Sunday, May 24, 2009


Yesterday, people at the office were all excited about the $5 million Toto draw (in Singapore).

As usual, I was totally indifferent.

My colleagues and friends often wondered why I am totally oblivious to all the fun and excitement surrounding Toto or the office soccer pool during the World Cup Finals.


You see, when it came to “big time” gambling, I had a head start on most people. Incredible as it may seem, I was in primary (elementary) school, nine or ten years old at that time, when I became a gambling addict and fell into serious gambling debts.

Living in Toa Payoh new town in the late 1960s, the boys would gamble while waiting for the school bus to pick us up. We gambled in many different ways. We played cards, dice, fighting spiders, fighting fish (bettas), marbles, cuti cuti (small plastic figurines), chart teh (juggling a shuttlecock in the air with one foot), ti kam (lucky draw), what we called pennies – actually iron washers, and anything else we can imagine.

We would be eager to leave the house for school, not because we love studying but because we can’t wait to try our luck with our meagre pocket money. My allowance then was 5 cents a day.

If my luck was good, I would have a bigger snack that day at the tuck shop – an extra curry puff (spicy potato pie) or an ice cream soda. If my luck was bad that day, I would go hungry and had to drink water straight from the tap.

We discovered the concept of credit very early. If you don’t have cash, you could always place your bets on credit. Believe it or not, at ten, we were gambling with money we don’t have! Sure enough I was soon struck by a streak of bad luck. I kept making bad bets until I owed my kakis (gambling mates) more than 4 dollars. That was a small fortune at that time. To put it in perspective, 4 dollars amounted to 4 months of pocket money at 5 cents a day.

It was a harrowing experience for a ten year old. My so-called friends became my creditors. To settle my debts, I had no food or drink at the tuck shop for many days. My creditors became impatient and began to harass me everyday. They threatened to get their money from my mother. That was my greatest fear as I was sure my parents would “kill” me. I lived in fear everyday for the day of reckoning.

Sure enough, the dreaded day when my creditors came banging at my door arrived. My mother was at home. After bailing me out, my mother settled accounts with me by giving me a well deserved bashing.

Looking back, I realised that my bad gambling luck early in life was really a blessing.

Though not all of my risk taking instincts had been wringed from me, from that day on, I stayed well away from any form of gambling. I would not bet on 4D, Toto, soccer pool, horses, mahjong, jackpot or even the customary friendly card games during Chinese New Year.


It is because I learned early, how bad it feels to owe a large sum of money with no means of paying it back and how harrowing it is to live in constant fear of creditors banging down my door.

I’ve learned my lesson and don’t relish re-living the mistake again.

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