“Western medicine is complicated whereas Chinese medicine is simple. To the Chinese sinseh, every single bodily malfunction boils down to heatiness, boils down to your liver. To heal your liver, they’d prescribe you bitter herbs to boil and drink. To speed up healing, you sleep. Under multifold layers of blanket.”
‘Kuih Bangkit’ my personal favourite Chinese New Year cookie, enjoys the same popularity with the Malay communities during Hari Raya, and particularly those from Riau in Indonesia, and the Baba Nyonya communities of Malacca, Penang and Singapore. Bangkit which means “rise” in Bahasa, traditionally has a little red dot tipped on the body (which turns pink when mixed with the flour), on each piece of the Nyonya version. And these pieces were usually of animal form — Goldfishes, Chickens, etc. casted from wooden moulds then baked.
This peculiarity of consecrating objects with red dots, is ceremonial, and has its belief rooted in Taoism. For it was believed that these red dots would bring man-made objects to life, hence it is with the annual initiation of the Lion and Dragon Dance by their troupes, and the paper effigies burnt for the deceased during funerals. Taoist mediums also dispenses yellow paper blessings written with red ink, or blood splatterings from their tongues, when in trance-like state. Believers would then burnt them, throw them into a glass of water, and drink from it, as divine panacea.
This shared delicacy probably has its roots all over the archipelago, the result of harmonious communal living, and the intermarriages between the two races, the Chinese with the Malay in the Straits, from whence resulted the Baba and Nyonya community.
To know if a person is charmed (In Hokkien’Tiok Kong Thau’), experienced mediums or deliverers will look into the victims pupil and observe its dilation and sheen.
To confirm his suspicion , he will make the suspect crawl under fishing nets left basking at the beach during sunrise or make him cross a river. For it was said that evil spirits wouldn’t cross a river or sea, and so are charms.
For if a person can do that with ease, that means he/she is not suffering from some kind of charm or possession. Evil spirits will also get themselves trapped in the net and so are charms, therefore the possessed will refuse to crawl beneath them. That is the reason why fishing nets has always been part of the accoutrement found above door entrances in shophouses, besides the more popular pakua ‘Eight trigrams’ used in Taoist rituals that has a curve mirror smacked in the centre of it.
If a person is found charmed, the medium or bomoh will first search for the ‘opening’, a gateway where the charm enters from, and then determine the origin of the charm inflicting him. That opening is usually an object left in the garden or main door of the home of that person charmed. Without that gateway, the charm cannot enter the home and attack the person. Evil spirits can also enter homes through other means, like sneaking under umbrellas for instance, which is also another reason why locals shun carrying open umbrellas when they enter into their own houses at night, whilst our fellow Malay friends washes their feet before entering.
The openings or gateway are usually claypots wrapped in cloth left perched in between branches of a tree. Inside the pot, depending on the severity of the infliction, were found rusty nails, amongst other things. The colour of the cloth will also determine where the charm originates from. That will direct the medium to the source if he needs to seek aid, if the charm is too powerful hence refuses to leave that person. A yellow cloth is left by a Chinese shaman, the red, by the Thais, and the black, the Malays. So it was believed that the most fearful charms comes from the Thais.
When they are found, the medium will then perform some incantations, climb up the tree, and dislodge it by the kick of his feet. The act of kicking or knocking it down with the feet is sacred, for if hands were used, the charm will also enter the medium when he picks it up. Other than football, our feet cannot pick up things.
Hence the old wives tale of shunning the idea of picking up things left on the roadside not meant for you.
The only real solution to this flood problem is elevating all low lying terrains much higher above the highest recorded flood level of that area as well as replacing and elevating all our existing drains and culverts. Something Singapore did many many years ago with some areas being forced to landfill to as much as two meters higher than the existing road level. As Penangites, we must readily admit that flooding not only occurs during heavy rain, but also whenever a high tide occurs. It so happens that nowadays, a phenomena like a high tide actually raises our sea level to meet the level of our existing drains therefore the backflow. The seawater gushes in while at the same time rainwater wanted to gush out, both looking for an outlet thus they collide. And it is not because Francis light and his entire entourage intended it to be this way but because global warming has drastically raised the sea level, the same reason why all our sandy beaches are being eaten up slowly by the sea from Gurney Drive till Batu Feringghi and beyond. And it is not about leaves and rubbish clogging the drains as some would like to blame it on. I’m just revisiting architecture in all its common sense glory.”
Kris Lee 2018.
“But herein lies a bigger problem. Global warming has eaten up most lands surrounding our archipelago. It was claimed that Java itself will lose 50 percent of its land mass within 50 years. And Singapore has built and already tested its billion dollars tide arresting mechanism.
Sophisticated embankments to flush out the phenomenon of the rising tides needs immediate attention unless roads, residential houses and massive buildings sacrifices one storey each of their podium for refill. Is that possible? Yes it is. But where can we find the sand needed?
Over in our country, certain states has an annual flood scare during the monsoon season. And all the government cares about is to allow for stilt houses and sampans for the last fifty years. Seems to me that we are going to be another Venice in fifty years if our annual budget consistently goes to the building of faith rather than building embankments of hope.”
– Kris Lee 2020.
The only real solution to this flood problem is elevating all low lying terrains much higher above the highest recorded flood level of that area as well as replacing and elevating all our existing drains and culverts. Something Singapore did many many years ago with some areas being forced to landfill to as much as two meters higher than the existing road level. As Penangites, we must readily admit that flooding not only occurs during heavy rain, but also whenever a high tide occurs. It so happens that nowadays, a phenomenon like a high tide actually raises our sea level to meet the level of our existing drains therefore the backflow. The seawater gushes in while at the same time rainwater wanted to gush out, both looking for an outlet this they collide. And it is not because Francis light and his entire entourage intended it to be this way but because global warming has drastically raised the sea level, the same reason why all our sandy beaches are being eaten up slowly by the sea from Gurney Drive till Batu Feringghi and beyond. And it is not about leaves and rubbish clogging the drains as some would like to blame it on. I’m just revisiting architecture in all its common sense glory.
