Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe - Snapshots of their performance (part 1)

I've watched 3 out of 4 shows of the Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe so far, and I had actually planned to blog now my thoughts after each show. However, I have yet done anything till now as I'm still busy sorting out the photographs I've taken. I've actually snapped over 200 photographs so far! (Of course only a handful are nice) Hence for now, I shall not do any review, but post some of my snapshots for you guys to take a look!

Snapshots from "Love and Hatred Over Three Generations"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Meeting Up With Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe

Yesterday night, I went to the temple at Arumugam Road to buy tickets for Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe's performance which was scheduled to start today. I was about to leave the temple when I heard people talking and laughing loudly from a corner of the temple. The sound came from the dining hall, the place where the invited opera troupes would normally gather to eat as well as do their makeup for their performances. I had long wanted to meet Mr. Yang and director Wu before their performance starts, as I believe I would not have time to see them again (our troupe leader had ordered us to not go look for them after 5pm so that they can concentrate on their preparation for the show).
As I approached the door, I could see Mr. Yang happily eating steamboat. I was standing directly in front of him, but he couldn't see me! It took him quite a while before he noticed my presence. I just wanted to say "hi" to him, but he pulled me into the kitchen, and took me to see director Wu and Mr. Chen Bin, who were sitting at another table. Surprisingly, Mr. Chen Bin could still remember me (but he could only remember a character of my name), although we only met once in 2000, and we rarely talked back then. Mr. Yang then dragged me to his table to join him in his dinner, although I told him I had already taken my dinner before I went over. That's how hospitable he is! When I went to his house a few years back without any notice, he wasn't at all unhappy, and even arranged an accomodation for me that night.
Back to the present, I was sitting at this table with another lady, whom I could not confirm if she was Lin Xiuzhen, a huadan actress in the troupe. I asked Mr. Yang, and he confirmed my query. Lin Xiuzhen was very suprised that I actually knew her by name. She was quite friendly, and even toasted me to a small amount of beer. I had seen some other actresses from other troupes who just love putting on airs, as if they're some hot superstars.
That night, I also saw Ziken, an ex-musician from our troupe. He was there to visit director Wu, Mr. Chen Bin and Mr. Yang. He had also volunteered to bring them to Chinatown for a tour. Seeing that they were about to leave soon, I quickly excused myself from the table (from the food and beer as well!) and bided farewell to my teachers.
The troupe will be starting their performance season tomorrow. I hope they will be able to wow local audiences just like how they did 18 years ago. All the best to Zhangzhou City Xiang Opera Troupe!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Antique Technology

I was asked to help collect an item from my company's customer this afternoon. I have never visited this person before, and my colleague had told me to "page" for him once I reached there. Originally I thought he had mistakenly asked me to "page" instead of "call", but I realised that this customer's number was actually a pager number! It has been a decade, or almost three-quarter to it, since I last dialled a pager number, and I have to try recall how to page. After some thoughts, I finally remembered the procedures and managed to get in contact with the customer.

With the handphone technology now in it's third generation already, I had never expected that there are still pagers out there in the market. I've not even seen any shops catering pagers these days! (Or maybe there is, just that I've overlooked them) I still remember a decade back, where mobile phones are still bulky and expensive, pagers were the "in" thing and every other teenager had got one. They were very small, about half the size of a regular mobile phone, and can be stowed away in the pockets comfortably. Comparing with a (modern) mobile phone, all that a pager can do was to display the number of the other party for you to call back. Nevertheless it was still fun, especially when it comes to trying to form words with numbers, like typing "01134" to represent "hEllo" (if you read it upside-down, that is). The newer models could display short text messages too, but one has to do it through voice via a telephone-operator, which meant no privacy at all. (Not that mobile phone SMSes are very private, just that we don't get to see whoever that's "spying" us!) And there were also cases whereby the telephone-operators misinterpreting the callers' words and hence causing confusions and frustrations

