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Photo: Shopee SG

Simi Lai: Things My Parents Refer To That I've Never Seen


Nowadays, we have sleek iPhones and flashy gadgets that double as communication devices as well as gaming devices. But, our parents and grandparents certainly didn’t have the privilege of these luxuries back in their day.

Things were certainly a lot simpler - and bulkier - decades ago. Kuti-kuti, tikam-tikam? If these terms are completely unfamiliar to you, then you’re definitely a 2000s or late 90s baby.

So let’s go back in time and find out how our elder kin communicated and spent their free time!


1. Pager

The real laojiao: Our generation only knows touchscreen smartphones, or at best the indestructible Nokia phones. You may have heard of "pagers" but do you know how they work? A pager is a very simple radio that listens to just one station all of the time. Every individual pager has a specific identification sequence called a Channel Access Protocol (CAP) code. The pager listens for its unique CAP code. When it hears the code, it alerts the user and may provide additional information, depending on the pager type. Not as convenient as Telegram or Whatsapp hor.

2. Handheld mobile phone

The real laojiao: If you think the latest smartphone is expensive, the first few models of bulky handheld mobile phones cost as much as $3,400! Atas sia! If you owned one you were probably flexing it everywhere. If Instagram existed back then, it would definitely be a highlight on your IG stories. Can even double as a portable dumbbell as it weighed as much as two thick novels.

3. Cassette player

The real laojiao: Last time there was no Spotify streaming or storing thousands of songs in your mobile phone. People had to be content with loading cassette tapes into a cassette player where it would give a whirring sound before playing the recorded audio. Imagine how many cassette tapes you would need to carry around if you’re the type to shuffle through hundreds of songs in a day.

4. Five stones a.k.a. Batu Seramban

The real laojiao: Back then, people didn’t have "Mobile Legends" or "Brawl Stars" on their mobile phones to keep them occupied. Five stones is one such traditional childhood game that would definitely bring up sentimental memories for your parents. They probably used to play with real stones and bought these colourful batik five stones as well. Fun fact: Former Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was known to be an avid fan of this game!

5. Marbles a.k.a. Goli

The real laojiao: Widely known as "Goli", it is a game played with marbles. It goes by other names such as kelereng or guli as well. Made of either glass, clay, limestone, or plastic, the marbles are used to hit another players’ marbles in an attempt to claim them. Considering the tactics and strategies employed in the game, an open space that has a flat surface is necessary. Usually, no more than five players play the game at any one time. Just nice for the current COVID-19 restrictions!

6. Pick-up sticks

The real laojiao: Sticks and stones may break my bones - but don’t worry these are perfectly safe to play with! Players have to pick up as many sticks as possible without moving any of the surrounding sticks. If it sounds simple, wait till you try it. If you don’t have steady hands, then lagi jialat, confirm lose.

7. Kuti kuti

The real laojiao: Kuti Kuti is a traditional children’s game in which you face off against a single opponent. Both of you take turns to deftly flip colourful plastic tokens on top of the opposing party’s. If a player’s token lands on top of an opponent’s token, the player then claims the opponent’s token as his own. Requiring skill and accuracy, this game is similar to Pick-up Sticks. Just a bit more competitive lah!

8. Ice ball

The real laojiao: I’m sure you know ice kachang. But the OG ice kachang form was the ice ball. Popular back in the 50’s and 60’s, the ice ball was commonly referred to as ais kepal or sng pau. It was simply ice shavings compressed into the shape of a ball with colourful syrup drizzled over it. The options for toppings such as red bean, chin chow, and atap chee came into existence later. Perfect for hot and sunny Singapore!

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