Thursday 1 February 2018

Good Old Days of the Sixties.

Skipping with a rope all day long.

The sixties was a time of great change and excitement, and I was fortunate enough to experience it as a country teenager. Looking back, I wish I could press the pause button of my life and rewind it to the Good Old Days 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 of our village and rear them for a "fish-fighting" session with my friends' catch. 

I catch spiders too from the hibiscus bushes in my neighbor'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 nail.

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 for 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's kite by pulling and letting go the strings to exert the 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 the reverse.

Young kite runners were aplenty with long poles and their eyes were 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, and 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 a catapult made from guava tree branches for pleasure and with adults, I trap wild boars with shape bamboo spikes in 6 feet deep pits for sale 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 comics, storybooks and magazines for 5 cents a piece, some of which I never return to the owner.

F&N orange juice in glass bottles 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 celebrations.

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

To pass a theory test, we need to memorize 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 traveling 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 ban us from their stall.

We bought Pakistanis bread from KK the Indian breadman who paddled his bicycle around the neighborhood 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 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 people, or I would sneaked in with adults pretending to be their kids, without paying.

The 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 I first time dancing with a girl at a friend's birthday party, my heart nearly froze; my heart went boom…boom….boom. At the 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, and shaved ice with syrups, and diabetes was 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 streams. 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, and 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.

In conclusion, the sixties was a unique and unforgettable period, and I feel lucky to have experienced it. The memories of catching fighting fish, trapping giant black ants, and kite fighting are just a few examples of the


Anonymous said...

A youngster asked his grandfather "Grandpa! How did you people live before with:

No technology
No aeroplanes
No internet
No computers
No dramas
No TVs
No aircons
No cars
No mobile phones?"

Granddad replied:
"Just like how your generation live today

No prayers
No compassion
No honor
No respect
No character
No shame
No modesty"

We, the people born between 1950-1970 are the blessed ones...
Our life is living proof.

While playing and riding bicycles, we never wore helmets.

After school, we played until dusk; we never watched TV.

We played with real friends, not internet friends.

If we ever felt thirsty, we drank tap water not bottled water.

We never got ill sharing the same glass of juice with four friends.

We never gained weight eating plates of rice everyday.

Nothing happened to our feet despite roaming barefoot.

We never used any supplements to keep ourselves healthy.

We used to create our own toys and play with those.

Our parents were not rich. They gave love.. not worldly materials.

We never had cellphones, DVDs, play station, XBox, video games, personal computers, internet, chat - but we had real friends.

We visited our friend's home uninvited and enjoyed food with them.

Relatives lived close by so family time was enjoyed.

We may have been in black and white photos but you can find colourful memories in those photos.

We are a unique and the most understanding generation, because *we are the last generation who listened to their parents*....
and also the first who have had to listen to their children

concerned citizen said...

Hello Mr James, wishing you a happy lunar new year. i found a relief job with a comfort hirer. will start driving in March.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Concerned Citizen,

Happy to hear that you'll be driving with Comfort in March.
I wish I could do the same.

Anyway, wishing you and your family,

"A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous
Lunar New Year of the Dog"

James Lim

Anonymous said...

Thank u! These are lovely memories.