Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Those kerosene lamps

On this Sunday evening when wife and daughter decided on a meaty Bak Kut Teh, and well, there are Bak Kut Teh, and Bak Kut Teh, daughter decided on the "young" establishment of Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. This is another classical example of how a typical Bak Kut Teh stall has been transformed into a successful business by the next generation. OK la, the contents are almost the same, only the ambience is different. Well, it has the look and almost the feel, but not the smell. It was cool some more.

But it was the lamps on the wall that brought me back to my young days. It is now retro and hip infact for restaurants to make their places look retro. For me, and probably for those senior citizens, these lamps would bring back memories - fond or otherwise. And I am sure, it will trigger many a granny to share the tales to their grandchildren. Imagine the scholar who studied with the tiny light from this kerosene lamp.

When I was young, before I moved to an HDB flat, I was staying in a so-called pre-war house in this place known as Turn-Tiam-Hung. Compared to these days, the rent was, well, affordable. Our room (with the extended family all sleeping together) was reasonably big to take nine persons, unlike those smaller cubicles in the heart of Gnau-Chair-Sui. But the Bibik (whom we kids had to call her Ko-po - grandaunt) was a strict matriarch. We, the tenants were also like part of her extended family) was very much concerned about expenditure, since we only paid for the rent and that included light and water and well, the bucket system. And so, each night, at 11pm sharp, she or her eldest son would switch off the lights. Only a few tiny lights along the staircase were lit to allow us to find our way to our rooms.

When we were very young, we were terrified of the dark, not to mention the calls of the cats, fighting or mating on the tile roof which was just above our room. And so, we tried to get to sleep by 10pm. You can imagine the importance of the spittoon as many of us, especially kids, would not want to venture downstairs to the toilet. And so, each night, before 11pm struck, Grandma or Ma would light up the kerosene lamp.

The lamp would be hung on a wall. The light was just enough for us to figure out the forms lying on the floor so that we don't step on them if we need to use the spittoon. If anyone of us needs to find something, we would have to carry the lamp. And in the rare occasions when we had to study, well, that was our source of comfort.

In the days when we had to wake up early, like 5am, to get ready to go to school, it was the lamp that would help me to change and get into my school uniform.

Ah the days ... I could still remember the smell of the kerosene being burned as the light flickered in the occasional breeze. I wondered how I survived the hot dark nights.


Lam Chun See said...

Hi Victor. May I know where is this restaurant?

chinatownboy said...

Hi Chun See,
These are at the new shop of Song Fa Bak Kut Teh restaurant, two shops away from the first corner restaurant. And it is opposite to Central.

Lam Chun See said...

I occasion that I remember was when my father returned from work and ate his dinner in the light of the oil lamp in Picture no. 2. I was in Pr 1 or 2 and he made me sit next to him and recite the Times Table.

And then at night when we needed to go to the toilet which was a few metres away from our house, we would bring along such a lamp. Very useful indeed.

chinatownboy said...

Indeed a far cry from the LED torchlights we have these days, and the minimum-flicker lamps specially designed for the children to study with. (^^)

Lam Chun See said...

I recall sometimes the glass tube become all blackened. Do you remember the reason?

chinatownboy said...

I think it must be the black soot from the light burning from the kerosene. (^^) Had to clean them during those days.

Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for this memorable oil lamp blog.

As a young boy about six living in Bukit Ho Swee, I was fear of the dark and a small lamp was lit on throughout the night and turned off when sunlight in the morning. The light of the oil lamp in the room wasn't very bright...just enough to urinate into the spittoon as there was no toilet in the house.

So my mother would then have to clean the spittoon the next morning. Poor mother to have additional work and inconvenience in those days without pampers or flats designed without toilets inside.

chinatownboy said...

Same, same here. And our toilet then was the bucket system. :)

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, I am now writing a book about growing up in Spore in the 50's and 60's. Could you pls help me by letting me have that photo (no. 2) of the oil lamp to use in my book. Save me the trouble of going down to take a photo. Thank you very much. My email address is: