Bernard Tan

Shooting the Breeze

MiF Oral History

17 OCT 18

“We played tembak-tembak, shooting; you will make your own gun, a wooden gun from a plank.”

Hello, my name is Bernard Tan and I’m from Kesang Lane of Tengkera Road. They want to know my age too, I don’t know why, but I’m about 66 years old; young, I mean; and I have been living in this house for the last 50 years.

Growing up, there were two parts of my childhood that was spent in two areas. One was just next door to this place, before we moved here after the Ong Kim Wee development. During my school days I had been brought up mainly, half the time, I would say, here in Kesang Lane. I schooled in the Anglo Chinese School, which is the ACS, for primary as well as secondary school. We walk to school then; I was active in the school sports, field sports, all kinds of sports.

Kampung lifestyle those days (I don’t want to make myself too old!) was quiet. Community living was much better than now; [then, there were] different stress levels of children [who] were growing up and going to school, compared to nowadays. We had probably a little more freedom from our parents, and did things that we really liked to do, like playing outdoors and getting ourselves dirty, playing football, things like that. We didn’t have computers; of course, no hand-phone or the iPhone and all these gadgets. You see, nowadays people are just spending more and more time on gadgets. We didn’t have that, we had toys; we had homemade toys, we had to make it ourselves. We had all kind of games, like ketak-ketuk.

During the moon-cake festival, probably we were quite insufficient of funds those days, and we had to make our own teng, or lantern. One of the most famous [popular] lanterns that we would make were from milk cans; we will cut the milk can vertically with the can opener, then just shape it up like a little lantern, and then put the candle in there, and a little wire [on top], and a stick. So that will be, basically, your lantern. So, that’s what we do, we are more creative.

We played tembak-tembak, shooting; you will make your own gun, a wooden gun from a plank. You cut it out in the shape of a gun, with a little clip [as] a trigger, and [a] rubber band to hold it, and as a bullet, we will use this kind of bullet from a tree, and I can’t remember what’s the name of the tree; it’s called manik-manik, I think. This tree bears this long stock with the bead in the front, so that will be used as a bullet that will be clipped unto your wooden gun, and then we pull the rubber (band) to fit onto the head of the bead. Then you try to go and shoot your friend down.

So, these are the games that some of us played when we were younger. We were more creative. I think children, young boys growing up in kampung, have a little bit more [creativity]. 

We kick around at Kubu Stadium, which is still there; next to it, there’s a little strip of land that we can use to play football. We spent our time doing more outdoor, rather than indoor.

“We grew up as more muhibbah than it is today, because we are not conscious of whether you are Malay, you’re a Chinese, you’re an Indian, or you’re Eurasian.”

We are just friends; that’s it, you know. And that is something that I think the current people, current citizens, are trying to emulate, to foster again.

We used to have a neighbour here, a Eurasian man. We called him Anchiko; I don’t know why, (he was) an uncle. I don’t know what the name means. He lived with his sister next door. He used to take care of the church in Malim; I can’t remember the name, that old church there. At certain times of the year, when the festivals drew near, or the birthday is near, we would cycle up there to clean up the church. The kampung boys, with him (Anchiko), we would cycle up there. We will go up there to clean up the church, brush off the leaves, take water from the estate owner down the hill, and bring it up. So, it was quite a good deed for us to do. That is one of the things that impressed my mind when I was growing up, and I enjoyed that very much.

My mum is a lady who has many children, she brought up the children; my dad is from Western China. So, she’s a real Nyonya lady who doesn’t allow any of her children to get into her dapurdapur is, of course, the little kitchen; and she prepares all the meals for the children. Unfortunately, she passed away last year, at the ripe age of 90; so, she had a good life.

I think the community here in this kampung, Kesang Lane, is quite a mixture of different ethnic groups. We don’t have any Malay Bumiputeras staying here, but Chinese of different dialects; we have the Cantonese, we have the Khek, we have the Hailam, and we have the Babas. The next door is also a Baba family who has been living here for quite a long time. I think we are quite good, in the sense that we (as children) were quite close with all the kids who were growing up here. We did a lot of things together, and the kampung was very lively; in festivals, in things like that; so a lot of kids were growing up (in that environment). Unfortunately, now, or the last few years, the children have all grown up and they have their own life; they move out of the kampung, they live somewhere else. We have less and less children here in Kesang Lane, and you don’t see that anymore; you don’t see the Lantern Festival.

At the current moment, I have my kampung folks nearby here, two or three families here; they grew up here, their children grew up here; they do their own things, basically. Culturally, we are quite okay; we are good, no problems. We cook something extra, we share it with our neighbours, as they would do with us.

“They will bring cakes, and sometimes when they buy something extra, or if we went out to buy nasi lemak in the morning, we will buy extra two packets for the neighbour.”

This is the kind of community feeling that we have for each other; on the other hand, we don’t intrude on individual privacy, they don’t come here and make a big noise and things like that. I have a dog called Brown, and if I’m going away for a holiday, I’ve got to have somebody to feed him. Luckily, I have a neighbour who is willing to do that, so I will buy all the food and ingredients, and I’ll pass it over to my neighbour, and they will help to feed Brown when I’m away.

MiF: Everyone is so familiar, you are one big family.

I think that’s only possible if you’ve lived within the community for many years, and it’s a give-and-take situation, if you want to create a good environment. Sometimes you can’t get along with somebody, that can happen, different opinions and things like that, but generally it’s quite peaceful and cooperative. I think it’s a good piece of community living. We know our neighbours; unfortunately in a lot of places, like if you are staying in an apartment, you don’t have the opportunity to [get] to know your neighbour as well as if you were living in a kampung.

