Under the Flyer

7 03 2012

One experience that many who lived in or visited Singapore back in the days when Policemen did wear shorts, often look fondly back to, is that of dining on the streets. In those days, whole streets and car parks would magically be transformed into bustling eating places as night fell. The invasion would first be led by the army of push-carts laden with the raw ingredients that would be turned into scrumptious street fare, and the load of stools and foldable tables that would seat hungry patrons. As day turned to night, the concentrations of pushcarts, with tables arranged in front of them, would turn the otherwise dark and dingy streets into a sea of light and shadow, as diners began to fill the tables that never quite seem to sit firmly on the ground, greedily wolfing down what lay in front of them. It was in this hot, sticky and less than sanitary environment, in the glow of kerosene pressure lamps, and flicker of flames that leapt from under the blackened woks against which the almost musical and somewhat rhythmic clang of spatulas being furiously moved would be made, that many popular hawkers acquired and perfected their art. For those who dared to brave not just the conditions, but also the often ill-mannered assistants one needed to shout orders at, the reward wasn’t just the fare on offer, but the unforgettable atmosphere that unfortunately could not be replicated in the more sanitary food centers the same hawkers were to eventually move to.

Silhouettes against the spotlight - the Singapore Food Trail livens up the recreation of the 1960s street dining atmosphere by brining in various forms of street entertainment - not necessarily from the 1960s, from time to time.

The Singapore Food Trail brings the experience of street dining back to Singapore.

There are many who lived through those heady days of a Singapore in transition who now look back and realise that the relentless pace of change has consigned much of what made Singapore, Singapore, to seemingly distant memories. There is a current wave of nostalgia that sees attempts to bring some of the experiences that would otherwise be lost back. One such attempt is the Singapore Food Trail at the Singapore Flyer, a 800-seat themed food court which attempts to take the diner back to the days of dining on the streets of the 1960s Singapore. Walking through the Singapore Food Trail, it is easy imagine that you are where the setting aims to place you in. Old style tables and chairs – maybe not the type you might have found used on the streets, set against a disordered backdrop of push-carts that are the food stalls, each different to give a feel of what it might once have been like, arranged in front of what appears to be shop houses and five-foot ways. No effort has been spared in trying to recreate the atmosphere – all around, there are those reminders of that forgotten world that many would recall with fondness – the very recognisable logos of famous brands, old style signboards, bamboo chicks (blinds) painted with logos that were commonly seen providing shade to coffee shops and sundry shops, and lots of paraphernalia from those days of old. Help was enlisted from the likes of clan associations as well as some of the owners of the famous brands (including Nestlé Singapore in recreating signboards and signs to lend an air of authenticity to them. The push-carts serve up fare from what perhaps are the who’s-who of today’s hawkers – hand picked from over 100 who applied. It is also amongst the stalls where some old time favourites – ice-balls, kacang putih and bird’s nest drink, await rediscovery.

It is easy to imagine that one is immersed in the atmosphere of the 1960s street dining scene at the 800 seat Singapore Food Trail.

One of the things I enjoy about dining “under the flyer” (some may recall a very popular hawker – the Whitley Road Food Centre which was located in the shadows of the Thomson Road flyover which was commonly referred to as “Under the Flyover“), are the attempts to also liven up the “streets” with various forms of entertainment – some of which would have been a common feature of the 1960s, as well as some forms which are more common these days that have evolved from some of what we did occasionally see on the streets. This included the very well received Teochew Opera performances by the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association in July of last year, and over the last weekend, a Getai Extravaganza.

吴佩芝 (Wu Pei Zhi) on stage. Kitsch as it may seem, Getai has a wide reach in Singapore.

Love it or hate it – some find the form of entertainment crude and even kitsch, Getai (歌台) has firmly established itself as a very popular form of street entertainment in modern day Singapore. It had its roots not in the 1960s, but in the 1970s when waning interest in Chinese puppet shows and opera performances which were features of temple festivals and seventh month (Hungry Ghosts festival) auctions saw them being replaced by live variety shows which came to be referred to as Getai, which translates into “Song Stage”.

A pair of twins, the Shinning Sisters (闪亮姐妹) were among the performers for the night.

吴佩芝 (Wu Pei Zhi).

The 3 day Getai Extravaganza brought in by the Singapore Food Trail was one that saw many well know personalities in the getai scene – both emcees and performers, and based on the the crowd it attracted and the reaction of the crowd which counted both young and old in it, was a huge success. Sunday’s show was hosted by Marcus Chin (陈建彬) and Lin Kai Li (林凯莉), and featured performances by Zhan Yuling (詹玉玲), Shun Qiang (孙强), the Shining Sisters (闪亮姐妹), Desmond Ng (黄振隆), Ting Ting (婷婷), Wu Pei Zhi (吴佩芝), Zhang Xiong (张雄), as well as an impersonation of the comedy pair Lao Fu Zi and Da Fan Shu (老夫子与大番薯). Most of the audience at Sunday’s show were glued to their seats throughout the evening which also attracted a large number of bystanders as well as had those manning the stalls off their seats. Although I am not a huge fan of Getai myself, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment provided at the show and it definitely was for me, a Sunday evening that was well spent.

Emcees for the evening, Marcus Chin (陈建彬) and 林凯莉 (Lin Kai Li).

Marcus Chin had many in stitches.

Desmond Ng (黄振隆).

The Shinning Sisters on stage.

Some of the members of the audience were off their feet.

The impersonation of Lao Fu Zi and Da fan Shu had many laughing ...

... including those manning the stalls.

Advertisements




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.