Growing up in 80s Malaysia

September 22, 2006 8:44 PM

The other day, I was reminiscing about my school days in Malaysia with a colleague who also grew up in KL. Although she was almost 10 years younger than me, we shared a lot of funny memories about being a kid back in 80s Malaysia.

Angpows, Chinese red packets

We especially laughed about our miniscule pocket money and how it affected our behaviour. To give you an idea, I was given RM3 per school day for lunch and I don’t get any extra for the weekend or to buy stuff. It is a reason why us Chinese kids especially look forward to Chinese New Year for the sudden windfall of cash from the red packets, or angpows.


So, typically a lunch at school would cost RM3 if you get a bowl of noodles or a plate of rice, plus a drink. In order to save, sometimes I’d forgo the drink and get water from the tap. That way I’d end up saving maybe RM1. Kids who got more than RM3 were considered the “rich” kids. Those were the kids who can get a bowl or plate of hot food, a drink *and* a pack of chips. A pack of chips was the epitome of the good life to me then.

Usually us poorer and hungrier kids would like the rich ones to be our friends. But you gotta get the generous ones who’d dole out the potato chips like it was nothing to them. Not surprisingly, they were also the ones who were popular. Sometimes we would be quite mean where even if we don’t like the person, we’d still scum his food. Ah, kids.


The other thing that obsessed every kid were our pencil erasers, or “rubbers” (hee hee). There’s an unspoken rule about using another person’s “rubber” (hee hee, oh behave!) – you only use the corner that has been used before. That is, you don’t simply go and rub away on a pristine corner. Why? Because! I don’t wanna lend you my rubber anymore!

Yes we hate kids who’d break this rule. We used our meagre money to buy a good rubber (this one rubs faster! No! Mine is faster!) so we look after it like it was gold. We’d like to preserve its newness for as long as possible. And we don’t like to see it all grunged up. Worse still if you rub off too much of it. Rubbers cost money yo!

Cassette Tapes

Michael Jackson's
The bestest tape that I bought!

Back in the 80s, an original cassette tape cost RM12. So to buy one would mean that I’d have to forgo a drink during lunch for a little more than two weeks. Either that or I eat kacang putih as lunch and save up quicker. Buying a tape required some sacrifices.

In those days, you’d hear a good single on the radio or catch the clip on “America’s Top 10 with Casey Kasem“. You got psyched up and you started to scrimp and save to buy the album. Clutching your money, you walk into the music shop and hand over your entire savings. You go home and put it in the player and the worst thing that could happen is: the single is the only good song on the tape! Wah, you wanna cry man.

Walkman and batteries

Sony Walkman, cassette player

The Walkman was the must-have accessory for a kid in the 80s. Usually you only got one because you blew your angpow money on it, or it was given to you as a gift. But you’d still need batteries to run it and those cost money. So the thing that you’d hate most is a buddy borrowing your Walkman to listen to that tape that you had starved for, and rewinding and fast-forwarding through the tape to listen to the one and only good song on it over and over again!

Wei! Don’t waste my battery lah! Wei! Finish oredi or not!? Come on lah! Give it back! I don’t friend you anymore har!

Ah fun times. Heh. If you grew up in the 80s too, how did you remember it? 🙂

[tags]80s, eighties, Malaysia, Malaysian[/tags]

18 thoughts on “Growing up in 80s Malaysia

  1. hobart

    haha…well…i didn’t exactly grow up in the 80s but hey…things weren’t exactly different in the 90s too…i have memories identical to yours , especially the ang paus and the “rubbers” (ahem). the only difference is perhaps the inflation of mentioned currency and starving for cds instead of cassettes.

    1. Alvira

      Hey! I am a freelance researcher and currently I am searching for people who were born in the 80s . This research is about understanding the environment back then in Malaysia/ the trends and also unforgettable memories that happened during that period of time. If anyone would like to share their stories with me, please feel free to email me at :

      Thank you so much!

  2. damion

    my primary school days doesnt seem that expensive tho…
    nasi lemak was 50cents, nasi ayam was RM1.00 and a glass of sirap was 20cents.. and I remember my pocket money then was RM2…
    but I remember the 5pm kesatria baja hitam tv shows tho… 😆

  3. z1

    I don’t know if you went to a government school but if you did, we used to line up outside the class before going in and do the silly ‘angkat jatuh’ thing. You know angkat tangan, lift hand, jatuh tangan, drop hand. Did you get that in primary school?

  4. Simone

    I grew up in 80’s/90’s country WA, several different primary schools!

    We were hardly ever allowed to buy lunch, brought our own. Usually one sandwich with nutella, one with cheese! Aussie kids always thought that was wierd(we were dutch), joking that I had ‘cheese and nutella sandwiches!
    Sometimes we could buy morning tea, a cheesie(half a bun with grilled cheese) for 50 cents!
    When we lived up north in a small outback community, every friday for lunch a group of students would do the cooking (there was like 30 kids in the whole school). I remember making pizza, and I think lasagna.

