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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Memories of Old Penang in the 60s and 70s

I like to reflect on how much life here in Malaysia has changed.

Even in my schooldays back in Penang, I used to love going to the Penang Museum and look at all the old pictures, artifacts and exhibits that show us a glimpse into the past.

A time when people were laid back and more relaxed in their lifes.

I still remember life as a kid in one of the seafront villages in East Jelutong , Penang.

The sea was much cleaner back then and schools of 'ikan belanak' used to come right to our kampong shores in search of food scraps etc that were thrown by the stilt house villagers who built their wooden houses along the seafront stretching from Sg.Pinang all the way down till Batu Uban, where the Penang Bridge is now located.

The sea water was clearer and we could even see the various types of fishes playing under the wooden walkways built interconnecting the stilt houses.

'Ikan ketang'  @ Scatsa big pomfret type fish used to come in large numbers and was found in plentiful numbers as they darted in and out of the shadows of the houses cast upon the seawater.

They were very delicious when baked over a fire and then ate with 'sambal belacan' and steaming hot rice. Mmmmm..yummy!

Kampong kids like me used to catch Kingcrabs @ belangkas which would come to our village shores to mate! Pairs and pairs of them would be found all along the seafront and muddy flats of Jelutong way back then.

I am talking about the late 60s and 70s.

We would cook / grill them over a fire made of dry coconut palms and would eat them especially the small granule like eggs cooked yellowish and drink young coconuts water.

My late friend Che Mat Sabor and his brother Nordin were the kampong 'taikors' who would climb up the many coconut trees found in our kampong and pluck as many of those coconuts as we wanted.

We would then swim over to the many discarded 'tongkangs' left to rot away in the mudflats .

At the steer of the tongkang was usually built a helmsman's shelter sort of a shed. It was there that we would while our times away, enjoying the sea breeze from the Straits of Prai and even fish from there when the tide was in.

Some evenings, we would have one of us strum his guitar while ehem ehem ,...yours truly would sing away as the mood suits us.

P.Ramlee songs, R.Azmi's, Alleycats hits, classic Hindi songs would be among my repertoire! hehehehehe....

Those tongkangs were solidly built with good timber and it took many,many years before they finally rotted away into the muddy shores of Jelutong.

We would catch 'ketam batu's ' @ mud crabs, dig for seaworms @ 'cacing laut' for use as fishing bait all around the submerged 'tongkangs'.

All kinds of sea creatures existed back then in those mudflats because there was no pollution in those times.

We would even get to harvest cockles @ 'kerang' which could be found in those mudflats. 'Siput kemudi' [photo above] @ a giant mussel shaped like a wedge was also found in large numbers there.

We would fashion sort of a toboggan or a slide from a plank of broad wood , sort of a surf board and with our body on top of it , we would push away with our left or right foot and slide over the mudflats in search of the mussel. The board is called 'papan tongkah'.

When the board scrapes over the tip of the mussel, a scratchy sound would ensue and we would stick our hands into the soft mud and search for it.

Once we found the mussel, we would plunge both of our hands all the way into the soft mud and grab its root.

With a strong, hard pull, we would yank it out and harvest the mussel as much as we can get and throw it all into a basket nailed to the board.

For all I know, with all the pollution caused by all the years of dumping rubbish into the seafront areas of the Jelutong Shell station area , the cockles, the mussels and most of the sealife from that area have disappeared, thanks to Koh Tsu Koon's disastrous leadership as the Chief Minister of Penang!!!

Penang today is not as clean as it was in my times.

I also found out that kids in Penang now do not have all that we enjoyed for free in the 60s and 70s!

Those days we would play marbles, tops, kites and 'Combat' games between neighbouring village kids.

Life then was much more carefree. There was no racial hatred and strife as we see evident today as expressed by the bloggers at

Kids today waste away their life's in front of computers and do not know heck of making their own toys!

We used to make our own tops from the stems of the hardwood guava trees. We used to fashion our own rifles and pistols from leftover wooden planks from the shipyard near our kampong!

Lean Seng Shipyard at the seafront of Jalan Tengku was a favorite place for us to go look for scrapwood to make our toys and even our rafts to go fishing out to the sea when the tide was high.

How I miss those times!

I used to go catch fish with my best friend, Wan Ali [red shirt]. His house was located just at the seafront and we used to go fishing in his uncle's sampan.

There were also times when we would drift out slowly to the deeper waters of the sea in my 'rakit' @ raft fashioned out of an old wooden pallet that I stuffed with all kinds of poly foam to make it float better and sealed the sides with scraps of plywood!

Two claybricks tied together served as my raft's anchor tied with a long rope scavenged from the shipyard! Hehehehehe...

Such was my kampong life, easy , carefree and very very satisfying!

Living here in KL today, far away from the sea makes me yearn for the sea breeze of Penang, my home island which I miss so very much!...Sigh.....

Pearl of the Orient, my home island up north,
Memories of my past come evoking yesteryears,
All the sweet happy days in my mind come forth,
At times I sigh fondly; at times I'm close to tears.

Although I am now far away from your shore,
My heart and mind will always remember you,
O Penang Island that I and others so adore,
You'll always be in my prayers as I miss you.