Friday, July 29, 2011

toads never had a chance

when we were growing up in the kampong, we did a lot of cruel things which could have landed us in trouble with the law today and which would definitely incur the wrath of animal lovers. many a 'harmful' animals died in our hands and even not harmful ones like dogs and cats were not spared from our merciless acts.

the dogs in the kampong could hardly finish their mating act in peace. whenever they were joined, we would do everything and anything to put them asunder. we hit them with sticks and hurled stones at them. when this did not work, we got hot water and poured it on them, specifically, onto where the genitals were. cats were luckier, they were not abused in the same violent way but when the mother gave birth, sometimes the kindles were abandoned.

rats caught in cages were either scalded alive or drowned in the drain or by submerging the cage in a pail of water. mice were caught with the mouse-trap where they did not usually have a chance to survive. the grown-ups, especially men, ate new-born mice wrapped in preserved mustard (kiam chye). birds were either injured, maimed or killed by stones propelled from a catapult (the malay name for it is lastik) which is featured in this blogpost.

cockcroaches and lizards, which we rarely see nowadays, were all over the place. cockroaches were crushed or slammed with slippers or whatever we could lay our hands on. a lot of people, including grown-up men, were scared of cockroaches but that did not prevent people from trying to exterminate them. lizards were more difficult to catch but when caught, they were often burnt to death. often only their wriggling tails seemed to survive for sometime.

but i think one of the most abhorred creatures was the toad. we were led to believe that the toad was a poisonous animal, so we learnt to hate it like poison. being ugly did not help the toad at all. whenever one was spotted, it would be savagely attacked with stones or sticks as we wanted to keep our distance from the poison. we were actually scared when the toad puffed up because we feared that it would expel its poison.

incidentally, i did not come across a frog, the edible kind, all the years when i was living in a kampong. the first time i saw a frog in the wild happened only recently, about 5 years ago, at a run-off canal at the macritchie reservoir. would we have attacked a frog if we had seen one?

of course, i did not do all those things that i have mentioned. i can count cockroaches, lizards, rats and toads as having died by my hands.

Monday, July 25, 2011

i admit to peeping in the past

in my blogpost on lovers' haunts and peeping toms i mentioned that those guilty of peeping on love-making couples at places like macritchie reservoir park, fort canning park and other popular spots were mostly old men and teenage boys. in that post, nowhere did i give any indication that i was also a voyeur.

i must confess here that when i was in my teens, i was also into peeping, but only occasionally, and when the opportunities presented themselves. i always did it on my own. as the lighting was not very good, i usually did not get a good look at what i was supposed to see. some of the time i had to rely on my imagination to decide what was actually going on.

although it happened nearly half a century ago, i can still show you where i did my peeping and how it was done.

this was the type of machine where i did my peeping. actually, those machines on which i watched some of the black-and-white images were not so sophiscated; they were improvised home-made machines which made use of the same principle.

the operator of the peep-show machine would come around on his bicycle with the machine strapped onto it. if i remember correctly, we had to pay 5 cents to view a filmlet on some cartoon show. of course, there was the more sleazy kind where you could see some images of scantily clad women or even of a naked woman running around.

this peep show machine shown above is called a mutoscope. in some places, they call it the 'what the butler saw' machine. it is a simple form of motion-picture machine in which a series of views, exhibiting the successive phases of a scene, are printed on paper and mounted around the perphery of a wheel. the rotation of the wheel brings them rapidly into sight one after another, and the blended effect gives a semblance of motion.

this type of machine which could have been found in an arcade was coin-operated but the viewer had to turn the handle continuously to watch the show. in the uk, this machine was called 'what the butler saw' because one of the most viewed shows had this title. the show was about a butler peeping through a key-hole to watch a woman undressing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

towing a car with a rope

in the days when roads were not so congested and tow trucks were not in vogue, it was a normal practice to use a length of rope to tow stalled vehicles. it had to be a thick, sturdy rope, at least 3cm in circumference but not too long, about 2m. of course, there were some who thought incorrectly that the longer rope, the safer. the rope had to be secured to the front of the towed car and the rear of the towing car.

