The festive face of Ubin

15 05 2014

It is during two Taoist festivals celebrated in a big way by the Pulau Ubin Fo Shan Teng Tua Pek Kong Temple (乌敏岛佛山亭大伯公庙), the Tua Pek Kong festival celebrated around Vesak Day in May, and the Hungry Ghosts Festival during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, that the somewhat sleepy island takes on a festive air.

Backstage at the wayang stage: a festive face of Ubin.

Backstage at the wayang stage: a festive face of Ubin.

The Tua Pek Kong temple.

The Tua Pek Kong temple.

The island, particularly during the Tua Pek Kong festival, is overrun by thousands of visitors who range from the many devotees who go over to participate in the rituals at the temple and the curious who are there to soak up the atmosphere of what might once have been a common scene on the main island of Singapore; to the hundreds who would head there festival or not, to seek an escape from the madness of the concrete jungle.

The Teochew Opera performances is one of the draws of the festival.

The Teochew Opera performances is one of the draws of the festival.

A dragon dance held during the celebrations.

A dragon dance held during the celebrations.

The three stars make an appearance.

A modern interpretation of the three stars make an appearance.

It is more than just the colourful religious rituals that would be of interest to the curious. It is during the two festivals that we also see the use of the permanent Chinese opera stage – one of possibly two that are still left in Singapore. It has long been a tradition for Chinese temples to hold a ‘wayang‘, as the various forms of Chinese opera is commonly referred to in Singapore and Malaysia, in conjunction with festivities to entertain the deities and in the case of the seventh month, the spirits who return and many permanent stages were a feature of temples in villages across Singapore.

The opera troupe onstage paying respects to the deity.

The opera troupe onstage paying respects to the deity.

A view of the wayang stage during the evening's performance.

A view of the wayang stage during the evening’s performance.

While interest in wayangs, which had a following among the masses, has waned in the wake of the introduction of more modern forms of entertainment, the art is being kept alive at the Ubin temple and by its Teochew opera troupe on which the spotlight does shine during the two big festivals that the temple celebrates.

More backstage scenes.

More backstage scenes.

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At the time of writing, this year’s Tua Pek Kong festival (the photographs of which are used in this post) is still being celebrated. The celebrations will draw to a close on Saturday (17 May) with a getai (歌台) after which the temple sends Tua Pek Kong (Da Bo Gong or 大伯公) off. On the evidence of last year’s celebrations, the getai does also draw a sizeable crowd (see a post on last year’s Getai at Watching the stars under the stars) and for the experience of watching the stars (of the local getai circuit), under the stars, it certainly is well worth going over to Ubin on the final evening of the festival.

The temple during one of the rituals.

The temple during one of the rituals.

The ritual sees the appearance of the Tua Ya Pek (大爷伯) or Bai Wuchang (白无常) and ...

The ritual sees the appearance of the Camel cigarette smoking Tua Ya Pek (大爷伯) or Bai Wuchang (白无常) and …

... the Li Ya Pek (二爷伯) or Hei Wuchang (黑无常). Collectively the pair - guardians of the Taoist interpretation of the hell or purgatory of afterlife, are known as the Tua Li Ya Pek (大二爷伯) or Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常).

… the Li Ya Pek (二爷伯) or Hei Wuchang (黑无常). Collectively the pair – guardians of the Taoist interpretation of the hell or purgatory of afterlife, are known as the Tua Li Ya Pek (大二爷伯) or Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常).

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Free boat rides are provided through the period of the festival from 6.30 to 9.00 pm each evening from Changi Jetty (and from 8.30 to 10 pm on the return trip). More information on the festival’s programme can be found at Peiyan’s blog: 12 May – 17 May 2014: Pulau Ubin Celebrates the Tua Pek Kong’s birthday.


