1234…

When I was in primary school, we had a subject called “Mental Arithmetic”. I remember being asked to stand at the back of the classroom while the teacher sat at the table in front and asked the questions one by one. Those would be simple Arithmetic questions that entailed addition, subtraction, multiplication or divison. If we got the answers wrong, we would have to write it out 100 times. These days, if you were to ask the students to add some figures (2 digits or more), they would fumble with the answer and start looking for their electronic calculators.

Now when did these calculators come into the scene? We did not have any when we were small and all calculations had to be done mentally – in our heads! My father was a businessman and he did all his calculations using the abacus. He also had a mechanical calculator. It had a panel with a row of small metal handles that he could slide to a number from 0 to 9. After sliding them to the digits desired, he would turn the big handle on the right clockwise and the number would appear on the counter. Then he would slide the handles again for the next number and turn the handle…and the number appearing on the counter would be the total of the two numbers. I don’t know where it is now – probably nicely stored somewhere. He has always been careful with his things and despite it being around half a century old, you can bet that it still looks brand new.

Well, those were the days. Nowadays, like everybody else, he uses an electronic calculator…

Calculator 1

His is a Citizen, once very popular for their watches. I also have one of my own – Olympia which is solar-powered, so I do not need to replace any batteries to keep it working.

When I retired, the Sarawak Teachers’ Union gave me a present – a Casio electronic calculator, and a HUGE one at that…

Calculator 2

I would think that was adding insult to injury. Firstly, now that I have retired, I would not have much to calculate, and definitely not my measly pension. For that, my 10 fingers and toes would be more than sufficient. Then, they got me a big one, implying that I was old and my eyesight would be failing. Excuse me! I may be reaching 60 but I still do NOT need glasses! (But I must say a few of those retirees at my table during the function were really ancient! They actually looked old; one fell asleep halfway through the luncheon, a couple could not see the number on their lucky draw tickets. Gee! I actually felt quite young that day! LOL!!!)

The smaller one on the right is my own, the Olympia that I use all the time. If you’re wondering why it is wrapped in plastic, that is to make sure that the numbers on the buttons do not disappear. I really admire some people whose keyboard no longer has any letters or numbers and they can still go online and type like nobody’s business. I think I would be at a total loss if I had a keyboard like that.

Anyway, getting back to the calculators, there are small pocket-size ones (which may be obsolete soon, now that there are calculators in mobile phones) as well as the sophisticated scientific calculators that the students in the science stream in school use. Frankly, I am hopeless with those as I would somehow touch a button that would trigger off some pre-set programme (or perhaps the student concerned did not set it to neutral for me) and I would get the wrong answer for every simple addition or subtraction that I key in. But as if it is not bad enough that the students these days are quite hopeless without their calculators (Try asking one of them to tell you what’s 20% of 80 and see how long they will take to give you the correct answer – without using the calculator!), I think they are actually allowed to use them in the examination!!!

Sigh! Gone are the days when students were actually able to count…

The letter…

I had a friend in Uganda once – a pen pal. His name was Mumtazali H. Sabur. Now, how did I get to have a pen pal all the way in Africa? During my lower secondary school days, we used to buy this magazine that was distributed in all Catholic schools – “The Crusader” and in it, there was a pen pal column. I wrote to him and he replied…and we corresponded with each other for quite a while.

At that time, I was an avid stamp collector, so I managed to get a lot of stamps from Africa, particularly the East African countries – Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika which later merged with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. He sent me a lot of  first day covers…

Uganda first day covers 1

I think I have around a dozen of them…

Uganda first day covers 2

…and he also sent me some souvenirs. I can’t remember where I put all of them now and all that I have left is this traditional African wood carving of an impala, if I’m not mistaken…

Uganda traditional wood carving

I cannot recall how we stopped writing to each other but eventually, we just stopped. I do not know what had happened to him…and whether he survived the infamous Idi Amin rule in the 70s.

Anyway, I’m just wondering whether people write letters anymore these days – with emails and other internet connections, international roaming on mobile phones and short-messaging services. I think letter writing…like sending cards on birthdays and festivals like Christmas, is a thing of the past. For instance, it’s Kpg Nangka Boy’s birthday today and I can simply extend my birthday greetings right here and now:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KNB…AND MAY ALL YOUR DREAMS (and your mum’s dream too) COME TRUE IN THE YEAR AHEAD!!!

I can do the same too on Facebook…or just send him an sms. The times, they are a-changing!

Whatever it is, I certainly hope that nobody’s as pathetic as the guy in this song. He is so desperate that he has to write a letter to himself…

Nice song, don’t you think? Sad, real sad…but nice!

Do have a wonderful week ahead, everybody!