Ola Bola review (no spoilers in your comments please): Just watched Ola Bola, laughed and bawled my eyes out from the rubber-tapping scene onwards. Contrived, clichéd, predictable in parts — but what a tour de force of nostalgia.
It reminded me of football — playing it and watching it with the family on the black and white TV and cheering for Selangor and Malaysia, and Leeds United on Sundays. I remember the Tango ball of 1978 and how we diehard World Cup fans of Form 2 in St John’s, saved our allowances and all pitched-in to buy it. We then stayed back after school to rumble on the field, soiling our shirts and muddying our pristine white Bata shoes. I remember on one occasion breaking my collarbone, for which I received an angry reprimand from mum, after a visit to GH. I remember Christopher Lim Lean Chai was our own ‘taukeh’ playmaker/defender. He didn’t join the school team, despite his talent, because his parents refused to let him.
I remember Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, M Arumugam, M Chandran, Shukor Salleh, Isa Bakar, Khalid Ali, James Wong and Mokhtar Dahari as clearly as the 1975 Hockey Team, or the All England or Thomas Cup badminton players of the 70s and 80s. They were our childhood idols and we as a nation gravitated to them as we did to Ali or Elvis or Bruce Lee. They were all our heroes once.
The movie captures the fact that commonfolk among us could rise above their dire circumstances and become extraordinary — for just one day.
Today we look to Nicol, Chong Wei, Pandelela and Azizulhasni to remind us that there are still those bearing the torch for us on the international stage, who make us proud, even as our political leaders shame us everyday with their false patriotism, corrupted commitment and warped sense of integrity.
I cried for all the humanity we lost as a nation in that era. And for our chidren who now live in times of unlimited access, who look to violent, wise-cracking superheroes as their mentors and idols and who believe the game of life can be played over and over again with no repercussions to those you hurt with your attitude, rage, extremism and intentional meanness.
Ola Bola, for all its flaws in the acting department, racial stereotyping and manipulative storytelling, still holds a mirror up to what we left behind. It holds a flickering candle up while others try to darken our history and negate our place in this country. Drenched in patriotic fervour with fellow Malaysians in that cold theatre, it warmed my heart. And I’m sure, if you were a child of the 70s, it will warm yours too.
Things I remember of Kuala Lumpur when I was a kid:
1. I remember being driven around in my father’s Morris Minor 1000 (similar to the pic above). He used to take us to Petaling Street to have the “best beef ball mee in the world”, just further up from Rex theatre, and for haircuts at the Indian barber, near Peel Road. The barber had to put a plank across the the chair for me to sit and the floors were always strewn with clumps of cut hair and the waft of coconut oil, Brylcreem and incense come to mind. The slick “curry-puff” look was my choice of hairstyle of the day.
That look. Why did we all want it back then?
2. I remember the stench of the Pudu and Chow Kit wet markets and how I had to help carry my mum’s haggled purchases while sloshing around in inches of icky water that always filled the markets.
3. I remember in 1969, when a curfew was declared and we raced to the sundry shop down the road from Freeman Road to stock up. The sundry shop was so inundated, the owner forego the usual jottings in the 555 books, and let everyone cart away whatever they wanted and trusted them to declare what they took later.
Everyone had a 555 book to their name and you could pay at the end of the month.
4. I remember the floods of 1971, and not having to go to school for a whole week.
5. I remember in 1975, armed members of the Japanese Red Army stormed the AIA building, near my school, St John’s Institution, seizing over 50 hostages, and again, we got off school for a few days.
Bell-bottomed, platform-shoed, hostage-taker. Even the criminals were fashionable back then – NST filepic
6. I remember going to the A & W, in the AIA building, which had those huge, porcelain-white, curved staircases, and having Root Beer floats and one ringgit Coney Dogs every Tuesday.
Tuesday was Coney Dog day
7. I remember sneaking into Cathay cinema in Bukit Bintang in the dark, after my friend paid the guard 50 sen to sit on the stairs in the aisles to watch a movie.
8. I remember going to some shady shop, near Central Market, to play video games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and my favourite, Asteroids, and hitting the hyperspace button to disappear, if only momentarily, to another dimension.
You could hit the Hyperspace button when the boulders came to close and escape to a fresh screen. We all need a hyperspace button in our lives.
9. I remember saving up to go to McDonald’s – the first ever one to open in Malaysia in Bukit Bintang – and having a quarter pounder with a huge slab of meat and having their milkshake which was so thick we giggled hysterically because we couldn’t suck it through the straw.
10. I remember taking the chair-lift and cable-car up Bukit Nanas — half-priced for students — for a ride up the hill and into the forest. Once, we got off at the midway point and tried to go exploring on our own and were chased by a screaming man with a parang for trespassing.
11. I remember my mum taking us to Globe Silk Store, in Batu Road, later, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, every Christmas season to buy new clothes and how I had to live with her choices and going there every year for Don-branded school uniforms and the nearby Bata shop for shoes that were one size bigger so they would last longer.
12. I remember taking the Len Seng bus and later pink mini-buses at Foch Avenue, grocery shopping at Weld Supermarket and Fitzpatrick’s, taking buses at the smog-choked Klang Bus Station and Puduraya, getting platform tickets to await or send off someone at KTM, eating briyani at Bilal and roti canai in Simla, roving around Chow Kit, wandering around Jalan Masjid India, Central Market, Semua House, Kota Raya (great second-hand books store!), bowling at Ampang Bowl, riding the Matterhorn at Yaohan Mall, watching many, many movies at Odeon, Rex, Pavilion and Cathay theatres.
These memories come to me as reminders of how things were. I hope they’ve triggered some fond ones of your own life in Kuala Lumpur…
The water heater tank in my bathroom began leaking a week ago.