it was a tricky manoeuvre for both drivers - the one in the towing car and the other in the car being towed. they both had to maintain a slow and steady speed. the one in the towed car had to be particularly alert. the back car had to brake almost in tandem with the towing car. when taking a bend, they had to go slower and a bit wider than normal. the front car should never brake suddenly. the driver of the front car also had to check his mirrors constantly.

the towing car should preferably be bigger than the car being towed, at least of a bigger capacity. there should be some indication that a car was being towed, like leaving the hazard lights of the towed car on. for safety reasons, the car lights should be switched on when towing at night.

in those days, you could secure the rope to the frame of the car. in some cars, there was a special tow strap for the purpose. today's cars still come with these metal tow eyes, at the front and rear of the car chassis.

to get into the towing position, you had to back the second vehicle up to the car that was being towed. while in motion, the rope should be kept taut.

there had been incidents when the rope snapped and others when the rope came loose.

in the past, i also remember seeing some people using a tow bar - a long, flat metal piece - which was attached to the cars in the same way as the tow rope.

traffic laws are different in different countries. i understand that in the united states, the towed car should be unoccupied while it is being towed. this means that it will be not be possible to use the rope method.

i wonder if it is still legal to use a rope to tow a car in singapore. i have not seen anyone using this method for a long time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

flooding: past and present

in my younger days, when it flooded, we accepted it as something natural. it was bound to happen, especially during the north-east monsoon season. in fact, we, the children, would all be looking forward for it to happen. during the monsoon season especially, when it poured continuously for at least half an hour, we would be looking out for all the tell-tale signs.

first, the colour of the running water in the drains would change to that of 'kopi susu'. then the low-lying area would start to fill up quickly as the water level could be seen creeping up by the minute. the water from the smaller drains would all be rushing to dump into the big drain that ran through the heart of the kampong.

when the rain had stopped, it seemed like the whole kampong, especially the men folks, would be out in full force to survey the situation. the younger ones would be enjoying themselves splashing water at one another or just wading or trying to swim in the water.

i wonder what youngsters think of when it rains and floods these days. in those bygone days, a flood meant swimming for free. the field, the drain, the road and sometimes the house became a playground, a swimming pool.

and we never thought of blaming anyone for the floods.

these days when it floods, it makes the news. people perceive it as something that is out of the ordinary; something that should not have happened at all. that is why they call it a flash flood.

i think something like a flood, which is a natural occurence, is sometimes beyond the control of us humans.

a flood is no more thought of as fun. i do not see children swimming in the flooded field or even wading in the water.

people start blaming the authorities for not being able to prevent flooding. however, we do have the right to get upset if they build a big dam and tell us that it will help to regulate the flow, thus giving the impression that flooding should be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

berlin wall, brandenburg & check-point charlie

i will not be blogging about all the shore excursions on the cruise because not all of them have made a lasting impression on me. other than st petersburg, the other stop that has left a lasting impression on me is berlin. some friends would ask: why go all the way to germany to see the wall when we have a section of it in singapore? true, but nothing beats seeing the wall at its original site. we had to travel 3 hours by coach from the port to the city. some took the train. it was worth all the 6 hours of travelling because berlin is not on the popular tourist circuit.

i was actually more excited at seeing brandenburg gate than the remains of the berlin wall. the most famous landmark in berlin was built as a monument to prussian power and it embodied german unity, which it still does. bandenburg gate is today the symbol of the reunification of germany.

the statue, known as quadriga, sits at the top of the gate. during the napoleanic wars in 1806, it was taken to paris as a war trophy. however, in 1814, the prussian army managed to wrest it back from the french.

