The Gen-X Space: 10 Things I Miss About JB Life in the 80s

By: M.Zulkifli

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to my hometown of JB (Johor Bahru, in case you didn’t know) and stayed at an Airbnb, at Country Garden Danga Bay. It’s a pretty lively place these days, but of course, this stretch of land didn’t even exist when I was growing up. Yeah, I get it, it’s called “development”. And it’s unrealistic of me to want some things to just stay the way they are forever.

But surely, I can still reminisce about the good ‘ol days of growing up in JB decades ago, can’t I? So, here’s a list of some of the things I dearly miss…

Sound of the beduk

Especially for the Maghrib prayer, the sound of the beduk meant it’s time to run back home helter-skelter or face ensuing consequences. Haha. But seriously, I do miss the firm sound of the beduk before the azan (call to prayer), as the practice has been discontinued at most masjids in the country.

Sunday morning cartoons

The best day of the week for us back then! A whole slew of cartoon shows including “The Smurfs”, “The Flintstones” and the Disney block were aired on Singapore TV and we would be glued in front of the idiot box every Sunday morning. The problem was, if we were in the morning school session, it meant we had to miss them for almost an entire year. So, it was understandable if some of us were always ‘demam’ on Sundays and had to skip school. Yabadabadooo!

Tour of the two malls

There were only two major malls in JB when we were growing up, Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (KOMTAR) and Holiday Plaza. We would start hanging out at KOMTAR, before taking the Alec bus no 51 to Holiday Plaza to play video games, bowling, and walk around Kimisawa/Parkson, all decked out in “Miami Vice” (or Duran-Duran)-inspired outfits. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.

And speaking of buses…

Rickety buses and prebet sapus

There were three major bus companies; Alec, South Johore and T.Hakkim. Most of them were in pretty bad shape but hey, they took us where we wanted to go. And the tickets were pretty cheap. The alternative was to take a ‘prebet sapu’, basically private cars turned into taxis (yeah, like Grab!). They were usually old Toyotas and Opels (I think) with an oscillating mini fan stuck next to the steering wheel.

(Photo: FB)

Wondrous Woodlands

Well, technically Woodlands is not JB (duh), but it was so easy to cross the border over to Singapore and shop there – usually for canned fruits and clothes. Especially in Ramadan, it gave us great joy to shop for our baju Raya there and have our buka puasa at the food court. And at SGD1 to RM1.1, we could even afford to bring home a couple of Star Wars figurines as well!

Fun in Kota Tinggi

I didn’t travel much growing up, but apart from Singapore, Kota Tinggi was the other place we used to go to visit my auntie’s family. And when you’re in Kota, the waterfall was the place to be! Ah, I can still picture the clear, clean waters cascading down the mountain. We used to spend almost the whole day there, chomping down sardine sandwiches and epok-epok in between all the fun and games in the ice-cold water!

Payday treats

Eating out was a rarity but payday usually meant ‘makan-makan’ outside or my late father bringing home some of my favourites like Rojak Asma in Larkin and Hwa Mui’s noodles. Our go-to special ‘makan’ treat was the stalls at Dewan Jubilee Intan, and I used to order the same things – nasi ayam goreng (which is different from nasi with ayam goreng) and ice kacang.

(Photo: FB)

Picnic at Pantai Lido

Believe it or not, there was a time when you could actually picnic and swim at the Lido Beach. It’s hard for me to point out where exactly as the whole stretch is basically now reclaimed land, but yes, you could actually jump into the water back then.

Hari Raya like no other

Ah, where do I begin? It was indeed the best of times. The morning of Hari Raya was always wholesomely awesome; from meeting members of my extended family, to receiving ‘duit raya’, to the glorious spread of food, to the knocking on neighbours’ doors for more food and ‘duit raya’, those were moments that remain our memories forever.

The writer (second from the right) with his line-up of cousins

Johor footie – the amateur days

Can’t remember the first time I set foot into Larkin Stadium to watch the Johor state team play in the Malaysia Cup, but for many, many seasons, my late father and I hardly missed a home game, no matter how the team was doing. And yes, I got to watch all our heroes like Muhidin Husin, Dollah Salleh and Khalid Shahdan play their hearts out, bringing home glory in 1985 by winning the Malaysia Cup against Wilayah Persekutuan.

M.Zulkifli is co-founder of and a big fan of everything 80s


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