Tuesday, May 11, 2010

grasscutting, now and then

this morning, i was at upper seletar reservoir watching some park maintenance workers cutting up a fallen tree with motorised chain saws. it made me think of those days when most of this work was done manually, with either a saw or an axe. today, even with such mechanical cutters, they took quite some time, working in the midday sun, to cut up the huge trunk of the tree.

these days, when cutting grass on the slopes or even on big open fields, most contract grasscutters use a petrol-operated machine, strapped to the back, that comes with disposable plastic bands at the cutting end. if it is a big area that needs to be trimmed, the noisy brigade of foreign worker-grasscutters will move in a formation. surprisingly, the plastic band appears to be cut the grass faster and better than the metal blade that was used in the past.

even though the cutting is done with a plastic band, there is still the likelihood of someone getting hurt if one gets too close to the grass-cutter. from my experience, whenever the grass-cutter notices a pedestrian approaching, he will stop cutting for the moment. also, every one of them carries a board at the back which says ' danger! keep clear!'

so, how was this grass cutting task performed in the past - in the 50s and the 60s?

i remember the grasscutters used a scythe or an implement like those shown in the picture below. the grasscutters would have a coarse sharpening stone and some water with him and every now and then, he would stop to sharpen the blade. in those days, the number of grasscutters in a team seldom exceeded four. there were not so many grasscutters then.

you really had to keep your distance from the grass-cutter when he was doing the cutting because the blade was a rectangular metal plate. while most grass-cutters today are foreign workers, those in the past were mostly locals.


JollyGreenP said...

The 1950s/60s style of grasscutter used in Singapore so impressed my father that after our return to the UK and his demob from the RAF, when faced with a large expanse of overgrown grass at the house we moved to,he created his own version of the implement from an old walking stick with a flat handle.e made the blade from a piece of sheet metal and screwed it to the handle. In fact probably the best description of the implement would be an inverted walking stick with a sharp blade. People in the village were quite impressed with the idea and interested that the idea had come from Singapore.

Uncle Phil said...

I can still remember vividly the school "peons" swinging their grass cutters in the school field during my primary school days. I wonder whether the term "peon" is still used back home?

peter said...

We had a "tambi" as a our gardener. He was from India and started grass-cutting in our house since the mid-50s until he retired just 2 years ago. he retired because his "understudy" from India was not interested in learning this trade.

I followed "Tambi" each time he came to our house. I soon learn the grass-cutter tied to a stick is actually meant to trim the edges and narrow cutter, something similar to the sharp blade used by the barber. To sharpen the blade, he used a kind of stone. I would ask "Tambi" to let me do the job for him each time he sharpen the blade.

For open spaces he used a mechanical lawn mower with rotating blades. I still remember the cut on my rear foot which I received from this machine. It was all because I stood in front of the lawn mower and I failed to move away when it came near. A slice of my skin came off and blood poured out profusely.

"Tambi" remembered that incident very well when I spoke to him 4 years ago. Today "Tambi" lives in Chua Chu Kang Estate and has a son and daughter who are both lawyers.

I am not sure why i called him "Tambi", maybe because it's a colonial slang to call gardeners that way.

yg said...

john, yes, i wanted to mention that the blade grass-cutter was used in this part of the world only. in uk, i believe, they used the lawn mower, first the manual and subsequently, the motorised one.

yg said...

phil, nowadays, everything has to be politically correct. nobody uses such a term anymore. these days, in schools, grass-cutting is outsourced to contractors and they use machines to do the job.

yg said...

peter, i think 'tambi' is tamil for younger brother.

Lam Chun See said...

When we were growing up in the kampong, the 'tambi' responsible for cutting the grass and shrubs around our house was a guy called Lam Chun See. And he had 3 brothers :(

yg said...

chun see, what kind of implement did you use to cut the grass and prune the shrubs?

JollyGreenP said...

If Chun See is looking sheepish, maybe he used his teeth!

peter said...

chun see used razaor blade?

Nowdays so hard to get younger generation to do it; yet most of them like to stay in landed property. I would tell my children if u want to own one, better learn to be a "Tambi" first otherwise you hire landscape company do the job for S$200/mth at least for once a month. Also when freinds come to your house, you can't even tell one type of plant from another or what is "top soil".

Also I see some people in my generation feel "paiseh" to go topless working in the garden when they live in landed houses. I don't know why.

Lam Chun See said...

In my house my wife and son do all the gardening and 'thambying'. I only take photos of their plants for my blog and for showing off on facebook.

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