[Photos of another ritual, the Pingan Bridge (平安桥) crossing ceremony, done in the belief that it would cleanse the participant of negative energy]

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Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong festival Programme for 17 May 2014:

1000: Teochew Opera Performance
1845: Pulau Ubin Fo Shan Ting Da Bo Gong Temple’s Night! + Getai Performance
2230: Departure of Da Bo Gong ritual


Some previous posts on festivities at the Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong Temple and the island:


 

 





Last rites for the Singaporean soul

8 03 2014

The transition from February into March was one where we in Singapore seemed to have lost years rather than a month. That bore witness to the passing of several remnants of times we seem to find little relevance for in the manufactured world we have embraced.

Backstage on the night of 104 year old Sin Sai Hong Hokkien opera troupe's very last performance.

Backstage on the night of 104 year old Sin Sai Hong Hokkien opera troupe’s very last performance.

The last day of February was an especially cruel for those who take joy in celebrating the reminders of those times we have all but forgotten. It was to see two places (see: Last impressions), both which have found their way into the hearts of those who knew them, shut their doors for the very last time. One was a 1970s style kopitiam, Chin Hin Eating House, and the other, Buona Vista Swimming Complex, which also is of the same vintage.

A last look at the script for a last ever performance.

A last look at the script for a last ever performance.

March was to start with further sadness as we heard the swan song of the Sin Sai Hong (新赛凤) Hokkien Opera troupe. Involving four generations of the family of the founder, the troupe has a history that goes back 104 years, and was Singapore’s oldest Hokkien Opera troupe.

A signature scene seen at the troupe's final night.

A signature scene seen at the troupe’s final night.

Dwindling interest in what was a traditional form of street entertainment that had its heyday before the 1970s, and the resulting reluctance of the next generation in continuing the family tradition, has seen to Sin Sai Hong’s passing. And, in spite of there being renewed consciousness in Singaporeans about their many lost or dying traditions, it is unlikely that it would be enough to see the phoenix (凤) in Sin Sai Hong rise from the ashes.

A final offering to the altar.

A final offering to the altar.

Chinese opera performances, or wayangs as they are referred to locally, did once bring in the crowds. Troupes such as Sin Sai Hong would move from village to village, town to town across Singapore and Malaysia, finding audiences not only across the language divide.

The crowd at the Chai Chee United temple where the last performances were held over four days.

The crowd at the Chai Chee United temple where the last performances were held over four days.

My grandmother, who could converse only in Bahasa Indonesia, would often be among the audience and the very first wayang performances I did attend when they did come to Toa Payoh, were ones where I sat beside her and it is always with fondness that I look back to those precious times that I remember more for the reward that did almost always come after.  That reward was one found in the many food and toy stalls that in accompanying the travelling wayangs, provided an almost carnival like atmosphere to neighbourhood.

The wayang stage under the glow of red lanterns at the Chai Chee United Temple.

The wayang stage under the glow of red lanterns at the Chai Chee United Temple.

For many of the opera troupes, the carnival was to end with rising affluence, the distractions of the modern world, and perhaps the self-inflicted crisis of identity that came with the attempts to redefine who we are that made us who we are not. With interest declining over the last four decades, a simplification of traditional religious practices at Chinese temples where wayangs were staged during important religious celebrations, there is little demand for the troupes today. This is seen especially during the month of the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival during which a somewhat kitsch, but more popular form of entertainment, the Getai, has largely replaced the street wayang.

Filmmaker Royston Tan who spent over a year with the troupe in the lead up to his 2006 short film on the troupe.

Filmmaker Royston Tan who spent over a year with the troupe in the lead up to his 2006 short film on the troupe.

Where in 1988, there were an average of four wayangs (including puppet troupes) being staged on any one day (see: “Weird, wonderful wayang”, The Straits Times, 23 June 1988, Page 3) which kept troupes busy for most of the year, it would be considered good if professional Chinese opera troupes are booked for a third to half of the year.

Another view of the stage.

Another view of the stage.

Hokkien opera, other street Chinese opera genres such as the Teochew and Cantonese opera, as well as the many once common sub-cultural expressions, have always played a huge part in giving Singapore its multi-faceted soul. It is in losing them and troupes that promote these expressions such as Sin Sai Hong that we lose a part of who we are, and sadly for all of us, it is only a matter of time before we lose that soul in its entirety. 

Tradition meets technology.

Tradition meets technology.


More backstage and onstage photographs from the final night

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The faces of Chingay 2013

24 02 2013

If anyone reading this appears in any of the photographs below (or in this album), I would be pleased to extend a higher resolution copy of the photograph to you if you can drop me an email.


Photographs from what was certainly a feast for the senses, Chingay 2013, which was held at the F1 Pit Building over two evenings on 22 and 23 February 2013. The annual event, touted as “Asia’s Grandest Street Parade”  is organised the People’s Association. In its current incarnation, Singapore’s Chingay was conceived as a street parade to celebrate the Chinese New Year in 1973 in the wake of the ban on the tradition of letting off fireworks, the parade has evolved over the years into the spectacular celebration of Singapore’s rich multi-ethnic mix and includes participants from many other countries. The event wouldn’t have been a success if it wasn’t also for the efforts of many participants and volunteers, to whom this post is dedicated to:

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The transformation of Chingay over the years

5 02 2013

The Chingay Parade in Singapore as we know it today had its beginnings in the wake of the total ban on firecrackers which once were a must-have at any Chinese New Year celebration. That was back in 1973 – the parade was a relatively simple one which had been put together by the People’s Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation, and saw a procession of lion dancers, giant flag bearers, dragon dancers, stilt walkers, clowns and juggling acts down a 3 kilometre route that took them from the old Victoria School to the end point at Outram Park. Being very much a celebration connected with the Chinese New Year, it was a very Chinese-centric passing some of the streets of Chinatown along the way. A resounding success in its first year, the decision was made to make it an annual affair and the four decades of Chingay, saw it first move into the housing estates starting with Toa Payoh in its second year, before it was moved to Orchard Road in 1985. In that time, the parade also took on first a multi-cultural flavour and then an international flavour – moving from being a street parade not just for Singaporeans but also for visitors to the island.

The carnival -like street parade Chingay is today. A less than traditional looking stilt-walker seen during the rehearsal for Chingay 2013.

The carnival -like street parade Chingay is today. A less than traditional looking stilt-walker seen during the rehearsal for Chingay 2013.

Stilt walkers from a Chinagy Parade in the 1980s seen along Orchard Road.

More traditional stilt-walkers from a Chingay Parade in the 1980s seen along Orchard Road.

The origins of Chingay are not actually in the carnival-like street parade that we are treated to today. Chingay in its original form is very much what has been described as a Hokkien Chinese tradition, once held usually in conjunction with religious festivals with a usual parade of deities, and it is in this form that it is still very much celebrated across the causeway in Johor Bahru on the 21st day of the Chinese New Year. The parades were known to be held in Singapore as far back as in the 1880s, with participation not just by the Hokkiens, but also by the main dialect groups that made up the immigrant Chinese population.

The annual event has over the years taken on a multi-cultural and more international appearance.

The annual event has over the years taken on a multi-cultural and more international appearance.

The Japanese community  in Singapore has been well represented over the years.

The Japanese community in Singapore has been well represented over the years.

A Straits Times report of 1 February 1902 describes the parade as “being accompanied by all the usual banners, flags, toms toms, bands, magnificently and grotesquely made out individuals, and figures”. The report further describes the parade: “barbaric splendour was manifested to extravagance and thousands of spectators flocked to all points to witness it. Numbers of pretty Chinese girls brilliantly and richly dressed sat on perches ten feet high, surrounded by flowers, and borne on the shoulders of bearers”.

The early parades in its more recent form would typically feature traditional performers such as flag bearers.

The early parades would typically feature traditional performers such as flag bearers.

Chingay in 1985 seen passing Peranakan Place.

Chingay in 1985 seen passing Peranakan Place along Orchard Road.

