Archive for the 'Old Things' Category

Holland Water – Hor Lan Shui

Have you ever wonder why the Cantonese usually called soft drinks as “Holland Water” (Ho Lan Shui, 荷兰水) in the past?

I remember Victor had a related post  on this in his blog, and he mentioned something like “originated from a Hokkien who while entertaining a visiting guest, called out to someone in the house to ‘hor lan chui’ which means ‘serve the guest water’ ” which Chun See dismissed it as plain nonsense. Of course there are some that think “Hor Lan Shu” was first produced or invented in Holland…

Credit : 现代快报

Here is a bit of the history on soft drinks. It all depends on how you look at soft drinks – “non carbonated water” or “carbonated water”.

The first soft drinks to be marketed appeared in 1676 (17th century) which is a mixture of water and lemon juice sweetened with honey. The company “Compagnie de Limonadiers” was formed in Paris and granted a monopoly for the sale of its products. Vendors carried tanks on their backs from which they dispensed cups of lemonade. This is the first version of “non carbonated” soft drinks.

Soft drinks are also referred to as carbonated drinks that are non-achoholic and thus the term “soft drinks” is employed in opposition to “hard”, i.e. drinks with high alcoholic content by volume. In 1767, Dr.Joseph Priestley (an Englishmen) invented the first drinkable man made glass of carbonated water.

Dr.Joseph Priestley

His invention was meant as a cure for scurvy (a kind of disease caused by lack of vitamin C) for the crew in James Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas.

Dr.Priestley did not exploit the commercial potential of this carbonated soft drinks, but Johann Jacob Schweppe, a German-born jeweller but amateur scientist, did in 1770 (late 18th century).

Johann Jacob Schweppe

J.J. Schweppe moved his business to London in 1792 but was not successful and failed in 1795. OK, so much for the history of soft drinks.

In fact this post is a bit related to my previous post on “Holland or Netherlands“. Remember I mentioned about The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) established in 1602, and was granted a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. The Dutch East India Company beat all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Of course Holland was not the first to trade in China, in the 13th and 14th centuries, a number of Europeans mainly Christian missionaries sought to penetrate China. One of the famous one was Marco Polo then, but all these had little permanent effect on the East-West trade.

Marco Polo

The Portuguese succeeded in finding new sea route for a cheaper and easier access to South and East Asia goods. The first Portuguese ships reached Canton on the southern coasts of China in 1516. By 1557, they gained a permanent base in China at Macau. But the Portuguese maritime supremacy still lose out to the Holland in the 17th century. This posed a serious challenge to Portugal with the establishment of Dutch East India Company.

Below shows the Dutch East India Fleet in 1599;

Credit : National Maritime Museum, London

The Dutch East India Company colonies or outposts were also established in Canton, China and Taiwan (1624 – 1662). But in 1662, Zheng Chenggong expelled the Dutch from Taiwan. By 1669, the Dutch East India Company was the richest private company in history, with a huge fleet of merchant ships and warships, tens of thousands of employees. They were confined to trade only in Canton and Macau from the 16th century to 18th century.

Below shows ships off Canton circa 1847-1856;

Credit : National Maritime Museum, London

By the 18th Century, the number of merchants who came to China increased. As you remembered, the soft drinks were already commercialised during this period and were brought into China via Canton by the Holland merchants.

So the people in Canton termed such soft drinks as “Hor Lan Shui” (荷兰水).

Below shows selling of Mint drink “薄荷水” passing off as “Hor Lan Shui” in China;

This “Hor Lan Shui” (荷兰水) was mentioned in a 1876 book titled “沪游杂记” in Shanghai.

The book “沪游杂记”;

Along with soft drinks, potatoes and snow peas were also brought into Canton by the Holland merchants.

Thus the word “荷兰薯” for potatoes and “荷兰豆” for snow peas. It was a common practice to term the products or goods from the countries that brought them in – in this case Holland.

But now, are there potatoes and snow peas really from Holland? Guess….But when someone said you “饱死荷兰豆” (literally translate – full until die snow peas) it means you are really stupid and silly. When someone said something silly and stupid, we said “饱死” to ourselves in cantonese. As to how “荷兰豆” also means stupid and silly, it is actually translated into “Holland Bean” which means “好伦笨” in Cantonese tone and that “伦” is rather vulgar in Cantonese. So “好伦笨” also means “very stupid”. In full, “饱死荷兰豆” means you are silly and stupid. This phrase was very popular in the 80s but not so now.

