Archive for February 9th, 2014

Written and contributed

by IpohBornKid

(A special feature for Chinese New Year Gamblers as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old kid)

A. The Gambling Kids
Menglembu boys collect things like empty cigarette boxes, the cigarettes wrapping metal foil (the glossy silver one), used bus tickets. Hollywood Film Star cards from the rectangular red chewing gum, and postage stamps. With the exception of metal foils and used postage stamps, all these collectables could be used as gambling chips. At each gambling session, only one collectable item was used and no interchange was allowed.

Film star cards have the usual Hollywood stars of the 40s and 50s, such as Esther Williams, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, etc. Each card was of equal value. With bus tickets, the value was the numerical value printed on the ticket. Cigarette boxes were valued depending on their circulation. The more popular the brand, the less value it had.

Despite many “free” field games were available to Menglembu boys, there was always a deviation away from physical games to card games. Some of the card games have been described by the author (ref: the Card game of bluff by IpohBornKid at 188hughlowstreetwordpress.com).

Gambling with money was taboo for children except for Chinese New Year where a group of boys and girls would sit around a sheltered veranda of a terrace shop house in Main Road (Jalan Lahat). The usual stake was about 5c or 10c with high rollers going at 20c. Gambling with money was illegal in Malaya then (and now). However, such activities would ceased after the Chinese New Year celebration was over.

The gambling with cards (called Hor Lan Pye in Cantonese – literally Holland Cards). The word “Holland” meant European. In the absence of money, the legitimate “gaming chip” were substituted by empty cigarette packets or used bus tickets.

Used bus tickets with values of 5c, 10c and 15c were common. The higher value 20c – 50c were rare items considering the average fare is 15c. The Red omnibus tickets were low in value (under 20c) but the Green omnibus tickets had a higher value because its route include other mining towns, i.e. from Ipoh to Batu Gajah, Pusing, Tanjong Tualang or Bruas. The Green bus tickets were made of thicker paper than the thin Red bus tickets. Most kids collected the Green bus tickets. The higher value tickets could be found in the Kidd Road Bus Station terminal in Ipoh or on the bus itself. In the 1950s, many ACS boys go home via the Kidd Road Bus Station exiting from the west gate near Horley Hall, through a metal net door and into the open field towards Kidd Road. Hence, any collector would have a keen eye for a used ticket lying on the floor of the bus station or inside the bus. Motor oil stained tickets were worthless.

Prior to the use of flip top box for cigarette (held 20 cigarettes), the rectangular box with a sleeve enclosing 10 cigarettes in a metal foil was common. The common place to collect these valuable rectangular packs were under the coffee tables of the coffee shops. In Menglembu, there were 6 coffee shops, 4 in Pike Street (Jalan Kledang), 1 in Theatre Street and 1 in Main Road (Jalan Lahat). Most of the coffee shops were run by Hainanese. Recently, a Hainanese friend Dr Jim Tan told me that the coffee shops owners were dominated by his clan simply because many of his clansmen used to work as cook with British families or establishment in Malaya. Hence, they could cook both Asian and Western meals. I can only recall two famous shops in Pike Street, the Choy Onn Yuen and Yim Keat Fong; and Yuet Nam in Theatre Street. My old friend Mun Kit who use to live in Pike Street may be able name the two shops on his side. If you are not shy about these activities, you could collect quite a number of these cigarette packs on the floor of the coffee shop. The coffee shop owners never “shoo” any kids away from their premises.

For those who were in the gang around early 1950s, the value of the cigarette packs was determined by its rarity. For example, the Rough Rider brand which was very common had a street value of one. Navy Cut has a value of 2. The rare Craven “A” Black Spade and Torch brands had a value of 10-50 depending on the locality in town. Readers may want to share their memories for other brands of cigarette packs and their market value in this blog.
The author’s family had a number of chain smoking persons in the family and the home provided a source of these cigarette packs. At one time, the author did some cigarette retailing within the house. If one bought a cartoon of cigarette (10 packs) on wholesale price from the sundry shops in Menglembu, you could make 10% profit after selling all the packs. Your net profit was $1.00 per cartoon. All you need is capital.