Parades in their original form were ones which perhaps were an expression of identity and on which no expense was spared, were discontinued after December 1906, when at a meeting of the Hokkien clan it was decided that the raising of public funds should properly be devoted to the promotion of children’s education instead rather than in the extravagance of a street procession.

The colourful celebration that is today's Chingay.

The colourful celebration that is today’s Chingay.

Chingay these days has perhaps come a full circle – at least in the sense of the extravagance. Each parade is now one to look forward to as a spectacle – planning we are told for the parades start as early as some fifteen months before each one is held. No longer a what can be seen as a spontaneous celebration on the streets, the preparations for Chingay these days involve a massive effort, not just from the organisers but also from the performers with many rehearsals required to perfect what has essentially become a staged performance which of late has included effects which bring out the spectacular – much like how National Day Parades are now staged. In that – the Chingay parades are now ones as with National Day Parades which should not be missed. Unlike National Day Parades for which tickets are often hard to come by, tickets for Chingay are available for purchase – these, I am given to understand are selling fast. Tickets may be purchased from SISTIC (see website). More information on ticketing and on the parade can be found at the Chingay 2013 website. For photographs of a preview of Chingay 2013 – please visit my previous post on Chingay 2013.

Stilt-walkers resting along the Orchard Road route in 1985.

Stilt-walkers resting along the Orchard Road route in 1985.


Some highlights of Chingay 2013:

  • Grandest Cultural Opening – 文天祥之“正气歌” Song of Righteousness by renowned Wen Tian Xiang, Song Dynasty (Cultural collaboration between artistes from Singapore and Fuzhou), with Chingay Taichi Sword Showcase
  • World’s Biggest Peach Blossoms, “桃夭” Performance
  • First-Ever Combined Chinese Opera Performance of Lady Generals of The Yang “杨门女将” jointly presented by Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese Opera Groups in Singapore
  • Programme will involve at least 5,000 students and Singaporeans to write calligraphy based on the poem “Song of Righteousness” 五言诗:正气歌





Fire in snow lights up the Lunar New Year

4 02 2013

While many in Singapore feel that the annual Chingay parade, now in its 41st year, has moved away from its original purpose of a street parade for the masses first celebrated in 1973 to make up for a total ban on the long held tradition of letting off fireworks during the Lunar New Year, the parade is without a doubt still very much a celebration of what Singapore is and what perhaps Singapore has become. The parade has in its recent editions become a show of the spectacular, combining a street-like parade in which the people from all major races and from all walks of life participate, with a well-orchestrated show of lights, music and effects which never fail to dazzle the audience. The theme of this year’s parade, “Fire in Snow”, will on the evidence of Saturday’s rehearsal, no doubt be as dramatic, if not more so, than last year’s water show was, with the opening scene seeing some 3000 performers light pots of fire, which turns the 360 metre parade route at the F1 Pit Building into a spectacular sea of light. The parade’s dramatic opening is matched by an equally staggering finale during which the parade’s audience and participants will be showered in falling “snow”, in which falling soap and pieces of paper brings the parade to a sensational close.

Chingay brings together members of the various communities in Singapore in an annual street celebration.

Chingay brings together members of the various communities in Singapore in an annual street celebration.

The opening scene sees the lighting of pots of fire.

The opening scene sees the lighting of pots of fire.

The spectacular closing sees "snow" falling on the parade.

The spectacular closing sees “snow” falling on the parade.

Saturday’s rehearsal, which was opened to members of the media, also had some 8,000 students in its audience. The students, representing some 56 schools, were there to participate in a National Education (NE) show to educate students about multicultural harmony. This is the first time students an NE show, usually associated with National Day Parade rehearsals, is being held in conjunction with the Chingay Parade rehearsals. The six-part parade will see some 10,000 performers representing some 120 organizations and will include a Chinese classical featuring 450 young performers from Singapore and China; a combined Chinese Opera Show with 300 members of local Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese opera troupes who will perform to the strains of Phantom of the Opera; Tai-chi Swordmasters; and the participation of a 1,000 strong PAssion Zumba Community which includes the youngest participant in the parade who is only 4.

