Pay Days and the Village Story Tellers of Jalan Kayu- By Al Taylor

Al Taylor who now resides in Australia, served at RAF Seletar from 1955 to 1958. He recounts about Pay Day & the story tellers who once weaved their tales in Jalan Kayu about all things weird and fantastic.

Some nights we would leave 'H' block West Camp RAF Seletar and we might walk down to Jalan Kayu or take a Camp Taxi, the Camp Taxi's were approved to operate inside the camp and also to go in and out, however normal Taxi's were not allowed in to the camp and had to discharge their passengers at the Main gate.

Serviceman's Pay Day
Depending on what part of the Pay Fortnight it was would determine if we only had a meal and then window shopped and bantered with the shop keepers.

One night my friends and I were at the wrong end of the pay fortnight and had only had a meal and a Tiger beer, then it was time to wander round and browse whilst the traders tried hard to get us to buy something despite repeatedly being told we were broke, this was good fun for us also as we enjoyed the interaction and this wonderful Eastern culture.

The traders always believed we were rolling in money, and in fact it was surprising just how much they knew about our income which was brought home to me one night when a shop trader kept telling me that as I had just been paid I could afford to buy this Camera. I tried to tell him I could not afford it and he then proceeded to ask me what Rank was I and a few more questions, then he told me what my pay should be without deductions, he wouldn't tell me how he was so accurate but I found out the next day that many civilians worked in the Pay Section!

The Village Story Teller
We were walking round and chatting with many of the shop traders, then I came to a gap between two shops on Western side of the road, there were a few electric light bulbs hanging around on trees and I noticed a crowd of people sat on the ground on little Bamboo mats in a semi circle around a man. I first noticed the crowd, who were all wide eyed and paying close attention to the man. I walked a little closer and although not understanding what he was saying, he made it pretty clear that he was relating a story that must have been very exciting according to his gesticulations and facial expressions, one minute his voice would raise and the crowd would respond with much feeling. At one stage some of the crowd were evidently quite concerned as they huddled together and seemed to search for comfort.

I was totally engrossed with the whole affair and could not believe how much control the storyteller had over the audience, they were really mesmerised by his narration. Then he stopped and uncrossed his legs while the audience got restless and started to talk to him in a frantic way, this appeared to be his way of building up the excitement.. probably on the basis that when they are excited you stop and that gets them wanting more.. this happened a few times until finally he must have come to the climax of the story and for a short while everything was quiet then the chatter started. At this stage a bowl was passed around and donations were dropped into the bowl. Gradually the crowd moved away with everyone chatting away in an excited way.

As I walked back to the road one of the Shop keepers that I knew asked me if I had understood what was going on, I said I thought he was a story teller although I did not understand what he was saying I appreciated his skill at entertaining the audience. The shop keeper explained that the man was an intellectual in so much that he could read and write, and many could not read or write, so he came round every so often and read any mail people got and also replied for them for which he made a charge. During the evenings or quiet times he would tell stories and the more horrific and outrageous he made the stories the more he would earn... Evidently tonight's story was about a Dragon coming out of the sky to take the spirit out of the Village and a Lion defending the Village.. of course the Lion won.

A Tiger for a tale....
On my unit, 81 Sqdn we had a man who also was a very vivid story teller and his charge was a pint of Tiger, so he would pick an exciting part of a story and stop at a climax... we knew it was time to get a Tiger for him... One night he related a story that had been passed down many times about a Japanese General during occupation riding his white horse, most accounts were round 9X site ( on the Eastern Perimeter of Seletar, 9X site was the Far East Air Force (F.E.A.F). Bomb and Ammunition storage site and tightly guarded.. except for one night when some C.T.'s( Communist Terrorist's) broke in but got nothing) and swinging his sword whilst charging at you. The story made out some people had actually seen the General and were thereafter mentally affected and sent back to the UK, and an RAF Police dog had to be put down as it became uncontrollable.

I went back down to Jalan Kayu the next night to watch the story teller again but he had moved on... but I had enough money to have a dollar Curry and a Tiger.. afterall tomorrow was pay day.