1. Shell petrol station - first lesson in Chinese
Soon Fatt Hupkee hambiao tiamyouzham xinzhongzikin (in Hakka dialect)(Congratulations on the opening of the Soon Fatt Hup Kee, Shell Petrol Filling Station )
Other than my name in Chinese, these were some of the earliest Chinese words that I learnt. These two photographs were taken in Menglembu in 1965.
The Shell petrol station was newly into operation. It was located next to our house in Menglembu and build on the northern third of an original big piece of land planted with many coconut trees. A plot of the land consisting of the fish pond was later sold to the Shell Petrol Company to start the retail business.
I recall these photographs were taken on a very basic plastic box shaped camera (approximately 5x3x2.5in). It was a retail gift to customers who purchased above a certain amount of petrol.
The Chinese characters were written on a big granite stone bench. There was a pair of these benches. They were present from relatives and friends with the congratulatory message and their names casted forever in stone.
It was quite an in thing for a group of person to send their congratulations in these stone granite, be they benches, table set with stools, flower pots, etc then. They symbolized the business would prosper and grow as solid as stone. Nonetheless, they were very practical and useful presents.
I was in Standard 2, a skinny eight years old, which was the standard physique of kids of that age. Then, Japanese slippers were the footwear de rigueur, before it became the fashionista flip-flop decades later.
Dinner was early at about 5pm. After which we would walked over to the station to play on the cool granite benches.
Some elder folks taught me to read those words in the Hakka dialect. I also learnt a thing a or two what a joint venture business. It was explained to me that Hupkee - 合記 – was specific for a joint venture company.
Dad invested in the franchise petrol filling station business,, with a joint venture stake from his cousin. The cousin aunt was a relatively well-off matriarch who inherited her wealth from her late husband. Her family lived in Menglembu town center. Her dad was the elder brother of grandpa and they migrated together to Malaya in the early 1900’s.
This cousin aunt was quite a well-know personality in the small town of Menglembu. Her generously spendthrift & charitable trait , but with a fearsome character had earned her the nickname : Orr-Dell-Por (in dialect).
(Orr-Dell : someone who is generous, willing and with the capacity to splurge; Por : address a female elder, grandma)
Due to poor cash flow management, the petrol station business went into a batch patch after three to four years. Dad had to gave up his stake in the joint venture in 1968. His cousin sister took over the company, and it was re-named Shin Soon Fatt.
The petrol station is still in business after 50 years.
2. Hia Bak – Uncle Hia
The man in the picture who was in his early forties, with curly hairs and sleeves rolled was Hia Bak or Uncle Hia ( Bak – uncle in dialect).
Uncle Hia was a family friend. His mother was a close friend of grandma. Her name was Zhu-Bak-Por, Granda Zhu. They were the first generation of migrant to Menglembu.
Unlce Hia family name is Wong, name Shao Kim ( dialect pronunciation). He was intimately addressed by us as Uncle Hia. This pet name given him was derived from his facial feature, as his thick upper lips seemed slightly protruding, which in the Hakka dialect is hia zhoi – a slight protruding mouth. Uncle Hia closely resembled her mum.
Uncle Hia was an electrician. The car AB950 – an Austin of England was his. In the 1950’s and 60’s, he was one of the hunting buddies with dad and the uncles. They would hunt for wild boars, squirrels, flying foxes in the out skirt of Batu Gajah, Tronoh area.
In our first trip to Singapore in 1965, Uncle Hia came along with us.
His shop was in Ipoh Old town – Ma Fa electrical, which has since been managed by his son. The wiring work of the old house 1A, was done by his company in the 1950.
Uncle Hia passed away a few years back in his eighties.