Old Penang: Madras Lane

Old Penang: Madras Lane

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Tunglang recalls what life was like in Madras Lane in the 1960s and 70s:

Madras Lane was once a quaint part of inner city George Town. Famed for its copra mill (that’s how it is called Yew Kar Lor, Hokkien for Copra Mill Lane), you would find a row of prewar houses, two sundry shops, a swiftlet rendezvous, a dentist’s residence, Chin Kang Hoay Kuan (a Chinese association), the Hu Yew Seah Chinese Primary School, a Methodist church, the Telekom office, civil servants’ quarters and a short-cut to a Jewish cemetery (at Jalan Zainal Abidin).

Hu Yew Seah was once a BM tuition centre (at the new wing on the right) popular among the students of the 1970s. Come Saturdays, one could see streams of students turning up for tuition classes from morning till late afternoon. Add to that the sounds of the St John’s marching bands almost without fail, Madras Lane seemed a lively place on Saturdays.

It was also the lane famous for its 1960s Hokkien Mee where Tunglang had a hand in the secret recipe of an ori-maestro. My childhood home of No. 96 Madras Lane is no longer there, replaced by an office building. But I could still sense its spirit of open-door neighbourliness whenever I walked by to reminiscence about the good old days.

If you have stayed in innercity George Town, you won’t want to skip the street hawker food topic.

Here in Madras Lane, one would always be pampered with street food from morning till night. During the 1960s and 70s, unless you were Ah Peks (with free time), blue collar workers or Gua Lang (visitors), you seldom ate at the kopitiam. So hawkers had to do the bicycle rounds and make calls or deliver food to the homes.

On the street, you could hear “Meee Yop” (for Hokkien Mee), Tok,Tok,Tok (bamboo sound for Wan Tan Mee), “Teeee-Nya Kuiiiih” (for Yellow Rice Cakes with Palm Sugar Syrup), “Kooo-ehh, Kooo-ehh” (for Nyonya Kuih and Asam Laksa), “Meee-Oh, Meee-Oh” (Mee Goreng) and “Kuih Ko-dorrrk” (for Deep Fried Banana Balls).

Sometimes when we felt like fooling around, we would ‘echo’ these hawkers’ call while hiding behind windows much to our delight!

Some of these heavenly cuisines were eagerly consumed on the five-foot ways. My brother-in-law’s heavenly Hokkien Mee was served to customers in the front hall. The Tham Chiak Kuis of Madras Lane needed not be persuaded with flyers (non-existent); the timely hawkers’ calls (to satiate nature’s hunger?) and word of mouth were more than enough.

The home delivery service was better than today’s Pizza Hut – usually five to ten minutes’ wait. I had the experience of balancing five bowls of Hokkien Mee topped up with hot ‘hae’ soup on a 12-inch-by-12-inch plywood board while cycling with one hand to deliver them. And mind you, my bicycle handles were quite oily from handling bowls spilt with red chili oil. “Meeee Yop”.

Despite its unassuming demeanour, Madras Lane was also known for back-street gangsters known for their occasional fights with others from neighbouring streets. Those were the days when Chow Yun-Fat was no where near The Bund yet, when Bruce Lee was already kopitiam talk in inner city George Town.

To this day, Madras Lane, notwithstanding its transformation to more commercialised use, retains much of its quaint ambience compared to neighboring dizzy Lorong Selamat, Lorong Abu Siti, Lorong Kinta and Lorong Macalister.

If you would like to share what life was like during your childhood in your neighbourhood, do drop a comment a below.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Oriental Emporium adjacent to Capitol cinema in the 70s & early 80s — probably tunglang went there after watching movies.

    The one in Campbell Street was Sun cinema (showing Chinese movies only) at Campbell St —- now a “disco” ?

    Lido was at NEW World Park in Swatow Lane now made way for food court.

    Royal was outside of Great World Park and adjacent to Paramount (which only showed Indian movies where i watched Sholay).

     
    • Oriental Emporium is still my frequent night dream of ‘shopping mall’ of the 60s-70s. From my memory of narrow aisles meandering between jam packed shelves, I could vividly visualize the ambience of this 3-storey building where most ladies like to go there for almost everything. The emporium was located upstairs.
      This was where I got my first 5-spring Chest Expander Puller to help build my chest, shoulder, arms & ‘side-wings’ to look like expandable V-shaped Bruce Lee.
      Near the entrance to the stairs, there were cobblers & cigarettes peddlers on the 5-foot way & there was a short-cut thro’ a dark passage to the back of Capitol theatre.
      My most memorable 70s Indian film is Haathi Mere Saathi (Elephant My Partner) shown in Paramount theatre. I still love the song playing in my head:
      Chal Chal Chal Mere Saathi – Haathi Mere Saathi

       
      • tunglang
        anil not keen on indian movies and i bet he does not even know who the late Rajesh Khana of Haathi Mere Saathi is !
        nowadays you can enjoy hindi & tamil movies not in cinema but at home with dvds from Little India.
        My present favourite is Superstar Rajinikahn … if you love Bruce Lee you will love his action flicks (with camera tricks lah).