Now do you think that we Cantonese really like to relate a lot of things to Holland? Before I end, just to let you know that the Cantonese also called playing cards as “荷兰牌”, why?

Haha why is it known as  “荷兰牌”, I really don’t know – do you?


What my father wrote;

“He who pays the piper calls the tune.”


Guess What Quiz No.4

Guess what is this item? And what is it use for? Below show a rather close-up views of the item;

Top View:

Front View:

Side View:

Good Luck!



Yes, Danny got it RIGHT! It’s a Magnet. I used to play with it when I was in primary school. I remember I got about 5 to 6 pieces but now only left with 2… Think my mother brought them back from her school and left it for me to play with.



What my father wrote;

Guess What Quiz No.3

The picture shows part of something. Guess what is that ‘something’? You have to tell me what is this ‘something’ call and what is it use for?


The correct answer is Tong Sheng 通勝, Chinese Almanac. I don’t know since when it was called Tong Sheng instead of Tong Shu. I remember it was known as Tong Shu 通書 especially by the Cantonese but maybe the word “Shu” sounds like “losing” so this word was changed to “Sheng” which means “win”.

My first encounter with this very thick book was when my godmother used it to check some auspicious dates. I was only about 9 or 10 years old then, and I was attracted by the pictures and drawing in it;

Frankly until now, I still do not understand all the drawings in it.

This ‘book’ has been around for many many years and the meaning of Tong Shu means “a book that knows all”. Some people may check with this book on what one should or should not do on each day. But usually the Chinese will use it to check for auspicious dates for wedding, opening ceremony for their businesses, etc.

Take a look at the thread binding used for this thick book;

And this thread is enough to hold this thick book together! I’m impressed. The first page of the book usually is the boy and a cow working on a farm;

We may use it to check our age or year of birth and also our Chinese horoscope. Example my year of birth is 1962, I was 24 years old (1985) and born in the year of tiger;

Oh this book even has diagrams of foetus in the womb;

It shows the foetus from 1st month to 9th month and how is the position like when delivering. On the left is the talisman for pregnant woman who have offended the ‘Foetus God’, I think.

The most interesting part of this book is the portion where one can learn English;

It has a few pages where people can learn how the English alphabets and also some English words like those shown above. As the book is written in Cantonese, so it is more accurate to read it in Cantonese instead of Chinese. Take a look at the word “Saturday” and the pronunication in Cantonese. If we will to read the English word using the Cantonese pronunication, it sounds really weird. The whole book content seems to be printed in just Black and Red ink;

If you think that this Chinese Almanac is meant for those people who are superstitious, you are wrong. It does contain some Scientific content too. One can learn about Eclipse of the Sun or Moon from it;

The Chinese Almanac has more than 2000 years of history and it’s good to at least browse through it and take a look at its contents. If you wish to know more, you can take a look here.


What My Father Wrote ;

My First Dictionary Half A Century

Do you still keep your first dictionary? I still have mine! Let me show you a small part of my dictionary collection…

My first dictionary was actually given to me by my godsister when I was in primary school, probably upper primary in the early 70s. So coincidentally, this dictionary is also called the My First Dictionary;

You see the two stickers on the front cover, and that was what I did to it. I don’t really remember whether these were those type of ‘water tatoos’ stickers – you put them on a pail of water and then place the ‘tatoos’ on your arms or legs or any other surface to apply the stickers. Here you see another one on the page inside;

So this First Dictionary was reprinted in Sep 1958, exactly 51 years ago – half a century! I like this dictionary because of the exercises and questions at the end of the dictionary;

In the past most of us really ‘read’ and ‘study’ the dictionary (use our dictionary throughoutly)  as you can see some of the words were underlined;

Now  my children’s dictionaries are as clean as those in the book stores.

I bought my first personal pocket dictionary when I was in Sec.4 in 1978. It was a Collins pocket dictionary and see – I’ve a Kentucky Fried Chicken sticker on the front cover. You don’t find this KFC sticky anymore now.