- Kalituay is a home grown game, fun and lively, played between two opposing teams. It’s origin can be disputed, but it has been played both in the kampongs as well as the city.
It demands the players to be agile with their eyes, swift with their reach, yet nimble on their legs and to win, and the running team should not be caught by the catching team.
The running team must compromise through each of the compartments from line 1 till line 4 and back to line 1 without being caught, hit, touched or slapped by anyone from the catching team.
A perfect run through scores 4 points for the running team. And deducted accordingly if one or more members are caught.
There are three sets for each opposing team, taking turns to be the runner as well as the catcher, and the team that scores highest in the run through without being caught wins the game.
Usually the court size will determine the number of people needed on one team and on a normal scale, a badminton court is ideal with each player from the catching side standing on lines 1,2,3 and 4 as guards. Only the player standing on line 1 is allowed to run up and down the spine and catch, touch, hit or slap any unsuspecting runner that lingers on its spine.
The game begins with both sides getting ready and one runner and the first catcher slapping their palms.
A referee can be appointed to dispute a hit.
(Image outsourced without permission)
The triads were very much the make-up of overseas Chinese in Malaya back in the 1800s, with 7 out of 10 persons either belonging to one brotherhood or the other, depending on which side bullies them. It is an olden day form of a trade union, and it propagated mutual aid and a sense of security to individuals indeed, if one works in the mining field. And a strong cluster cannot be overstated in the wake of problems encountered in a land alien to them. Every member undergoes induction rites and their rituals took on the version of their Chinese counterpart, the ‘Tiandihui’ , otherwise known as the ‘Heaven Earth Sect’ – a Ming loyalists secret society that originates to resist the invasion of Manchus during the Qing Dynasty.
In Malaya, their sworn brotherhood and protectionist policy instinctively appeals to many, especially when succumbed to duress or bully. Their brotherhood ensures peace, and a stable income for all. And so it was, that the British had a hard time flushing them out that gradually, a triad member named Yap Ah Loy had to be deployed to mediate and ensure peace on behalf of their rule.
Gang wars was a natural occurrence then, when differences cannot be reconciled, and some went full blown, making its way into our annals of history. Every initiated member were issued weapons, many self made, the most popular being the Malay parang once used for clearing lands is now used for butchering, the trident-like spears, wooden poles, and of course, knuckle dusters (a recent find shown below) which delivers excruciating pain when a blow is received.
Gradually, the British, in dire straits and concern over their strength, devised a way to outlaw these secret societies, by encouraging them to register their societies legally, so that every member is a statistic, on the pretext of being philomantic to their cause, grouping themselves by the district that one originates, by dialect spoken, by common surname, and by the trade one belongs to. Of course many remained undercover to work their so called secret activities.
(Below: a zoomorphic shaped bronze knuckle duster)
“I think moral studies and religion as a subject taught in schools should be abandoned, with social etiquette classes taking centrestage. Personal grooming, deportment, good housekeeping, mannerism and conduct will ensure decency, cleanliness and social comfort at all times. Whilst understanding customs and traditions of other races will benefit harmony better.”
– Kris Lee 2020.
“To be or not to be, that is the question” – cited from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Mom was a socialite, but dad always insisted that meal time is when everybody sits together at the dining table. The irony was mom seldom sits at home lest to watch us eat our meals. She adores outside food and thus with all her ‘Tai Tai’ friends, they’d cluster together over meals in the most popular of Chinese Restaurants. And because we have lived-in maids, the maids are the ones who cook for us. They are simple dishes. Tau Eu Kay or Bak Cho, and Chai Tau Char. But we enjoyed it. Since young we relish what’s served to us. But she does however prepares herbal soups needed for us to grow. Our breakfast was usually liver with fresh ginger and soy sauce basked in hot water . Sometimes bread and butter with sugar sprinkles, fresh milk from the milkman, sometimes outside food and at times, boiled eggs with Milo. Except for my brother who is quite picky, otherwise we have no trouble adjusting ourselves, my sis and I. We too enjoyed the lavish dinners combing functions, celebrations and dinners my dad is required to attend. As children, we tagged along everywhere they go. That’s executive privilege. When dad goes to work, we usually remind him in sync with this daily recital “to be good, make a lot of money and come back soon.”
Mom was close to her three sisters too. Especially my Jee Ee (2nd aunty) who is somehow always around. My 2nd aunty hos a company which organises variety shows and events in Penang. Inside her stable were Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore film stars and singers. I think she is quite successful in what she does because most of her stars are the very famous ones of that era. So are the band boys she manages. And together with my mom, both of them comb night clubs and bars sought of after dinner ritual if ever they are obligated to attend. Their favourite sport, drink, dance and chat till they drop.
Thus in every aspect, our school life is inundated with our parents social preoccupations so much so that we hardly have evenings of quietness. My dad had his name inscribed on the plague in his alumni , attributed to the largest donor of his ex pupils association. He was also wearing many other social hats. That shophouse in Presgrave Street is our usual haunting ground. There, we played table tennis, mahjong games or simply scribble onto the blackboards. As children, we accompany them and we had our fun. Mom’s favorite sport is talking and there, she is at utmost ease, as she acquaints herself with members of dad’s club. She has her own alumni too. In that era, there wasn’t plenty of fun places to go to. And so I guess, that’s how our parents enjoyment is integrated with ours.A one stop fun club for families. Inside this association are also a full set of musical instruments my dad had donated. They have a band of their own which were regularly invited to perform at functions or religious ceremonies such as Ko Tai’s.
Back in those days, beit at Great World Park or New World, where my dad’s association band sometimes perform, there are amusement games, merry go rounds, ferris wheel, open air cinemas and ad hoc stage. And there are in the midst, candy peddlers, kacang putih sellers. The grounds are usually sandy and wet on rainy days. Where the bands play, they usually have a sort of battle where the best of bands is judged by the crowd they could garner and thus, in between Chinese Pop songs. they will also belt out Western numbers by the spurts.
