Friday, 30 August 2013

Parry Secondary School episodes

The "pirate" taxi that took us to school and back. As many as six (sometimes more) could pack into it as there
 would be a wooden bench placed on the back seat.
Wow, an old classmate just sent me this picture of her
report book. She kept all her report books right up till A levels!
The colour of the Parryan report book is the colour of our uniform.
THERE are so many thoughts (and effort) that parents put in these days, so that their children attend the school of their choice.

In my time, my mum had no time to work this out. She left it pretty much to me. So when I suggested to her that I would like to try for Methodist Girls' Secondary School (the one at Paya Lebar), she was fine. She heard that it was a good school. I thought it was a pretty good school myself, because it had a dash of difference -- a white belt! And the school building looked grand to me -- almost like the illustrations I saw in many of Enid Blyton's books -- those series on Malory Towers, Naughtiest Girl...

And think how near it was to Kok Wah Theatre! (The school used to be at Boundary Road, just behind the 5th Mile Market or the Lim Tua Tow Market).

But of course, I couldn't get in. My second choice was Parry Secondary School. I knew nothing about this school except that my best friend put it down as her second choice as well. It was a new school -- with a normal and technical stream. I had vision of myself going into technical stream, doing carpentry or working on machines or whatever. Sounded exciting! But mum wouldn't hear of it. So, I took the normal subjects -- Geography, Literature, Maths, General Science, Biology, Chinese... and Domestic Science. Come to think of it, there were music classes as well.

The uniform, by the way, was considered "smart" at the time. School tie was compulsory even if you were not a prefect. You then pin the school badge on the tie. White shirt, with light green skirt that had two inverted pleats in front. Also compulsory to wear a belt made from the same cloth as the skirt. They were made by a tailor who came down to the school. Each of us had to queue up to be measured. For some reason, my skirt was unbelievably big and long... Had to punch extra hole in the belt to hold up the skirt and had to hem up the skirt several folds before it became the right length.

By no means should you starch the skirt because the cloth was already so stiff. With starching, you would need to place the skirt on the floor, and then hop into it. In later years, I heard, they allowed the skirt to be made of lighter cotton that had a mix of rayon, so that ironing would be a breeze.

The school song started with: "We are Parryans young and strong! Onward and fo-or-ward, we will pro-o-ceed!...."

Domestic Science

Our paos were hard
as rock.
For some reason, everyone agreed that the fiercest teachers were found in DS (short for Domestic Science). They were snappy and impatient. I would have enjoyed the subject very much (especially the cooking sessions) if not for those fierce teachers.

We were paired up for cookery class. My most memorable session was making char siew pao (steamed buns with meat fillings). We had to put the finished products on the rack to show the teacher when the cooking time's up. Just as the teacher walked past our table, our two char siew paus fell from the tray and were hard enough to roll for a distance of two tables. The teacher wasn't impressed, but everyone was rolling over with laughter.

My partner wasn't pleased with me. Everybody's egg custard came out of the mould nicely and could be taken home in a lunch box. Ours needed to be poured into a flask. But I must say it didn't taste too bad as a drink.


There is a town in S America that is called Cheeky Tomato. Today, I can't remember its real name. But everyone in class knew where this town was on the map because of its catchy name. (OK, I just did a Google, and it is Chuiquicamata, the biggest open pit copper mine in the world, north of Chile.)

Gobi Desert was a really famous desert -- among our class -- as this was the nickname for a teacher whose balding head was shaped like this desert.

Sahara Desert was the nickname of another teacher who lived nearby to our school. Her garden was like a desert with only a few thorny shrubs.


Enjoyed lab sessions quite a bit because we can see colours changing in test tubes -- and yes, precipitation! And it was always exciting to light the Bunsen burner and use our platinum wire -- we felt so much like real scientists. But we did have some problem with our pendulum experiment as our bob attached to the spring seemed rather uncontrollable. It wasn't a bob for nothing as it kept bobbing. But wasn't it supposed to swing like a pendulum?

My experiment using blocks of glass to show refraction was pretty successful, I must say.

Then there was mention of cations in one of the lessons -- and my friend next to me on the work bench started asking me whether there were "poot onions" as well. There was a popular girl guide song called "Onion Poot" (I think). We giggled so much that the science teacher asked us "Why so happy?" Yes, he was a very mild-tempered man.


Our Chinese teacher was not particularly inspiring. But occasionally he would stray from making us read from the text book one by one -- and talked about other things like what one must do during job interviews. "Now, sometimes, the interviewer would put a fallen chair in your path as you walk into the interview room. Remember to pick up the chair and put it out of harm's way. This is a test that interviewers use to see your initiative, your reactions," he said during one lesson.

I always thought about this when I went for job interviews later in life. But so far, there have been no fallen chairs to pick up.