Looking back, it seemed amazing how technology had changed the way of life for us. If I were to go back in time, I don't know how am I going to survive without a handphone! The only thing "good" about pagers is that you can choose to not call back the other party on grounds that you couldn't get a public phone to call, thus being able to reject annoying calls without people accusing you of trying to avoid them!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Friendly TV Actor

This afternoon, I had my lunch in MacDonalds at Jurong Point. It was a normal quiet afternoon until suddenly I saw a familiar figure coming into the restaurant. Though clad in only t-shirt, jeans and baseball cap, I immediately recognised him as Darren Lim, a Mediacorp actor. His appearance created some commotion behind the service counter, as the auntie waitress serving him almost gone crazy (she kept claiming that he's her idol). Soon, almost half of the MacDonalds crew were crowding around trying to catch a glimpse of him.

I was seated just next to the service counter, and hence the commotion had interrupted my lunch directly. I wasn't really interested in Darren Lim, as all I want was to finish my lunch quick and leave. However, what made me took notice of him was his character. He was very humble and polite, and I could hear him say "Thank you" repeatedly to his fans. What's more, he even opened up his wallet and showed the picture of his wife and son to them. I don't think many TV personalities would do that

He may not be very popular like many other actors of his calibre, but in a way he's considered quite well-liked, especially among the middle-aged folks. However, even with that, he was not arrogant at all. Unlike some "He X X" who thought that she is some superstar just because she had appeared in front of national TV! For those who have no idea who I'm referring to, "He X X" is an ex-TCS actress who came from Shanghai, and was previously a Yue-opera actress. I bumped into her when her former troupe came to Singapore to performed. I was about to walk down the stage after a photo-taking session with the actors, and she was about to walk up. Out of politeness, I smiled at her, but she just put on a face so cold that everyone within the radius of 5m from her would turn into ice. Who did she think she is? She's just an unsuccessful Yue-opera actress (her singing was horrible!) who could not make it big on local TV, so what's there to be arrogant about!

Anyway back to Darren Lim, he left as quietly as he came, after buying what he wanted. The aunties behind the service counter are still excited about his appearance and the atmosphere returned to normal only after 5 minutes. For a TV personality with such good character, I hope he'd be able to make it big in time to come...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Paying Respects To My Grandmother

It has been ages since I last pay respects to my late grandmother who passed away 11 years ago on this day. I was supposed to go for Chinese opera rehearsal in the morning, but I decided to skip that, as I don't want my mother to be upset for not going to the temple with her, since it happens to be a public holiday today. Anyway, my mother kept mumbling yesterday that my grandmother was very fortunate because I, being her most favourite grandson among all, is finally able to visit her on her death anniversary

Actually to say that my grandmother is fortunate, it isn't entirely true. I'd say she's the fortunate among the unfortunate. Why would I say that? Because out of her three sons, none of them pay their respects to her on this day. My eldest uncle had passed away years back, and his children, whom he lost contact with after he and his wife were divorced, only regard my grandmother as a distant relative. Or so I believed. My second uncle only visited her grave during the Qing Ming festival, and my third uncle, also a divorcee and currently uemployed, can't even save himself now, let alone remembering his mother's anniversary. He has got 2 children, but they were Christians who refused to even step into any temple. On the contrary, only my mother, her daughter, made efforts to remember all these, and hence has got people to visit her

We went to this small quiet temple in Geylang where my grandparents' tablets were placed at around 11am. The sky looked gloomy, and I was worried that it would rain, as like yesterday and the day before. Immediately after we reached the temple, my mum starts to unpack all the offerings on the altar. It was quite a spread: curry chicken, roasted duck, fried fish and tau kwa, chestnut soup with pork ribs and a packet of wa goh kueh (a kind cake-like pastry). My parents had started preparing them very early this morning, and although we could jolly well buy them from outside, my mum insisted we cook it ourselves, even if at the end of the day the amount of food is too much for us to consume in a day

After offering our incense, my mother asked me to throw the wooden blocks to see if my grandmother has already "arrived" to have her food. The wooden blocks gave a affirmative answer, and my mother was happy. She said that in previous years she had to repeat the action a few times before a "yes" answer was given. She concluded that my grandmother was happy to "see" me

