Watching Death Cab for Cutie’s video for I’ll Follow You Into the Dark (the tune – or should I say, zune – du jour), it suddenly reminded me of my third uncle’s shophouse back in Batu Gajah, a typical Chinese 1920s long building of business, where he plied, wholesale, commodities such as rice, flour and sugar.

The shop was huge, so huge that it had two stories, but six ‘parts’ to the house: the shopfront; the back of the shop front, where he stacked sacks and sacks of everything; the middle of the shop, which had a ceiling two storeys high; the enormous wet kitchen at the back, followed by a gargantuan backyard with an outhouse and a chicken shed and all sorts of bric-a-brac that had probably been brought over from China by my grandparents and the grandparents of some of our neighbours even.

And then there was the ‘upstairs’, where my fourth uncle lived with his family, and it had six rooms, all of which were dusty and badly kept, but man, did my sis and I find joy in roaming around this monstrosity of a place.

One of the best things about the ‘upstairs’ of this house was there was a hole in the wooden floor, through which you could see the cash register downstairs, behind which my uncle did all his business. The hole was the size of a tennis ball in diameter, so you can imagine the kind of mischief we would get into. Sometimes, we would casually drop a toy or two. Other times, it would be magazines or newspapers, rolled or squished up, hitting my uncle or his helpers squarely on the shoulders or heads, after which an earsplitting scream would erupt and we would scramble to hide. I remember once we even squeezed a small cat through it, and this is a good ten feet from the ground. It’s no wonder the damn thing scratched me good. Was that after or before I pushed it through a hole the size of its head? I don’t remember.

Until today, all memories of this little hole in the floor were tucked behind layers (years) and layers (years) of Other More Important Things. And all of a sudden, one video managed to excavate it clean from its grave. The Hole In the Floor.

Of course, then, I never ever wondered why there was such a hole in the middle of a living room floor (where we sat watching Hawaii-Five-O or Ultraman for many years). Now, when I think of it, it would be a great way to ‘smuggle’ cash quickly, for sometimes, I would catch my aunt pulling things up using a rafia string, newspaper-wrapped Things I now presume would be cash.

The Hole had many other uses (besides dropping toys and torturing cats). For one, it was a good way to see if someone’s broken into your shop in the middle of the night. Who needs a thousand-dollar security system when you have a hole in the floor?

Another use would be (and I think this might be it) a good spy-hole for invasions or ‘spot checks’ by Japanese soldiers during the occupation. I remember the hole having very clean edges, as though it’d been there for a while. Hear a commotion downstairs, peep through the hole to see if it’s a random check by Japanese militia, hide your daughters. Handy, isn’t it?

The shop is still there today, although it’s not inhabitable anymore. I’m sure its days are numbered, for neglect has a way of shortening one’s life. My uncle is retired and become deaf from all his screaming, and my fourth uncle has long since moved into his own very modern corner house with a small garden and hopefully, no holes in the floor.

And even if there were, I’m sure his children had fun with them.