Music Classes

The lady teaching us music was a Mrs Chin, and she had only cheongsams in her wardrobe. She looked splendid in cheongsam as she was slim, but had an hour-glass shape. Besides teaching us rhythm and the value of each different music note, we were to sing our hearts out. Songs sung then included Dayong Sampan, Planting Rice, Bengawan Solo, and a Chinese song that went "Lu li, lu li, lu li wan shan pao..." Which translated, means, "Work hard, work hard, upwards we climb..." I really liked this song because it has lines like: "I will not even wipe my sweat as I climb... My toes cling to the rocks... My hands to the tendrils, step by step, I reach the top!" Nothing like barefoot climbing to reach the summit.

There were singing tests too. We had to go to the front of the class to sing a song of our choice. I chose "Bengawan Solo" because I liked its melody. But this was a mistake. "Then running onwards all surrounded..." can be rather high, if you'd started on a high note to begin with. So this line was hardly audible when I sang it. Fail! Should have sung "Planting Rice".

Siok Chew, leader of the Swimming and Dracula Gang

After school, to Dra's castle, hey!
Where are you, the irrepressible Siok Choo? She was the one said what's on her mind, irregardless of who was around. She's the one who would round us up to go for Dracula shows after school. So we sent our bags home through the pirate taxis (contracted by our parents, much like the school buses of today) -- while we gallivanted to town, usually Capitol, to watch Dracula movies. (Mum would be terribly upset to find only my bag arriving home, with a note from the driver to say that the owner of the bag had gone to town.)

She would be the gungho one who made sure we were at Farrer Park Swimming pool on Friday mornings for our swimming lessons -- even when it was raining. She would be the one to organise swimming sessions during public holiday. Although I always got a running nose after each session, I enjoyed them tremendously -- all of us slept on the bus after our swimming as we got very tired. Those were some of the best sleeps I ever had!

Romance in a pirate taxi

How many students and their school bags were able to squeeze into a pirate taxi? Many -- five at least. There would be an "upper" row -- a narrow wooden bench resting on the hind seat where the smaller kids would sit. School bags were stuffed into the boot. If not enough space, the softer bags (those made from cloth) would rest on our laps. Sometimes, the driver was committed to send more than five to school -- especially when one or two were missed out in his earlier rounds and ended up in our round. (There was when the wooden bench really came in useful).

Couldn't really remember the make of this car, but was it an Austin something? (Not a Mini for sure). The driver was a vegetable seller by morning and a driver by afternoon. He had a huge scar on his thigh due to his vegetable chopper accidentally slipping off his hand one day. But he drove with alacrity and precision, taking corners with such F1 skills that would have sent us flying around in the car if it wasn't so packed..

I was usually the first one to be picked up at Brockhampton Drive. The next one would be a boy from St Gabriel's at Tavistock Ave. Then, there would be a Convent girl (with long pigtails) from Huddington Ave. Then, my classmate from Farleigh Ave. The last one was a very big and tall girl (our senior, Sec 4) from Lichfield Ave.

The St Gabriel boy and the Convent girl were soon an item -- they had secret signals, smiles, for conversation in the car. He was a real gentlemanly boy and would jump down to open the door for her (only for her). He must be Sec One  then (as we were in Sec Two and he seemed smaller than us). Soon we found them holding hands and dating at Chomp Chomp! Hey, even in those days, they started young :)

On Saturdays, should we have CCA, there would be no pirate taxi. I would take Bus No. 72 and hopped dow after the junction of Serangoon Garden Way and Yio Chu Kang Road, and then took the long walk in through Philips Ave, past the Japanese Cemetery and then Parry Avenue. I was with the Girl Guides uniform group -- not much marching required unless near National Day.

Girl Guides

Reef knot (the teddy bear's bow)-- a lesson learnt\
 from being a Girl Guide at Parry Sec School
Girl Guides were not known for their marching (when I was a Girl Guide). Especially when you had to turned your head to respectfully look at the VIPs while continuing marching. Somehow, turning the head left or right while marching ahead set the rhythm off, as well as the ability to march straight.

The one who gave the command was Bridget Han. With a thick fringe, she's the daintiest of us, with beautiful bouncy long hair, usually tied up into a swinging pony tail at the back, but let loose when not in uniform).

Her Girl Guide uniform was a wee bit above the length limitation. Her lips when not giving marching commands, were curled up slightly at the corners, with a little pout in the middle. Needless to say, the boys from the other uniformed groups were very much attracted to her.

We had numerous camp fires where we tried to build fires. The fun part was being the torch bearer. There would be four such bearers. And when the campfire was declared open, each would come in from four directions -- North, South, East West -- to light the bonfire.

Besides chants (or rather 'raps' but we didn't have 'raps' back in those days) such as Flee Fly Mosquitoes, Onion Poot, we also sang songs such as On Top of Old Smokey, Tom Dooley... We also sang some pop songs of the era which included Patches (a very sad song of a girl who took her own life because of parental objection to her boyfriend... she was found floating down the river). And Top of the World by the Carpenters, of course!

We had all sorts of excursions to ulu parts of Singapore. Mrs Toh who was also our Biology teacher, was the Guide Mistress. She took us to kampungs at Punggol, Pasir Ris and Changi. Trudging through mangrove swamps, we eventually reached pockets of beach where we had to build a fire and cook. No one really dared to eat anything we cooked. The fire we started usually wasn't strong enough to cook anything. We would later eat sandwiches which we had the soundness of mind to bring (Be Prepared, so goes the motto).

