Thursday, August 25, 2005

One Night At the Teochew Opera (part II)

Sun Di was supposed to bring me to the Chinese opera accessories shop but unfortunately the boss had closed shop early. Hence we decided to meet up with Ling Jie for dinner first at Lok Fu, north Kowloon. Our dinner was at this Chinese fast food restaurant, and the food was delicious. The concept of a Chinese fast food restaurant was new to me, as I don’t remember seeing this in Singapore (if you do not include food courts and kopi tiam). But whether such an idea can take off in Singapore is yet to be known.

After dinner, we took a bus ride to Sha Tin where there was another Teochew opera performance going on. I was surprised by how similar Hong Kong buses are to our Singaporean ones. The doors, the driver’s seat, the stairway leading to the upper deck, the passengers’ seats and the holding rails are almost identical to the ones we have in our local buses. They even have public TV on the buses, and passengers pay their bus fares by tapping their Octopus card onto the fare deduction machine just like we do, except that they don’t have to do the same when alighting as the fare is the same regardless of how far you travel.

Tonight’s show was performed by a troupe from Chaozhou City, though the banner of the stage stated “Hong Kong Xin Han Jiang”. The show was much better compared to last night’s show. The actors gave a better performance, and what I like most was the percussions. It was strong, but not noisy. It managed to create good atmosphere at certain scenes, like in the fighting scene whereby the princess of the Ani tribe got attracted to the good looks of the Chinese general, the percussionists used a mixture of strong and weak beats to bring out the love at first time of the princess. (Big drums are usually not used in such scenes in other shows) However one funny thing I noticed was that there were 2 very distinctively different styles of dressing on stage; one was the typical Teochew opera style from China whereby actors used softer shades of red for makeup and wore costumes with Teochew embrodieries, and the either was the Hong Kong style which is similar to that of Cantonese opera whereby actors used stronger red and white contrast for makeup and wore costumes decorated with shiny sequins. It looked rather awkward, as if the show was put up by a combined troupe of Mainland and Hong Kong actors.

The show was very captivating, but I had to leave at 11.30pm as it was getting late (the show would not end before 1am). Sun Di lives near the airport, so he sent me back to my hotel first before catching another bus back home, while Ling Jie went home on her own as it wasn’t in the same area. Both Sun Di and I were so hyperactive at the opera, but once we left the show, we became lethargic. How typical Chinese opera fanatics we were! Tomorrow I will be leaving for home, and my Chinese opera experience in Hong Kong will definitely be something I can never forget, and also something which I will look forward to in future!

Post published on 27 August

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

One Night At the Teochew Opera (part I)

My Hong Kong internet friend, Sun Di, had arranged to meet me after my training today to visit a shop selling Chinese opera accessories. However, he had a change of plan and instead he brought me to watch a Chinese opera performance in Shek Kip Mei. Shek Kip Mei is a district north of Tsim Sha Tsui and just 5 MTR stations away. My friend told me that in previous years, the Chinese opera crowd was large, but the number dropped over the years as local residents moved away due to redevelopment of the area.

The moment we walked out of the MTR station, I could see bright lights from a distance, as well as a tall and colourful bamboo-and-paper structure, typical setups for Yu Lan Festival celebrations (in Singapore this festival is known as Hungry Ghost Festival). The opera troupe performing today is Yun Xiao Teochew Opera Troupe from Yunxiao district of Zhangzhou, Fujian province. I was pleasantly surprised as I had long wanted to watch their performance although I have only heard of them in the past. Little did I expect that I would be able to see them perform live in Hong Kong.

Sun Di was very familiar with the troupe and I had the chance to visit the backstage with him. Once on stage I had this sense of familiarity almost immediately, as every member of the troupe converse with one another in southern Min dialect (Hokkien), instead of Teochew or Cantonese. The people in the troupe were quite friendly, and some of them even asked me about my background. Their show, however, was far from my expectation. First, quite a number of the actors still have that Zhangzhou accent when they were on stage, which sounded very weird. I don’t know if I was watching Teochew opera or Xiang opera (Hokkien Gezi opera popular in Zhangzhou)! Also, some actors kept forgetting their lines on stage and it was very obvious. There was also a scene whereby 3 actors had to hold hands in a line and weave in and out among themselves. However they did a wrong move and ended up entangled. It just looked ugly, and simply not what a professional troupe should be. According to my friend, the troupe had split up into 2 small groups to perform in 2 areas simultaneously. Perhaps that’s why the mess as these actors could be new to this show. Nevertheless I did not finish watching the show as it was just not good, and hence left with Sun Di for supper, together with another Internet Teochew opera friend Ling Jie who happened to be there as well.

I hope this is not the usual standard of this troupe, as from what I know, they are rather well known back in Zhangzhou. I wish I can have more chance to catch their other performances, and hopefully they will not be as disappointing as today’s show

Post published on 27 August

Monday, August 22, 2005

Day 2 in Hong Kong: Training Starts

My training was to commence at 9 in the morning, but I woke up at 6 o'clock anyway. I realised that I was only given the room but not free breakfast vouchers, but I decided to dine in the hotel's restaurant anyway, and try to claim from my company. It is more convenient to dine there, as it's in the same building, and just 1 level above the company which I was supposed to have my training in!

Almost 3 quarter of Asia was present at the training as I get to meet representatives from India, Thailand, Taiwan, Shanghai, South Korea and Malaysia. Most of them are already experts in this field, or at least had got a few years of experience, leaving me being the freshest. I realised that the representative from Thailand was someone whom I saw at the airport yesterday (we arrived at the airport at about the same time), and he just live the next room to mine. It was such a coincidence! However he couldn’t speak much English and hence unable to interact much with the rest of the group. Hence I was the only one who is able to communicate with him, although my command of Thai is still relatively limited. Later I got to know that this is the first time he travel out of Thailand, and had joined his company for about a year. But in comparison he had much more experience as he had seen and repaired much equipment which I have yet even seen.

