She couldn’t recall exactly what time she woke up, but it was to the crowing of the neighbourhood roosters and not an alarm clock. They were extremely loud she said.
She ironed her uniform the day before. Once adorned, she combed her hair neatly into two plaits.
Breakfast was just kopi (local coffee with condensed milk) made by her brother in law (my Uncle P) who prepared it for everyone and left it in a big aluminium kettle. She recalled it was really tasty, as my Uncle P got the coffee powder from a nearby coffeeshop and prepared it well.
Her elder brothers, my uncles M and A walked to Beatty Secondary School while she walked in the opposite direction.
It was a 5 minute walk to the bus stop and she had a direct bus to Cedar Girls’ Secondary School. It was a 20 minute journey due to the many stops and she carried a trunk like school bag which was the norm then.
The principal was strict and all the girls were made to wear petticoats under their skirts. There would be checks conducted by prefects to ensure this, but back then girls were very compliant.
At the tuck shop my mum’s favourite was Mee Siam, but there was also Mee Rebus and porridge. Fizzy drinks were sold too and she liked F&N Cherry. She thinks she might have gotten 20 cents as pocket money from her mother. Bus fare was 5 cents and she was given a small paper ticket by the bus conductor.
With any extra money left over, she would buy kana (preserved prunes) for her nephew and niece. Back then you could even buy things for just 1 cent. They used 1 cent coins which are not in use anymore today. (The smallest currency now is 5 cents.)
As she walked home, her niece and nephew would call out and run excitedly towards her. Besides kana she would also buy tiny hard boiled sweets and bubble gum.
Lunch at home was delicious and prepared by my grandma. Usually it was steamed rice with two vegetables and a dhal or fried potatoes. The dishes included a tomato onion curry, a brinjal dish (boiled with onions mashed and cooked with coconut milk). On Fridays when they were vegetarian there was sambar (dhal), fried brinjal slices, appalam (papadum) and such. Fried Mutton was only for special occasions as meat was expensive.
My mum used to help in the kitchen grinding the onions and chilli on the ammi kalu (stone pestle). She said it was good exercise for her arms and she enjoyed it. In those days there were no blenders. Somehow this slow artful preparation created more delicious dishes.
My mother’s mum (my grandma) would make lovely milky tea in a kettle and they would dunk Marie biscuits into their cups of tea. Tea time was usually at 5pm. (A British custom became our own and part of our culture). For dinner she would sometimes make thosai and that was late at 8pm.
They did not have much homework then. Often the tv would be on, the person in charge being the first grandchild M. So everyone would watch his shows which included, Lassi, Mr Ed the talking horse, cartoons like Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry and Tweetie Bird.
When they got a chance my eldest and youngest aunts were hooked on Peyton Place. But youngest aunt told me that my eldest cousin (first grandchild) would throw a terrible tantrum if they did not let him watch his show so often they missed quite a bit of their Peyton Place show.
Baths were cold ones. They scooped up water with a small pail from a huge clay vessel. Only a sick child would be allowed a hot bath and for that my grandma would boil water in a kettle. (No heater back then.)
At about 10pm my grandma and her two younger girls (my mum and youngest aunt) would roll out their rubber mattresses and sleep beside each other on the floor in one of the rooms. The boys probably took the other room while my eldest aunt who was married had a room of her own with her husband and kids.
They only had to pay $15 a month or less for rent. This was a benefit for civil servants.
My mum also recalled hawkers in the back lane. They had to bring their own cups or bowls to buy anything. (So eco friendly) She eagerly anticipated the tau huay man. She liked the soya bean curd and her eldest nephew loved the soya bean drink.
During the hungry ghost month period there were wayangs (Chinese Opera) set up in the open fields nearby. My mum looked forward to buying kachang puteh (various nuts) and ice cream with her siblings. They would hand their used exercise books to the kachang puteh pan for a free cone of nuts. It’s quite fascinating to think that once you have the nuts you could peruse someone’s math homework for instance.
What a colourful childhood and teenhood indeed.