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MEMORIES OF MALAYSIA A Compilation of Photo Histories by WolfberryPress Students (2012


Penang of the Past A story written and illustrated by Zen Mae Lee

Read on to know more about Penang

11.00RM – original book price

Introduction Penang is a small island located right next to The Peninsular; it is a beautiful place with lots of history filled with mystery. Lots of people go there for vacation and tours. But most people go there for the delicious food! If you’re fortunate, you may see dogs and cats strutting down the streets and ruling back streets and alleys, rats dashing all over the place and pigeons pecking on scraps of food. If you’re a local or know Penang well, seeing the lovely sights and the beautiful culture and history will make you not want to leave Penang!    

Old Penang Road (1978)

Cathay Cinema on the right. Police station next.

The Cathay Cinema was a very popular cinema in 1978, playing Chinese dramas, English comedies, and Chinese ghost stories replaying day after day. Cars rolling from every direction, trishaw drivers cycling with all their strength, people jostling hurriedly back and forth, and the sun streaming down from the clouds above making Penang Road hot and sunny.

Housing Area (1979) People will live upstairs and shops downstairs.

Rich people back then could afford houses and small bungalows, but those who weren’t very rich had to live in “houses” like these. They lived upstairs, and there would either be a downstairs portion of the house or a shop-lot. Many locals now say that places like these are filled with spirits from the previous owners who lived there.

Penang Hill Railway Station (1982) Train cart approaching top of the hill

Penang Hill Railway station was always one handy train station, making continual trips up the hill carrying passengers. Unlike today, the Railway Station only had one cart, which could only carry about 6-10 passengers in each trip. The train cart would make about 30-40 trips a day, ferrying passengers up and down, getting them to where they wanted to go. Each trip took at least 5-10 minutes. Today, as you go up the hill, you can see lots of trees and greenery, and though there was nothing much to see then, lots of people used the Railway Station to get to the top of the hill! ď Š

Ferry (UNKNOWN DATE) A Ferry carrying 7 cars across the sea Â

In the past, Penang had not built her famous Penang Bridge yet. Cars had to use this kind of ferries to get across to the island from the mainland, and vice versa. Again, unlike today, the ferries did not have a double-deck; which meant that they could carry fewer cars. Cars would be driven onto the ferry and speed sped across the salty, green sea to get to Penang Island. Taking the ferry was inexpensive and only took a short while to get to Penang Island.

Overall, Penang is a beautiful place and has still preserved her history and beautiful culture very well. New buildings have been built, old ones banished from the grounds. Penang will still have the fresh air, sandy beaches and toothsome food. And though I’m not from Penang, whenever I’m there it feels like home. Most of Penang has changed, but some parts of Penang still keeps her old buildings, such as old houses, old roads and very old temples. I have driven through some secret lanes and have seen some very creative street-art in the middle of no-where. Yes, Penang is a lovely island with lots of history, culture and food! And whenever I’m there, it brings back a lot of memories and I love it whenever I’m there and always makes me want to go back for more. Thanks for reading my short photo-story. I hope you’ll visit Penang soon and you’ll see what a wonderful place it is.

Baba -Nyonyas of Malaysia By Yasha Loh

Who are the Baba-Nyonyas? Baba Nyonyas are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to Malaysia in the 15th and 16th centuries. Theymarried the local womenand their backgrounds, cultures and customsblended happily together.The Baba Nyonya community is also known as Cina Peranakan. Peranakan means descendant in Malay. “Baba” refers to men while “Nyonya”refers to the women. It is a very unique culture in Melaka where the Chinese culture is similar to Malay customs.

Deana Taya, a 55year old nyonya who now lives in Subang Jaya, Selangor, tells about her Peranakan roots in Melaka:

“Baba Nyonyas are very particular people. They are very particular about every aspect of their lives, their homes, their dressing, their manners and their food. For example, their homes are neat, well organized and sparkling clean. In their clothing, they are very particular that the shoes, brooch, and hair style all match. They are generally soft spoken and gentle. The real Babas can cook and make delicious cakes. They love to eat belacan, spicy nasilemak and kuih. The ladies are excellent cooks. They ensure traditional recipes are being passed down. They are also particular about the presentation of their food.”