         
      • Hey, come on, I watched Haathi Mere Saathi a few times. Chal, chal, chal…
        Don’t play, play. 😉
        Good fun and catchy tunes.

         
      • another Indian movie that managed to draw audience different ethnic background is Bobby in the 70s.
        heard of that ?

         
      • Don’t be surprised one day Anil demos a Chal, Chal, Chal cum dancing around coconut trees!
        Too bad the numerous coconut trees are no more besides the Nattukottai Chettiars’ Temple (on the way to Waterfall). Where else can one find dancing coconut trees in Penang?

         
  2. Excellent reminder of this lane where I stayed in the early 60s. I was studying in PFS, and used to climb up the second floor open backyard facing the Jewish graveyard, accompanied sometimes by the sorrowful tune of the Chinese flute. Madras Lane used to be our meeting place where my classmates would meet in this house, parked their cycles and then walked to Rex Theatre for “cheap matinees” which cost only 0.50 cents. Nostalgic about the place. Thanks

     
    • Cheap matinees also available at Capitol theatre where boys like us from strictly (encaged) boy schools (PFS, MBS & Georgetown) eagerly tried our luck (armed with kacang puteh or kari-puffs) with blind dates from Polo Ground, Convent Dato Keramat & Methodist Girls School!
      Most spoke ‘power’ English (like John Lennon) with slang & torn edge-blue jeans!!!
      Me ‘groomed’ with Bruce Lee hairstyle, the PFS headmaster Mr. Goon would go disciplinary-mad at least once every month (not exactly nature’s period!) with a surprise (from the classroom back door) date with me.
      How I love to go back to PFS 1971-1975!!!

       
  3. Ho 😆 Ho 😆 Ho 😆

    😆 During the 60 & 70th….Penang beside Madras Lane….Perak Road & Perak Lane are also famous for foods heaven and best place for my childhood time where most of my old frens there enjoy playing Kites,Buah Guli,Kang lok,Catch Spider and challenge fighting fish ‘seo pah huu’ together in an atmosphere like Kampung & Country style….how nice memories in 💡 Penang 💡 😆

    Ho 😆 Ho 😆 Ho 😆

     
    • …childhood time where most of my old frens there enjoy playing Kites,Buah Guli,Kang lok,Catch Spider and challenge fighting fish ‘seo pah huu’ together…
      The good old days of neighborliness & ‘open-access’ of friendship were great for interpersonal development & innovative playtime. We didn’t ask poor parents for money to enjoy our past times but saved up from daily 20 cents pocket money to buy the stuffs to make kites, gasing, skipping rope (made of rubber bands), siamese fighting fish fry (baby fish) to breed / train, catapults, etc.
      Catching spiders was great time when we would cycle to rich men bungalows (in the likes of Madam Pykett) along Macalister Road where abundance of bush fencing bred the particular species of fighting spiders.
      For fighting fishes, we just cycled to Sg. Dua (near USM) paddy fields to scoop our choice for free.
      And all in the outdoor with great Vitamin D & great tan!

       
  4. Penang is rich with history, having been the first settlement founded by the British in 1786. Rabindranath Tagore, the first Nobel laurette from Asia, came to Penang and laid the foundation stone of the Hu Yew Seah, a society set up by the English-educated Chinese in Penang as a support group for the new arrivals from China.

    Even Zhou Enlai was reputed to have held meetings in the Hu Yew Seah, although records of this have been lost during the Japanese Occupation.

    It was Tagore, who died at the age of 80 in 1941, who bestowed the title Mahatma (Great Soul) on Indian patriot Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. There is only one Mahatma in the world, and the Hindraf leaders would be well advised not to arrogate to themselves such a title, something they nearly did some years ago!

    Tagore interacted with Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Romain Rolland, and even Russian novelists and men of letters who names I cannot remember.

    I often wondered what level of understanding these people would have reached had the internet been available during the time of Tagore!

    The Hu Yew Seah is scheduled to celebrate its 1st centenary in 2014, or two years’ time. I know because I an the Hon. Legal Adviser of the HYS.

