Reminiscences of the good old days

This thread is not a duplicate of Caroline Gee’s ‘Chinese New Year – When I was a young girl’. There the topic focuses on how we spent our CNY when we were very young.

Here we’ll share our memories (as much as we can recollect) of the lifestyle we had from childhood to young adults. I reckon most of us will remember the Racial Riots, the Robinson fire and the itinerant hawkers.

I used to live in Tiong Bahru and it’s very close to Redhill. It was there when I came face-to-face with parang-wielding people of a particular race chasing after groups of people of another race. I was in the car of my eldest step-sister and we were en route to somewhere when we saw this incident. Needless to say, we were petrified at the sight of people being attacked! People were running everywhere, heedless of traffic on the main road. All the vehicles were cutting lanes and speeding just to get out of the melee. I was in my early teens and that is one frightening episode of a vicious fight between races I will never forget. *shivers*

Coming to food, we had this itinerant hawkers who carried their food on bamboo baskets on both ends of a hardy bamboo pole they heaved on their shoulder. As they pass the footpaths behind the flats they will holler the name of the food they sell. ‘Yong Tau Fooooooo’…..or ‘Lo Kai Yek’ often dragging the last word for impact. As children, my siblings and me will rush to the window whenever we hear the call of the hawkers. Sometimes my mother will buy but as children we got a thrill watching our neighbours ordering their food. For those living on the 3rd and 4th floor of the flats, they have to raise their voice to place their orders. Dialects were commonly used then so we got to know who speaks Cantonese and who speaks Teochew in our neighbourhood. The most interesting memory I have is the method of business transaction used.

All households in my neighbourhood will have a rattan basket with a long rope – one end is tied to the handle of the basket. The basket with money placed in it was then lowered to the ground floor. After the hawker has collected the money and placed the food into the basket, it was then hoisted up manually by pulling the rope. It had to be done slowly or else the basket might tip over and the food will be spilt.

Another fond memory I have is of the round ice balls. You know, the one where the Ah Poo Neh Neh (no offence to Indians) grabs a chunck of shaved ice, used his fingers to make a depression and filled it with boiled red beans and then add more shave ice and finally using both his palms to press the shave ice into a ball? He would then pour flavoured colourings round the ice ball and add condensed milk too, if requested.

The joy was in slurping all the sweetness of the flavourings in the ice ball and asking the APNN for more. Sometimes when he was in a good mood he would oblige but if not, he’ll cuss us in his language waving his hands to shoo us away. He could cut the ice ball in half so it can be shared.

There are so many wonderful memories all of us will have and it’s good to share before we forget them all. What we went through our children will never experienced even if they want to.

Oh! I forgot the water bombs! Hahahaha…Fill those plastic bags with water, tie up the end with rubber band, wait for courting couples walking on the street below and aim the water bomb at them after they’ve passed by. The intention was to shock not to drench them. Hehehehe

What can you remember? Perhaps we have similar experiences that are funny, naughty or plain nostalgic?






27 thoughts on “Reminiscences of the good old days

  1. Dear Rosalind

    Thanks for sharing.

    I remembered all the things you mentioned.

    We had this yong tau foo man who ply our neighbourhood everyday and my eldest sister (the prettiest) will take a huge bowl to buy it. It was ten cents for three pieces so she will ask for ten cents and asked the guy to fill up the bowl with soup and of course he obliged. Then we cut up the three pieces and shared amongst us siblings and pour the soup into our bowl of rice and that was one meal :)

    My favourite food those days were Indian Rojak, See Hum Fried Kway Teow, Soon Kueh and Epok Epok Sayur with the special chilli sauce. We could afford those when my older sisters started working :)

    I used to play with the boys “hantam bola” but of course they wont throw the ball so hard at me. My area is prone to floods so when that happens, we will go out and swim and then you get all those yukky stuff floating pass us. Thats why I never dip my head underwater cos of the phobia, up to this day even in a nice swimming pool.

