December 30, 2006

Hong Kong

The second place I have been to more times is HK. My first trip was a HK-Taiwan tour, the second was a HK-Bangkok tour and the third a HK-Macau-Shenzhen tour which actually had optional tours for the three places. We did not choose the half-day HK tour.

After that came the budget airlines - Valuair and Jetstar. Then HK became quite attractive - airfare about $340, travelling time about 3.5h and the climate in HK in December was cool. HK is also a good place to watch cantonese opera shows, more convenient than in China.

For transport around HK, I think its MTR and buses are a little more efficient than ours. But I have never taken buses in HK during peak hours or to outlying areas.

For food, we are better in terms of varieties, taste and hygiene.

December 27, 2006


Last Saturday night I was watching Gary's show at KAPT. The man sitting next to me was taking photos of every scene with his camera. I took a peep and saw him zooming in on the lead performers. It looked quite clear. The stage was very bright. But he was using the flash. Necessary or not? Then we were sitting about 15 rows away from the stage. Is the flash effective so far away? Anyone knows?

December 26, 2006

Gary's Show

Gary Kong (25 years in cantonese opera) - 23 Dec 2006 - Kreta Ayer People's Theatre.

Gary performed 5 excerpts with 5 hua dans.

The 5 hua dans and Gary: standing - Sally Low, Chik Chiew Kuarn, Chen Yin Ling, Gary, Chor Wun Yeok and Cheung Seok Lin. Next to Seok Lin is Christoper Choo. The dan in the purplish costume, squating, is Leong Sau Fong.

I have watched Gary’s performances, big and small ones including those at Clarke Quay, for years, I think since the early 90s when he was with the Chinese Theatre Circle. He came across as a consistent, reliable and good artiste. One of his fortes is his excellent memory. Throughout the 4h-long show I think he did not forget a single line. His voice is strong, something like Aw Kai Meng (a China artiste) though the qualities are not the same.

My favourite is the fourth excerpt, 聚英臺. It is one of those with lots of loud drums and cymbals.

Very unfortunate, the first excerpt was ruined by the faulty microphone of the hua dan. It was like listening to a badly-recorded cd – sometimes loud, sometimes faint, sometimes got screeching or humming sounds. It was annoying to the audience and very frustrating to the performer. All her hours of practice and rehearsals seemed to be wasted. Didn’t they test the sound system before they started the show.

Fortunately, the other 4 excerpts went on smoothly and all put in their best efforts to put up the show successfully.

December 21, 2006


One of the two places I have been to more times is Thailand. It is a good place for holiday. Besides the bustling metropolis Bangkok there are the rustic charming Chiangmai, the idyllic seaside resort Hua Hin, the ancient city of Ayutthaya and many other interesting places. And Thais are generally friendly and helpful.

I knew of a Thai when he was a student in a sec school in Singapore. He had a house in Bangkok and one in Haadyai. Once I went to Bangkok, his father came to our 3-star hotel in his chauffeur-driven limousine to fetch us to a posh restaurant for dinner. Such warm hospitality. After that I did not want to trouble him again.

My most memorable trip was one which lasted 28 days. We did not fly. It was the days before budget airlines. At that time the return airfare to Bangkok was about $400, now you could get it for as low as $120 with promotions and some luck. Although say 28 days, but about 5 nights were spent in trains and buses and many hours were spent travelling. From Sungei Golok in the east we travelled to Haadyai in the south, then up north to Bangkok, Cha’am, Hua Hin, and Chiangmai. And then back to Bangkok and Haadyai.

Thai trains are very clean (toilets included). The attendants clean the toilets and mop the floor quite often. Although there are carriages for meals, the attendants walk down the carriages regularly selling cakes and hot and cold drinks. Then when the train stops at the small towns, young boys and girls would come up the train selling food like fried chicken and barbecued meat. They would jump off only when the train starts to move.

You could sit by the window and watch the sceneries, mostly farmland, roll by. You might catch the sun setting in the distant hills or see naked boys waving to you in the stream. And where a road crosses the tracks, you could see cars speeding on the road in different directions and you see maths in motion. I am referring to relative velocity, something you learn in school but only in theory. Travelling in a train in the vast landscape you could see and experience relative velocity live.

As dusk falls the attendants pull out the seats and make them into two beds – the lower berth and the upper berth. (This is for second class seats; for third class you have to sleep on your seats.) They will give you pillows with covers that still have the warm freshly-ironed smell. They will also put up curtains to shield your beds.

