50+ Things That Defined Your Singapore Childhood
Things to do
1. Play with Fighting Fish
Pitting fighting fishes against each other was all the rage in the 80s. We would all gather round the fishes and place bets on which fish would win.
Relive it: Fighting fishes can sometimes be found in old-school aquarium shops in mature estates such as Tiong Bahru or Yishun, in small tanks separated by dividers.
2. Climbing into longkang to catch guppies
Climbing into longkangs to catch guppies is probably one of the most nostalgic memories we had of the 80s. We would wait until the water in the longkang was low, scramble in armed with plastic bags and get ourselves all grubby and mucky catching fishes. One of our favourite haunts included the longkang near the old Tampines fish farm.
Relive it: If you have kids, think about bringing them into a relatively safer longkang to hunt for fishes and show them your childhood. We’ve heard that the longkang at Balestier, beside the Tai Pei temple is a good place to try. Avoid the nature reserves because those places are highly patrolled.
3. Collecting love seeds / xiang si seeds / saga seeds
Okay if you think back in reflection there was no reason to collect these love seeds, but it was still really pretty to have a bottle or bag full of these seeds anyway.
Relive it: There are still many saga seed trees around in Singapore, and some helpful person collated a Google Map guide to finding local saga seed tree locations in Singapore! Do a search online for the map, go try the locations, and add on to the list if you can.
4. Catch fighting spiders
The best breed of fighting spiders to catch was the nearly black ones which were way more aggressive. We usually starved our spiders for about 1-2 days and fed them bedbugs or fruitflies right before the match to get them all riled up.
Relive it: Looking to go reminisce your childhood? HWZers recommend Clementi Woods or Braddell View, but any forest is a good bet for these jumpy spiders.
5. Zero Point
“Zero Point? Sounds like an iPhone game” my young friend remarked recently. Alas the woeful demise of fun physical childhood games. Before the invention of computers we spent so much time outdoors playing all sorts of invented games and Zero Point was one of my favourite ones. I especially liked the part where we had to collect rubber bands to make our own yay-yay (our stupid name for the rubber band rope)
Relive it: If you forgot how to play, Zero Point is basically the opposite of limbo. Except for Limbo you go under the stick and the stick gets progressively lower, whereas for Zero Point you jump over the rope and the rope gets progressively higher. The rope starts on the ground, and that’s where “Zero Point” is. On the first level, it is “One Point”, second it is “Two Point” and so on!
6. Catching, Hide and Seek, Police and Thief, Ice and Freeze
There were so many names and variations for what was essentially catching, but we didn’t really care.. Catching was our favourite game in primary school. Every day during recess we would dash off to the field or the courts and play catching till we were sweaty. The teachers would scold us and I remember one session where one teacher sent out all the boys from class to drip-dry in the sun.
Relive it: Are you sure you want to relive this?
7. Make Hand Catapult or Slingshot
Before these catapults were banned in Singapore we used to all make our catapults from fallen branches off trees. Hack a sturdy y-shaped branch off a tree, get those thick rubber bands from mama shop, and we were good to go. Although we called it bird catapult, we were rarely ever able to hit birds if ever; thankfully.
Relive it: We wouldn’t advise on making your own catapult or slingshot now because they are prohibited in Singapore. But if you’re looking for something fun and less lethal to do with your kids, we would recommend paper bullets! (Below)
8. Shoot Paper Bullets
We would always argue what kind of paper, how many layers of folding and what size of bullet would give the best aerodynamics to the bullet. But the bullets hurt all the same and we would love to shoot each other secretly while the teacher was lecturing in front of the class.
Relive it: Please figure this out for yourself from the photo. If you can’t, you’re probably not qualified to handle any mildly lethal weapons of sorts ☹
9. Sepak Takraw
Sepak Takraw originated in Malaysia and is still fairly popular among teenage boys in Singapore today. If you ever feel up for a challenge, do join in and ask them if you can join! I think it’s infinitely hard to play though.
Relive it: All you need is a badminton court or a volleyball court, a net, and a sepak takraw ball. Sepak Takraw balls are sold at sports shops all around Singapore! Check out Royal Sporting House or SportsLink, they should carry it, especially in the heartlands!
