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Feb 28, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Chinese Wayang

Chinese Wayang at George Street, Singapore c 1975.
What is the difference of a Singapore Memory enthusiast and a person in viewing the same photo above with a casual, uninterested passing glance without batting an eyelid?
To many seasoned and experienced Memory Corps members trained to study the photo with their minds' eyes like reading a topographical map to describe with details, this photo brings back to the moments of memories transported five decades ago at the scene of the Chinese wayang at Bukit Ho Swee where it actually happened...same, same but different!

Chinese "wayang" (translated as "opera" in Malay) was common in Singapore and the ways done in the past a century ago.

In the early kampong days before TV, hi-fi sound systems, video tape recorders or computers are found in almost every home for entertainment, the village children were looking forward anxiously to watch the Chinese wayang. It was like a carnival time for the kampong folks.

Like the young children in the photo watching the rehearsal in the hot afternoon.

It looks like a comedy scene on the stage which made the children laugh. The joy and the fun was natural, not a re-enacted synthetic scene of a TV drama directed from scripts. Most of the children were there for the games, goodies and toy stalls to enjoy the fun.

Brisk business for ice-cream on a hot day...

The game and toy stall at the Chinese wayang show in the 1970s.

According to the photo credit of National Archives of Singapore on this blog topic, the Chinese wayang performers were in Singapore in the 1890s.

Chinese wayang stage in 1890.
Chinese wayang performers in the 1890s.

A wayang stage at Lim Chu Kang kampong in 1978.

 A wayang stage at the wharf of Clarke Quay in 1978.

The residents "chop" (reserved) the best seats with chairs, stools and boxes before the wayang started.

Chit-chat before the show started.

Ice-cream vendors at the wayang stage.

Packed crowd to watch the Chinese wayang performance at the edge of the stage.

Below the stage, it became a playground for children running around the place.

The project on "The Chinese Stage" by students of Jurong Primary School at ThinkQuest to learn more.

The Backstage Scene

Dinner time for the performers.

The performers playing cards for recreation after showtime ended.

Dressing-up for the performers

Ways done for advertising on the Chinese wayang stages.

Chinese Wayang Show-Time

The traditional art of Chinese Wayang has survived over a century in multi-culture Singapore for generations.

The Chinese Opera Performance Night at Changi Simei Community Centre Multipurpose Hall on 23 March, 2010. Please click 'Slide Show' to view here .



Blogger Yee Weng Hong said...

A few years back, some local opera groups performed to a young audience. To help the audience follow the story, the opera group kindly showed English subtitles throughout the show. This is one way to gain a following among the new generation.

March 1, 2012 at 7:34 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

The wayang stages in your photos all look rather small. The ones I have seen and the one in my kampong were bigger; and the stage taller. We could go under it and play.

My friend Kevin Leong told me he used to use the sapu liddy broom sticks to tickle the actors' feet. What a naughty boy he was!The wayang stages in your photos all look rather small. The ones I have seen and the one in my kampong were bigger; and the stage taller. We could go under it and play.

My friend Kevin Leong told me he used to use the sapu liddy broom sticks to tickle the actors' feet. What a naughty boy he was!

March 1, 2012 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger lim said...

One of the most memorable moments I remembered of the wayang was when it was held right in the middle of a cemetery somewhere off Lorong Lew Lian. I was literally stepping on graves moving from one spot to another.

The Cantonese wayang celebration at Potong Pasir was a grand affair, and it went on for a week or so.

The traditional wayang today is performed mostly as a religious function.

Fortunately, Chinese opera has developed into a fine stage art. Watching a high quality opera with its professional acting, singing, and music is an aesthetic experience.

March 1, 2012 at 11:23 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

You are right, Weng Hong.

The Chinese Opera Performance Night at Changi Simei Community Centre as linked here was provided with English subtitles on the projector screens on both sides of the stage. The traditional Chinese opera must be adapted and rejuvenated for the appreciation of the new generation.

March 2, 2012 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Hahaha...thanks Chun See. The Chinese wayang "backstage scene" photos could be included with photos of the kids playing below the stage to have some fun with Kevin and his friends.

In fact, some children were playing hide-and-seek and running below the stage. While the wayang show was going on the stage, the children were using it below as a playground ;0

March 2, 2012 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Submitted by Sim Hui Hwang:

Hi James, this post certainly brings back fond memories of wayang stage and wayang folks (Hee Kia in Teochew) (wayang artistes).

Honestly, I don't know how to appreciate chinese wayang. I merely tagged along with my sisters to enjoy the variety of food being sold when a wayang was on. I remember bringing along a precious twenty cent coin to the wayang venue, hoping to eat my favourite rojak or play a tikam tikam game.

Normally, when I reached the wayang place, I would look out for the rojak man. The cucumber, pineapple and turnip were vigorously sliced, tossed and stirred by the rojak man in a yellowish brown earthen or glazed bowl. He would then scooped the small handful of cut fruit drenched in hae kor ( prawn paste) into a small leaf with a toothpick fixed at one corner where the leaf was folded, to form something like a boat-like shape. I would finish the rojak and unembarrasingly lick the little grains of peanut in the hae kor gravy before discarding the leaf. I can't remember throwing the leaf into a bin.

