Thursday, 18 February 2010

Those funny, familiar, forgotten places.

I am not a person given to nostalgia. I don't always think that places are better off left as they are, or that change is necessarily bad, unless, of course, it involves the destruction of a place or object of environmental, cultural or historical interest. I have never felt the need to revisit my childhood. My childhood was so awesome, so balanced, so full of adventures and experiences that I do not miss it. It was a childhood that prepared me well for adulthood and I was ready and happy to move on.

However, the 5-day break that I had for Lunar New Year gave me ample opportunity for long bike rides and quiet contemplation, and it occurred to me that photographing and writing about some of the places in the neighbourhood that I grew up in might actually be fun. Many of the places and buildings I once knew have already been muscled out by development. With a camera phone in my pocket, I set off on my trusty bike to record images for posterity.

My bike rides were by no means quiet. The festive weekend meant that many of my friends had similarly returned to their parental homes for a few days, and I bumped into some of my childhood friends -- Devaky, Sumitra, Parames, Vimi, Jeremy and Rafiz -- on my bike rides. They left our hometown, Rawang, perhaps for the same reasons that I did.

My trusty steed, the T-Bolt that I so fortuitously acquired in a slogan-writing competition in 2002, still has her place of pride in the middle of my bedroom.

This is the bedroom of my childhood and youth. Hardly anything has changed in this room from the time I moved out at age 20 - 21. Most of my trophies and medals were for long-distance running, and I occasionally wear those baseball caps and refer to my bird migration map from time to time. I still come back to the parental home on weekends to clean the house, do yard work and spend time with my parents and our canine children.

The street scene outside the parental home is very similar to what you would find in most small towns and residential areas in Malaysia.

Just down the street, beyond the deciduous trees you see at the bottom of our road, are railroad tracks, which are still in use today. One kilometre away is a limestone quarry operated by what used to be known as Associated Pan Malayan Cement (later, British Cement and then Malayan Cement).

I grew up sleeping through the sounds of trains screeching on the tracks and blowing their horns a mere 200 metres away from my home, and of rock blasting being carried out in the quarry two afternoons a week. When I grew older and attended more camping trips, I had friends who marvelled at my ability to sleep through any noise. It took me a number of years to realise that I had my childhood to thank for it.

The railroad tracks that run through the back of my neighbourhood have since been fenced up to prevent track intrusions.

I have crossed these tracks countless times in my teenage years before the electric commuter trains were introduced in 1994 - 1995.

A forlorn-looking decommissioned KTM commuter train sits on the side of the railway tracks.

Down the street from my house, there is a cul-de-sac with what used to be a dirt path to the right of the last house in the row.

Our neighbourhood, New Green Park, was constructed within what was once a rubber plantation, and in the 70s and 80s, there were pockets of rubber estates everywhere in the neighbourhood. We had a weekly domestic help whose house was located in the rubber estate, and we would go to the well outside her house to draw water each time we had problems with our water supply. We entered the rubber estate from a path to the right of the house here.

As you can see, no-one uses the path anymore and it is now completely recolonised by Macaranga, creepers, weeds and Acacia mangium plants. It says a lot about our present generation of children that they no longer see wooded areas as a source of unstructured fun.

When we were growing up, we used to have battles and games and foot races through the rubber estate and secondary jungles, and I spent many happy hours observing animals and plants and collecting insect specimens for my 'research'. Covert Dad always made me release them where I found them at the end of each day. It was here that I learned the basics of birdwatching and I identified many lowland species using field guides borrowed from the town library.

This is where the dirt path through the rubber estate ended.

The dirt path also served as a shortcut to the next neighbourhood, Taman Rawang Jaya. This was once a cul-de-sac where the children played basketball and chilled out with our bikes. At the height of the BMX craze in the mid-80's, we constructed ramps out of plywood and practiced our bike stunts here, as it was the widest cul-de-sac in the area.

The cul-de-sac that was once such a source of recreation is now a makeshift car workshop, and the dirt path we used has been completely overgrown with weeds as well.

This is my kindergarten teacher's house.

My former teacher, Mrs. Balendran, who must be 60 if she is a day, now owns both houses and operates the kindergarten out of the house on the right. Back in 1982 - 1984, she and her husband lived in only one of the houses (I think it was the one on the left) and conducted classes out of one tiny room in the back. It was probably the first British Montessori kindergarten in the district. I still encounter Mrs. Balendran once in a while and she keeps confusing me with Covert Twin. Strange, because Covert Twin and I look nothing like each other.

