When we attended Form Three it was in 1965, we were fifteen years old and we thought we were old enough to do what our elders once did, like going to parties, to the Padang Muar Club as well as the Tanjung Club. Most of our elders were just three to four years our senior but we looked upon them like as though they were grown-up men. Those in Form One were considered kids with runny noses and we barred them from mixing with us.
Muar town of my days offered not many entertainment outlets but somehow we managed to keep ourselves quite occupied. The non-existence of these outlets made us very innovative and creative. We invented our own games and kept on improving them, we organized our own parties during school holidays, we formed our own fraternity of selected friends and indulged in many other interesting activities. Once a while we would organize a cycling trip to Bukit Mor near Parit Jawa and even a trip to Gunung Ledang. When I was in Form Four, a group of us formed our own social group calling ourselves ‘The Sycophants’comprising very close friends whom I still remember as Hamid Othman, Zainal Abidn Jaafar, Onn Aziz, Medali Karto and three others their names I have forgotten. We met quite frequently and at night our usual meeting place would be at the Taman Selera situated along Jalan Suleiman. Those were some of the wonderful moments I will always remember and cherish.
The Taman Selera was a night beacon for young boys like us but somehow Muar girls of my time were quite reserve as well as innocent and they would never spend their time outside during the night. We could hardly find a group of girls sitting together in one table at the Taman Selera at night. The young ones were dominated by their parents and those spending some time at night were mostly those whose parents had granted them permission. If ever there were females around, they would surely be accompanied by their husbands and the younger ones with their boyfriends. To take your girlfriend to Taman Selera would be quite embarrassing because as you stepped into the compound, all eyes would suddenly focus on you and your girlfriend and this kind of reception would obviously make your girlfriend even more embarrassed. Therefore it was only natural for young couples to look for a better place and there were few Chinese restaurants that provided some form of exclusivity for young lovers.
CHUAN LEE RESTAURANT
The Chuan Lee Restaurant was situated right across the Victory cinema. It was an open space concept with the juke-box placed near the entrance of the dinning hall. It would cost you twenty cents per song with most of the songs we had them almost memorized. Sometime some would exhibit their dancing skill at the juke-box and the most famous dances of these periods were the twist and the limbo rock. Notable among these ‘performers’ were Salleh Uzir and the late Amir Makson. The restaurant served quite a number of good Chinese cuisine, cakes and cookies and of course the ice-kacang, probably the best in Muar town.
Whenever a cheap matinee shown at the Victory cinema on Saturday morning, many boys and girls with colourful attires would show their presence at the Chuan Lee restaurant with some grinning unnecessarily. Chinese boys and girls too came to join in the fun and if we happened to meet any of our classmates, we would hug each other like as though we had not met for years. We did not have many Indian friends, three or four the most, because the Indian population during those days was not high. For me, my best Indian friend was none other than Maniam my neighbour.
In the late afternoon, Chuan Lee restaurant would be dominated by elder youths bringing along their sweethearts. The front portion of the restaurant would be filled with bicycles and their bicycles all looked alike. Once my friend from KL asked me whether the owner could recognize his own bicycle? However, Chuan Lee would be quite empty during the night and this would obviously be the perfect place for young lovers to chat with privacy.
There was a juke box placed at the entrance of the restaurant. We could select any song of our choice by inserting a ten cent coin. Those days it was the twist and limbo rock.
KIM LENG RESTAURANT
This was the most famous spot, situated along Muar’s ‘busiest’ road Jalan Abdullah. The restaurant was a two-storey outlet serving only light food, various cakes, pastry and the ice-kacang. One interesting feature of this restaurant was it provided a seclusive place for privacy. It had some small rooms fitted with dining tables and chairs and at the entrance of each door was a curtain. These rooms became the most likely choice for couples where they could converse in private but they had better not speak too loud, because the partitioning was made of cardboard and a slight din could be heard by those inside the neighbouring rooms. So normally they would converse in a whispering tone.
To go upstairs, we had to climb a steep wooden stairs. Every time when these young lovers wanted to have their privacy upstairs, the boys would recce the place and only when the line was clear would their girls followed suit. Otherwise, they would cycle to Chuan Lee restaurant.
THE EASTERN OF MUAR
This restaurant was something like the Colosseum of Kuala Lumpur in the seventies, even the waiters were elderly people. However, because the price was slightly higher than the normal restaurant, only those who could afford would patronize the place.
Their beef steak was done uniquely. First the cook would knock the raw slice of the steak with a hammer and the knocking sound could be heard where you were seated. Well, at least you would know that they were doing something on what you had ordered. We never had french fries those days and so the potatoes were just fried and the portion was quite big too.
Those who patronized this restaurant at night would normally be the ‘rich and famous’ bringing along their families. As for me and my friends, the Taman Selera was the only place we could afford. Once my close friend whose father was a rich man invited me to dine at this restaurant, and the next thing you know, I had told every one that passed my way. I even exaggerated that the steak was so tender that it immediately melted upon reaching my mouth.
When we left the restaurant after the fine dining, I would be looking all around to see whether anyone I knew would be passing by.
SIN SIN RESTAURANT
This restaurant served all of Hailam’s authentic cooking and its roti bakar kaya surely must be the best. Sin Sin was a typical Chinese restaurant but most of its customers were Malays and Indians and the owner was a likeable fellow, always smiling sitting at the payment counter.
Their mi hailam was truly superb and their oriental chicken chop was so juicy.