My maternal grandma’s house was smacked right in the middle of town at Aboo Sittee Lane. And her tyre shop was in Prangin Road (now Lim Chwee Leong Road). Grandma was shrew. It could have been that after the war, she took over the business left by her deceased husband (my maternal grandfather) who was tortured and died in the hands of the Japanese. Or it could have been she managed that tyre shop for there were cousins and in laws in the business registration. Grandma used to ride on human powered trishaws, her grand Mercedes on three wheels, to and from work. Because of her, we had fun riding on these trishaws , to arrive at Goh Phar Teng where we’d have the best Koay Teow Thng, Hokkien Mee and Char Koay Teow. My grandma loves to cook Kiam Chye Ark, a salted vegetable soup broiled with shitake mushrooms and duck or chicken meat. That was my sister’s favourite soup. And from Kiam Chye Ark, the soup will transform into Chai Boey which from the same soup, leftover dishes were thrown in for the extra flavour and they’d relish and relish as they keep on adding the salted vegetables and soup in. Sometimes it takes them weeks to finish just this one dish. My sister is very close to my maternal grandma so, during those days, she sometimes stays with her. And together they’d go watch those Taiwan love movies and have a good cry. I really shook my head at this ‘paying to cry” movies. That is beyond my understanding because if dad brings us to movies or makan-makan (eat out), he’d usually order more than enough beit a Sunday at the Seafood restaurant at Tj Tokong or the cafe besides Cathay Cinema.
On weekends, dad sometimes play hosts to his foreign friends and relatives who visits. He usually brought them sight seeing beit to Batu Maung, the aquarium, Batu Feringghi beaches, seafood restaurants, Snake Temple, Kek Lok Si temple or the Reclining Buddha. As children, we follow where they go to, with our Singapore cousins (mom’s side) , if and when they are are down on holiday. That is because both my Ee’s had their homes in Singapore.
At home, we too had fun. When none of the relatives are around, we will play with our Lego set, Chinese or English chess, Happy Family, Ludo, Scrabble, you named it, we have it. Outside of the semi detached house, we’d cycle, roller skate ar play basketball all day. Dad had a net fixed at the balcony corner and we too have our own personal pond. It was a landscaped feature pool, but with a bit of imagination, it became our private wading pool. Actually it started as a fish pond where dad rears his Japanese carp. Later it became a tortoise pond after the hoards of tortoises we brought home found at the land in Jln Tengah. But we had them donated to Ket Lok Is temple years after because no one likes to regularly clean the pond. We also played kites, because our neighbours kids all play kites. One minute “s”, the next minute stamps. My sis, she reads fiction. Love fiction in particular. We also have a pet dog named ‘Poppy’. Such a lovable watch dog he was. The rest, dad rears following Poppy’s demise was just that, another dog. And everyday, the Indian Mee seller staying next door to our house will bring out his pushcart. There at the corner of our house entrance he ply his trade. And we had plates and plates of his mee because it was so delicious and tasty. At night, opposite our house at the corner of Jones Close, was a ‘Chai Diam Ma’ sort of s grocery cum provision shop. In front is a Rojak Seller (a kind of salad with fruits and condiments eaten with a sticky paste made of prawn). Behind our home, dad built a badminton court in no man’s land. There we had bouts of fun games and dad will invite all his friends to have a game or two. Dad was a sports freak. My brother and I followed him to watch football at the City stadium every time the Penang team plays. Dad himself excels in table tennis winning many times in inter-school alumni competitions and my sis herself was a hurdler also having strings of medals to take home. They are the only two in the family appearing in the trophy corner. And because our house was just a footwalk to Gurney Drive, we often spent our days and evenings there collecting seashells or had fun at the beach. Or just sit there by the pedestrian walkway to wile our time away. The best thing about our Jones Road house was, then, there weren’t much cars. We can literally follow the back path towards Pulau Tikus market and back. Pulau Tikus market is where everyone living in that vicinity buys their fresh produce from and also breakfast.
But there is this place which I was literally fond of. My dad’s estate in Jln Tengah. It’s actually a pig farm he literally built himself out from scratch with the help of some sub contractors but he bought the materials himself and built his first few sheds I guess to cost save. He does that on his own by just by following the guides he gain from books. My daddy is my hero. And I can safely say I inherited his talents.
The pig farm has only one access, with three water convolvulus and hyacinth ponds to reckon with beside two streams that ran across it. And in between these ponds are rows of rambutan and durian trees not to mention banana and pink fleshy guavas. The farm flanked a paddy field. Both rivers sprang a lot of surprises. From monitor lizards as huge as goats to the Malay farmer batting fresh water prawns with their bare fingers, it’s the kind of adventure every child needs. Because every farm owner is entitled a shotgun, dad does his hunting for pests that would invade the fruit trees or the chickens living inside the estate. Sometimes to get us excited, he’d plan for evening hunts which two, or three of my paternal cousins will follow, one was my 3rd Kor’s son who later worked with my dad in the motorcycle shop then the gas shop, and the other two was my 2nd Kor’s sons, whom after school just did some odd jobs with my dad, who in a way feeds them. The farm was minded by my Tua Kor (eldest sis of my dad) and her family. My Tua Kor Tniau literally works for my dad. He was entrusted to look after the pigs. They have a VERY big family of their own and most of them resided there under my dad’s expense. Sometimes in the evenings. the lorries from the wholesalers would arrive, ready to pick the pigs to the slaughter house. And they pay their dues in cash. It is one of the most lucrative business my dad has ever been in, but because labour was scarce, dad was also half hearted. Then came the government who uses the land acquisition act to acquire the land, on the pretext of building low cost houses. The never did. Forty years later, it was sold to Suiwah for RM40 per square feet. Chong Eu, then Chief Minister was made their group Chairman. Dad was aggrieved and seek them out for a compromise where we would build the low cost houses and sell it to the government. They refused so dad brought them to court. Nevertheless, we lost. But not without a fight. Thence, we sold the land to them at RM1.38.