    I used to have a rubber collection! And still have most of them somewhere, fancy ones!! 😀

    We had that Bad tape. And black and white. And I remember a Top 40 Australia tape! My first tape, I think, was Mariah Carey’s music box. We had walkmans too, though I just remember them being broken.

    What I also remember from the 80’s: slinkys, beanbags, barbies….

  5. mooiness Post author

    hobart: hahah yeah – inflation and different things aside, what we went through is similar. I think all we have in common is the restrictions due to having small amounts of pocket money.

    damion: I don’t really remember how much food was in primary school but it was ridiculously cheap. It was once I got to a *private* high school that’s when the prices all got jacked up. Price shock man! Oh yeah the 5pm shows – that’s when all the TV stations start their broadcast. 🙂

    z1: went to a government Chinese school and a private English school. We played that game but during recess though. The other games we played were cops-n-robbers and other chasing games. Lotsa scrapes and bruises. Woohoo.

    Simone: Cheesies! I love those! I started school here at Yr 10 so I know all those foods as well.

    The group cooking thing sounds interesting, I wonder if they still do it? It’s a great skill to have and certainly a great bonding session.

    Hahah you too with the rubbers! I used to have this urge to sniff them too. Heh.

    80s – what a great time. 🙂

  6. Su

    I remembered my pocket money as being much less than rm3/day. I remember been ‘glued’ to the TV every weekday from 5pm for the cartoons though. Oh… and how can I forget the meaningless routine of assemblies (under the hot sun!!) before the start of class…

  7. Irene

    sad to say, when my family was on hard times, 20 cents a day was de riguer. RM1 was a luxury in itself, but then again, a decent bowl of laksa was 30 cents, so didn’t fare too badly.

    rubbers, we’d use for rubber-fights, flicking our respective “champions” – the winner was the one who managed to get his / her eraser to flip atop of the opponent’s little piece of latex. it was fun! it was a discreet distraction from the tedium of lessons. heh. but i remember being devastated when my prize rubber was confiscated by a sharp eyed teacher. sobs.

    sigh. those were the good ol’ days where simple pleasures were all that was needed to perk us up.

  8. girlstar7

    Being ten years younger than you, i grew up in the 90s and in inner-city Melbourne. to anyone else who grew up in the 90s, here are the things I remmeber from my childhood:
    – slap-bands
    – I also remember my first walkman as a Christmas present, I was so excited!
    – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    – Beverley Hills 90210
    – I would play with My Little Ponies while my brother played Transformers
    – Lego
    – Wearing fluro yellow/orange/green caps and t-shirts with bike shorts
    – Slinkys
    – Go-go balls
    – Listening to Ace of Base and the Real McCoy
    And in the later 90s, in my early teens:
    – Listening to Alanis Morrisette
    – watching Melrose Place
    I’m a decade younger than you, but some things are the same 🙂

  9. mooiness Post author

    Su: oh the assemblies and the public spankings! Woohoo!

    Irene: wow you have my respect. 20c a day would be tough. Speaking of simple pleasures, we also folded little paper “racers” and we’d flick them on a table, around a course made up of pencils and rulers and such.

    Now if we can find the joy derived from such innocent and simple pursuits, then we’d all be happy. 🙂

    girlstar7: hey you know, we may be 10 years apart but I share a lot of things with you on your list, especially the TV and the music.

    Ace of Base, Real McCoy (one hit wonder!), BH 90210 and Melrose Place! Yay! Guilty pleasures.

  10. daphne

    i grew up in the 90’s. i remember the slap bands. they’re like one of the coolest thing to have. also those 10cents ‘rubbers’ that you bought from the school bookshop. funny pencil boxes with compartments that will ‘pop’ up when you press a certain button. rich kids getting more $$ for recess which means they will buy more snacks, in a way… sometimes also have more friends.

    ahhh, childhood!

  11. Lyn

    oh ya…the rubbers and walkman is a MUST HAVE in malaysian school memories…:>

    oh course, i rmbr we also have an obsession of rubber bands then…collecting rubber bands…rubber band fights, using rubber bands to make skipping ropes especially ^.*…

    wonder if kids still do that nowadays +)

  12. mooiness Post author

    Lyn: rubber bands to make skipping rope! Yeah I remember that now too, thanks for the reminder. Those were awesome and it’s usually done by the girls, funny how that had evolved. 🙂

    Somehow I think kids these days have lost the sense of joy that can come from the simpler things. But you can’t blame them when there are so many forms of electronics and entertainment fighting for their attention.

  13. dsnake

    haha i’m 33, and yeah i do grow up in the 80’s when the economy was recovering in the Reagan era. Yea dude, i had 50cents for pocket money. But guess what haha.. I hustle in school kekeke, and thats where i make my bucks gambling wif the richer boys. Growing up in Msia, u’ve got to know how to improvise and be a conster keke.

    And you know what, I turn out good despite all the craziness. 80’s is where the baggies pants were the IN thing. Curry Puff hairstyle, HongKong Anita Mui rock the house. Hustle in the Snooker centers. 🙂 And of coz Mama Madonna Like a Prayer ROCKS. 🙂

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