One yucky incident I remembered very well was what greeted me when I poured into the sand, the rice water used for washing the grains. This excited some huge worms who reared their ugly heads from the sand. Some even popped up and showed their full length. I screamed for Mrs Toh who calmly told me "Huh? Just sand worms, Tien. Can be used for fishing. Very good."

Monday, 26 August 2013

Cats, I have a few...

CATS I have a few, perhaps too few to mention...compared to some of my friends. One owns 12 in her apartment... but I think it's 10 by now. I do understand the laden heart that comes with each departure. But like all my big time cat owner friends, I never regretted having those stubborn creatures lord over me.

I have about three cats spread out through my life. When I was a kid, I lured a shy, scaredy cat into the garden by using a toy cat. This toy cat meowed when you turn it upside down. The real cat got drawn to the toy cat and came closer and closer and soon it came through the gate, and I was able to stroke it. I was able to feed it scrap I hoarded from the table. One day, it brought along its kid. My parents agreed to keep them. But trouble started when the mother and child explored my neighbour's backyard, rather regularly. They were not fond of cats.

Dad was keen to have goodwill prevail and decided that mother and child should be sent to the SPCA. The washerwoman offered to help to catch the cats. The mother, wild with fright, fled -- to the neighbour's. I caught it, with tears in my eyes. It bit my thumb in its fright but I calmed her down. She trusted me. And I put it into the sack, along with the kitten. It was a very solemn and silent ride in the taxi to SPCA, with a moving sack at our feet.

Life moved on... The air was a little bit nippy as Christmas was round the corner. I was sitting at my usual favourite spot, at the doorstep of my house, doing nothing in particular, when I heard faint meowing. It came from the covered drain in front of our house. I peered in, and two bright eyes stared back. Bread soaked in milk were dangled into the drain. They were gone in an instant.

Needless to say, the kitten made its way into the house. It grew into a handsome cat who loved to roam the streets outside our house. (It wasn't interested in my neighbour's backyard, thank goodness. Anyway, by then, Dad had mended the gap in the backyard fence).

You could summon it back by just knocking its feeding bowl against the floor. Clink, clink, and in seconds, it would come dashing in, knocking its head against the window grills in its hurry to jump into the house.

One morning, just before going to school, I clinked the bowl. But no cat. I finally found it lying in the big drain outside our house. Its mouth was open, and it was drooling. I carried it back to the house, knowing that something was amiss.

There was no bleeding. But it must be injured internally. Mum insisted that I leave for school or I would be late. When I returned from school, mum told me that the cat had died and she had asked the garbage man to take away the carcass.

"But are you sure Meow Meow was dead? What happened if it wasn't really dead?" I kept asking.

Mum sounded impatient and told me not to ask anymore. I now understood that her heart was just as heavy, though then, I was very unhappy and thought she took the chance to get rid of the cat, the worst scenario being that it was dumped without given a fighting chance to live. But now, I knew for sure that mum wouldn't do a thing like that.

I didn't keep any more cat since then, till about 15 years ago. (My landlord's cat didn't count, though I was considered a part owner.) The little kitten was found by my colleague near the MRT station at Clementi. Again, it was around Christmas that I took it home. It was so small, I had to keep the toilet bowl cover down just in case it would clamber up, fall in and and drown.

It grew into a 7kg ball of fur and lived for a full 13 years. Many vets had some difficulty pulling it out of the laundry basket that I would keep it in when I took it for its jabs and checkup. Do you think he is overweight, and should I put him on a diet, I usually asked the vet in attendance. Hmmm, if it likes to eat, let it eat, replied this vet, who was a little on the stout side himself.

I love all vets. They are truly dedicated and really nice. But I am forever grateful to Dr Jean Paul Ly. Not only did he lift heavyweight Meow Meow the Second up with ease, he also kissed it on the forehead and called him Sweetie. Wow, I felt better already. Dr Ly also successfully removed the cancerous growth at his lower jaw.

After the operation, I was able to take Meow Meow home. He was in good spirit, ate and drank a bit, turned over on his back into his favourite position (tummy up) on my bed -- and purred.

But two days later, he was coughing and his nose was running badly.Back to the vet. Back home with a packet of medicine which MM  vomited all out. Food was refused. Called the vet. Dr Ly was back in Australia. The other vet told me to prepare for the worst but Dr Ly would be in the next morning and if I wanted, I could bring the cat in.

"If you and Meow Meow are not giving up, I will not either!" Dr Ly said in a very firm voice -- and swing into action. To me, that was the most consoling words I have ever heard from anyone.

I had to leave MM at the vet for a few days. I could almost drive to the vet on auto mode. When I last saw it, the nurse had made it a little hot water bottle from rubber gloves. MM was breathing normally, and seemed comfortable. So I felt better and made my way home.

But that night, my mobile rang at slightly over midnight. The good fight was over.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Happy times at the libraries

Me at Marine Parade Library, wearing a mask which I
taught the kids to make for Halloween.
PERHAPS I should have stayed on as a Library Officer. It wasn't too bad.

