Monday, July 30, 2007

It's A Different Era

I was reading Uncle Lee and this storyteller extraordinaire had me laughing out loud at his naughty teenage pranks and escapades. He sure helped bring back many memories of wonderful playtimes I had with my childhood friends a long, long time ago. There were no telephone, no television and no computer at home; no malls to hang out at and movies at cinemas cost money. And I don’t remember seeing toys at home, save for the one plastic doll or two and some cheap masak-masak sets bought from the little Indian store next to the bus stop.

Mornings in the kampung were usually quiet times as most of the kids were at school. Come afternoons and the cheerful voices singing -“La La Li La Tampong….” /" One, Two Som.." / “Chooi Loh Chooi Peng-Peng….” /“Pa Pa Lang…Lang Ting Tang….” /‘Ting Tong Tiang….” and happy shrieks of kids out at play would be heard. Loud crying too, when someone tripped and fell and got hurt and also the screams and yells when there were the occasional fights, pulling hair and pounding at each other, especially when caught cheating in the games. Some of the games we had so much fun playing everyday - ‘Police and Thieves’/ Hide-And-Seek,/ ‘A.E.I.O.U’/ ‘What Is The Time Mr Wolf’ /' One-Leg Hop and Chase'/ ‘Skipping Rope/High-Jumping’ /‘Hop-Scotch’/ ‘Kali Toay’/ ‘Catch the Baby Chick', etc..etc...

Rainy days would see us playing indoor games such as 'seven stones' and congkak and draught....all homemade sets using items such small river stones, coconut shells, assam jawa seeds, checked cardboard and old bottle caps. Even when playing such supposedly 'quiet' games would not stop us from yelling at each other, "Hey! You cheating wan...I saw you cheating.....", followed with a fierce and loud rebuttal of "WHERE GOTTTTT??? You are the cheater lar....You stoooopidddd....Dowan to play liao lar..." and with one flick of the hand, boards and seeds and everything else would be sent flying to the ground. Split as arch enemies for the day....tomorrow comes, and we would be best of buddies again.

Tired from playing, we would go pick fruits or climb up our favourite hideout, a huge assam jawa tree for some relaxing chats. The kampong was like an open orchard with abundance of fruit trees of every kind - mangosteens, buah seten, bachang (quinine), petai, Indian drumstick, ampra. starfruit, rambutans, durians, ciku, coconuts, bananas and many others. I cannot recall all the names but there is one I like very much - buah keriang or something – it’s a small purple berry that I used to pick from the ground…it is sweetish and it leaves the tongue all purplish. I have not seen these berries for the long, long while already.

We made our own toys. Nail a wooden broom-stick to a milk tin cover and we would have a roller of sorts that we pushed round racing each other down the dirt track. Hammer some F & N bottle caps, puncture 2 holes and thread a rope through, spin and pull and spin and pull and you have sort of a windmill. Go collect some rubber seeds, drill some holes into the seed and thread the same. And oh ya. rub the seed on the floor and touch some bare skin…I tell ya…it sting and burn. I remember my naughty cousin….he rubbed the seed and then crawled quietly next to the mahjong table and touched the calf of an old nyonya aunt causing her to ‘naik lata ' "…$#@** jatuh...jatuhhh...@#&^%...jatuhhh...." Aiyoh-yoh....such colourful expletives!

My cousin brother is a very creative guy. He was into ‘weaponry’ at that time and his ingenuity fascinated me. He could easily fashion a wooden gun/rifle out of a piece of wooden plank salvaged from wooden crates. Tie some rubber bands and then for ammunition, just cut up empty cigarette boxes and roll it tight. And sometimes, he would cut up some pieces of planks, hammer them together and make a crude wooden sword. Weave some coconut fronds and you get a belt/holster and a matching headgear to complete the look.

Anyone here remember the bamboo-pop? It’s a length of bamboo, diameter of about a 50sen coin and 10 inches long; put into the small hollow of the bamboo an unripe cherry fruit and it fits just nicely, take aim and then push hard with a thinner stick of bamboo or wooden chopstick and the projectile will hit the target. My naughty cousin aimed at me once and until today, I think he will never forget the spanking he got for making me cry. It was very, very painful.

