Sunday, November 8, 2009

Break Time

Uncle_an is a bit too busy lately. Will only be able to post new stories by next week end. Watch out for the business of selling old 'kicap' bottles and beetle nuts...coming soon...:)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kacang Cendol after School

It is very hard to explain how much a cold sweet 'ais kacang cendol' was worth to us on the hot afternoons after school. I can only attempt to describe their real worth by relating our experiences and the sacrifices we were willing to make just for a 'mangkok' of 'angtau cendol'. Ooooh...they tasted soooo good!!

I think Kuching's 'angtau cendol' is the best in the world! Till today the 'angtau cendol' at open air market (no longer open air for a long long time now) and its 'offspring' outlets throughout Kuching is on the must visit list if I am in Kuching. I can still remember the name of one of several ice kacang stalls in Kuching - Chan Swee Kang. And of course there was the famous Ah keng, the guy that sell his 'ais kacang' on the tri-shaw in the kampongs.

The angtau cendol in Kuching is incomparable. The red beans that have swell to four or five times the normal size; are different from anywhere else that I know. And the green cendol, the dark almost luminous green cendol smells so sweet; unlike the light green so called cendol in KL. Of course the way the ice blocks were manually scrapped, before the advent of mechanization, were quite a major task. You can develop good strong arms by scrapping the ice daily. But mind you, handling the ice daily can take its toll on any human hand and you really do not want to pay too close an attention at the fingers of those cendol sellers. hehehe...

Imagine the kacang, cendol in a glass mangkok or ceramic bowl filled with very fine ice flaks and then came generous pourings of rose syrup, delicious gula apong syrup (not gula malacca mind you but 'gula apong' ok!), the 'air gula' and the creamy milk. The cendol man would use up one can of the creamy milk for not more then ten bowls of kacang cendol. No cutting corners here! Or you can have a choice of santan or coconut milk instead of the cream milk. Then the cute little spoons, plastic or ceramic, feeding the delicious concoctions to our hungry little mouths. On a hot humid afternoon day! Yummmy!!!

Of course we cannot forget the 'Special' - combination of jagung, pineapple cubes, red jelly strips, sago, green jelly cubes, etc. A bowl full of these colorful delicious stuff with the ice flaks, generous portions of cream milk that the cendol man would just pour round and round and round into the bowl. The rose syrup, air gula and maybe the gula apong too. The 'special' smells very sweet!! Yes, now I remember why, they would sprinkle some vanilla essence in the special if I am not mistaken. 

A bowl of angtau cendol, special or the kacang cincau would cost about 10 cents those days, equivalent to a one way bus fare on bus no 4B from Satok Suspension Bridge on the Matang side to Kampong Gita. Decision, Decision! Everyday we are faced with the decision - to get a comfortable 15 minutes bus ride home for the 2 miles from the bridge to the Kampong or enjoy a mangkok of delicious Kuching angtau cendol and walk 45 minutes the 2 miles on a hot dusty afternoon? Of course the cendol won every time.

After tucking in on the super cold, sweet, fragranced and creamy angtau cendol we would set foot on our journey home carry our heavy school bags over our shoulders. 

But never for long. Because there are 3 good old chaps who would cycle home from school every day. These guys deserve special mention! They are Akbar (now retired Professor Akbar), Hakim (now retired Marine Police boss) and Abang Abdillah Dtk Abang Othman ( now of the very senior Police officer in Sarawak). These three seniors would be cycling home and they would always take pity on the three 'cute' eurasian kids Piruz, Betty and me; walking home along the hot, dusty Matang Road. They never failed to stop and give us a ride home. 

It was not comfortable sitting on the bicylces' metal bars on the stony Matang Road for 2 miles on a hot dusty afternoon. The poor guys would be sweating profusely paddling their bicycles with the extra loads. We were chubby kids mind you. But they never complained and neither do we! We had our angtau cendol and we got our ride home, albeit not on comfortable bus 4B cushioned seats. These went on for several years to a point when we got too big or we got our own bicycles. 