Baba Nyonya Weddings are colorful events. There is a lot of preparation and plenty of ceremonies. It can last up to 12 days! It’s a difficult process; some of the younger generation prefers to skip some of the ceremonies.First of all, the wedding includes Cheo-thau, and Chim-pong ceremonies, and last of all the First Look.

As you might have guessed, traditionally, all Baba- Nyonya marriages were arranged marriages. Normally, the elders will seek the service of a match maker when they feel their child has come to an age to be married. The match maker might be a professional, or he or she might be a close relative or friends. If the match making is successful, the match maker will receive a big ang-pow and tasty roasted pig trotter. Isn’t that nice? Delegates admiring basket on display

Baba Nyonya Wedding Dances

Delegates performing the joget during a gala dinner held at Khoo Kongsi

At weddings, the highlight is the Dondang Sayang, a kind of Malay ballad that is sung and danced by guests at the wedding party. They will dance to the rhythm. Someone would begin a romantic theme which is carried on by others. Each taking the floor in turn, guests dance in slow whirl as they sing. It requires quick wit and a quick reply. They often rise to laughter and applause when a particularly clever phrase is sung. The melodic music of the Baba Nyonya and their particular turns of phrase lent to the charm of this performance.

A picture ofUdang Petai and Onde-onde. This lovely dish (Sambal Udang Petai) is a feast of sea-caught prawns, which are really fresh. The sambal has a delicious flavour and spiciness is nicely put in. It is simply the perfect dish to be above, is a picture of some really sumptuous Baba Nyonya food, Sambalhad with rice. Onde-onde is also a mouth-watering kueh. They are scrumptious pandan flavoured balls that are filled with Gula Melaka, and then rolled into grated coconut. Onde-onde is simply the best Peranakan, dessert. Baba-Nyonya is a very unique culture.And their food is simply delicious. Also, their weddings are also fascinating events! The dances are funny and also lovely to be seen.


Tin Mining is the oldest industry in Malaysia. It started in 1820 after Chinese immigrants arrived and settled in Perak and started tin mining. In 1872, there were already 40,000 miners. Most of them were Chinese and Hakka. Tin mining wasone of the major industries in Malaysia in the past. Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer, supplying 55% of the world’s tin long ago. There are many ways for processing tin. For example, Dredging is one of them, Gravel Pump, Open cast mining, Dulang washing, and Underground mines.

A large gravel pump mine

One of the earliest methods has been the use of gravel pumps. Because of its low cost, the Chinese have used this method of tin mining for a long time. The method involves the use of high- pressure jets of water on rocks that contains tin, breaking them up. After that the tin bearing material is washed into something called the sump. Then, the pump brings the material up the palong.

The palong is the most important structure in tin mines. It is where tin is saved. A palong is made of wood. A gentle wooden structure separates the tin from other materials. Next, the tin flows down the palong, where the riffle traps the iron ore and leaves the rest of the material to be dumped as tailings. The top of the palong is where tin ore is caught. We can get 80% of ore if the palong is well managed. Sandrie Soh, a 45 year old Penangite, tells about her walk on a palong. “ I have walked up a Palong when I was a little child in Perak. Of course when I was young, I didn’t understand much. When I saw it it wasn’t working. It was a

slanted piece of wood going down like steps. It didn’t look sturdy. It was really huge. I was in awe and found it quite amazing.�

Malay Dulang Washers in the Kinta River, Ipoh.

Another method is called Dulang washing. The Dulang is a large shallow dish that is usually made of wood. Dulang washing is definitely a female role for all races. Firstly, the dulang is used to scoop the earth and the dulang is twirled just below water level. Next, sand is washed over the edge of the dulang and the tin ore remains at the bottom. Also, these dulang washers sold their products to larger mines.

After all these years, Malaysia is still the largest tin producer in the world. The collapse of this industry started in 1988. Now, old mines have successfully been turned into housing estates. The demand of tin has been reduced. The collapse was also due to the lack of land for mining.

