Thursday, December 21, 2006

Another Cai Luong Quiz Time!

Another Cai Luong quiz time! Take a guess: what do you think is the original story of this show?

A clue: People around my age should have read a passage of this great novel in their secondary school Chinese textbook.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Stroll In The Cemetery

As in my previous post, I had been to the MediaCorp Radio on Monday for a radio interview. After the interview was done, it was still a few hours before I started work. Having nothing to do in the mean time, I suddenly thought of going to Bukit Brown Cemetery, which is not too far from MadiaCorp. I do not have any relatives "staying" inside, nor do I have any fetish for the dead, but being a cultural freak, I think cemeteries are great cultural grounds too, especially those old ones which reflects greatly on our nation's history.

When I was much younger, I used to be very afraid of such burial grounds, especially when my father drove his car on the PIE passing by Adam Road flyover and Old Police Academy areas. That stretch of the expressway was actually part of Bukit Brown/ Kheam Hock cemetery in the past, but the land was cleared in order to build the PIE. Therefore, imagine how scary it was with tombstones "staring" at you on both sides of the expressway! Now that I've grown up, I no longer fear such places, although I still dread going to the cemetery during Qing Ming festival as Choa Chu Kang cemetery, with all the concrete and little trees and grass, is a place far too hot and humid for me to bear. Bukit Brown cemetery, however, being one of the oldest surviving cemeteries left, is very shady, and is a more serene and cool place to actually tour around.

The roads inside the cemetery are not well-built; in fact they looked more like small lanes, and if one car is parked along the side, there's no way other vehicles from any direction to pass through. But I guess back in those days when the cemetery was open for burial, not many people would drive cars, so nobody would have thought of building wide lanes. Anyway, the tombstones in this cemetery are unlike those in Choa Chu Kang cemetery (referring to those built after the late 70s), which were built in neat rows and columns in various patches of land. The tombstones here were sparsely scattered, and were much bigger, at least two times larger than those in Choa Chu Kang. Even though the conditions of these tombstones had degraded over time, probably due to neglect, some of them still looked rather grand. There was one which even had got stone benches built around the little courtyard in front of the tombstone! However, I wasn't able to take a picture of it as it was situated on a high slope.

Halfway through my journey, I came to a T-junction where I saw a small shrine by the side of the junction. Inside the shrine's altar was various statues of Goddess of Mercy. Judging from the condition of the incense urn on the altar as well as the surroundings of the shrine, I supposed there is a caretaker looking after this shrine. However, after looking around my vicinity, I did not see a single soul (living one). There was a car parked beside the road as well, and I wondered where the driver had gone to.

As I ventured deeper into the cemetery snapping pictures, the sky suddenly turned dark. I quickly stopped snapping pictures and hurriedly left the cemetery in my motorbike. It is not fun to get caught in a sudden rain in a cemetery!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Interview @ MediaCorp Radio

Yesterday, I went to the MediaCorp Radio for an interview. Not that I wanted to find a job in the radio industry, but I was there to be given an interview by News 938 on Chinese opera issues. Just last week, an agency which is working closely with the Northwest CDC on it’s Northwest Arts Festival had approached me and Art with regards to some interviews on some topics. I was scheduled for a radio interview on Chinese opera, while Art would be scheduled for a magazine interview on promoting Chinese opera to children.

The interview was said to start at 10.30am, but nevertheless I had to be at MediaCorp by 10am so that I could run through the questions which might be asked during the interview. I wasn’t the only one to be interviewed, as another representative from a local Cantonese opera troupe would be in the recording studio as well.

This wasn’t the first time I got interviewed, but previous interviews were pre-recorded, so I was more nervous this time round. Also, as News 938 is an English station with perhaps non-Chinese DJs, I wasn’t sure if I would be asked some funny questions which I might not have the answers to. Luckily, the atmosphere was rather relaxed in the recording studio, all thanks to the 2 DJs in the studio, Mahesha Thenabadu and Stanley Leong. However, I fumbled in my speech at various times, which I felt like banging my head against the wall. Perhaps I needed to go to the loo, and hence I wasn’t able to react well! But anyway, the interview ended in less than half an hour, which was a bit too short for me; I just got started to enjoy the interview!

It was a fun interview session, and I hope there would be another chance to go on air, as long as I am an invited guest and not a DJ! Actually, I had once dreamt of being a radio DJ, but looking at how Stanley Leong do news reporting, I don't think I would be able to make it. Stanley was reading rather fluently from a newscript with a font size of perhaps only 10, and I think if I am asked to do the same, I'd probably had to stick the newscript onto my forehead! Nevertheless, this is one interesting experience which I don't think I'd ever forget.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Romance of the Dragon Princess": Performance Afterthought

It has been a few days since "Romance of The Dragon Princess" has been staged at Bukit Panjang Community Club, but I have yet to blogged anything about it due to my busy time schedule.

Looking back at last Sunday's performance, this show can be considered a success, as we received a few positive feedback from the audience, and our troupe has been approached to be interviewed over radio as well. From artistic perspective, I like this show as the music was well-composed, all thanks to Mr. Yang Senlin, the composer we had invited from Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe. This is despite the script was just average, due to the fact that the original Huangmei opera show was adapted from a folk legend. However, I don't quite like this show personally, as this is one show that almost made me totally discouraged in acting.

In 2001, when our troupe announced that we would be acting this show for our bi-annual theatrical performance in 2002, I was disappointed to know that I would be taking on the roles of miscellenous characters. Not that I am ambitious to want to take on lead roles, but having been in the troupe for almost half a decade, and in terms of capability or opera knowledge I certainly do not belong to the bottom ranks. This was not all; as we started our rehearsals, I was told that the musical ensemble was short of one percussionist, and hence I had to be withdrawn from stage to help out in the musicians' pit. I initially joined the troupe because I want to perform, and now that I did not have the chance to act in our bi-annual theatrical performance was a big blow to me, and almost resulted me in quitting. However, I did not leave in the end somehow, after my leader thanked me for "sacrificing" my role. Luckily for me, I was able to get back one of my slightly more significant roles, a heavenly general, in subsequent re-runs of this show in 2004. I also took the initiative to do the projection backdrop for the performance at Tampines East Community Club, which was my first attempt, but was well-received by the audience too.

Back to our performance last Sunday. Bukit Panjang Community Club was one of our "not-so-hot" performance venues, as our previous performance experiences there only received lukewarm responses. That night, however, it was close to full-house, even though it was raining dogs and cats just before the show started. I believed the "miracle" was due to the fact that the show was fully sponsored by the Northwest CDC. Not that I'm belittling our troupe's capabilities, but this is the real world: Hokkien opera-goers in general only watch Hokkien opera if it's free! Or unless the troupe is from Taiwan. I remembered in Chong Pang, an uncle came up to me and asked if we are from Taiwan. When I told him we're all local, he gave an uninterested face and commented "I'm a Teochew, I don't understand Hokkien!" (Give me a break, please! Taiwanese opera artistes do not speak Teochew as well!). Anyway, I still feel thankful that our show were sponsored. At least it made more people willing to come and watch our show, which is good, as it makes people more aware of our existence.

We still have a few upcoming shows in conjunction with NorthWest CDC's arts festival programme, and hopefully after these shows, they will continue to support us in our future shows.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hectic Sunday: Potato Live In Concert

After our performance at Chong Pang Community Club, I quickly removed my makeup and made a dash to Golden Mile Complex to catch my favourite Thai rock band, Potato in concert. Luckily, I arrived there at 10 minutes past 11, which means I only missed out 10 minutes or so of the show.

As the concert was held in a discoteque, there was a cover charge of $25 per person. It was sort of expensive for me, since I can't consume the beer that comes with the cover charge as I was riding a motorbike, and secondly I won't be staying throughout the entire concert as I wasn't feeling really well, and that I still had to work the following day. Nevertheless, I still paid for the admission, since it won't be easy to catch Potato in Singapore!

