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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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Written and contributed

by IpohBornKid

In this article I wish to write about 2 of my childhood friends who have passed away recently and they were Kam Chi and Ah Piao. Both of them had good physique and were natural sportsmen.
1950s Photo – Ah Piao (left) and Kam Chi (right)

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Ah Piao, probably born in 1944, lived in terrace houses along Main Road and opposite the Menglembu Post Office. His family ran a tin ore receiving business servicing the Chinese women dulang washers of the time. Most of these dulang washers were Hakkas. Another most notable fact was his Uncle used to own a “Skoda” car in Menglembu and these Eastern European were almost extinct in those days.
Ah Piao went to a Chinese school but we mixed together irrespective of the schools we went to. Ah Piao, a born athlete was tall for his age. He excels in the games he played, particularly, marbles, tops, bat and ball, pen knife and konki games. Ah Piao was good with his penknife and he could make bats from rubber fire wood and konki sticks. He also showed tremendous courage and feared nothing.
As an athlete, he was most impressed when he learned that Mt. Everest had been conquered in the 1950s. He would relate this story to us but we were too young to appreciate the great feat.
One day, a big lizard was discovered on one of the trees (Yong Sui – Cantonese, a tree with aerial roots) that located in the vacant lot across from the Post Office. As little boys, we used to climb that tree and now with the big lizard on it, we dare not approach the tree. The presence of the lizard gave rise to excitement and commotion and all of us were trying to pelt it with little stones. Ah Piao then took it on himself to get rid of the lizard by pelting it pelting it with a long stick. We were too afraid to go near it. He went so close to the lizard and at one stage, we though the lizard would have bitten him. He lived to brag about his exploits and he was our hero then. Ah Piao was not an academic but a sportsman and he too belonged our soccer team organised by Fun Kee and Kam Chi. Ah Piao later joined the Malaysian Army and I was told that he rose to the rank of Sargent. Another member of our group, Ah Aun, also joined the Army but was enlisted as an officer (retired as a Major). Ah Piao can be remembered as one of our leaders who would protect us (little ones) from harm and despite his strong physique, he was a polite and mild manner person. His memory will be etched in our minds for ever.

Kam Chi, was younger than Ah Piao by one year. He lived at Hay Yuen Kai, Cantonese for Theatre Street. He lived upstairs with his family and had 4 other brothers and sisters. . Kam Chi was also an athlete. He was boy of strong physique but shorter than Ah Piao. Personality wise, Kam Chi’s temperament was more like a little fire-cracker.
Kam Chi was an ex-Ipoh ACS boy and his passion was soccer. At one time, he lived in Kampar with his father, a local dentist and they return home to Menglembu every weekend. I remembered the Peugeot 403 driven by his father and they would pass through our house before making a right turn at the Post Office to their home. I have been to Kam Chi’s house many times and noticed that Kam Chi’s younger sister was one of the pretty girls in Menglembu.
Kam Chi brought from Kampar his trained soccer skills. I remember being trained by Kam Chi, our soccer coach. The running, the stationary exercise, the ball passing practice, and even the “fouling’ tactics (elbowing, tripping and body slamming if you are big in size). Soccer practice was fun as you really learn the ropes from an experience soccer player who had been in competition. With Fun Kee’s network skills and Kam Chi’s coaching, the Menglembu team was ready to take on local teams from other areas of Menglembu and Bukit Merah. Kam Chi and the bigger boys were forwards whilst I was given a position as a left half-back. It was fun and later in life, I became a better soccer player because of Kam Chi. Recently, I met up with Kam Chi’s elder brother who lived in Sydney ad he told me that his brother Kam Chi had passed away.
Although Ah Piao and Kam Cho did not play a role in my adult life, I did really appreciate their friendship and the imparting of their sporting skills among the younger children in Menglembu. I considered both of them as natural leaders. They may be gone, but the memories of our childhood encounters and happy moments of our playing together, will never be forgotten, not only be me but my all our surviving childhood friends in Menglembu.

Written and contributed

by IpohBornKid

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Written and contributed

by IpohBornKid

This article is dedicated in memory of the Boys of Menglembu who have passed on in recent years.

A picture of Mengelembu boy

The X generation children (born after WWII) in Menglembu did benefited much from the tin mining boom in the 1950s. It was a period of unprecedented economic growth in the Kinta Valley. At that time, dulang washers can earn $3 a day, a maid doing domestic duties earned $10 a month, and a temporary school teacher can earn $80 a month. A bowl of friend noodles, wonton noodles, or hor-hee costs 10-20 cents. Getting a bus from Menglembu to Ipoh costs 10-15 cents and the “pirate” taxi costs 30 cents.

Against this economic background, many children were sent to schools for at least 6 years and the school fees started at $2.50 per month in primary and $5.00 per month in secondary (Ipoh ACS rates). The schools were mushrooming with English language schools being Anglo Chinese School, St Michael’s Institute, Anderson School, Guru Nanak, Convent School, Methodist Girl School and Raja Perempuan. Chinese language schools include Man Wah, Yuk Choy, Perak Girls, Sam Tet, Poi Lam and Sam Jai. Class sizes averaged 40 per class room and most schools have enrolments up to 1,000 students. Schools were split into morning and afternoon sessions and most over aged students went to the afternoon session. There was also night schools in Man Wah that teaches matured aged students at night. This was the golden era for public education and many benefited from getting an education, particularly the X generation.

In those days, there were no computers or TVs and the only entertaining is via the radio and picture theaters. Children have no access to exotic toys and they rely on their initiatives and innovation to invent games to pass the time. Such games include marbles, spinning tops, “konki”, bat and ball etc. Later they went into basketball or soccer teams. The boys had a soccer team organized by Kam Chi and Fun Kee and we used to compete with the Bukit Merah soccer team. Hence, there was a lot of bonding between the children living in Menglembu and in particular, this story will emphasize the activities of the “Boys of Menglembu”.

