant is the king of fruit...Durian Tree. Naively, I questioned her and she replied: "Son, the falling spiked durian could kill you"

Those halcyon days in my grandmother’s farm, they became the foundation of a life-long love and memory bank that kept me happy through those more sober times to come.
Guava and Mulberry Fruits Tree.