The largest Chinese Classical Dance in the show's history sees 450 young dancers from both Singapore and China peform.

The largest Chinese Classical Dance in the show’s history sees 450 young dancers from both Singapore and China peform.

A close up of the Chinese Classical Dance segment.

A close up of the Chinese Classical Dance segment.

Tai-chi swordmasters.

Tai-chi swordmasters.

The parade will be held on Friday 22 February and Saturday 23 February this year. More information including that on ticketing can be found at the Chingay 2013 website.

Members of the Queenstown CC Cantonese Opera troupe pose for a photograph before the rehearsal.

Members of the Queenstown CC Cantonese Opera troupe pose for a photograph before the rehearsal.

Student performers dressed in Chinese Opera costumes practicing before the parade.

Student performers dressed in Chinese Opera costumes practicing before the parade.

The youngest participant who is 4.

The youngest participant who is 4.

Ms Elaine Tjon a member of the PAssion Zumba Community sharing her experience at the media conference.

Ms Elaine Tjon a member of the PAssion Zumba Community sharing her experience at the media conference.

Student participants at the media conference.

Student participants at the media conference.

Mr Nah Juay Hng, Chairman of the Chingay Parade Exco speaking.

Mr Nah Juay Hng, Chairman of the Chingay Parade Exco speaking.

Members of the Japanese community.

Members of the Japanese community.

Float carrying more participants from Singapore's Japanese Community.

Float carrying more participants from Singapore’s Japanese Community.

The NE Show audience - schoolchildren expanded a lot of energy during the parade.

The NE Show audience – schoolchildren expanded a lot of energy during the parade.


More photographs from Saturday’s rehearsal:

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A dying tradition lives under the light of the silvery moon

3 09 2012

The seventh month in the Chinese calendar is a month that is held with much superstition in a predominantly Chinese Singapore. It is a month when, as beliefs would have it, the gates of hell are opened and it’s residents return to the earthly world. It is a time when the air fills with the smell of offerings being burned and when tents and stages appear in many open spaces all across Singapore to host dinners during which lively seventh month auctions are held during which entertainment (for both the returning spirits and the living), more often than not, in the form of Getai(歌台) – a live variety show, is often a noisy accompaniment.

Offerings are made to the spirit world when the gates of hell are opened during the seventh month.

Getai, popular as it is today, is however, a more recent addition as entertainment to accompany seventh month dinners. Before its introduction in the 1970s, it would have been more common to see Chinese opera performances and various forms of Chinese puppet shows at such events and during festive occasions at the various Taoist temples in Singapore.

Chinese opera was a common sight at seventh month festivities in the 1960s and 1970s.

The various forms of Chinese opera back in the 1960s and 1970s as I remember them, were always looked forward to with much anticipation by the young and old. My maternal grandmother, despite her not understanding a word of the Chinese dialects that were used in the performances was a big fan, bringing me along to the opera whenever it hit town. Travelling opera troupes were common then, moving from village to village setting up temporary wooden stages on which served not only as a performance stage but also as a place to spend the night. The travelling opera troupes brought with them a whole entourage of food and toy vendors with them and it was that more than the performances that I would look forward to whenever I was asked to accompany my grandmother to the wayangs as Chinese opera performances are often referred to in Singapore and in Malaysia.

A temporary opera stage set up during a Teochew Opera performance at the Singapore Flyer.

It was also common then to see more permanent structures that served as stages back then – they were a feature of many Chinese villages and were also found around temples. Perhaps the last permanent stage in Singapore is one that is not on the main island but one found in what must be the last bastion of ways forgotten that has stubbornly resisted the wave of urbanisation that has changed the landscape of the main island, Pulau Ubin, an island in the north-east of Singapore. Although many of the island’s original residents have moved to the mainland and many of their wooden homes and jetties that once decorated the island’s shoreline have been cleared, there is still a small reminder of how life might once have been on the island – a small community still exists, mainly to provide services to the curious visitors from the main island who come to get a taste of a Singapore that has largely been forgotten.