Old Petaling Street By Jonathan Yap

Jalan Tun HS Lee in the 1930s

Petaling Street is in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. It is located at the southeast of Central Market and is enclosed by Jalan Bandar and Jalan Sultan. In the olden times, when Malaysia was known as Malaya, the original Chinese Town centred on Market Square. The Chinese came to this area to work in the tin mines. The population grew, and the Chinese Town expanded into the swamps, hills and the river. Jalan Tun HS Lee (also known as High Street) became very populated. When the Selangor Civil War started, the tin mines were temporarily abandoned. When the Chinese returned after the war, they found out the mines were flooded. A Chinese named Yap Ah Loy opened a tapioca mill on Petaling Street to persuade the Chinese to stay back. Until today, Petaling Street is called ‘Chee Cheong Kai’ (in Cantonese). It means ‘Starch Factory Street’ in English. It is named ‘Starch Factory Street’ because of the production of tapioca flour there along time ago.

Petaling Street in the 1920s(Source:

Old Petaling Street(Courtesy of Arkib Negara)

Petaling Street is an interesting place. In the 1880s, there was a godown down the street towards Central Market. Immigrants who did not have friends to pick them up from the railway station were housed in this godown. In order for these immigrants to stay there, they had to write a contract. This contract gave the person some rights. It also required the person to pay for his journey from his hometown to KL. This was done by working for a person for a certain amount of time. For transportation, the people in Petaling Street used wagons pulled by animals (usually oxen). These wagonswerealso used to transport goods, cargo and other burdens. Other people walked especially if their destination was not far. Some people also used pull-carts to carry stuff. Pull-carts were more popular in the ‘older’ times while wagons were more popular in newer times.

Petaling Street in the 1940s

1900's (Courtesy of Arkib Negara)

Central Market was built in 1936. At that time, it was like a wet market. It was dirty, wet , noisy and soggy especially aftertherain. You could get almost any product you wanted in the market. It was the town’s largest market. There were rows of shophouses in the market too. Their main goods were a variety of dried and preserved stuff such as century eggs, chinese sausages, shark fins, sea cucumbers and abalone. The shophouses also sold preserved and salted vegetables kept in large ceramic pots.

An old post office in Petaling Street(Source:

In the olden times, postal services in many places, including Petaling Street, took extremely long. Postal services became a little betterin 1886 when the telegraph line was extended into KL from Klang, because Klang was the town and port for Selangor at that time. A mail steamer would arrive at Klang. Then, a telegraph would be sent to the post office in KL. From there the postmaster would hoist a red flag to tell the people that a mail would be arriving shortly. At the port of Klang,a mailbag would be sent to the railway station. The only locomotive that was named ‘Lady Clarke’. It was named ‘Lady Clarke’ after the British Governor’s wife. Itmovedon the tracks at 30 miles an hour to deliver mail. This postal system was the only communication line that connected old KL with the whole world. Transporting mail on railways was dangerous and very slow.

Petaling Street in 1970(Photo by Steffen Rรถhner (

Until now, Petaling Street, now called Chinatown, is still a place where you can buy almost all kinds of stuff. Some of the buildings are being preserved although it has become more advanced. Now Petaling Street is not open to cars and it is famous for its counterfeit and pirated goods.

Petaling Street today(Source:



Tin in Malaysia Tin is one of Malaysia’s oldest natural resource that flourished during 1970 but it then took on a very slow decline. Although the Chinese were mining tin by 1824 the tin industry was then not significant.

By 1994, Malaysia was only

exporting 6,458 tons of tin than their original amount of 73,795 tons of tin in 1970. Malaysia was not strong enough to maintain that leading position . The collapse of the tin industry is also due to the exhaustion of tin deposits, the low tin prices and the high operation costs. At first it was producing 31% of the world’s tin but soon it dropped by 90%. Another disappointment is that Malaysia let other tin mining countries like Indonesia, China and Philippines to take over.

Selangor’s tin production industry started in 1824. Where tin was first mined by the Chinese immigrants where there were about 10,000 Chinese in the state. The majority of them were Hakka. There were often violent skirmishes between different tin mining groups that formed secret societies. There were positive and negative things about these secret societies. The benefit was that you felt safe and needed , but the disappointment was that they wanted complete loyalty and sometimes things that could result in the death penalty. Kuala Lumpur, like Selangor was similarly developed on the backs of hard working immigrants.