We stayed around the temple for quite a while, as the incense paper has to be burnt first, and for us to do that, the joss sticks must be at least half-way burnt. When the time was almost up, my mother threw the woodlen blocks to seek "permission" for us to go burn the incense paper, and the reply my grandmother "gave" was negative. My mother then got me to ask instead, and this time, the reply was a "yes"! My mother then said happily that my grandmother really doted me and hence agreed to all my requests. I'm not a taoist, and do not really believe in that logic, but somehow I still hope what my mother said is true. I still quite miss my grandmother

At this time, the rain started to fall again. What bad luck! The incense burning chamber was at the courtyard of the temple and in unsheltered. My father and I had to rush to the chamber and do our job fast. After the incense paper burning were done with, my mother had finished packing up the offerings. We stow the offerings basket into the car and headed back home

Now I am satisfied, because I've sort of "compensated" for not being to stay at home often enough. I can see that my mother is pleased too, though she's still unhappy that I'd have to go for Chinese opera rehearsals again in the afternoon. Earlier on I've prayed for my parents being more understanding of my tight rehearsal schedules, and hopefully, my grandmother will be able to "persuade" my mother in her dreams!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Klang Performance After-thoughts

My opera troupe had just travelled up to Klang for a performance on the 31st of December and returned on Monday night. I went along too, and this is my first time performing out of Singapore (previous cameo appearance not counted.

Prior to our journey, we were warned that overseas performances are not meant to be relaxing and skiving, and that it would be very demanding and tiring. Indeed, we had to compromise with quite a number of things in order to cut cost for the organising organisation, Klang Hokkien Assiciation. We did not have the luxury of having a big truck to carry all our luggages over the customs, and hence we had to tug our stuffs by ourselves. This is no easy feat! For me, I have to pack my costumes (troupe property, of course), opera shoes, stage props and makeup kit into my own luggage, and it was already rather bulky. The dan actresses were more of a disadvantage as they have more things to bring along, including their wigs and hair accessories.

Another tiring thing was the departure time from Singapore. Previously during the Christmas long-weekend, it was reported in the news that the customs were so heavily jammed that it required 1 to 2 hours just to get through it. Hence, we had to bring forward our departure time from 8.30am to 6.30am, meaning we had to get there by 5.45am latest if we choose not to stay overnight at the Kong Huay. Fortunately, everyone arrived on time and hence we need not have to waste time waiting for one another. On the bad side, though, was that we arrived at the customs too early, only to realise that there was no crowd at the customs, and we had to wait for about an hour for our Malaysian bus to pick us up.

We arrived at our hotel after 6 hours of bus ride. It was past our usual lunch hour, and hence we quickly had our luggage stowed away at a corner of the reception and head for the restaurant. The chairman of the association was already there waiting for us. It was very kind of him to welcome us personally, even though we may not be any very distinguished VIPs.

After our lunch, we checked into our respective rooms, took a short break before heading to the association, which was just next to the hotel, to dress up the performing venue. On the first night, our troupe was supposed to stage a short opera alongside some nan-yin singing and cultural dance segments. A bit of hiccups took place, as we were told that there would not be any wireless clip-on microphones available, hence we had to change our performing venue from the main hall to the conference room. Quite a bit of time was lost during this period, and the actors who were supposed to perform that night had no chance to have a final rehearsal with the musicians. The musicians, though, were lucky that a fellow member Teck Seng helped them by singing all the songs and speaking all the dialogues of the opera with the script in hand while they played along. Fortunately it wasn't a full-length opera, or else I wonder how Teck Seng is going to survive through!

The turn-out of the show that night was disappointing. This was supposed to be a cultural interaction event, and I had expected the media and representatives from various cultural groups to turn up. However, only some members of the association and the Traditional Nan-yin Society came. We were told later that this event wasn't highly publicised and hence not many people were aware of it. But we were heard that those who turned up were impressed with our performance that they decided to come for our actual performance the following day, as well as getting more people to watch too.

