The Growing Up Years

Posted by M ws On Thursday, August 16, 2012 2 comments
As our Muslim friends begin the exodus from the cities to the kampungs, mothers like me are busy ferrying their children to all kinds of activities. Older now, I prefer to have my son at school as it is busier for me when he is at home.

For instance, the whole of next week I will have to drive him to and fro rehearsals from early afternoon to night time as the Musica Simfonietta Orchestra to which he belongs will be performing at the 121st  Anniversary of Methodist Girls' School at the Straits Quay Convention Centre.

Even though it is my alma mater, I will not be going for the dinner. Being quite agoraphobic by nature, I shudder at the thought of being in such a huge crowd. Also, I hate to dress up for occasions and prefer to be dressed in my jeans, skirts or shorts. I reckon my year mates are going decked in their kebayas.

Anyway, this afternoon, I had to drive my younger boy to his buddy's house for play time. After two and a half hours resting at home, I drove to pick him up. On the way home, I asked him, "So what did you guys do?"


"I know, but play what?"

"Computer games" was the animated response.

And then I went on a long lecture about the kind of games I used to play when I was in school and how important it is for us to connect to people. Alas, he was not too receptive of my enthusiastic ideas and  reminded that he belongs to a different generation.

Looking back, each school break meant that the neighbourhood children would be out in the evenings as during schooldays, we would be hitting the books.

In the neighbourhood where I grew up, we had a cul-de-sac where the Tan siblings had constructed a D-I-Y badminton court. There, the two Ooi households, another Khoo household, the Tans and the Soons would gather for our nightly competitions. On my right lived Patrick who is a doctor in Singapore. His sister Grace is a lawyer and brother Greg works in a bank. Three doors away was Chong who works in Australia, his eldest sister Chean Eng who works in US, architect (and violin teacher to both my boys) Chean Hong and Datuk Ooi Chean See, former MPO conductor. Right across the road lived Beng and Girlie and on my left the Tan brothers - Hooi Chee, Hooi Sheong, Hooi Aun and Hooi Guan who were indisputedly the champions in the neighbourhood and finally Pauline. Apart from all of them were our friends as well who would cycle over and play. Although most of us were book worms and the scholarly type, the minute exams ended, ooo-la-la, we would let our hair down to really play!!!

And do we see that now? How often do we see neighbourhood kids playing together, growing up together and still maintaining the friendship forged during the transition from childhood to teenage hood to adulthood?

Hardly ever. How tragic!

Apart from badminton, we would take turns playing in each other's home and enjoyed board games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, carom and reading. Late in the evenings, we would cycle around the neighbourhood, try to harvest papayas, rambutans and mangoes from some homes but the real fun was being chased by dogs as we cycled away furiously. Of course I had been bitten by dogs - twice. Once on my left leg and another time on my hand. But it was worth it. The adrenalin rush is unforgettable. I don't remember ever succeeding in harvesting anything but it was all in good fun - cycling around and scouting for potential targets. Then we had tremendous fun singing at the top of our voices after all that 'exercise'.

Those days, my backdoor neighbours lived the Khoo sisters and brothers. Boo Soo just passed away recently and his sister Sharon aka Yong was then dating the late Ronnie Ng, my guitar sifu. So when we were not doing any other activities, we would be sitting in the swing in my garden, strumming our guitars and singing in harmony.

Sighs. Teenagers today cannot imagine what they have missed out in life just by being glued to their iPads or smart phones.

On weekends of school breaks, Beng's father who also passed away a couple of months ago, would take us to Chin Farm up in Batu Feringghi. At that time, he was working as a medical representative and had the use of a small van. However, officially he was only allowed to ferry three passengers so Pauline, Girlie, Beng, Francis, one tall guy whose name I cannot remember, Tammy and I were packed like sardines at the back. Each of us brought our own food and drinks and had so much fun then.

I don't really see children playing together in neighbourhoods. I did see it during my older boy's time. For sure, he takes after me. From the time he was in Standard 3, he would cycle around the neighbourhood with Tze Liang, Khuan Zhi and Tze Yang etc whereas now, my younger boy (who is more like his dad) is reserved and not as gungho as the brother.

There were times Girlie (who later married the late Boo Soo) and I walked to town just to save money to watch movies. If it was a 7pm movie, we would cycle there and then race all the way back home. Before we reached home, we would stop by the Free School Road stalls located in the quadrangle and there, we would meet up with other friends including Tammy's sister-in-law who passed away a few years ago, Christie, Jen and others.

Of course we also hung out with other kids from the other roads in Green Garden. The Ho siblings were there and in my upper secondary days, I hung out with the girls from Convent Green Lane including YH, WL, D and her sister and the guys from PFS including P who married YH, Boon Hoe who is so successful in the music industry, CL and the others. I remember I only had BM tuition class and even though it was pretty competitive, I was quite laid back, lost in my own world of books.