This dictionary has been with me for almost 35 yeasrs and now my daughter (Pri.4) is using it;

So between these 2 Oxford dictionaries, which do you think is ‘older’?

Do you think you get the answers right? OK, the white jacket one was reprinted in 1952;

While the dark blue cover one was reprinted in 1949 (60 years old);

I got it wrong too and I thought the one with the white cover was older… These 2 were handed down to me by my father. He probably used these when he was working in his twenties.

Come to think of it, I have more Oxfords at home! So do you still have your first dictionary with you?

Guess What Quiz No.2

I’ve not seen this for a very long time. Though it is still available now, but it was commonly used in the 60s or maybe still in the 70s. Do you know what is this for? What’s inside? I think Peter, Philip or Chun See may know the answer.


Yes, it’s a Shaving Kit. You can see the contents inside:

Here is the Razor Blade;

In fact such shaving kit is very good for travelling. It even has a small mirror inside. Like what the guys have said, the blade is really super sharp!

Additional Photos;

Photo 1:



Photo 2 :

Photo 3 :


My Old TV Guide Magazine

Do you keep your old TV guide magazines? My mother kept hers, above (176)  is just one of the many and she still had the 1st copy. Funny thing is that I don’t remember her buying those TV guide magazines and she is also not keen in watching TV programmes…

What so special about the above TV guide? Well that issue was published on 2 Jun 1984 and about 25 years ago. Coindentally, on the cover you can find the 25 years of Nation Building logo (1959 to 1984) and it was going to be National Day celebration in a month plus. I will talk about this Nation Buidling topic nearer to National Day.

But now, what were popular then? OK, video tapes were probably still popular as can be seen on the back cover page advertisement by TDK;

Now even you can hardly find a video cassette player on sale at Courts, Harvey or Best, etc.

Of course, my used to be idol Maggie Teng was very popular then as can be seen on the cover page. Not forgetting her 2 sisters Judy and ….(forgotten oh).

Let’s take a peek at the old TV programmes in the 80s;

Channel 5 and 8;

Even on Sunday, the Channel 5 started broadcasting at 8.30am and ended at 11.40pm, while Channel 8 from 2.30pm to 11.30pm. It was still SBC then and you can see at 8.30am, they are showng you the SBC Text (Teletext) on Channel 5, probably still new and promoting it then. Channel 8 programmes seem very boring also starting with sample pages of SBC Text. Lucky there was the afternoon Mandarin matinee at 3.25pm. Evening time was the Chinese variety show ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ at 8.30pm. Channel 8 ended early at 11.30pm. I wonder if they were trying to boost population then…else why the TV shows end so early before midnight?

Back then, Channel 3 and 10 (Malaysia channels) were also included in our TV guide including newspaper;

Oh before I forget, there was this ever changing channel – it was called Channel 12 at that time;

Do you still remember what was that Channel 12 for?

Browsing thru the guide, I saw this very popular car model back then;

And I believed Chun See and his gang will know what car was that haha.

Now there are so many types of TV guides from the various Channels. Example the iWeeklly from Channel 8;

or U guide and the English TV guide, but most of us will discard them after a week…

Before I end, the price of the 1984 176 issue TV guide was 50cents then, and 25 years later, the iWeekly price is $2 (though with 2 sets of magazines).

Qing Ming Is About Knowing Our Family Tree

Before the Qing Ming festival ends, let me blog something about this one month festival. This Qing Ming festival or Tomb Sweeping festival is a time where we pay our respect to our elders or relatives who have left us.

I remember when I was young during my primary school days, I love this Qing Ming festival as it was a time when I could get together with my cousins. Usually my Seventh Uncle’s family would chartered for a mini bus to pick up both families for this important day.

Of course at that time, Qing Ming festival is really a Tomb Sweeping festival as our ancestors tombs were still at those graveyard at Peck San Theng. You may take a look at the old Peck San Theng here. We need to walk a distance to the tombs then, and those Indian grass cutters who can speak Cantonese much better than my kids, will lead the way. Needless to say, we had to pay them some money to clear those wild grasses at our ancestors’ tombs.

