Sunday, 2 August 2009
Heritage floor tiles
Every time I see this type of floor tile in the heritage buildings around the city, I develop a pang for my old home at 10 Seang Tek Road, George Town. For the first 26 years of my life, I stayed in this townhouse with my parents and grandparents. It was a rent-controlled premises and the rent we paid every month was very low by today's standards. I can't remember exactly how much it was, either $22 or $32.
When I was staying at Seang Tek Road, my neighbours to my right of us were a Hokkien Mee seller at the nearby Kuantan Road market, a sundry shop run by a very old fat jovial lady with bound feet and a nameless bakery shop. Diagonally opposite us, one of the townhouses had been converted into a home temple. The Ang Kong Keng, we called it. During the deity's birthday every year, it would be celebrated with a puppet show. The stage would be erected on the five-foot way of the sundry shop and the show would go on for days. It was noisy and I didn't like it.
Directly opposite my home was an economy rice shop so it was very convenient for us to order dishes from them when guests dropped by unexpectedly. Further along Dato Kramat Road, I remember a women's hair salon, a coffee shop, a laundry shop, a Chinese medicinal hall, an Indian newsagent (still there), a motor repair shop, some residential units and then the White House coffee shop at the Dato Kramat Road and Malacca Street corner with its remarkable durian-flavoured ice-cream (when in season), a stall selling miniature timsum dumplings, a koay teow soup stall and a char koay teow stall. For 50 cents, we'd get fried koay teow with egg, prawns, cockles and...oysters. You don't find oysters with char koay teow anymore.
To our left of my home was a stall selling southern Indian apom. Aneh, I always called out to the apom seller - he was a happy and carefree chap - and he always replied with Tambi. Plain apom was five pieces for five cents, while if we threw in an egg, it was two pieces for 10 cents. A back lane cut netween the stall and our home and it led to Perlis Road. In fact, I should say that our backdoor opened directly into the infamous Perlis Road back lane. Even from young, I could understand what went on there in the evenings until the wee hours of the morning. La sam (dirty), my mother used to warn me. It was a very popular place for prostitutes and transvestites. We left them alone and they left us alone too.
The backlane ran beside the length of the house and a row of shophouses fronting Dato Kramat Road had their backs to us. I remember a liquor shop at the corner of Dato Kramat Road and Seang Tek Road. Next to it was a tailor shop, then two or three residential units before coming round to a barber shop that I used to frequent. My barber was a chap with a crooked head, always bent to one side. Thinking back, it was a wonder that he was a barber. It was a greater wonder that I didn't end up with a crooked haircut!
At the end of the row of shophouses was a coffee shop. Across the road from it was a sundry shop, then a row of houses with all sorts of small businesses including tyre shops and motorcycle repair shops. Before the Irving Road junction, another coffee shop. There used to be a nasi kandar stall there, very popular in the early mornings, and I used to buy a packet of rice heavily doused with curry and a small piece of fish at about 6.30am. Cost: 30 cents, and the food would last me until perhaps 3pm when I came home from school.
From my home, I could look out towards Dato Kramat Road and directly at the Seng Kee Restaurant whose sar hor fun was perhaps one of the most well-known in town. Its two neighbours were a coffee powder grinder and a hokkien mee noodle maker. Then there's this coffee shop at the Kuantan Road junction where I had always liked its cheap fried beehoon and also duck meat koay teow soup. On the other side of Kuantan Road was another coffee shop with the most delicious fried koay kak in the morning. The proprietor was especially friendly to me and kept telling me that one day, he would move his stall to Petaling Jaya. To the best of my knowledge, until he died, he never did. So you see how these tiles can evoke such memories in me.
From the main window on the upper floor, I had my first memory of seeing the Penang Hill in the far distance. Penang Hill loomed closer in my life when we moved to the Zoo Road area in Ayer Itam. In the late 1970s, the landlord told my family that he had sold off the row of four houses and we were required to vacate the place. We finally did so in 1980. Four years later, my family shifted to a flat in Seberang Jaya's Siakap area before we relocated yet again to a double-storey house in the Semilang area after another three years. We moved out from Seberang Jaya in 2004 and come this December, we'll be staying in Bukit Mertajam for five years.
Although I'm no longer staying on the island, I cannot hide my attachment to George Town. It was where I grew up. Seang Tek Road wasn't even within the city's buffer zone but it was close enough for me to remember many things about this heritage city. So every time I look at the floor tiles, I am jolted into remembering my childhood and youth again.