The training ended at about 6.30pm, almost 1 and half hours behind schedule. I quickly went back to my room get changed and left the hotel to explore Hong Kong. I used to have the impression that Hong Kong is a relatively small city comparable to Singapore, but after flipping the map and travel guides, I realised that Hong Kong is actually much bigger almost 1.5 times the size of Singapore. Hong Kong is also quite well developed. Like their train system, although it has been around for a much longer period of time compared to Singapore, it has better facilities like broadcast of the station’s name when the train pulls into one, as well as maps showing the rail layout as well as LED lights showing the train’s journey and the station it is heading next. However, the trains (except the Airport Express line) are very crowded throughout the night. Even at 10pm, it is hard to even find a place to sit. I wonder where these people are coming from and where they are going.

For the whole of the evening I was hopping around from one area to another as I had limited time. Though I did not buy anything, it was still interesting to mingle with the crowd and walking around the streets enjoying the colourful street lights.

Post published on 27 August

Sunday, August 21, 2005

5-day Hong Kong Trip

I left Singapore this morning on a 10am flight to Hong Kong for a 5 day training course. I was looking forward to this occasion, as I like travelling. But unlike my previous overseas trip, my time is rather restricted as I only have the evenings to really travel around. Today happened to be a bad day for travelling, as it was raining since the moment I arrived at the airport and carried on throughout the night, though it did stop for a short while now and then. It really dampened my mood as I had to walk in the rain dragging my luggage along from Park Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui to Guangdong Hotel where I was supposed to stay. The night wasn't eventful as well, since the night markets are almost non-functional due to bad weather. Tough luck!

Post published on 27 August

Friday, August 19, 2005

Chinese Dinner Table Etiquette: Eat Your Food And Mind Your Own Business!

The 7th Lunar month is what Taoist Chinese call it the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival. Yesterday was the 14th night, and there was a celebration dinner function being held on the open space just below my flat in celebration of the. I do not like to attend such functions, because first of all, I find it awkward sharing the table with people who are much older than I am and had nothing in common to talk about. Secondly, I do not like the Chinese food culture in Singapore, where you are expected to eat and eat non-stop until either you’re bloated to death or the dish plate on the table is clean. However, since we had already been invited, I had to go, or else the food will be wasted (something which I don’t quite care!).

As usual, the dinner did not start till after half past eight, but we were already seated by seven thirty. “To get a good seat!” my mum explained. As if we were catching a free outdoor performance that’s free seating! So the dishes came and to the table one after another, and everyone was happily eating and listening to people singing karaoke on the stage at the centre of the function area. The food wasn’t too bad, but I did not eat much as I did not want to have a hard time sleeping, neither do I want to be perceived as a hungry ghost craving for food! However, I was irritated by people of my table asking me to eat. “Come, eat!” they’d say, although I had already shown my disinterest in eating any more. No doubt it was merely good intention, but why can’t they just leave other people alone and let them eat what they want to eat, or stop when they do not wish to eat? Actually I appreciate their intention, but I think the way they put it across sounded rude. They could have phrased it in a better manner, like “Do you want some more food?” or something, instead of just “Come, eat!” I almost wanted to retort back, but that would only put me in bad light and hence I didn’t.

Hungry Ghost Festival dinner functions used to be very enjoyable events which I loved to attend, but now I find them a drag to attend. Hopefully in future my parents will not ask me to attend any of these!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Project Superstar Finalist Lookalike -- Me? Bleah!

I received an SMS from a friend of mine, telling me that one of the semi-finalists looked like me. He even added that both he and I looked almost 90% alike, not in terms of looks but also the way we behave as well. In short, very "me"! I was surprised, so I quickly switched over to channel U to take a look for myself. I stared and stared, but none of the contestants looked like me at all. The closest match was Jason Tan, but I think we were only about 55% - 60% similar. I was rather amused by my friend's comment that I actually looked like him. "Yeah, if I look like him, then I can be a superstar also!" I replied.

Actually this isn't the first time I was compared to Jason Tan. About a month ago, someone from a local web portal dropped me a message saying that he'll always support me and wish me good luck in the contest. I was bewildered, but brushed it aside thinking that it could be just someone who had bad eyesight. And just last week, a colleague of mine asked me if Jason is in any way related to me, but I did not think much about it as I could not recall any faces which resembled me.

So for the whole of night, I was searching for information about Jason Tan and Project Superstar on the internet, but the more I look at him, I less resemblance I find between us, neither in terms of looks, behaviour or character. It was quite funny to think of how other people can find us similar when I looked even plainer than plain water and he’s obvious much better looking than me. But on the whole, I am relieved that I do not resemble him much, as I hate to live in the shadow of other people. I am still me, uniquely me in the entire universe!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

End of Performance Season -- For Me

Today is the last Chinese opera performance I have for the time being till the end of the year. My friends in the troupe and I decided that after this show it's time for us to take a break and upgrade ourselves before our next chance to perform.

Looking back, this year is a rather uneventful year for me as I do not have much performing opportunities. Originally I was given 3 shows which I was supposed to play lead, but 1 was postponed indefinitely due to bad weather and the other 2 substituted by other shows on grounds that the organising committee could not provide enough microphones and that the show was too long. Sometimes I felt demoralised about my situation, as after being an active member for 7 years I still do not have the chance to take on more heavier roles. But there was little I could do for now, other to upgrade myself to prepare myself for next year, hopefully I can have better roles...