MiF: What if urbanisation threatens the existence of kampungs?

I think development is necessary, but the question is to have a balanced development. I don’t think the kampung life will ever disappear because we have plenty of space and area. If you talk about Melaka, there are many areas that we still have kampungs. Comparatively in Singapore, once they take the kampung, it’s finished and gone; but we still have plenty of kampungs around. It’s just a question of how far away from the centre of this town you will have to [go to] find another kampung. Like Kampung Morten, it will never be demolished; these are heritage: Jonker Street, Heeren Street, all these will never be demolished. They will build more and more for economic reasons; Melaka has to be developed as well, you’ve got to have people coming here.

Kampung life, like this Kesang Lane kampung, was not created over the last 10 or 15 years;  it has been here for the last 56 years, so this is a thing that will be here for a long time. It’s only a question of whether the next generation of the people who are living here, want to live here. If they don’t, they will sell the property, and the developers will come and grab them since the location here is very good. At the moment, I don’t think it will happen because all of us have individual titles; it will be difficult to find the synergy where everybody says, we will sell it at the same time, I don’t think so.

MiF: What does Kesang Lane mean?

I’ve got not a clue, I don’t even know the meaning of Kesang; maybe you know? We were in an English medium school, before they changed it to Bahasa syllabus. So, our Malay is slightly, a little bit handicapped.

MiF: Are there any human values that you have gathered as an individual, based on your own observations, tied to your Baba background/cultural practices?

As a matter of fact, I’m not really a good example of a Baba because I have lived abroad for many years. I’m not a traditional person, as such, as other members of my family. But I think the traditional Baba and Nyonya heritage is still practised among ourselves, as far as possible, when our siblings get together. I think one of the main important occasions is  Chinese New Year, where everybody comes to visit, preparing big meals, and things like that. That’s the time you pay respect to your elders, and you also meet your other family members who are not able to be with you during the year because they have their own life to continue with.

Sojah is to give respect to your elders. On the first day of Chinese New Year, first thing in the morning you do is to Sojah.”

Sojah is probably translated as to pay respects to your parents on Chinese New Year, so your parents will be sitting in a chair like this, and then you will be coming from the front, on your knees; you say, panjang-panjang umur, long life to you, and thank them for whatever they have done for you. That’s how you wish…depending on what you call your mother. You can call makabu or ibu. I call my mum, abu. So, Abupanjang-panjang umur. My father, I call him appa. So, I will call him Appapanjang-panjang umur. We wish them a long life, and this will go on for generations to generation; until today you still find people doing it. So, you put on the best dress for the day, make sure your shoes are polished, and by doing that, your mum and dad will give you a little red packet, a little ang pao.

In general, it is more of a reunion of all the siblings. Possibly, some family members are staying abroad, or working in a different state. So, this is an opportunity to meet them again and see them, maybe once a year, or twice a year. Chinese New Year is a good reason, so is Deepavali, Hari Raya, for family get-together. Reunion dinners are important, I think. The eve of the Chinese New Year, you cook a lot of food, traditional Nyonya food. Everybody enjoys the food. Nyonya food is quite popular in Melaka, so we have pongtehgerang asam, chicken curry, mee hoon gorengtimun salad. So, all these dishes are quite traditional. If you have buah keluak, it’s nice too, but buah keluak is not to everybody’s taste.

MiF: Did your mum have any of her own idioms, or anything that was just special within your family?

 No; there is, but I’m not into pantun and all these things.

MiF: Do you remember any that was special to you?

No, I don’t.

The common things that the Nyonya ladies do: my mum will gather some of her friends and play cheki, a very old form of card game. I don’t know how to play. It’s a past-time, like playing mahjong and things like that, for the common people.

Next to us here was the Oriental Cinema, and behind the house was the car park that belonged to the Oriental Cinema. They normally screened Chinese shows, mainly for the Chinese community; all the kung-fu and sword-fighting and drama. I don’t know when it closed down, but it had been the Oriental Cinema before.

MiF: How was that for you?  Tell us one of your favourite memories.

Well, in a way, it was quite noisy. I personally did not welcome it; too bad, we were just next door. You know how movie theaters are; people are coming in with the motorbikes, cars and the noise. If you have a midnight show on a Saturday where they finish at one o’clock in the morning, then you have 100 motorbikes starting at the same time. So, it’s not a nice thing, very noisy, but somehow you get used to it. The positive thing about having the cinema was we got to know the ticket conductor; and as kids, sometimes the movies that we would like to see, and could not afford the ticket price, we will go to him and say, ‘Uncle, whether you can let me in to watch the movie?’ He’d say, ‘Ya, just wait a minute, I will find you an empty seat; when it’s not a full house, you can come in.’ This is one of the little benefits that we get.

MiF: What was your favourite movie that you caught at this specific cinema?

I can’t remember, not even one. It’s too long ago.

MiF: Do you have any idea about the Serani loko, band that comes during Chinese New Year?

Yeah, there will be two or three Portuguese boys who will come around to your house; they did come around for the Chinese New Year. Probably one with the guitar, and one with the triangle, and tambourine, things like that; they will sing a couple of songs and we will give them a little ang pao. That did happen.

MiF: Do you remember the songs?

No I don’t.

Only Chinese New Year they’ll come. That was quite nice. I don’t think they do that anymore, they don’t come here anymore, that’s for sure; for whatever reason, I am not sure why they don’t come anymore. They don’t do that anymore, or they don’t need to do that anymore? They have advanced in their community themselves?

Yeah, that was part of Chinese New Year. We call them Serani, mixed Portuguese.

Thank you Mr. Bernard Tan