    There was once my third sister and I (4th) went muddy longkang fishing, taking my youngest sister, aged 18 months along. We placed her at the side of the longkang. We were so engrossed that we failed to see her fall into the longkang. Luckily, an Indian man on bicycle saw her two legs sticking out from the mud and quickly pulled her out and cleared her nostril. That was a close shave.


  2. Hi Ros and Carly,
    You both forgot about the ‘kacang Putih’ man who rolls up some newspaper into a cone and gather a bunch of chick peas etc. and he did it almost automatically and today, it’s a novelty and cost something like $1.50 or $2 a cone.
    What about the white beehoon with orange sugar (just can’t remember the name now) and again, it can only be found at a few places now. Oh..I just remembered, it’s called ‘Putu Mayam’. As for rojak, I remembered the ones I had which was a piece of ‘bangkuang’ sweet turnip that’s coated with blachaan and then sprinkle sugar on a satay stick – that was delicious too, unfortunately, you can’t find that now.

    Well….got to go, will continue our chat when I get back from Taiwan or when we all catch up again in the next SHC activity. Take care dears and have a wonderful and happy and roaring New Year! Best regards, Lisa

  3. Caroline & Lisa, thanks for the memories.

    I remember when I was a young kid, there were no toys for my siblings and me. We improvised. When we’re playing indoors, i.e. at home, we’ll get two chairs and put the bamboo poles at the highest level of the chairs. Then we’ll drape a blanket over the poles. That is how we play ‘house’.

    I also used to run downstairs to pluck the leaves from the shrubs lining the roadside. Then using a cutter, I’ll chop the leaves and play pretend cooking.

    We never had playgrounds so the double-decker beds became our ‘slides’ with mattresses to slide down from.

    How I really hate the cane! My mother will use the cane ever so often for any slight misdeamour and my siblings and myself will always have the cane marks with us when we go to school. Grrrrrrrr……

    My father used the handle end of the feather duster on my brothers. Ouch!!

  4. Dear Lisa

    Ooh I love my putu mayam. I also remember buying potong ice cream and we get to “tikam”. If we hit bull’s eyes, we get another stick for free :)

    And there was this Indian man who sells cotton candy and coloured wafer biscuits. He carries this game around where you roll a silver ball bearing down the “slides” and there different coloured holes for the ball bearing to rest. Each colour will have a different prize from another.

    Dear Ros,
    I too have played make believe house. Those days no computer so we improvise.

    Agree that we should have a theme party to reminisce the good old days.


  5. Before I got distracted by girls, playing games was my pastime. Here are a few, just to reminisce.

    Hantam Bolar

    We just need an old tennis ball and a few boys. Just throw the ball into the crowd of ‘players’. Anyone can rush for the ball and throw it as hard as possible at whoever and at whatever part you want.
    Tennis balls can be quite painfull if it lands flat on your face.


    Each player finds an opponent. We draw a line some distant away. Than each player throws a flat stone as close to the line as possible. The one who is closer to the line gets a free piggy ride from the loser to pick up the stone and return to the start line again.
    So if you were fat in those days, no-one wants to play with you.

    Hide and Seek

    Kopi use to come in used condense milk tin cans. We pick a discarded can, put a few pebbles inside and knock the open end closed. If you shack it, it gives a loud rattling noice.
    We draw a round circle on the floor and place the ‘rattler’ in the middle. The boys would ‘Lom-Cham-Pak, to find a looser(Passang).
    The games starts with one boy throwing the tin can as far as possible. The looser have to run and pick up the can than return it back to the round circle on the floor. Meanwhile all the boys run to hide. The looser have to look for those who hide. If he finds one, he calls out his name and run as fast as he can to rattle the can. The boy whos name is called have to race him for the tincan. The one who is late will be the ‘Passang’.
    The ‘Passang’ must also watch the tin can as he look for the others or anyone can rush at it and get the right to throw it away again.
    Sometime, we throw the tin can than all of us go home to listen to Reddifussion or sleep, leaving the ‘Passang’ to watch the tin can.