     
    • Maybe you could suggest to the HYS leaders to include in their celebration the theme of promoting a more universal understanding of humanity as envisaged by some of the personalities you mentioned. Tagore would have approved.

      Would they have old photos or records of Tagore’s visit to Penang?

       
      • Anil Netto, I shall be taking your wonderful suggestion on board when we start work on the programme. Thank you very much.

        Earlier this year, the Indian High Commissioner actually came to the Hu Yew Seah as part of the celebrations to mark the 150th year of Tagore’s birth. We also had a festival of music at the Khoo Kongsi.

        So whatever you can say about India, it does remember such things and make efforts to remember them. And therein lies the difference.

        Back in this country, we sometimes wonder how some of our leaders are tempted to forget the contributions of our Bapa Malaysia!

         
  5. Maybe you could suggest to the HYS leaders to include in their celebration the theme of promoting a more universal understanding of humanity as envisaged by some of the personalities you mentioned. Tagore would have approved.

    Would they have old photos or records of Tagore’s visit to Penang?

     
  6. Anil Netto, I shall be taking your wonderful suggestion on board when we start work on the programme. Thank you very much.

    Earlier this year, the Indian High Commissioner actually came to the Hu Yew Seah as part of the celebrations to mark the 150th year of Tagore’s birth. We also had a festival of music at the Khoo Kongsi.

    So whatever you can say about India, it does remember such things and make efforts to remember them. And therein lies the difference.

    Back in this country, we sometimes wonder how some of our leaders are tempted to forget the contributions of our Bapa Malaysia!

     
  7. If you have stayed in innercity George Town, you won’t want to skip the street hawker food topic.

    Here in Madras Lane, one would always be pampered with street food from morning till night. During the 60s & 70s, unless you were Ah Peks (with free time), blue collar workers or Gua Lang (visitors), you seldom eat at the kopitiam. So hawkers had to do the bicycle rounds of hawkers’ calls & deliver food to the homes.

    On the street, you could hear “Meee Yop” (for Hokkien Mee), Tok,Tok,Tok (bamboo sound for Wan Tan Mee), “Teeee-Nya Kuiiiih” (for Yellow Rice Cakes with Palm Sugar Syrup), “Kooo-ehh, Kooo-ehh” (for Nyonya Kuih & Asam Laksa), “Meee-Oh, Meee-Oh” (Mee Goreng) & “Kuih Ko-dorrrk” (for Deep Fried Banana Balls).
    Sometimes when we felt like fooling around, we would ‘echo’ these hawkers’ call while hiding behind windows much to our delight!

    Some of these heavenly cuisines were salivated & consumed on the 5-foot ways. My brother-in-law’s heavenly Hokkien Mee was served to customers in the front hall. The Tham Chiak Kuis of Madras Lane needed not be sold with flyers (non-existing) but timely hawkers’ calls (to nature’s hunger?) & word of mouth.

    Home delivery service was better than today’s Pizza Hut – usually 5-10 minutes wait. I had the experience of balancing 5 bowls of Hokkien Mee topped up with hot ‘hae’ soup on a 12 inch by 12 inch plywood board while cycling with one hand to deliver them. And mind you, my bicycle handles were quite oily from handling bowls spilt with red chili oil. “Meeee Yop”

     
  8. Thank you Anil and Tunglang for this very nostalgic piece. You are absolutely precise in your description of this area. I used to attend the Bahasa Tuition classes in the sixties. They sure were of great help. A great era indeed. MY PRAYER that this place would not be subjected to the onslaught and commercial machinations of the corporate groups and hope that much of the traditional elements will be preserved.

     
  9. I lived there once. It was a quiet area in the early 70s. i don’t think its such a backstreet gangster area as compared to the 2nd to 7th street area in McNair and Brick Kiln Road

     
    • tunglang can check out 104 Madras lane for aromatic Penang white coffee, sugar free coffee, cappuccino, mochacino, cococino and give his taste buds a change from regular dose of kopi o kow kow.

      Also can check out the Vegetarian Food at Madras Lane during Nine Emperor Gods Festival – can get blessings from heaven for a week not taking meaty stuffs.

      Heritage of Madras Lane :
      The landmarks are Hu Yew Siah, Madras Lane Chinese Methodist Church, Telekom Penang headoffice(fronting Burma Road and along Madras Lane), and colonial government quarters. SUN WO LOONG OIL MILL CO. LTD. (“新和隆油較廠” ) had been closed down, and development plan has been emplaced for the former oil mill site.

       

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