You wouldn’t sleep soundly because of the chugging engine, the rumbling wheels and the rattling carriages. But this is what makes the journey more exciting and memorable.

You can’t experience all these sitting in an aeroplane.

December 01, 2006

Season of Joy and Goodwill

Hello everyone, wish you a

I will be taking a break till 20 December 2006.
Till then, bye bye.

November 29, 2006

Slow reading

I remember reading an article about the joy of slow reading in an old edition of Readers’ Digest. The writer was at a place where books were hard to come by.

So every book that he could lay his hands on he would read everything in it, even things like acknowledgements and printing history. He would read the story slowly. He would pause to ponder over the meaning of a word or linger over a passage savouring the emotions it had evoked in him.

I have tried it but could not sustain for long. It needs patience, discipline and a conducive environment.

I have seen tourists sitting on deck-chairs and reading books at the beach in Koh Samui (a beach resort in Thailand). I can’t do that. I would rather enjoy the sea breezes, the sounds of the waves and the sights.

Anyway, when I read a story book, I don’t rush through. And if I read an article whether in magazines or blogs I don’t just skim through; I try to read every word. Habit.

November 26, 2006

Crowded trains

Last week a report in the papers said Singaporeans complained about our trains too crowded. People interviewed said the situation was much worse in New York and Tokyo.

I have not been to New York; I have been to Tokyo but did not take the trains. But I can say that in Hong Kong the trains (they call them MTR) are always crowded most of the day and during peak hours it is terrible.

You would be amazed by the massive waves of humanity at the train stations during peak hours. When you arrive at the platform, there would already be hordes of people in front of you. You wonder where they come from. You won't be able to board the first train that arrives. Most likely you could only board the third train.Forget about getting a seat, you would be standing all the way and sometimes with people squeezing you from behind, left and right.

So, comparatively our trains are not that crowded. And relative to the fares we pay, I think the service is also not bad.

November 25, 2006

Showcase for Gary Kong

Venue: Kreta Ayer People's Theatre
Date: 23 Dec 2006 @ 7.30pm
Details in poster, click to enlarge.

November 24, 2006

Opera Shows

at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre from 14 to 17 Dec 2006
Details in the posters, click for larger versions.

Yue Opera

Two operas by the Shanghai Yue Opera House at the Esplanade Theatre:
22 Dec 06 - Dream of the Red Chamber
23 Dec 06 - The Meilong Inn
Tickets: SISTIC

November 21, 2006

Minimum wage

I was wondering how a minimum wage would affect the job market.

I have not read any economic theory by any professor. Just a layman’s view:

Workers get more pay. Good for the worker and his family.

Will this result in better morale among workers, increased productivity, lower rate of job turnover, higher service standard, attracting higher-quality workers. Not necessary. I think all these are debatable.

For employers, they might hire fewer workers. Workers will find it more difficulty to get jobs, especially the lower-skilled workers. Then, since it is the same wage, some employers might replace their existing workers with better-qualified ones. Some workers might lose their jobs. I think all these are quite possible. No?

I don't know whether it will affect foreign companies intending to set up shops or how it will affect small businesses.

November 20, 2006

Opera in the earlier years

This post is partly due to Victor's remarks on his observation of street opera in his neighbourhood. The picture below of a street opera is in much earlier time - I think before the 50s.

a street opera show in the early days

hahaha...these people watching from under the stage

amateur opera groups

clan opera groups

November 19, 2006

Street Opera

This cantonese street opera at Chinatown is into its 11th day today (Saturday, 18 Nov) with 3 more days to go. So far I have watched only one night show. For a street opera, the ticket prices are expensive, from $4 to $25. There is only one row of $4 seats – the last row. I heard that the male lead from HK is also very expensive; someone told me $1500 per day and he only performs the night shows during weekdays.

The enclosure is very very warm and humid even though the three sides are open and the fans are working full speed. One good thing is the floor plan – from the row nearest the stage the floor slopes upwards so that everyone gets a clear view of the stage.

At one end of the field is the opera show and at the other end the religious rites of the ‘San Wang Wu Ti’ sect are carried out.