That night after the performance, the association's cultural education director fetched us for supper at a seafood restaurant. It was inside this restaurant where I celebrated my first new year countdown in a foreign land and with a huge group of people. It was really fun and rowdy, as the restaurant had light up firecrackers outside their compound at the strike of midnight. The festive mood was strong, and our troupe leader also made an exemption to allow us drink a bit of alcohol. Previously, we had been banned from drinking before we complete our performance duties, even if you were just a stage helper.

On the following morning, our breakfast was arranged at a bah kut teh stall located just behind the association. This stall, from what I heard, is the most famous bah kut teh stall, and once you tasted their soup, you won't want to drink Singapore's one ever. Sounds exaggerating, but they actually have a website of their own, and even had 3 branches in Hongkong. It is actually not easy to set up outlets in Hongkong if your food is not up to standard, as there's too much good local food over there. Anyway, the soup was really very nice, and the yew char kueh that they served, although after being soaked in the soup, was still chewy and tasty too. If they had preserved peanuts and pig small intestines, that would be even perfect!

After our breakfast, we were invited by the association to watch a mass wedding ceremony being held at the association's main hall. The ceremony was a long one, and we did not stayed throughout as we need to have an early lunch so as to have more time to prepare for the big show. We had actually scheduled our rehearsal to commence after lunch, but we could not proceed as the hall had to be cleaned up first. We had yet dressed up the venue yet too, and hence our rehearsal timing was futher pushed back, until we only had barely half an hour to rehearse just one small segment of the show.

After the rehearsal, we retreated to our own rooms to prepare for the big show. There was 3 hours to go still, and I had no intention to start making up so early. Hence I took a nap first. When my other troupe members came knocking on my door at around 6pm to deliver dinner, they were shocked to see that I had not even started my makeup! It is a common sight for our troupe members to make up 3 to 4 hours before the actual show or full-dress rehearsal, but that is simply not my style. Not that I'm an expert in "express makeup", but I don't see how much better I will look if I do my make up earlier, or if I spend more time doing my make-up. Anyway, The hotel room's lighting was really terrible, as it was simply too dim to see. I think the toilet looked much brighter!

Halfway through my makeup, I heard thunder rolls outside the window. It was raining heavily outside and I was very concerned how the turn-out would be. This is our first major performance in Malaysia, and it would not look nice on us nor the association if the turn-out were to be very poor.

Fortunately, the rain stopped before the show started, and people started streaming in. I think the hall was almost 3/4 filled by 9pm, and I could hear thunderous applause from the audience after each segment. The audience was obviously enjoying our show very much, and as I performed on stage, I could see some people referring to the subtitles being flashed on the side of the stage and nodding their head to the advancement of the plot. This is the first time I've ever seen people so engrossed in our show! Our performance ended smoothly, and we were greeted with warm applause. During the interaction with some members of the audience, we realised that many of them had not watched Hokkien opera for a long period of time. Some were even touched to tears by our show. I never expected our show could have such a positive response, especially in a relatively foreign place.

That night after the show, we had a celebration supper at a coffee shop together with the various organising committee personnel. They were happy with our show, and there is high chance that they'll invite us again at the end of the year, or even tour around Malaysia.

On our last day of stay at Klang, we were very relaxed, after having a tight and hectic schedule for the past 2 days. We checked out of our hotel at 8am, went for dim sum breakfast, followed by a short shopping spree at a local shopping centre. AFter which we headed off to the same seafood restaurant we had countdown in for a video-watching session cum farewell-lunch. I could not eat well for lunch as my breakfast was still undigested in my stomach, and I was also too tired to eat. We left Klang at around 2.30pm, feeling a bit sad. Alas all good things must come to an end!

We reached Kong Huay at around 9pm. That was considered rather early, as we had anticipated a massive jam at the causeway. All of us helped bring everything back to our office, unpacked everything and stow them away accordingly before heading back home. What a tiring trip this is! But it is nevertheless very fulfilling as this is our second chance to step onto the international stage, and hopefully we will have more of such opprtunities to come.