There are also many ways of mining tin. Dredging is one of the more common methods of tin mining. It can be applied on low-lying areas with alluvial tin deposits. A dredge is a like platform which floats on an artificial lake. Dredging can be used to mine deposits found near the surface in areas prone to flooding. It is an efficient method of mining tin and is very expensive. This was also another reason for the decline of the tin mining industry here.

Tin also has its uses in the canning of food and beverages. Tin plate is the primary material of bakeware Food storage containers such as biscuit tins. Until the advent of stainless steel, much food preparation machinery was tin plated to prevent corrosion from the base metals and even today items such as copper


“A full revival of tin mining operations can potentially be lucrative ventures for governments in states with high tin deposits. Malaysia’s tin reserves – ranked the third largest in the world – are estimated at RM350bil or about one million tonnes currently.” ( Hanim Adnan )

In my opinion I think that Malaysia should have continued to pursue the dream of becoming the world's top tin producer. Then, Malaysia would be a nation that is noted for her tin exports, but sadly she did not and the days of the tin mines are now long gone.

Isaac Soh


Vehicles In The Past

Transportation in Malaysia was very different in the past. Roads were narrow and single -laned , and traffic was usually light because there were few vehicles. As a result , life was very local. Generation after generation, families lived in the same neighbourhood, village or town. Some people even stayed in their own neighborhoods for their whole lives ! In addition, people did not travel the way they do now. If they wanted to go to another state, they would use buses or trains.

(Traffic on a smalltown main road )

Waking in old Malaysia was like waking through a ruin. On most streets, you could hear bicycles squeaking and only once in a while a car would roar by. Mostly, rich people owned cars because in those days, cars were imported and they were very expensive. Cars were very basic, with very few luxuries. Roads were not very crowded as cyclists, drivers and pedestrians would share the roadin a calm manner. There were few traffic lights and no traffic jams

( Great Aunty May Lee on her moped)

(The typical old big black bicycle)

In the past the most affordable vehicle was the bicycle.This is a bike parked at the back of a house. Nowadays, most people lock their bikes if they want to park it anywhere, whereas long ago people weremore trusting. Bicycles were mostly black and they had a basket in front and a rear passenger seat. This is because if you didn’t have a car and you wanted to bring your family member somewhere, you would need a seat to put him or her on. The wire basket in front was very handy. It was common to see a bicycle with a basket containing aschool bag, food, marketing, and anything else. A lot of people who cycled ended up with strong muscles because of all the pedaling. My great aunt May Lee Tsang tells of her experience on her moped: You have to cycle to start it (the moped), and sometimes the motor would not work. . . and so I would have to pedal or push it all the way. This was physically very hard because the moped was heavy.

(A family on a sampan boat)

For people who lived near the sea or rivers, a boat would be more useful than a bicycle. Most people made their own boats or bought one from the local boat maker. Boats had many purposes. Sometimes people, such as fishermen, used the boats to make a living, or for transportation to another town or to send their children to school. For fishermen, whole families would go to sea and the children were sometimes forced to help their parents to survive. For some families, life was hard.

( Travelling food vender peddling his ware in a neighbourhood) A now near extinct sight is the travelling food -seller. This travelling food –seller was a small food shop in the form of a cart attached to a bicycle. He went around the neighbourhood selling food. When he came, he would shout out or ring a bell or even hit a bowl with a chopstick to get people’s attention. He sold all kinds of things like rice, local cakes, and noodles. When the people heard him , they quickly ran out with bowls to stop him and buy the food. I think that he was important because some people didn’t have transport to go to town to buy a lot of food, and he did them good by bringing food to them.

Because many families were often large, a bicycle was not enough and many people did not have cars. Therefore numerous people had to rely on public transport. The problem was that buses had specific routes and a fixed schedule. People had to change buses or wait long for a bus and that was inconvenient. Because of this they would have to find other alternatives. For example a local church would purchase a van to bring Sunday school children or any member to church. This was a valuable act of kindness to the community. In conclusion, travelling in the past was limited and difficult. It was tiring and slow paced. None the less, the people accepted the hardship with patience and courage. To me, at that time I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I admire that they are able to face it. We can learn to be thankful and content.