The permanent stage at Pulau Ubin – it was common to see such stages around temples and in Chinese villages up until the 1980s.

The permanent stage at Pulau Ubin is one that sits across a clearing from the village’s temple which is dedicated to the popular Taoist deity, Tua Pek Kong (大伯公). It is also one that is still used, playing host to Teochew Opera performances by the temple’s opera troupe twice a year – once during the Tua Pek Kong Festival and once during the seventh month festivities. I have long wanted to catch one of the performances in a setting that one can no longer find elsewhere in Singapore, but never found the time to do it – until the last weekend when I was able to find some time to take the boat over for the seventh month festivities which were held on Friday and Saturday evening.

The Tua Pek Kong Temple on Pulau Ubin.

The clearing in front of the temple at Pulau Ubin with the tent set up for the seventh month auction.

For me, it is always nice to take the slow but short boat ride to the island – something I often did in my youth, not just because Pulau Ubin offers a wonderful escape for the urban jungle, but also because it takes me back to a world that rural Singapore once had been. We do have a few places to run off to on the main island, but it is only on Pulau Ubin that one gets a feel that one is far removed from the cold concrete of the urban world in which I can return to the gentler times in which we once lived.

On the slow boat to Ubin.

Ubin in sight – all it takes is a short boat ride to find that a little reminder of a Singapore that has long been forgotten.

Pulau Ubin offers an escape from the maddening urban sprawl.

Although the festivities on the island are now a quieter and a less crowded affair than it might once have been here and in similar celebrations that once took place across the island, it is still nice to be able to witness a dying tradition held in a traditional setting that we would otherwise not be able to see in Singapore any more. While it still is difficult for me to understand and appreciate what was taking place on stage, especially with the amplified voice of the auctioneer booming over the shrill voices of the performers on stage, it was still a joy to watch the elaborately made-up and kitted-out performers go through their routines. It was also comforting to see that the members of the troupe included both the young and the old, signalling that there is hope that a fading tradition may yet survive.

The stage manager calling lines from the script out to the performers – a necessity as the troupe members are all doing this part-time.

The treat that comes with any wayang performance is that it brings with it the opportunity to go backstage. It is here where we get to see the performers painstaking preparations in first doing up their elaborate make-up and in dressing up in the costumes, as well as watch the musicians who provide the characteristic wind, string and percussion sounds that Chinese Opera wouldn’t be what it is without.

Going backstage is always a treat. A performer gets ready as a drummer adds his sounds to the opera in the background.

A performer preparing for the evening’s performance backstage.

The same performer doing her make-up.

Another putting a hair extension on.

The fifteen year old little drummer boy.

Performers also double up as musicians as the troupe is short of members.

I would have liked to have spent the whole night at the festivities, but as I was feeling quite worn out having only returned to Singapore early that morning on a late night flight, I decided to leave after about two hours at the wayang. The two hours and the hour prior to that on the island were ones that helped me not just to reconnect with a world I would otherwise have forgotten, but also to the many evenings I had spent as a child catching the cool breeze in my hair by the sea. Those are times the new world seems to want us to forget, times when the simple things in life mattered a lot more … There will be a time that I hope will never come when this world we find on Pulau Ubin will cease to exist. I will however take comfort in it as long as it is there … and as long as there are those who seek to keep traditions such as the Teochew opera we once in a while are able to see there, alive.

The light of the silvery moon seen on Pulau Ubin – the festivities are held during the full moon of the seventh month.

A section of the audience and participants in the seventh month dinner.