After the relocation of tombs to temples and Government-Managed Columbaria, my Seventh Uncle’s family and ours did not go together anymore during this festival. But now only my wife and my kids will accompany me to pay our respect to our ancestors.

 My Paternal Grandmother tablet was located at the Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng, while my Paternal Grandfather and Great Grandmother are at the Mandai Columbarium. I prefer the Mandai Columbarium as it is much cleaner and tidy though the distance is much further from my house.

Mandai Columbarium;

But why I said Qing Ming festival is about knowing our Family Tree? Well how many of us especially the younger generation like my kids know the relationships of who we are paying respect to? How do our kids address them in our own dialects or in Mandarin? Of course in English is much easier but I’m talking about our Chinese Roots and our own Family Tree. How much we know about our Family Tree then? Do you keep a record of your Family Tree too? I’m glad that my father bothers to keep a record of our own Family Tree when he was much healtier;

My father has 9 brothers/sisters and my father is the youngest (10th). So the one at Peck San Theng is my Paternal Grandmother or 祖母. I will address her as 奶奶. The other 2 at Mandai Columbarium are my Paternal Grandfather or 祖父 and Paternal Great Grandmother or 曾祖母. I will address my Grandfather as 爺爺 and my Paternal Great Grandmother as 老奶奶. Of course what my kids address them will be much more complex haha. Luckily my mother kept two copies of old newspaper cuttings regarding the Family Tree address or relationship. One is from The 1981 copy of The Straits Times;

I don’t quite like this set as it’s not so detail;

 The other copy is the 1988 Straits Times;

I like this copy very much as it’s not only colorful but detail and clear; Credit : Above 4, The Straits Times, SPH

I’ve to admit that I’m no good at such Chinese addresses for our relatives and elders. My wife and I also have difficulties in teaching our kids to address our relatives in Mandarin when we visit them.

One example is my wife’s elder sister and younger sister – how should my kids address them? All the while my wife asked our kids to address them (both elder and younger sister) as 姨. But I think there should be a difference and should it be my wife’s elder sister as 姨媽 and younger sister as ? Do you think so?

You may check it out here too at this site;  

“maternal elder aunt mother’s elder sister 姨母  yi4 mou5 yi2 mu3 姨媽 yi4 ma1 yi2 ma1

maternal elder aunt’s husband mother’s elder sister’s husband; 姨夫 yi4 fu1 yi2 fu1 姨丈 yi4 jeung6 yi2 zhang4  

maternal younger aunt mother’s younger sister 姨 yi4 yi2 same

 maternal younger aunt’s husband mother’s younger sister’s husband; 姨丈 yi4 jeung6 yi2 zhang4 same”

On the lighter side, Mediacorp will be showing its new Chinese drama series “

书包太重, My School Daze”. The first series on 29 Apr 2009 at 9pm Channel 8 will be interesting especially when a lady Chinese tutors teaching Mandarin to her students.

Listen carefully to what the teacher said ‘Your Mother’s Elder and Younger Sisters called姨’;

Now the second part is really hilarious;

Credit : Mediacorps.

But why is it important to know the address and relationship for Qing Ming festival? Well at least when you burn the offerings to your ancestors, you can write down who you are offering to and their relationship to you. The Green Bag is for Female (红男绿女);

The Red Bag is for Male;

This is my Grandfather’s tablet;

This is my Great Grandmother’s tablet;

You may see that usually for female (my Great Grandmother) their names were omitted as they just take after their husband’s surname. Unfair for the fairer sex right? Also note how the years were written at that time – Min Guo 民囯.

Min Guo 民囯” refers to Zhonghua Minguo 中華民囯 (Republic of China or ROC) established in 1911, but eventually had to relocate to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese nationalist (Kuomintang) lost the civil war to the Chinese communist. Therefore, the stated Min Guo year will be based on the years starting from 1911.

So, for Min Guo 27th year, it’s 1938 (since 1911+27 years)

For Min Guo 24th year, it’s 1935 (since 1911+24 years)

Btw, I do not have any religion so I’m not so well verse with all these tradition but since I’m Chinese, I must still go along with our tradition, our roots, else next time my kids will not know what and how to do when my wife and I gone.






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April 2020