In this part of the story, the author wish to introduce some personalities, by giving their nick names when they were kids. As the series unfold, more information will be written about their personalities and what they do best at that age.

A large group of boys who congregate around the Menglembu Post Office / Eastern Photograph Shop and they include Ah Aun (Army Officer), Tong Chai (Medical Practioner), Ah Piao (Army), Kam Chi (Army), Sunny, Ah Ho, Fun Kee, Bat Ya Kung, Kuan Hon, Kuan Leong , Fay Lo Kit, Wai Chai and Leong Ku, etc. Another group that congregates in near the Menglembu Police Station area includes Kai Sak, Ah Ng, Ah Chan, and Ox Head. These kids from these groups comes from diverse education background, but the major schools they went to were Ipoh ACS, Anderson and Man Wah and Yuk Choy. Sometimes the groups combined together including the girls of Menglembu, and would organize a picnic in the famous Kledang Hills where the Radio antenna was located on top of one of the hills. Those were the “Happy Days”. If time permits, I would venture to relate a tale or two of the most sought after Menglembu girls.

As they grew up, they went about their separate ways, some in KL and Singapore and others overseas. Now they are all in the retirement age and most of them has not seen each other for 20,30, 40 or 50 years. Some of them have met up in the recent 10 years and learned that some of their friends have passed on. Nevertheless, the nostalgic memories of their childhood remained in their mind as long as they live. Those were happy memories.

The first friend I wish to talk about is Kai Sak (KS). KS was an ACS boy and his father owns the photographic shop in next to the tailor shop in the first block of business houses along Main Road after passing the Police Station (traveling south) at the left hand side of the road. I was impressed by his possession of a bottle of Silver Nitrate (AgNO3) and how it would stain the skin black if you touched it!

I know KS family very well which include all his brothers and sisters. KS has 2 sisters and 1 brother living in Australia whilst he went abroad to New York (USA for 20 years) to seek his fortune. I did not heard of KS until 2 years ago when we made contact through the ACS Alumni website. He has now returned to KL, retired but started a fish and shrimp farm somewhere in the KL jungle area.

I often have regular meetings in KS house with Ah Ng, Ah Chan and Ox Head. Ah Ng joined the public service while Ah Chan went into his father’s rubber manufacturing business. Ah Chan also distinguished himself in Menglembu as the former Chairman of the Board of the Man Wah Primary School. Ah Ng is a scholar of Chinese classics and he used to recite the Chinese idioms to us, the English educated kids. I had not heard of Ox Head for nearly 50 years.

Ox Head used to own a Honda Cub 50cc and all 3 of us, Ox Head, KS and me would ride in the Honda Cub at night (where there is little chance of meeting up with a Traffic Police or the local constabulary) from Menglembu to Pengalan tin mining area in the south , and east of Lahat. I sat in the front, Ox Head in the middle driving the motorbike and KS at the back. There were a lot of mining pools in the area and people also reared fish in the ponds. Ox Head was fantastic with the fishing net and when he casted the net in the pond, he would catch some fish. We just took (stole?) the fish and went back to KS house and made fish porridge out of it.

We also went up the edge of the Kledang Hill as the 50cc motorbike was unable to climb the steep slopes. Coming down the gentle slope of the Kledang Hill Road, the Honda Cub managed to speed up to 40 mph. For some unknown reasons, we moved off the road and ran on the patches of grass. By the time we realized what happened, the motorbike was heading straight into a small stream which was running across in front of us. In a mad moment, the motorbike managed to cross the stream only with the front wheel landing on the hard ground and the back wheel in the stream. All three of us were catapulted off the motorbike but we landed on soft ground. No one was injured and we continued our journey back to town. Since only two can ride on the motorbike legally, I was dropped off before hitting the town area.

KS was also a very adventurous boy and we used to climb up Kledang Hill unconventionally, by going upstream starting from a major mountain stream. After traveling about 1 mile, we would reach the first water fall created by elevated rock bed to about 12 feet up. This was where the water flowed off the rock into a stream that ran across Menglembu. As we climbed that rock, we saw the water flowing in the middle of the bed rock which 10-12 feet wide. Parts of it were slippery with green fungus growth and with a heavy pack on the back, it was quite dangerous if you slipped and fall. As the rock bed was slopping downwards, a slip and fall would be like riding the slippery dip along the rock surface and at the end of it, one would crashed down to a rock pool 12 feet below. I had the unfortunate experience of making a slip and started to slide down the rock bed. After a few seconds, KS, who was behind me, was quick in action by grasping a vine that grew across the rock surface with one hand, and with his other hand, grasped me as I slipped towards him. If it is not for his quick action, I could have been seriously injured or killed. I have never forgotten what KS did and I will be forever grateful to him for saving my butt.

My friend KS had taught me how to develop and print photographs in his father’s photograph shop. He also taught me how to use a camera (a German Leica , held by Ox Head I the photograph). He is a man of many talents and it is my privilege and honor to have a friend like him.

Last year, I went to KL to see KS and although he has grown older, he was still the same KS I left behind 50 years ago.

Although KS did not do too well at school, he did well in the business world. A lot of people thought he would not do well in life but I remembered well that after working only 2 years in KL as a cosmetic salesman, he drove back to Menglembu in a black Merceds Benz, parked it in front of the photograph shop to show his mother and her neighbors what he was capable of. It was a good rebuttal to people who “saw him no up”. Although he did not say so, I gathered he was generous enough to put his younger brothers through university. He is an example of a good Menglembu boy who did well and I am proud of him.

Story Ends….

Written and contributed

by IpohBornKid

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