Also the Y-shaped lastik (catapult) fashioned from a small Y-shaped branch of a jambu or tembusu tree with a length of used bicycle inner tubes tied to it. This weapon can be lethal. I have seen my brother and cousin used it on some monitor lizards and stray animals that wandered into our backyard and had seen them brought down some fruit bats from the trees too. I pestered my cousin to make one for me but momma found out and threw mine away. **bawlsss...** He then taught me to use a simpler version – just a thick rubber band between the thumb and fore-finger and to use cut-up vines as ammunition. I was quite clumsy and I accidentally hit a friend on her cheek and that sent her howling in pain and oh my, the red welt that appeared. I sure regretted it and that caused Momma to leave a few rotan strokes on my legs too.

And my children? Toys by the basketfuls when they were small and now, on-line games. Cartoons on the TV when they were small and now, movies at cineplexes.


posted by nyonyapenang at 11:55 AM, | 64 comments
Sunday, July 22, 2007


Kak Teh asked:-

“…have you ever wondered abt children's concept of time? For example
- Get off the phone! - In a minute! (read- half an hr later)
- Do the dishes! - In a minute (half an hr or an hr later!)
- When are you coming home? In a minute . (three hrs later.)

Has time really changed that much since we were young?”


Hmmm…….I don’t get answers like those above from my no. 2. His usual would be the flexi-and-all-convenient ‘SOON’.

- Please mop the floor. - Answer : SOON

- Can bring in the laundry, please? – Answer : SOON

- Go and shower. - Answer : SOON

- Have you posted the letter? - Answer : SOON

Arrrghhh…he drives me round the bend with his non-time specific answer. He is the ‘hang-loose’ type whereas I am the ‘hold-the-clock-to-your-face’ type and often times, we clashed because of this. Last time, he would tell me he’ll get certain things done or come home by a certain hour and when I don’t see the things done or see him come through the door within 15 minutes grace time, I get all wound up and was ever ready to spring on him. And sprang on him, I did, many times too! He smartened up and came up with a literally correct but to me, a technically flawed answer - 'SOON'.

My no. 2 has some ‘unconventional’ and 'skewed' views. For one, he does not understand why would I be so willing to part with good money to get some overpriced mechanism on my wrist. And do I really need to be reminded of the time through out? You sure don’t need to know the time every other minute, right? So why carry something on your body, as if your life depended on it?

You guessed it. He does not wear a watch now and I don’t remember when I last saw one on his slim wrist. But when he was little, besides his Lego and Transformers, he wanted a watch. Everybody else he knew had a watch. He pestered and badgered me for one and I finally relented and got those mickey mousey types for him and of course, he initially could not read the time. We would be traveling back to the kampong and he would be asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet?”/ “How long more before we arrive, Momma?” and I would reply, “In another 3 hours.” And then he’d come with, “Oh, but how long is 3 hours, Momma?”

I would hold his little hand in mine and patiently point to the watch face. He could read the numerals, so I’d say, “Okie, its 8.45am now and we will arrive at Gramma’s when it reads 11.45am.” This would make him happy for a while until he comes again with, “But Momma, the number takes so long to jump.” He learned fast and soon enough, he picked up the concept of time….how time is measured and how we are controlled by time, so to speak. He must have found it stifling and then thought he could just get away with his smart-alec answer, ‘SOON’.

posted by nyonyapenang at 12:16 AM, | 62 comments
Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Hand Being Faster Than The Mouth

“Got homework or not?” yelled the mother from the kitchen as she was busy preparing the evening meal.

Another 15 minutes or so later, she went “Hey, I ask got homework and have you finished them, huh?” This time around, the voice a tad louder.

Some 10 minutes must have passed when she boomed,“Aitelyuuuuuu…..turn off the TV NOWwwwww….” her face a crimson shade and the veins on the neck all raised.

“OK larrrrr…..enough larrr….I am not deaf lar….”, the boy finally got up from the bean bag and dragged himself to the small study table.