10. Chi Go Pak, Scissors-Paper-Stone, Hei Bai Pei!, ZA!, Charge!, Lom Chiam Pas, Chop Chilli
All the various kind of hand games we used to play in our childhood still do live on today under highly evolved names. If you don’t believe me, just ask your primary schooler what hand games he knows how to play; even if he calls it something else you probably can find at least one game in common!
Relive it: Teach your children some of these childhood games! Chop Chilli is still a great ice breaker for big groups because you get to figure out who’s the blur sotong in the group ahaha. ZA! can be passed off as mildly intellectual too because you have to think about what you’re gonna deploy next.
11. Shooting Ice Using Straw
In retrospect it was extremely unhygienic but I remember having tons of fun shooting ice through our straws. It’s one of those things that you did while drinking cup Milo during recess and talking cock with your friends. All about finding the perfect sized piece of ice, getting it into your straw and seeing who could blow it the furthest.
Relive it: Have a dual with your partner and find out who is better at blowing it out!
12. Hatam Bolah
If you really think about it many of our childhood games were extremely violent and hatam bolah was one of them. Hatam Bolah was simply about using a solid hard tennis ball to hurl it at anybody near to you. Everybody would scatter from you once you had the ball, and the bigger and slower ones were always the worst victims. But of course, they would take extremely painful revenge once they got the ball.
We would all trod back to class with muddy shirts and tennis-ball sized bruises all across our backs laughing over who got the most hits.
Relive it: Yea we all would like to throw a tennis ball at somebody’s face at some point in our lives anyway. A Hatam Bolah session for the company sounds like the perfect excuse to give the boss a good whack!
13. Hand Animal Shadow
Wolf, elephant, goose, owl, hare, ox. Do you know how to do them all? My favourite was the hare because there were so many kinds of hares you could make.
Relive it: Get a lamp directed at a plain wall, and turn off the overhead lights. Have fun recreating all your childhood companions!
14. One Leg
This game was so wildly popular in the 80s that some of the primary school kids even organized an inter-school challenge for ourselves.
One Leg is also a traditional children’s game in Malaysia!
Relive it: I used to play this in a badminton court. Form 2 teams; at any one time, 1 member from each side is in the court. One of them will hop on one leg and try to touch the opponent to render him “dead”. The team hopping can swop catchers anytime.
15. Green Spot
The name for this game wasn’t very revealing but it was super fun! Everybody would stand in a circle, and at the count of three we would yell “Green Spot!” and jump as far backwards as we could. Then everybody would take turns trying to step on each other’s white canvas shoes. Once your foot was stepped on, you were dead.
Our shoes would get awfully dirty, and we would colour them white again with chalk from the classroom.
Relive it: Wear something practical to play this okay? Black shoes are more sensible. Kids still do play this by the way, they call it Pepsi Cola 123!
16. String Game, Cat’s Cradle
A hot favourite with many girls, the string game requires the artful manipulation of a loop of string to form intricate patterns that always got my head in knots. I was not the best person to play this. But beautiful patterns could be formed from the string such as this:
Relive it: Simply get a string about 150cm in length and tie it into a loop. Then get looping! Video tutorials online are useful if you’re planning to teach your kids.
18. ‘Eagle Catch Chicks’ game
19. Spinning Pens
Out of the things we would get up to while the teacher’s back was turned, pen spinning was wildly popular at one period of time. Although pen spinning sounds deceptively simple and mindless, it has been the go-to distraction of all times, and there’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to the art of pen spinning. The first Pen Spinning World Cup was organized in 2007. There is more to this humble sport than meets the eye.
Relive it: Biro is the most preferred pen by expert pen spinners. It’s great for nostalgia and authenticity too. As an aspiring pen-spinner told us in hushed tones, “The secret to pen spinning is having a pen with even weight distribution.” Check out this gif. Sheer pen-spinning kungfu.
20. Play at Yaohan Arcade
The Yaohan Shopping Centre was a household name back in the 70s, with stores in Thomson, Plaza Sing and Marine Parade. Yaohan Arcade was one of our favourite hangout places. Racing, shooting the clown’s teeth, coin pushing… Playing all the arcade games and collecting the bonus tickets to exchange for stuffed toys was probably one of the most fun things to do ever. Great way to pick up the girls.
