“Oh, you are from Penang huh?” she said.
I seldom highlight to many about my birth place, Bukit Mertajam, as I moved to Cheras, when I was 3+.
So my memory of growing up in Bukit Mertajam is almost non-existence, as much I would probably to play and go around, I was just way too young and small to be out and about to miss Bukit Mertajam in any way.
Even though I was sent back to Bukit Mertajam while my brother was working with Malaysian Airlines Systems, now Malaysia Airline, I received the family perks of flying for free. So, my perks were flying back to Penang, got to the airport all by myself, without any family member to accompany me, and normally I would be waiting at the airport for any of my relative to fetch me, generally would take about an hour or more, as the late grandparents home was a bit of distance from the island.
On the perks, my brother will loan me his long pants or asked me to take my father’s long sleeve shirt and have them on before boarding the flight. As MAS wanted to maintain the image. Yes, long ago MAS was already regarded as the premium national carrier.
I did enjoy the flights.
Once my mother with Parkinson boarded Malaysia Airline flight back from Penang, she was very well received and taken care by the crew. I avoided putting our mother on low cost carrier, cause walking longer distance always pose challenges to the elderly. On top of that, low carrier charged additional amount for such escort services for the elderly. Not to mention, no water nor any beverage during the flight. That, generally a bit hard for elders.
I have a lot of memories of Cheras, cause I stayed there 20+ years, until I met my love, Retna, then I moved out.
History probably tracked back to 30s when Cheras was first developed. The neighbourhood, Taman Cheras or famously known as Yulek was probably developed in late 70s. With my parents ended up settling here with my father’s posting to KL. With the tiny money parents had, they chose to get a flat in Yulek.
There are six blocks of flats in Taman Cheras, named alphabetically. Average sizes of the two bedroom flats are about 500 square feet, more or less, this includes separate toilet and bathroom. The residents share two common stairs to head up and out of the flat.
There are normally shops located on the ground floor, or according to the numbering as 1, instead of G. The shops were in the past groceries, Laundromat, coffeeshops, offices and warehouses.
Hygiene is always the challenge, even until today. It is very relying on the residents. The main dumpster are located on the two exit and entrance for every block. So, both also would be really dirty and smelly. The architect and overall design were totally unsustainable. Neither healthy to human day to day living.
That was what my parents could afford.
The block we were in has squid ball producer occupying a few ground floor units. We spent a lot of time observing the way how squid balls were made. Just one word to sum the observation up – bad.
The squid balls were often escaped (perhaps of the bad conditions) into the nearby drain. And workers will pick them up and put them into the packaging.
Later the unit was occupied by Japan-branded direct selling outlet, where the merchants will come in to sell items, normally health related, such as infrared belt, bed etc, at exorbitant prices. There were some perks, the attendees, in regardless you are buying or not, will receive some groceries, or the favourite of all time, chocolate malt drink in the large can. Sometimes, cooking oil. So the attendance in general really high. Resulted traffic congestion in our neighbourhood.
Everyone knows everyone, pretty much.
This includes the secrets.
“She is the second wife,”
“The child’s father is not the actual father,”
“Ah Lee’s daughter married a Malay la,”
“The whole ran away from Ah Long liao,”
While the flats at Taman Cheras was such a lowly neighbourhood, it received some really high profile millionaires (now billionaires) visit to a Chinese traditional medicine master, whom occupied half of the already small shot on the ground floor.
These millionaires will first sent their personal assistant or bodyguards to come by to survey the venue, made the appointment or collect the queue number, then the bosses will be waiting in the car, awaiting the updates.
I once seen one of the top 10 richest Malaysian visited the shop at the flat with his wife and many chaperons. The shop is really small, I wonder how it could hold so many people.
After that, my mother told us that there were other millionaires also visited the same shop.
Some of the famous food in Taman Cheras were Wan Tan Mee, Yong Tau Fu, Lam Mee, Chee Cheong Fun, Chinese Sweet Dessert (red bean, egg tea). Those were the food places we would took our relatives from the north to these places for meals.
My personal favourite is the Wan Tan Mee below our flat, which was operated by an elderly couple. The wife was really good with making the noodle right with texture and taste. The husband, was really good in making the beverage, especially the thick coffee.
It was and probably is very hard to please the taste bud of my family members from Penang, cause in general, they think Penang food is the best, so no matter how hard my parents tried to please them, one of my late uncle would pointed at the food and shook his head, “This does not meet the standard,” he said.
So instead of trying really hard, I would take them to dine at places where one would not find them in Penang, Hokkien Mee.
Hokkien Mee in Penang is Prawn Mee. So when they heard Hokkien Mee in Cheras, they would imagine one served in prawn soup, but they were surprised with the Dark Caramelised Soya Sauce noodle, cooked in high fire, for some places in Cheras, added with pounded salted fish and then added on with the pork lard.
They absolutely love it!
It was a hit!
My late uncle did not shake his head while having the Hokkien Mee.
The really good Hokkien Mee was at Kampung Cheras Baru, a corner shop, which is the junction connecting Taman Cheras. Any how, the owner decided to retire later, so I only managed to bring Retna there once.
Restoran Say Hoi has been around since the time of Taman Cheras. So, probably, 40+, perhaps 50 years. I do not remember any food there that was particularly good, or I could be wrong, cause the restaurant in coffee shop setup is still here. I did not patron this eatery cause the hygiene was highly questionable.
But our late father was a fan, cause he could played Mahjong with his friends there.