Close-ups of performers and scenes from the Teochew Opera:





A night at the Opera

4 07 2011

Teochew that is! I had the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do … get up close and personal with the performers at the back of the wayang stage, and with the kind invitation of the URA’s Marina Bay Singapore and the Select Group’s Singapore Food Trail, I got to do just that over the weekend. The behind the scenes visit allowed a group of us to watch and photograph performers of the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association backstage (on an authentic wayang stage borrowed from the Pulau Ubin opera troupe) as they went through their routines in getting dolled up for the evening’s performance. The performances were part of the Singapore Food Trail’s initiatives to bring back the good old days of Singapore in what was termed as “A Night of Nostalgia” to bring us back to the heyday of Teochew Opera on the streets of Singapore in the 1960s.

The Singapore Food Trail aims to bring the atmosphere of the streets of the Singapore of the 1960s with authentic street hawker fare in a 1960s setting under the Singapore Flyer.

The colours that the various genres of Chinese operas (often referred to locally as “wayang”) brought to the streets of the Singapore of old, if not for anything else, always were a visual treat. They were a huge draw, bringing with them the entourage of mobile vendor providing a carnival like atmosphere each time they came to the area. My maternal grandmother with her lack of the command of any other language other than her native Bahasa Indonesia was a huge fan, often dragging me along in my early years as her companion. And even when I could never sit quite still below the wayang stage as the performers went about their routines, I was a more than willing companion to my grandmother as I could never resist the reward of a drink from the bird’s nest drink vendor which more often than not was a sweetened drink with bits of jelly in it which was made to taste like the real thing, and also a visit to the toy vendor from which I could get my hands on items such as a sword made of paper mache that split into two lengthwise when it came out of the paper mache scabbard.

Street operas were a favourite of my maternal grandmother. Performers from the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Associationare seen performing an excerpt from The Fragrant Handkerchief on an authentic stage at the Singapore Food Trail.

What sometimes fascinated me on the stage were the costumes and the make-up of that the performers had on. The painted faces sometimes terrified me, so much so that back then, I never could never muster up the courage to peek backstage where the performers would have their make-up done well before the performances started, even as many boys in my neighbourhood did. That was something that I thought I would never be able to do again as I grew up, wayangs became less common as Singapore’s rapid urbanisation resulted in many traditions being lost to modernisation. When I had heard of the troupe that is still performing on Pulau Ubin earlier, I had actually wanted to visit Pulau Ubin, even though I am not what one might consider to be a big fan, to immerse myself in atmosphere of being around once again, which perhaps I hope will transport me back to the carefree days of my childhood, and I was plesantly surprised when I got an invitation to watch one at the Singapore Food Trail and at the same time sample the street fare that I imagined was long lost. What was a huge bonus was the opportunity provided by the organisers as well as with the kind permission of the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association, to watch and photograph the performers as they got their faces painted and hair done up on an authentic wayang stage. Being backstage was fascinating and I took it all in with the excitement of a child … taking lots of photographs some of which I have added to this post. What was equally fascinating was watching the performances which I thoroughly enjoyed and have perhaps Pei Yun of Oceanskies to thank for enlightening me on the excerpts that were being performed. I can also say that at the end of the evening performances I have become a little bit of a fan … Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association I understand in celebrating the 80th anniversary this year – I do hope that they are able to see at least another 80 and many more years to allow them to continue the excellent effort in keeping what is a dying tradition alive for our future generations.

The scene backstage about 3 hours before the performances.

A make-up artist helping a performer with her make-up.

The eyes have it ...

Two performers having their initial make-up done. Lipstick would be applied after dinner.

A peek backstage ...

A performer having make-up around her eyes done.

A peek outside ...

More eye work ...

A mirror to the face of a performer.

The hair is done after the initial make-up is applied.

Make-up and hair done ... but not the lips yet.

A male performer having his make-up done.

A female performer applying her initial make-up.

The hair being done for another performer.

Finishing touches on the hair.

Two performers sharing a lighthearted moment ...

Another performer relaxing during the preparations.

Putting her headdress on.

The female lead performer all dolled up.

The scholar ...

A female performer.

Full battle order.

The audience were treated to Teochew melodies before the Teochew Opera performance.

The performances were on an authentic wayang stage borrowed from the Pulau Ubin troupe.

Audiences young and old were enthralled.








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