Things do not always went our way though. Somedays these three good samaritans did not appear so it was a long hot and dusty walk home for us. Sometimes some other kids beat us to the ride but not very often.

I would like to say thank you to these three fine individuals who turned out to become accomplished gentlemen. And nothing beats Kuching's angtau cendol, special and kacang cincau!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Classmates and Teachers from Catholic Englsh Primary School

The Boys and Girls of Catholic English Primary School

Lawrence Chin, 
Robert Chin,
Mark Chin,
Cyril Moa,
Kho Khoon Haw,
Wilson Chao (younger brother of Johnson Chao)
Simon Heng (not Simon Ng)
James Kuo,
Vincent Toh,

Poh Kui Hua,
Annie Wong (I believed Annie Wong did not start from Primary 1, if I am not mistaken she joined later??)
Josephine Heng

The Teachers of Catholic English Primary School:

Sister Eulalia (who was the Principal before Sister Eulalia?)

Mr Lawrence Chong in Primary Four (I remember him because he confiscate by toy plane and canned me for playing in class) 

will update, add or amend as I get more names from the rest of the gang..

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Primary Prime Times - Sister Eulalia

At the beginning of each year in primary school my parents would be busy buying our school books. I would be busy asking them to buy diaries or note books. I was always ambitious and wanted to start my diary each year beginning with my new year resolution. But somehow I usually did not get beyond the first week and after a few years I just end up with setting new year resolutions only. 'Hot hot chicken shit only' they said. (Now resolutions also do not have...hmmm).

I wished I filled the diaries more diligently as they could have been a great source of information for this particular posting. But it was not meant to be so now I have to shake the old coconut to jolt my memories of all those years in Catholic English Primary School. This explains why so little will be written despite spending six great years there.

Maybe I will ask for some help from the Chin cousins, Cyril Moh and Kho Khoon How (who is now in Shanghai perfecting his kungfu moves). Or maybe I check with Annie Wong, who according to Robert Chin is now in Sibu. Wonder if she still have her pony tail.....I am amazed Robert Chin still keep track of her.....wink wink.

Even on my first week in school I already gravitated towards the playground where the senior boys, like my brother Piruz, were playing; either on the concrete basketball court in the center or on the surrounding grass area. Boys were running about everywhere playing 'bapau' on the grass and others playing rounders and basketball on the basket ball court. I was fascinated by the sight of so much shouting, running, throwing and dodging the tennis balls. Different groups playing simultaneously and I wandered right in their midst. Very nice!

Then suddenly..WHACK!!..I saw stars! Someone had thrown a wet tennis ball at full force right smack into my eye. I was momentarily stunned and everything around me froze for a second. Then as quickly as it happened everything continued where it all stop. A big boy picked the ball that had fallen near my feet and aimed at a running boy a few meters ahead of him. This time he missed and the ruckus continued and no one paid any attention to me.

I carried a red eye for a few hours after that but I felt good. I felt initiated and had unintentionally earned my first of many stripes on the playground of Catholic English Primary School. From then on I spent most of my recess times playing rounders on the basketball court.

Rounders is like baseball, played by two teams of about 5 or so players. We used half of the basketball court with the 4 corners serving as the bases. A tennis ball or a soft rubber ball (like the stress balls we have these days) were used for the game. The two team captains would 'kompeng' to decide which team will serve first. (Kompeng is the rock, scissor or paper challenge thingy).

Serving in the game of rounders is somewhat similar to serving in tennis, but instead of using the tennis racket we would use our bare fist to bat the ball. The terror players like Lawrence and yours trully would use our clasped fists while the not so terror players (I won't mention names here) will use their open palms to hit the ball.

The objective was to hit the ball as far as you can from the baseline, then start running towards the bases. You may stop at any of the bases or run all the way to the home base if you can. The opposing team's objective is to prevent you from reaching the bases by hitting you with the ball as you are running. If they hit you with the ball before you reach the base then you are out. And if they caught the ball that you served before it touched the ground then your whole team is out and they get to serve instead. Your opponent will try to whack you as hard as they can. On a bad day at rounders your school uniform would have several ball marks on it. On a good day you there will be no marks but you just go home 'bau boyak' (smell like crocodile).