In the past years there was also a Hokkien opera (for 3 or 4 days) going on during the same period in an adjacent field in conjunction with the religious celebrations of another Taoist sect. The juxtaposition of these different operas in the same area and together with the fervent religious activities going on presents a unique Singapore Experience.

But this year there is only one vacant field. I don’t know where the Hokkien opera has been moved to.

Saturday afternoon I went down to have a look. It was extremely hot. But there were quite a lot of opera-crazed people outside and inside the enclosure enduring the oppressive heat to watch the opera.

November 12, 2006


A short clip of the artistes getting ready for the photo-taking after their performance. (See the post below)


Cantonese opera show
on 11-11-2006 at Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre
organized by Kolam Ayer CC Chinese Cultural Group
lead artistes: Ng Lily, Chik Chiew Kuarn (黃莉莉, 戚超群)
guest artiste: Fung Kong Ngai (馮剛毅)

This opera has high entertainment value which is an important factor in opera shows. But there is one part which is rather unconvincing. In scene 6, the scheming wife told the physician to add an item to his prescription for her sick husband. She claimed she had some medical knowledge and threatened to get the physician arrested for being incompetent if he did not do so. How could an experienced an upright physician gave in to such flimsy threat…

Lily Ng was the leading xiao sheng for the first six scenes. Guest artiste Fung Kong Ngai from China took the last scene. She gave a spirited performance in scenes 3 and 5. On the whole she did creditably.

True to his reputation, in the final scene Fung gave a stirring rendering of the theme song to an attentive audience.

Chik Chiew Kuarn was the leading hua dan. She has the physique of a dan. She also has a pleasing appearance. I feel her look and the way she recites some lines bear a slight resemblance to Leong Seok Heng, a hua dan in China. But I think she sings better than Leong. She sang the theme song in scene 5 very well.

Others in the main cast were the scheming wife, the unethical tai jun and the conceited maid. They too performed well.

All these are just my personal non-professional view

鐘麗蓉, 戚超群, 馮剛毅, 黃莉莉

guest artiste 馮剛毅

tai jun & the maid 陳惠嬋, 鐘麗蓉

the wife 譚彩雲

November 08, 2006

Street Opera at Chinatown

click on image for larger version

Old pictures

My friend Victor mentioned in jest that MM Lee was an opera fan. It made me think of something and I went to check up an opera book. Sure enough, I found this photo of the then PM Lee and MP for Tanjong Pagar presenting an award to an opera artiste during a show to raise funds for the Tanjong Pagar Community Centre. It was in1972, 34 years ago.

And it says opera artistes from Hong Kong were popular then. The names of these artistes were not stated. They look a little familiar but I am not sure who they are. Anyone knows?

Going to the movies was a common form of entertainment for many people in the 60s. Some popular movies were shown to full-houses for weeks. The picture below shows a billboard on wheels advertising a mandarin movie and three other advertisements - one for a cantonese movie, one for a hokkien movie and one for a teochew movie. (Click on picture for larger version)

October 29, 2006

Long-winded compere

邱小娜 Qiu Xiaona, Zhuhai fah dan

Attended a cantonese opera show on Saturday at the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre.

I think the compere talked too much. A man sitting in the same row and another in the row in front of me also expressed similar comments. Ironically, the compere said this a few times: ‘due to the constraint of time’. So the man in front said: ‘you yourself are wasting our time’.

It was not because the artistes or the stagehands needed more time to prepare. There was ample time for the artistes to change costumes or for the change of sceneries.

There were seven items, so the compere came out seven times to introduce them. Except for the last introduction which was very brief, the others were quite lengthy. If each introduction took 3 to 4 minutes the compere himself would have used up about 25 minutes already.

A little about the show.

It was a showcase of local talent Philip Chan Fook Hong organized by the Kong Chow Wui Kun and the Chinese Opera Society. Philip has engaged a fah dan, Qiu Xiaona, from Zhuhai to partner him in three excerpts. But I feel that her performance fell short of expectation.

Of his four excerpts I like the one about Lin Chong best.

There was one excerpt by Aw Yeong Peng Mun and a relatively unknown artist, Gan Wah Ee, from Kuala Lumpur. I last saw Peng Mun perform here.

Another item was a duet by Ling Tung Mun and Woo Wai Fong. Wai Fong portrayed the character Lin Xiangru competently. Somehow her voice seems to suit the character well.

October 28, 2006

Roast duck

I ordered ‘roast duck drumstick rice’ at a roast duck rice stall.

