Shuib Taib recalls the old days when there were no highways and eight children piled into a car for a school holiday trip
THE year was 1973. It was the third term school holidays and my mother decided to take my siblings and I back to our kampung in Johor Baru.
We lived in Tanjung Rambutan, Perak at that time, so we were excited about the road trip.
Those days, going on holiday meant visiting faraway relatives. We would stay at our uncle’s place in Johor Baru for almost a month, so that meant bringing as many clothes as we could.
There were no highways then and travelling from Tanjung Rambutan to Johor Baru could take anything from nine to 10 hours.
My mother loved to prepare everything in advance before travelling. For this trip, she had cooked and packed a sumptuous lunch for us to enjoy on the way.
There are eight children in our family. We would travel in my late father’s Holden Kingswood.
But how would we pack everything into the car? We were talking about a rice cooker, pots, plates, glasses, canister, luggage, two adults and eight children!
Well, since we were all very young and therefore physically small, we managed to fit into the seemingly huge car.
Three people sat in front and the rest of us cramped into the back. Well, not really. You see, at 9 and 8 years old respectively, my elder brother and I were small enough to sit on the floor. When we couldn’t stay awake during the long journey, we slept on the floor! I would take my mum’s side of the leg room and my brother, the other.
The road was long and winding. We passed rubber estates, palm plantations and remote areas. Then there were lorries. Basically, once you were stuck behind a lorry, you would need a straight road to overtake it. Back then, those were few and far between.
There were no electronic games either. To keep occupied, we played games. First, we played the “choose a car” game — we chose our favourite car model and tried to see how many we could find on the road. The person with the highest number won. Then we played the “guessing game” — predict the car model of the first vehicle to approach from the opposite side of the road.
We also played the “plate number” game. We chose a state and counted the number of cars from that particular state on the road. For instance, if you chose “Perak”, you tallied all the cars with the number plate “A”.
When all else failed, we sang.
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH
We left early in the morning and by noon, we arrived at Templer’s Park in Selangor. For my mother, there was never a better place to stop for lunch but Templer’s Park as it had gazebos and a small river as well for us to wash our hands. We found a nice gazebo with a strategic location (read: close to the stream) and before long, the rice cooker and crockery were laid on the table at the gazebo.
Lunch was a simple but delicious home-cooked nasi lemak. I could almost smell the sweet aroma of lemongrass and galangal (lengkuas) as my mother lifted the cover of the rice cooker. There was also a choice of sambal sotong, sambal ikan bilis and sambal telur.
STRANGERS AT TEMPLER’S PARK
In no time we were full. As we washed our pots and pans in the stream, a car suddenly stopped in front of our gazebo. A couple got out and the man walked to our gazebo. Then, to our surprise, helped himself to our food.
As some of us were in the stream and others were putting things back into the car, no one said anything about the stranger.
When he had filled his plate, he showed it to my mum and asked “how much?”.
“Oh, saya bukan berniaga di sini (I am not doing business here),” said my mum, much to the man’s surprise. He then apologised profusely but my mum told him and his wife to carry on as we had all eaten earlier.
My mum’s cooking must have been really good or he must have been really famished as he and his wife ate everything!
12 HOURS LATER
It was close to midnight when we finally arrived in Johor Baru. After the 12-hour journey, it felt good. Due to the distance, Johor Baru was like another country to us then.
These days, it takes under four hours to drive to Johor Baru and when we travel, we no longer prepare food from home or have a picnic midway as it is more convenient to stop and eat at the popular R&R stops.
Still, sometimes, I miss the days when life was much simpler.