The discoteque was already packed with lots of people, just like what a friend of mine had fore-warned me. I managed to find a good spot quite near to the stage, but then the distance was still too far for me to actually video-record clearly the band performing on stage. Potato is a really good band, and they managed to make the people on the dance floor high. The group of people behind me enjoyed the music so much that they were jumping up and down while singing loudly to the songs. I guess Pup, the lead singer, noticed them too, as he kept pointing towards my direction from time to time during the songs. I wanted to be as crazy as them, but I can't, as I had completely lost my voice due to my flu, and that I don't really know the lyrics to all their songs and hence am not able to sing along.

Potato singing รักแท้ ดูแลไม่ได้ (Ruk Tae Doo Lae Mai Dai)

Potato singing ไม่ให้เธอไป (Mai Hai Ter Pai)+ กล้าพอไหม (Glaa Por Mai) medley

I was enjoying myself, but alas, it was soon midnight and I had to leave unwillingly. The news of this concert came to me out of a sudden, and hence I wasn't able to plan in advance. If I had known of this concert long ago, I could have requested off day for the following day as well to "recuperate" my health. Hopefully I can catch Potato again live, and it was indeed a unforgetable experience attending their concert!

Original MV for ไม่ให้เธอไป (Mai Hai Ter Pai)

Original MV for กล้าพอไหม (Glaa Por Mai)

Original MV for รักแท้ ดูแลไม่ได้ (Ruk Tae Doo Lae Mai Dai)

Hectic Sunday: "Butterfly Lovers" Performance

It was a hectic Sunday, as I had 2 events to attend to, one after another. The first was our opera troupe's performance of "Butterfly Lovers" at Chong Pang Community Club in the evening, and another one was Potato's live concert at Thai Disco, Golden Mile Complex at night. Luckily for me, both events do not really clash with one another, but since the concert was to start at 11pm, and I don't expect my performance to end before 10.30pm, the north-south travelling time would be a bit of a problem.

For our performance, we do not just solely put on a show like in the past. We were told by our organisers to hold a small opera exhibition as well, showcasing some props, costumes and information on our opera. Luckily for me, I had to act on stage, so I was spared of the task of introducing the various props and costumes to the member of parliament VIPs, who had been invited to host the opening ceremony to the show. Art was not acting in this show, hence she was delegated this task. She was afraid that her knowledge might not be adequate enough to give an introduction, but I thought she did a good job, as I can see that the VIPs were very pleased.

Chong Pang Community Club was our stronghold performance venue, partly due to the fact that there were alot of Hokkien opera lovers living in the area, and also because our performances there had so far been free of charge due to some generous sponsorship. The crowd yesterday was huge as usual, but it seemed larger than previous times. Perhaps "Butterfly Lovers" was an all-time favourite among opera watchers, hence they do not mind watching it again although they might have watched it years back when we performed the same show at the community club. It is always a good feeling when the turnout rate is good, because it will boost one's morale in acting. I remembered once we performed at a temple fair, and the foul weather then resulted in almost no audience, and it really made us moody.

Our performance started at 7.30pm, and ended at around 10pm, which was actually quite early, but not to the community centre's staff, as they knock off at 10pm sharp. The response from the audience was great; they applauded thunderously during the finale of the show, when 2 butterflies emerged out of Shanbo's grave after Yingtai jumped into it. This is an indication saying that our show was overall a success, despite various hiccups along the way.

The show may have ended, but my day had not come to an end; I still have to rush to catch Potato live in concert! (to be continued...)

Testing mic. time for our actors

Our show in action from the backstage

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Opera Rehearsal for "Butterfly Lovers"

Yesterday, we had our 2nd last rehearsal for "The Butterfly Lovers", which was to be staged next Sunday at Chong Pang Community Club. I haven't been attending rehearsals regularly due to me doing permanent afternoon shifts at work nowadays, and I am not able to get regular weekend offs.

Though it was just a week away from our performance, we're still not totally prepared, and we encountered hiccups along the way. Nevertheless, our leader did not flare up as much as in previous shows, hence the atmosphere during rehearsals was still calm. Lucky for us!

"The Butterfly Lovers" will be staged on 26th November 2006 at Chong Pang Community Club Multi-purpose Hall, 7.45pm. Admission to the show is free of charge, but members of the audience are to obtain admission ticket either from Hokkien Konghuay or Chong Pang Community Club directly. This performance is in conjunction with Northwest CDC Arts Festival

Friday, November 17, 2006

Potato Is Coming To Singapore!

Lately, I have been seeing posters of Thai pop group Potato being pasted in parts of Golden Mile Complex, the place where I work. However, a few days, I noticed that the posters had been amended to include some text. Upon reading, I realised that they are coming to Singapore soon to perform!

I got to know of this fantastic group in 2003 when I was browsing through some CDs in a music shop in Bangkok. I came across their album "Go... On", and it was available for preview listening. I found the tracks in the album very nice, and instantly bought it, although I had no idea what they were singing. Anyway, this five-man band album was one that had many ups and downs in their music career as they have experienced two changes of members over 5 years. The first change took place somewhere before their release of their second album (which was in fact "Go... On"), when their lead singer Pee passed away in a freak accident, and another member Nuch (guitarist) left the band to concentrate on her studies. Pup, the other lead singer at that time, became the main lead singer while two new members, Win and Ome, were recruited into the band subsequently to replace the two empty slots in the band. However, by their third album "Life", which was released in 2005, another pioneer member, Note, left the band as well. Now, Potato was reduced from a quintet to a quartet. Hopefully the one another pioneer member Bom won't be the next to go, neither do I want to see any change of blood again!

Back to Potato's performance in Singapore, they are scheduled to perform on 26th November at Thai Disco in Golden Mile Complex at 11pm. I was very excited, as I finally had the chance to meet them in person. But the only problem was that I had a performance on that night, and even if I rush down to Golden Mile Complex straight after my show, the place would be too packed by the time I arrive. I'm still considering if I should go attend this concert, as if I don't go, I don't know when will they be coming to Singapore again, and it's not quite possible for me to fly all the way to Thailand just to catch them in concert!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Singapore Hokkien Festival - Cultural Performance

The Singapore Hokkien Festival, organised by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, was was held at Bras Basah Complex last weekend. It is the first of such festival to be held locally, whereby different Hokkien groups like the southern Min (mainstream Hokkiens in Singapore), Fuzhou (Hockchew) and Putian (Henghua) get together to showcase their cultural essence. Other than having stalls selling traditional Fujian food at the festival venue, there was also a makeshift stage where different cultural performances like music, dance and opera were put up by various societies and performance troupes. Another event in conjunction with this Hokkien Festival was the cultural performance over at Drama Centre, just a street away, which showcased excerpts from classic shows of various Fujian opera genres.

Our troupe was one of the participating troupes, and we were scheduled to staged 2 shows, "The Street Paddler" and "The Storm Pavillion", at the makeshift stage on Saturday afternoon. The weather was still clear when "The Street Paddler" was being staged, but by the end of it, the sky turned dark, and it started to rain heavily. The rain was so heavily that even the ground got flooded and our percussionist had to stand on her feet to play her music! I joked that this was one of our most "successful" version of "The Storm Pavillion", as we had got real rain to compliment our sound effect. If we'd acted "Flooding the Golden Monastery", the effect would be even better! Jokes aside, it was tough acting in this kind of weather as the actors and musicians had to beat the rain in terms of volume, and I wonder if the audience downstage could hear us at all.

The rain was still pouring after both shows ended, but that was not the end of our work. We still had another performance at the Drama Centre, which was just across the street. Hence, we had to brave the rain in umbrellas while trying to avoid ruining our makeup and costumes. Over at the Drama Centre, there was another cultural performance in conjunction with this Hokkien Festival. This time round, fortunately, was an indoor performance. However, this Drama Centre performance was more stressful to me as compared to the outdoor one, as we would be acting alongside professional troupes from Fujian Province, among them were Experimental Major Liyuan Opera Troupe and Gao Jia Opera Troupe from Quanzhou, Experimental Minju Theatre from Fuzhou and Putian Academy of Arts. Though stressful, I was still excited in this performance, as I would have the chance to meet some of my favourite artistes like Zeng Jingping and Zhang Chunji from Quanzhou Experimental Major Liyuan Opera Troupe. I did not have time to interact with them on Saturday, but I managed to catch them during their afternoon break on the following day when I was not acting, and got them to autograph on my Liyuan opera DVD. They were very friendly and they left a great impression on me.