As you can tell from the blue hills in the distance, Rawang is located within a valley.

The economy of Rawang in the past had depended on 3 commodities: Rubber, tin and limestone rock/cement. The mining pools and rubber estates in my neighbourhood remind me of my town's humble beginnings.

This former mining pool had served as a duck farm before it was later converted into part of an industrial infrastructure .

Rawang was a former tin mining town, and its landscape is pockmarked with mining pools such as this one. There is even a neighbourhood called Rawang Tin, as it was populated mostly by people in the mining community.

As a child, I used to walk the overgrown path down to this particular mining pool in Taman Rawang Jaya to watch people fish. Quickmud is common along the banks of mining pools, especially during the monsoon season, and once I fell into quickmud which reached waist level within seconds. I had the presence of mind to adopt the lean-and-roll technique that I learned from a National Geographic article on quicksand and went home safely that day. My parents still do not know of that incident.

The duck farm has since been relocated and there is now a limestone processing plant where the duck farm once was. Those railroad tracks on the left are connected to the tracks down the road from my parents' home.

Neighbourhood provision shops like this one used to be far more common.

There used to be at least 5 other such shops in my neighbourhood, in the days when people realised what insanity it was to drive out to town for onions or sugar or ice cream. The introduction, growth and subsequent ubiquity of hypermarkets and chain stores brought about the demise of such shops. This is the only shop left in our neighbourhood. It is commonly referred to in our mangled English as the "Up Shop", due to the fact that it is located on a hill overlooking a football field.

As you can see, the shop still has a coconut grating machine, which is covered with a tin basin to keep vermin out.

As a child, when sent on a coconut-buying errand, I would often hope that the coconut the shopkeeper chose would have a spongy coconut embryo (also known as a sprout, or locally as a 'tumbung') for me to munch on.

This is the football field which the aforementioned provision shop overlooks.

It has a playground at the lower end of the field, but it wasn't for the playground equipment that I frequented this playing field as a youngster. See the slope with the steps built into them over yonder? We used to pilfer cardboard cartons from the "Up Shop" to slide down the said slope with.

Strange. The slope had seemed steeper and more dangerous and more exhilarating when I was younger.

I had until early adulthood held on to the belief that the said slope had a gradient of at least 60 - 75 degrees. I realise now that it couldn't have been more than a gentle 45. Still, I rode my bike down the slope several times, just for old times' sake.

The road leading to our neighbourhood used to be known as 'Jalan Waterfall' or 'Old Waterfall Road'.

According to Covert Dad, when the area was opened up for housing development, it was just an economically unproductive rubber estate and there had been a small waterfall where the access road now stands. The waterfall dried up after the trees were cut because it was no longer a natural watershed area.

Looking at the gradient of the slope and the remains of the natural 'rock steps' that the roads and houses attempt to level out, it is not difficult to imagine how this road could have once been a cascade.

This is the last remaining wooden house in our neighbourhood.

Where our neighbourhood ends, Kampung Rajah begins. Wooden houses like this one used to be more common at the boundaries of the two residential areas, but many have since been torn down and brick houses have been constructed in their place.

It will probably be a matter of time before this house makes way for development as well.

And all I will be left with then is probably just my memories of these funny, familiar, forgotten places.


Pat said...

Thank you for the walkabout of the old neighbourhood where you grew up :)

It brings back memories of my youth.

A couple of years ago, one of my sisters and I revisted our old house, and school. It's been almost 30 years, and nothing looks the same. To say things have been transformed would be putting it mildly!!!

You must have had a good time over the holidays. I'm glad. Have a wonderful Tiger year, my dear friend.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for coming by, Pat! Ah-ha! You did a walkabout of your old hometown too! Now you have an obligation to write about it!

Okay, I'll provoke you a bit here. You couldn't have had as much fun as I did, because I rode a bike, nah-nah-nah-nah-naaah!

Pat said...

Ai-yoh-yoh! You'll always win in the 'more fun' department! Summore ah, I don't know how to ride a bike :(

Yennyways, me and my sister, we drove past our old house and couldn't believe how smmmmall it was! How did we all fit in???!

