Heart and Soul: Memories of my shophouse home in Bidor


A family dinner in the shop, with the writer seated second from left. Photos: Liong Kam Chong

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I grew up in a shophouse in Bidor, a small town 66km south of Ipoh. The shop was 20ft (6m) wide and double-storied at the front (50ft/15m) while the middle (40ft/12m) and back (30ft/9m) portions were single-storied.

By “grew up”, I mean the time span from when I attended school, went to university, graduated and started work until I bought my own house. During those periods, when studying or working away from Bidor, I stayed in rented rooms. On holidays, I would always go home to my parents’ shophouse.

The shop was located in the front portion and there were four bedrooms upstairs. The middle portion had a bedroom and a sitting room flanked by an open-air garden. The back portion housed the kitchen and some free space.

My parents sold Chinese and Western medicines, wines and liquors.

Since I spent many years in that Bidor shophouse, there were many reminiscences and memories.

My parents opened their shop from 7am to 9pm daily. Only on the first and third days of Chinese New Year (CNY) were the shop actually closed. The second day would be a busy half-day because of “kai nian” (the “opening” of a new year).

Sons-in-law would honour their parents-in-law on this day with gifts like wine, liquor and supplement medicines.

My siblings and I would help out in the shop whenever we were free. Also, we had our family dinner inside the shop. If customers came in, one of us would have to leave the dinner briefly to attend to them. Those frequent interruptions were welcomed as it meant more income.

The writer’s parents’ shophouse was also the family home from the 1950s to the early ‘80s.The writer’s parents’ shophouse was also the family home from the 1950s to the early ‘80s.

At times, even after the shop was closed, some habitual drinkers would knock to ask for their booze. My father would steadfastly refuse to sell and advise them not to get drunk late at night. I can still remember the loud grumblings and poundings on the door.

During the 60s, the north-south expressway was not yet built. Some north- and south-bound vehicles using the “old” road would have to pass through Bidor. This resulted in busy traffic within the town during the day.

Even at night, there could be more than a few vehicles passing through. Our shophouse was along the main road. Imagine sleeping in an upstairs bedroom in the front portion of the shop. There was frequent blaring of traffic noises and rumblings. If a laden lorry were to pass by, you could even feel the slight shaking of your bed.

Nevertheless, my body got used to it and I could sleep well. Today, pampered by modern luxuries in my urban home, I doubt if I can even nap under such conditions.

I remember one incident when I was about seven years old. It was a CNY morning and I was alone in the open-air garden. Still in my pyjamas, I decided to play with sparklers. I lit up two sticks so that I could hold one in each hand and swing them simultaneously. It was a thrilling and exhilarating feeling. I was overjoyed and lit them up one after another.

Suddenly, I felt a burning sensation on my right thigh. To my horror, I found that my pyjama trousers had caught fire near my thigh. Screaming in pain, I rushed to a nearby tap. The water doused the flame and soothed my pain immediately. That traumatic experience taught me to be extra careful whenever I played with fireworks.

My transition from a Chinese-medium primary school to an English-medium secondary school was challenging. Reading “This is a man and this is a pan’’ in Year Six to “A monocotyledon leaf has parallel veins” in Remove class was a scary, sudden change and I had to find ways to improve my English quickly.

Each Sunday, I would buy an English newspaper and use it as my reading material for the rest of the week. Every afternoon I would be sitting in the garden with the newspaper and an English-Chinese dictionary. I would peruse the news items, picking up new words and deciphering them using my dictionary. I endured this hard work for three years. It bore fruit when I scored an “A” for English in my Form Three exam. Until today I can still visualise myself sitting in that garden with my head bowed and fingers flipping through those dictionary pages.

My parents neither owned nor drove a car. So, it was uplifting for them when I first drove home my new Fiat on a holiday. My other siblings followed suit in the next few years. My father didn’t like seeing our cars parked on streets beside his shop so he decided to renovate the back portion of his shop.

The space was big enough to accommodate three vehicles. He extended the length of the back collapsible gate to 12ft (3.6m) and built a ramp to go up the slight slope from the road. I could still remember the first time I drove up the ramp and into the house. My father was there, smiling and welcoming me home. I felt like I was clearing the finishing line after a long journey.

The shophouse was sold off some years back. But these and many other memories shall forever linger on in my mind.

As the American poet Maya Angelou said: “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s alright.”

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Bidor , Ipoh , shophouse , 1950s , 1960s

   

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