Inside the farm was a tool shed dad built. There, we had fun making our own imaginary space-aged gadgets or toy guns we as children played with. We even attempted at making kites. And many a time, there was the encounters with cobras who loves to hibernate inside bathrooms. Even pythons. Back in those days the new road was practically non existent, so we use the old road bypassing Sungei Ara and there at the crossroads, dad will stop to buy Cucuk Kodoks and Ham Chin Peng (Teatime Sweets). My brother and I will always sit at the river bank fishing, making our fishing rods out of bamboo sticks. They may be small cat fishes but there we were, having a great time exploring. But those were the Sundays without mom. or sis who was with my maternal grandma on most weekends. It’s like a boys club, with wildlife as friends. We did not have much luck with the durians, mangosteens or rambutans because that wasn’t our core business. The whole place is like a fruit orchard, only that gnarls of pigs is what one hears from a distance. But when they do grow, there we are perching ourselves on the trunks relishing the fruits send from heaven. Of course there were some chickens, ducks and goose. Goose acts as deterrent to snakes.
With so much happening, I felt that as children, we are very blessed because then, there was a sense of family bonding. Until life took a turn when I was about 17 years of age. The misfortune taught me alot about face value and how most of daddy’s and mommy’s friends were literally just suckers. They suck the sweetness out of you like chewing gums, then spit you out once there is no more sweet left in you. And that is how I described their friends, even relatives for the matter. Because when my parents were left to borrow, only a handful came to the fore. And got thrashed by the rest. When news spread that we are no longer doing that fine, my sis was in England. Our Chinese New Year celebration, once a festive gala crowded with scores of people, even strangers are now empty spaces filled only with faint echoes of our once booming life. Back in those days, Chinese New Year was a grand affair. We had hoards of visitors, cards from minsters, and five lion dances to reckon with, from the societies that dad and mom are active in. My dad and mom was also politically active, both serves as chairman of the parties in the districts they were involved in. I was in my teens then but I was sensitive enough to understand what was happening. All the food and drinks that mom prepares were literally wasted. It was a traumatic experience for me. One that would remain etched inside my cerebral till this day because on every CNY, these memories will creep back. Unlike most Chinese, I may be the only one who will never enjoy Chinese New Year because it was a bit too traumatic for me.
((To be continued)).
We didn’t have it good then. I mean there’s a high degree of separation between our childhood formative years and our adolescence period. We had it sweet in the beginning but after those years transcending till teenage and adulthood, it gets more bitter as time passes. Then came the plunge.
My sister was the more brilliant of us two so she had the privilege to go UK for her further studies whilst I was, at my usual naughty self chasing skirts. I was brilliant in my primary but I guess after a few cracks on the head (one of which I can still remember the blood streaming down my face in Wellesley Primary), I think it took a toll on certain cognitive areas which affected my studies. My strength lies in creativity, I’m highly imaginative, expressive, organised, and a little obsessed with details. I am a sucker for system and to design and arrange things. Other than that, I have poor learning skills and I was always caught crying everyday when it comes to homework.
My parents weren’t highly educated because they were the caught-in-between the Japanese Occupation and most of the time, they were busy thus, mom always relied on my 2nd Ee( mom’s sis) for the planning part. Mom has two sisters , the last (3rd Ee) was younger.
Then, we were rich. In 1966, dad struck lottery. 2nd prize in the social welfare and for a reward of $60K at that time, he saw his goal changed thus he became a businessman. We moved from Jockey Road to Jones Road after my paternal grandpa passed away.
Both mom and dad thence became instant celebrities, well at least to the Chinese fraternity. Mom was a socialite and so was dad. Dad’s was more of an obligation and duty. We had everything we wanted as a child. Dad bought us games and sports equipments. And taught us all he knew. He even had a basketball net installed at our balcony so we could have fun. Compared to my brother, I was the skilful one either in aiming, in roller skates, or in cycling. He dropped out from Kungfu classes. I did not. And I earned the privilege to demonstrate my skills at Han Chiang indoor stadium at a tender age of 13. And I learnt to net balls jumping on skates by myself. We had lived in amahs, drivers, gardeners, car wash boys. And though they were both Chinese educated, they sent my sis and I to English schools whilst my brother went to a Chinese one. I guess they did not have the luxury of time to even think nor worry about our future because things were going alright. Three cousins were staying with us and sort of help to guide us when my parents weren’t around. We also have our paternal grandmother around most of the time. And most evenings, we’d be tagging along to their numerous involvement in Chinese associations, clan, societies, temples that both my parents were involved in or one of their numerous dinners . My dad had a hall named after him in Presgrave Street, being the largest donor, and he was also Chairman of his alumni for years. They also organised regular getaways for their friends – picnics, bungalow stays, travels etc and as children, I must say we were made to feel wholesome. Dad was great with children and I’m proud to say that unlike his friends who usually attends functions alone, we are always there where he was. As for my mom, she can never get attached to kids.
Dad bought a 7 acre farm in Jalan Tengah where Sunshine Square now sits, and there he reared pigs for sale. We were then the second largest pig farmers in Penang, if not the biggest. And the returns was good. (He gave that up eventually because everyone was caught in the factory bug and he found it hard to find workers to clean the pig sties. Eventually the government acquired it for a pittance claiming they wanted to develop it for low cost housing. My dad counter offered to have it developed and share the earnings with the government but was declined. It went to court. We lost. That land never got developed. It was sold to Suiwah Group instead 40 years later with Chong Eu being made the Group chairman. The government bought ours for Rm1.38/sq foot but sold it at RM44/sq ft.
That farm was the place we spent most of our Sundays at, playing, catching fishes, perching on rambutan trees etc. We had our fun whilst dad took care of his itenary and stuffs. We also owned a land in Telok Kumbar, a house in Jalan Bunga Pudak, Tj Bungah. At that time, we were living in Jones Road. The home is still there after we sold it and the owner till today, did not change the facade.
Mom never need to cook for us because we have amahs so all she does was to order them around. She enjoys that Tai Tai lifestyle. Mom hardly stayed home. She chooses to eat outside everyday and every meal if possible. So between both of them, there’s so much going on. And of course her duty of fetching us home from school which left me stranded a few times. It never happened to my sister nor my brother. I was the unlucky one I guess. We owned a Gas Shop in Hutton Lane where dad’s trading company was also based, a motorcycle dealer shop in Jln Sungei Ujong, a petrol kiosk in Chain Ferry , Butterworth, and a beauty perm parlour at Kinta Lane. Dad even had his name on his own shampoo brand called ‘Lebon’ and we were then, sole distributors for Misasa Cosmetics. Each of these companies were helmed by their trusted friends. But little did it occur to them that fate would take a down turn. How? I don’t know. We were too naive to understand but as children, we were caught in the plethora of the storm.