    Enough for now.

  6. #4 Caroline Gee,

    Ah, those were the days when ice cream costs 5 cents or at the most 10 cents. Bus fares were 15 cents from Tiong Bahru to Orchard Road. Of course the buses were rickety and had no air condition. Remember the bus conductor with his sling bag? He’d go round collecting money from us and then issueing us a ticket.

    Caroline, remember five stones? hehehe

    #5 Tian Soo,

    It’s very interesting to learn the games boys used to play long time ago. I cannot remember what my younger brothers played but I can recall them joining in the indoor games.

    My husband grew up in a kampong at ‘Au kang’ and he likes to reminiscense about his childhood days. Apparently, he had a more exciting life that was carefree and plenty of neighbours to watch out for each other. He could strut into any home around the vicinity where he used to live, as everyone knew everyone in the kampong. I envy his stories of how he had no lack of friends to play with in the large compound in front of his house. They played all kinds of games while their mothers played mahjong.

  7. Dear Ros

    I love the red bean and coconut potong ice cream. I had this rich and generous classmate who always buy the ice cream and I do the tikkam. If I win, then I get the free one and if dont win, she will ask the uncle to cut hers into two pieces and gives one to me. Her name is Diamond – no kidding.

    I remembered taking the bus home from school. I walk to school in the morning to save the 5 cents for drinks at the tuckshop. Opera Estate Pr Sch is at the bottom of the steep road. After school, the buses are usually packed and like you said, ricketty type. As the bus goes up the slope, we can hear the engine groaning and then the bus will halt and the conductor will ask those who are standing to get off the bus and we had to walk up the slope with the bus struggling up. And as soon as it reaches the top, we will all board the bus and continue with our journey. We used to play hide and seek with the conductor. We will go to the opposite end from where he is and we quickly alight when he gets nearer (my house was only three stops away from the sch. So it was free ride home most times :)

    Dear Tian Soo

    I was always one of the fattest girl in our kampong – love the epok epok, goreng pisang, sum chan bak etc thats why. We play the kelele game too. My neighbours will play with me but instead of piggy ride, they pinch my ear and walk the length :(


  8. Ros, Caroline, Lisa, Tian Soo

    aiyo yo, you guys make me want to cry thinking of those GOOD OLD DAYS !! I remember the song very well – THOSE WERE THE DAYS MY FRIEND…..sigh…

    In the whole of my childhood, I had only one baby doll toy.

    I did get the chance to live in the kampung as I was a ‘city’ girl but luckily I had a grandma and aunties who lived in Nee Soon (which is called Yishun now) and I got to visit them every weekend and that was my best days. I remember going to Seletar Reservoir whenever I visited my aunt in Nee Soon as it was just minutes walk away from where she lived.

    Caroline, I remember the floods. My grandfather’s house used to get flooded frequently whenever there were heavy rains and my cousins and I used to run out to play in the rain and flood !! I can’t imagine you being the “fattest” girl in your kampung. My you have changed since then and for the better, I might say.

    Ros, the cane huh? Hmmm you must have been very naughty ya? hehe. I never got caned….yeah !!

    Lisa, yes I remember those kachang puteh which sold for 5cents, now it costs $1 or more? “putu mayam” – I always called it ‘kutu mayam” haha. Kutu sounds like lice, hehe.

    Tian Soo, at what age were you ‘distracted’ by girls huh? (just curious to know…haha). Hantam bola sounds like soft ball ya?

    I was so glad I got to play all the childhood games mentioned above. But I remember one game where we collected some kind of ‘red’ seeds where we throw and then use our pinkie to go between 2 seeds and slide it to hit each other. dunno what game is that called. anyone know ? Yes and five stones was one of my all time fav game.