That’s my friend’s daily tune – mother and son ‘top of the charts duet for the day’. **tsk..tsk…tsk….** aiyoh…INSOLENT, OBSTINATE and dared to TALK BACK summore! Kalo kena my mother or kena me for that matter, herrh.…he’d be toast.

My momma was a hard and tough taskmaster. She had a soft voice but she sure had a ‘loud’ presence. She hardly ever raised her voice because the mighty rotan ‘spoke’ for her. Every evening after dinner, momma kept me company as I struggled with my school homework on the multi-purpose dining table. Momma with her sewing and needlecraft, would be sitting just a few feet away and she seemed to have more than one pair of eyes. I would be perched on the hard wooden kitchen stool, pencil in hand and scribbling furiously away and quite often, my mind would wander and on a few instances too, I stole 80 winks. **twackkk…** goes the rotan on the floor like she was swatting some imaginary fly or something and I’d jump.

Though she could not read what I wrote, momma sure was one sharp lady and if she saw some untidy or out-of-line handwritings, there goes one sharp pinch or smack on the chubby hand **oucchhh…** and God save me if I brought home exercise books and workbooks which contained crosses more than ticks. And for the revision of the day’s lessons, momma insisted I read out loud. Ya…real LOUD so she would know that I was not nodding away to dreamland. Eventhough she could not make out what I was warbling about and whether I got it right, she nonetheless believed that if she made me read 10 times, at least once, I would have got it right. Try playing the fool and bring back colourful report cards and I can be assured of some torturous ‘rewards’.

Momma was also a great motivator and she used case studies to good effect. Her usual repertoire of threats and reminders - ”Hey, if you don’t like school and don’t perform, you’ll end up a domestic help, just like so-and-so.” OR her favourite OK, I go to school tomorrow and strike out your name from the register. "

That would ensure instant theatrics from me,WaaWaaaWAAAaaa….DOWANnnnn…. I want to be a teacher.” I suspected that was music to momma’s ears then. Those days, there were many girls, some as young as 12 years old, who ‘prematurely graduated’ from school because of poor academic performance and in some cases, the parents were unable to afford the monthly school fees. I had one classmate who had to leave school to work as a stay-in babysitter for a mere $25 per month. I felt sooo sad for her…I cried for days!

Looking back, I wonder if my momma had it easier bringing up kids compared to what my other young friend is going through today. Were the kids more obedient and mindful then? Or were the mommas of those days more fierce? Me? Oh, sometimes, my hand works faster than my mouth. **piakkkk..piakkkk….**

posted by nyonyapenang at 5:55 PM, | 53 comments
Sunday, July 08, 2007

Competition is HEALTHY and Rejection is GOOD

Doing Sales and Marketing is tough, they say. The competition is stiff and it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. It sure is. Sales people are trained and re-trained and trained and re-trained over and over again and reminded that…Competition is HEALTHY and Rejection is GOOD!

When the answer is a ‘YES’, thank your Client for giving you the business. And when the answer is a ‘NO’, thank your Prospect for giving you his time. Be a true professional and never ever speak ill. Embrace these simple timeless rules and you will be rewarded manifold. All these sure make a lot of sense to me - and nothing too much and too difficult to follow.

Like an eager beaver, I dived into my new vocation full of spirit, drive and boundless enthusiasm. Soon, I was to find out the hard way that many don’t play by the rules. It seemed every single rule in the book was made to be bent, if not broken. I felt dejected and depressed. It was totally unfair, I wailed. It hurt and on a few instances, I almost crumbled. Fortunately, I have a good mentor – he is patient and he is kind and he is wise. He counsels well. “Just like anything else, there sure would be some who have different ideas and chose to do it their way, dirty tactics and all and it will be to their detriment. Honour your craft and honour yourself. Garbage belongs to the garbage dump”, my mentor drummed into me.

Over the years, I have heard just too many words spoken by others that got back to my ears. Oh, words that never fail to make me cringe in embarrassment. They sure don’t play by the rules and I bet it was a sad day for them when they opened their mouth :-

1. “You bought from her last time. So now you buy from me.”

