24 Jul 2008

reminiscing the past

When I was growing up in Melaka, the town was so safe that we kids were given the freedom to go most places, as long as we told someone., meaning an adult. My favourite haunt was St Paul's Hill and the then Malacca Library, which was at the foot of St Paul. In the 60s the Malacca Library was situated at the government offices which is actually the Stadt house or Stadthuys. It was made up of three rooms - one children's section, one adult's section and one reference section. The children's section had six wooden shelves - all taller than the average man. Even as a child I was a voracious reader and by the time I was in Standard 6, I had read practically every book there was in the children's section. The Librarian, one Mr Lim, was a grumpy and dour looking man with a pronounced limp in one foot. I had become a member of the library when I was in Standard 2. By the time I was ten years old Mr Lim no longer shouted at me to be careful with the books, nor did he scold me if I returned them late. I not only was a member of the library, I was its most faithful visitor, turning up every other day to borrow books.
On Saturdays, a friend , Visalachi and I would walk towards the library, spend a lovely hour browsing through the books, then after choosing the ones we'd like to borrow, we would climb up the hill and sit under one of the huge rain trees overlooking the sea. Sometimes we'd just sit and talk and imagine all kinds of things. We would imagine that we were princesses waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince. The ruins of the church on top of the hill was our prison, and a wicked witch had put a spell on us. Of the two of us I was the story teller, so I'd tell Visalachi tall tales of adventure and romance, and she'd listen round eyed to me, almost believing every word. Sometimes we'd sit quietly reading our books until the sun became too hot to sit outside and our stomaches growled in hunger. Then we'd trudge back towards my house where we'd take a huge drink of cool water from my mum's gigantic earthenware water jar. Then, Visalachi would collect her books and walk on home to Lorong Panjang. Those were carefree days, where my only thoughts were finishing homework, reading as many books from the library as possible and lying in the tall grass on top of St Paul's Hill. In 1964 the library was moved to a new building across the river and I was not allowed to go there on my own because it was considered too far from our kampung. Thus ended my library days for a while. But when I went to Form 1, I found a far greater treasure than the ancient Malacca Library with its mouldy and outdated books. The library at the secondary school was even bigger, with more books and fascinating titles. I became a librarian and joined the brigade of bibliophiles. Thus began my love affair with books, a love that never died nor faded.

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