    There was another childhood game where we eagerly collected rubber bands and we stood behind a line and throw to ‘catch’ another person’s rubberband and if the rubberband touched the other we would win. Did anyone played this game ?

    There was another game called Hopscotch which I also loved to play.

    I also remember going to the drains to look for guppy fish and spiders !! I was such a tomboy when I was young, climbing trees trying to be Tarzan !

    Thanks for bringing back and sharing sweet memories ! (where’s my tissue…sob sob)

  9. Dear Maggie

    Thanks for the compliments.

    I enjoyed running and playing in the rain too. I do that topless heee! Five year old got nothing to show mah.
    I have played the biji saga (red seeds) game but I dont know the name. We only called it the red seed game. And hop scotch too. I miss the good old kampong days.

    We should have a gathering called “Good Old Days – The Games We Played”. Maybe if we have enough space, we can play some of them. I think it will be hilarious – imagine playing the kelelek and we have to “chiang kuda” – thats what we called the piggy back thingy.

    Oh Mag, I cant imagine you doing the Tarzan thing. You look too demure for that :)

    Yes, thanks for the sharing. I love this.



  10. Hi Maggie Teo

    I got distracted by girls about Secondary 1. All of a sudden, looking good is cool and watching girls became a hobby. By Sec.4, we were all obsessed with ‘scoring’.
    Now I am back to playing boring games again. The only hole I aim at is the one to putt my golf balls in. But sometimes I still dream of ‘scoring’…. so be careful.
    Hatam Bola is just simply hitting each other with a tennis ball. Soft Ball is like Base ball. They are games played with proper rules. We use to play a game call ‘Rounders’ which is similar to Soft Ball. The playing field is on any dirt road or back lane. We marked the same 3 bases and we hit the ball with any piece of wood we can find instead of a bet. We throw the ball AT THE PLAYER to get him out of the game instead of touching the bases. That was the similarity with ‘Hantam Bola’.

  11. Hi Tian Soo,

    I did extremely well when I did my Pr 6 exams. I did even better, cannot remember how many As during my O levels. Now, this was all in an all boys school.

    Come, Pre-U days, I went into Science class where there were only two girls. But, across the passage way was the Arts class. I remembered there were far more girls than boys. That’s when my grades suddenly went the other direction. But, then I did not regret. I enjoyed those days.

    School days were great memories. That’s why one day, one day, we will have a school day event. I think the song goes like this, “Dream, dream, dream, … dream, dream, dream, ….”. Share the days, boys and gals.

    Terence Seah

  12. Hi Terence,

    Those were the days! Guess I shold write a book. I did badly in Primary school, always got the ‘golden egg’ award for maths right into Secondary school. Did my GCE twice and failed. Probably put the blame on my dad as I lost my mom at the age of two. There were a second and a third and a fourth stepmothers, but the situation were not improve. I was left on my own as dad was always working.

    I still remmember games like ‘goli’ throwing rubber bands, playing with small plastic animals and catching spiders.

    I thoughly enjoyed army days, having to undergo all the basic military training. Married at mid fourty as my quota was used up by my late father.

    For now, Dan

  13. Hi Rosalind,

    I am going to the jetty with 2 SHC members to catch crabs at 3a.m. so I got some time to share my happy childhood memories.

    Since 10 years old I enjoyed watching the live teochew wayang shows (by Lau Sai Thow) at Punggol kampong – always got there early to ‘chop’ seats and to buy ‘sng buay’ & ‘kana’. My favourite game was ‘hide & seek’ – often my siblings could not find me because I hid under piles of dried coconut husks or climbed too high up the jambu tree.

    Our toilet was perched at the side of the pond about 50 metres from the house and toilet paper was pieces of newspaper. Remember the yellow folded paper with old sanitary pads on strings!

