Bingo, a great way to bond

Bingo, a great way to bond

Clutching our game cards, our family of four sank into a chinoiserie couch at the Lotus Lounge.

The balls started percolating in a machine. The caller announced the drawn numbers. Our eyes feverishly scanned the rows and columns on our cards for corresponding digits, punching out those already called.

"And the next number is... FIVE!" chirped Lucky Raffy, the lively young woman standing in front of the board with lit figures, presiding over the machine.

"BINGO!" yelled my husband, as the kids and I erupted in cheers.

On a recent cruise holiday, we became strangely obsessed with a game that I used to associate with blue-rinsed old women at run-down seaside resorts.

You know, where a bow-tied caller dramatically intoned things such as, "Two little ducks... 22!", and retirees with walking frames next to them sat all day, daubing Bingo tickets with markers.

For five days, after stuffing ourselves full of good food at the main dining room, the kids and I would hurry to the cruise ship's bingo lounge, lined inexplicably with replica terracotta warriors, to chope a choice seat near Lucky Raffy, whose jokes and routine cracked us up.

Kids play free when an accompanying adult buys a bingo card priced from US$11 (S$14.40, in line with the inflated costs of all things on board), so we would settle in with our cards, pineapple juices in hand and wait for the hour-long game to start.

While there was a small cash prize to be won, that jackpot was beside the point. For us, the thrill of getting the winning pattern on our cards - patterns ranged from simple lines to complicated crosses and H's - and shouting it out was enough.

One game, in which a free stay in the ship's royal suite was up for grabs, attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

You could have cut the suspense in the room with a knife and everyone gasped, then started chattering all at once when four people called out bingo at the same time, necessitating a gripping play-off.

It was a spectator sport.

All around us, other Singaporean families seriously studied their cards. Some had bought six sheets, each sheet containing six individual bingo cards, so that checking them was a mad rubbery chicken-neck exercise.

Perhaps, bingo appealed to the consummate exam-taker in every kiasu Singaporean. After all, the test was simple: Check if the numbers called and displayed on the board tallied with what was printed on your card.

The mode of marking the cards, too, probably reminded us of the computerised optical marking sheets we had to shade in when taking our Primary School Leaving Examination.

The cards had pre-cut curves above each number, so all you had to do was to push them in and fold - just one step shy of tearing the date and time tabs on a parking coupon.

No wonder cruise-ship bingo hit a spot with our compatriots.

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