Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow

20170322-002a (blog)No, this is not a treasure chest that you’d find in a cave. This is an ice box that the ice man would load on his bicycle where he’d then go round selling. Two whole blocks of ice covered in sawdust to keep it from melting any quicker than it should, on a hot day.

How would he cut the ice you ask? Here’s your answer, a huge saw.

20170322-002b (blog)Do you remember the ice man that cycled around on his bicycle selling ice? Do let us know if you do.



  1. NCK says:

    I think drinks and desserts vendors were the usual buyers. Upon ordered, an ice cube was sawn on the ground, or the whole piece dragged on the ground to the customer with an ice hook. This made the ice look unpalatable. But the dirts (mainly sawdust) could be washed away easily. The ice would then be pure as the driven snow, like magic.

    • NCK says:

      After an ice vendor dragged an ice block into a coffee shop, he would dutifully use his hook to lift the ice block into a sink. The coffee shop people would then wash the ice block, place it in a plastic basin, and break it with an ice pick. I don’t know how much an ice vendor earned. Lives used to be simple.

    • NCK says:

      Pardon me. The ice block wasn’t broken in a plastic basin, but a galvanised steel pan or an aluminium basin. A plastic basin wouldn’t survive the onslaughts of the ice pick.

  2. CK Leong says:

    Ice delivered to drinks sellers in those days was highly suspect for food safety reasons. First the water used to make ice must be potable, i.e. have been chlorinated (0.5 ppm minimum), be free of nasty bacteria (too many to mention) and chemicals (toxins, lead). The saw dust used could contain nasty bacteria and toxic chemicals. Washing the dirt (being dragged on the ground (mud and sand) off with water was another source of contamination (quality of water used). I guess the saving grace was the high level of tolerance in the general clients to these nasty bacteria, that a glass of cold sarsee with ice added, did not pose a great problem. Drink only ice made with proper heat treatment and/or from an approved water supply.

  3. S.Y. says:

    The fact that we survived is a miracle. There was a shop in Anderson Road selling blocks of ice. Until maybe we started having ice cubes and ice tubes in plastic bags, I used to buy a block from him which the worker will saw with a rusty saw. The big block of ice is normally kept on the floor with sawdust to delay the ice from melting. I only used the ice block in a pail or container and dump the beer or aerated water in cans in and so it is safe. But when I was a young boy, I (and probably all children) will buy ice drinks which the owner of the ice stall will use a scraper to scrape and add it to the cendol, ice kacang, etc. Or I buy an ice ball with cendol, red beans or leong fun filling. Then the ice stall seller will add in the syrup. And we lick the ice ball and eat the filling. Did not die or fell ill despite the lack of hygiene

  4. Ngai C O says:


    The box was definitely a treasure chest to the ‘ice whaever’ seller; it was about the cheapest, most cost effective method to hold the ice and keep losses to a minimum. Without which, we would not be able to enjoy ice this or that.

    Many of the older generations would probably have bought ice balls to keep cool and replace lost fluids on a regular basis.

    I did not give much thought about hygiene then.

    Now I keep a million miles away if I feel something is suspect.

    One other issue with me and I believe many other people of my age group is that the body system does change with age. For instance, I eat and drink very little before I travel to avoid unpredictable events.

  5. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Dear NCK:

    I don’t know how much an ice vendor earned. Lives used to be simple.

    Well, there were ice-vendors and then there were ice-vendors. As with many industries, those who controlled supply — i. e., those with a great deal of capital— made a great deal of money in return. In Ipoh the best example is Shaik Adam, whose Mercantile Bank building (Station Road) and Indian Muslim mosque (Clayton Road) were both paid for largely out of proceeds from making and selling ice.

    Before industrial-scale refrigeration was widely available, around the world ice was big business. In the United States, for example, more than one princely fortune was made (in the nineteenth century) by cutting up frozen lakes in New England and shipping the ice all the way to San Francisco.

    Going back to the man with the ice-box and the bicycle, I know how hard he worked, and I wonder what his dreams were.

  6. Ngai C O says:


    To explore the ‘indispensable’ block ice further, here is what I found from non other than google.

    It is interesting to note that there are many similarities in how it was done in Missisipi as in Ipoh or elsewhere.

    Looks like the concept was adopted here and not our own local invention.

    However the locals were creative enough to come up with deliceous ice kachang, chendol etc.

    I have a feeling the ice ball concept was also copied from somewhere.


  7. sk says:

    Yes, I remember helping my neighbour selling ice block during Ramadan.
    At that time, the ice block was covered with saw dust & wet sack cloth to prevent melting.

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