To him, childhood nowadays is vastly different from what it was during his time. Playing with marbles, renting books and helping with his mother’s business are just the tip of the iceberg of the many rare, but once common childhood occurrences during Mr Low’s time.

Seventy-year-old Mr Low Sia Joo was talking to us animatedly about his dearly-missed and memorable childhood. Effervescent and vivacious, he excitedly recounted about his past filled with many interesting and insightful anecdotes.

A group of children is playing a traditional game of marbles. The aim of the game is to use their own marbles to knock the competitors’ marbles out of the circle. Title devised by cataloguer. Picture credit: Singapore Tourism Board

Mr Low is an ordinary man belonging to the pioneer generation of Singaporeans. During his childhood, the bulk of his time was spent playing with his neighbours. Glass and mud marbles, a common sight during that era, were the main forms of entertainment for Mr Low and his neighbours. Indeed, times have changed radically and children in this day and age hardly find much joy in playing with marbles alone. To him, marbles were like beads of happiness which filled his childhood with joy and cheerfulness. Such a simple form of happiness has been so dearly cherished by him up till now. Unfortunately, it is a pity that many kids now are unable to appreciate such simple forms of happiness.

Sepak Takraw was one of the games that children in kampong used to play. Picture credit: Mr Quay

In addition, we were also extremely heartened to find out that he played a huge role in the running of his mother’s business. During his younger days, he was extremely filial to his mother as he frequently helped with her business, which mostly sold handmade items. It was a norm for him to contribute to the making of the items such as bamboo balls. We supposed he had followed in his mother’s footsteps as currently, he owns a business around Telok Ayer selling household items. Unfortunately, as we can see around us, the younger generation is perceived to be less inclined to take over traditional business of their parents, as they are perceived to be old-fashioned and boring, leading to many vanishing trades in Singapore. However, are such businesses always dull and of little relevance? In the past, many felt that it was more important that individuals were able to feed themselves, rather than focusing on earning high revenues . Therefore, it also is important that we understand and have a deep understanding of the various trades which were once relevant to our society in order to preserve the valuable history of Singapore.

Handmade clothes were more common back then as it was more affordable. Picture Credit: Taylor, Allison

Mr Low also fondly remembered that his clothes, as well as his siblings’, were handmade by their mother. At that time, it was cheaper to buy cloth to make their own clothes and thus, this was a more viable and better alternative to buying new clothes for the family. In those days, women were better trained in household chores and taking care of their families. However, family traditions have since changed dramatically, with more women working instead of confining themselves to their traditional roles like being housewives. Therefore, the backbone of society has indeed changed with time, causing a huge difference in family roles now and then. However, is the fast-paced, ever-changing society always better?

Most importantly, unlike many of us now, Mr Low lived a life free from stress. As students, with often watch with immense pressure and anxiety as we stare at the piling homework we need to complete or the corpus amount of information we need to study. However, life back then was much simpler and less complicated. We believe that in order to remain cheerful, we need not covet for many luxurious items or good grades, but rather, a simple life is most likely the key to lifelong happiness.

In today’s societies, video games, tablets and smartphones are just a dime in the dozen of the many virtual, interactive and engaging forms of childhood entertainment. Perhaps, what we really need to do is to take a step back, and experience all the simple things around us that bring smiles to our faces…

Mr Low Sia Joo’s story first appeared here on the Singapore Memory Project portal.
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