Thursday, September 25, 2008

G.Y.O. (Grow Your Own) - WW

The scarcity of food made people turn to growing their own crops

During the Japanese Occupation, food shortage was a serious problem. The Japanese issued ration cards to control supplies of rice and other essential items. Without this ration card, you could not get any provisions from the shops. The scarcity of goods sent prices sky-rocketing and there was a black market for those who could afford to pay.

My grandparents have 3 young children, an 11-month-old baby and another one on the way (my Dad). The 3.6 kg of rice rationed monthly was not enough to feed the whole family. My grandmother could not produce milk for her baby who subsequently died.

The different passes issued by the Japanese Imperial Army and Military Police

The Japanese encouraged the people to grow their own crops. My grandparents grew an assortment of food crops. They were mainly tapioca and sweet potato with some banana, coconut and papaya trees.... they later added more crops. To fight hunger, malnutrition and diseases, my grandmother had many ingenious ways to use these crops .

Food was scarce, people were skins and bones

The sweet potatoes and coconut are very useful crops. Almost every part of them can be used. My aunt still complains about those days, "It was sweet potatoes for breakfast, sweet potatoes for lunch and sweet potatoes for dinner!"


Tapioca and sweet potatoes could be turned into fries after steaming and cutting them into strips. When mashed into flour, it was made into crispies (keropok). The tapioca flour was also used to make pearl tapioca, even pancakes and noodles. But they were not palatable.

The sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and high in fibre. When added to a pot of porridge, it kept every one from hunger but it made people let out lots of gases. hehe......

What little rice they had were reserved for my grandmother and the new born baby. She would cook a little rice in a pot of water, then feed the rice soup to her baby. The rice was of a poor quality with weevils and small stones in it. Yet many times, she let the older kids eat her porridge while she ate sweet potatoes or tapioca.

sweet potatoes

Excess crops were sold or bartered for food in the black market. My grandmother kept two chickens for eggs. Then she started breeding them. When a hen couldn't lay any more eggs, she slaughtered it and it would be eaten for days and days. Every morsel was savoured. Every edible part of the chicken was eaten. Nothing was wasted in those days.

During those war years, many were happy just to drink a simple bowl of porridge without worrying what the next day would bring......

Living in a kampong (village), my grandmother learnt some frugal ways from her Malay neighbours. She bartered for small fish, dried and preserved them with salt. After eating the flesh, she fried the bones and pounded them finely, sprinkling it on porridge for my toddler Dad.

Having gone through hard times, my grandmother was very frugal and did not allow us to waste food. We had to finish everything in our bowls.

During hard times, women had ingenious ways to provide food for their family...

It used to disgust me to watch her eat. She would eat 2 bowls of plain porridge every morning with just ONE pickled olive, for 4 days! She downed half a bowl of porridge, nibbled a little of the picked olive, then licked and sucked a quarter of it while finishing the remaining porridge. One pickled olive lasted her for 4 breakfasts! @.@

She taught her daughters-in-law and I how to manage a household with whatever little we have. She led a simple life, she had little needs. She died at the age of 97, surrounded by 4 generations of her descendants.

Photos from Memories at Old Ford Factory
and Hua Song Museum

Heritage Star Blogger!

National Heritage Board's first heritage star blogger contest


  1. we also have that in the philippines. we are indeed southeast asia.

  2. the donG,
    The crops?
    I think we have similar crops and probably cook them the same way. :)

  3. ecl,
    I think the older generation are just smart and tough. Smart in the sense that they can come out with a lot of way just to survive. Tough in the sense that no matter what, it won't bring them down. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

  4. Kok,
    Living conditions were very bad then they had to improvise and find ways to survive and feed their families.

    That's why we have to learn from them. Toughen up and be able to fight no matter what happens.

    Let's have fighting spirit!!

  5. I could imagine how hard times were. I admire how your grandparents worked hard to provide for your family.

  6. Rachel,
    I appreciate my grandparents for what they did for us. They were tough cookies. :)

  7. Older generations work hard, to provide a good future for themselves......and also for future generations.

  8. Tom,
    You're right. I'm working hard to provide a good future for my future generations too. :)

  9. Tho our current persecutions and sufferings pale in comparison to the above, many families, especially those whose breadwinners have been and will be retrenched due to the current economic crisis, will face very tight times ahead. I"m just thankful that a friend I'd made on a trip earlier this year warned me about this gloom and thus my finances are in tact and reinvested.

    Thanks for getting all the freebies!

  10. This post is good enough to enter for the Heritage Starbloggers contest too. I suppose at least one of the photos was taken at the Memories of Old Ford Factory? ...yah, I was right when I read the footnotes.

  11. sho,
    I'm worried too. Left and right, I see people I know or living around me falling hard on their faces. This economic crisis is terrible. There are more bad news to come.

    We need to fight hard this time. Singaporeans need to unite and pull through tough times.

    Tough times never last, but tough people do.

  12. oceanskies,
    I have another post coming up. I have to select one or Jaymes will select. He wants the Wii, not me. :)

  13. All I read here sounds very familiar to me ! Being born in 43 I just remember well the time after war where nobody had something to eat and everything was on food cards. Milk was only for small children. My mother nursed 4 other babies because she had too much milk so at least the babies didn't die. My grandma and grandpa went on the fields to collect potatoes which the farmer had forgotten. There was no oil and my grandma baked with caster oil which she got for me ! She too couldn't stand when somebody left something on the plate and she too managed to become nearly 95 ! At that time people certainly had no overweight problems !!!

  14. May you win the Wii. That could be a lovely birthday present.

  15. Gattina,
    Wow, I tried to imagine you going through those dark times. I hope the food crisis we are having now won't escalate to that level.

    I'm sure many young people these days won't know what to do if there is a serious food shortage. They are so used to yummy convenient food, many would probably starve to death as many don't even know how to cook! :P

  16. oceanskies,
    I'm not in favour of him having too many such gadgets and handheld games, that's why I refused to buy any for him. If he was given the gift or won them, I have nothing to say. :)

  17. Paddy looks cute hor? Heehee I thought he is a girl when I first saw the name :p Don't tell him!

    Anw, my grandma almost 100 liao still alive!! I'm waiting for my nephew to get married and make the 5th generation!

  18. That's very serious problem during WW 2..My mother who was a young mother of my two oldest sibling has a lot to tell about food shortage..but thanks God my parents and two sisters survived..

  19. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman. This was a very interesting post. Given the state of things in the U.S. financial situation. I should probably be putting my greenhouse to use for winter crops.

  20. The horny bitch,
    yep, he's cute. >.<

    Wow! Your grandmother is blessed and how awesome to have 5 generations in one's lifetime!

  21. Hi mimi,
    WWII caused a lot of suffering and trauma to the victims. Glad that your Mom and older siblings live to tell their stories.

    I wish for World Peace.

  22. Carver,
    My grandmother is a super woman! I'm trying to fit in her shoes. :)

    I'm also thinking of following my grandmother's examples by growing my own vegetables. :P