Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I TOOK A LITTLE TRIP TO MY HOMETOWN...

"I took a little trip to my hometown," sang Paul Anka back in 1960. That was exactly what I did last weekend. I spent the whole of Saturday morning re-visiting the old familiar streets and places that were a part of my growing up years in Batu Pahat.

I left town after completing my Form 5 at Temenggong Ibrahim Girls School in 1964. Since then I have returned only occasionally. My last visit was in September 2008. Batu Pahat has changed tremendously over the years, generally for the better.
On my sister's advice, I took the KKKL bus from Bandar Tasik Selatan, Kuala Lumpur. The fare was only RM20, cheaper if you ask for senior discount. The journey was pleasant and took only three hours with a short toilet break mid-way. The bus stops at the terminal above. If you plan to travel back to KL by bus, do take note of the schedule while you are at the terminal. Just inquire at the KKKL ticket counter.
One of the first places on my must-visit list was TIGS, my alma mater. I spent about 30 minutes on Friday evening photographing the old block where my Form 4-5 classrooms were. You can view the pictures in my previous post.
The town bus service runs at half-hourly intervals. Quite reliable and cheap. This old bus is testimony of the durability of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Note the sliding glass windows. 
The inside of the bus. Note the wooden floor panels and the seats from a bygone era. That's my sister cum tour guide.
My walkabout began with Jalan Rahmat, the town's main road. It is now a one-way street. Not much traffic at this early hour before the shops open. There's even a one-stop computer centre on the right. BP is modernizing.
My sister is standing in front of the shop-house where my siblings and I grew up. It used to house a beauty salon which my mother operated, and my aunt's tailoring shop on the ground floor. We lived upstairs. The corner unit was a hotel cum coffee shop. I recall watching Fijian soldiers in the 1950s drinking beer on their night off and dancing to music from the jukebox. They came from the army barracks along Jalan Tanjung Laboh during the colonial days. I still remember Queen Elisabeth's coronation celebrations in 1953, and the day black and white TV came to town in 1964.
I can't believe the old signboard for our shop-house is still there!
It says 'Golden Star'. Everyone in BP knows the shop. 

My mother started the hair-salon and bridal gown rental business
in 1948, the year I was born.
Sing Ah Book store is still there. Many of these shop-houses were protected by the Rent Control Act till it was repealed in 2000. In the 1960s, my mother paid less than 100 dollars in monthly rental for her shop-house along the main road, Jalan Rahmat. Now rentals can reach as high as RM8000 or more. 
The dollar was the currency used before independence. I still have these notes in various denominations.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce built in 1931. It was THE place to hold social functions in the old days. A number of my relatives held their wedding ceremony and dinner here. 
Still standing - the Post Office. Building materials in the old days were probably of better quality, as was the workmanship.
This is the first and only shop I know that sells firearms. Frank Tan must be doing well to have remained in business since 1926! Wonder who the customers are, and what they want firearms for. 
One of the streets off Jalan Rahmat with many of my favourite makan places, including Ah See wantan noodles shop. 
The Kwong Shiew Association building. Another BP landmark in Jalan Jenang where I would watch lion dances and Chinese operas during festivals.
Odeon cinema used to be here. Cineplexes and VCDs sounded the death knell for the big cinemas. Many of them were converted to bargain stores like this one above. Movie tickets in the early 1960s cost only 40 cent, and for matinees only 25 cents. It was free seating. We reserved seats for our friends by tying handkerchiefs around the arm-rest of the seats.
The government house in Jalan Sultanah where my first child was born has been demolished to be replaced with this restaurant with the strange name 'Mee Racun' or Poison Noodles. Apparently, this recipe is unique to Batu Pahat.


The current school building bears absolutely no resemblance to Ai Chun Chinese school where I attended kindergarten in 1953. (see below)
Ai Chun School as I remember it during my school days.
(Photo from http://onlytigersden.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/batu-pahat-old-photos-part-1/)
These abandoned shop-houses stand out like a sore thumb amid the newly renovated ones in the town centre. Must be due to either legal or financial issues.
In the old days it took courage to walk along back lanes like this
one because of the smell emanating from the buckets of night soil!
How can I forget this row of dilapidated houses? That's where I had my first kiss - an innocent peck on the cheek from a boy that I liked very much then.
Shops like this one will soon be a faded memory as progress envelopes the town, and people prefer to shop at the malls that offer everything under one roof.
One of the last surviving repair shops. The 70-year old shop owner is self-taught. He claims he can fix anything from a typewriter to a washing machine. Amazing!
A trip to the morning market is a must. One can find all sorts of interesting wares here besides cheap clothes. There's a flea market here too.

At the vegetable stall. The prices are unbelievable. For only RM10, it is possible to buy enough food to cook a decent meal for the whole family. 
The wet market is still in the same location. Here's where you can buy fish, chicken, beef and mutton as well as vegetables.
You would be forgiven if you think my sister is walking towards the public toilet hidden behind these walls.
Behind those walls lies the pork section of the wet market exactly as I remember it in my school days. The pork sellers would wrap the meat in leaves and tie it with hemp strings. We didn't have plastic bags or raffia strings in those days.
Windows with wooden shutters and beautifully painted tiles are typical features of pre-war Peranakan shop-houses.
As a child, I would buy biscuits sold in mom and pop provision shops like this one. The price was according to the weight in katis and tahils.
I just had to take a picture of this vendor with his multi-container of nuts. I bought a  small packet of steamed chick peas for only RM1. In KL, it would have cost me double.
BP's iconic cendol stall boasts an original recipe dating back to the 1950s.
Love those prices. One good reason to return to my hometown more often. (Below) Batu Pahat is also well-known for its biscuits. Hup Seng and Hwa Tai biscuit factories are located here.


By the way, here are some prodigal sons of Batu Pahat that you will probably recognize. Clockwise: Tony Pua, Vincent Tan, Chua Soi Lek and Lim Kit Siang. Have I left out anyone famous or infamous?



My trip back to Batu Pahat reminded me of one of my favourite Beatles songs "In My Life". It was in BP that I spent the best years of my life, made the best childhood friends, and fell in love for the first time. There are people and places I will never forget, and I shall return again and again to visit old familiar places and dearly-loved friends. These are fond memories that will remain forever in my life.



5 comments:

Allen Ng said...

The pictures of the old shop-houses in Batu Pahat look strikingly similar to those in Ipoh, my hometown. In my childhood years I lived with my grand mother, aunt and uncles in a small shop dealing with the retail, service and repair of clocks and watches. The shop was located on the ground floor of a two storey shop-house located along what was then known as Hugh Low Street (now Jln Sultan Iskandar). In those good old days Hugh Low Street was the premier street in the city and the most happening place to be. However today due to rapid development in other parts of the city, Hugh Low Street has become a shadow of its former self. The abandoned old shop house where I grew up is still existing today, but in a dilapidated state.

el-f said...

Allen, I sometimes think that we are like these old buildings. Either we keep up (renovate) with the changing times, or we fade away and become relics of the past. For some old folks, they are abandoned by their children just like these dilapidated shop-houses are abandoned by their owners.

Antares said...

Wish I could have been there with you - we share pretty much the same memories! Thanks for this blast of vicarious nostalgia :-) xoxoxox

Allen Ng said...

In the end every parent in his twilight years will have to grapple with this weighty and imponderable issue : will my children forsake me?

Ramanathan SP.V. said...

Thanks.1965 Form V Govt. High School. Remember Ban Poh Leong. Lived in 97/2 Jalan Rahmat. Thanks again for taking me down the memory lane