another reminder of world war ii and the divided germany is check-point charlie. what you see today - which is a tourist draw - is a replica of the american guardhouse. the original check-point charlie was removed on june 22 1990. it is now housed in the allied museum.

the main function of check-point charlie was to register and inform members of the western forces before entering east berlin.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

lovers' haunts and peeping toms

some blogger friends were reminiscing their courting days and they went on to name the lovers' haunts that they frequented. i have come up with a list of the places favoured by lovers in the past. actually, any place that is dark, quiet and secluded can be a lovers' choice. however, if a place is too secluded, you run the risk of being robbed or harmed.

most of the old timers mentioned macritchie reservoir park, king george v park, queen elizabeth walk (also referred to as the esplanade), katong park, changi beach and botanic gardens as their 'pak tor' places.

the other popular spots - some of which are still popular - included mt faber, fort canning park, lower peirce reservoir, upper seletar reservoir, marine parade, bedok and kallang park. some not so well known haunts were grace park and woodleigh park. a few, like east coast park, upper tanah merah and west coast park came onto the scene in the 80s.

i must state that i was never a 'pak tor king'. so, do not have the idea that i have been to all these places for any tight or steamy encounters. nevertheless, i hope the mention of certain places will evoke wonderful memories for some people.

in those days, while the lovers were deeply engaged in their love-making, there would be interested people lurking and prowling in the bushes. these people chose to refer to what they were doing as 'catching monkeys'. i sometimes wondered who the monkeys were. were the victims or the culprits, the monkeys? i suppose by saying that they were 'catching monkeys', they were trying to get acceptance for what they were doing, which was actually intruding into the privacy of the couples.

these 'uncover' voyeurs did not just work under the cover of darkness. as long as there were couples engaged in intimate activities, they would be around. although most couples wait to do their things at night, there were some who could not wait for the sun to set. so, this gave the peeping toms a chance to catch some actions in the day.

these peeping toms operated either alone or in a small group. to avoid detection, they would wear dark, usually black, clothing and they would move silently in the woods, hiding behind trees and crawling on the ground. regardless of whether alone or with accomplices, these 'pests' (as the lovers called them) were quite a cooperative lot.

if one of them came across some couples in compromising positions or when heavy actions were going on, he would signal or gesture to his fellow voyeurs to direct them to where the shows were taking place. some unsuspecting couples might not be aware of the kind of attention they were all getting.

generally, the peeping toms were either middle-age men or teenagers. some of the older men were married. among the younger ones, the teenagers, there were some who had girlfriends. i suspect they were not only doing it for just the excitement but also to pick up some tips (on lovemaking).

chun see, one of my blogger friends, talked about his experiences at macritchie reservoir park. no, he did not go there to catch monkeys; he went there to catch spiders.

does it mean that there is no more such 'catch monkey' activities these days? so long as there is 'monkey business' in the parks, there are bound to be 'monkey catchers'. but the number of people engaged in such spying activities is nowhere compared to that in the past.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the high-point of our cruise

the high-point of our cruise shore excursions has to be the visit to st petersburg in russia. we not only spent two days in this wonderful city, we also had a great local guide in victoria. a russian, educated in the united states. she was not only knowledgeable but also a very dedicated and responsible guide.

before the cruise, i had heard about st petersburg from a friend who has gone on more than 10 fly-cruises. he had painted a glorious picture of the place and i must say i have not been disappointed.

st petersburg, the cultural heart of modern day russia, was renamed petrograd in 1904. from 1924 to 1991, it was known by the name leningrad. the city, built on swampland, was founded by the russian tsar peter the great.

at the hermitage - the largest art museum in the world - we had time only for the highlights of the highlights. if you plan to spend time viewing each and every object in the hermitage, you will need a number of years to complete the task. even for those wonderful art pieces, we managed to see only some of the works done by the world's greats like rembrandt, leonardo da vinci and caravaggio.