It was a great experience to perform together with these fine professional artistes, even though we may not be acting side by side at the same time. Hopefully there'll be a second year for this Festival, and that we would be able to meet up again, to interact and to perform together!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cai Luong Finale

This shall be the last of my posts on Cai Luong, unless I've got something new which I think I should strongly recommend. Anyway, this is the first Cai Luong video which I've found on the net, sung by popular singer Manh Quynh.

Actually, this is not authentic Cai Luong, but a parody version meant to make people laugh. Nevertheless, it was this video clip which made me more curious to know how does Cai Luong looked like, as I had previously seen promotional pictures of Cai Luong shows over the internet. Futhuremore, from what I had read before, it has got strong influences from Chinese opera, though not as strong as Hat Boi (Hat Tuong), the Vietnamese rendition of authentic Chinese opera. Unfortunately, I've only managed to see a few small and blurred pictures of a Hat Boi performance, but not any video or music, hence I won't be able to comment much on how Hat Boi is like. However, I do hope that one day, I'd be able to catch it in action somewhere.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Loy Krathong in Singapore

(A continuation of my previous post...)

To be honest, I was oblivious to the fact that Loy Krathong Festival was approaching until last Friday.

On that afternoon, on my way to work, I decided to drop by a music stall just a stone’s throw away from my office. I noticed that they had got these lotus lanterns on display at their counter, and it was only then I was reminded that Loy Krathong Festival was just around the corner. I asked the sales assistant when Loy Krathong Festival was, and she gave me a surprised look before telling me that it was on Sunday. I then asked her where do the local Thais float their lotus lanterns, and she told me that most of them do it at Kallang River, which is just a traffic light junction away. That was exciting! I didn’t know Kallang River was the venue for floating the lanterns, and if I had known it earlier, I could have celebrated it for the past 2 years. Anyway, I did not buy any lotus lantern from her yesterday, as I didn’t want to buy too early only to have a dented or damaged lantern on the actual day of Loy Krathong. Hence, I promised the sales assistant that I’d return to buy the following day.

On the following afternoon, before I go for my Chinese opera rehearsals, I purposely make a trip down to the stall again to buy lotus lantern. There were a number of colourful lanterns for sale, with price range from $5 to $10. That seemed a bit expensive, but then again, the “labour cost” as well as the cost of the raw materials is not cheap either, so I still decided to get one anyway. The cheaper ones did not appeal to me, as they were only decorated with some ribbons and I felt it looked too plain and not worth the money. I decided to get the $10 one, which was decorated with real fresh flowers and banana leaves. It looked nicer, and what’s more, it’s more environmentally friendly! After buying the lotus lantern, I suddenly remembered something; I had to work the following evening, and I wasn’t sure if I would have time to float the lantern. The sales assistant rest assured me that the floating of lanterns will start as early as 6pm, and would carry on until late in the night.

On the evening of Loy Krathong, I was greeted with bad weather, and I was worried that I might not be able to celebrate the occasion if the weather did not improve. Luckily, the rain stopped as fast it came. I then proceed to Kallang River happily with my lotus lantern. I guess it was still early, as I did not see anyone launching lotus lanterns into the water. I was about to head back to office and come back again later in the night when I saw a group of 4 elderly people carrying lotus lanterns in their hands. They were speaking in Hokkien, and I thought they might be able to help me find a place to launch the lanterns. It turned out that this group of elderly people were fans of my Chinese opera troupe, and one of their nieces was actually a dancer in our dance group too. It seemed that fate had drawn us together, and hence I decided to just follow behind them.

We walked for a short while before coming to a spot where we saw people crowding around. Some people had already launched their lotus lanterns while some were taking pictures with their lotus lanterns. We then decided that this would be the place for us to launch our lanterns into the water. I then realised that I had forgotten to bring out a small paper packet, inside which consist of a few strands of my hair and fingernails. You see, the sales assistant told me that before launching the lotus lantern, what some Thais do is that they would snip off a bit of their hair and clipped their fingernails, and place them on top of their lotus lanterns. As the lotus lantern floats away in the water, whatever bad luck and illness which you had for the previous year would go away with the lantern too. I then quickly searched my bag for my scissors and starts snipping a bit of my hair and fingernails. I guessed it must have a funny sight, as I noticed some Thai people looking at me in a strange manner. Anyway, I managed to get some of my hair and fingernails just in time to launch the lotus lanterns together with the 4 elderly people.

I felt happy and relieved once I saw my lantern floating away in the river, as I had finally realised my wish of celebrating Loy Krathong Festival again. Hopefully, the next time I celebrate this occasion would be in Big Thailand itself and not in “Small Thailand”!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Thai Floating Latern Festival - "Loy Krathong"

It is the fifteenth of the 9th lunar month for us Chinese, but for the Thais, it's the fifteenth of the 12th lunar month for the Thais, a very important day as it coincides with Loy Krathong festival.

Loy Krathong, also known as festival of light or floating latern festival, is the day where the Thais would launch small floating lotus lanterns into the canals and rivers. There were many sayings with regards to the significance of the festival. As this period is the time of the year where the farming cycle for the year comes to an end, the Thai farmers would "loy" (float) their "krathong" (lotus lantern) to thank the River Goddess for the good year they've had, as well as to seek forgiveness for polluting her waterways. Another saying was that this act of floating the lotus lanterns is to pay homage to Lord Buddha's footprint which He had left at the bank of River Narmada in India. There is another Hindus interpretation that this lotus lanterns were offerings to Lord Vishnu, who meditates in the center of the ocean. Whatever the real significance it is, this festival is nevertheless a beautiful one comparable to the Chinese mid-autumn and Yuan Xiao festivals, as the candle-litted lotus lanterns filled up the canals and rivers on this full-moon night, complimented by fireworks in the air. In northern Thailand, Loy Krathong festival is also celebrated with beauty pageants as well as the rising of "Kome Loy" lanterns (similar to the Chinese Kongming lantern) into the night sky.

In 2003, I had the chance to experience this festival on my own in Bangkok. On the night of the celebration, I headed out to Lumpini Park after the sunset, and along the way, I saw stalls selling Krathongs. Some were very simple lanters, with just a styrofoam base and some shredded ribbons and lace on top of the base as a decoration. There were others which uses real banana leaves and decorated with real flowers, and these were of course more expensive. I bought one from a stall at the park's entrance and proceeded inside. There were already people launching their lantern vessels into the pond. I walked up to the pond and choose an ideal place to float my own lantern. However, as the banks of the pond were wet and slippery, and that I was wearing slippers at that time, I almost lost my balance and fell into the pond. If I fell, I'd have become a gigantic krathong myself! Anyway, it was a beautiful sight to see so many lanters floating in the pond. I tried taking photographs of the scenery, but alas my digital camera just could not take photographs in such low lighting, and most of my photographs turned out blurred or grainy.

As I was about the leave the park after floating my krathong, the sky was suddenly lit with fireworks. It was indeed magnificant; lights in the sky as well as on the water surface! I quickly bring out my camera again to try snap some pictures, and though the quality was not very good, it was much better than the earlier pictures I tried to take of the krathongs in the pond.

Loy Krathong festival is truly a very beautiful festival, and one have to experience it yourself to see it's beauty. I hope I would be able to experience it again in Thailand next year or so. In the meanwhile, I've bought a krathong at my workplace, and I shall be floating it in Kallang River tonight!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Another Clip From "Manh Le Quan"

This is another clip from "Manh Le Quan" (Legend of Meng Lijun), but from a much newer remake by pretty pop singer Phi Nhung. Listen to the songs; there were more familiar tunes!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Take a Guess: Vietnamese Cai Luong

This is a clip from Cai Luong (Vietnamese folk opera) titled "Manh Le Quan". Does it bear a bit of resemblance with Chinese opera? In fact, this show is taken from a very famous Chinese opera story. The Chinese version has been acted before in Taiwanese opera, Minnan Xiangju opera, Shaoxing Yue opera and Anhui Huangmei opera. Even in Hong Kong, it has been adapted into periodic drama serial. Miko, Amai and Juanjuan, take a guess! See if you can guess what show this is. A clue: The title of this show in Chinese has three words, and it has already been mentioned in the clip before.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Other Chinese Blog

I had just created a new blog for myself once again. This time round, however, it is a Chinese one, and is hosted by Like this blog here, my Chinese blog will be a collection of my own thoughts. However, I would not be able to guarantee that both my English and Chinese blog will feature the same content, because I will update whichever I feel like updating. Having said that, it does not mean that I will favour one and neglect the other. But do come support both my blog, nevertheless!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Revenge Of The Haze

I had almost recovered completely from my flu, when I suddenly started coughing badly again last night at work. It was so bad that a colleague asked me if I had still not recovered. I thought I had taken some food or drinks earlier on which had aggrevated my cough, but it was only when I finished work that I realised that it was the haze that had caused my cough to worsen.