“Don’t put gravy,” I told the aunty assistant. I don’t like the gravy of most roast duck stalls. Instead of enhancing the taste, I feel it spoils the roast duck.

“You want to put soya sauce and cooked oil?” she asked.

“Put,” I said.

Simple instructions.

So, I expected the duck with the soya sauce and oil on it to come on the rice itself or in a separate plate.

But the aunty seemed to have a different interpretation of my instructions.

The plate of rice came with soya sauce and oil added and the duck came in another plate with gravy added!!!

First time this happened. I think she might have thought I referred to the rice only. Must give very specific instructions if I patronize the stall again.

Maybe in a similar way, we sometimes misunderstand each other.

October 26, 2006


Recent pictures of some opera artists as their own selves, not the scholars or princesses they portray on stage. These pictures, except for the first one which I took in August this year, are scanned from a cantonese opera magazine,粵劇曲藝.

(Pang Zhi Quan, the blind beggar & emperor)

琼霞 (Kheng Har, the village girl & ghost)

姚志強 & 丁凡 (Yew Chee Keong, Ting Fan)

郭鳳女 & 蘇春梅 (Kwok Feng Lui, Soh Chun Mui)

蔣文端 & 曹秀琴 (Jeong Mun Tuin, Cho Sau Karm)
I have seen Cho perform in Guangzhou but I don't think she has ever performed in Singapore.

倪惠英 (Ngai Wai Ying)

歐凱明 (Aw Kai Meng)

麥玉清 (Mak Yeok Ching)

曾慧 (Zhen Wai)

October 18, 2006

Plain english

Once I attended an English Language course. The lecturer was a Canadian. He was peeved at people using phrases like: ‘in the Singapore context’ and ‘at this point of time’. His reason was “you don’t need to use unnecessary fanciful phrases when simple words will do.”

Why ‘in the Singapore context’, just ‘in Singapore’ will do, he said. As for ‘at this point of time’ it can be replaced with ‘now’ or ‘at the moment’. Or it could be omitted altogether.

I don’t think you see these 2 phrases being used often. Came across this about 2 weeks ago: ‘At this point in time, the offer still stands’.In this case I think the lecturer is right. That phrase can be replaced or omitted.

October 12, 2006


One day we were puzzled to see this on the whiteboard in the office:

Message from SATAN :- Please …….

On closer look, we were all smiling away.

Actually it was S.A. Tan (Senior Administrator Mr Tan)

This Mr Tan was away and he had asked someone to post the message. But this fellow with his wicked sense of humour made the full stops so faint and the letters so close that it looked that way.

October 08, 2006

Mid Autumn at the Esplanade

On Thursday evening I was on my way to the Esplanade to watch a show. The sky was quite hazy. The sun was a beautiful orange colour, like a huge egg yolk. This photo was taken from Nicoll Highway.

On Saturday evening I was going to the esplanade again. The haze was getting denser.

The Esplanade was a hive of activities. It was quite crowded. There were two major shows, one at the Theatre and the other at the Concert Hall. Besides these, there were a few other free performances and activities at various venues.

I went to the Waterfront and saw Dr Chua taking photos of his performers. I went beside him and took a picture too. Later the COI students performed a Huang Mei opera, The Magic Lotus Lantern. I watched for a short while; it was not interesting.

Then I went to the Concourse. A musical performance by a small group with chinese musical instruments was going on. It was followed by a Tai Chi demonstration accompanied by a lady playing a harp.

Five minutes before eight I went to the Theatre to watch an opera show, The Gift, by the Tang Mei Yun Taiwanese Opera Company. It was a simple but nice story and the show was entertaining.

September 30, 2006

EM3, RK and NS

The scrapping of EM3 in primary school brought to mind the scrapping of RK in secondary school years back. RK is religious knowledge. When RK was started people said good and when it was scrapped people also said good. I think one good thing was
that students who otherwise knew nothing about religions learnt something about religions.

Because of this RK thing I learnt about Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist and I didn’t become a Buddhist after the taking the courses in Buddhist Studies. But I find the Buddhist doctrine of compassion and self-reliance agreeable with me.

Similarly because of compulsory NS I experienced army life. Otherwise I would not join the army or volunteer to do NS. Would you? I think now I am glad of it.

