|My Wooden Attap House.
The relatively big house had an elongated hall. The floors were compacted clay without cement but it was kept clean and smooth through regular sweeping and years of pounding from footsteps.
The two families cooked and ate independently in two separate kitchens adjacent to the main house.Water was drawn from a well in the compound for cooking, washing and drinking. For fire, my mother painstakingly collected and carried firewood from a forest ten kilometer away at Pierce Reservoir. Night lighting in the hall was from a pressure kerosene lamp and I studied under candle light in my Grandma's room.
Paying to study in an English language school was relatively uncommon in the 1960's. Fortunately, with discreet help from my Grandma’s sales of illicit “samsu” ( an alcoholic drink ) and room rental, I enjoyed an English education, unlike all my siblings who went to a free Chinese language village school. Why "discreet"?....to avoid envy and fearful quarrels with uncle and aunty.
|My zine roofed house.
Between my parents and my Grandmother, there was no question as to whom I admired and loved more. Through her sheer resourcefulness and saving from frugal living, my Grandma at almost 80 single-handedly paid for a complete renovation of the attap house into a cemented and zine roofed house 10 years later. Then, we had electricity but no piped water nor proper sanitary system. Bucket latrine was where we deposited our human wastes. A night soil collector would arrive regularly, usually at night to carry the buckets of nauseating excreta to a specially designed lorry for eventual disposal. A lazy night soil collector would often secretly dispose off his work into nearby drains.
Most villagers were poor but the children were happy and carefree with no class tests, tuition or dance/music classes. After school, the first thought we had was to play in the open. Maybe then I was just a kid without worldly and adult worries.
|Main Bukit Panjang Road in the 1960's
Now, please let me share with you my memories of Bukit Panjang Village in the sixties too. And to those who lived in Bukit Panjang Village at that time or is familiar with the place, maybe my recollections, experiences, thoughts, and anecdotes would rekindle your fond memories of yester-years.
A stone throw away in front of my house was a Malay kampong, a cluster of some 40 to 50 attap or zinc-roofed huts. Small in numbers but they had a relative big prayer house built in stilts with elevated wooden floors like all dwellings in the kampong. The raised floor helps to prevent damages from frequent flooding from a monsoon drain that runs along the village. As next-door neighbors, their loudspeaker calls for morning and evening prayers were my wake-up and dinner time calls. And the Malays children would secretly steal long beans, green peas and sweet corns from my Grandma's small vegetable garden.
|Bukit Panjang Police Station in the 1960's
In front of this timber merchant was the conspicuous Bukit Panjang Circle and the Police Station where the present 10 Miles Junction Malls stands. Once a month, the police station would screen a free movie in their compound for the villagers to mingle and enjoy. The station was headed by a Mr. Khosa (Superintendent of Police) who was the husband of my primary school form teacher. I remember he was sacked and jailed for involvement in running a "Chap Li-ki" (Two Number Lottery) in the village. Some short years later, many of my secondary school mates worked as a policeman in this station. Jobs were scared and becoming a policeman was the best option available.
Then, teachers would throw books or dusters at us when we were not attentive in class and pitched our thighs at their leisure. Canning was common and so was voluntary superannuation i.e. leaving school without completing the 6 years primary course.
We sung “God Save The Queen” in our morning assembly as Singapore was a British colony. During recess time, we drunk free powered milk from charity and our dental health was examined yearly through a mobile dental clinic.
Schooling was not mandatory and the social environment was not conducive for academic pursuit. Getting a job, trade or skill was paramount. Somehow I managed to creep into secondary level after two tries at "PSLE".
Directly across the Woodland Road of my primary school was the Bukit Paniang Child Welfare Clinic. Every child in our village passed through the maternity care of the nurses in this clinic. Our illiterate parents called the nurses...."Mi-si".... as they had difficulty pronouncing "Miss" in English. They were respected and feared as they would furiously reprimand our parents if they suspect a child had been neglected, abused or a medical instruction or appointment had been ignored. With high child mortality rate and as "insurance" at old age or extra hands at business and no TV, having 8 - 10 children in a family was the norm in those days.
With regard to the fearsome nurses, I remember the day when my mum came home with redden eyes after the nurses discovered cane marks on my younger brother arms and body. But she never learned nor reformed from that incident. Dad never bother us as he was always occupied with his opium addiction. Mum was our sole discipline master and corporal punishment was common in those days.
Part II coming soon.