Written and contributed
Kuan Hon was the eldest of 5 children of Teochew background whose family came to Menglembu (probably) from Sungei Siput, in the early 1950s. His father, a bus inspector with the Green omnibus that travelled from Ipoh to Pusing, Batu Gajah, Tualang, and Buas, opened up a shop in Main Road selling pots and pans, and earthen pots and water containers (used mainly in Chinese Bathrooms). His father also ran a radio repair business. I remembered seeing the family moved to Menglembu. Both parents worked very hard to make a living and bringing up 5 children.
Kuan Hon went to the Wan Hwa primary school in Menglembu. He was also a scout in the school and was very proud of his scout stick. He used to chant the local scout slogan and it sounded like “jit goo jit, lum pat” and we often taunt him with this chant. Kuan Hon was not serious in his studies and he followed his father’s foot step by learning how to repair radio (valve type) and some electrical wiring work. He was good at it. He used to read the radio repair manuals written in Chinese and these books were published in Singapore. He did well and soon became proficient enough to take over his father’s job in repairing radios. His mother did all the retailing of pots and pans, housework and looking after the children.
Kuan Hon did not mix with the Menglembu boys too often as he was busy running his father’s business in radio repair. The business grew and he began to sell Japanese, British and German brands radios, stereophonic amplifiers and turn tables. The business also expand in selling small refrigerators and sewing machines.
I often watched Kuan Hon repair radios and he was keen to teach me some basic work in repairing radios, not so much in diagnosing the problem, but was told solder this and that, changing knobs, fixing the broken string in the tuning mechanism and changing the electrical plug or faulty wires. I learned all that with great enthusiasm. Not every day do you get free lessons in the repair of radios, particularly the valve jobs. Then came the transistor radio and Kuan Hon was quick to learn how to repair those Japanese radios.
Somewhere in the expansion of the business, Kuan Hon branched into basic electrical work by selling the florescence lamp. They came in the kit form and you had to write them up before they work. Very soon, I also learned from him how to wire the internals together. He also taught me how to diagnose the fault and up to this day, I have never forgotten how they work and still able to repair them, whether it was the fault of the “starter” or the “choke”.
The skills I learned from Kuan Hon was invaluable and as a result I became proficient in electrical wiring, installation of florescence lamp, changing of electric plugs (all sorts), minor radio repair (valve type) and connecting turntables to stereos and speakers. I became skilled in using the soldering iron. He also taught me how to install a line antenna for medium and short wave radio sets. I often wondered why he had bothered to teach me all these things, but in retrospect, I believe I was an able assistant to him in many jobs inside his shop and outside the shop.
I used to follow Kuan Hon outside the shop to make minor electrical repairs, particularly florescence lamps. I was very good with the electrical “test pen” and agile with climbing ladders. I was a useful apprentice, obedient and quick learner. By following him, I learned all the tricks he had taught me. On this note, I became a proficient electrical handyman and this skill had served me well in my later years. I actually did wired my own house with the supervision of a licensed electrician.
I often accompanied Kuan Hon in delivery refrigerators, sewing machines and radio to customers in the villages. At that stage, the business was doing well and he business bought a Morris minivan for delivery and I enjoyed these trips with him to all the mining towns south of Menglembu. One day we delivered a fridge in the village where there was no electricity. Later, I found out that the people who bought the fridge had used it as a wardrobe whilst waiting for the electricity to become connected.
I also enjoyed the lunch somewhere in Batu Gajah, at a road side shop where they make the “what tan hor fen” combination fried noodles with egg. Kuan Hon was a generous man and he was happy to buy me lunch. Whilst driving to this mining towns, Kuan Hon was a dare devil driver and use to overtake cars with me assisting him by sticking my head out of the door window and making sure there were no oncoming traffic as he was attempting to overtake a vehicles as the road curved to the left. Crazy thrill seekers again!
Kuan Hon was much matured for his age. He went after a local girls who ran a hair dressing salon down the Main Road and before long he got married. By that time, I was living overseas as a student and had not been in contact with Kuan Hon for decades. It was sad to learn from his family that he had passed away at an early age. Although Kuan Hon did not play too many games with the boys of Menglembu, he was busy running the business He worked hard and was a very good teacher. I owed my electrical handyman skills from him and I would never forget his kindness in imparting his skills to me. Kuan Hon was indeed one of my treasured Menglembu friends.
IpohBornKid is a former Ipoh resident who now resides in Sydney, Australia.
Written and contributed