September 28, 2006

Guo Jing

If you were a fan of chinese sword-fighting novels, you probably would have read Jin Yong’s 'The Condor Heroes'. In this story there is a type of wu kung called 降龍十八掌. In this wu kung there is a ‘stroke’ called 飛龍在天. This is what the pictures reminded me off.

My favourite character in this story is the hero Guo Jing. He is an exponent of this wu kung and he has powerful internal strength. Guo Jing is a trustworthy man who loves his country and family and is true to his friends. He personifies the values of righteousness and loyalty.

September 25, 2006


I was at Chinatown last Saturday night intending to see the Mid-autumn light up.

One stretch of New Bridge Road was out-of-bounds to traffic, so buses plying NBR could only enter NBR further down the road after making a detour. At the first bus stop here, a girl from the bus company was helping to guide commuters and to direct the buses to prevent congestion at the bus stop. She was wearing the company’s white jacket with the reflective yellow stripes.

The girl was short, small-sized and dark-complexioned. She didn’t look like a local. My guess is Filipino or Cambodian. When a bus came, she would stand at the bus lane facing the bus and used both hands to signal to the driver to stop further down so as to leave space for the following buses to stop. She had to be on her feet for hours.

It was tiring work. But she took pride in her job and I think she did a good one. Someone asked her if no.80 stopped there. “No problem,” she said; a smile flashed across her face, “all buses stop here.”

It brought my mind to another ‘observation’. It was several months back at a large superstore in a shopping center. At one section the salespersons gathered together at one side gossiping among themselves, oblivious to the few shoppers who were browsing the goods. They behaved as if the world owed them a living.

See the contrast in work attitude.

Hee..hee..sorry, nothing about the light-up.

September 24, 2006

Free advice

There is a cute cashier at this Fairprice supermarket nearby.

One time I was buying oranges and I was coughing.
“Cough, don’t eat oranges,” she said, like a teacher giving instructions to her pupils.
“Or,” I said.
“Chicken also don’t eat,” she added.
“Okay,” I said.

Another time I bought two bottles of milk.
“Buy bigger bottle cheaper you know,” she said, like a mother advising her daughter-in-law.
“Next time,” I said.

On another occasion my total purchase was just short of $20.
“Buy one more thing lah, $20 then got points,” she said, like a credit card officer from the bank persuading people to spend more.
“Never mind,” I said. .

I visit there quite regularly.

September 17, 2006

Recent events

[You can stop the video playing at the right column by clicking on the ‘pause button’.]

‘down Bian' demonstrations

I feel that they should not force Ah Bian to step down. If he is corrupt, then charge him. If Taiwan laws do not allow it, then they should pressurize the court to amend the laws.

But if Ah Bian feels that he has done wrong, then he should step down on his own.

Street protests during IMF-WB meet

I think these should not be allowed.

From past experiences the supposed peaceful protests always turned violent.

These are not the only way to express your views.

Of course they are illegal in the first place.

September 13, 2006


Occasionally I send my feedback to reporters on their commentaries published in the Straits Times. Most of the time there were no replies.

Here is one example, with reply. The article was published last year. I think it was about ownership. This topic is relevant anytime, especially now with our ‘welcome foreigners’ policy.

This is my letter:

I think the person who commented on the lack of ownership is just expressing his personal perception.

I don't know what is your definition of ownership but I feel ownership in Singapore, like nationalism, should include love, pride and passion. You are right that this comes from having a role to play. However, I do not agree that it must be in the form of taking part in discussions, speaking up, and so on. Having a role could simply means the work we are doing, be it our humble jobs or just little acts of keeping our country clean. You seem to link ownership with the freedom to speak our mind without any rules. You mean if we allow this Singaporeans will feel they have ownership. How could it be. We should feel ownership in the country just because we are born here or for some others because they choose to live here…….

I think ownership of home is one important factor that roots people here whether then or now.

This is the reply:

Dear Mr __,

Thank you for writing to me.

You are right that ownership means different things to different people.

That is a point I should have included in my column. I am happy to hear that you feel pride and passion for Singapore and yes, I am sure many other Singaporeans do too.

Senior Correspondent
The Straits Times

September 03, 2006

Opera at fund-raising shows

Some Hong Kong opera artistes talking about their experience at fund-raising charity shows. They include Lisa Wong, Johnson Yuen, Wun Fei Yin, Chan Wing Yee and Wai Churn Ying. There are a few flashback clips.