Actually, I'm not someone who falls sick easily. In fact, for the past 12 months, I had not taken any medical leave, or seen any doctors for any illness (before my Taiwan trip), whereas the rest of my ex-colleagues in my previous companies had paid visits to clinics for at least twice for common illnesses. However, I had two weak points. First, if I fell ill from flu, it usually took me over a month to get totally cured (without medication), and second, I'm very sensitive to haze. I was so sensitive to haze that my body starts to give way even before I can even smell the smoke. Either I can cough for no reason, or I get diarrhoea.

The haze this time was very bad, as the PSI level rose to about 140 today, the highest for the past few years. Hence, I decided to wear a mask to work, so that I can minimise the smoke intake during my travel to work by motorbike. It does feel uncomfortable wearing the mask, but I think I should take some protection against the haze. Afterall, I'm still an unconfirmed crew in my company, and I don't wish to fall sick again just because of the haze and get no medical claims. Well, hopefully the haze would go away soon. It's such a pain and agony to me as it had upset my lifestyle quite a little!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Nostalgic Clinic

I had not been feeling well since the day I returned from Taiwan. I have had running nose, cough and occasional fever even before I stepped onto the plane back home. My condition was so bad that it affected my ability to think properly, and I have been making many mistakes at work. A few days ago, I even forgot to remove my keys from my motorbike after parking! This was when I decided that I should go visit a doctor.

My parents told me to visit Dr. Chong, a doctor whom I have been visiting since young. They said that Dr. Chong is very good at curing common flu and coughs. I immediately knew who they were referring to, although I haven't been there for over a decade. The moment I stepped into the clinic, I was surprised that the decorations to the clinic was still the same as what it was when I last visited: a shelf full of magazines was located just next to the waiting area hanging directly above it was the old traditional rotating fan. Even the receptionist remained unchanged. I remembered her, but of course she couldn't recall who I was. I produced my IC for her to trace my records, not quite sure if they still have it with them. Within a short while, she managed to retrieve an old record card which still beared my old address (I had shifted thrice since then). What took me by surprise was the first page of my record card: the first entry was in 1987! I couldn't recall my childhood years, but it seemed that I was quite a sickly child then, since the whole record card was full of clinical visit entries.

There wasn't much people that morning, so I did not have to wait for long before it was my turn to see the doctor. Although I had not visited this doctor for ages, but I thought this doctor looked rather unfamiliar. I wondered if this was another doctor, until the moment he started to speak. His gentle voice (almost to the point of being a whisper) instantly confirmed his identity. I told him of my illness, and he immediately knew what I was suffering, and he gave me some prescription. I thought I would be only given two to three drugs to take, but I was surprised that I was given about 5. Taking medication is already a drag for me, and now I had to take so many! Well, there's nothing much I can do, if I want to recover fast.

It was a short clinical visit that lasted less than half an hour, but it had brought back many childhood memories. It's amazing how this small clinic remained unchanged for 2 decades, when all surrounding shops had changed in one way or another.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Performance Trip To Taiwan - Day 4

This day, 12 September 2006, is the actual day of our performance, "Courtesan Yu Tang Chun". We may have already staged this show in Tampine East Community Club last month, but this version we've brought over came with a difference: the lovebirds do not get together in the end after all. We were told by our Taiwanese counterpart that our original "happy ending" was way too traditional and lack creativity, and hence the ending was changed, in a matter of weeks only.

This morning, we did not have the luxury to wake up late (usually we were expected to have more rest on the night prior to our performances to conserve more energy), as my panicky leader wanted more rehearsals. Upon reaching the theatre in the morning, Art and I wasted no time getting into action; she went to co-ordinate the lightings while I went to co-ordinate the flyers. Surprisingly, my leader did not bother us for the first half of the day. However, we were later given a big surprise: the TV station is coming to film our rehearsal in the afternoon! Luckily it turned to be just a dry run for the filming crew get familiarised with our show before the actual shooting at night. Somehow I felt that their shooting standard is much better than the one we hired to shoot our "Tragedy of the Song Palace". For that show, the shooting angles kept changing after every few seconds, making it an eyesore to watch!

We did not do a full rehearsal with makeup. Instead, we only did a costume rehearsal. Art and I had the "special privellege" to not don our opera costumes, as we need to constantly run up and down the stage. So far the costume rehearsal went on quite smoothly, although initially there was a big hiccups, as our stage manager, who was our dance instructress, wasn't able to co-ordinate the lighting and flyer cues well, but they were later solved. Not too bad for a newbie, but I felt that there were too many intentional pauses between changing of scenes.

After the rehearsal, we started our makeup. For some of our members, we had the luxury of having professional makeup artistes help us with the makeup, at a price of course! I had paid to have my makeup done too. Many people said my makeup looked too girlish, even I myself find it very odd-looking. I then later realised that the makeup artiste that did the makeup for me was specialised in doing makeup for dans. Still, I don't recall any dans sporting round pouting lips!

Time passed quicker when one doesn't keep track of it. Not long after, it was time for the actual performance, and then the show came to an end. I thought that was it, and was about to remove my wig (which I'd secured with lots of hairpins), but was given another big suprise: the voice for Juanjuan in one of the scenes was not recorded by the filming crew, and they wanted to reshoot that scene after the audience had dispersed. That scene has got me in it as well, and that meant I couldn't rest just as yet! I could see many dumbfounded expressions among some of my other members, as they had to change back into their original costumes and hairdo first. Later on, it turned out that they just need to record the half half of the scene, which only involved me, Juanjuan and Decheng. The other members were all fuming mad!

Two shows down, but there was still one last hurdle to cross: the discussion forum for our show, which would be held the following morning. This is the part I feared most, as opera critics and researchers would turn up and give comments to our show. Taiwanese people are known for their shockingly straight-in-your-face attitude, and I was afraid that I would not be able to handle their tongue lashing, if they find our show far below their expectation. Although our leader had told us that the discussion forum was actually a very relaxing affair (she had attended Tang Meiyun's discussion forum, and found that it wasn't as bad as she had originally thought), but afterall, her troupe is very professional, and there's very much less things to pick on her show, since her lighting, scenography and music were superb. I could only pray that those who turned up be more lenient in their comments, and leave the rest them for private discussions.

Note: This is the last post for this series, although there is a Day 5 for my visit to Taiwan.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Performance Trip To Taiwan - Day 3

With one scheduled performance down, it didn't mean we could relax a little the following day. With our major performance just 2 days away, it meant that we would have to go to the theatre to set up our scenopgraphy and lighting first. Hence, we still have to wake up early, had our breakfast at 7 and depart for the theatre at 8. Previously, we had an agreement that the lighting designer for Xiamen Municipality Gezi Opera Troupe's show would come to the theatre to help us with the rigging up of lamps. However, we got more than what we had requested for: the entire movers crew for the troupe actually stormed into the theatre with all their props! Hence instead of solely helping us rig up what we need for our show, the stage crew had to go help out with the unloading of Xiamen troupe's props. We were performing the following night, while they were only performing on the 15th! So why were they so eager to shift all their things into the theatre so early? That wasted quite a lot of time and we weren't happy. However, we couldn't do anything as it was us who requested their assistance.