Relive it: This type of old school arcade is now extinct. Many of these games – clown teeth shooting, coin pushing and so on cannot be found in local arcades, and are more popular in fairs and pasar malams overseas now.
21. Void Deck Soccer, Void Deck Table Tennis
The void decks of HDBs used to be the favourite haunt for many secondary school boys. In the 90s, it was very popular for HDBs to put table tennis tables under the void deck for residents to play. But all the neighbourhood kids would come by after school ended to make noise and play soccer or play at the tables, and the tables would always end up defaced with all sorts of liquid correction tape.
22. Michael Jackson/ Mando Pop and Canto Pop and English Pop!
Michael Jackson was the music legend of our time, and his legacy lives on. Beat it, Smooth Criminal, Thriller… And the dance moves – Michael Jackson was truly the pioneer moonwalker. The King of Pop lived alongside many famous Mando, Canto and English pop singers such as the Four Heavenly Kings (Andy Lau, Leon Lai, Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung) and Beyond!
23. Idol Cards & Dragon Ball Cards
24. Roller Skates
Before the cool 4 wheel roller blades came about, the 2 by 2 wheelers were the coolest things around. These things I mean:
While you couldn’t really achieve phenomenal speeds on these, they were still tons of fun. And we would try to do all sorts of funky tricks on them.
Relive it: These kinds of skates can only be found in vintage shops today, but is still popular in the UK and the US! There are in fact competitions specifically for these kind of skates in the UK!
25. Watch WWF
Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Brad Hart, Bushwackers, these were just some of the most popular guys in WWF in the 80s. The Bushwackers were an especially entertaining duo who had a running feud with Fabulous Rougeau Brothers. During their matches, the Bushwackers would lick each other’s heads, lick the faces of their fans, and even lick the faces of the referees and opponents. Definitely a major fan favourite in the 80s!
The modern equivalent might possibly just be Luis Suarez.
26. Queuing for Hello Kitty
Hello Kitties were HUGE in the 2000s. Remember when MacDonalds gave away Hello Kitty plushies with every Extra Value Meal? I collected the full set.
Queues would snake way beyond the doors of MacDonalds like this:
Relive it: To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the feline Hello Kitty (okay yes it’s a girl not a cat?), MacDonalds rolled up out another set of Hello Kitties in Singapore on April 28. They are not as vintage though, but it’s still Hello Kitty! Did you get yours?
27. Sand Playgrounds
Traditional playgrounds used to look like this:
Built in the late 70s in HDB estates by designers Khor Ean Ghee, Maria Boey, Lee Kwee Wah and Chew Chek Peng, these playgrounds have slowly been phased out over the years. Now, many of the traditional sand pits have been replaced by rubber mats today to the relief of many Singaporean mothers, and one of the last remaining sand pit animal playground is the famous Dragon Playground in Toa Payoh.
Relive it: If you’re looking for these animal playgrounds, rememberSingapore has put together a beautiful list of all the past and present sand traditional playgrounds in Singapore. Amongst the list is one of my favourites, the Bishan Clock Tower Playground.
Games and Things We Collected!
28. Tamiya Cars
I loved loved loved loved loved Tamiya cars and my favourite car is ‘Avante Black Special‘. It was super exciting to assemble and modify our own cars and pit it against each other. Tamiya Cars used to be huge in the 80s and 90s, and my family had a Tamiya race course set; everybody in the neighbourhood would come down to race!
Relive it: Tamiya still has a showroom for its racing cars at 178 Paya Lebar Road! But Tamiya racetracks are rarer these days. A good alternative is radio controlled cars, with race tracks available at ECP, Bottle Tree Park and more.
29. Old Maid, Donkey, Happy Family, Snap, Go Fish, UNO, Hong-chi-Hong, Dai-dee, In-Between
Back when there weren’t phones and computers we used to love card games and we would all crowd around eagerly to play. We would all emerge from a good game of Snap with red hands and grins on our face.
Relive it: Old Maid, Donkey, Happy Family and Snap are still available in bigger mama shops and certain Populars, while Hong-chi-Hong, In-Between and Tai-ti can be played with any old poker card set!