In between their numerous fights, I could roughly gather that dad was promiscuous. But news in later years as gathered from cousins also claim that my mom also had her fair share of flings. During one fight, my grandma was also ploughed with a flower pot meant for my dad’s head when she tried to mediate. And we cried and cried. Mom also dragged us to follow her at times because she received tips of my dad’s whereabouts but it turned out to be false news. I guess she spent a lot of her money hiring investigators to trail him. One day, mom decided to leave, taking my sis and younger brother along with her. But left me with my dad. That wasn’t the time when they officially moved. When they officially moved out from Jones Road, I was in Singapore.
Back to when chao truly happened, my sister was forced to return and so was my 2nd auntie’s daughter, both of them in UK. This eldest cousin of mine from my 2nd aunt, my parents help support them for awhile because my 2nd aunties husband, my 2nd Tniau, suffered a misfortune in his own investments. Then, he was GM of a big Singapore company. In fact he was caught first and my dad had to sell off the Jalan Bunga Pudak house to help him. (As how my dad puts it to me in later years, he succumbed to my mom’s pressure and my 2nd auntie kneeling and begging him for help) He also blames my mom for foiling his bid to get Honda motorcycle dealership direct from Japan when they came over because our sales outclass Boon Siews.) That enrages my granduncle very much because my grand uncle trusted my dad alot. My 2nd Tniau was brilliant, but succumbed to ambition and he was later sued for criminal breach of trust, which landed him in Changi Prison for 3 1/2 years. But this 2nd aunty of mine was quite enterprising in a small way even as a ‘Tai Tai’, like my mom is. Before her husband’s fate, she herself had a thriving event planning company and also serves as a ‘pop-band manager’. She organizes live appearances and performances for the rising stars of Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan music and film industries to perform in Penang. That was in the heydays and we as kids get to see these shows for free and had dinners and lunches with them. One of the stars wanted to bring me to Hong Kong but my parents thought I was too young to follow. I guess you could say my aunt’s family and ours was quite close at that time. And so, she ended up having to feed her three daughters in a rented apartment in Singapore and her eldest daughter has to start working to help feed their family. They lost their Green Lane house (Singapore). Eventually her two daughters grew up and flew with SIA till today, as senior flight stewardesses and the last, once Janice, now Dennis, had her sex changed, legally in Singapore. And so it was like this, ever since young, it was party, party and party for us.
And I was a dandy. After my MCE, I was asked to help in the petrol station. I rode my brother’s bike there everyday (for two years? or so) and everyday without fail, I fooled around after coming back home. Because then, I only have eyes for women and I was dead bored at the petrol kiosk. The petrol business and gas shop was in my mom’s name. And there I was, in the midst, growing fond of a woman a year older than me, who came from a gloriously rich background from Kangar. At that time, as I found out, they were the second richest family after the Kuoks in Kangar. In between, I made trips to her hometown in Perlis, stayed in her home, and she also bunked in with me once, in Penang. Before that, there were other attachments but not like this one. The next minute I knew, her parents were visiting our place. Mom didn’t like that thought I think because both of us were very young. And so I thought in later years, she arranged with my 2nd auntie to have me sent over to Singapore, to get me away from this girl, got me a job in an architectural firm and also a place in Poly. So there I landed. I was worried for myself and asked my dad if I really need to go Singapore? He said “you better go” I guess being influenced by my mom about my attachment with that girl from Kangar. Years later when I was back, this girl I was subtly stopped from seeing passed away at 22. If I could remember clearly, from brain tumour. Those days when there was no internet, we literally corresponded and anticipate the slow mails. At one time it stopped. But little did I suspect anything amiss. I did go back to her parents holiday home at Ooi Thiam Siew Rd when my days in Singapore was over, but it was all totally dark. Neither did I suspect anything because people do move. It was only one fine day at the office as I was flipping the days newspaper did I come across her obituary which was already a year old.
Eventually, after my parents separated (but not legally, because my dad didn’t sign the papers), dad moved to Hutton Lane in the gas shop we owned, with my 3rd Kor’s entire family, whose son worked for us. Dad paid for their bills even whilst his son gets his salary. My dad was always kind to his own poor siblings. whilst my mom moved to my grandma’s home in Barrack Road. I wasn’t with them when they moved and thus I didn’t have the privilege to take what was mine. At first my dad moved there too but was chased out by my mom after my Tua Ku allegedly claims my dad brought home a woman. Our family home in Jones Road was already sold then. And so are the rest of his properties except for the petrol kiosk and gas shop which was registered under mom’s name. My mom went to manage my grandma’s tyre shop in Prangin Road, after my grandma died. Unfortunately, my mom’s siblings were all vultures to a fault. No one wants to get involved in the running, but everybody wanted their share. Mom was named to manage the business because my grandma doesn’t trust her second daughter, my 2nd Ee. My mom was a kind soul and she never refuses anyone in need. And so her siblings depleted my grandmas savings and my mom, in need of cash, siphoned it from the petrol station which eventually made us lose the license. Dad was enraged. But she allowed my dad to operate the gas shop in her name. That was also the very last business we ever had. And moved my brother to work with him because he failed in his studies. Eventually they had my name and my brothers name inside the company but that was because my 3rd Kor’s son and his wife made a proposal to invest and dad agreed. After some years when they decided to venture on their own, my sis told my dad to relook at the accounts and that was when discrepancies were found. My cousin’s wife begged for mercy and eventually my 3rd Kor’s entire family moved out , so the company was again transferred back and remained with us. When dad passed away, my mom gave the key to the safe and running of the business to my brother because he was already working there with him and knew the ins and outs. I was caught in my own problems and gave my share in the company to my sis in law. That company was a disaster and day by day, I saw my dad continuously ran short of funds that he needed to borrow. Not like there wasn’t business and his overheads was low. I suspected something amiss and not until a year and a half later did I manage to convince him to look into his accounts and discovered that the company was actually making money! But that he spent it all on his gambling! He spends roughly RM6K per week on four digits alone. So before I left the company, I updated his accounts till the day I left. I liase with his accountant and they were all amused at my hurried effort. Apparently, dad did not update his income taxes for more than 15 years. The rest, I thought, was for my brother to worry about. I devised a plan for him to settle the sum owed and the loans he borrowed from. In three years, he’d be doing well and so I hoped. He agreed. The money came, his debts settled and as fate takes its toll, a few months later, he passed away. Somehow when his loan was settled as I sat there talking to the lenders, I could see a relive in him like a heavy burden came off his shoulder. But he didn’t live the day to see a better future before him.
