Friday, November 23, 2012

Going up the Hill

First  generation of children, especially boys, living at PEE would be familiar with the term ‘the hill’.  Though Princess Elizabeth Estate was built on the hillside of Bukit Gombak, the ‘hill’ which we all knew was not the high summit of Bukit Gombak located behind the tall 7-storey blocks of our estate but rather was another location to which this moniker seem universal to everyone at the estate.

“The Hill” was the lower hilly area beside the primary school. This was the then undeveloped land across Elizabeth Drive opposite the estate.  This would be where the terrace houses of Popular Estate and Bamboo Grove Park would be constructed in due course.

Whenever we were going there, we would say we’re “going up the hill”, “playing on the hill”, “exploring the hill”, etc.  This was the best playground we had and everyone knew the place as ‘the hill’.

The hill was covered with low shrubs and grass and was not forested as much as other parts of Bukit Gombak, although the hill was part of its ridge.
The small shrubs and trees were mainly Tembusu, from which we would forage for the best branches to make our ‘lastik' – catapults! There was no shortage of good lastik material there.

A peek of the hill beside the old primary school.

At the top of the hill was a wide plateau where today the Gumilang, Dermawan and Chu Lin areas are located. It was on this plateau that kite flying or rather kite fighting in those days was the common activity. Main layang layang we called it.

Unlike today where kite flying is recreational with its myriad of modern nylon and plastic designs, kite flying in those days was more combative. Kites were made of rice paper or brown paper or even of newspaper and bamboo. Many were homemade and kite-making was a skill every P.E.E.S. schoolboy worth his salt must know.

I can recall how I was taught to measure the ratios of the kite length and breadth, how to bent the bamboo sticks to get the right tension and how long the tails had to be to increase drag for stability of the kite. It was a skill we all picked up from experience. I wonder if kids today can understand the mechanics of building a fighting kite?

The meanest thing about fighting kites was the ‘glass string’. This was the repulsive string that was coated with grounded glass particles and was the main weapon in fighting kites.

Whenever you saw someone flying their kite high, it was an open call for a fight. You would then raise your own kite to the challenge. The idea was to try and entangle the opponents’ string and with several hard tugs to try and cut their string. This was where the evil glass string did its worst!

Believe me, whenever a fight was on, there would be lots of boys just waiting to claim the down flyer.
There was no such things as personal property. All downed kites were free for all and you had kids running after them shouting “Anjong! Anjong! Layang terlapas!”. The trophy belonged to whoever reached it first.

Knowing how to make your kites also entailed knowing how to make glass strings. You would boil some sort of resin (I forgot what its called, but was told by my friend Peter Chan it’s “lau peh kau”). This awful smelling stuff would be boiled in a condensed milk tin together with a few coils of kite string. To this was added glass powder which we obtained from a crushed and grounded Green Spot bottle. This was the worst part of the entire process because our fingers would always get cuts from the glass splinters.

After the resin, glass and string were fused by boiling, you had to quickly run the string out to dry. This was usually done by running the string between trees. I usually did mine on the clothes rack that was provided behind each block on the ground floor. After a few hours the string would be dry and you wound it round another condensed milk tin and you were ready to go fight kites!

Wonder why it was always a condensed milk tin we used?
That was the only type of containers available those days and we sometimes had to buy it at five cents a tin from the coffeeshop ah pek. Takeaway coffee was always dispensed in used condensed milk tins then.

Today's kite flying is probably no less fun !

You can see another photo showing part of the hill here.


  1. Thanks for great write up of one of our favorite stuffs that we did as young kids.
    You tell it exactly as it was. Do you also remember the small holes that we dug out on the fields under our blocks where we played "goli" marbles where we tried to shoot them into the tiny holes with a flick of of finger, something like golf? We would also hit other goli to prevent them from entering the hole.

  2. I was not good at marbles and was always bullied by the 'pros' like Cheng Joo Wei and the Bulner boys who lived at the 7 storey blocks. Our favorite place was the grass patch beside the 7 storey behind blk 22 the Gonzales block. They would always hit my goli so far outfield that I would be standing all forlorn waiting for my turn that never came. I always had to piggyback them most of the time - the punishment for loosing.

  3. No bamboo sticks, use midrib veins of coconut leaves. Gardeners use brooms made from coconut midrib veins (brown stiff sticks). They wont miss 2 sticks that needed to make a small kite. The sticky stuff that we boil is actually gum or glue to bind the glass powder to the 'string' at least No 20 thread or thicker for larger kites.