30. Aeroplane Chess, Snake and Ladders, Checkers, Reversi, Othello, Animal Chess
Remember the days before computers became popular? Here are some of our favourite board games from the 80s.
Snakes & Ladders:
31. Flag Erasers, Idol Cards, Phone Cards, Stamps, Sticker Books, SMRT Cards
We used to love collecting all sorts of things.
Old TransitLink Fare Cards:
I was a phonecard kind of person, and I regret throwing away my collection when I moved out.
Relive it: It’s still possible to collect stickers and flag erasers, though the kind of stickers you can get today are vastly different from the kinds of stickers available in the 80s. Flag erasers can be found at specialty shops and certain Populars in Singapore!
32. Ufo Spinners
These Ufo Spinners still are popular with kids, but they have very much more technologically-advanced Ufo spinners that light up when spun and launch with guns. We miss the good ole fun spinny days.
Relive it: Traditional ufo spinners are available in smaller mama shops and specialty shops in Singapore. And it is still very popular across the Causeway so that might be a good bet too.
33. UFO Catcher
Catching soft toys to impress your date was THE SUREFIRE WAY to get the girl. Though most of these machines have been rigged so that the odds are against you, it was still lots of fun trying our luck at these UFO Catching machines.
34. Paper Planes & Styrofoam Planes
I loved folding paper planes when I was younger. There was something about getting the right balance, crease and weight that gave me an immense satisfaction. And trying out the most complicated paper planes too! From bombers to cruisers, I made them all!
Relive it: I used to have this CD which I adored back in the 90s which provided animated step by step guides on how to fold the plane. I thought it would be absolutely obsolete (the disc I had ran on the 98 Windows), but I found the exact same tutorials on the paperairplaneshq.com site! Although it’s no longer the same step by step animation, something is better than nothing!
Chapteh is one of the most overused symbols of 80s childhood games. Even so, we’ve included it because it was after all still such a big part of our childhood. We used to stand in circles and play this in groups, barefooted on the road because there were so few cars back then.
Relive it: My father used to make his own chaptehs out of scrap rubber pieces and random feathers, but chaptehs can be found quite readily in party shops or novelty shops in across Singapore. Try the area around Sultan Mosque!
36. Five Stones
Five stones was one of those games that eluded my grasp because of my poor multi-tasking ability. But it was at the height of its popularity in the 80s, and 80s babies should all have fond memories of this game, especially the girls.
Relive it: Five Stones can be played with any 5 small stones, but in the 80s, it was very popular for mums to sew up 5 small bags out of cloth scraps and fill them with cheap green beans or rice! Five Stone bags can still be found at mama shops around now.
37. Paper Kites, Paper Ball
Back in those days we would make our own paper kites out of paper and sticks we picked up from the ground. And they would fly better than half the cheap kites available in mama shops now. It was all about getting the right balance on the kite and getting the right curve to let the kite catch the wind!
Those colourful paper balls were wildly popular too! We used to blow into them to make them puff up and play silly games during recess with these balls!
Relive it: There are many kite-flying hobbyists around in Singapore, and many of them can be found at ECP, Punggol and Sengkang during the windy weekends. If you want to find out how they make their kites (yes some of them make their own kites), just go up to them and ask! Paper balls are still available in mama shops! Inflate them up for some old-fashioned fun!
Having a Tamagotchi in the 90s instantly made you one of the cool kids. But Tamagotchi also taught us important lessons like friendship and taking responsibility for our furry (or rather electronic) pets. After choosing an egg, you were blessed with a 30 second reprieve/ incubation period before you were made responsible for the life of a new Tamagotchi pet. And clearing its shit. Yes Tamagotchis used to die from an overload of shit, remember?
Relive it: Tamagotchi has recently brought the much adored Tamagotchi pets back in its updated Tamagotchi Friends model. Updates include replaceable batteries, more games and the ability for your pet to pack up and leave you. Not sure whether the last one is an improvement but if you’re keen to try, just grab one to relive the old nostalgia!
39. Pickup sticks
Pickup sticks was seen as a girly game and all the boys who were good at it just wanted to pick up girls while picking up sticks. It was fun all the same.