This was my second job after graduating from the university -- after a short spell with World Scientific. It wasn't my first choice. My first choice was to be an Archives Officer. I was disappointed. I had so wanted to interview people and record their history. I do so want to learn how to restore old documents... Nosing round old, crumbling buildings and doing paper rubbing on artifacts and sculptures. Why oh why, didn't the National Archives take me in?

Oh well. So I started work at the Ang Mo Kio (AMK) Library which was closest to where I was staying at Serangoon Gardens. When I bought my bike, I was even able to cycle to work (through Cheng San Road, then carry the bike up a flight of steps and hitting Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10. )

I later got to work at Marine Parade Branch Library -- a happy time for me too as the library attendants there were a happy bunch and fun. Besides other things, I was in charge of the Christmas tree. I was rather proud of introducing the method of storing it in its entirety -- lights, baubles, cotton wool snow and all -- so that next Christmas, all you have to do is to shake it out from its plastic bag, and ta-rum!
Me hosting a quiz for the kids at MPBL.

On my first day at AMK, the senior librarian took me round the place and made me do a conducted tour for her immediately after that, saying that was the fastest way to familiarise myself. She gave a tight-lipped smile that was almost a sneer after I had stumbled through the tour. But she seemed satisfied.

She was very trendy -- usually in pointed high heels -- and usually red. Reed thin, she had long, permed hair.She carried herself really well, not at all your idea of a frumpy, frazzled librarian. But she wasn't one who would want to be chummy with you. She was rather officious and distant from everyone.

I was great pals with a fellow librarian. I liked him the moment I saw him gliding into the office on a skateboard. He passed me some really great tips on getting round the idiosyncrasies of our colleagues. He was going out with a Muslim library attendant whom he later married. We all went to the wedding. She was a real sweetie.

The Chief Librarian at AMK Library was Mrs Mavis Richards. She had a passion for books, with a great passion to share that passion with children and teenagers. She encouraged me to do reviews for children books and was always dumping books upon books on my table for me to read -- and review. I admired her spirit. She was a no-nonsense boss, but warm -- and fair.

Every library officer had to do story telling. For me, those sessions always turned out a shouting match. How do you read and make yourself heard above the din? I usually ended playing some kind of games with the kids in the closed room -- with parents pressing their noses onto the small glass panes at the door.

A token story would be read by me (with no one listening) and then it was game time! One of my favourite games (and the kids' too, it seemed) was "Two Little Black Birds". The kids would sing the song "Two little black birds sitting on the wall, one named Peter, one named Paul. Fly away Peter, fly away Paul... Come back Peter, come back Paul."

As the kids sitting on the floor sang, two of them would act the part of Peter and Paul. They perched on two chairs in front, flapping their wings wildly... and hopped down to fly away at the end of the song. Some flew back to the chairs and had to be chased away because there were others queuing up to be Peter and Paul.

Actually Mrs Richards wasn't very keen for games to be played during storytelling sessions. And strange enough, when she told stories, the kids were as silent as could be, listening attentively. Maybe I just did not have the demeanor...and the stature of a librarian.

We also took turns to sit at the duty desk, answering all sorts of queries -- from where the toilets were to where books on China were shelved. You always get a kick out of satisfying someone by giving him exactly what he needed.

However, for me, the evenings could stretch on rather too tediously sometimes, with no interesting requests. It would be a blah evening indeed when even the usual mad caller did not ring in to scold the librarian over some nonsensical issues.

So on such days, just about half an hour before closing time, I would have the library attendants collect "stray" books from the tables and putting them onto trolleys to be shelved -- and I think it was ok for them to do this with some noise too -- a subtle message for everyone to pack up. Some who were sleeping over their books would have to be nudged awake by whispering loudly "closing time!" into their ears.

The last book would return to its rightful shelf at 8.50pm. The lights would be off at 8.55pm. The 2nd last lock would click at 8.56pm. The last shutter and lock slipped into place exactly at 9pm -- and then HOME!

A taste of Estab after A-levels

For whom the bell tolls?
NEARLY everyone I knew, tried to get a job through the PSC (Public Service Commission) after they got their A Levels. That was in the 70's, the era of the "iron rice bowl". There was the bonus to look forward too, the annual increment, the annual leave. There would be courses to attend. There would be bars to cross in the salary scale and if crossed successfully, there would be increment. Everything very structured. That was what my sister-in-law told me. She had just become a "civil servant".

After my interviews at PSC and medical checkup, I was allotted the job as an Executive Officer (EO) with Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). I was EO for Admin & Estab (A&E). The office was a brick cum wooden bungalow next to the canteen (a Nissan hut) at the hospital. A wooden staircase led to all floors at the side of the building. The big boss of this office was the Medical Superintendent. My immediate boss was the HEO (Higher Executive Officer). And his boss was the SEO (Senior Executive Officer) who reported to the Superintendent.

