Wednesday, October 27, 2010


'bengali' jute bed

picture from national archives of s'pore





i was exploring the mandai industrial estate when i caught sight of this bed. the last time i saw this type of bed was more than 35 years ago. in those days when schools still had watchmen, the sikh 'jaga' in the school, where i started my teaching career, had one of these beds. although the material used is different, the frame and structure have not changed much. in the days when such beds were more common, the ropes were made of jute. the bed frame i saw today was fashioned out of nylon ropes.



the owner of this bed told me that during the japanese occupation, the simple jute bed was not exclusive to the sikhs. it was used by people of all races - chinese, malays, indians and others. according to him, the jute bed was cheap and easy to construct. it was even portable and it could be stored away in some corner when it was not in use. i remember we called it 'bengali bed'. the proper name for it is charpoy.

do you use a mattress with this bed? the person told me that he does. however, if he is just resting on it for a while, then he does not need the mattress. in the past, i have not seen anyone placing a mattress on top of the rope frame.

this reminds me of a kind of game we used to play as kids. we would manipulate a length of string, secured at the two ends, to eventually form a 'bengali' bed. this game of sort involved two players. you could not play it alone because it involved transferring the pattern formed by the string from one player to the other.

20 comments:

Icemoon said...

Now schools still have jaga at night?

yg said...

icemoon, i think they stopped having jagas in schools sometime in the late 70s.

Icemoon said...

Will the security of schools be compromised?

yg said...

nowadays, all schools have an electronic alarm system.

Silver Pen said...

Thank you for the amazing blog. Being a Singaporean who resides in Australia for awhile now, I miss Singapore tremendously. Those pictures posted on your blog, though some were taken way before I was born, bring back fond memories of my hometown. Great work.

yg said...

silver pen, thanks for dropping by. i am glad i have helped to trigger some of your good memories of s'pore.

Lam Chun See said...

I don't remember this type of bed; but I remember the fan-po-chong (Cantonese). The frame is foldable and the 'mattress is just a piece of canvass material.

yg said...

chun see, the charpoy was quite common in the 60s. the sikh watchman would have it on the five-footway, just outside the bank.
yes, i used to sleep on the white foldable canvas bed with a wooden frame. on very warm nights, we would move it out and lie (not "che da pao") on it. then, when it was cooler, we would move it into the house.

Uncle Lee said...

Hi YG, back in the '60s, '70s' these beds can be seen outside Banks in KL with the Sikh security guards. At nights parked across the main entrance.

When young and during chinese new year would discreetly drop a couple of those cigar size firecrackers under the beds...at 2am. Sure woke them up.
Best regards, Lee.

yg said...

lee, you and your pranks! you could write a book about them. i particularly enjoyed reading the one about the crocodile.

nah said...

Yg, I remember that watchman, the Sikh ‘jaga’ in the school, who slept on such a bed.
He would place his bed outside the woodwork workshop every evening, and occasionally Sikh junior would use it as a trampoline and be jumping up and down on it.
He once told us that he was thrown off the bed one night by some supernatural force. We never doubted him because the school was built on a cemetery. Some people sighted coffins jutting out on the slopes where the school sat when it rained heavily. Yet, we stayed back in the school late at night and we even slept in the school after our special constabulary training at the police academy at Thomson Rd.

yg said...

nah, those days when schools had watchmen, we were also not allowed to stay in the staffroom until too late because the place had to be locked up. but that didn't stop us from remaining in school, on some days, way past midnight. we would climb over the parapet to gain access to the office and the staffroom. the sikh watchman did not quite like our overstaying in the school.

FL said...

In the 1950s and 1960s, my late dad used to sleep on this so called "fan po chong" mentioned by Mr Lam. During those years, families were poor and had many children (that's why later the govt started "two is enough" policy). Their rented rooms were small for the families. This forced the men to sleep at the 5'foot way at night using the foldable canvass beds. However, this type of beds used to harboured lots of bedbugs. Me and my brother slept on such beds during our teens ! Quite comfortable, I remember.

yg said...

fl, those days, all beds harboured bedbugs. we used to remove the planks from the bed, banged them hard on the ground to dislodge the bugs and then we crushed them to death.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was little, there was this Sikh jaga outside the Chartered Bank with his charpoy, and this slogan would always play in my mind "Big, strong and friendly". WL

yg said...

anonymous, the charpoy is used by north indians. in china, they also have jute beds. here is a picture of a chinese woman weaving ajute bed.

Yu-Kym said...

That's new! I mean old! I've never seen that bed before. Looks cooling to sleep on without a mattress.

yg said...

yu-kym, you can see the modern version of the charpoy here

Anonymous said...

Dear Yew Ghee, Thank you for enriching our holiday in so many ways. I have been tempted to approach Johns machine to access all its stored delights and found the charpooi item. We saw such an item in a heritage house in Goa, demonstrating the portugese lifestyle. I remember it well, the base was woven with a flat smooth grass into a holey pattern. John thinks it was split cane, or rattan. The guide said its use discouraged sweating. Until I read your note ref. bugs, I thought it very hygienic.
Sincere Best Wishes, from Ann Harper

yg said...

ann, it was our pleaure (victor samuel and i) accompanying you and john around.
the bugs were found in those canvas beds chun see mentioned. i do not know if the charpooi harbour bugs.
looking forward to your next visit to s'pore.