And so there I was, living with my 2nd auntie in Singapore whilst shuffling day and night working in an architectural firm, and nighttime, Poly. After some disagreements with her, a year or to later, I moved in with my 3rd Ee. I guess mom had a little arrangement with my aunties then but as for my own expenses, sometimes it didn’t come on time and I had to borrow money from my classmates, for my daily living. Mom ran grandma’s business and when coffers depleted, she borrowed alot to keep us going and trying her luck at the one-armed bandits at the Chinese Merchants Club. She struck twice but being greedy, she gave everything back. On her first strike, she let me keep her money. We convinced her to buy a home. But only two days after, what went into my account came out and returned to the one arm bandit. On her second strike, she let my sis kept her money. My sis didn’t return her. And so I thought it better to fend for myself when mom was in her darkest of days. What I got from the architectural firm was mere pittance, as I was only an apprentice then. So I went into modelling for some extra cash. Not that I wanted it, but I needed it. Also, I thought I was young, energetic and able and thus, I can exploit my looks to good use and that helps keep me alive so that I do not need to further burden my mom. Four years I stayed in Singapore, and came back to Penang in 84.
(To be continued)
“It is alarming that Chinese has many hidden rules that even I am not aware of. Until I was recently made aware that the paint color used on tombstones, if it is gold, represents dead relatives and red, signifies the living. Thus on the grave of my grandparents, upon my discovery, my beloved cousins, siblings and I, have been dead for more than half a century already . Cant get more incredible than this years Cheng Beng. Drown me please somebody !”
Tok Tiok Tharng
Reunion is held on the first day of Chinese New Year. The servings on a reunion table according to Chinese tradition signifies abundance. Hence it is customary to have as wide an array of food available on this night. In contemporary society, fad and convenience has taken over tradition. Rarely does one still find whole chickens, suckling pigs, sharks fin, abalones, sea cucumbers, and all kinds of mushrooms and fishes being served except on important occasions as appeasing deities on the altar tables.
On the first day of Chinese New Year as Confucianist practice dictates, the entire household of an extended family would tidy themselves up, all nicely coiffured before presenting themselves to the head of the household, (generally the matriarch) to receive special blessings and ang pows (red colored packets containing money symbolizing good luck, prosperity, great health and joy). As receiving ang pows is hierarchical, so it is with the givers, each taking turns distributing whilst juniors kow tow and wish ‘Keong Hee Huat Chye’ as a mark of respect to the givers. In our family we went a step further by serving tea to the elders. It is also customary that once a child got married, they are obligated to give ang pows to their parents. The unmarried are exempted from ang pow giving because to the Chinese, they are still rated a child. Thus, any family members can receive ang pows for as long as they remained single. In our Hokkien tradition, only the womenfolk gives away ang pows. Reason is that the menfolk are supposedly the breadwinners of the family whilst the womenfolk are in charge of household affairs.
This is my extended family.
1st pic- my grandma Gek Kee, receiving blessings from my great grandma, matriarch Saw Kit, at Boon Siew Mansion. Generally as a senior in the family herself, my grandma is no longer entitled to ang pows but I guess that also depends on the generosity of individuals and the wealth of each family.. Matriarch Saw Kit’s life sized bronze statue still graces the Home of the Infirmary, Penang.
2nd pic- Aunt Guat Eng, Aunt Gim Ean (deceased), Aunt Guat Hong, Aunt Loh Ean, Uncle Kah Poh (deceased), unidentified Aunt and my mom (deceased). Aunt Guat Hong and 2nd Tniau Seng Leong kow towed.
3rd pic- Tiny tots group pic with matriarch. Kah Heng (deceased), Kah Bee, and Kah Kheng (deceased).
An extended family has added advantages except for privacy and at least three generations of one household lives and stays together. That was the in -thing of that period for well to do family’s with big houses.
Images copyrighted. Circa 50s.
“The making of ‘Bedak Sejuk’.
My mother’s concoction of rice powder for teenagers was quiet well known. It was supposed to give u a nice complexion and keep ugly pimples away. Her concoction was to soak rice grains for 24 hours and the decanter the smelly water every night b4 bedtime. This would go on for a couple of nights until there was no unwanted smell and the rice grains fermented completely.
To make them smoother she would have them put between the grinding stones and the substance came out smooth. Then she wld mix the paste with grounded sandal wood, maram grass roots and nutmeg seed also grounded.
When she got it to the right consistency everyone was invited to fill up their cones and drip the the drops on to a heshian cloth. Then dried out in the sun.
A cone would sell for 20 sen and a smaller one for half the price. Everybody swore to the efficacy of her ,Bedak Sejuk’. No pimples and claimed a smoother complexion.”
– Reposting an article shared by the late Tan Sri Ani Arope 5th Mar 2014.