    School days were fun too, especially cyling 2km to the bus-stop and standing on the steps of those yellow buses (I kept some bus tickets to show my grandson). Going barefoot on rainy days and using my socks to catch ‘sampang’ fish and ‘bua kee’ were fond memories. Started to attend kampong parties at 15 years old till 19 years old…yes dream dream dream when I want you…very sweet memories indeed…thanks for this post.

    Mary Lee (Perth)

  14. Mary

    I remember the Teochew and also the Hokkien Wayangs. Together with the wayangs are the food stalls. It was real festive atmosphere when they perform in the kampong.
    We boys would go under the stage and use ‘sapu lilly’ sticks to poke in between the wood flooring at the performers feet. We stop only when someone come to chase us away.
    I remember once, sitting at the back of the stage with some actors with painted face having their cigarette break. They were boasting about the sex prowess and went into minute details about their excapades, include details of each partner. I had my first sex education sitting by the smelly Singapore River, from men with painted faces.

  15. I hate my Chinese classes when I was in School. My mum forced me to take tuition classes, and although I went through 6 years of tuition, I never did well.

    Just hated my Chinese tuition teacher. So I always think of ways to disturb her. One weekend, I decided to make her chair half-broken leg, so that when she sat down, she would just fall off. Then she will complain to my mum and dad. Then, I get one or two cane strips. Have to start thinking of other tricks. Thumb tags were very popular those days, so I stole one, and place it on the cushion of her chair. Gave me a lot of joy when she jumped up.

    If anyone wants to learn some of these tips from me, you can always ask me. I think I am quite an expert. Gee, good old memory.

    Terence Seah

  16. Talking about Hokkien wayang – if anyone is interested in opportunities to learn to sing and act (in real wayang), Braddell Hts CC has an on-going class. I’m in it as I’m ‘crazy’ about Hokkien operatic songs and want to support this dying art form (which is on the verge of a revival, I believe) and also to overcome some inhibitions.

    Want more details, contact me at :)


  17. Hi Tian Soo #15,
    Aiyoh, using ‘Sapo Lilly’ for wrong purpose. I would help my grandma to collect the coconut leaves, then remove the leaves and make the stems into brooms which we sold 10 cents each. I still use ‘sapo lilly’ today – to sweep the garage, garden and patio.

    Hi Terence #16,
    eeek! I must remember to keep the thumbs-tags away!

  18. Hi Tim,

    You got the wrong drift, my quota is from without and not within the family. Anyway the post been quite quiet lately and lack vibrancy and I just thought a little ‘scandal’ would liven up the post!

    When I was much younger, collecting comics was a favourite hobby. Marvel comics I collect right from the beginning, whether it Spider-man, X-men, Thor, Daredevil, Avengers, Captain American, Black Panther, Iron Man, Nick Fury, agent of SHIELD, etc etc, I got them all.

    The comics went from 35 cents to 90 cents and when I ran out of pocket money, where do you think I look for, I started to dip into my dad’s pocket without his knowledge!

    Haha, bye for now, more to come…..


  19. While other kids were passionate about being connected, I lead a simple kampong life. I used to go swimming with other kids in my grand dad’s place where a river ran across the far end of the property. The bunch of us didn’t have inflatable floats nor swimming trunks. For floats, we would find ourselves a coconut each to hold onto. When we lose our grip of it, we choked and when we picked the wrong one, we sank – mmm, quite like a relationship actually. We also learned that the Green ones are better begs than the Brown ones – coconuts of course.
    Without swimming trunks, we kids, all teochews incidentally, bear our white bottoms when we swam. On hot and sunny days, they became red from sunburns. Not surprisingly, we became branded “Kah Chiang Ang Ang” till this day.
    In school, many of us disliked mandarin lessons because we had a horrible “Sir”. If ever we got a zero in our spelling test, he would have us stretch out our left hand and then, strike our knuckles using the sharp edge of his 12” ruler. It almost became fashionable to have blue and black knuckles. One day, we decided to respond. We chewed bubble gums and then stretch the sticky remnants from desk to desk in the classroom, just before mandarin period. As we would have it, he came in that day and went about his usual routine. He walked around the classroom, book in hand and reading out loudly as if he was in a world of his own. Meantime, the gums glued to his pants many folds over..hehe. The following day, he came back fuming with anger and screamed at us like a mad man. It was delicious, a splendid day. He got rid of that pair of pants. Unfortunately, we never got rid of him. If only we knew about Thumb Tags and Sappo Lilly then..sigh.