To primary school boys like us, rounders was a game of skills, agility and wile. The great rounders players of Catholic English Primary School are highly respected. If only we had a hall of fame then. Batting without giving your opponent to catch the ball was an acquired skill. Running and dodging the ball and taking the risks with a cunning run required highly athletic abilities and the cunning players were the more successful ones. The Chin cousins were among the better and regular players. Robert Chin and Cyril Moh especially. And I am sure James Kuo, whom I was just reminded was also in Catholic English Primary School, also palyed with us. 

But as all great athletics and sportsmen would agree, you cannot escape from injury no matter how good you are. Rounders was played on the basketball court and its surface was rough cement!! Sliding on that surface was no way nearly as pleasant as Wayne Rooney sliding on the grass of a football field. We had plenty of scraped knees, elbows and palms. Our knee caps have plenty of stamps on them till today. I guess that explains why my knees are so weak these days.

Whenever we scraped our knees, elbows, etc we would go to the clerk and principal's office for treatment as that was where the first aid kit was kept. I remember sitting on the treatment chair or accompanying my friends for treatment. First she would pour a disinfecting solution in a kidney shaped metal bowl and with the use of a tweezer dipped a cotton ball in it before washing the exposed flesh on our knees. This part your knees would shake and your hands would be gripping hard on anything and your eyes wet with tears. Then she would put the yellow iodine solution and slapped a plaster over your knees. You will be out of action for at least a week.

But despite this, visiting the principal's office for treatment was not too bad either. The 'she' I mentioned above was usually our school principle. We had the gentlest and most caring principal in Sister Eulalia. She looked so angelic in her nun's robe and headgear and behind her glasses. I thought she was so 'cantik' and would have willingly put forward both my little palms to be canned by her with the old wooden yellow 12 inch ruler they used those days. But she never did.

Sister Eulalia must have had her hands full those years with so many active and naughty boys in school. We were always playing games such as 'bapau', marbles, rubber band, plastic chains, etc. However I cannot recall any of us fighting despite fierce competition on the playgrounds and in class.

I remember Lawrence Chin was always top in class and it was very rare indeed if he did not get the number one position. I think Cyril was the next smartest boy in class. By the way I think maybe perhaps Lawrence did not cry on the first day in school...hehehe. But he was always the best dressed, well starched and ironed uniform, tucked in nicely, hair well trimmed, side parting with just the right dose of Code 10. I remember his school shorts had sort of metal buckles on the side where he can adjust the fitting. Stylo milo! 

In class we were always trying to please the teachers, rubbing the blackboard, cleaning the dusters on the wall outside the classroom, sending the books to the teachers' room etc. Teasing the girls in class or teasing some poor boy with the girls was also good fun.

Almost every term my class teacher would remarked in my report card that I was playful, day dreamed a lot and should pay more attention in class. The teachers did not understand me; I was cheerful not playful; imaginative and visualizing my dreams not day dreaming. my kids will use that line with me now.

Did Lawrence Chin Cry on the 1st Day of School?

hehehe....I received the following email from Lawrence Chin (the smartest boy in class) in response to Cry Babies of Primary 1:

"When I looked at your blog and some of the events that others brought up in the StJoeForm5(1976) blog, I am amazed with the long term memory you and the others have. I have images of the past, but the details are extremely (and I mean extremely fuzzy).
But one detail that I know for sure -----
I DID NOT CRY ON MY FIRST DAY IN SCHOOL !!!! This record must be sealed in the history book.

Do you recall how we were all seated in Primary 1? Were we seated in rows and were we divided into groups and each group seated around a cluster of tables? If I recall, we were seated in rows, like the adult students!!!! ..... or am I mistaken? I cannot remember sitting in clusters at any time in my school life. But then my memory is also not too good .....

And Annie Wong was also known as 'an ji gu ni' I think She is so fair and "white" that she reminds us of the lady pictured in the condensed milk tin. Her parents operate the canteen next to the school and the Chin cousins have the pleasure of the fierce Annie Wong during and after school!