Old Melaka By Lai Xian Ian

The picture in front is a picture of a house in Malacca. Malacca Malays live in this house. It is quite a big house, with two rooms and it has two levels. It has a praying room, a big attic, and a kitchen. This house is made of wood , with a stone as a stump at the bottom of the house to hold the house. The whole house can be shifted. When you go into the house on the right, you can see a dining room. On the left is another room and when you go further left, you will see another room. If you go upstairs you can see the praying room and the attic.

This church in Malacca is quite small and it is very old. They have something like a watch tower with a big bell. When the bell rings, it tells that the church service is starting. The church is made of stone but the interior is made out wood. The gate is made out of metal . When you go into the church, you will see a big hall with arranged benches. At the very end stands a stage which is the pulpit. On the second floor, there is another big hall for the office of the priests.

Sago is a dessert that is popular in Malacca. Sago is like small bubbles, and it has no taste. Where can you find sago? Sago came from a plant. It can be eaten with other things but in this picture, sago is served with palm sugar. Sago can be found in drinks, ‘cendol’ and other desserts. How do you make the sago expand? You have to boil it in water.

These are old Malacca coins. Long ago, they didn’t use notes, but they only used coins. They used coins that were made of metal and silver to buy stuff. To make these coins, they heated the metal and poured it into moulds to shape it . Then, they put the metal coins in cold water and they were done.

This house in Melaka is a big house and it is similar to the one at the beginning of the essay.

THE CONVENT LEGACY by Fara Ling Shu Sean

Convent schools played an important part in the lives of two generations of women in my family. My mother, grandmother and her sisters spent their student years in the unassuming, but great, classrooms of these Convent schools .What did these schools have that set them apart from others?

Convent Ipoh, early 1900’s.

The founders of convent schools in Malaysia were nuns from Europe, women who had taken a vow never to marry. In 1852, the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus founded the Convent of the Infant Jesus, while the La Salle Brothers established St. Xavier's Institution in Penang. They came by ship, not knowing if they would ever see their families again. And when

they arrived, most were penniless. How could they purchase school books and other materials, much less afford a place to teach? Miraculously, they managed, and education in convents out-shone the other schools of its time.

Sister Philomena Ryan teaching a class after arriving in Malaya 52 years ago.

School life was far from burdensome. Students were required to arrive at 7:30 am, then they would leave at 1:30 pm. English was the language of instruction for all convent schools. Language barriers were broken. An Indian schoolgirl could talk freely with a Chinese classmate just as easily as she could with a Malay classmate. Schoolbooks, written in English, were at first imported from Europe and Britain, but were later published locally. Subjects such as reading, writing, science, mathematics, and geography were taught along with sewing, cooking, and singing.

Holy Infant Jesus Convent, Perak, 1940

Yet school wasn’t all about studies. Besides academic subjects, students enjoyed sports days, concerts and camping events.

Camping on school grounds, St Nicholas Convent, Alor Setar.

And, school didn’t just end there.

My grandmother, Lim Saw Nee, remembers her classmates playing tricks on teachers as well. "School life was very relaxed. During recess, after eating a 10 sen bowl of laksa, we would go and play Police and Thief. No-one told us to keep quiet. Once we were out of the classroom, we could play. When we were in the classroom, we studied. "However, this was not the case for some girls. They were restless and wanted a bit of fun, so they decided to play a trick on a teacher. Her name was Sister Phidellius. A more red-faced, puffing, enormous woman had I never seen! Anyway, they placed a huge rubber milipede on her chair, and when the sister saw it, she began thwacking it with a wooden plank. The toy turned over, and the exhausted sister grew scarlet with rage. She sent the girls for punishment, and they returned very much deflated."

