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COLUMNIST/ E.S. Tung

IF you were a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, you would have seen this game — tikam.

You may have even spent a fortune of your pocket money on it to win a coveted toy and ended up getting a taste of the belt when your father found out that you had emptied your piggy bank for the cause.

Tikam was a game of chance sold at sundry shops and grocery stores in the days of yore. It comprised a huge cardboard with packets of toys (or junkfood) stapled on it.

Each packet carried a number. Sometimes there were neither toys nor foodstuff. Instead, there were ang pow packets carrying cash coupons of various denominations which you could redeem from the seller if you won.

At the bottom of the tikam board were rows and rows of folded tickets, priced at 5 or 10 cents a try, depending on the value of the prizes offered.

You just plucked out a ticket, tore it open and checked the number inside against those on the prizes.

If there was a match, you won. Otherwise, you would have to consider that investment as your contribution to the welfare of the tikam seller.

Sometimes, when you did not win anything, the good shopkeeper would give you a Trebor sweet as consolation. But usually, there were none.

You had to go home empty-handed, except the hard-earned lesson that all games of chance were often stacked against the player.

In my village in Kuala Terengganu, I remember we had a tikam champ. This boy was about 12, two years older than I was then.

This boy had the knack of winning big prizes every time he took a chance at the tikam board, so much so that every time he visited the sundry store to play tikam, a few younger boys would stick close to him like remoras.

And they would watch closely how the tikam champ plucked the tickets that won his coveted prizes.

Sometimes, the tikam champ would count until he got to the 10th ticket on the 10th row. Sometimes, he would just pluck the last ticket in the last row. But whichever ticket he plucked, sure enough, he would end up taking home one of the bigger prizes.

But to his ardent followers, who memorised the champ’s technique to the “T”, it rarely worked. The tikam seller always won and the grand prize often remained on the board until the last ticket was gone.

It wasn’t until much later that I found out the secret behind the tikam game. This was when I took up part-time work during the school holidays.

I was pasting the tickets on tikam boards for pocket money. Those days, there was plenty of part-time work like inserting mailers into envelopes or washing beer bottles if you needed to work during the school holidays.

Pasting tikam tickets was one of these paying jobs and you didn’t need to have experience to get started

There was no specific order to stick the tickets. Everything was left to the whim and fancy of the person doing the job.

As long as all the tickets were pasted on the board in neat rows, you got paid. Those days, you were paid 3 sen to paste a 300-ticket board.

And to most of the workers, the only consideration was to complete as many boards in a day as humanly possible to make the no-brainer of a task worth one’s time.

– Rigged –

The tikam loophole revealed itself to me when I found out that at least 10 numbers did not go into the tickets to be pasted on. And these were the numbers that were reserved for the more attractive prizes the players could never win.

Even if you had pulled out all the numbers on the ticket board, these prizes would still be left standing. You could say that the tikam game had been rigged even before the boards left the factory!

I remember the incident of a boy in our kampung who had persistently tried his luck at the tikam board which offered a movie box — a toy to view a movie frame by frame through a pinhole.

For days he had been to the same sundry store in the hope of winning that piece of novelty. But when the last ticket he pulled out did not yield him the prize, he went home crying to his parents.

His father, a burly man with a short fuse, went to the sundry shop and threatened to beat up the poor shopkeeper if he continued to offer tikam games to children.

The tikam board game eventually died in the mid-1970s amid cries by consumer groups to make it illegal because it promoted the gambling habit among children.

I do not know if the craze died due to such moral policing or because of the availability of newer, more interesting games, one of which was the candy slot machine.

You just inserted a coin into the machine, turned the lever and a plastic ball containing a mystery toy or a piece of candy would come rolling out.

While the tikam board is a rare sight today, the candy slot machines seem to have survived the times and continue to exist on the grimy five-foot ways of sundry stores in remote towns and villages.

tikamprizes-L
The lure of big prizes is the main draw in this game of chance.

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