Monday, November 12, 2007

The Old Playground

Each time I took a short cut, which is rather rare these days, walking from the Oriental Theatre to Yan Kit Swimming Pool, using the old railway line turned into park, I could not help remembering the young days.

This has been the route for me to go to school and back, and to play with friends in the "Tng Tiam Hung" kampung. There were always the dogs to be fearful of. We kids were oblivious to the steady streams of trishaws making their trips to and from Keong Saik St. (^^)

Ah, the story would be too long to tell in one blog posting. I was just passing by the bridge over the old railway line when I noticed that the sign board on the Chin Woo Athletic Association was still there. Ah, my French friend is still practising his Taiji there with the master from this Association although he does not speak any Cantonese or Mandarin.

In my younger days, I was living at 29 Craig Rd (ah for posterity, I have better put my address here less later I can no longer remember and I missed the bid to get the road name from LTA!) and that was the side of the street that only have bucket system!

Cooped up in a tiny room and not allowed to make noise - you can imagine those noisy floor planks that creaked all the time - by our fierce Bibik, we only had the open air to scream our lungs out. And so, we went to this park. I could still remember the days when they screen movies open air. And there even a performance by Anita Sarawak!

Somehow, we kids got to know the kids along the street. Particularly one opposite to our house, where they made wooden swords for gungfu practice. Talk about child labour, we would gladly volunteer to polish the cut swords with sandpaper! Well, for our hard work, we got to read the "ko-chek" (old Chinese comics which was condemned by the teachers as not good, alas, we know now that they could have improved our kids' Chinese!).

At the park, there were many things to do. We would climb the Madras Thorn (tree) to try to get the fruit before the birds beat us to it. And yes, there was the Basketball court. Whenever anyone is playing, we would just walk near. It is almost always that the owner of the ball would throw to us to give it a try. And before long. we would be teaming up to play - half court. At times, it was more "professional" and we small kids backed off when the Tng Tiam Hung gang played against the Kong Saik Kai gang. When we kids played, there were no fancy stuff, like basketball shoes. We could only eye at them with envy. We played barefooted! Wearing the Japanese flipflops would run the risk of tearing the rubberout.

In the evening, the men and women in white tops and black baggy pants took over. It's the Chin Woo Athletic Association. We kids would sit by the slope or even on the Aw Boon Haw jaga's Charpoi (rope bed) to watch. The older people would be doing the "ghost catching" according to the master's call of "yet, yi, sam .." (one, two, three). Ah, I was to learn years later that it was Taiji.

And there were the younger ones who would do the unarmed gungfu or with the weapons of all sorts - spear, nan-tao, qian .. toys that my son now plays. Hmm, something that I wanted to learn, but never got to doing it because, I had no money.

The fun time must be when the Association was rehearsing for a performance. That's when the woolly Northern Lions would appear in their full form. In those days, that was probably the only Northern Lions that I have seen. Others, as seen during Chinese New Year, were the Southern Lions, as you would have seen in the Wong-Fei-Hong movies.

The whole streets of Tng Tiam Hung (Pawn Shop Alley in Hokkien) and Kong Saik Kai (as pronounced in Cantonese) are now quiet. No noisy boys. And so, what's left of the basketball court was also quiet. But to my surprise, the activities of Chin Woo Athletic Association goes on.

postscript: As days draw longer, it would have to take an occasion like a funeral wake to reminisce about the young days. This guy, about my age, but one generation higher because he happens to be the brother of my aunt, came from Indonesia (where he has since taken up residence and became a towkay) for the wake of his nephew, my cousin. We talked about the days when we were both about 12 years old .. and playing in this old playground. Ah, memories.