For writer Clarice Pereira, growing up in the 1970s was one of the best times of her life. From playing hide and seek in her neighbours’ houses, to playing in the long kang (drains), the memories of growing up in the 1970s are something she will cherish forever.
I was born in the year 1966, at Jalan Wijaya, one year after Singapore gained independence. The place I was born in has been demolished. Now, it’s a condominium opposite Kembangan MRT Station.
Every time I pass by that place, I am transported back to time to the early 70s when I was a kid.
Those were the best times of my life. Dad was a banker and Mum was a housewife. I was the youngest of six children. I had three older brothers and two older sisters. Life was so carefree without any worries. We did not own any smartphones nor PCs – not even a watch.
But what we had was a wild imagination.
I grew up with Chinese, Malay, Eurasian and Indian kids in my kampung. Every morning, all the doors of all the houses in the kampung would be open. When we played hide and seek, we could go in any house to hide. We could hide under the bed, or behind the doors, and we did not get chided for that. Imagine if kids did that now and hid in their neighbours’ houses… Perhaps they would end up on STOMP, haha.
Every day was different, and fun. One day, we might play hide and seek; the next day may be police and thief; and the day after, catching spiders and putting them in matchboxes. That was how we entertained ourselves from morning to afternoon. After lunch, it’s usually nap time until tea-time. After tea-time, you can start hearing the sound of the kids coming out of their houses to play again. My Mum never knew which house I was playing at, so every lunch-time she will shout my name for me to come home.
In the 70s, it was a big thing to own a colour TV. The Chinese family in front of my house owned one, and in the evening they would let all the kids in the kampung come into their house to watch TV. It was like a mini-cinema. How fun and enjoyable.
Another thing we enjoyed – the rain. We enjoyed the rain so much, especially when it flooded because that meant we could play freely with the water at the long kang (drain). Our parents however disliked the rainy season as it usually meant plenty of cleaning up to do afterwards.
A memorable incident happened to me when I was four years old. That was the year – in 1970 – that I decided to “run away” from home.
I packed two bags – one for my clothes and the other contained school books I took randomly from home. Can you imagine how worried my Mum was? We had a servant back then named Ahcee Fatimah, who used to help with the laundry and ironing. My Mum and her searched all over the kampung for me. But they could not find me. Then, they asked the sarabat stall man if he saw me. He said yes and pointed to the direction he had seen me walking. My Mum immediately knew where I was.
At the PAP kindergarten, sitting right behind, studying the books I brought with me diligently.
She told me that I was too young to be admitted to kindergarten but I was insistent. So she did the next best thing: She paid one of my neighbours to teach me. This neighbour of mine eventually opened a mini-kindergarten in her house charging parents a small fee. That was allowed back than. My Mum used to dress me up every day like I was going to a party. I took this all very seriously.
In 1975, my dad bought a flat in Marine Drive and we had to move away from the kampung. I was very sad to leave all my childhood friends behind because I would miss the camaraderie we shared as kids. But I was also ready to start a new chapter of my life in a flat.
We still played with all the kids at the void deck but it was different. The atmosphere was not the same as in the kampung. But what I liked about our new flat was that there were no insects. I had a phobia for cockroaches, so I was happy to stay in a cleaner environment.
In 1977, we had a new addition to our family, a sister – 11 years after I was born. It was so nice playing with her. I will always cherish the memories of my life in the 70s as those were the best times of my life.
Words and photos by Clarice Pereira
Published by Singapore Memory Project