The props we had for the scenography was actually very basic; just 9 pieces of vertical cloth drapes and 1 piece of translucent sash. Actually I wasn't too happy with my own design. It was too bare for a big stage like this, and a little too "ordinary". I had a better design, but it was rejected by my leader as she felt that it would incur too much money. However, when I saw the props for Xiamen's show, I realised that their concept were similar in certain ways to mine, and according to their scenographer, Mr. Huang Yongying, making such props back in their country only cost afew hundred Singapore dollars! That really made my heart sunk; if my leader had considered this step, I would have been a happier scenographer! What stung me real hard was the ironic news that we received some last minute funds from some people. If these funds could have arrived earlier, we could have a bigger budget for the props already. Art then commented that I was considered luckier than her, and she wasn't allocated any budget to hire a lighting designer. I had to correct her that the scenography and lighting team are actually the same team, and there shouldn't be any distinction between the two (though the job scopes for both teams are not the same).

Art and I sat at the front of the stage, waiting for the stage crew to finish hanging up the props and lighting equipments so that we could carry on adjusting the lights. By then, many of our other troupe members had taken their nap, went for a short shopping spree and started their rehearsals in the rehearsal studio downstairs. We then realised that the stage crew were all distracted by the Xiamen people to help them with their props instead. That was the last straw! We decided to report this to our troupe leader, and let her settle the case. However, she was in the midst of her own rehearsal when we went down, and by the time she came up, the stage crew had already finished doing Xiamen's props, so we had nothing left to say. "Not having syncronised the whole show before" was what the Xiamen troupe said when it comes to why they were so anxious to move everything into the theatre so early, but then it was still demanding and unreasonable for them to so this on the eve of another troupe's show!

The whole stage was done by evening, including laying of carpets and rigging of platforms. However, the lights and flyers had not been co-ordinated yet, but then my troupe leader still wanted to incorporate all into the rehearsal for that night. We couldn't make her see the logic, so we just abide to her decision, and you can forsee the outcome: everything was a mess. At the end of the day, while on our journey back to the hotel, our leader kept harping on the point that the lighting and scenography designers had to buck up and get everything ready by noon the next day, and that really made me fuming mad. I think everything would run much more smoothly without her regular intervention, but she just don't see the point!

Performance Trip To Taiwan - Day 2

On the second day, all of us had to wake up very early, as we need to leave for Ilan at 8.30am, the place where we would be performing on that night. The trip to Ilan would take about 2 and 1/2 hours, and along the way were greeted by the gigantic waves of the Pacific Ocean splashing against the rocks near the shore. We were considered lucky to be able to see it, for the view would not have been so magnificant if the weather was good. Halfway through the journey, we were told to stop for a while, as we were supposed to depart together with the crew of a TV station from Xiamen. That's the style of my leader, always eager, sometimes over-eager, to carry out things!

We reached Taiwan Theatre Museum, an important cultural venue for the Ilan County Cultural Center, at around noon. This was also the place in which we were supposed to perform during the night. We were taken on a short tour around the meseum, and found that the contents of the exhibits in the museum had changed, no longer the same as what I had seen 2 years back. The themes of the various sections of the museum, however, were still the same. Anyway, something unpleasant happened while I was in the museum. The crew of the Xiamen TV station were supposed to do a TV shoot in the museum, and the rude videographer simply pushed me aside so that he could bypass me into the museum. What's the big deal about being a crew member of the TV station? That doesn't entitle you to be an arrogant punk!

Putting this unhappiness aside, I was looking forward to visit another place in Ilan: the National Center for Traditional Arts. This centre was very much like the old Tang Dynasty in Singapore, but with more life and appealing things to see and buy. I had visited this place 2 years back as well, and was amazed by what I saw. Inside this centre were shops selling various folk handicrafts, and various halls putting up regular exhibitions from time to time. There were also spots in the centre which were modelled after authentic traditional buildings, to show visitors how traditional houses, temples and opera stages used to look like some 100 years ago. This time round, as our schedule was tight, we were not brought around the centre by their crew, but were only briefly explained of what the centre offers, and then we proceed for a sumptuous lunch in their restaurant.

After our lunch comes the exciting part of the tour: shopping! No, I wasn't interested in buying those folk handicrafts or souveneirs, but was more interesting in buying opera VCDs and DVDs produced by the center itself. I had read from their website that the centre had produced many publications, and hence was actually more eager to visit this place than to perform! However, I was a bit disappointed by the variety of goods they had available on sale at that point of time. I didn't know if the rest of the stuffs listed in their websaite and not available for purchased had run out of stock, or they did not put them on display due to some reasons. I didn't ask them, for I was running short of time, so I just bought some Heluo opera DVDs and a DVD set comprising acts of Liyuan opera by budding actors from Quanzhou Liyuan Opera Company in 2002.

We left the centre at around 3pm, and by the time we returned to the Taiwan Theatre Museum, we found that there was a performance going on on the stage in which we were supposed to perform. It was some young children acting traditional Hokkien opera, and the orchestra accompanying the performance were young musicians too. Having said that, it didn't mean that they were inexperienced. They were in fact quite good in their act, and I was impressed. However, one thing I couldn't get used to was the accent they spoke in. It wasn't quite Hokkien to me, and I thought it sounded more like Hockchew or Heng-hua. Though it was still a few hours to go to our performance, we did not have much time to relax, as we need to unpack all our costumes from our luggages to be ironed, and we need to start doing our makeup. Anyway for that night's performance, the Taiwanese side and us would be presenting a few excerpts from our own individual repetiore, and Taiwanese opera artiste Lin Xianyuan would be performing alongside our troupe leader in te exerpt "Romance of the Red Mansion" too. This should be an interesting show to watch, as although our Xiangju and Taiwanese Gezi opera originates from the same source, the operatic style of both genres were not totally the same, and we were curious as to how was he going to interprete our Xiangju.

The rain was still pouring in the evening and we were worried. There was a bit of unsheltered area from the audience seat to the stage, and that means we would need to get drenched a little in order to go up the stage. Furthurmore, with such weather, we were uncertain of the turnout for the show. It would be utterly embaressing if there wasn't a single audience watching! Fortunately for us, there were still quite a number of people turning up to watch. In total, we staged 5 excerpts ("The Butterfly Lovers", "The Arrogant Princess", "Romance of the Red Mansion", "Romance of the Dragon Princess" and "Courtesan Yu Tang Chun"), while our Taiwanese counterpart staged 2 excerpts ("Yang Zongbao and Mu Guiying" and "Female Prime Minister Meng Lijun"). We may appear to have more stage appearance more for this performance, but actually our excerpts were very much shorter than our Taiwanese counterparts. I felt this was a bit inbalanced, as before the audience can really get into the mood to watch our excerpts, they were already over. The excerpts by our Taiwanese counterpart, however, were much longer, and you can tell that the audience was really into the show and they enjoyed these excerpts more. This is one thing we should take note of in future, but then again, it would take a lot of effort to really persuade my leader to do something about it!

We ended our show at around 10pm. It was considered early to us, but then if you were to take into consideration on the time taken to travel back to Taipei, it wasn't, and we didn't even have time to mingle around with the audience, because we were all in a rush. I think this was something we should look into, as more interaction with the natives there would better facilitate us in engaging more performance opportunities there in future. We arrived back at our hotel after midnight. It was a tiring and fulfilling night. Nevermind our overall standard may not be as good compared to our Taiwanese counterpart, I think it was still an eye-opening cultural interaction programme.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Performance Trip To Taiwan - Day 1

I dragged my luggages to the gathering point in Changi Airport terminal to meet up with the rest of the members who were travelling together with me. And yes, you did not read wrongly. I did bring more than 1 luggage with me. It may sound exaggerating, but 1 luggage is simply not enough for my costumes. I may not be playing lead roles, but I have got a few costume changes. Furthurmore, the shoes that I wore on stage already took up one-third of the luggage already, while my costumes easily filled up the other two-third. I was lucky that Art was helping me bring my headgear, which she would sharing with me on stage. Hence, I had to bring another smaller luggage for my personal clothes. I need more luggage spaces too, as I had forseen that I would be buying a lot of things over in Taiwan.