The long office (with wooden floor) had an open-space concept. The HEO took supreme position at one extreme end of the office. He had a huge desk with a glass pane over it. By just glancing up from his work, he was able to get a complete view of the happenings at the office. Seated at one side of the office, one behind the other, were two clerical officers (CO) -- a Mr and Mrs Teo (they were not husband and wife) who were extremely nice to me. They had been working there for eons.

In fact, everybody there seemed to have worked there for eons. There was another lady there who served another department but was somehow parked at our office. Another lady who seemed to be doing some correspondence and communications for the Superintendent, was seated near me. I wasn't quite sure what her main work was but it must be something to do with medical records of airline staff. Huge X-ray films would be delivered to her by a man who apparently looked very much forward to seeing her and would linger around to talk to her after delivery.

This lady was a great communicator. I often heard her calling one Mr Rubello (in an American accent, though I imagined Rubello would be an Italian ) who seemed to be an airline pilot, about his X-Ray. "Hello, Mr R-rrrubello.... How a-rrrre you?" The Superintendent always used her as an example of one who could write good minutes and memos. She was indeed, an extremely efficient lady with great diplomatic skills. Meticulously dressed and made-up, she was my idol.

There were three typists -- two served the entire office and one only typed stuffs for the Superintendent and the one who went "R-rrrubello". This special typist's work station was at the veranda of the bungalow office. I always envied the location of her work station -- and for being so attractive -- she was dating a young doctor whom she met while having lunch at the canteen next door.

I went to work each day dreading my "in-tray". It was piled high with correspondence I could not understand.  Mr Teo with his huge spectacles, would help me clear the tray, explaining each letter and memo. He was so capable and  efficient, I wonder why they needed me. At the end of the day, I was supposed to be supervising him. The logic didn't sound quite right to me. I was only 18 then, and he must be in his 30s at least. How would he feel to be supervised by someone so much younger -- and one who knew nothing?

After some idea of what to do, thanks to Mr Teo, I had to draft replies to memos and letters which needed to be cleared by the HEO. The HEO summoned staff to his desk by pressing a bell and then calling the name.

"Miss Lo!" was called very often -- in a snappy tone that did not augur well for me.

Back to the in-tray. At the top right hand corner of some correspondence, "Action"  with a little arrow next to it, would be scribbled. I would go to Mr Teo for help and he would patiently try to decipher whose scribble it was -- and to figure out the "action" required.

There seemed to be a difference between memos and letters. For letters, you can start with "Dear so and so" But for memos, it would be "Attention (attn): So and so". I didn't quite get the hang of things. It was the first time I heard of "memos". The only officialese I knew then was "To Whom It May Concern" (I learnt this from the movie, 'The King and I'). But I didn't have the chance to use this at TTSH.

So the bell continued to ring intermittently in the office, and the call for "Miss Lo".

The office sprang into life at 8.30am, with the office attendant frantically straightening the cushions on the sofa at the staircase landing and then galloping down to await the arrival of the Superintendent. We would hold our breathe and bend low over our work as THE Superintendent arrived, chauffeured. He would run up the stairs to his office on the top floor, with fair amount of alacrity -- followed by the attendant carrying his briefcase.

Life was a little regimental in this little A&E office. But I did have a lot of fun attending the orientation camp for new civil servants and made some friends working in different ministries. I liked my SEO though, he was a warm-hearted and cheerful Indian who never failed to make me feel at ease each time I was called to his office. His office was a little further down the veranda, separated from the rest of us.

There was a short cut we used to go to Balestier Road to catch the bus home. This was a narrow path which passed a football field. One day, much to my delight, I saw our Superintendent playing football and watched one of his shoes flew into the goal as he kicked the ball. That really made my day!

When I requested for a transfer to RTS (Radio Television Singapore) a few months after I joined TTSH, the Superintendent saw me (guess it was an exit interview of sorts) in his office which was lined with book shelves.  Very seriously, he told me that the job at RTS would probably suit me better. He was right.

Writing memos and official letters is definitely not my cup of tea.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Lunch hour and its pleasures

Beef Rendang
THERE's nothing more pleasurable than lunchtime -- and after that, a spot of shopping. The other day, I had lunch at Jln Rumah Tinggi area, near ABC market. Wow. I thought the place I had lunch the other time at Teban Gardens has some of the most old fashioned shops. But here, at the neighbourhood of Rumah Tinggi, I can find the dimmest-lit shop -- unpolished cement floor and all. Displayed at its dusty glass case at the entrance, were one or two pieces of silver jewelry, three gold chains, earrings and some odd pieces of jade. I guess it is a junk shop, as in the dark interior, many things were stacked up. How absolutely interesting.

The owner was seated deep inside the shop, chatting with her old crony, and couldn't care two hoots what's happening outside. Browse as long as you like -- no one will bother you. My kind of shop.

Yesterday, I lunched at an old shopping centre, Bukit Timah Plaza. The Muslim food at B1 is my favourite. I also liked the Chinese "point-point" stall at the lowest basement, but it is so popular that you won't find seats there at peak lunch time. One of my favourite stalls is the one selling household items on B1 -- from floor mats, towels, bed sheets, brooms, mops, crockery to pyjamas. The clothes shop near the Muslim food stall is also good for bargains -- tank tops from $10 to $13. I will never miss the pet shop on B2. Rabbits seem to be a favourite pet -- because the turnover is always very good. Each time I visited, there are different rabbits.