“The Peranakans weren’t Chinese immigrants who adopted the culture of the Malay archipelago. The word “adopted” as opposed to “adapt” is similar but not the same. It was more of an intercultural amalgamation at a time which saw different communities living together happily which resulted in the assimilation of local lingua into their colloquial and vice versa but of course there are amongst them, intermarriages, which saw Malay maidens being welcomed into the Chinese household. The Peranakans were and is truly Chinese whom at that time are pseudo-Buddhist hence their Confucian and Taoist values, rites, beliefs and practices. Cuisine is purely Chinese but a little experimentation with local spices and adaptation of cooking styles of other inhabitants led to newer recipes considered distinctive to the Peranakans. The comparison of taste from different curries will tell you. However, the many claims by die hard peranakans with regards to recipes such as Jew hu char, bali juak, kiam chye ark and curry kapitan has no basis simply because they were truly Hokkien and Hainanese dishes and not as claimed by these pseudo Peranakans. Most of these recipes were and is still found on the altar and offering tables of the Hokkien community during cultural and divine festivities which were by and large the single largest grouping ever to span the Straits Settlements thence comprising Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Cocos Keeling Islands and Dindings in Perak. Marital, birth and funerary rites were strictly pseudo-Buddhism celebrated in compliance to the Chinese calendar. The Peranakan’s ostentatious taste of finery, garnitures, crockery, embroidery, clothing and furniture are mostly commissioned from countries within and beyond the Malay archipelago, the most obvious being namwood furnitures from China and Czechoslovakian designed coffee shop chairs and enameled tiffin carriers. However it must be noted that highly skilled local craftsmen of Shanghainese origin were also producing pseudo-Victorian era furnitures and architectural motifs to cater to the taste of their English-speaking ponytailed clienteles. These often comprises sideboards, roofing gables and umbrella stands and they usually spot marble tops, claw feet and barley twist balustrades. The habit of chewing tobacco and betel nut is not Malay but archipelagic as observed from the designs of the sireh cutter which were folkloric to the Hindus. Peranakans has their own perkakas. The habit of wearing Baju panjangs and kebayas were a fashion statement of that time. However it should be noted that the keronsang that adorns the blouse differ in taste and make and so are the appliqués .
“All Peranakans are Straits Chinese but not all Straits Chinese are Peranakans.
To be labelled a Chinese Peranakan (also known as Baba Nyonya), one needs to be of Chinese/Malay parentage as a result of intermarriages between Chinese towkays of that era with local ladies without so much of religious restrictions and as a result, these local ladies adapted themselves to the Chinese way of living, learning their husbands customary culture from the matriarch (her mom or grandmom in law), whilst raising her own family, thus cross pollinating her own cultures in whenever the need suits them, whilst her husband works or took care of matters outside the home. As a result, a new lifestyle bloomed, alongside a strangely mixed lingo of usually Hokkien and Malay words (Hokkien was a widely accepted dialect amongst the Chinese), a culture identified with its unique food recipes, and a preference for ostentatious taste in fashion and lifestyle; most certainly an adaptation borrowed from friends and neighbors of different cultures also rooted in the Straits (Burmese, Thai, Laotian, Indian, Ceylonese wherever) which found acceptability with these Straits Chinese, and thus became fashionable. The Straits Settlements is a British colony comprising mainly of Penang, Malacca and Singapore and to a lesser extent the Cocos Keeling islands, Christmas Island, Dindings, Pulau Pangkor and some smaller islands in Perak and that of Labuan. That is the spread of the British trading influence then, and how the Chinese within the S.S frequently addressed themselves as the ‘Straits Chinese’ community. To be a true blue Straits Chinese, one needs to be a local Chinese born during the British administration of the Straits Settlements from 1826-1946.
This explains why some Chinese families who claims to be Straits Chinese, often wondered why they do not have Malay dna in their ancestry lineage. And of how everyday recipes very commonly found in the Straits Chinese homes have Malay sounding names, especially those imbued with local spices, though some of these recipes are in today’s context, non halal.
One can identify a Chinese Peranakan with their spoken patois, very unlike the Hokkien or Malay as how it is spoken today. And generally these Chinese Peranakans are darker skinned, and possesses sharper features. I had the opportunity to interact and acquaint myself with genuine Peranakan friends whose ascendants were distinguished personalities from the government fraternity living in then Emerald Hill. They are Western educated which explains how many of them after years abroad have adopted the Western religion unlike the many local Straits Born Chinese whom were and still is mostly, Buddhist or Taoist.
I remembered those days as a boy, we were taught to address Chinese damsels and lads in strict colloquial standards. We called them ‘Ah Nya’ and ‘Ah Bah’. Though I do not have Malay lineage, I often wondered why my grandparents and great grandparents were all heavily bedecked in straits influenced jewelry from kerongsangs to silver belts down to the kebayas, baju panjangs and those heavily embroidered slippers. But I understand them now. They were fashionable in those days.
Btw that’s how antique I myself is. And no, I’m no Baba even though that was the form of address given not only to me but to other lads as well.”
What’s nice about living in the 70’s can’t be replicated today. Like banging the tv to make good a bad reception and sneak hiding oneself when an unwelcome visitor knocks on your door. I particularly missed cars of yesteryears cos they come without air cond allowing the wind to shape my hairstyle and the rain making its way into the car interior from the slit left open on the side windows. Anyone ever experience making funny gargling sounds in front of table fans? The best part is those days we are all telepathic. We can predict who calls when the phone rings and request the one answering the call to tell the caller we are not around..
If we care to look around, there is too much excess of everything. Especially those ostentatious hip cafes crowding the streets with chalkboard menus, coffee makers, cemented flooring, fungied walls, latte art, good words being chosen as names for these so called hip restaurants and motels that don’t do justice to the name, ill mannered waiters that do not speak English, standing there looking suave but does not know what’s inside the menu nor the art of waiting. If I maybe allowed to, I wish for more localized food instead of spaghetti, salads, watery soups and hot buns. As if that is our culture. Lol my list is long…
I grew up with 3 Khaw Sia’s orchid paintings hanging in my home. I remembered
sticking my nose as close to the painting as any kid would just to explore the
magnification with my eyes leaving the tip of my nose imprinted on the glaze. I
was having fun. It wasn’t the colors he uses, or how he paints the leaves and
dewdrops that I was interested in. I was like any child would at that tender age,
merely exploring. But because I was living with it, it was like second nature to
my skin. Because of that, I remembered very well the paper he uses because it
has a peculiar texture on it. Nowadays one could hardly stumble upon this type
of paper he uses anymore but in my younger years, most kids have fun with it.