All these restaurants closed for business early and by 9.00pm no new orders would be allowed. As for those couples who had just ended their dating moments in the cinema, their likely choice would be at Pak Ma’il’s restaurant of Kedai Siang Malam for the famous Mi Bandung. In most cases, dating time would be over by 9.30pm.
Going on the first few dates must be done discreetly otherwise the whole town would be talking and it could take some time to cool it off. Once both had become an item, they would be more free to move about together and no longer a gossiping agenda but an apparent sign of splitting could provide more fuel for the hot agenda.
How did couples of my time arrange their dating appointment? Remember, no telephones and our only available source was our “own initiative” and we must be able to plan our strategy very well. As mentioned earlier, boys from the High School normally gravitated towards girls from the Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS) and the distance between these two schools are not too far. Let me tell how we did it.
To get your girlfriend our for a date was no easy feat. Parents of my time were not only very strict but their faces exhibited their fierce outlook that could send shivers down your spine. One stare from her father could cause a sudden flow of sweats coming all over your body. Therefore, forget about going to her house to extend your invitation. The only likely solution was to wait for her after school was over. I am going to take you back in time and for you to feel for yourself the thrill of having a steady during school days.
School normally finished around 12.45pm, therefore I needed to leave my school earlier to be able to catch her as her school finished at the same time as well. I needed to commit a small sin by lying to my teacher that I must return home early as my mother was not too well and my father was outstation. Once permission was granted, I needed to cycle as fast as I could to reach her school before 12.45pm. When the school bell rang, I must be very attentive because all the girls in their uniform looked alike. When the exodus began, my eyesight must be strong and must not blink for too long. When I saw her from afar, I would not wave at her because that could create confusion. If I did, I could expect every girls to wave at me in return for my gesture.
Another important factor that must be taken seriously was having your sweetheart who dwell in ‘hostile’ areas. To a certain extent, Muarians of my time were quite ‘clannish’ and we flocked among our own features. It was notably accepted that the Tanjung Boys could never get along with those of the Jalan Daud fraternity. Most Tanjung boys had close ‘allies’ from boys of Parit Bakar and whenever we faced serious hostility from the Jalan Daud Boys, our strong supporters from Parit Bakar would cycle to town to give us a helping hand. Most ‘wars’ started from small issues like foul-tackling during a football game, bullying tactics but the worst would be wooing girls outside your boundary. I was a Tanjung boy but lucky to have a cousin who lived in Jalan Daud who made sure that I would be safe whenever I sent my girlfriend home in his area. Ungku Safian, known among Muarians as Ungku Tik would always be my protector. There was one incident when there was a big quarrel between this two groups, which I would relate in my coming post. If you have seen the 60s movie ‘West Side Story’, well, it was something like that, we emulated the scene of this movie even during any standoff.
When I cycled home to have my lunch, my mind began to imagine the scene we would be meeting this evening. I had suggested that we met at the Chuan Lee Restaurant but she preferred the Kim Leng Restaurant, quite obviously because we could converse in private. Its the first week of the month and I had just received my allowance from my father who worked as a junior diplomat overseas and so that evening I was going to paint the town red. When she returned home, she must find a good reason to be able to go to town this evening. So she must be good to her mother like washing the dishes, swept the floor and then to tell her that this evening she needed to go to the Muar Bazaar to meet some classmates.
It was now 4.00pm and she should arrive in fifteen minutes’ time. In the event that she could not come due to some problems at home, there was no way I could get the message. I would just end up sitting alone until dusk. She could only tell me the reason why when we met again.
At the restaurant I would conduct a preliminary inspection to ensure no familiar faces around to ‘spy’ on us. In front of the Kim Leng Restaurant was the famous Muar Bazaar, a small shopping complex selling various kinds of items and one or two small cafe. I would take a stroll inside the Muar Bazaar and returned back to Kim Leng to reserve our dating place. Then by 4.30pm I would stand in front of the restaurant waiting for her.
Once inside the small room, our conversation would begin and the subjects discussed would be mainly about what we studied in class. We talked about our history lesson, about geography and to teach each other the formulas to be used in some mathematical lessons. Sometime we would talk about some of our common friends and what they did. It was not so much of the subjects that actually interest us, it was the thrill of talking together, just the two of us. When you go out dating, you don’t drink teh tarik for heaven sake, you must drink ovaltine and likewise for her. The cakes in this restaurant was very tasty and normally I would have some of these delights wrapped for her to bring home for her mother. Before we left for home, I would sneak at the curtain to find out whether any faces known to us were around. When everything was cleared, we would proceed to our bicycles and cycled together for home.
The following morning when class was about to begin, my classmate Alfred Walter gave a cynical smile at me. It was his younger sister who noticed me at the restaurant and so I pleaded with Alfred not to tell anyone. You could not hide anything when you were in Muar town in the 60s. It’s a small town, somehow and somewhere you would surely meet someone you know. My childhood friend Jane Chong once lived right across the road where Kim Leng Restaurant was. Back then she was known as Jenny, a young innocent Muar girl who later left for Kuala Lumpur to pursue her career. Many Muarians of my time still adore those wonderful days when we were never in a hurry to grow. I still have some good memories with some of my childhood girlfriends namely Nazly Yusoff (Nali), Sophia Omar, Aishah Mohammad, Zakiah Mansor, Saleha Hassan and few others. We were very close, we shared many memorable events and whatever we did, we knew our limits and we preserved our good moral and social decency.
During my small trip to Muar town quite recently, I drove along the famous Jalan Abdullah but sadly none of these restaurants are available and they had since closed shops. But the memories that I once had in these restaurants will never be left to rot; how could I ever forget?