Hidden in the crawlspace in the ceiling boards, is a 68-litre Elton tank made by South Engineers Sdn Bhd.
I wrote to the manufacturers through their 1990s’ standard enquiry form on their website.
To my surprise, a guy named Steven from the company showed up at my front door a few days later.
He said it was the ‘element’. He could change it for RM300.
He said the warranty was only for three months but assured me it would last longer, maybe, if we are lucky, two to four years.
“Tak tentu punya ni”. Rough translation: “Life is uncertain and has no guarantees.”
The alternative – to terminate the tank and remove it through the ceiling – which was equally cost-prohibitive.
Steven said the tank was still good and I should maintain it. I gave him the go-ahead to change the rusted, faulty part.
The hot shower is back to status quo and the leak has stopped, for now.
I tell you this story because I turned 52 today.
Some parts inside of me, my memory, my joints, my elements, show signs of age.
Through all appearances, this “tank” is still good and just needs “maintenance.”
But inside, I feel my life drip, drip, dripping away. Where did the time go?
BACK TO THE PAST
It is 1970, I am six and half years old. I am in Capital Kindergarten in Gurney Road. I was good at math, and was singled out by the teacher and given a higher math book to do my own sums.
My best friend is Azizi. During recess, we were served those tiny biscuits with multi-coloured sugary tops, chocolate wafers and hot Milo in pink plastic cups. We played catching and Police and Thieves among the trees in the park in front. There was the class bully, a tall matsalleh celup kid and the class cry-baby, a chubby Chinese girl who was immortalized in the official class photo – framed in tears.
I lived in a government-built, colonial-styled house off Jalan U Thant (Freeman Road), Off Jalan Tun Razak (previously Pekeliling or Circular Road).
The drains around our neighborhoods were so pristine they could sustain tadpoles and guppies! Our regular cycling range would take us to Hock Choon Mini Market on Jalan Ampang, the Selangor Golf Club, where would sneak in and lie on the smooth greens, before being chased away by the caddies, and, one day, without my parents knowing, the Ampang Reservoir, where we would skip stones on the water and catch fish.
On school holidays, all my cousins would come over and stay and we made up our own ‘Olympics’. My mum would make her fruitcake, tarts and chocolate cake for Christmas and my dad’s relatives friends and their families would come over for endless piles of food and lots of imbibing.
Life had so many possibilities.
LIFE AT 13
It is 1977, I am 13.
My father has retired from the Survey Department and we had to move from the bungalow in Jalan U Thant, to a tiny double-storey terrace in Taman Desa Minang, off Jalan Batu Caves, via Gombak. Electricity was intermittent and I remember having to study by candle-light and pumping water upstairs from the pipe outside. The public Len Seng bus No 169 from Greenwood Park took a minimum an hour to get to school. All the comforts of living near school, in a house with a wide, expansive garden, full of wondrous creatures to discover, spiders among the leaves, squirrels in the branches and trees to climb and lots of space to go cycling, were gone.
I am in Form 1 in St John’s Institution. Brother Joseph Yeoh was our principal, a strict, cane-bearing fearsome man. But being the son of a teacher of the school, he had the school’s best interests at heart and it showed. Everyone’s favourite period was P.E. We played football after school, and often messed up our pristine white shirts. I was getting into Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, Louis L’Amour and The Hardy Boys. The TV shows of that era were Happy Days (Fonzie!), CHiPs (Ponch!), the Professionals (Bodie and Doyle!), Starsky and Hutch (Huggie Bear!) and many, many more.
I watched a lot of TV, read a lot of books and dreamed of a life of great adventures.
LIFE AT 26
It is 1990 and at 26, I am a working writer. I picked up photography when my boss thrust a Canon EOS in my hands. We used WordStar, a word-processing programme, to type in our stories at work. My work as a feature writer with a travel magazine earned me a writing award that year.
I was living with my then girlfriend in Sec 17, Petaling Jaya and sharing the house with four other ladies. Friends would often show up without warning for some spontaneous reverie. We had lots of house parties, and ate, drank, watched TV and movies, and laughed — a lot — together. On weekends, we played “rounders” at the padang nearby with a cricket bat and tennis balls. We had a dog named Patches. The restaurant nearby, Eastin, was our regular hangout. The pubs we frequented were Climaxx and On Line at Damansara Kim. We lived for weekends and parties, and it seemed nothing could faze us.
Life was good.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Fast forward 2016. I am 52.
I am married, live in my own apartment in SS2 with my wife, son who is 19 and my daughter, 17. I have been running my own business for a decade and a half. I no longer read fiction, only non-fiction but still enjoy an occasional good movie. I don’t cycle, or play any game or sport regularly. The hair has greyed, permanent wrinkles have set in and the paunch is noticeable.
I still maintain friendships from school, college, journalism and work days. We meet up occasionally and reminisce. The conversations usually dwell on our health issues, a death among our peers, the sinking currency, moribund state of the economy, our failed-state politics, the rising costs of everything, the trials of fatherhood, the cranky characters we knew, or just turns into a yak about the funny incidents in “the good old days.”
How time flies. Every doubling of the years has multiplied my experiences, added the memories, subtracted some of the pain. But the total sum of the equation never provided perfect answers. I couldn’t check for the solutions at the back of the book to see whether they were correct. I had to make up the answers when the problems came along. I know I made a lot of mistakes. I learnt from some of them. I continue to make others.
I was not good at life’s math and have few lessons to impart at 52. Except to say, “Tak tentu punya ni”. Life is uncertain and has no guarantees.
I turn to Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” for answers.
Here’s a quote from the book that sums it up for me:
“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”
I can only think to add one more.
17. Smile for the class photo.
May you all have a great birthday this year. And remember to smile for the photos.