Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Real Essence of "Duan Wu" Festival

It's the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, a day which we Chinese call it the "Duan Wu" Festival, or so-called "Dumpling Festival" in English. It was said that this day was set aside to remember an patriot from the Warring States period of Chinese history by the name of Qu Yuan, who had committed suicide by jumping into a river to show his loyalty for his country. Common folks who heard the news quickly went out in boats and threw rice balls into the river, hoping that the fish in the river will not eay up Qu Yuan's body.

This may have been the history of the dumpling we eat today, but this story is however, not the main essence behind this festival. In ancient China, eating dumpling and holding dragonboat races are just part of the observations for this festival. The 5th lunar month, back then, was considered a "month of sickness", as this is the time of the year whereby spring and summer intersects. The change in humidity and temperature gave rise to the breeding of insects, and many people tend to fall ill during this period. Hence, this is the time whereby every household will do thorough cleaning of their house, and to hang a kind of herbal plant called "Ai grass" at their doorsteps to ward off "evil spirit". Ancient people, who lacked scientific knowledge, assumed that all these sickness and epidermics during this period were acts of the evil spirits, but little did they know that it was actually the smell of these plants that actually help to repel insects. Another thing people would do during this festival is to drink "Xionghuang" wine, a wine that is said to be have the same effect as the Ai grass. Who those who know the story of Madam White Snake should remember a scene where Bai Suzhen, the snake demoness, drank a cup of the wine and revealed her true self in front of her husband. These practices had been in existence since the Zhou dynasty, many centuries before the Warring States period.

With the advancement of technology and science, the practices of hanging Ai grass and drinking "xionghuang" wine were no longer observed. However, eating dumplings and dragonboat racing were still in practice today, but it is no longer a day to commemorate Qu Yuan; it is just an ancient tradition passed down for generations.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

American Idol

The latest season of American Idol finally came to an end and Taylor Hicks emerged champion. As much as I am happy for his victory, I am still quite disappointed as my favourite is actually Katherine McPhee.

Anyway, now that the American Idol and Singapore Idol 2 is coming up next, I thought I'd want to show you the following clip: a parody of American Idol by MadTV!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Clip of "Jao Mae Gwan Im", a Thai Lakhorn Snipplet (part II)

This is another clip from Thai lakhorn "Jao Mae Gwan Im". The costumes looked familiar right? I believe these were actually borrowed from their local Teochew opera troupes, but since no one taught them how to wear, and who to wear what, the costumes were mismatched on stage. Listen to the tune at the beginning of the clip. Does that sound familiar?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Clip of "Jao Mae Gwan Im", a Thai Lakhorn Snipplet

My blogger friends had been uploading snipplets of Chinese opera shows of late. I thought I might as well do something a little different!

Don't ask me if I really understand what the actors are speaking. In fact, I can only understand 3 sentences in this entire clip (guessings not counted), but nevertheless I still enjoyed watching this show.

Disclaimer: do not expect these actor to act and dress like a real Chinese opera actor, because this is NOT Chinese opera!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Happy Vesak Day!

It's Vesak Day today, a day where Buddhists worldwide celebrate 3 major events together: the birth, the enlightenment and the passing away of the Lord Buddha.

Due to the assimilation of the Buddha's teachings into various cultures as the religion spread from India to every corner of the earth, the Vesak Day is celebrated differently in different countries. One thing in common though, is that this day is celebrated as a religious festival and not a festive occasion. However, depending on individual's stand on the religion, the religious observations of one devotee may vary from another. Offering of flowers, candles and joss sticks to the Buddha in temples is the standard practice, together with the "Buddha bathing" ceremony. Some may also stay vegetarian for the day as well. I always do the former, but not the latter. Not that I'm less religious, but I feel that if you truely believe in the idea of vegetarian, you should practice that daily, and not just for a day in a year or month. But of course, I must admit that as compared to some other devotees, I'm not too religous too, as I don't go to the temples a night before to chant sutras and undergo the candlelit procession. Perhaps my faith in Buddhism is half-religious and half-philosophical!

Nevertheless, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all Buddhists world wide a Happy Vesak Day, and may them be blessed by the Triple Gems.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A.C. the Swordsman/ Samurai

Those who have visited Amai's blog would have seen our latest candid Chinese opera pictures. Fro those who think I looked like a samurai/ bandit, how about this one? Looks cool right?

Frozen in Time: A Small Hawker Centre at Pasir Panjang

This morning I was at a customer's office in The Comtech, and by the time I left the place, it was already 12.30pm. I was hungry then, and hence decided to just have a simple and quick meal nearby. The first dining place that came to my mind was a small hawker centre just across Pasir Panjang Road.

I've never been to this hawker centre, but merely passed by years ago. Back then, during my navy days, I once took a wrong bus from Pulau Brani and ended up in Tanjong Belayer camp, which was right at the end of the same road in which this hawker centre was located. My only memory of the hawker centre is that it was a very small and quiet hawker centre. I was surprised by what I saw the moment I reached the place: it was indeed very small, with only about 6 to 7 stalls and 20 over tables. The place was quite run down, and seemed like it had never been renovated for decades. It was almost like frozen in time, or that I'd arrived at a small town in one of those Indonesian islands just south of Singapore. The only hint of being in modern Singapore were perhaps the row of Singaporean cars parked just outside the hawker centre, as well as the hawkers' hygiene certificate hanging outside their stall. Thankfully there were wall fans to help bring down the temperature of the blazing afternoon.