  20. It’s so very interesting to discover how each and everyone of our childhood lives intertwined in similaries and differences of experiences.

    Most of us were without much toys and we improvised with whatever we can get hold of in terms of playtime.

    Some of us suck at Mandarin or Chinese lessons during our schooldays but we somehow manage to pick up spoken Mandarin in our adulthood.

    I believe most of us would agree that the old school system worked. We were disciplined by our teachers and got a double whammy when we reached home – punishment by our parents. In those days, principals/teachers got the support of parents and parents allowed teachers to use rulers (the super long ones) to whack us when we were inattentive in class. Remember having to pull our own ears, standing and squatting xx number of times in front of the class as a form of punishment? Gee, talking in class was strictly prohibited and forgetting to complete homework or failing a subject meant remedial classes or ‘staying back after school’. Hate it or love it, we learnt how to respect our elders.

    As we lived in an era where eating out is a big luxury and shopping for new clothes, shoes, etc are restricted to days before the Chinese New Year, we also learnt what the word ‘wasteful’ means.

    Unfortunately, most of the subsequent generations do not understand what abject poverty is nor why discipline is good for character building. Sigh……..

  21. wow wow and wow somemore!!! kachang puteh indeed!!my siblings and I would keep all the excerise books we have used and give them to the kachang puteh man in exchange for his kachang puteh!!There was also this Indian barber who went house to house with his kit-bag. He would come trim my brothers and sisters’ hair for 50 cents a head!! Yes, girls’ heads too!! I would often tag along with my younger brothers when they go spider hunting at Jervious Rd or guppy fishing! Once my sisters and I were in the monsoon canal along Prince Philip Ave and some Malay boys from the nearby kampongs refused to let us climb out. Luckily my younger brother appeared and frightened them off!! I was also an eye witness to the great Bukit Ho Swee Fire!!! The kampongs were there wiped out. My great auntie lived there and we visited her often.
    Incidentally I have just finised my MEMOIRS complete with yellowed fotos, for my grand children!!!

  22. As the primary school was 15 mins walk away, my siblings and I would walk to school after the story programme on REDIFUSSION!!!The weather was soooo cool then. Now you have global warming and we cant last a minute in the sun.

  23. Dear All,
    It’s great that we’ve all got some fond memories to share on this thread. It’ll be great if we can all make a day for us all to bring some of these games e.g. 5-stones, red seeds, top spinning (or gasing) as the malays called it, hop-scotch jump which has squares that’s drawn in a shape of a ‘T’ and not forgetting the famous feather-top with the round rubber slab at the bottom and it’s played with kicking it in the air without it falling to the ground will be the champion etc. Maybe the next EO who plans a trip to M’sia or Pulau Ubin can incorporate these games in them. Have a great week ahead everyone, Lisa O

  24. Dear Rosalind,

    I hear that you are gathering like-minded ktv enthusiasts for a sining sting at either KBox or Party World.

    Well, please count me in for the next round then. I can do good Cantopop, Englishpop and Mandarinpop, too.

    Happy Lunar New Year of the Rabbit,

    Kent Chan

  25. Hi Kent,
    I had deleted your mbile# as we do not encourage mbile# 2b listed here at this present moment. Tose r interested will contact u directly via email n thereafter u can choose 2 provide your mbile#. Cheers.. Dolly

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