Lunch hour at Maxwell Road

 Talking about lunch time... After my O levels, I was a temp (daily-rated) with the National Development Building or NDB as it was known then, at Maxwell Road. My job was to calculate floor areas of buildings on proposal plans, under the supervision of a straight-talking nice man with grey hair called Mr Khoo. He was a man of few words but if you could somehow get him talking, he could tell you interesting things -- like how he actually walked to work from Toa Payoh. And when he laughed, he would throw back his head and really laughed, loud and hearty.

Anyway, I was talking about lunch time. Those days, my lunch was a boiled egg I brought from home. But occasionally, I would follow my former school mate, Margaret (she came from a rich family) to lunch. She was also a temp there, but on the 2nd floor. I was on the 5th floor. She would take me to this Hakka (she's a Hakka) yong taufu stall at Cross Street.

Lunch hour at Orchard Road

Then, after my A levels, I was temping as a receptionist at Albert Photo. Mr Albert Lee, the boss, had a photo studio at the basement of Orchard Towers where Peyton Place was (and still is, I believe). He also had a department store upstairs where he sold cameras, lenses, photographic equipment and electronic goods.

I knew Mr Lee as a very kind man -- although he looked a bit stern, with big eyes and a formidable moustache. His hair was jet black, neatly combed back (rather like Mr Tony Tan's). Everyday, he would offer to tabao lunch and would ask me what I like. I would tell him "just an apple". He would always ask, "Are you sure? I buy you chicken rice, ok?" When I insisted on apple, he always brought me the reddest and sweetest of apples.

I will always remember him for his kindness. He would give me "job expansion" thinking I was bored sitting at the studio reception the whole day. Once, he asked me whether I would like to do stocks. Maths was my worst subject, but I didn't have the heart to turn him down. So I helped with stock checking. But the storekeeper was a political woman who didn't like me around. Mr Lee detected the chemistry between me and her wasn't quite right and asked me to help with sales instead. He told me to come up to the sales department anytime I like, if there wasn't anything happening at the studio. I translated it to mean "Come up and have some fun if you are bored downstairs...."

I had a great time at sales. Business was pretty good. Tourists trooped in all times of the day. The register rang non-stop. But alas, I didn't quite get the knack of clanging those registers.  Sometimes, Mr Lee's mother would also come down to the department store and her presence could be felt -- even many cash registers away where I was trying furiously to give the right change to customers.

I think Mr Lee subsequently also agreed that my maths wasn't so great. To continue alleviating my boredom, he sometimes sent me to deliver films to Tanglin Shopping Centre where they had a photo shop.  I certainly enjoyed those "outings".

It was with some sadness that I had to tell Mr Lee that I had a job offer as a reporter with The Citizen. He looked at me with his huge eyes (which I would like to think, showed a bit of disappointment) and said, "So you like to write? Hmmm, if you find you don't like writing after all, you are welcome to come back."

When I was a reporter, I persuaded my editor to let me interview Mr Lee as I knew he owns a rare, antique Hasselblad. It was my excuse for seeing Mr Lee again.  Mr Lee agreed to be interviewed -- after much persuasion.

I wonder how he is now... I certainly hope he is well -- and kept his trademark moustache. I understand he was a self-made man who made a name for himself taking photographs and then expanding to own a chain of photo shops all over Singapore.

Mr Lee, thanks so much for your kindness.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

What's in a ball?

Bet you, there's a ball in this lion's mouth.
Lion guarding an old Chinese building next to
 51 Cuppage Road.. Below, close up of the ball within its mouth.
WHEN I was a reporter with The Citizen, an interviewee told me that stone lions, those guarding the entrances of buildings, usually have a ball in their mouth. And if one is somehow able to take it out from their mouth (without destroying the lions of course), than you are sure to have good luck.

But those lions are not recognised as guardians for nothing. They certainly guard that ball in their mouth zealously. There's certainly no way one can remove the ball. Credits to the sculptors who carved the perfectly rounded ball in the lion's mouth. You put your hand in and you can actually roll that ball around in the lion's mouth. How tantalizing!

I used to have a rubber toy -- a dog holding on to a ball. Dad bought it at Change Alley -- each time he visited the place he would try to buy something there for us. He had to go down to the area for business almost every day. So it was always in great trepidation that we waited for Dad to come home in the evening.

Anyway, the dog was yellow all over but the ball was multicoloured. And each time I played with the toy, I wished I could remove the ball from its paws so that I could have a new ball to play with. Such an attractive ball it looked to me then. The size was just nice for the game of "Rounders" as well. Not sure whether you have played "Rounders" Singapore style -- but it was played like baseball without the bat. You are thrown a small ball which you have to bat with your hand and then try and do a home run before the ball is caught. If you haven't reached a base and got hit by the ball, you are out of the game.

The toy was subsequently "donated" to the church, along with a lot of old clothings and other toys. But I think it was rejected by the child it was supposed to be given to because I happened to see it at a dark corner of the church's hall -- all forlorn and the ball still secured in its paws.