In terms of food variety, it was quite limited there, as all stalls were selling Malay food. However, one particular stall caught my attention with their fried chicken hanging at their glass display. I saw that they were selling my favourite mee siam, and was about to order, but ended up buying nasi ayam goreng (fried chicken rice) instead. The fried chicken rice tasted nice, but I find it rather expensive, considering that it WAS indeed just "nasi" and "ayam goreng" only and nothing else! Well they did serve me a bowl of soup too. It tasted good too, but it was simply too oily for me to dare drink more. Anyway, someone else who shared the table as me ordered a plate of mee maggi seafood (instant noodles fried with seafood), and it seemed more appetitising to me. I should have ordered that!

Before I left, I decided to snap a few pictures of it with my handphone. Too bad I did not bring my digital camera along, or else I'd surely snap more. Such a nice and nostalgic place, I really hope this place will not disappear in the near future at the expense of developing the area.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

First Ride On Public Road

I was very excited as I was waiting for my riding lesson to commence, as today is the day I can finally ride out of the driving centre. Not that I've never navigate on the road before, but the feeling of driving a car out and riding a motorcycle out onto public road are two different feelings.

Lucky for me, it was already 9pm, and the big trucks, which are a common sight around that area during the day, were out of sight. That would mean clearer traffic and safer roads for us trainees. Everything seemed easy for me on the road, since I myself already hold a class 3 license, and has been driving for the past few years. However, I did not manage to pass this lesson, as I had just too many points deducted along the way. I guess it's my bad road habits which had accumulated over time that affected my performance!

While flipping through my coursebook, I realised that I am already at lesson 6, and I had 3 more lessons (including this one) to clear. Does that mean I can accomplish my goal of getting a riding license by July? It's hard to say for now. From what my instructor told me, the rules and regulations for riding tests are getting stricter by the day, as the number of road accidents involving motorcycles increased dramatically. "Everytime an accident occur on the road, the number of people passing their riding lesson the next day will drop!", so he said. Then I better pray for all motorcyclist to ride safely, and all big vehicle drivers to give way to the motorcyclists everyday!

My next riding lesson is on Friday. Hopefully I'll be able to remember all the mistakes I've made today and improve, so as to clear my lessons as soon as possible and be a proud class 2B license holder!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Miscelleneous Thoughts After A Performance

On Saturday, our opera troupe had a performance at Fajar Neighbourhood Shopping Centre. This performance was sort of a last minute engagement, and we only had about 2 weeks to prepare. Luckily for us, the core programme of this performance is an all-time familiar "The Teacher, The Thief", and hence we could skip away with a lot of the rehearsal to concentrate on 2 new actors who had were roped into the show to replace 2 other actors who could not make it for the performance.

Unlike previous performances whereby we started performing at 8pm, this show was scheduled to run from 7pm to 9pm. Hence, I had to go to konghuay for my makeup an hour earlier too. I reached the destinatation at around 4pm, and everyone else had already started to make up. It wasn't my style to start so early, so I walked around leisurely to get my makeup box and accessories ready.

One of the practices of our troupe is that all actors are to wear white pants beneath their opera inner garments, for the thinness of these garments will reveal the colour of the clothes you wear, and it will be very unsightly. Hence, it is not uncommon to see people turning up in all white whenever they had to perform. I am one of the "rebels" who actually didn't follow that practice. In fact, I turned up wearing a beige t-shirt, a winter cap (I just dyed my hair, and my hair were very dry and were standing up like hay) and brown 3-quarter pants. I think I looked more like a "mat-rocker" or "hip-hopper" than a Chinese opera performer! However, I always make it a point to wear 2 layer of opera pants in order to hide the colour of my pants.

For those who do not know, I have the reputation of being the fastest actor to finish making up. In fact, there was once whereby I arrived at my performance venue just 10 minutes before the show commence and managed to complete my makeup in 5 minutes! But no way am I going to do that again, because it was simply too rush, and there is totally no room for any mistakes. Having said that, I am not someone who will take ages to complete his makeup, for I simply don't have the patience. And starting my makeup early will tempt me to experiment with colours, which usually will produce devastating effects. Hence, I am more comfortable with using just shades of red and orange on my face, unlike my other troupe members who uses other colours like blue, yellow and green (Amai excluded!). Sticking to these colours also mean more efficiency for me, since I don't have to search for one eyeshadow after another. I know some people would frown on me for sticking to the traditional way of makeup, but I don't quite care, because we all looked almost the same once we stepped onto the stage!

We left konghuay in different batches at around 6.15pm to our performing venue by taxis. This is how we usually travel to our performance venue, if it is near our headquarters. I'm not too sure if the taxi drivers get a shock initially when they saw us, but we're already so used to travel around like that. Years back we even walk straight into MacDonalds to buy food and drinks in opera makeup and costumes as well!

The sky didn't look good, and threatened us with a slight drizzle. We were worried, as the temporary performing stage, though built with a canopy above it, was still vulnerable to rain. The sound crew were equally worried, because all their equipments were fully exposed to the weather. Luckily the sky cleared soon after, and we started our show at 7pm sharply. We performed 3 shows: scene from "Romance of the Dragon Princess", excerpt from "The Arrogant Princess" and traditional short opera "The Teacher, The Thief". I was the busiest crew of the day, as I had to double-up as the chief percussionist during the first 2 segments due to the absence of our chief percussionist. Anyway, the 3 segments were staged smoothly, and the audience liked us. (So far I've never heard or met audience who don't like us!) The only hiccups with the performance though, was the design of the stage. It was simply too small, and the lighting system of the stage was simply unsuitable for acting. (4 spotlights were placed on the floor and shining up at the actors' face)

After the performance, the stage crew packed all our belongings into our vans while we actors leave first to standby unload at konghuay. While waiting for the rest to return, we decided to take some candid photographs for fun. This is how we are; we can be very serious on stage, but once off-stage, we can be cheeky and fun-loving like anyone in the streets!