Ave Maria Convent, Ipoh

Interior of the Chapel of Holy Infant Jesus Convent, Singapore

Even though teaching was important, the heart of the convent school was the chapel. I think my grandmother’s friends would never have dared to behave so mischievously in the here. Icons and statues of saints, angels, Mother Mary, and the Infant Jesus pave the interior. Sunlight streams through stained glass of blood red and the purest blue hues. Near the altar, a circlet of gold dances on the head of a statue of Jesus. A misty ring of yellow shimmers on the dark floor. On the roof, high and majestic, stands a cross. This is a place of prayer.

Early school badge with the cross.

Later school badge. The cross has been replaced with a star.

All convents share a same school emblem and school motto. Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty marked the principles of honesty and diligence that convent schools upheld. On the badge, the life torch symbolizes life based on Rukunegara principles. The spindle means to work for peace while Marguerite flowers portray purity. At first, the book on the badge reflected the bible, but it later came to mean the holy book of each religious group. Red stands for God's love for the world.

In the past, a cross stood on top of the badge. But that was long ago. In the 1980's the cross was removed, and a star put in its place because the Malaysian government was afraid that crosses and chapels in schools would be a negative influence on Muslim students. The cross had been part of the convent, and its removal showed that the

convents were losing their identity.

Another change has been the role of nuns in these schools. Long ago, nuns ran the convents. Nowadays, the nuns are, at best, advisors on the school board of governors. Convent schools can no longer be called 'convents'. They are weak shadows of glories past. I would have liked to study in a real convent school. I would have liked to belong to this great tradition of education and faith that I have heard my grandmother and mother talk about. I think that for some, the true convent spirit will remain real and alive.

Graduating fifth formers, St Nicholas Convent, Alor Setar.

MERDEKA! By Charis Chen


5.00 am, 31st of August, 1957. People from all walks of life - royal families, government officials, and peasants - all attended the Independence Day Parade. At 5.00 am, dukes, duchesses, kings, queens, princes, princesses, government officials, and many others lined the platforms built specially for important people. Tunku







magnificently decorated Stadium Merdeka, proclaiming to all that Malaya was independent and free!

“Merdeka!� the cry rang out and echoed throughout the stadium. Cheers erupted. Merdeka! It was a glorious moment.


Newspapers blared the news that Malaya was independent. One such newspaper, The Malay Mail, shouted on the headlines: “Storm clouds roll away as a new, independent nation is born”. Merdeka! Independence!

My grandfather described his reaction to the news of Malaya’s independence: “I was happy, and nothing but happy.” His reaction was simple and short.


On the 16th of September, 1963, a ceremony was held in Jesseltion (now Kota Kinabalu), Sabah to declare Malaysia a sovereign country. The ceremony was held in Freedom Field, also known as Merdeka Padang. Even though the ceremony was outdoors, crowds thronged the area to get a better view of the Declaration of Malaysia.


In 1914, forty-three years before Malaya became independent, trishaws were introduced to Malaya. Peasant men worked as trishaw riders. All day they sat in trishaws, either riding them or waiting for customers, but on the 31st of August, 1957, they got unexpectedly good business. Why? Because of the biggest event in Malaysia’s history. Trishaws played a part too, in Malaysia’s history


Coffee shops or ‘kopitiams’ were once very common in Malaysia. Kopitiams sold practically what you would find in Old Town White Coffee today. Even though kopitiams were frequented by many, they did not play a big part in spreading news. Of course, there were many differences as well. Old Town White Coffee is definitely very modern, and besides, it uses glass cups, not authentic coffee cups. The coffee in the kopitiams in those days were a lot better that the white coffee we get in Old Town White Coffee or PapaRich. Equally important, kopitiams did not have televisions. Now, most of the coffee shops have the luxury of television. But some things have not changed. Old men spent lots of their time in kopitiams, as they do now, drinking coffee and talking to friends as a pastime. Kopitiam walls were often lined with photos of the family who operated the

kopitiam as kopitiams in those days were often houses of people. People lived upstairs and operated a shop downstairs. Now, many old men still go to kopitiams as a pastime, but in no such way as the old men did in the “good ol’ days” of Malaysia.

CONCLUSION I am very thankful that Malaysia is independent. The fact that Malaysia is independent makes me a proud Malaysian too. I hope that the old cultures, tradition, languages, and all will be revived again, not to be overcome or influenced by the modern of this world.

