#SoSingaporean: 5 Games We All Played in Primary School
With all the interesting and delicious Singapore-themed dishes that restaurants have been rolling out the past few weeks (or two—RIP Nasi Lemak Burger), it’s hard to ignore the fact that National Day is right around the corner. And we’re turning 52, no less! Man, talk about old. I mean, I don’t know if this had ever occurred to you guys or anything, but we’re basically older than Beyoncé. Pretty weird, right?
And sure, we’re not as old Uncle Sam or anything, but so many things have happened in the past five decades. Heck, so many things have happened in the past five years. My friends and I were just talking about this the other day; an innocent link to an article on Kinky Boots (don’t be weird, it’s just the title of a Broadway musical) somehow spiralled into a wistful reflection on all the stuff that Singapore has witnessed in contemporary times.
The phrase “contemporary times”, of course, being loosely marked with – for lack of a better term – national drama. I won’t go into further details though. I probably don’t have to, it’s evident: we still can’t seem to agree on a bunch of things.
But, you know. To quote Ann-Murray, “[w]e sure could use a little good news today”. And I guess the fact that we’re all still here waiting on the big 5-2 in one piece (and that zoo tickets are at 52% off) calls for a celebration nonetheless! More importantly, it got me wondering about what really makes Singapore… well, Singapore. Is there something that virtually every Singaporean can agree on? Sure, we have durians, chilli crabs and chicken rice with chilli that is too spicy for Gordon Ramsay, but is there anything else?
And that’s when it hit me. Maybe even literally—I was in the library last week, during which a little boy accidentally threw his flag eraser in my direction (I like to believe that he just had terrible aim and didn’t really mean to do this); the rubber thing bounced off the side of my face, igniting both my frustration and the fireplace of nostalgia at the back of my head.
Of course! What better way to celebrate Singapore in all her multiracial, multi-religious story, than a little throwback to something that all of us have experienced (and can enthusiastically agree on): the games we’d all played back in primary school?!
In retrospect, some of the games are highkey problematic, but the thought of them still tugs at my heartstrings. It could be my period, or the fact that I’m a 90’s kid who’d lived through an era dotted with rapid advancements in technology which have in turn compelled me to turn to simpler times and simpler games as sources of comfort—I still don’t really know.
Either way, here’s a short #TBT dem good ol’ days!
1. Flag Erasers
Credit: MTrade Singapore
This is first on the list, owing to how one of them started this whole thing in the first place. You’d be able to find them at the school bookshop, and they cost about 20 cents each. I collected so many of them too, for reasons (still) unknown. Plus, I just realized that they have the names of the countries printed below each flag—my schoolmates and I really only cared about whose eraser was going to (literally) come out on top. Some of them also stapled the back of their erasers so that they’d spin or something, like a makeshift top.
The only thing that sucked about these erasers was the reason for their existence in the first place! I don’t remember being able to erase any word cleanly with any of them.
Um, duh. The mother of all primary school games! All of us have done it at least once—you just needed a place and lots of energy. Remember screaming “Twist! TWIST!” and giving the peace sign when the catcher caught up with you? Or running to some corner or neatly-painted circle at the parade square, so you’d be safe? Man, I really miss that sense of security. I wish we still had one of those in university, except they’re meant to protect you against the bellcurve and snipers (psst, bidding next week. Psst).
It’s also funny how we don’t go “Tag, you’re It!” like how the kids do in Western movies. Like, we just shout “Catch!” before running away. Could this be another testament to how effective Singlish is in communicating thoughts and needs?
3. Hand Games
Yeah, I know many of us have progressed to much more… mature kinds of hand games (some of us playing them by ourselves, even) 😉
Remember the following ones from primary school, though? I won’t go into how they’re all played; I’m pretty sure the lines are more than enough. I have a feeling some of us will be playing some of them soon after reading the lines too (at least, my mom bugged me to play Heart Attack with her after I let her read this article’s draft).
Let’s be real—“Jelly jelly long cham, pas pas pas” was like the deux es machina of hand games. The Vampire Chest game had a lot of alternate versions too, where you just replace the word “vampire” with something else; the weirdest I remember playing is “Baby Chest”…
4. Card Games
Credit: A2Z Hub
And I mean the ones before the Monopoly card game or whatever—UNO, Old Maid and Donkey? Happy Family too! One of my schoolmates used to cheat by marking the Old Maid and Donkey cards with a small dot at the bottom… sigh, good times.
And if you didn’t feel like playing any of them, you can just go straight to playing Snap. There is a card deck dedicated to this game, but you can use any deck of cards to be honest; if you see two of the same cards being placed in a row, yell “Snap!” and slam your hand on the pile like the competitive monster you are.
You have to say “Snap” though, if not (and this is the most primary school phrase ever) it’s not counted.
5. That Fortune Teller Paper Thing
This was so important. Like, it was the primary school version of fortune cookie strips or something, and was mainly used to predict if your crush liked you back. Yeah, for some reason or another, no one seemed to trust plucking the petals off flowers.
There are definitely so many more, like Five Stones, Chapteh, Hopscotch, and even Xiangqi. I’m pretty sure there was also a yoyo phase (thanks, Super YoYo), and the whole Beyblade craze—heck, they were basically the fidget spinners and Kendamas of the day. If you can recall any other game that you’d dabbled in back then, leave a comment!
Happy 52nd birthday Singapore, thanks for the memories 😊
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