46 HYLAM STREET
Lau Mun Fong's first home was a shophouse at Bugis Junction, where McDonald's now stands. He lived there since birth and only moved out when he got married in 1976. He seldom goes to Bugis Junction now, except for the occasional meal with his children and granddaughters.
My grandmother rented the whole building. On our street were carpenters, barbers, tailors and even someone who made mousehunts for a living. The environment was very noisy and bustling.
The house was made from wooden planks. My big brother, after getting his salary, hired the carpenter living beside us to replace the planks with holes in them so we could not see what was going on in the house below us. The attap roof would leak when it rained as cat fights on the roof damaged the attap thatches. The sound of dripping water was like listening to music.
My siblings and I slept on the floor on the wooden planks. There were no mattresses but we were used to it and grew up close. My second brother was the fiercest. I was not good at English, and he would scold me to death when he tutored me!
Playtime was simple then. We would take condensed milk cans and draw strings through holes in the cans to turn them into telephones. Oh, we made our own shuttlecocks by picking leftover feathers from chicken shops and washing the feathers. Then, we would go to bicycle shops and gather unwanted rubber tires to cut out the circular shuttlecock bases, nailing the feathers down to these bases. Our homemade shuttlecocks were nicer to kick than the ones you buy from shops!
My grandmother reared many chicks and she made us catch cockroaches to feed the chicks. We would catch them by hand and cut them up into small pieces to feed the chicks. In the morning, when we hear the hens clucked very loudly, we would know that the hens have laid eggs. When eggs are freshly laid, the eggshells are elastic, and we treated the eggs as though they were balls and threw them around! After prolonged exposure to air, the eggshells would gradually harden and we could not throw the eggs around anymore. We then ate the eggs raw. They were warm and delicious.
My room was filled with menthol sweet boxes housing spiders and milk cans where I kept my fighting fishes. These were the toys we played with in those days. We caught spiders to fight, which could earn us money. If you won more than 10 opponents, you would be considered the king. We had to take a bus to Tanglin or Newton to catch the spiders, paying about ten cents each trip. If the spiders were good fighters, we could sell them for as high as a dollar each.
What is a home? I would say that if being alone doesn't make up a home. Growing up, the household was always crowded and we were happy together. A home is a family.