If I had a choice, I would relive my childhood and teenage hood in the 1970's and not in the 21st century. Those days, we played - really played. We enjoyed hiking up Penang Hill on our own, organizing camps by the beach without the trappings of bureaucracy and it was perfectly safe!

I still remember my first camping trip was in Form 2 with my cousins and our friends. We could just sleep in our tents, fish peacefully and actually catch fish, cook, swim in the sea with no fear of pollution. I remember how I canoed to the small island of Pulau Tikus during my courtship days with my husband and how we used rocks to knock off the oysters, rinsed them in the sea and ate them RAW like that with no tummy aches whatsoever.

On other occasions, the whole gang cycled round many areas including taking our roller-skates to Youth Park to have a jolly good time. And then to wander to Botanical Gardens, walk around there, dip in the stream, catch peacock fishes and tadpoles with leaves and then to take them home and watch them grow. The mothers were horrified that we contributed greatly to the development of a frog community but it was really wonderful.

Gosh - I cannot believe I used to be such an outdoor person in my younger days - so sociable and always on the go. For every single term of every single year, my teachers would write - 'Too talkative. Talk less and work more.' And now, hmm ...I cannot believe what an introvert I have become. Time has a strange way of changing people. For sure, nothing makes me happier than to be at home!!!!!

When I look at my son, I feel so sorry for him. There are no kids in my neighbourhood at all. on my right is an older teen and right across the road is a family of three siblings and another household of older teenagers in college.

However, I guess it is alright for he has me :-) and our books. Yet, I know my younger boy has missed out a lot in life by not going out to be with friends. It is a totally different environment now. At least my older boy had camping trips etc but even so, it is different from the fantastic childhood I had with the neighbourhood kids.

In the mid 1990's, I tried to bring the kids together so that my older boy could have playmates. I bought percussion instruments and had 'band' practices with the kids - all in good fun. But alas, we moved to my present neighbourhood and my older boy lost the chance to grow up with the neighbourhood kids like me.

In many ways, I am sure growing up in the kampung is even better than what I experienced. It is sad that as society progresses, many have lost the capacity to feel, to care, to share and to be united. The ties that bind do not really seem to be there any more.

I remember how my best friend in the neighbourhood was an Indian girl named Emily Raj. We were inseparable. We went to school in the same bus, were desk-mates, took the same subjects, were in the same clubs and the only difference was that she was in Lily House and I was in Martin. To this day, I still remember the smattering of Tamil she taught me. If I was not playing with the others, I would be in Emily's house chatting or studying. Her mom was like a mom to me and it meant so much then as I lost my mom when I was 11.

Frankly, it was simply wonderful. Any one of us could go to any one's house unannounced, sit down, share whatever they were eating or had in the house and just talk with our friends, their siblings or parents.

I really miss those days of playing seven stones, 'kar lee tuay' and just plain enjoyable tomfoolery - just being ourselves.

My school mates came over for slumber parties  and we would sing and play and scream - even dance on the bed which amazingly did not break into pieces. One of those songs we sang was 'Smoke on the water' and to this day, sometimes they still talk about it in Facebook. Once, I made my cousin dress up in a raincoat, with prawn crackers sticking out of his mouth, tomato sauce smeared on his face and a black hat. Boy oh boy - he really looked like Freddy Kruger. And he waited in the bathroom for my girlfriend to have her shower. The minute she closed the door and turned around, she saw him, screamed and fainted. :-( Sighs. I cannot believe I could play such nasty pranks. My cousin passed away a few years ago from cancer.

Now that I have passed the half century mark, I look back fondly at those days. Quite a number of them have passed away and the beautiful part is - some of us still keep in touch, although we are not so close any more. And when we meet, we compare our blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels, what our kids are doing and even insurance policies.

Life is a circle and as I reach my sunset years, I look back and am glad for every single experience I had - even the many accidents I had as a teenager - including being knocked down by a vehicle ( I don't know what) till I was unconscious for a few hours, being in motorcycle accidents when I was in sixth form and of course the many pranks we played on each other. Unforgettable.

And I certainly would not exchange all that to grow up in the 21st century.


Oh well, I guess I got kind of carried away with my memories. If you did read till the end, thank you for bearing with me. Please leave a comment to share your experiences. If you are a parent with young kids, never let them play with electronic gadgets or devices.Give them good old Play Dough, toys and books. Most of all, let them run free in the wind, under the sun to be at one with nature and with others.

2 comments to The Growing Up Years

  1. says:

    Tiger For what it's worth, we should never let our kids continue with just the way they are.
    Old school we may be, but the way you and I grew up was the best and still is!

  1. says:

    masterwordsmith Hi Tiger

    Thank you for resonating with my post. I am deeply encouraged that despite the age difference, we share the same values that our parents, friends and environment imparted to us. Take care and God bless!

    Let me know if you are in Penang.


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