Monday, July 24, 2006

Fire Power

Fascinated with guns, we made them from timber. Using a template, a gun or rifle outline was imprinted on a piece of half-inch thick plank and cut out. We fixed a rubber band at the tip of the barrel and on the other end ,we nailed in a wooden peg, those used for hanging laundry. The rubber is then stretched and held down by the peg and this acted as the mechanism to propel our ammunition. For bullets, we used unripe green ‘buay cherry’ fruits. These fruits were in abundance where we lived and when ripe, they are red and tender with a grainy sweet taste. These trees populated along the canal behind Block 12.

Green unripe ‘buay cherry’ is sturdy and makes good projectiles. The peg holds down the stem and the rubber band is extended over the fruit. Releasing the peg will propel the fruit forwards.

Used light bulbs tied to a tree, empty cans on a shelf and birds became our targets and for calibrating our weapons. Everyone tried to outdo each other with crazy designs, some work and some don’t.

War games were played between two teams and sometimes, it got out of hand as we ignored the rules. Gunfights usually ended up in fistfights.

These were the cowboy days. The days of John Wayne.

Fishy Tales

The canal beside Block 12 was second home to us. We spent our time scooping colourful guppies and ‘long kao hho’ – a Hokkien phrase for canal fishes. The darkish brown water was a combination of rainwater, affluent and garbage. It was filthy but it provided endless hours of fun as we exposed our selves to the marine life in our haunt.

We spent hours wading in knee-deep water often feeling skirmish under our feet scooping up tadpoles and guppies.

In monsoon season, many people died in the canal. Heavy downpour created flooding as water gushed into the canal. Once, we saw a bloated child been fished out of the canal by the police however, we were not put off by the incident and continued to amuse ourselves in the duct.

Block 13 is situated on Merpati Road which has a bridge over this canal. Under the bridge, we built a haven from washed away timber and garbage from the river. We built chairs, tables and shelves to make us comfortable, somewhat like a tree house but beside a river. Of crude workmanship, but it was a place we called our own.

You could tell we had been in the canal by the way we smelt.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Boy! Was It Easy

Potong Pasir, an hour’s walk from Block 13 was a laid back kampong. Rumours were that you can get fishes easily at the pond in Potong Pasir. One day, someone decided that we should go fishing. Everyone was excited. Somehow Richard managed to get hold of some fishing lines and tackles. Merrily, we walked to Potong Pasir. A good hour's walk from Block 13, no one was complaining as it is going to be another one of our adventure. We easily located the huge pond and realised that Potong Pasir was kind of like a swamp, water in a low lying area with houses on silt at the edges.

We came prepared with several tackles tied to a line. Someone threw in the line and retrieved it back immediately. To our delight all the tackles were hooked with black slimy fishes. It wasn't a rumour. It is real. Boy, fishing was that easy; we hooked the fishes without baits. That day, we caught bagful of fishes. The catch was distributed equally for our parents to cook.

The next day, boasting our discovery to someone, we were told that they were ‘chiak sai hi” roughly translated as “faeces eating fish”. In those days, faeces were dumped directly into the pond from the houses on silt and night soil was collected in buckets.

No one dared said anything about last night dinner and we never went back there again.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

7 or 10

Besides basketball, we were into football too. Back then, there were two legends in football - George Best and Pele.

George Best wore number 7 and Pele, 10. We fought over the allocation of jersey. Everyone wanted a number 7 or 10. Our first encounter with football was in the IX SEAP Games, now known as SEA Games. Whether it was free entry or otherwise but one thing for sure was our first opportunity to visit National Stadium. Newly built for the games, we clambered over the fences to get into the stadium to watch the Singapore soccer stars in action.

After watching the game we were inspired and started to pick up the game. Watching people practiced and reading Goal magazine from UK. We formed our own team, fighting over the allocation of jersey number 7 and 10. The other point of contention was striker positions. As expected, we were no different from our basketball skill.

And David still holded the number 13 jersey. The dedicated water boy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Black Warriors

We pursued an intense interest in sports as much as we pursued our fractious crimes. Our estate got a new community centre with a number of sports facilities, one of them, a brand new basketball court. Back then, one could just ask to join a game. Playing basketball on the brand new court was an in thing and the court usually ended up crowded. To alleviate and at the same time ‘reserve’ the turf, we would form different teams and played a game or two to prevent people from coming in.

We called our basketball team “Hei Xing Kang” or the Black Warriors a whim, although there was nothing valiant about us. In fact, we were quite clumsy and lousy at basketball, but we did have great fun nonetheless. One of which was designing and sewing our own black jerseys.

