My childhood in Malacca (Part 1)

I remember when time was slow then……

By Tek Chong

Image: Malacca old gateway

In those days, we could not go to Melaka by train. Well, we still cannot go to Melaka by train. We do have an international airport, but we have no train station. A railway line (in red) stretches from Singapore straight to Kuala Lumpur thence to the North to Penang but it does not touch Malacca. Melaka was spelt Malacca then, also called the Sleepy Hollow. That’s where I grew up…

Our streets were narrow, oh yes, we did have some motor cars, but the streets were built for bullock carts, rickshaws and bicycles. My brothers and sisters went to school by our regular trishaw.

 Railway bypasses Malacca

                      trishaw taxi queue                                                    Tek the eldest with his 7 siblings

Six of us siblings (later we became 8) would pile into the tiny vehicle pedalled by our friendly driver going at 7 am and 2 pm to our schools and to collect us home. My sisters attended the Methodist Girls School while my brother and I went to the Anglo-Chinese School next to it. My brother would demand ten cents ‘coffee money’ from his sisters so that he would make sure he would be punctual in order that they would not be late for school.  It did not occur to me that I should also be similarly paid. I was not a good entrepreneur then.  As we grew older each of us was given a bicycle, so we cycled to school. My brother’s regular income was thus curtailed.  


bullocks carrying firewood

My father had to buy firewood from a bullock cart driver. The load of old rubber tree trunks would be downloaded behind our shop-house. A young shop assistant who also served as an apprentice cook was assigned to chop these wooden trunks into manageable smaller pieces of firewood for cooking. This wood would be piled neatly in the kitchen. It was my duty to help him to transport the wood from the street to the kitchen. Again, it did not occur to me that I could have demanded some extra allowance for such strenuous labour. I was not an entrepreneur.


Mandi Safar procession

Once a year bullock carts from different Malay villages were creatively decorated for the Mandi Safar festival. The village young men and ladies dressed in their colourful costumes made their way to the beach. All the carts would head towards an area along the Malacca Tanjong Beach where there would be a food fair with music and laughter.  Chinese and Indian youths would follow the carts on bicycles. We were all welcome to join in the carnival, sharing their cuisine. Those were the days….  we were all friendly to one another.


We celebrated all festivals –  Christian, Muslim, Indian and Eurasian. My Malay and Indian classmates would put on their new clothes and visit our house at Chinese New Year. They gladly received the red packets from my parents, they ate our ‘Chinese cakes’ and other Chinese New Year delicacies (no pork, no beef of course). On the other hand we also helped our Malay friends break their annual month of fasting with their End of Fast dinner. (We did not have to fast of course).  Too, we grew to love the Indian curries served in the Indian Deepavali celebrations in their homes. Of course, everyone was welcome to our Christmas parties held in the school and church halls. We were all one Malayan family then. 



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