Soft Drink Bottle Cap – Hor Lan Shui Koi

Every year after the National Day, I will get to see many pages about who and who getting the PBM and BBM awards or National Day Awards in the newspaper.

Credit : The Straits Times

Of course the PBM and BBM are part of the National Day Award and is given annually to those who have made outstanding contributions in public service or community work. You will be surprised that 3,195 individuals will be awarded this year 2010! But what does PBM and BBM means and what the awards about?

The Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) or PBM in short, was instituted in 1973. The medal may be awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public service in Singapore for his achievement in the field of arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters PBM as shown below;

Credit : The Straits Times

I remember when I was staying with my parents, there was this RC (Resident Committee) chairman who was very active and enthusiastic in his role that you were able to see him appearing in very events held at the neighbourhood. I asked my father is he trying to get his “Hor Lan Shui Koi” (荷蘭水蓋, soft drink bottle cap) – and why is it called Hor Lan Shui, you may see my previous post. True enough, after some years of hard work, he was awarded the PBM. After that, he seems to have taken a back seat (a more leadership role than a doer role).

The PBM award;

What I remembered most about him was he would go round door to door selling the National Day dinner tickets. Once he knocked on our door and my mother answered it. She paid for the National Day dinner ticket for the dinner that held just below the flat (not at the restaurant or hotel). I thought it was just a few dollars or the most $10 but my mother told me it was much more than that, if I didn’t remember wrongly, was it $50? (my goodness, at that time for $50 I can watch Anita Mui Concert or have a buffet lunch at the top of Mandarin Hotel). Initially I thought the National Day dinner was a treat by the constituency MPs to reward the residents for supporting and voting for them…but….

OK when the dinner day arrived, I saw the workers roasting the piglets below and I told my mother that she was going to have roast piglet for dinner too (at least quite a consolation for the $50 paid). But my mother told me that not all tables were served with that and only the VIPs tables were served with roast piglets. Since then, I do not bother to open the door whenever someone trying to sell us the National Day dinner ticket (not because my mother don’t get to eat the roast piglet, but I felt that it was unfair treatment and it showed a class differentiation).

The Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star), instituted in 1963, is awarded to any person who has rendered valuable public service to the people of Singapore, or who has distinguished themselves in the field of arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. Bars may be issued for further service. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters BBM just like the PBM. One thing I wonder – must one get the PBM first before one is awarded the BBM?

The BBM award;

Now why do the Cantonese said “荷蘭水蓋” when referring to those awards? I think the phrase came from Hong Kong people when they referred to those awards as “荷蘭水蓋” as the awards shape resembles the soft drink bottle cap;

Don’t you find the shape similar to the real awards;



Of course those who have been through the Singapore National Service will get their military decorations too, like mine;

Sometimes I find the Hong Kong people very creative – how they can relate the awards to soft drink bottle caps ‘荷蘭水蓋’. I think this must be some of the cultural differences that we can see in Hong Kong. Of course when we were young, many of us were playing with the bottle caps ‘荷蘭水蓋’. One of the most common games with the bottle caps is;

Do you still remember the above game?


What my father wrote;

“A little bird whispered it to me.” (Guess my father wrote the whispered wrongly)

“告密于我.” or “有人私下告诉我”

10 Responses to “Soft Drink Bottle Cap – Hor Lan Shui Koi”

  1. 1 kimology Friday, August 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I remember there was some competition using the bottle cap. I think there was some reward or whatever printed on plastic in the inner side of the cap. It’s amazing how your articles can jog the memory on such small little things never ever recalled before and of minimal significance. The game can be quite dangerous as the boys in my school sharpened the edges of the cap and when spinning, it can be a sharp, lethal cutting tool. My school banned it and anyone caught, is punished by public caning.

  2. 2 laokokok Friday, August 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Do you remember the name of the game spinnig the bottle cap that your school banned it, Kimology?

    Don’t know what happen to me, just couldn’t recall it…

  3. 3 yg Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    lkk, i don’t think it had a name. we used to rotate the string in one direction before giving it a hard pull and it would make a whirring sound. it would go on and on if you kept pulling and ‘releasing’ the string. yes, sometimes we would let the metal edge of the flattened bottle cap strike the concrete ground. sparks would fly as it made a crackling sound.

  4. 4 Lam Chun See Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Yes, We used to sharpen the edges and then ‘fight’ by trying to cut the opponent’s strings with it. Very dangerous indeed.

  5. 5 laokokok Monday, August 30, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Oh so it didn’t have a name and not I coudn’t remember it hehe.

  6. 6 laokokok Monday, August 30, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I like the sound produced by it.

  7. 7 Francis Lai Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 12:03 am

    We kampong kids played this self-made toy using the bottle caps in the early sixties. This toy was easy to make using the bottle caps from soft drinks. The caps were easily available back in the old days. We created our own games/toys with materials from litters and discarded wastes.

  8. 8 kimology Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

    There was another nasty game you boys play. Some kind of darts made by tying rubber bands round a hairpin. Somehow the hair pin seems to fly much better, must be the added rubber bands or maybe the pins were sharpened. All very ingenious indeed!

  9. 9 seecasey Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Oh yes….i remember we played that in KL too in the 60s and 70s…..

    with the rubber band then you can spin and then is elastic and the koi will spin and spin,,,,,,,,,

    another game is to cut the ho lan sui koi into star-pointed shape like the shreriff’s badge and you can throw them onto the wooden wall and it will stick on,

    sadly…today’s kids play computer games………………….sad..

  10. 10 Robin Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 8:19 am

    OMG! I completely forgotten abt the spinning bottle cap till now
    I played that a lot as a child
    Anyone remember “can can lack”
    I am a Picker (karang guni man) of some sort and loves old items
    I collect old items like coffee shop chairs ( Far Kay Yee in Cantonese) and cigarette tins, Coca Cola service tray .etc….
    I call them antiques but my wife calls them junks

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