Everyone present appeared very excited about this whole Taiwan performance, the first time ever since our maiden trip in 1990. I was looking forward to the trip, but I did not feel the same like the rest. I was more worried than happy, because the other two "rival" troupes were of much higher standards and quality than us, and what grounds do we have, to perform alongside them on the same platform? Though our troupe leader had maintained that the Taiwanese counterparts will give us some leeways due to us being only amatuers, but I think elsewise; when you're on stage, there's no such thing called "professional artiste" or "amatuer performer"!

We boarded the plane at about 1 something in the afternoon, and reached Taipei at around 6 in the evening. It was raining heavily as predicted by the weather forecast. This was the second time I visited Taipei, and during my previous trip, it was raining heavily too when I arrived! We were originally scheduled to check in to our hotel and have a good rest for that night, but halfway through our journey, our leader called up and wanted Art, Juanjuan and me to go to the theatre straight away to take a look at how Tang Meiyun staged their show. Apparently she was greatly shocked by how good their performance were, and how much we paled in comparison. We were amused by her decision, as all our props and lighting design works had already been finalised and nothing else could be improvised already. Anyway, there was a massive jam on the highway to the hotel, so we decided not to go. We would not be allowed to enter the premise if we were to arrive after the show started anyway.

We arrived at our hotel, Santos Hotel, at around 8.30pm. I was arranged to share the room with our cellist musician. He was eager to check out the facilities in the hotel room, while I wasn't particularly interested (give me a guesthouse anytime, and I'll more more than happy already!). I was, however, more interested to "inspect" what TV channels they offer. I switched through channels after channels, and finally settled on one which airred Jacky Wu's variety show. Frankly speaking, his brand of comedy wasn't my cup of tea, and in fact, I didn't really like him either. However, since there wasn't anything better to watch on TV on a Saturday evening, I guessed it would be better to stick to just that. The variety show was funny alright, until a segment whereby the invited guests had to play a game in which they were not supposed to laugh or giggle under any circumstances. In this particular segment, one of the challenges posed was a Shandong-accented man tried to teach the invited guests sing a song. The lyrics to the song consisted of phrases which were actually twisted from Hokkien vulgarities, and none of the guests could maintain calmness throughout. I would be a hypocrite if I were to say it wasn't funny. However, this kind of crude humour was too much for me, especially for a programme on prime timeslot, and I wonder how come such things do not get censored in any way at all.

After the programme ended, my cellist room-mate asked me if I wanted to go take a walk outside. I thought it was a good idea, since the night was still young, and most probably I would not have the time to do that again, until we were done with our performance. It turned out, however, to be a bad idea. The neighbourhood shops had started to close, except for the convenience stores. Our hotel wasn't in the shopping district, so there wasn't anything particularly interesting to look at, and after a short while we just headed back to our hotel.

Back in our hotel, I was browsing through the TV channels again. There wasn't nothing of much interest to me, except for some channels showing live coverage of the anti-Chen Shuibian movement, which just started on the same day. I watched the coverage for a short while, before feeling tired and hence decided to retire to bed.

Performance Trip To Taiwan - Prelude

It has been 2 days since I returned from my performance in Taiwan, and am finally able to sit down and post entries about what happened during my 5 days of absence; I was actually down with flu since Wednesday, and had yet to recover fully.

For those who still did not know, my opera troupe was invited to perform in this 2006 Taiwanese Opera Art Festival, alongside Tang Meiyun Opera Troupe from Taiwan and Xiamen Municipality Opera Troupe from Xiamen. Yjid festival was to be held in Taipei from 8th to 17th of September, and the show which we brought over was "Courtesan Yu Tang Chun". It was staged on 12 September, and prior to that, we had a cultural interaction programme with an opera institute from Ilan on 10 September as well. My flight was scheduled to depart from Singapore on 9 September, and back on 14 September, though some of my other troupe members actually left earlier and/ or returned later than me. Even though I was away for 5 days, it doesn't mean that I would have ample time to relax. Read on more and you will know!

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Waiting Game

I was in a room with another 90 over people yesterday afternoon, everyone with anxiety written all over their face. They were as if Singapore Idol contestants waiting for their results to get into the top 28 positions. If you think I was taking part in a similar competition, I did not. I was merely waiting for my riding test results in Comfort Driving Centre. The settings, however, were about the same: there were 10 testers who overlooked the entire test, and these testers would come into the room at different intervals to call out the numbers of the candidates who failed to make it, while the remaining uncalled numbers would be those who had passed the test.

Eager as I was to get my results, I wasn't particularly very anxious about it, as I did not have much confidence about my performance earlier in the morning. Even before I left home, I had already seen a bad omen in the form of heavy downpour. My confidence was shaken a little, as it would mean more difficulties in completing my courses, especially the narrow plank, figure of eight and emergency brake courses. During the warm-up, I skidded and fell off my bike just as I was about to go up the wet and slippery metal plank, and since then my confidence level sank to an all-time low. However, desperate to not fail and retake my test again, I decided to follow some supersition practice of "sayang"-ing (coaxing) my bike before I go through these courses, and to my surprise, I got through them without a hitch. With all my circuit courses all completed, half the battle's won and I was left with only the road courses to clear. My confidence level rose back to normal, as I didn't have much problem with the road courses during my previous road revisions.

My road courses were completed smoothly, but at the last left-turn junction, the traffic light became amber as I was making the turn. I didn't know if I turned before the light changed to amber, or did the traffic signal changed before I made the turn. In a state of panic, I actually steered into the wrong lane. My confidence level dropped once again.

Back to the waiting room, I actually fell asleep while waiting, and I was waken by the voice of one of the testers calling out the numbers. I thought I heard my number, and I followed the rest of the people out, only to realise that I had heard wrongly. I went back to the room and carried on waiting, while the number of people in the room became lesser and lesser as more numbers were being called. But there were some cases of "false alarms", as some candidates were initially called, but later returned shortly after. I wondered if these testers had been watching too much of Singapore Idol or American Idol!

It was a long 60 minutes of wait before our instructor came into our room and closed the door behind him. Immediately, the remaining people in the room and I knew that the elimination period is over and we were all safe. Some even began cheering loudly. Our instructor congratulated us for passing the riding test, and after allocating us the time slot to go collect our result slip, he made us watch a compulsory video of road safety, as well as leading us in a road motorists' pledge. With some time left in hand before collecting the result slip, I decided to have a quick lunch first at the canteen. However, I couldn't eat much as I was more eagar to get my result slip fast so that I could update my qualifications on my driving license!

Now that I'm a qualified Class 2B and Class 3 license holder, it's time for me to say goodbye to Comfort Driving Centre. But I will probably be back by next year to get my Class 2A license. So long for now, CDC, and see you again next year, hopefully!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Customer Is Always Right?

I hate the statement that says customers are always right. The one who came out with this line probably had little interaction with customers from diverse backgrounds, and hence do not understand the agony some unreasonable customers bring to us service providers. Today, I am "lucky" to be able to see one of such for myself.

This afternoon was a pretty quiet office as we did not have many walk-in customers. However, my colleagues and I were still pretty busy as the phonecalls kept coming in. I was handling some paperwork when I overheard a middle-aged man talking loudly into his mobile phone, complaining that no one was there to serve him. I thought he wasn't referring to our company, as I did not even see him step into our office; he was pacing up and down at our doorstep all these while. Moments later, however, it was confirmed that he was referring to us. He mentioned our company's name, and he seemed to be complaining to our main office.

Later on, he stepped into our office, still wailing that everyone was talking on the phone and nobody bothered to serve him. I was annoyed by his boorish behaviour, but tried to ask him if he needed any assistance, but he simply took a quick glance at me and continue his yelling. A female colleague beside me retorted him (in a neutral tone) "If you want us to serve you, you have to approach us. Or else, how are we supposed to know what you want?" This actually provoked this boor more, and starts accusing her of being rude and shouting at him! He then demanded our manager to come over, but nobody bothered to attend to him.

After a few moments of drama, another colleague attended to him and he managed to calm down. He was however, still upset and demanded to cancel his tour package booking which he had originally done with us. Good riddance! It's not as if our company will collapse just because we lose a package from him. It's not as if he brings in ten over grand of revenue for us each time he steps into our office! So what grounds does he have for being so cocky?

