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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Melaka, Batu Berendam: Memories of kampung shops

Melaka, Batu Berendam: Memories of kampung shops
By Wan Chwee Seng

The call  caught us unaware.
“Look at that quaint house!" Kim Ling called out, as he drew our attention to a building that stood beside a dark and narrow road.
The quaint-looking house

 I squinted through the car's windscreen at the deepening gloom outside  and caught a glimpse of a building that seemed familiar.  
“This is Batu Berendam, my kampung(village)”, I said, recognising the murky shape of the building. 
As the building receded slowly from our view, it  brought back  memories of the small grocer store of my childhood days.  
Poh Choon’s grocer store used to stand next to the building and was a favourite with the kampung folks as it was within walking distance from their houses and the  credit purchase which the kind grocer extended to his regular customers was greatly appreciated by the mostly cash-strapped villagers. The customers were issued with the small 555 notebooks in which Poh Choon would diligently record their purchases.

555 notebooks

  "Eh, bila nak jelas hutang?" (When are you going to settle your bill?)
Those words were frequently heard at the end of each month.

Although the store was small, it was well-stocked with a wide variety of dry food which were displayed in wooden crates and gunny sacks, while other household items such as brooms and slippers were stacked haphazardly in every available space.
A typical kampung grocer store

 On the wooden shelves were glass jars filled with coloured sweets while others held  dried preserved fruits : candied olives, salted plums and sweet dates.
Tin containers with  transparent glass panes on one side were filled with a variety of biscuits, all in loose form.  
Biscuits in tin containers

 Mother would sometimes send us on an errand to the shop when she required certain household provision. We could shop in the peace and quiet of the shop without being jostled by impatient shoppers or bombarded by the incessant blare of music and the shrieks of unattended children.  We would often find the old grocer sitting behind his wooden table, but he would quickly attend to us when we required his assistance. When there were things to be weighed he would take out his  dacing (traditional Chinese weighing scale) which consisted of a metal rod with a pan at one end and a bell-shaped metal weight at the other end.  Somewhere in the dark recess of his shop he kept another weighing scale with a long metal rod and a hook at one end that was used to weigh the heavier items such as bags of rice and flour and it required at least two persons to handle the equipment. 
An old Chinese weighing scale used for heavy goods.
The grocer is holding the bell-shaped metal weight in his right hand.

As soon as we had made our purchase, the grocer would retreat to his table and with the aid of an abacus calculate the total amount of our purchase. We watched, enthralled, as his deft fingers flicked the wooden beads; the silence of the small store broken by the rhythmic click of the beads.     

A grocer with an abacus

An abacus

 An irresistible attraction at the shop was the tikam-tikam or lucky pick which consisted of small paper packets pasted onto a piece of cardboard and displayed strategically at the front corner of the shop.  Attracted by the  prize money of one ringgit many kampung kids  would part with their pocket money as they tried their luck at the tikam-tikam , but  usually they would be rewarded with a sweet or some inconsequential items.

A stone's throw from the shop, under the thick canopy of a cherry tree, stood Mahmood's rojak stall.His stall was well patronised as the affable old Indian Muslim took meticulous care in preparing his mamak rojak.The dough and prawn fritters were crispy; the cucumber, bean curds and cucumber were fresh; and the peanut sauce was thick and savory.  My siblings and I seldom ate at the stall, but would order a take away which was wrapped in a  piece of banana leaf. As we made our way slowly down the dirt track to our house, we would pick at the tasty morsels and long before we reached home most of the rojak had found their way into our stomachs.

Beyond the stall  was the village kopitiam (coffee shop) where the men of the village with different creeds and colours would gather every morning to listen and exchange  news and gossips. We, kampung kids, would often drop in at the shop to pick our mail as the kampung houses had no mailing address and so the village postman would just deposit all the letters at the coffee shop.While sorting through  the letters we would strain our ears to listen to the customers' animated conversations which were often drowned by  intermittent  laughter and tinkles of cups being vigorously stirred. The strident call of 'Kopi O kau' could often be heard above the cacophony, as a helper shouted his order to the proprietor in the back kitchen. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee and the smell of bread being toasted on burning coal would drift to the front counter and seduce us to sample the food. I remember the rare occasions when  I would join my friends  at the marble top table.  We would sip steaming black coffee and sink our teeth into the crispy toast that oozed  melted butter delicately balanced with the caramel richness of seri kaya. Sometimes I would help myself to a piece of the savory round butter cake which was usually placed on every table.  
A row of wooden shop houses in Batu Berendam. One of them used to be a barber shop.

Directly, opposite the old police station was a short row of wooden shops and one of the shops we used to frequent was Ah Seng's bicycle repair shop. Ah Seng was the village bicycle repairman cum barber. He could often be seen fixing a flat tyre, replacing broken  chains or spokes and doing other repair work. When a customer walked into the shop for a hair-cut, he would pause from his work, wipe and wash his greasy hands and then attend to his customer. 
When we kids wanted a haircut Ah Seng would place a wooden plank across the swivel chair's arm rests and we would climb onto the seat. Lulled by the  sharp cadence of the snipping scissors we would doze off and suddenly snap our eyes wide open at the creak of a drawer. From the corner of our eyes we watched with a tinge of apprehension  as he  began sharpening a straight razor with a   strop, the sharp blade glinting ominously in the rays of the morning sunlight. 
Taking a nap on the barber's chair had its risk. Sometimes a kid  would come back from the barber,  to find himself being greeted with shouts of kepala tempurung (coconut shell's head) , as the resulting haircut looked as if a coconut shell had been placed on top of the head and the barber had only trim the hair round the rim of the shell. 
Today, except for the few wooden shop houses which stand at a bend of the old road leading to the airport, most of the kampung shops of my childhood days have been demolished.
The road leading to the Batu Berendam Airport

 Now, modern brick buildings have replaced  the wooden, palm-thatched shop houses. With the on-going  rapid rural development, it won't be long before the few shop houses in the village too are demolished and all that remain will be the distant memories of some old kampung residents _memories that can be shared or left to fade into oblivion.


  1. A wonderful reminiscence and description of the old kampong shops.

    I remember my barber too, in the days when I was a little kid. An old Indian barber whose premises near the Malacca General Hospital was just an open shack beneath some trees. I remember especially the crudely cemented floor that accommodated the bulging contours of the roots beneath it, as well as the calendar of Hindu Gods hanging against the dark wooden planks. And yes, he had a plank for me to sit upon, too....