Somehow, balls which are easily "obtainable" -- like the bright pink one in plastic netting that mum bought for us to play with (as a ball) -- are always not as attractive and appealing as those which are not easily obtainable like the one secured in the dog's paws.

Or the one in the lion's mouth.

A high from haircut

After a new haircut.
JUST love the excitement of getting your hair cut, because you never know what you are going to get.

This is especially so for me who like to try out different hairdressers. Perhaps it is not so much as wanting to "try them out" but more like whoever is around -- whenever and wherever the urge to get on a "haircut high" occurs.

But of course, I am a little more discerning than that. Whoever's around also needs to have a trendy looking salon -- with some respectably trendy-looking clients inside. I do judge hairdressing salons by their covers, I am afraid.

Until this day, I can remember a great cut I've got at Marine Parade. That was some 15 years ago. The salon was at the corner of a row of shophouses facing the main road. It isn't there now of course. I wish it was.

I have been trying so hard to grow out my hair to one length and this impossibility had finally become a reality. But I passed by this salon and suddenly decided to have my hair "trimmed".

"Just a slight trim," I told the hairdresser who was a trendy looking young man with a black apron. "Hmm," he said as he lifted my hair tufts by tufts to check and finally said "OK". He started snipping and I was very sure it was definitely not just a "trim". I don't really have a great amount of thick hair. So I was a little scared when I saw a lot of hair falling onto my lap with each snip.

But what to do, the snipping had begun. So I just sat through it with my hands bunched into tight fists underneath the barber's sheet (or whatever you call it).

After the hairdryer drone has subsided, voila! My hair had a lot of volume which I had never seen unless some mad hairdresser decided to backcomb my hair. Definitely layered, but layered with such skill that it gave volume instead of being flat and lifeless.

It was my greatest mistake that I never kept in touch with this hairdresser...

Another unforgettable haircut took place even much longer ago. I think it was in Orchard Point or somewhere. I went in on impulse and he persuaded me to cut one side above the ear, and the other side long. There was a strong definition at the back and below that, long wispy ends. He asked me whether I want to chop off the wispy ends, but I told him to leave them on. But I chopped them off myself when I reached home. But the rest of the hairstyle was a great favourite of mine -- all time favourite!

In between, there have been lots of disastrous hairdos. The worst being a mushroom on top of my head because of bad layering.

What I have learnt so far is that I am going to tell hairdressers to stop giving me those "finishing touches". The first "raw" cut they do is always the best. But they, being  professional, always start snipping here and there after that first cut -- and then suddenly your hair doesn't look that great anymore.

And never tell them know you want to grow out your hair into this or that style, because they will give you something that is supposed to "take you there" but doesn't look good in between. So you'd end up going to another hairdresser to give you something that looks good NOW.

And, never tell them before they have finished their job "Wah, looks great!" because this will make them feel so elated that they will start to snip, snip, snip with gusto. The result is certainly going to be something to set your initial smile back by about a few cm.

And, even if it is just a fringe, please make sure you tell the hairdresser that you want an overall cut -- to take off more length at the fringe, and a minute millimeter elsewhere. Otherwise he or she will just cut the fringe -- which somehow won't gel very nicely with the rest of your hair.

And, never tell them that one side is thicker than the other side (or longer, or more layered or more anything) because your hairdresser will sure to over compensate and the "good" side will become unbalanced instead.

And, never complain why there is suddenly a mushroom growing on top of your head as the hairdresser will try his or her best to address the issue. In the end, everything will be levelled so much (to get rid of the mushroom) that it will take months to grow back your hair.

There, you have all the advice necessary to get a real good "haircut high" from your hairdresser.

After note:
Ken Wong, Director, Kenari (Wheelock Place) -- he has superceded my favourite Avy of The Scene! He knew my my problem immediately -- that I have wavy hair near my left ear so that I look like wearing a one-sided head phone! He is so very good for limp fine hair and short blunt cut. Yay!

Avy from The Scene at Raffles City, gives good cuts most of the time. Especially, short, blunt cuts. No styling needed to look good.

Jimmy Lim from The Quest (also at Raffles City) is careful to follow instructions -- sometimes to the T (which may not always be a good thing). Safe enough, but not much excitement.

Zelda from The Salon (Wheelock Place) gives very layered cuts which need to be blown and styled to look good. More suitable for tai-tais who have time to do this. 

Tony & Guy at Holland V so far, have given me great cuts that do not need to grow out before they look good. Hanks did my hair, but his layering is so-so.

Can also consult my taichi instructor who has his cut regularly at "a shop" at Toa Payoh. He always has the coolest of cuts -- short straight fringe in front and little short layers all round -- very nicely done -- and all for $2.50.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Never before and while stocks last

I WONDER if any one has the same problem when writing an ad with the phrase "While stocks last". Should it be "While stock lasts"?

I was a copywriter with a small advertising department of a retail company. As it was selling mostly electronic goods, there were many ads which required "While stock lasts" or "While stocks last" (in 9-point light at the bottom of the ad, after an asterisk, or sometimes in reverse white as a diagonal strap at the bottom right hand corner).