The tallest boy was Khoon How. And the tallest girl is Poh Kui Hua (or "Ah Hua"). She towers above all of us boys! And one of the naughtiest boys is Bernard, the small little guy. And who can forget our rounders......
Robert and Cyril Moa are among the best!


Anthony's remarks:

I am still not convinced about the not crying bit... hehehe..especially since my friend says his memory is not too good now, fuzzy... :) Any other witness from Primary 1?

If the brainiest boy in Catholic English Primary School is beginning to have fuzzy memories.... Aiyooo, what chance do ordinary chap like me have? :(

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cry Babies Of Primary 1

When I was six years old I was totally envious of Piruz and Betty. I watched them go to play school while I stayed home. PLAY school!! Can you believe their luck, they got to go to school to PLAY with other children while I stayed at home.

Each morning I would watch Betty and Piruz getting ready for school, showered, combed, dressed in very neat school uniforms and clean white shoes. I would wait for them to come home and after what seemed like forever, they would be back, completely dishevel, their uniforms soiled and shoes dirtied. They were sweaty and smelly too that mum would say '..bau boyak...' (smell like crocodile). At the time I wondered who would dare to get close enough to smell the crocodile.

They must have had so much fun and play at school to come back looking and smelling like that.

There were a few play schools - the one at the surau next door to ours, at the ‘balai raya’ next to Sekolah Gita, Cikgu Lily play school at Rubber Road that we knew as 'sekolah chicha (teacher) Lily'; the Nanyang Kindergarden, etc. There was a Cikgu Patong too. Anyway there were many choices of play schools and plenty of crying kids too I heard.

But I did not get to go to PLAY school. Instead I was pre-schooled at home by mum for primary 1. She was very protective over me (hehe..reminds me of Hassan Mak Lamah).

In January 1966 I finally went to primary 1 in Catholic English Primary School. The school uniform, the bata shoes and socks were ready one week before school started. I waited nervously for one week for school to start. Of course I tried the uniforms over and over again. I think they were light blue shirt and short with a red necktie. The bata shoes was white canvass with the green 'worm or noodle like' rubber sole. Dad also bought the round white chalk, wrapped in paper, for us to chalk our shoes while it was still wet after washing them.

Up very early at dawn and after a warm bath, mixing a kettle of boiling water with a bucket of cold tap water, I was ready in my school uniform which was so crisp from the starch that forced your body stiff and upright. It took me a while before I learn to fix the neck tie and the shoe laces myself. Dad gave up fixing my necktie that he bought the tie that I can just hooked to my collar.

Typically breakfast was bread with butter or planta and thick kopi susu instead of milo (to keep us awake mum said). The bread or 'roti paun' was the pineapple brand, baked at a particular shop in Green Road. Piruz and I can easily finish one whole loaf of bread between us if given the chance. My grandma used to say we can eat '...sampei becah perut...' and sometime she did not use the word 'eat' in our context but the phrase '...ngisik kedabang bubus...' I really do not know what language that was, 'terms of endearment' regarding our hearty appetite I am sure. hehehe...

Piruz, Betty and I would ride with dad on his bicycle from home to Satok wooden suspension bridge. It was a Raleigh of England and they were called 'basikal unta' or 'basikal gentleman'. Crossed the bridge and from there dad drove us to school in our white austin mini minor. The car had to be parked on the other side of the river as the bridge can only carry pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles. We would all help wiped the dews off the car every morning with old towels, the yellow or blue cotton cloth sold at Shell stations.

For a 7 year old on his first day to school, crossing the Satok suspension bridge stepping on the wooden planks was very nervy. There were big gaps between the planks all the way across the river, and some of the planks were loose. You can see the Sarawak river flowing right beneath your feet as you crossed the bridge. And the bridge would sway from the movement of so many people crossing the bridge at the same time.

Catholic English Primary School is at Green Road, a simple single story, L-shaped building. Its walls were made of concrete (up to three feet high) and wood; and the dark grey roof of belian shingles. There were only six class rooms (primary one to six), a teachers room, the joint clerk and principle's office. There was a cement corridor in front of the offices and the class rooms; where we usually lined up to enter class. The small canteen was separated from the school block.

