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‘I remember our neighbours. There were two boys who made appam, so we just called them small appam and big appam. The same with another family who ran a restaurant selling dim sum, both children were called small pau and big pau. It wasn’t really important to remember their names. But we knew each other really well.’
Ricky is all smiles as he brings us on a tour of his Pudu, recollecting memories of the streets from the ’60s.
‘I had the freedom to run about and do whatever I wanted, but I still remembered to come home and listen to my mum. That was very important. She was very fierce and everybody knew her. I used to come home from school, drop my bag at home and quickly go wandering around the area. When it was dinner time, my mum would just shout “Ah Leong ah, sek fan ah!” Even if I didn’t hear it, friends would pass the message around the block.’
We walk up the steps of the e-Mart Complex, which used to be a cinema. ‘We used to come here for the movies. Once in a blue moon. I would come here for Wong Fei Hung. Back then it was all black and white.
‘What I did in those days was... I liked movies, but I couldn’t afford them. So I would just lean against the wall, listen to the soundtrack of the film and use my imagination to figure out what was going on. Tickets were cheap. Right at the front it was 40 cents, in the middle 60 cents and the reserve seats upstairs, I might be wrong, but I think it was RM1.25.’
We cross the road and trace a path along Jalan Pasar before turning right into a back alley that leads us straight into the famed Pudu wet market, a disorganised universe of chaos and charm. He remembers some of the old shops, which are still operational today. Some have had their owners changed and some, a generational change of guard.
‘Look at this. It’s so disorganised and disgusting.’ He finds a moment to shake his head before declaring, ‘But it has its character, you know. Its own flavour. This is Pudu.
‘I remember I was in Standard 3. Real-life action. You don’t get to see a bus being burned every day! The gangsters smashed one of the Sri Jaya buses and pushed it into a drain. Just over there,’ he says, pointing at one of the shops along Jalan Pasar, ‘that was where they burned it.
‘This was during May 13. Once in a while, you get the army or FRU people coming through. Some of the guys here would just be hanging around here talking. There was a curfew but they didn’t really care. Once they heard the sirens, if they were fast enough they would run back into the shop. There was one guy who couldn’t run fast enough so he jumped into the coffin. For a ten-year-old boy it was quite exciting. But for the elderly it was mayhem. And all I knew about the curfew was that there was no school – which was great!’
A short walk later we stand in front of the main gate of Sekolah Kebangsaan (L) Jalan Pasar, formerly known as Pasar Road School. Ricky, who spent his childhood in Pudu, holds firmly onto the metal gate and nods to himself. ‘Yep, this is it. That was the canteen. I can’t really see the padang from here.’
‘Did you enjoy your time here?’ I ask.‘Oh yes. I had fun. Lots of fun.’ He tries his best to hold back the tears welling up in his eyes. ‘There were so many good teachers. I remember them so well. I’m quite surprised the school is still here. Very few families still live here, let alone send their children to study here.
‘Even my parents didn’t want me to stay here. There was something very wrong with this place and they didn’t want me to be influenced badly. In hindsight, I’m really glad they took me out early. I really can’t say how I would’ve turned out if I had stayed.
‘This is still very much a Chinese area. Everybody is just trying to make a living. In those days, if you make it, you do it the proper way, and if you don’t, then you do it the illegal way.’