I thought "stock" may be used generically, hence it can be used in its singular form -- you know, like the use of the word "fish". But then, my predecessor had always used "While stocks last". My boss, who was the general manager overseeing retail and marketing, didn't really care much as long as I have the statement in all the ads. So I gave a call to my friend who was working as a reporter with the newspaper. She said, "Hmmm, I think 'while stock lasts' sounds more right."

So I requested the graphic artist who laid out the ad, to change it to "While stock lasts". After a while, I asked myself, what if the ad was shouting more than one kind of item "up for grabs" (which was often the case). So there would be more than one kind of "stock" and so it should be "stocks" (like fishes). So the poor graphic artist was requested to change it back to "While stocks last".

While "while stocks last" or its singular version was a variable in the ads that I did, "Never Before!" (with B in caps and an exclamation mark) was a standard. My boss insisted. Though he didn't spot the "stocks" or "stock", he never missed "Never Before!".

"I think add "Never Before!".... people will sit up...Put a burst here," he would mutter each time I showed him the mockup.

"Or how about 'Exclusive Offer!' for the burst? Hmm, never mind lah, 'Never Before!' sounds better,"  he said after some consideration.

There was just one time when I couldn't bear to put the line "While stocks lasts" in the ad for a rather classy handphone -- and my boss said, "Better add 'while stock lasts'..."

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Getting rid of an old aircon

I HAVE not tried this -- getting the people who are installing a new aircon for you to get rid of your old one. If that works, then that is happy news, I guess, to many people.

But the world's heaviest aircon has resided in my guest room for about 15 years before I managed to get rid of it. It was an aircon left behind by the previous owner of the HDB three-roomer I am now occupying. It still works -- the parting words of the owner as he handed me the keys.

But then, there was a check by HDB on the house (I think they do this for new owners ) and it seemed that the previous owner had not applied for a permit (there were standards to be met for the brackets that support the aircon -- there being a few falling aircon cases in the past). I had a choice of either removing the aircon, or applying for a permit. Remove, please, I said, thinking of the electricity bill.

So, the contractor came to remove it. He was a nice, old man. After much huffing and puffing, the tremendously aged and rusty aircon was dragged out of the hole in the wall and into the safety of my room. It was the biggest aicon I have ever seen -- and of course, extremely heavy.

The contractor was only able to carry it out of my room before he gave up. "Sorry, I don't have strength left. You've got to call someone to remove for you, " he said, breathing very hard.

So here's how I moved it -- myself:

Slipped a thin rug underneath the aircon (you can use a steel ruler to poke the rug in, from one end of the aircon to the other).

Push  the aircon and pull the rug (alternately) to where you want (hopefully only a short distance away, as this method is not going to work for long distance). Voila.

The old, rusty aircon had been disguised in many ways as a table for my guest room -- placing a cardboard and then a table cloth over it... then books and bookends -- and occasionally a vase of flowers...

But this year, some 15 years after the heroic effort, I decided to renovate my house. And the renovation people said they would remove it for me (for a fee) along with the ancient big, fat oven and gas stove, and the dining table -- all legacies left behind by the previous owner (because "they still work"). Hallelujah!

Till today, I am still thanking myself for not letting the previous owner talk me into keeping the giant double-door fridge in the kitchen. Can you imagine how difficult it would be (and costly) to get rid of it?

Friday, 2 August 2013

How to get rid of old mattresses

You can stack a new mattress on an old one so that it becomes a bed. This way, you don't have to get rid of the old one. But if you keep buying new mattresses, you are going to end up like the Princess and the Pea.
OLD mattresses, what does one do with them? These days, it takes about $20 (probably more) to dispose of one. Even if you buy a new one, it doesn't mean the person who delivers it, will get rid of the old one for you. The karung guni man (rag and bone man) doesn't want it either -- not sure whether he would if you pay him  -- but my guts feeling is that he wouldn't.

Back when I was a kid, and even as a young adult, the one who delivers the new mattress would dispose the old one for you -- without additional payment. Perhaps he could make a few bucks out of selling old mattresses to someone. But these days, nobody wants old mattresses -- I gather.

Well, actually a few years back, I got a new mattress. And the delivery man after much persuasion, grudgingly said he would throw the old one for me. A few hours later when I went downstairs to the provision shop, I saw it propped up against the wall, in the void deck. Horrors!

So, old mattresses really have no value these days. They don't even get stolen. What happened to those people who stole door knobs in broad daylight? (I was told by my banker friend that his mum came home one day but couldn't open her door because the door knob was stolen.) There were also those who stole grills from drains or pry out tyre rims to sell. There are a lot of springs in mattresses which are made of metal and they are welcome to plunder these.

Moral of the story, if you need to buy a mattress -- buy one that lasts forever -- or buy one of those light ones made of foam and about only 3 inches thick -- which you can carry down to the void deck. Oh, ok, to the garbage dump.

It is always useful to live near a garbage dump as I can foresee lugging a mattress, even if it is a thin and light one made from foam, is going to be quite a drag.