Transportation in the Past By Aileen Tan

Malaysia’s past was very interesting. One aspect of her fascinating past was the mode of transportation such as trains, cars, buses, bicycles and sampans. Without these modes of transportation, people would take hours to walk to work or school, they won’t be able to go for holidays, and they would not have lived as happily as before. Sampans were crucial to many people, especially fishermen. Fishermen used them to fish and to collect fish to sell. Sampans were significant to fishermen as it helped them support themselves or their families. Another example is that in the past, there weren’t any ships or motor boats for travelling, there were only sampans which were used for people to go on holidays or to visit friends or family. My family and I went on a sampan in Kuching to visit tourist places. The sampan is an interesting transport. Sampans were a great source of transportation on the river, but what about on land?

Sampan in Kuching (November 2007)

Trains were one of the first sources of land transportation in Malaysia. Trains brought people that were migrating from other countries to Malaysia. My grandmother migrated from China to Malaysia by boat but when she reached Malaysia she used a train. Sadly, trains in those days were not as luxurious as trains today. Passengers that boarded the trains were cramped on benches along the sides of coaches. Not only did they have to be cramped in the trains, they also couldn’t breathe properly because of the steam in the air. Trains in those days didn’t use diesel like how they do today, it used coal instead. The coal caused people to fall sick because of the pollution in the air that they inhaled. Even though the train was not as comfortable, it was a useful source of transportation to some people while other thought of other ways to move around.

Old train in Borneo, Sabah

Old Railway Station in Kuala Lumpur Then, only the wealthy owned cars. But, cars were not as safe as today’s cars. Car did not have any safety belts which were dangerous because if there were accidents, people could get hurt, injured or maybe they could even die. But I think that these olden cars were safer than the ones that we drive today. Why? Here is my answer. Olden day’s cars were made of harder materials than today’s car. Cars then also had more powerful engines. Not only that, fuel was a lot cheaper!

Malaysia’s Classic Hand-Made Car

Ordinary folk used buses because they were cheaper to ravel around. Even though this was the case, catching a bus was hard work (according to my mum) If you were late for a bus, you would have to chase the bus until the bus driver noticed you and stopped the bus for you to get in. When on the bus, you would have to face many other problems. The seats were torn because they were made of cloth and not cared for properly. And there weren’t any bells for you to ring to tell the bus driver that you wanted to get off. To notify him, you would have to scream over the noise of the crowd on the bus to reach the bus driver. If he didn’t get your message, you would have missed your destination. Also, in the olden days, buses were not air conditioned like today’s modern buses. It was hot and stuffy, especially when there were a lot of people. People could actually suffocate inside if it was too stuffy. Some poor people had no choice but to suffer, but others made different options.

An Old Bus in Miri, Sarawak

Bicycles were a common means of transportation among the poor. One had to work hard to earn it. As they were not very wealthy, a bicycle to poor people was treated like a piece of gold. They used bicycles to fetch their children to school or help carry their things to work. Up to this day, bicycles are still widely used, particularly in rural areas.

A Postmen’s Bicycle

Without transportation, everybody’s lives would be different. Many people would be proud seeing how transportation has changed since the olden days. If only the people in the past could see how much better transportation is today. I can imagine how proud they would be seeing that what they started has gone further in the future.


3rd April 2012

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be without iPads , phones, computer , television , or your beloved play station? These games are made for fun. We don’t need them. Kampong people in olden Malaya didn’t need them. They definitely got along without these contraptions………… because they hadn’t even heard of them! My grandma tells me that her life was full of fun and joy. They led a very carefree life, with not much homework or stress. Their lives are certainly very different from ours!

Kampong people in olden Malaya lived very simple lives. Their houses were simple. They were made of wood built on timber stilts to avoid flood during heavy rainfall. They had no fences around them. Chickens, ducks, geese and goats wandered freely around. Amazingly, these houses were built without a single nail. The kampong people use pre-cut holes and groves to fit the building elements together. The toilets and bathrooms were in the backyard, usually separated from the house. The water supply was from nearby stream or home dug well.