And our old school. Ahh, Peel Road Convent... Well, it didn't look very convent-y to us.

And the whole neighbourhood looked so alien and unfriendly. No more pleasant memories there for me. I'll have to re-visit inside my head, nex-time :)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

That's exactly it, Pat! I'm teasing you because you can't ride a bike!

louis said...

Hi Co'78

By the time I got to your powerful image of the old buildings and places of your childhood being "muscled out" by development I already knew that I was about to enjoy another finely crafted narrative by you. But at that point it was time to push back my chair, forget multi-tasking until I got to the end and have a thoroughly delightful time as you evoked your idyllic days at your old home.

That those recollections paralleled mine at many points was of course a plus, although when you mentioned dates like 1982 and 1984 as long past, such recent years from my perspective, I was a bit puzzled that anyone could consider that a long past time :). But then there was that hill that looked so much less formidable to you now, the very same thought that occurred to me when I revisited a similar hill of childhood awe and adventure after 30 plus years and I realized that time is all relative, no?

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Louis,

Thank you so much for dropping by, and for enjoying my narrative. I enjoyed writing it more than I realised I would! All those memories came flooding back like an old friend.

I agree, time is relative. 20 years may not seem long to my pensioner friends who I go out drinking with, but it's a good two-thirds of my life. And how things change within a decade! Nature has reclaimed so many of the dirt paths and tracks we used to rely on!

Thank you for coming on my bike ride with me!

Cat-from-Sydney said...

Ahh....your memory of 20 years past seems ancient compared to my lifetime of only 3+ years. My Mama would always tell us stories from her childhood, growing up in an estate, cycling and playing rounders with her friends. Said she had more feline friends as well then, with even a pet cemetery under a mango tree... must have been a riot. purrr....meow!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, dear Kitties-In-Sydney! I was hoping you would drop by!

Rounders! Now that brings back memories too -- of broken windows, smashed spectacales, bruised children, big strong planks being removed from school desks to use as bats since no-one in my circle could afford a proper one!

You are a very young kitty, by anyone's standards. Chloe is 6 and Pixie is 4.

Cat-from-Sydney said...

My Mama's memory includes being bitten by a bitch in heat! Serious! The dog bit her thigh and calf...must be yummylicious even then. And then some ppl wanted to put the dog down and my Mama said "no, don't kill it. It's not her fault, I was the one playing in its territory." The dog lived to spawn, had many puppies and died in old age.
What games did you play as a child? My Mama's list would include not just rounders, but also galah panjang, nenek kebayan, konda kondi, police and thief, pukul berapa datuk harimau, a.e.i.o.u., cop-cop tiang, long the list lor, plus a few more. Kids nowadays know any of those? purrr....meow!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Kitties In Sydney,

Bless her heart, your Mama is so kind! The dog is up there in doggie heaven now, thanking your Mama for sparing her life. There's no such thing as a bad dog or cat, Kitties, only bad owners (correct term is guardian/caregiver now).

Games! Oooh let's see... besides long-distance running, cycling, swimming and reading too much (ruined my eyes), I didn't play that many of those traditional games. We played a lot of badminton over the house gate during the Thomas Cup season. And we played Galah Panjang, Konda Kondi, dodgeball, marbles, bottle caps, rubber bands, rubber band guns and congkak. We also played bicycle polo. To play bicycle polo, you need bicycles, a tennis ball and hockey sticks. If you have no hockey sticks, you can use umbrellas. The ones with wooden handles are best. Just don't let your parents catch you at it. When your parents find their best umbrella totalled... Head for the BACK DOOR!

Unknown said...

Your account makes us want to add to yours too. This holiday I was back in Taiping and there's always the laid back atmosphere to enjoy. Folks have moved to greener pastures and when a major holiday comes along, folks flock back and flood the town - serenity temporarliy displaced! Those were the bike days to roam the streets till dark! Everywhere seemed reacheable by bike!!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for coming by, dear Keats! Yes, please do write about your halycon days in Taiping! That would be fun. I wonder at what point in the history of Malaysia did cycling stop becoming a necessity and start becoming a luxury. Nowadays I see mountain biking groups not using bikes as a mode of conveyance, but just something they do on weekends and then clean up the bike and hang it up on hooks like a slab of meat.

