Vanished Traditional Teochew Games

The older Teochew folks in Singapore may have known the game called ngeow cher kay chow kia (老鼠嫁女儿). It was an old Teochew game said to have brought over to Singapore from China during the pre-war era. The name of the game literally means “the rat marries off its daughter”.

The Rat Marries off its Daughter

To play the game, the players would have to place their bets on one of the four drawings on a 30cm by 30cm paper board. The banker would then dig into a small sack containing four small rectangular pieces of drawings, tucked inside a matchbox, that corresponded to those on the paper board. The drawing on the tile pulled out by the banker would decide the winner, and after the payout, the game continued.

On the four drawings were frog, crabs, fighting fish and houseflies, accompanied by a Teochew jingle that went:

chwee goi ta boh taw (“the frog carried the sack”, 水鸡担布袋)
chan hoi lai xiaw haw (“farm crabs send the gifts”, 田蟹来相贺)
sua mun kia chye kee (“fighting fish bears colourful banners”, 斗鱼撑彩旗)
hoe seng poon tee tee (“houseflies blow the trumpet”, 苍蝇吹(口地)(口地 ))

Ngeow cher kay chow kia and another Teochew game lok her hair hoi were some of the traditional games exhibited in 1979 by the National Museum to mark the International Museum Day.

Teochew Snakes and Ladders

Another vanished Teochew game was ho lo boon (ho lo means gourd in Teochew), popularly played in local Teochew families, especially during the Chinese New Years, between the fifties and seventies.

The objective of this game was to be the first to reach the “home”, which was represented by the ho lo (gourd) symbol. Sometimes, the player would have to roll the exact number on the dice to achieve this.

Ho lo boon was like the Chinese version of the popular Snakes and Ladders game, where two or more can play the game. A dice would be required, and each player had a counter to move on the chart board, typically made of yellow paper, that had many symbols such as the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea.

Whenever a player’s counter hit a symbol, he could jump it to a higher corresponding one. If he overhit the home (eg threw a four on the dice when there was only three steps left to reach the “home”), the player’s counter would have to reverse the extra steps and possibly “fall down” to a lower corresponding symbol.

This was one of the favourite games among the local Teochews, especially during the Chinese New Years, in the sixties and seventies, when they played the game with some small stakes in money, drinks or meals.

Published: 19 February 2018

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