Good old 555 organizer

TODAY, our techno-savvy generation will lose no time to upgrade to more advanced models of sophisticated and versatile models of Personal Digital Assistants or PDAs.
But long before the electronic invasion, we all depended on a humble yet reliable organiser that could hold important data and fitted snugly into a pocket. 

This trusty little organiser is a miniature exercise book we fondly refer to as 555. Parents, who used it as pocket notebooks and telephone directories, introduced the usefulness of 555 to their school-going children to record reminders or school homework.  The 555 had an important role in studies because it was often used to list out a series of times-tables or spellings as a quick reference for children to learn by heart!

Its unique digital name is obviously derived from the numbers 555 printed on its cover. In any choice of pretty pastel colours, these three digits will be boldly emblazoned against pink, blue, green or yellow covers. Used by grocers for generations, these 555 pocket booklets had become a household name, synonymous with credit control with neighbourhood traders!

That’s because before mega credit card companies came to our shores, families enjoyed good credit with towkays of friendly neighbourhood stores. Based on a high level of trust and integrity, grocers, kopitiam and vegetable vendors provided an excellent service where groceries, drinks and fresh products could be enjoyed on credit.  These small “papa and mama” traders did not depend on electronic gadgets to swipe data cards but used their trusted little 555!

There was a time when you could walk into your friendly corner shop and pick up a batch of groceries without any money changing hands. All you needed to say was: “Masuk buku!”

The grocer maintained a filing system arranged with neat rows of well-thumbed 555s, each booklet with the name of every family who had an account with him.  Very often, you and your family members were so familiar to him that the vendor knew which booklet to pull out even without asking for your name!

Opening the pages of the dog-eared 555, the vendor would have his own method to record purchase entries into your account. At the end of each month, the total sum will be tallied up for payment and sometimes on compassionate grounds, kind-hearted grocers even allowed part-payments but without any interest or late payment charges!

From businessmen, homemakers to schoolchildren – almost everyone had used it at some stage of their lives. And, in spite of modern record-keeping methods, these handy 555 booklets are still in use today and they remain very much part of the Malaysian way of life.

So when you next pick up a 555, remember that it’s more than just an inexpensive and practical organiser. It’s also a nostalgic icon from a generation where people knew each other by name or trade, and when there was strong unity and integrity in a community of diverse races and religions.

And just like any modern organiser, the familiar, pastel coloured 555 has been upgraded and given a facelift. The new and improved version retains its handy pocket size but the covers sport more jazzy designs with laminated finishing but always with the iconic 555 on its front!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 11 June 2007

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