On arrival at the school that day I was greeted by a riot of crying children, a chaotic scene of parents carrying book lists and buying school books and stationaries, teachers sorting out sitting arrangements and the bigger kids running around and greeting each other after the long school holidays. There was just so much noise!

Suddenly, my hands refused to listen to the macho me and started to grip my dad's hands tightly, clinging to his legs and trying to hide behind him. Dad brought me into this scary room full of sobbing children and their parents. Suddenly a bell began to ring deafeningly for a couple of minutes and the parents stood up and started to leave the room. This seemed to signal a spontaneous increase in the sobbing and crying to a crescendo of screams and wailings. It was no orchestra I assure you! It was pure mayhem.

But I did not cry. Really, I was that close to crying but held back the tears that was swelling in ever so slowly. Nope, the tears were held back. I can imagine my late, fearsome tatooed Iban and Scottish grandparents in 'cawats' and 'skirts'..oops...I mean kilts, scowling in heaven at the sight of me crying. you do not believe me.

I remember sitting in class on a small wooden chair behind an equally small desk while dad went to buy my books, colour pencils, school badge and other stationaries. Despite being surrounded by crying kids and adults standing by the door and the windows, I realized I was sitting next to a cute little girl who was not crying. Catholic English Primary School is a mix boys and girls school. There was no chance of me crying after that.

I also noticed a boy, who was bigger then the rest of us, teasing some of kids, making them cry even louder. The boy later became a very close friend of mine in primary school. Khoon Haw was taller then most of us, has thick straight hair that stood up, chubby smiling face, and always showing us his kung fu skills. We played sword fights with our bare arms and he was the champion! He was also my stamp collecting kaki. He definitely did not cry on the first day.

The Chin cousins - Lawrence, Mark and Robert, who lived right across the street from the school. We used to envy them going back home during recess and able to rush home to fetch books and stuff that they forgot. They were not only very good in their studies but were also very good 'rounders' players. Lawrence was the undisputed No 1 in class every term exam and was always the most neatly dressed boy in class. But did they cry on that first day in school? Hmmmm....maybe, maybe not...hehe

I could not remember the names of any of the girls in primary school except for one or two. There was Annie Wong, who I recognized was very pretty (hehehe), she had very fair skin, sharp features, and her pony tail. And Josephine Ng, who is the twin sister of Simon Ng, a very serious and studious girl in class.

By around 11am, dad came back to the classroom with the text books, writing books, drawing book, color pencils, etc. I did not have my school bag that day and had to help dad carry some of the stuff home. My first day in Catholic English Primary School came to an end, and boy was I glad to leave the crying room. I wondered when would all the playing begin because school did not seem like child play to me.

I was excited and cannot wait to be home to show mum my books, color pencils, etc. We reached the bridge, dad parked the car and off we go across the bridge. I was nervous and kept looking down at the river flowing below. Despite walking ever so carefully, I dropped my brand new box of color pencils and saw them spilling and dropping into the river below. I was on my knees on the planks, grappling to save them, my very first set of color pencils. But most of them fell into the river. I was barely seven years old, on my first day at school, smaller then Adam is now, distraught, crying and tugging on dad to do something. To get the boat that was by the river bank and recover my color pencils. I was crying uncontrollably. I cried all the way home and was so sad that I could not eat lunch.

Dad bought me a new set of color pencils the next day. This time I had all my stuff packed in my school bag, a green canvass sling bag with metal buckles.

Technically I did not cry on my first day in school; I cried on the Satok bridge..:)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hassan Mak Lamah

Hassan Mak Lamah was a really good boy who grew up to be a good chap. Hassan was a few years younger then me but we grew up together. He lived a couple of house away from us on Jalan Bunga Rose and looked up to us for advise on anything. Hehehe...bad news!