Then, I would tug at my sister's hand reminding her to go home. My sister would bring along a high stool to watch the opera.

In fact, all the neighbourhood children would take this opportunity to trudge through the tall grass to watch wayang somewhere along the market near to Lorong Limau.

Sometimes if we had money to spare, we would play tikam tikam.

Once, I even won a small biscuit, which was covered in cellophane wrapper. When torn open, you would see a card embedded in it. If you were lucky, it would say, 'Jai Lai Yi Ker" which means you could have another try. That one, I loved lah.

Incidentally, I wondered why children would be literally 'hugging' the edge of the wayang stage. Some stood on the steps of a short ladder that leaned against the edge of the stage and they would all be mesmerised by the story that was unfolding.

Did they understand the story of the poor princess? Not me. I laughed and got bored with the 'seo jia'(princess) who would always be singing a sad song that went on and on.

Sometimes, the seo jia who had been jilted by her husband, would have her head gear removed. Her hair would be tied up in a pony tail and she would be swinging her head round and round while kneeling down on the stage in front of the chief justice, to relate her woes. That one would make me laugh!

When the show had ended, it fascinated me to see the huge curtain released from the top of the stage.

It would then be time for us to trudge back, with my sisters sharing her view of the wayang among our neighbourhood girl friends.

When my mom was away at the market, we would take the opportunity to take out her baggy samfoo pants and stick our hands into the trouser legs to imitate the seo jia crying away, shifting her sleeves, drinking a cup of tea or whatever - you know what I mean?

Those were the days! The muah chee stall would be another of my favourite.

Lots of adults and the elderly people would be chopeing places and we children were not allowed to stand up suddenly, as this would block the view of the wayang enthusiasts.

My father used to carry me on his shoulders to give me a better view of the story on stage. Again, my eyes would be searching out for snacks and food.

The area around the wayang stage is called the 'peh kar' - foot of the stage. So, if you were rich and had a little money to spare, you could eat at the 'peh kar'. I believe there were stalls selling blanched cockles and steamed groundnuts and kuay teow tng.

Till today, I still get hilarious seeing artistes on the opera stage, singing in a plaintive manner. I cannot take it. I would laugh hysterically! Ah, those were the good old days in the late 1960s!

Hui Hwang

March 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Ipohgal said...

Thanks for the memories, James. Over here in M'sia, these scenes can be found in temples too, especially during Hungry Ghost Festival and Nine Emperor Gods Birthday but they are playing to a smaller crowd as compared to the past. Younger people would not fancy standing for long hours, biten by mosquitoes and watching something they could not relate, thus the decline in wayangs.

March 2, 2012 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Mr Lim, the Chinese wayang performance at the cemetery located at Lorong Lew Lian was a common sight in the 1960s.

Besides celebration for the birthday of Chinese gods and deities, mostly held to entertain the "good brothers" ( 好兄弟)and also for people to enjoy...both the "realms of the seen and the unseen"; for the livings in this human world and those who have departed to another world).

I was told that even nobody (humans) were not watching the wayang performance, the show still had to go on as normal and the act moved on with proper duty for the audience of the "godly world" or the "departed world" as appropriate accordingly.

March 2, 2012 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Yee Weng Hong said...

I grew up near Chinatown where there was wayang during many Chinese festivals. When we were young, we improvised by overturning a pram and it became an instant wayang stage. Then we used small dolls and pretended that they were wayang actors.

March 3, 2012 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for popping by to express on the blog, Ipohgal.

The ways done in the past on Chinese wayang are almost familiar in Singapore and Ipoh.

The traditional Chinese opera theatres were brought from various parts of China to settle in Nanyang (South-east Asia).

The ancient Chinese culture brought along the Chinese wayang with the temples, the festivals and celebrations (including the Hungry Ghosts) to sustain and survive the arts of Chinese wayang to every generation.

The younger viewers today watch the Chinese wayang in aircond comfort and to understand with translated subtitle of the script on the screen to understand, appreciate and follow the stories on the stage.

Same Chinese wayang scripts, same artform but different places, differnt audience at different times and different experiences from the early days of our great grandparents.

March 3, 2012 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for sharing the memories of Chinese wayang in the past in Chinatown, Weng Hong.

Look through the old photos posted on this blog and could remember that the children were just like them at the wayang funtime carnival in those days...

March 3, 2012 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger lim said...

James, the puppet show was also performed sometimes, although less frequently than the wayang, and usually in the daytime. It requires only a small stage.

In Singapore, we are more familiar with the Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese opera, but I also enjoy the beautiful melodies of Huangmei Xi, Shanghai Yueju, and the artistically beautiful Kunqu.

March 3, 2012 at 6:17 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

The wayangs in my kampong (off Lor Chuan) were Hokkien, but the ones in neighbouring Potong Pasir and Pek San Teng were Cantonese; and much bigger than ours. I think the one the one PST was very big; and the singers were very famous. One of them, my sisters favourite was called Siew Chan Wan.

March 3, 2012 at 9:00 PM  

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