Monday, September 26, 2005

Insensitive Remarks

On Saturday night, our troupe's musicians were busy rehearsing for our performance in Johore Bahru next month, together with some musicians from Boon Lay Community Centre's Chinese Orchestra. This is unlike our other previous performances, because other than presenting Hokkien opera and Chinese dance, we also have "Nanyin" songs and music in our repertoire as well.

"Nanyin" is an ancient form of music still popular in Quanzhou regions of Fujian Province. Most songs are usually rather slow-paced, and if singing is required, the singer will be singing in Quanzhou dialect, which may not be easily understandable even by the mainstream Hokkien audience. Among our musicians, only one or two have a bit of experience in playing Nanyin music, so the rehearsal wasn’t progressing quite well, and at times the music sounded weird. All of a sudden, one of our troupe members, who was sitting together with some other members at a corner of the room, commented that the music reminded her of “void deck party” (typical Chinese funeral gatherings). Although she was merely joking, and everyone by the table was laughing away at her comments, I found it very offensive and rude. No doubt the music was not up to standard, but to compare it to funeral music is something I find quite unacceptable.

I was reminded of an incident which took place in China about a year ago whereby a group of “Hanfu” fanatics wore Hanfu and walked in public in Wang Fu Jing. “Hanfu” is the traditional clothing system for the ethnic Chinese which dated back over a thousand years, but died during the rise of the Qing dynasty. “Hanfu” is also considered the predecessor of the Japanese kimono and the Korean traditional costumes. This group of “Hanfu” fanatics were spotted by a reporter, and one of the ladies in the group was being captured by camera and published under the caption “Net friends touring Wang Fu Jing in traditional ’Hanfu’ costumes in an attempt to create ethnic awareness of traditional Chinese costumes”. Many other online news portals started to mirror this picture and news as well, but one particular news portal had the whole story twisted. In their news portal, they had the same picture, but the caption was “Youths touring Wang Fu Jing in traditional ’Shouyi’ costumes in an attempt to revive the ancient Chinese funeral system”. After this twisted news was published, the lady in the photograph was so emotionally stressed that she dared not wear her favourite Hanfu again, as “Shouyi” is actually a kind of clothing meant to be worn by the dead for funeral. It wasn’t until her supportive net friends persuaded her to take legal action against the culprits that she was back to her self.

In short, it seemed like a small issue, but the consequence is big. One may think it is funny, or perhaps one really find a bit of resemblance to that meant for the dead, but it would be nice if they just keep the remarks to themselves. After all, if they were the ones to be made references to, I don’t think they’ll like it either!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Uniquely Singapore: One Wedding, One Funeral and One Religious Dinner Function

As I was returning home from rehearsals at the Konghuay, I realised an interesting sight at the void deck of my flat.

On the grass field just behind my flat, there's a religious dinner function going on held by my neighbourhood's Hungry Ghost Festival committee to mark the dissolving of the committee. Usually such religous dinner functions has got auctions held concurrently at the venue of the dinner, but since there'll be no more such functions from next year onwards, no auctions were held this time. Instead it was replaced by karaoke singing. But while people are singing away at the stage, a funeral ritual is going on at the void deck left of my flat. The deceased will be sent off tomorrow, and hence the priests were invited to chant and pray at the wake. But that's not all! On the right void deck of the flat is another function going on; a Malay wedding! However the wedding is only taking place tomorrow, but the families involved were still busy preparing for the big day, while some Malay music was playing in the background through their PA system.

The neighbourhood I lived in used to be a very quiet place, other than the sound of engines and horns from vehicles on a nearby expressway, but today it become so unusually noisy. A din it may be, but it is perfectly understandable. It is interesting to find 3 entirely different religous and cultural events can actually take place in the same place and almost at the same time. I think this is something rather unique, even in Singapore!