BY LIM LEE LEE
“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
As my father was a businessman, I would enjoy car rides as he delivered goods and collected money from customers like stallholders, hoteliers, shopkeepers, etc. If the debtor wasn’t able to pay, he would give my father toys as a form of barter trade. I remember one time, he brought a huge box of toys that we could share among our cousins. My father had Chinese, Malay and Indian customers, hence, he could speak fluently in Malay and Tamil. Since I studied Malay in Primary school and his office was at home, I was trained to take order verbally via the telephone whenever he and my grandfather went out. “Rice–nasi”, “flour–tepong”, “Milk-susu”, “Sugar–gula”, “Oil–Minyak”, etc. Every day I would receive $1 as pocket money. He couldn’t accept that I am blind till he passed on in September 2005.
However, whatever time he had, he would bring me outing. As I played with cousins and participated in many games, ranging from “Teacher” to skipping and “Zero Point”. Then, we didn’t have much toys, hence, we made them out of whatever we had. We’d string rubber bands to make into skipping ropes and to play “Zero Point”. As we lived in the kampong, I must say I was privileged to know what nature was like and as I had a little knowledge in gardening, planted my very own jackfruit tree. Ran in the garden, built sand castles, plucking flowers, retrieving eggs from chicken coops, waiting for the durian fruit to drop, etc. Life was carefree then.
My third auntie taught me to play the harmonica and recorder. Therefore, I was always good in music and scored good grade for this subject. We used a dial phone in which I would dial 1711 to check the time.
Life in primary school then, was about equipping, not only with those I stated in the previous post, it included, swimming, being in apart of a band, sport, learning to play the piano, most importantly of them all, typing skills. We had Mrs Has who would come to teach us every Thursday afternoon. We’d start with learning to locate the home keys and to type on the conventional typewriter. This skill was further enhanced by Ms Deborah Ng, my resource teacher in Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary school which is a useful asset till today.
It was communal living in school. We shared toys, took turns to play the organ, etc. One of our favourite passtime was listen to the radio. We were so attracted to the DJs that we would dial 2560401 to speak to radio presenters whenever we had ten cents to use the public phone during recess time or whenever we could sneak away from the “House mothers”.
Although bedtime was 9Pm, we would talk softly among ourselves and my friend, let’s call her APT would narrate stories she had read to me. She converted me into a bookworm that whenever I borrowed library books, would not take my meal until I had devoured the whole story in one sitting.
Then, many visitors would visit SSB to get to know about us or schools would send students to SSB to read library books to us. One special visiter was donny and marie osmond, who was very famous in the 1970s and 1980s. That morning, many reporters came as they entertained us with many of their hits.
Every year, before the school closed for the year-end holiday, the pupils had to put up a concert to showcase the talents. There were many memorable ones of which, we had to perform something. Then, our form teacher was in Hong Kong to participate in competition. We discussed as a class and gathered some cups, filled them up with differing level of water, utensils, chopsticks, etc and called ourselves “Beggars” band. The tunes we made had such pure sound that we had loud applause from the audience. throughout my primary school concerts, I acted from being a tree, Japanese dancer and a policewoman, to name a few.
Yes, we had CCA too. School would commence at 8am till 3Pm with recess and lunch breaks in between. I was a brownie, band member, competitive swimmer, to name a few.
We always looked forward to get invited to seasonal parties like the Lunar new year, Children’s day and Christmas day. We get to go Hyatt Hotel, Ming Kok Hotel, etc for these festivities and would take home a huge goody bag of toys and stationery. Oh yes, how can I forget Victor and Char Lee? Any of you can still remember them?
Of course, there would bound to have fights, arguments and quarrels, even fingerpointing. Corporal and physical punishment was a norm then and parents dared not complain fearing their children would be persecuted by teachers and caregivers. Although we had fun, we disliked the corporal punishment. Once, I was made the scapegoat and wasn’t given dinner until past 9Pm. Dare to complain? …
One of my teacher was deaf-blind, Chan Poh Lin, Theresa who died in 2016. The hearing aid then wasn’t so advance and it had a lot of interference.
Hence, she had the impression we were very noisy while attending her art lesson. She asked who was noisy and we had to come to a concensus who to get whacked. Looking back now, it is laughable, then, it was …
I was a favourite of one of our housemothers, auntie Ng. She would buy me ice cream whenever I ran out of pocket money. When public holidays were right smack between Tuesday and Thursday, we would stay in school. The adults taking care of us would take us to Toa Payoh Central for shopping and to play at the playground.
Then, parents were more hands off in terms of physical protection. They would allow us to get dirty and falling into drains was part and parcel of growing up as children.
As Singapore developed, the kampong life I enjoyed was short lived. Stay tune to my next post.