B. The Gambling Adults
Adults had their gambling haunts in Menglembu. The most common gambling was a game of mah-jong in a “private” home casino! A common game involved a starting chip of 2,000 with the operator getting 10% after each game finished. The stakes were commonly $2 or $4 with higher stakes at $10 per game. For that commission, players were offered food and drinks and a continuous electric fan. One haunt in Menglembu for business people was located near the pirate taxi stand and upstairs of a fruit and confectionery shop. In this haunt, I saw mah-jong players using sticks and a special skilled table allowed the players to play the game relying completely by their sense of touch by their fingers. They could “game’ without even looking at their cards, wow!

A common adult gambling habit was the illegal number lottery. It is interesting to remember that doing the rounds on Saturday morning for “Pak Chi Phew” (Cantonese for 3 numbers lottery) on behalf of crazy friends and relatives punting on the 3 or 4 number digit lottery, one could make some pocket money out of that. The illegal number racketeers paid low returns. The payout for 3 number was about $300-400 per $1 bet (the odds was 1 in 1,000) and for 4 numbers $1,000 per $1 bet (the odds was 1 in 10,000). Since it was illegal, the child couriers were used to collect the money and a scripts (containing the betting numbers and the betting amount) and delivered them to the illegal operator. The Police did not stop children on bicycle in their search for illegal betting slips. Common betting value was 10-20c. The commission for the courier was 10% pf the amount betted and one could make $1 after several bicycle runs into the secret haunts of Menglembu Regrouping Areas where the illegal operators were located. They did not stay in one place for long and the change of location was by word of mouth. Some operators were known to the family and they would be in a family home doing their business. All betting slips were copied using a carbon paper, the courier took the top copy and the operator retain the carbon copy. Of course, the betting tickets were placed inside the bicycle head lamp and not on the person. The couriers were told that you can only get arrested if the betting slip was on your person. Wrong! You get busted if it is on your bicycle! (This realization is retrospective).

The winner number came from legal horse racing numbers. Many stories about an illegal racketeer leaving town after some gambler striking it rich, was very common. It was called “Chou Lo” or flee the place. This usually occurred when the sole operator kept the bets to himself and not re-purchase their numbers with headquarter, called the “Chong” or “factory”. This practice is similar to small insurance company selling their risks to bigger insurance company like Lloyds of London. When the government set up the legal betting shop on numbers, the old time racketeers went out of business completely. Big time gamblers with money, would then use their telephones to call a friend in other major towns to “buy” up certain numbers. I believe each number had only 50 or 100 tickets printed at $1 per ticket. In those days, they sold tickets over the counters even to children!

If some readers may remember or seen a publication in Chinese (Numerology Book), an A6 size white or pink paper publication showing picture drawings and the corresponding numbers from 000 to 999. My gambling relatives used to ask me on Saturday morning what did I dreamt last night. By looking at the Numerology book, they chose the image which matched the dream and used the number below the image as the betting number. It was also common using digits from a passport, or any document with a number. Car accidents registration numbers were commonly used. When the newspaper carried a photograph of a car involved in an accident, the car number plate was blacked out (censored). I had a false impression then that it was a means to prevent people from punting with the number. A friend who grew up in Penang asked me recently “what is the corresponding image for 584?” I can only say I can’t remember! A dog killed in a car accident became “649”. I am sure readers can give more examples of these fascinating numbers. There were more extreme examples of trying to get a winning number. For example, someone will drive to the outskirt of Ipoh, find a big tree where joss sticks were used. They would ask the spirits there to give them the winning numbers! Actually, a big stone or structure with joss stick burning is a good site. It was eerie to accompany adults to such places particularly when nature called and there was no place to do it, else we offend the spirit. There were even more frightening stories about people venturing into grave sites for the sake of a few numbers!


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