the russians are mainly orthodox christians and the domes of their churches are usually in the shape of an onion. you can afford to miss all the other churches but not this one - the church of our saviour on the spilled blood. the church was built on the spot where emperor alexander ii was assassinated in 1881. it is claimed that this church uses more mosaics than any other church in the world.

in the words of our tour guide: if you think the exterior is beautiful, wait till you see the inside. that increased our anticipation. however, although we find the interior breathtaking, many of us prefer the stunning outside view.

another must visit place in st petersburg is catherine palace. this palace was not built by catherine the great. it was actually named after catherine i, the wife of peter the great. our tour guide mentioned that the russians wasted a lot of gold. after our visit to peterhof and to this palace, we were inclined to agree. about 100kg of gold was used to decorate the exterior of this palace during the reign of elizabeth (catherine's daughter).

this place, peterhof, was literally glittering and glistening in gold, the metal. the buildings and the many statues in the park were plastered with gold. we had taken the hovercraft on the neva river to get to peterhof, which is located just outside st petersburg. most tourists arrive there in time, just before 11 a.m., to witness the spectacular fountain display, especially that of the grand cascade.

peterhof is well-known not just for its gardens and parks but also for its wide variety of fountains. apart from the grand cascade, there are others like the samson fountain and the chessboard cascade. there is even a trick fountain; many an unsuspecting visitor have been sprayed with jets of water when they stepped on a certain stone along a foot path. we were told by our guide that no mechanical pump was used to operate any of the fountains in peterhof.

another place of visit you should not miss when you are in st petersburg is the peter and paul fortress. inside the cathedral are the royal tombs of all the russian tsars from peter the great to nicholas ii.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

from copenhagen to malmo

in between our baby-sitting duties in melbourne - to take care of our first grandchild - we joined a fly-cruise to the baltic region. we had booked this trip to scandinavia a year before with a travel agency in kuching, sarawak. the final group comprised 29 from kuching, 6 from perth, 3 from miri, 2 from singapore and 1 from sydney.

from our respective departing points, we all rendezvoused in bangkok. it was an 11-hour flight from bangkok to copenhagen, where we would embark on our 11-day cruise. however, we did not spend our first night in copenhagen. instead, we crossed the oresund bridge, that links denmark to sweden, to malmo, the third largest city in sweden.

the 7845m oresund bridge, opened in july 2000, is the longest road and rail bridge in europe. there are toll booths but we did not have to get down from the coach for any customs or immigration clearance. in fact, during the entire trip, the only place where we had to carry our passport and have it stamped was in st petersburg, in russia.

in malmo, we stayed at the master johan hotel, right in the heart of the old town. the stone-cobbled streets and the many bicycles would be our constant reminders that we were in a scandinavian country. the cobbled streets inconvenienced those who are wheel-chair bound; there were three in our group and they found it bumpy, uncomfortable and tiring trying to navigate the uneven surface. i also saw some gadgets found on the bicycles in malmo, like the dynamo and the push lock, which have not been seen in singapore for quite sometime.

as is my practice, whenever i visit a foreign country, i wake up very early to explore the place when most of the locals (as well as visitors) are still in bed. as it was a sunday morning, there was hardly any traffic or people on the road. the central train station, which i had visited the day before, was closed. however, the hundreds of bicycles parked outside the station were still there.

i walked until i reached this church before making my way back to the hotel. i found out that this church - st petri kyrka or st peter's church - is the oldest building in the city. it was built in the 14th century.

our hotel, for which we were quite pleased with the service - there was free flow of coffee and internet connection was also free - was about 200 metre from this square known as the lilla torg. it seemed like a fun place. in the evenings, lots of locals visit the restaurants and cafes in this area. the old buildings were mostly built between 1600 and 1800. it was interesting to see the local people riding their bicycles to wine and dine at the sqaure. although most of them were casually dressed, some ladies came togged in dresses and high-heel shoes and some of the men were in business suits.