What with National Day just around the corner, we’re in the mood for some nostalgia. So, after reading some lovely local stories and going old-school playground hopping, we decided to go three for three and hunt around for some of our favourite traditional Singapore games and toys. Some of us might not have grown up in a kampong, but whether at parks or indoors, much of our childhood was spent filling the time with these games. We must have gone through at least fifty boxes of Bestman Balloons in our attempt to shove our younger sibling inside one. Here are some of our faves…
These little gems were brilliant for whiling away rainy days. Just flip your piece until it lands on top of your opponent’s and you’ll win your opponent’s piece. Keep playing until you’ve cleaned them out or broken even. The trick is to pick a piece that flips really well; flat ones won’t do. This game can also be played using bottle caps or flag erasers.
Blow it up or deflate it any time you like. The best thing about it is that it won’t pop or fly away, leaving your shocked kid behind. Hours of cheap and cheerful fun, for sure.
It’s like juggling one-handed and requires a lot of hand-eye coordination. You throw a stone into the air and then, using the same hand, pick up another before you catch that stone. Keep going until you’ve got all the stones in your hand. Then, follow the progression until you’re picking up four stones at a time. Check out how to play five stones here. Fun fact: five stones used to be played with real stones. Ouch! We got ours from Jelly Bean Attic.
Once used to train monks and soldiers in ancient China to strengthen their martial arts skills, Chapteh is a game of keepsie-upsies with a feathered shuttlecock (an act that would get you penalised in a badminton game, but is perfectly fine here). Whoever keeps it in the air the longest without using their hands wins. You can build up some pretty great foot-eye coordination with this.
Historically, this game has had many names including mikado and jonchets. Some say it originated in China, some in Native America. Maybe it came about because some kids were messing about with kindling (who knows). The rules are simple: pick up sticks without touching any of the others and whoever has the most number of sticks at the end wins.
These plastic balloons are a true relic of days gone by. Where once you could buy a whole box of the tiny tubes for a dollar, you can now only get a tiny packet of the stuff for the same price. The gel you squeeze out of the tubes is a viscous plastic that you stick onto a straw and blow into malleable bubbles. You can make the bubble bigger by adding more of the gel onto the straw or the bubble, but a word of warning: it gets really messy really fast.
Chinese chess (Xiang Qi)
Like English chess, the point of the game is to capture the king. The pieces and rules mirror English chess, but there are entirely different strategies due to the presence of the fortress, to which the king and his counsellors are confined. There’s also the small matter of the river, where the pawns gain more power after crossing, while confining the minister to one side. Check out all the rules and how to play here.
Top image: Photography by Sheralyn Loh
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