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!