Unknown said...

Dear CO78,

This is my first time reading your blog and I was in for a surprise!

I stayed in New Green Park roughly from 1989 to 1993 (I think).. well I was 9 years old in 1993 la ;)

Anyways I remember where I lived - Enter the Park using Old Waterfall Road, go all the way down that road and turn right, and then go all the way to the end. That was where I lived, but yea I don't remember my house number or the street number. It was single story though.

I ALSO went to Mrs Balendran's kindergarten, and tuition for my Std 1,2 and 3. I jokingly tell my parents that if it wasn't for Mrs Balendran's English, I don't think I would be ever proficient in English.

It was during my time that she bought the second house. And I still remember how we have to read Peter and Jane series, recite nursery rhymes on solo, and oh how can I ever forget the Spelling tests.. My knuckles still hurt! ;) And I still remember the morning meals - nasi lemak on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mee Hoon on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Biscuits and Milk on Fridays. See, I can remember food but I can't remember where I lived lol!

I remember that provision shop (I think there was a few more on that row?) coz it was where my mum bought my first mechanical pencil (is that what they still call it nowadays?) for my first day of school. And its also the same shop where my mum buys me all the jeruks and the buah masams.

And coming to the slope, that's exactly where I used to slide down with my friends! And that's the playground where I learnt how to ride a bicycle with my dad..

I still remember the street where I was chased by a dog (it was the street parallel to Waterfall Road).. wait coming to think of it I guess I was chased by dogs all over New Green Park!

Oh thank you for this article, it brought back such nice memories! Please post more pictures if you have them, perhaps I would be able to pinpoint exactly where my house was.


~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Naga,

What a surprise! And such serendipity! You went to Mrs. Balendran's kindergarten too, but our paths never crossed because in 1993 I was 15 years old.

I'm trying to guess which street you lived on. If all the way down Old Waterfall Road, was the back of your house facing the railroad tracks? Did you go to Sinaran Budi or SK Rawang? I was in Sinaran Budi from 1985 - 1990.

As for the provision shop, yes, there used to be another in the same row, Pasar Mini Yin Choon, and the two shops had a major vendetta going on and finally Yin Choon moved down the street. There was another shop at Old Waterfall Road, a Chinese shop, that had the most awesome tikam boards ever. You could get firecrackers on their tikam boards any month of the year. I was always pretty lucky at tikam and once I won a Rambo gun (with Rambo headband! And plastic dog tag on a black cotton cord! Wow!). Lost all the bullets to the gun within 24 hours.

:D Thanks for sharing my memories! I will try to take more photos!
Do come again!

Unknown said...

Dear CO78,

Well to go to my house, you need to go all the way down Waterfall Road, and then turn right into the street and then go all the way till you reach the corner. Lets say the entrance to New Green Park is on the lower left corner, my house was on upper right corner. And yea I think the railway track was quite close, coz we could hear the trains every now and then, but there was a line a wooden houses in between the tracks and the back of the houses in that street.

And for some reason pic no 5 (from top) looks oddly familiar. It looks like the corner near my house. If I am right then my house should be 4 or 5 houses to the left of thus house in picture.

I went to Sinaran Budi, Std 1 in 1991. But yea I left Rawang in 1994 to go to Sg Choh, which is now Bukit Beruntung I think.

Unknown said...

.hi, co78..not given to nostalgia..? after that writeup about your early years and seeing rawang thro your preteen eyes, I dont't mind your non-nostalgic moments..:) ..great blog, this old man enjoyed reading it..cheers..

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Naga,

I think you lived in the last row, with the railway lines at the back! Do you remember the 'back padang' with the cool monsoon drain that you could race paper boats in? If you went along your street in the direction of Kg. Rajah, you would come to the abbatoir with the stinky river behind it, wouldn't you? There was a house in your row that looked like a regular house out front but if you went down a series of steps in their backyard, it opens up into a fishball factory. The people used to keep a lot of fierce scruffy dogs to keep intruders out. Those were probably the dogs that chased you. We called them the Fishball Dogs. The fishball factory was relocated around 1995 - 1996.


~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Pak Mat,

Thank you for coming by! I didn't realise I was so susceptible to nostalgia until now! Now I have different types of adventures, but nothing beats the ones you have when you're 4 feet tall, no?