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.

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