He was a lanky boy, genuinely a nice chap, hardly a bad bone in him and was very well brought up. Kudos to his mother, Mak Lamah, who was also a very nice lady. I remember Mak Lamah as a roundish, slightly overweight, elderly woman. She would move about in the kampung, hardly causing a stir, stopping by to chat with my grandma every now and then. Come to think of it she did seem to be on the street quite a bit; either going or coming from somewhere. I recalled her conversations were always pleasant. Despite our mischiefs I cannot think of a time when she ever complain to my grandma. 

Mak Lamah would spoil her only son to the maximum. She would buy him toys from Hap Joo almost every week - toy guns and sword, bags full of cowboy, indian and soldier toys, etc. She would send and fetch him to and from school every day till he was in primary six. The school was probably only 500 meters from her house! Every evening by 6pm Hassan would have been scrubbed and bathed, hair combed nicely, faced powdered 'macam tikus masuk dalam tepung', ready in his neatly ironed pajamas. He had all kinds of pajamas with cartoon  prints. 

Mak Lamah was very protective and strived to keep Hassan out of harms way. We used to jest that Mak Lamah would probably scold the pebbles on the street if Hassan accidently tripped himself on them. But he was a good boy.

I remember one morning Mak Lamah hurrying home from school, with an unconscious Hassan (still in school uniform - white shirt and blue shorts) over her shoulders. We found out later that Hassan had actually fainted when the school nurse was about to give him the BCG vaccination. He 'pengsan' at the sight of the needle. He then ran away from the school each time they tried to vaccinate him before he was finally vaccinated 3 attempts later.

Hassan loved playing with us which was just fine, especially with all the toys that he had. Every afternoon after school Hassan would hang around our house waiting while we finished our homeworks. My mother was very strict about that. We would not mess with our homework because she had a thin rotan that had purposely split into four at the end, which I can imagine it must be very painful.

We were mischievous kampung boys with lots of energy to expend and invariably had our share of troubles and tumbles. Despite Mak Lamah's attempt to keep Hassan out of harms way, he had his fair share. We all had scrapped knees, elbows, cuts and bruises to show for all our running around in the kampung. We would always had some form of medication on our knees or elbows. Hassan would usually have the non-stinging 'ubat biru' on his cuts while we would have the worst stinging 'ubat kuning' on ours.

There was one afternoon, when I, Hassan, Lingam and another chap, were running and chasing each other when Hassan took a tumble. He fell face down and sustained a small cut on his lips, which began to swell immediately. Poor Hassan was terrified and when he saw traces of blood on his hand he almost fainted out of fear. He kept on asking how bad was the cut on his lips and whether there was a lot of blood. Pucat!!!

We were not more then 10 years old at the time but the ability to 'seize the moment' came naturally. We were crowding around Hassan with 'concern' looks on our faces. One was holding his jaw, another was steadying him and I was trying to get him to lie down on the ground. We were exaggerating and telling him how bad it looks and that the cut was so big and need stitches. Hehehe...Hassan was at a stage where he will do anything for us if we can help him avoid needles.

Then came the alternative medicine advise! We told him to buy 'assam boi', the red salty assam boi that cost 10 sens for a packet for 5. Next we picked some really juicy limau kesturi from Ghani's garden (the neighbour who worked with the Agriculture Department). The red salty assam bois tasted so good when eaten with the juicy limau kesturis. But for poor injured Hassan whose lip is cut and swollen, the salty assam boi and the jucie of the limau kesturi was a potent and 'explosive'  mix!! The moment he sucked on the stuff, he let loose the loudest scream I had ever heard. I swear you could have heard it from Hap Joo's shop! 

Do not count on us hanging around when Mak Lamah come checking on Hassan. We were scampering off to hide in our house the moment Hassan let loose his scream. 'Putih tapak kaki', we would recall. But what we did not count on was that Hassan was also running and hiding with us, screaming in pain as he ran. Fortunately for us, Mak Lamah was not at home that day and after laying in hiding for half an hour we re-emerged relieved. Hassan has stopped screaming by then, still sucking on the salty assam boi and the swelling did not get any worse. Hassan did have a thick set of lips to start with anyway.

I am sure Hassan, wherever he is now, is still a jolly good fellow. One of the good guys.