Relive it: Pickup stick packs are still available in some Populars and speciality shops in Singapore. Or you can try using satay sticks to play though that’s harder. The rules of the game are simple: Gather the sticks into a bunch, and release them to fall into a pile. Remove sticks from the pile, one at a time without moving the others at all. The player with the most sticks at the end of the game wins.
40. Masak Masak
Masak Masak referred to any toy related to cooking for us kids. We would masak masak our way through plastic woks, stoves and knives. It was wildly popular with the girls, but some boys did like having their turn in the kitchen too!
Relive it: Cooking without all the oil and cleanup? Yes please! Purchase masak-masak sets from any toy store; they’re still very popular with little girls today.
41. ICQ, mIRC
ICQ and mIRC are now extinct and anybody who remembers them is sure to be an 80s kid. ICQ was the first generation MSN Messenger, with obnoxiously neon-coloured text.
GalaxyNet IRCs were all the rage and it was our way of meeting chio lians and yandao bengs back then! Not to forget IRC is the best way to download your favourite MP3s.
You may find some of these IRC commands familiar:
- /join #sparks
- /msg q add #mp3files Fend|GaL 400
- /me slaps siaobeng around a bit with a large trout
Relive it: ICQ/ mIRC chatrooms are still available online! Just hunt for them 😉 Alternatively opt for modern day options such as Tinder and Paktor?
42. Bookworm Short Stories
Remember Sam Seng? Smarty? Mimi? Bookworm Short Stories was probably responsible for a lot of childhood myopia in the 80s before computers and phones became popular. But I loved the Bookworm series and remember trading books with my friends so that we could save money while reading more of the books. My childhood role model was most definitely Sam Seng.
Relive it: Don’t say we bojio, here’s an excerpt for you:
“Porky! Pass!” Sam Seng shouted as he took a good position near the goal, made up of slippers. Porky spread out his arms to prevent his opponents from getting near the ball. Skilfully, he kicked it towards Sam Seng. All ready for the attack, Sam Seng gave the ball a hard kick with his bare foot. It went straight into the goal!
“FOUR-ONE!” Louie, who was also in the team, shouted.
“Youd better buck up!” Porky teased the rival team that was from the next block.
“Youd better buck up, youd better not cry, youd better buck up, Im telling you why, because our team is going to win….” Sam Seng started singing to the tune of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
These books are hard to find today, but if you’re still keen some sellers can be found on HWZ. It’s worth a try!
43. Hungry Hungry Hippos, Fishing Toy, Penguin Toy
Hungry Hungry Hippos, Penguin Toy and the Fishing Toy fell into the same category because most of us had one or the other (or all three if we were lucky) at home. Hungry Hungry Hippo required us to chomp our way into balls, and the player with the most number of balls at the end of the game would win, while the Fishing Game had batteries which would cause the fishes to spin around opening and closing their mouths, while we used our finnicky baby fishing rods to grab the fishes out! The Penguin Toy was just about watching our penguins race up the staircase and around the endless track in loops!
Relive it: These toys are still available at many Toys’R Us stores in Singapore. Get your kids to join in for a night of old-fashioned chomping fun.
Spirographs were so cool at one point of time. I loved whirling them around and inventing new patterns, though I wasn’t particularly creative and my father would always be able to wow me with some other pattern he invented.
Carom boards were really popular in the 90s. Flick at the white puck to send it flying into the black or red puck (depending on which side you were on), and hopefully the black/red puck will go into the pocket. It’s like the puck version of snooker or billiards.
46. Kuti-Kuti/ Bottle Cap Game/ Rubber Band Game/ Flag Eraser Game
We played this game with possibly anything we could lay our hands on, from kuti-kuti (the most traditional form) to bottle caps, rubber bands and flag erasers. The aim of the game was simple, to use our fingers to dexterously flip one kuti-kuti onto the other. If you managed to flip it on, you would win that piece of kuti-kuti. At the end of the game, the person who collected the most kuti-kutis would win.
Relive it: Get a bunch of rubber bands and start playing. Else, if you prefer going down the traditional route, kuti-kuti sets can also be found at mama shops around Singapore.