The Client WILL buy from me. He believes in loyalty.

2. “Please give me this order. If not, I’ll be dead meat”

The Client will come to me. He DOES NOT want to deal with dead meat anytime now or in the future.

3. “She’s an old-hand already and don’t need your support. Please support me.”

The Client will buy from the confident ‘old-hand’.

4. “She has too many Clients. She is too busy and won’t have time to see you often.”

The Client will buy from a BUSY me rather than deal with someone who has nothing to do.

5. “She is soooo old-school.”

Thanks, dude. You just lost the order. ^O^

And a couple of days ago, a new client paid me a compliment. “Ms Tan, I was looking for this product and have met with many other sales people. They confused me. They harassed me. And they frightened me. But you impressed me – you kept it straight and simple, you gave me time to think and I appreciate lots. Thank you.”

Wah….what a soothing balm for any bruised spirit and a great boost for any sagging ego. I stepped out of the office with a spring in my step, a smile on my face and a song in my ear. Thanks Robin, you made my day!


posted by nyonyapenang at 7:21 PM, | 51 comments
Monday, July 02, 2007

I Don't Spare The Rod

On my recent trip back to Penang, I saw one of my relatives spoon-fed her young grandson, a mischievous and bright-eyed 2 year old. The small tyke was placed on a rattan chair and grandma sat on a low wooden stool facing him; bowl of rice on one hand and spoon on the other. On the floor was a long, thin rotan, about 3 feet in length and one end coiled into a handle of sorts. Ah….ha….I saw the rotan and I was transported back to the time when I was the one on the rattan chair and my momma on the wooden stool. My lips curved into a smile.

Momma brooked no nonsense during meal times. Small brats and little cikus were not allowed on the dinner table. Momma would scoop the rice on a plate or bowl, add in the dishes of the day, mixed them all up and with 2 twacks of the rotan against the wall to signal feeding time and I would obediently climb onto the rattan chair. No ‘ifs’ and no ‘buts’ and I only got to get down when the bowl is cleaned of the last grain of rice. A gentle swish of the lethal rotan was all it was needed to remind me to focus on the task at hand.

When I was old enough to be ‘promoted’ to a place at the dining table, I was initially not allowed to scoop the dishes for myself. I would have to politely asked Sis or Poppa or whoever was next to me to oblige me and had to observe the etiquette on the table. No messy spills of soups or rice or dishes would be tolerated and I could only get down from the chair after every grain of rice is wiped off from the plate. It’s bad manners to be untidy and messy and shows disrespect for the elders, momma would extol. Count our blessings that we have food on the table and to waste and throw away food is a sin. Don’t make the Gods unhappy and ya, thunderclaps and lightning are signs of God's displeasure. And worse, a messy eater will marry a spouse with pocked-marked or ‘crater’ face, momma often foretold. That was more than enough to train little babas and nyonyas to be neat, clean and tidy. If at all, the little ones were still untidy, they would be quickly removed from the dining table and 'demoted' once more to the sidelines…..back to the rattan chair and the accompanying long and thin rotan.

I recall too, that the lethal rotan was often proudly displayed in most households - hung up on the kitchen wall or on the wooden door. It was a formidable weapon used to ensure the little ones toe the line….from instilling discipline and manners to 'rewards' for bringing home colourful school report cards. Who has ever heard of child abuse and mental and physical torture and human rights or whatever, then? I for one, had my fair share of feeling the thin rotan landing on my bare lower legs which left red welts that stayed for days and I am none the worse for it. The stinging pain of the rotan on my bare skin is nothing compared to the embarrassment of walking around with the angry red marks that took days to fade.

I used the rotan on my boys too, when they were little. A couple or so of swift flicks on their legs and then making them kneel in front of the family altar to ‘confess’ their wrongdoings were all that was needed to straightened them up. Both of them learned fast and remember well.

I am an old-school momma….I Don’t Spare The Rod.
posted by nyonyapenang at 12:20 AM, | 76 comments