Lately there has been complains saying that the service standards in Singapore is not good generally. I beg to differ. As the saying goes, it takes two hands to clap. If the customer is not a bad substance, how good can the service be? Before pin-pointing at the service providers, I think we should reflect on our bahaviour first; when you point a finger at others, your other 4 fingers are pointing back at you!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A False Alarm

Today, a big hoo-ha happened at my work place, which I think can almost make it to the front page of our local papers.

I'll have to backtrack the story to last night, where my supervisor noticed an unclaimed luggage during the closing of our office. Thinking that some passengers who had forgotten to carry it onboard while boarding their bus, she decided to keep it in the office until someone called to claim for it. However, until this morning, no one had yet to claim it, and hence she asked one of my colleague to hand the luggage to the police. From what I heard, my colleague had actually opened up the luggage and found a bottle of green liquid that was wrapped up like some handmade bombs in the movies. My colleague did not bring it to the police of course, and instead, he called up the police.

Shortly after, 2 police officers came, and after a short while more, another batch of policemen came, and soon my office became a mini police station. I didn't know why was there a need to activate so many people, when I thought just 3 or 4 men were enough: 2 to take records and 2 to examine the luggage. I was a bit skeptical about the way the policemen were handling the case, and the way they handle the luggage was rather rough. I could hear the luggage knocking against the cabinets, and my colleague was wondering what would happen if that bottle was really a bomb and exploded under their bad handling. They took quite a while working on the luggage, and they finally decided to take the luggage away. I thought they should have done it long ago! However, the luggage was only gone for a short period of time before the same duo brought the luggage back. My colleagues and I were suprised; what do they mean by bringing it back? Has it been declared safe already? Or they simply did not know what to do? We questioned them about why the luggage was brought back to our office, but they could not give us a definite answer. Instead, they gave us an embaressed smile and they brought it out again. Within the next 1 hour, I could see men in blue passing by. My colleague had actually done a count on them, and claimed that there were at least 10 of them, including those in civilian clothings. Some came into our office as well, but asked the questions that had been previously asked before. I wasn't the one who'd been questioned, but I could feel the frustration of my colleague, as I actually felt irritated by just sitting at a side listening to what's going on! But I don't blame these civil servants. Afterall, after the recent foiled plans to bomb British airplanes, the local police will sure be more vigilant. It's just that their lack of experience in these area made me lose a bit of confidence. Anyway, we were later told by one of the constables who took the luggage away that the suspicious liquid in the bottle was actually washing detergent. However, as this matter was still considered a big issue, they could not return the luggage to us, and hence they had it brought back to their headquarters.

I thought the case was over for the moment, until another colleague reported to work, and told us that the luggage was actually left behind by a customer who had came to buy tickets from us the previous night, and was supposed to leave tonight. She had also requested to have her luggage deposited in our office first and to be collected tonight before departure. We realised that we have made a big mistake, and tried to contact the respective authorities to claim back the luggage, but was told that the owner must collect it from them herself. According to my colleague who had made the call, he said that the whole unit had known about this matter already, as the moment he mentioned our company name, the person on the other side of the line immediately knew that we wanted to know how to claim back the luggage. So, you can imagine how high-key this matter had become!

I am now out of office, but I can't help but think of how the customer would react, if she found out that her luggage was now in the police's custody. Although it was her fault for wrapping her detergent in this manner and thus creating unrest, how can we justify the act of opening up her luggage without her permission? I just wish that this matter could be resolved quick, and not turn into another storm!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Back To The Travel Line

I was very nervous the moment I stepped onto the bus and headed for work on Monday. It has been over a year since I left my previous-previous company, a travel agency, and I was starting work on that day at another travel agency, which was just next door to the former!

Having been away for quite some time, I wasn't certain if I could handle the kind of workload and stress at the travel agency or not. (At times the travel agency can be flooded with phonecalls and customers simultaneously, and moments later, the agency becomes quiet again!) Anyway, I believe I would not be sitting behind the counter for a very long period of time, because the position I applied for was not a tour consultant, but a coach operations executive. I'd be assigned to do counter sales for the time being, until the time I am familiar with how the company's coach system works then will I be transferred to the coach department. Actually, I'm not sure if I really wanted to venture into this area, because I was actually aiming at the ticketing side, and this position I took up will not allow me to progress into ticketing. Another consideration was that the future of the coach business is an uncertainty. Just days before, it was reported in the news that Malaysian Airlines and Tiger Airways are looking at the possibility to provide Singapore-Malaysia flights with prices to match that of coaches. If this plan is successfully launched, that means the coach industry will be affected by quite a big deal. Other than isolated and unpopular destinations, who would still want to take coaches, if they could fly at the same cost and a fraction of the time needed? Anyway, I can only cross my fingers and see how things work out within the next few months. Or pray that the company allows me to switch over to counter sales and ticketing!

I arrived Golden Mile Complex at 8.30am, half an hour before my scheduled reporting time. I went to the toilet to change into my uniform, took a slow stroll around the building, and then report to work at 8.45am. It was a nice feeling to be back working at Golden Mile Complex, because I always like the "mini-Thai" atmosphere of the place, except for maybe the fightings and quarrels which happens once in a while. Speaking of that, some of my ex-colleagues actually dared not enter the building, complaining of a strong stench from the walkways into the building. I do not know what is that smell till now, but I believe it should be coming from a kind of foodstuff called "smelly fish". This is a fermented fish which gives off a very strong smell, and is a favourite among the Issan (north-eastern Thais) people, which formed the majority of the Thais in Singapore. This time round, the smell was gone, either the shops there no longer sell such stuffs (lately there has been an "invasion" of Vietnamese goods in the supermarket there), or that my nose has already got used to it.

Time passed rather quickly in my new office, and it was soon time for lunch. I had a late lunch as there were many customers. I noticed a small shop by the walkways into the building that sells Thai noodles. The shop's settings was very simple; clean white walls with a big menu pasted on one of them, and photographs of the food they serve just in front of their stall. There was 3 to 4 tables inside the shop only, and on top of the tables were condiments like fish sauce, sugar, chilli powder and grounded chilli to go with the noodles. This looked so typically Thai that tempted me to try their food. The food tasted quite nice, and I finished the entire bowl of chicken kway teow, including the soup. The female waitress of the shop was actually suprised that I know how to eat their noodles (with the condiments)!

After my meal, there was still half an hour left for my lunch break, so I decided to shop around. I found the CDs for my favourite bands Potato and Peacemaker, but was dismayed that the shop only sell duplicated albums and not originals. I'm a person who prefer to get original CDs if possible. Other than to support the copyright laws, I find that the duplicated CDs had very short lifespans, and within 3 years, the discs will become unreadable, and that's what happened to some of my CDs previous bought from there! Another thing is that the cost of the CDs are considered very expensive, especially when the discs are not even labelled decently.

As I walked out of the CD shop, I saw that the coffee shop just next to it was playing some lakhorn (Thai drama serial). I don't know what show they were playing, but I knew it was produced by Channel 7 (with the TV station's big logo there) and acted by Oil Thana, a singer-actor from one of my favourite Thai pop groups Lift-Oil. I stood there for about 15 minutes watching, but I could not understand a single thing, other than dialogues like "Where are we going, my dear?", "What's that?" and "(female lead's name), I...."!

As I head back to work after my lunch break was over, I got a news from the supervisor there, that I'm be transfered to another branch at Lavender with effect from the following day. I was told that I was supposed to start work there, but due to some miscommunications, I ended up at Golden Mile. That was a disappointment to me, as I actually preferred to work in Golden Mile than in other branches. But luckily, Lavender and Golden Mile is just 10 minutes' walk away, and I'm still able to come back to Golden Mile for lunch anytime.

My first day at work was relatively easy for me, as I was only asked to familiarise with the pricing for coach tickets. However, I did try my hands at calculating prices for tour packages too, and though I haven't been doing it for a long time, I could still manage with a little bit of help from my colleagues. Anyway, I've made a sales of about $500 by the end of the day, which I think was quite a good start for me. Hopefully my new job with the company will kick off a good start as well!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Makeover

Last week I received a call from a company stating that I was picked from a lucky draw and was entitled to one free makeover session, which at the end of the session I would be given 2 free photographs of my makeover. Sounded too good to be true, but nevertheless I decided to go and take a look, and see what they are up to.