47. Bestman Balloon
Bestman Balloon was our favourite toy back in the 80s and 90s. The trick to getting the perfect bubble was to ensure that the dab on the end of the yellow straw was roundly shaped and covered the end of the straw evenly so that it wouldn’t burst while we were blowing it.
Relive it: These Bestman Balloons are still available in Mama shops, but do it in moderation, as there is much debate whether these balloons release harmful fumes. Aiyah who cared in those days?
48. Sega, Nintendo, GameBoy , Casio Western Bar, Tetris
Old school fun! These handheld consoles are the ancestors of today’s PSPs, Nintendo DS and even possibly iPads. Back in those days, Tetris could entertain us for hours on end.
49. Spinning Tops, Beyblades
The wooden spinning tops were some of our favourite toys back in the 80s.
Today, these spinning tops would be deemed dangerous by many paranoid parents because of the sharp spikey tip, but they gave us so much fun back in those days.
Also another favourite, Beyblades!
50. Matchbox Cars, Hot Wheels
Every little boy loved collecting these matchbox cars, and nobody could tell the difference between a darned matchbox car and a Hot Wheels car. But it was fun racing them all the same. Today matchbox cars are a collector’s treasure, and it is more difficult to find such old school replicas of beautiful cars.
51. Autograph Books
We loved doing this in primary school; it was like a paper version of Friendster or Facebook. We would all have dedicated autographs books, which we would decorate painstakingly with stickers and drawings, then we would run around asking all our friends to write autographs for us. These autographs included all sorts of things such as a personal bio, a best friends list page (where we would rank our friends from Gold to Bronze or even Shit), and a poetry dedication page!
Relive it: This is the perfect place to find some embarrassing memories if you still keep the books! Else there’s still Friendster!
Our first exposure to trickery and bluff, Mastermind taught us how to puzzle our way through hours of mind-numbing logic games.
53. Marbles (also known as Goli)
Do you still remember how to play marbles? We used to play this on any available floor, most commonly in the corridor with the circle drawn in chalk, or in the sandy patch on the field, with the circle drawn with a random twig off the floor.
Relive it: The rules of marbles are simple. The marbles are placed in the centre of a circle, and each player takes turns using one marble to shoot the other marbles out of the circle. Players get to keep the marbles that are shot out of the circle. We used to collect such beautiful marbles in those days!
54. Bubble Gum Tattoo
We used to love plastering these tattoos on our cheeks with water (saliva, more often than not), and pretend we were from gangs and triads, running around play fighting each other. Those were the days where bubble gum was still readily available.
55. Rainbow Coil
We’re talking about these kinds of coils:
If you’ve ever tried letting a rainbow coil loose from the top of the flight of stairs, you’ve had a wonderfully mindless childhood like us! We loved these rainbow coils, but mine always got tangled up after some random trick that failed.
56. Neoprint / Lovegety Days
No proper outing was complete without one of these. Yes it used to be a thing to put little crowns on our head and heart shapes around our faces.
These Neoprint and Lovegety machines all had curtains to shield the people inside booth from curious audiences walking by, so it was the favourite highlight moment of many dates.
57. Dance Dance Revolution
All the girls here will remember Dance Dance Revolution/ Para-Para fondly as it was our favourite game in the arcade! Step on the corresponding square to the beat of the music and have a dance off against your friend. The best dancers wouldn’t even have to move their whole bodies, they would just hold on to the bars behind them and their feet would fly across the steps. Crowds would gather around to cheer them off, and it was a whole lot of mad fun!
Relive it: Check out Dance Evolution! It’s like DDR, but evolved.
58. Expo Fun Fair/ Tikam Tikam
In the past around our neighbourhood, there used to be huge makeshift outdoor funfairs which charged us several bucks for entrance. Once we entered the funfair, there would be roller coasters, pirates ships etc, but most of us would remember the game or tikkam stalls more fondly. There would be various chance-y games (which is why we called them tikkam tikkam) such as throwing hoops onto bottle necks, shooting darts at balloons, guess the colour and so on.
Here’s the full list of all our favourite childhood games and things to do, we hope you enjoyed the collection and had a fun trip down memory lane! You can even get your hands on some of these are at selected stores like Naiise if you ever feel like experiencing all these again! Share some of these games with your friends and kids this SG50!
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