My primary school was and still is located along the NS trunk road. Being the main artery the traffic then was already pretty heavy. There were the regular stage buses, Lien HOe, which went asunder last year. There were the taxis, but the logging trucks with logs a metre in diameter were common. Car ownership was still low. Another regular user was the Malacxa Singapore Express Bus which is still in existence but no longer plying the trunk road.
Still it was the trunk road.
There were no school buses so everyone had to walk to school. It would be unthinkable now, seven year olds to twelve year olds walking to school along the trunk road. There a few who cycled to school. I had my first bicycle when I was in Standard Three. To think about it now, I would say it was more dangerous to cycle then to walk.
My abah sent me to school on his rickety bicycle on the first day only. We call it basikal kargo because it had a wide carrier to carry the product of his toil. He could only afford to take a one day break from the regular routine of tapping rubber. I was seated on the front beam of the raleigh for that 20 minutes ride. Longer then that you would have gone numb or your legs would be having pin and needles.
There were the regular road safety campaigns. There were fatalities but because of the low volume of traffic walking to school was pretty safe. I remember one campaign, where we were told to switch walking opposing the direction of traffic. It was something we needed to get used to and the senior boys were tasked to maintain order.
Walking in the hot sun for that 2 km walk was arduous. We walked in group. Our first stop would be Kedai Wak Palil. It was our pit stop. Next to the sundry shop are rows of tempayan for storing rain water.
Because they were not covered, the tempayan were perfect breeding place for mosquitos. The cool rain water, free from any pollutants satisfy our thirst. First, we needed to chase away the mosquito larvaes, or otherwise we would have ticklish larvae in our tummy.
There was one special day I remembered. Mak Nab was there at Kedai Palil. She bought me a packet of tapai ubi. Mak nab was the mother of my Kelas Dewasa Cikgu.
Ini budak pandai, she said.
The second and final pit stop would be kedai Eng choon. We would be hanging there, seated on the gunny sacks nibbling dried anchovies or lobak asin, much to the chagrin of eng choon. Conceptually it would be quite similar to the modern day loitering in malls. Ocassionally we would be shop lifting. Our favourite was the telur asin. We were never caught.
Next to Kedai IEng Choon was Kedai Eu, the shop operated by Poh’s father. He was more vigilant.
The next stage was the walk along the laterite road home along the irrigation canal we called Parit. The walk would take us a good hour to an hour and a half. We could afford to take our own sweet time, until we were nine or so because after standard three of the primary school we would have to attend the afternoon religious school.
We would reach home by half three allowing us to have the rest of the afternoon to organize our kampong boy activities. The walk was long and tiring but by five we would have been rejuvenated.