A traditional kampong house

Even their food was simple. Their daily breakfast was either boiled bananas or boiled tapioca. Both were eaten with sugar. For lunch or dinner, they usually ate rice with vegetables and fish that they caught from the river or stream nearby. Their vegetables were often eaten raw. Sometimes, they got meat and eggs from the animals they reared. For children, one special treat was iceballs flavoured with syrup, usually bought from an ice ball seller. They didn’t have ice-cream then. After sucking the ice ball dry, they would have an ice ball war with friends! Another special treat was ‘tumbung’, a cream coloured crunchy embryo of the coconut. This was not often eaten because it was not easy to get.

Boiled tapioca for breakfast

Boiled banana for breakfast

Every morning, the children had to walk to school because their parents couldn’t afford a car or a motorcycle. Besides, there were no roads. They had no electricity, water pipes, air conditioning, nor fans. They took their baths in the stream or by the well. They didn’t even have proper beds! Instead, they slept on mats with mosquito nettings to keep mosquitoes out. Aren’t we lucky we live in such a comfort now?

Sleeping in mosquito nettings at night in a traditional kampong house

In the kampung, children didn’t have store-bought toys. They had to make up their own games. One was called the ‘upih pinang’ race. Where they used fallen pinang fronds. They had to get partners and one person sat on the upih pinang while the other pulled it. They raced with each other that way.

Upih Pinang Race using fallen pinang fronds

Another game was hitting old cigarette packs. First, they drew a circle. Then they put a tin can with empty cigarette packs on top in the middle of the circle. Then they took turns throwing slippers at it. If you managed to hit a cigarette pack out of the circle, you got to add it to your collection.

The games played were seasonal. For example,if it was the marble game season, boys would go around with marbles in their pockets. In the bottle top season, everybody would have plenty of bottle tops. In the top spinning season, they would cut down guava to make their own ‘gasing’ (top).

Besides making up games, kampong boys liked to invent or make things. For example, they would make helicopter propellers out of satay sticks, string, and rubber. Then sometimes they would go into the forest to collect bamboo to make pop guns. Their pop-guns had paper wads as bullets. Sometimes when it was windy, they made kites. The kites were made of bamboo, oilpaper, and string. The boys also liked to trap birds. That was one of their favourite hobbies.

Home made helicopter propeller

Today, we all go for swimming lessons. If you were to ask a kampong child of those times how he learned to swim, he would say his father just threw him into the river. That way, they didn’t learn swimming the proper way. At that time, they had no swimming suits. All they did was take off their clothes and jump into the river. Usually, while swimming, they would catch fish with their bare hands. If there were no fish, there would be eels! The boys also used fishing rods. Another of their fun activities was fishing. The toughest fish for them to handle was a catfish. After fishing ,they would bring the fish they’d caught home for their families to eat.

Having fun swimming in the river

The boys would entertain themselves with almost everything they found. After school, the boys liked to find rubber seeds. For the rubber seed challenge, they put two opposing seeds against each other and crunched them. The one that was broken, was obviously the loser. Another example, was the spider competition. First, they each caught a spider. Then they paired up. Next, the partners made their spiders compete with each other. If a spider won, it also won its owner a prize. In the fruit season, they would go and pluck fruits using a bamboo stick. If there were none, they would use a sling-shot. But sometimes, they would hit a bee hive instead! The girls, of course ,played gentler games. One of them was batu seremban. Firstly, you collect five stones. Then, you throw all of them in the air, catching them with the back of your hand. Then, when one pebble is tossed up ,the second pebble had to be picked up before the first one is caught. All, by using one hand only! Another game was congkak. But instead of the ready carved wood which people now use, they dug holes in the ground . The girls also played ketinting (hopscotch) and masak-masak.

Batu Seremban


You can play with what’s all around you. You don’t need games to be made up for you. Be creative. Don’t just sit on the sofa and be a potato bug watching television all day. Go outside and have some fun. Take your time to grow up.

WolfberryPress Publications  

Wolfberry Press students researched and conducted interviews with family and friends on the history of Malaysia. Some of these essays are re...

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