David, the youngest of the pack, was assigned or rather bullied in the honour of being the water boy, he fetched us water and refreshment if we wanted him to. This honour was bestowed on jersey number 13.

Unlike the better teams, we were not serious about the game except to have fun. Training was disorganised and everyone wanted to be a forward. Without a coach, most of our trainings were spent on arguing about play positions.

For competition, scores were best kept to ourselves. Nothing to shout about, but certainly our game debrief was riotously infectious with laughter as we recalled our mischievous silly acts. Before the game, we knew that we would not win and would devise unfair techniques to ensure that we did not lose by a wide margin.

It was wicked like pulling jersey, stripping someone’s shorts or elbowing an opponent.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Going To The Movies

Back in those days, going to the movie was a luxury. Far from the cosy padded chairs in air-conditioned setting with the latest digital projection and THX sound. Theatres in those days were somewhat liked a football field with wooden fences running along the perimeter. Fronting one end is a white projection screen and behind a shed housing the projector. Two doors at the back served as entrances for patrons and in the centre, you find rows of wooden benches.

Along Macpherson Road, there was this run down open-air cinema which offered free seating. When it rained, the audience ran for cover around the veranda but for us, we sat in the rain and enjoyed every minute of it.

Not many of us could afford the movie tickets. We found a sneaky way to save money at the outdoor theatre in the nearby estate. Our big group would buy two tickets. Two of us would enter, and then one of us would bring the ticket stubs out to fetch another person in. This was repeated until the whole group is in. After the movie we would stay in the theatre so we could catch the next show. This way we were able to enjoy countless hours of viewing fun, paying just for two tickets.

We were, perhaps, in some warped way, heeding the government’s present exhortation to be creative and entrepreneur: our methods were resourceful and ingenious. Perhaps the only disadvantage was that we transgressed against the law, and even so the law mattered little to us young boys who did not recognise the importance of having to abide by the rules. The only rules we knew were ours, and our only rule was to have as much fun as possible. Getting into trouble was secondary, a minor irritation. Of course we were afraid of getting scolded by our parents: yet our need to find amusement led inexorably to resorting to illegal techniques.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Invincible

Watching the medicine man or ‘koyok man’ selling his wares was pure entertainment. A frequent performance at the night bazaars was the vendor peddling his secret concoctions that would take away all the ills of life. The Hokkiens called it “buay kao yoke”, selling balm in Hokkien dialect.

One of my favourites was the 'koyok man' selling the medicated oil or ‘kun thao yu’ loosely translated as ‘fist oil’. A balm for bruises, knocks and falls. 'Kun thao yu' was a sort of mother of all medicated oils and each family would boasted of a preference for a particular brand.

The 'koyok man' show was predictable. I recalled clearly this medicine man that peddled his special oil for treating burns. He got his act ready by placing a tiny kerosene stove in the centre, and a small table displaying his fiery red oil in tiny little bottles. Behind the table stood an array of photographs parading his satisfied customers and well-known personalities lending credibility to his wares.

Crowd would gathered to sniff out what was happening and he would start to light up the stove and placed a long thick metal chain over the store. Turning up the heat, the metal chain started to glow as it absorbed all the heat. In the meantime, he did nothing except going round the stove creating an air of expectation. When the crowd was just right, he will extol on the merits of his special medicated oil. Boasting of his discipleship of a far away master in far away China and citing the many cures and miracles of his patients. And the who’s and who’s in his list of satisfied customers. This went on and on while he tried to sell his concotion. No one bought as most would had been memerised by his bragging and waiting to see what he was going to do with the fiery red hot chain.

This would drag on until very late. No one bought and no one budged. He was waiting for us and we, for him.

Just before closing time, if there was a period, he lifted up the chain and in full view of the audience; he slided one hand over the red-hot chain and shouted out in agony.

Careful to show his contorted face exaggrated with pain and he went over to the table and grabbed a bottle and apply the ointment over his hand while his face gleamed with gratification that he had found relieve.

Everyone would applaused and suddenly everyone started buying the ointment. It was amazing.

We laughed over it, as we couldn’t believe that people could fall for the trick. There was no miracle for burns, maybe a temporary relieve. We knew it, we saw him applied an ointment on his hands before he set up his store.

And there was this man who sold glass cutters. It was amazing. He slided the cutter along a piece of glass and with a gentle knock, the glass splited cleanly along the cut. Impressed, I bought one but it never worked.

I was convinced at a tender age not to trust street vendors. To me, it was all about showmanship and conditioned presentation.