Jalan Ngee Heng Revisited

Dad at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng with badminton court
complete with flourscent lights in background;
Notice roof of terrace houses opposite [Top Right]

“Hi Peggy, What a wonderful reflection of your early years in Jalan Ngee Heng – I too remember it well,” said Vincent in his email.  He introduced himself as a reader whose grandparents, the Susay’s, used to live at No. 29, across the road from my Ah Kong or grandfather’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng. 

His family now lives in the UK but by reading my Johor stories on line, he connected easily with the nostalgia and reminisced with me about how his mum would tell him stories of the great badminton players who lived in that big bungalow.  

Vincent added, “I can also recall your area lit up by the outdoor fluorescent lights,” and I tried to imagine his view from across the road because I only saw the badminton court within our compound, behind the tall bamboo fence.  At that time, street lamps were few so the brightly lit court could have stood out as a landmark on that end of Jalan Ngee Heng.  However this court and Ah Kong’s house are now part of the highway and Wisma Maria was built on the site of the terrace houses where Vincent’s family used to live.

Aunties playing masuk belon game with us on the court
In those days every evening, we the children, had the first opportunity to play on the court before the badminton training started.  Play time started after tea until dark because as a rule, the lights would only be switched on when badminton started and by then we should go in to shower before dinner. 

We played a variety of games that involved lots of running and racing and we often employed the lines of the badminton court as it was easy to set rules based on those lines. 

“A, E, I, O, U,” was a popular game where one person would stand on the opposite end of the court, facing away from the players and shout out these vowels.  While this was going on, the players would advance towards him but at the call of “U” the caller would turn and all the players must freeze on the spot.  If anyone failed to freeze, he was “out” and this sequence continued until the first player reaches and taps the caller, at which point he would chase the players and the one caught would take his turn to be “it.”

Our adults often joined us to play as a warming-up exercise and it was double the fun as teams were formed to play a thrilling game called, masuk belon or belon achar.  The strategy was to prevent members of the opposing team to reach the top end of the court by blocking their way along several lines crosswise of the court.  I can almost hear the way we used to scream in excitement and looking back now, I wonder if the tall bamboo fence helped to muffle the noise we made on that court.

Ah Kong and my uncles used to train badminton enthusiasts in their Companion badminton club and when the players arrived to warm-up, the children would leave and let them take over the court.  Incidentally when I met Chef Ravi recently and we reminisced about St Joseph School and Jalan Ngee Heng, he said his father, Retnam, was among the badminton players with my uncles at No. 154.  While Ravi and I also talked about the ice-balls made by the friendly shopkeeper next door, Vincent also asked, “Do you remember that shopkeeper next door to your house, selling ice kacang and he used to drive a Vespa?”

Apparently Vincent had not read my recent article on ice kacang, (“The first crush still melts the heart” Johor Streets, 9 August 2011) because it was on my experiences of this tropical treat made by the very shopkeeper at Jalan Ngee Heng.  I certainly remember his shop, the nostalgic ice balls and how he used to whiz around on his scooter, delivering and collecting goods in a rectangular plastic basket strapped onto the scooter’s rear rack. 

Grandfather or Ah Kong riding his Lambretta scooter
 on the driveway of No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng
I’m familiar with the scooter because my Ah Kong also used to ride a scooter, a Lambretta to be specific, and I fondly remember going out with him for joy rides.  In those days, riders were not required to wear helmets as traffic was light and people drove at a safe and sedate speed. 

I was short enough to stand in the circle of Ah Kong’s out-stretched arms with my little palms firmly holding the handlebars and I can never forget the thrill of the wind whipping around me, turning my mop of hair into a tangled mess. 

One incident involving Ah Kong’s scooter and the badminton court is indelibly engraved in our memories because Uncle Arthur tried to learn to ride there but with disastrous results.  He probably thought that the court was a safe place to practice riding but he did not anticipate the danger as he was unfamiliar with the controls.  At first it looked like fun as the scooter jolted around with stops and starts but we watched in horror when he lost control of the machine and suddenly shot ahead and crashed into a concrete wall. 

Grandma sitting pretty on Ah Kong's Lambretta scooter
in the porch of No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng

Uncle was not physically hurt but his pride was probably dented as was parts of the scooter and he had some serious explaining to do about the damage.  Thanks to Vincent, I can share more memories of Jalan Ngee Heng and reminisce about this vehicle which was a modest means of transport for Ah Kong who often took grandma downtown to Capitol or Broadway theatres to watch Teochew opera movies.  

We can only remember the good old days when there was a badminton court and bungalow at No.154 because if Vincent was to look for it now, that site is occupied by a huge advertising pylon and an overgrown tree that provides shade to a hawker stall that stands on our former driveway.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 5 September 2011

Response message fromVincent Alexander:

Thank you very much for getting back to me after I posted my comment to your wonderful article. I can't believe it!  Yes I am Vincent Alexander and I attended St Joseph's school from 1971 to 1975.  Then the family moved to Butterworth and we came back to JB in 1979.  I completed my studies in the Aminuddin Baki school.  I do remember the D'Silva family as we used to go the the JB church for Sunday evening mass.  I've now been living in England since 1985 and would love to catch up with any of the old church and St Joseph crowd.  What a small world eh!!?

Thanks once again for getting back to me and in my very humble view, you certainly have a gift in capturing on paper memories of days we thought long forgotten growing up in Ngee Heng.  Do keep in touch.

Kindest Regards.
/pl

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9/12/2012

    Hi Peggy:

    The SJS facebook page is here:
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/57147840223/

    ReplyDelete