Tuesday, September 16, 2008

the koyok man - s'pore busker

(photo from national archives of singapore)


in the 60s, entertainment also came in the form of the chinese medicine travelling salesman and his assistants. we refer to this wandering salesman as the koyok man. koyok means 'quack medicine' in malay. koyok is also the name of a plaster, concocted by the koyok man, to treat all kinds of aches and pain.

a number of these itinerant salesmen were martial art exponents and they used their strength, knowledge of the art and technique to demonstrate amazing feats like bending long iron rods pressed against the throat, eating fire, breaking bricks with their bare hands and other feats requiring extraordinary human strength.

some were also jugglers, entertaining us with juggling acts with pins, hoops, balls and the fire torches. these performances were usually scheduled somewhere in between all the sales talk. first, the assistant would hit a gong loudly and repeatedly to draw the crowd. once they had attracted a sizeable crowd, the medicine salesman would begin his proclamation of the merits of his wonderful products, which we children paid scant attention to as we were there solely for the show.

the hitting of the gong by his assistant was done throughout the performance: when the koyok man had emphasised or wanted to emphasise a point, at the end of a long sentence, at the start of the demonstration of strength and when the performance was building up to a climax.

i do not remember staying behind to find out how much sale was made at the end of the performance. at my kampong, the koyok man normally made his appearance in the evening but, in the past, i have seen the koyok man making his sales pitch in the day at sungei road thieves' market.

when i visited covent garden and watched the non-singing buskers, they reminded me of the entertainment provided by the koyok men in the old days. the difference was the koyok man entertained to promote his products whereas the busker showcased his talent only.

17 comments:

Victor said...

Such travelling shows were a common sight in the 1960s in the Albert Street night market (present-day Bugis Street bazaar area). This place was just a stone's throw from where I lived.

Once there was this koyok man who show was to spin in the air a big wooden flywheel using a long string with both ends tied to separate sticks. Holding one stick in each hand, he would spin the reel-like flywheel by moving the ends of the string up and down alternately.

When spinning at speed, the flywheel made a loud "whoo-ing" sound. He would throw the flywheel high up into the air every now and then, much to the awe and amazement of young kids like me.

Icemoon said...

Albert Street night market in the 1960s, but I thought that place was nightsoil collection center?

Victor said...

There was no nightsoil collection on the stretch between Queen Street and Victoria Street. Maybe that's the stretch between Bencoolen Street and Queen Street?

yg said...

as a young boy, i remember seeing the night soil collection centre on the side of bencoolen street, nearer to albert street. the road was not straight then; it was more like a crescent. so, both of you may be right about the location of the centre.

peter said...

Night-soil between Rochore Center and Foo Lou Shou Complex.

I too emjoy watching the koyo man selling his wares and spinning stories in desker Road backlanes. Usually to entice patrons to buy his concoctions for that "extra mileage", and warn customers about unprotected sex, there would be photos of the most gross kind that would afflict victims.

When we were students in Bras Basah Road, we used to go over to Middle Road where there was a very famous clinic. We called it the "VD Clinic". Today that building still stands as a private school. The "VD" Clinic is no longer known by that tag and in Jalan Besar area.

yg said...

peter, i think you are right about the location of the night soil collection centre. after so many years, one tends to get location misplaced.

i did not need to visit the vd clinic but i knew about its existence. today, the clinic is at kelantan lane.

the first time, i took a walk through desker road backlane, it was a real eye-opener for me, literally.

peter said...

We watched the male customers buy the koyok and enter the back door of the red-lite bouses. Since the koyok man said that this was good for that "oomph", we waited for the customer to finish his job. We betted that the guy would take X mins. To our surprise he came out in less than 10 mins. Soon it was "Next please.....". The male customer was too shy to stay behind and from what he spoke in Hokkien, it seems that the koyo did no wonders.

We concluded that the koyok man was a con-man after all.

Icemoon said...

Is the VD clinic related to Middle Road hospital?

[i]"The first HIV-positive case in Singapore was reported in May 1985 and this patient was warded at the Middle Road Hospital which later became the Communicable Diseases Centre."[/i]

yg said...

the first aids patient was admitted to middleton hospital in 1985. middleton hsopital later became the communicable disese centre.

i think the place peter referred to was the middle road hospital which used to treat skin problems, including vd.

peter said...

The purported "Middle Road Hospital" was never a hospital. It was a clinic. Middleton Hospital in Moulmein is now CDC. There are 2 CDCs - CDC 1 and CDC 2. Dont ask me the difference.

Victor said...

I stayed at CDC more than 10 years ago. Can't remember if they had CDC 1 and CDC 2 then.

No worries, Icemoon - I am not a recovered AIDS patient. :)

I had chickenpox then and my younger son was a weak one-year old premature baby then. The woman-of-the-house banished me to CDC to protect the poor kid. I had to be chased out by doctor after 1 week.

A father will do anything for his son.

Victor said...

I still remember it was Dr Wong Sin Yew who personally "chased me out" from CDC. He said my blisters had all dried and were not infectious anymore and he needed the bed for other more serious cases.

But I bear no grudges against him hor. Only stating the facts here for the record.

Icemoon said...

That's pretty touching - the last sentence about father and son.

I didn't know you can be banished to CDC for chickenpox. Reminds me of Peter's account about his stay in some hospital and saw the most beautiful nurse. Will people banish themselves to get close to nurses?

yg said...

so, peter, victor and i had the experience of staying at middleton hospital. i went to see a doctor at the pegu road outpatient dispensary regarding some bleeding from the 'letter after r' hole. it was actually piles but the doctor must have suspected something infectious, so i was sent to middleton for observation. it was a boring two-day stay and, unlike victor, i just could not wait to get home although there was a pretty nurse attending to us.

peter said...

Talking about students who sit for exams in hospital, that was what happened to me during my HSC finals. There was an invigilator who stood next to me. I was not given extra time to complete the exams. My exam hall were those "barrack-like" wards - some buildings are still here today. My ward was the first block on the right after that little hut after the CDC main entrance.

Actually very pai seh for the first time. I was told to show my private part to this beautiful nurse I said earlier. I didn't dare to look into her face - what do u expect 18 year revealing private parts to nurse slightly older than u, and single some more.
Then there was a time when every morning during the morning rounds, a group of medical students came to my bedside and ask me all sorts of questions. As usual also see private part by 8-10 medical students (male and female, I think more females). The senior doctor explained to the class using my private part as a study tool. I stayed in that place for 10 days before discharge.

If u think I kena those dreaded disease, No I didnt/ I suffered severe purging, dehydration and vomitting. That thot it was koro. later they traced it to food poisoning from eating unhygienic Indian curry.

yg said...

your tool must be quite a specimen if it was worthy of study by a group of medical students. hope you were not rude to the pretty female nurse with your head hanging limply instead of giving her the full attention.

yg said...

peter, koro was a phenomenon in 1967. at first, they blamed it on the pork but then it affected all races including the malays, so that ruled out pork. everybody was so scared, especially people like me. already don't have something to crow about and if that should shrink, then what would be left?