My appointment with the agency was at 8pm, at their studio in Raffles Place. They were rather secretive, and I only know their address and company name via SMS just 2 days before the appointment. I instantly knew this was part of their marketing strategy, a technique commonly used in network marketing companies to "lure" customers. And I was right. The moment I reached the studio, I saw the reception hall filled with people, mostly seated around coffee tables each having 3 chairs and a Mac monitor. Typical network marketing companies' setting! Anyway, although my appointment was scheduled at eight, I was only attended at about 9.15pm. The guy who attended to me introduced himself as the "image consultant" of the company. I had my doubts on him, as his turn-out and behaviour told me elsewise, but I decided to keep quiet. He explained that the makeover session would consist of 2 parts: 1 casual session and 1 formal session. Casual session would be carried out in my attire at that time, and the formal session would include a change of attire into one of their apparels from their wardrobe.

After the briefing, I was led to the makeup room for makeup. I was suprised that the makeup was done with less than 10 strokes of the brush, and completed with a smear (yes, you did not read wrongly, and neither did I type wrongly) of lip gloss over my lips with a cotton bud. I really wonder if these so-called makeup artistes really know how to do makeup, for I had been through 2 makeover sessions before, and I know one needs at least 5 minutes to do the makeup. What's more, the lip gloss was so badly applied that I can feel one big chunk of the lip gloss still stuck to one side of my lips. After the makeup was done, I was ready for the first round of photoshoot. Were they out of their mind? I had been running around the entire day and had been touching my hair for uncountable times that it was already in a mess, and you called that "ready"? I remained quiet, since it was free-of-charge anyway! It wouldn't get me anywhere if I were to argue with them.

The first round of photoshoot was alright, as I am already quite used to posing in front of the camera. However, I did not have confidence in the photographer. Some of the poses he asked me to pose were really awkward. Like for example he asked me to sit on the arm-rest of the sofa, and put my legs on the back-rest. That's a real weird pose! I wondered if he would be asking me to do a leg split on the top of the couch with my front foot touching the ceiling! And one thing I noticed was that he snapped his photographs rather quickly. So far I've never came across photographers who actually took pictures at such speed, and I really wondered if he was just taking random trial-and-error shots.

After the first round, I was led back to the makeup room to choose clothes for my second round. My image consultant chose some floral long sleeve shirt and asked me which one I prefer. With one look I knew the shirts were too big for me, at least a "L", but he did not realised it, and I had to remind him that I can only fit a "S" size. How on earth can an image consultant failed to realise such details? But anyway he explained later that most of their shirts were "L" or larger, so I had no choice but to pick one of them. I was later given a bit of touch-up to my makeup (again with a few strokes of the brush again), and this time round, I finally got my hair made.

I was once again led to the photoshoot studio, but this time round, I was introduced to another photographer. This photographer seemed more professional, as he was more graphic in the poses he wanted me to put on for the camera, and I felt that the poses he requested from me were less awkward than the earlier one. Still, the speed of his shots were fast too.

After the photoshoot was completed, I was led back to the reception hall to view my photographs. As expected, those taken during the first part were simply horrible, mainly due to my messy hairstyle. Some of the poses were problematic too, resulting in me looking more like an Allegria performer or Dunhuang dancer than a makeover pose. Those taken in the second round were much better, and there were a few which I think were quite well-taken. However, as these pictures were raw and unedited, my image consultant proceed to select one of the pictures to do a on-the-spot touch-up. I was impressed by how fast he navigates through functions and shortcuts within Photoshop, but that was it. In terms of skills, I think I could be better than him, although I admit I'm still nowhere near a professional DI artiste. There were instances whereby he tried to touch-up some areas in vain, because he had selected the wrong image layer, and I had to remind him that. Speaking of this, Art was invited by this company before months back for a similar makeover session, and she actually taught her image consultant on how to do some effects!

After "impressing" me with the final finished masterpiece, my image consultant then started to feed me with the "essence" of this makeover session, by telling me the benefits of being their members by signing on a makeover package. I had already anticipated that, but I just pretend I knew nothing and listened. He was rather smart as to not talking about prices (other than the market value of the freebies thrown in with the offer). I pretended to enquire about the price involved in signing up the package, and my image consultant introduced me to another colleague of his, whom he said was in charged of the sales and marketing.

His colleague was a very cheerful person, a bit too cheerful in my opinion! On my way up to their studio when I first arrived, he was the first person I met at the stairways, and he greeted me very politely and warmly. And earlier on while browsing through my photographs, he had actually popped by and commented how great the photographs were taken. I admit I felt flattered, but not naive to not see that these are all business tactics. Anyway, he gave me a quotation of over $2000 for one photo album with all the freebies and benefits as previously mentioned by my image consultant. $2000! What a hefty amount for such "quality" work! I had expected the price to be real expensive, but this amount was really unexpected. Since I had no intention to sign up any package from the start, I simply declined the offer by saying that I did not have that much money, and I did not have any credit cards or savings, and neither was I able to pay in installments. The mega-watt smile of the other guy instantly disappeared, as he stood up and left to prepare the paperworks for me to collect my free photographs. What a change in character! I was then asked to select any of the 2 unedited photographs that I like, and my image consultant then burned them into a CD-rom for me.

I left the company at around 11pm, feeling relieved that I could walk away without paying a single cent. (I'm actually bad at rejecting offers, especially if being pushed by a few persons simultaneously) I had done some touch-up of the photographs on my own and had sent them to print. Hopefully my touch-ups were alright, as I can't visualise from my aging LCD monitor which is forever darker than anyone else' monitor!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chinese Romantic Musical - Butterfly Lovers

I had this mental block recently, when I was told to redesign the scenography for our September big production in Taiwan, the second time. So I had to dig through my whole cupboard of VCDs, trying to see if I can find any show which I could gather some inspirations from. It was during my ransacking that my eyes found something of interest to me: the original cast recording of Butterfly Lovers, the Chinese romantic musical. I had bought it in Taiwan in 2004, but had not listened to it for quite a while already.

This musical premiered at the National Theatre of Taiwan in 2003, starring Winnie Shin as Zhu Yingtai, "King of Musicals" Berson Wang as Liang Shanbo and Huang Shiwei as Ma Wencai. The main storyline of the show is more or less similar to that commonly seen in Chinese operas, with more emphasis being made on Ma Wencai. In typical Chinese opera shows, Ma Wencai is only a very minor role, if not non-appearing, and is always seen as a rich, flamboyant rascal of little talent. In this show, however, Ma Wencai is seen as an educated and sentimental man who was deeply in love with Zhu Yingtai, but did not understand how love works, and finally lost Yingtai.

From the video footages in the bonus behind-the-scenes VCD, the show seemed quite good. Having said that, this show is not without any weak points. For a start, some part of the music sounded a bit out-of-place, as the composer had actually tried to incoporate western opera music, broadway musical music, Chinese folk music and old Hong Kong drama serial music into the show. Also, the settings of the show was wrong as well. The story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai was supposed to be in the Western Jin dynasty, which was after the Three Kingdoms period. In this show, however, Zhu Yingtai actually sang of Wu Zetian, the female Empress of the Tang dynasty!

This show had just been re-staged again late last year, and I'm not sure if these problems had been solved or not. Anyway, for this latest production, Winnie Shin was replaced by Hong Ruixiang (previously acted as Yin Xin), while the other 2 male leads remained unchanged. I hope they'll come to stage in Singapore soon, or at least release a DVD or VCD recording of the show. It's a big pity if such a production could not be appreciated by people living outside Taiwan!

Old Ma Wencai reminscing the past

"Rebellious" Zhu Yingtai and talented Ma Wencai

Liang Shanbo's "old Hong Kong drama serial" style of music

One of the main melodies in the show, sang as a reprise during their secret engagement scene in the later part of the show

Yingtai agreeing to marry Ma Wencai in order to preserve the honour of her family as well as the safety of Liang's family

Yingtai revealing to Shanbo her engagement to Ma Wencai

Yingtai asking Shanbo to marry someone else and forget her

Shanbo on the verge of death after being seriously wounded and humiliated by Ma Wencai