Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Nothing like home

To a young kid, nothing provides more security than his own home. That is, apart from the parents' presence, of course. And home to this young kid here was this rented pre-war house in Seang Tek Road.  The rented premises was, for all purposes, my home, my fort and my castle, all rolled into one.

I've absolutely no idea how long my grandparents had been staying here before I was born, but my parents were married in this house. And this was where I grew up until around 1979 when the landlord wanted the row of four houses back and we had to relocate to Zoo Road in Ayer Itam. I remember the landlord was an Indian but most probably he was a chettiar. Every month, he would come around to collect the rental. Though $32 is such a small sum today, it was a very big amount in the 60s and 70s.

Very few people owned a car in those days. Certainly, we didn't; but we did have two bicycles. One belonged to my granddad which he used until he died in 1966 while my father used the other one to cycle to work daily at the old Mercantile Bank in Beach Street. Only much later, in that same year I think, he bought a Honda C50 motorcycle to commute to the office.

That purchase freed up both bicycles in the house. And they went idle until 1969. One fine morning, I nicked one of the bicycles without my parents' knowledge and cycled to school. Of course, it created a lot of alarm at home, which I was blissfully unaware of at that time, because a bicycle had gone missing suddenly and my usual school taximan was worried stiff that I did not board his vehicle that morning. But from that day onwards, I cycled to school.

What I remember vaguely of my father's C50 Honda cub was that during some civil disturbances in the streets of Penang in 1967, he turned up at the school gate one day to fetch me home. Was it the Penang hartal of November 1967? I can't remember exactly.

Apart from the bicycles, the only way anyone in the family moved around was by public transport. The bus services in those days were very efficient. We sat either the George Town City Council buses or the green Lim Seng Seng Co Ltd buses that plied from Maxwell Road to the Ayer Itam village. Ten cents or 15 cents would take us from the city centre to the Kuantan Road junction. If we wanted to travel the whole distance to Ayer Itam, I think the fare was 20 cents or 25 cents.

Many times, I would accompany my mother to Penang Road or Gladstone Road. We would wait outside a barber shop at Dato Kramat Road and clamber on board the bus when it arrived. I remember the big uncovered drain outside this row of houses. The only thing preventing people from falling into the drain was a barrier of cast iron pipes. Only much later did the City Council lay concrete slabs over the drain.

Of course, we would also take a bus back from town, alighting at the bus stop near the Kuantan Road junction. I was always very thrilled to climb up on the seat and ring the bell once the bus had passed the Eastern Smelting plant.

Occasionally, my mother would decide to take the bus right up to Ayer Itam in order to visit some relatives there. I would be told not to ring the bell. So I would just sit by the bus window and watch the Seang Tek Road house pass me by. Every time it did, without fail, my heart would skip a beat and sink. It was as if I crying out in my heart, "Our house is there, I can see it from the bus, but why are we not stopping and going home?" That was how I felt about the security of my home was when I was not more than 10 years old.

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