And it is quite blotty.
How did i learn to like art? Not many has this privilege but I practically grew
up with a Xu Beihong over my head when I was younger. It was a scroll. My
dad was an avid collector. Antiques included and he draws and there was this
principal in his ex school that always gave him alot of Chinese paintings cos
my dad was chairman of that school. Don’t ask me what happened to that Xu
Beihong cos I don’t know. Both my parents had passed on.
Anyone from the 70’s Penang would have known what the term ‘Hala Hala’ means.
‘Hala Hala’ is coined by the locals to describe those broomshaped-cut fashionable
pants known elsewhere as bell-bottoms. To imagine how it looks like, the most
vivid images that came to mind was hip swaying ‘Elvis Presley’ and ‘Englebert
Humperdinck’, each wearing a pair with ‘side-burns’ to match not forgetting ‘The
Osmond Brothers’ and ‘Abba’. The ‘Hala Hala’ era was also an era of jeans and to get
one a nice pair of ‘Hala Hala’ jeans, the most respected shop to be seen buying a
pair was ‘Pitchay Gunny’ situated along Penang Road. They were the exclusive
dealers of Saddle King, Lee and Levis Jeans. As fashion evolves, the preference
for looser jeans at the thighs came by as ‘Hala Hala’ gave way to ‘Baggy’.
Before the advent of ‘ready-made’, visiting a custom tailor then was the rage. As such,
textile shops were well patronized both by men and women. It sounds hip to get
clothes tailor-made but then, that was the only option one has lest one wants to walk
around with unsightly creases, bulges and darts shooting all over, the result of four
exclusive sizes of Small, Medium, Large and Extra-Large found in ready-to-wear’s
of that time. It is like say paying a visit to Jimmy Choo to get a pair of fitted heels
made? and in fact it is as in the 60’s-70’s, most hipped shoes, like clothes of that era
were also custom made! ( Think Travolta and one would understand why it is
crucial to ride your bike down Wembley or Campbell Street to have your next
fitted shoes or pants made!) Ready-mades or ready-to-wear as we all know started
with clothier Monsieur Pierre Cardin who tries to standardize sizes to fit every
living torso and it took years for the world’s clothing industry to experiment with
the feasibility before the idea arrives on our shores, longer again for Penangites to
adjust themselves to the standards he introduced.
In the late 60’s till early 70’s, to ‘khau hong’ was an ‘in thing’. Invariably, it means to ‘scrape
the wind’ in local Hokkien lingo. That means inviting your buddies for a drive, sometimes
stopping by the coffee-shops for supper in an era devoid of Starbucks or Macdonalds but
usually, it is drive as you chat along while enjoying the cool wind that catches the car interior.
To other more adventurous/mischievous groups, their favorite haunt would be the Botanical
Gardens, the Polo Ground or Pearl Hill wooing as they pass by every stationary car or bike that
has couples lurking in funny contortion silhouetting against the dark shades of the night. Some
love to get chilled in groups holding the hands of your chosen date stopping by the more
‘talked-about’ haunted houses and get freaked out! Of course you need to be from a certain age
group tobe fascinated by all these (usually late teens) and from a more privileged family that
owns a car to be able to ‘khau hong’.
Prof. Ismail Hashim is the doyen of Malaysian photography. Passed away recently, this is a rare shot of him nestled in between subjects that matters to him most and quite often depicted in his works. Unknown to many, Ismail is camera shy and I was most privileged to immortalize him over a cup of coffee. Pictures taken at Kedai Kopi Chuan Foong, Jln Chan Siew Teong, Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
Once there was a tree.. and she loved a little boy. And everyday the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples.And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree…. very much. And the tree was happy.
But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said, “Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.” “I am too big to climb and play” said the boy. “I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money?” “I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy.” And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time…. and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, “Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy.” “I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm,” he said. “I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house ?” ” I have no house,” said the tree. “The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy.” And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. “Come, Boy,” she whispered, “come and play.” “I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy. “I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?” “Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree. “Then you can sail away… and be happy.” And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy… but not really.
And after a long time the boy came back again. “I am sorry, Boy,” said the tree,” but I have nothing left to give you – My apples are gone.” “My teeth are too weak for apples,” said the boy. “My branches are gone,” said the tree. ” You cannot swing on them – ” “I am too old to swing on branches,” said the boy. “My trunk is gone, ” said the tree. “You cannot climb – ” “I am too tired to climb” said the boy. “I am sorry,” sighed the tree. “I wish that I could give you something…. but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry….” “I don’t need very much now,” said the boy, “just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.” “Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.” And the boy did. And the tree was happy.
This inspiring classic poem “The Giving Tree” was chosen as the appropriate fit to complement this image. Picture taken at Hollywood Beach, Tj Bungah Penang.
Perfecting a skill demands total concentration and sacrifice. I caught this guy infrequently flipping beer bottles against the revetment of Fort Cornwallis on sunny days and thought it would be interesting to watch how these bottles fly on stills.. Pictures taken at Fort Cornwallis, Esplanade, Penang.
I love these long forgotten alleys of old
Roots that grew to be heard
Incidentally, they were all planted by birds
Huge giants they are
I love these long forgotten alleys of old..
(Pictures taken at Penang Pier opposite the Jetty, Weld Quay, Penang)
Overseas Chinese left their motherland at a tender age and through sheer hard work and good foresight, many astute businessmen found fortune and eventually became well-known philanthropists. Apart from contributing to society, these visionaries pamper themselves with homes large enough to fit a few generations of “extended family” leaving their wealth to be managed by trust funds. As a result, younger generations today still continue to enjoy the fruits of their efforts with children and grandchildren being sent overseas to further their studies and eventually migrate~ leaving these homes to the care of their faithful caretakers. Many of these homes were today rented out, leased or sold to commercial concerns as well as educational institutions because it is no longer cheap to maintain houses like this. One such house (as shown in pic) is currently leased to Kentucky Fried Chicken, an American fast food corporation who had tapped into the Penang market since the seventies. Picture taken at Larut Rd, Penang.