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December 27, 2010

Marionette performance at Ann Ren Gong retreat 2 Dec-6 Dec 2010

Apologies for the backlog of updates.

There was a major event held at Ann Ren Gong (安仁宫) from December 1 to 6 and the Tangkis came out from their retreat on Dec 5. I wasn't there to witness the whole retreat but thanks to Raymond from API, he managed to take shots of the post-retreat procession and marionette performance.

According to Raymond, the retreat started on December 1 at around 3-5pm. Doors would be sealed during the retreat.

On Dec 5 around 5am, there were already crowds of people/devotees visiting the temple. The Sin Hoe Ping puppet troupe members were on standby and taking a short nap as they would be performing soon for the deities.

Photo courtesies of Raymond
Note the couplets on both sides of the stage, especially the right one. It indicated that the retreat session was over (持戒功完).

I went over the next day on Dec 6 and here are some more pictures of the marionette performance.

At the gate entrance of Ann Ren Gong, the backstage of Sin Hoe Ping could be seen and the stage was facing the temple. 

A glimpse of Ann Ren Gong after the retreat: devotees and temple members mingle

November 11, 2010

Shadow puppets and wayang kulit in modern Singapore

Listening to Malaysia Aifm 104.9FM DJ Ji An's program who was talking about the oldest shadow puppet troupe in Taiwan, I was prompted to find out more about the history of shadow puppets and wayang kulit in Singapore but I apologize for not being able to find much information for now.

First, talking about wayang kulit and according to Infopedia:

One of Singapore's last Dalangs (dhalang in Javanese means puppeteer) was Wak Taslim Harjosanajo who passed away in 1985. Does it mean that wayang kulit had disappeared from the Singapore scene for 25 years?! I tried searching for more information on Wak Taslim Harjosanajo on the web but to no avail. A little disappointing indeed but I will try to fill this blank when I come across any related information.

As for whether Chinese shadow puppet ever exist in Singapore, I am afraid I do not have a definite answer for now.

Shadow puppet, Messenger from Hell dating from the 19th Century
Picture taken from Asian Theatre Puppets: creativity, culture and craftsmanship (from the collection of Paul Lin)

November 2, 2010

Marionette performance at Xuan Jiang Dian

Just to share a video put up by chinatownboy...

Performance venue: Xuan Jiang Dian 玄江殿, Bukit Merah View
Troupe: Possibly by the Feng Huang puppet troupe
The video is focused on the performance of the puppeteers rather than on the puppets. Note the facial expression and singing, performers are somewhat very accustomed and unaffected by the noisy environment they are in. Also take note of the electronic keyboard used during this performance. This is rather common in Hokkien opera and marionette performances, judging from what I have observed in recent years. 

October 20, 2010

Look around you and discover treasure!

Another overdue post on a talk held at Bukit Merah Library on "Old Chinese Dialect Songs and rhymes" on October 9, 2010. 

The speaker is a renowned DJ from Malaysia. Better known for his Chinese name Ji An 吉安 (Chong Keat Aun, 张吉安), he spent a few years going around the country to collect and record dialect songs and rhymes. He has published a book titled 乡音考古 (literally translated as "archaeological findings of the village music" but it will be more appropriate to translate "village music" as "folk songs/ballads"). Here is his website:

He mentioned a few key points which I have noted and shared the same sentiments.
1. Everyone, not just researchers, can play a part in recording voices/songs around us (especially in the context where generations of overseas Chinese have migrated, settled down, localized but to some extent, preserve their tradition). We never know if this may be of value and become an important heritage in future. 

2. Doing such collection/research is a race against time. We never know when these people will leave us. Personally, I was much saddened by the recent demise of this lady puppeteer and I hope in time to come, I will be able to put my collection into writing and documentation as well. 

Some pictures that I took during the talk, pardon for the poor quality because the speaker preferred to talk in the dark. Even so, many of us were attentively listening to him for almost 3 hours. A natural speaker with a great passion indeed.  

Minnan song with a local flavour

Tongan nursery rhymes well-remembered by an elderly lady

Hainan lullaby songs

There are a few more others like Nanyin, Guangxi mountain songs, Yongchun proverbs etc etc. Ji An was saying that in China you will never get to find so many dialect groups all "cramped" together in one area. The existence of a multi-dialectal Chinese community is something unique about Singapore and Malaysia, perhaps existing in some parts of Southeast Asia and other places with overseas Chinese communities. 

Look around you and you may find treasure! 

Marionette performance and event in honour of Xuan Tian Shang Di

I apologize for the late post on this event held on 11 October (4th day, 9th month of the lunar calendar) in honour of Xuan Tian Shang Di 玄天上帝(Supreme Lord of the Mysterious Heavens). 

Troupe performing: Feng Huang Puppet Troupe
If you observe closely enough, the puppets look brand new and the puppet stage brightly lit. (I wrote about Feng Huang puppet troupe in my previous entries but it seemed like the puppets then weren't as new as these) I happened to have the opportunity to meet up with this man who claimed that he could perform with 36 strings of the marionette. He commented that the brightly lit stage was more eye-catching than those he have seen in Malaysia. Anyway, if I ever get the chance to let him demonstrate his skills, I will post it here. 

Here are some marionette pictures:

Photo courtesy of Chan 

October 7, 2010

Sky Bird Puppet Troupe

I have read this book 《香港传统木偶戏探源》(translation: Examining the origins of traditional puppetry in HK) some time ago but little did I realize the author of this book Mr. Yang Qingyi 杨清意 is the founding leader of the Sky Bird Puppet Troupe in HK! Although the title suggests that the book is on traditional puppetry in HK, it provides rather useful information on the origins of puppets in China.

Sky Bird Puppet Troupe's website:

Cover of the book:

Retrieved from:

October 4, 2010

Chancing upon more puppet troupes

Happen to chance upon more puppet troupes of Singapore on Flickr but I have yet to find out if they are still extant. Here's a glimpse:

Name of troupe: Sen Wen Neng 森文能
        Picture taken: 23 November 2007                                 

Name of troupe: Xin Bao Feng 新宝凤
Picture taken: 14 June 2008

Name of troupe: Xin Yan Ling 新燕玲
Picture taken: 23 Dec 2008

Name of troupe: Yu Zhu Feng 玉珠凤
Picture taken: 29 Aug 2009

September 30, 2010

Female makeup artists for the dead

Read on the news about a talk on death and inspired me to write this piece. 

Several years ago, I read about a story 《像我这样的一个女子》("A Woman Like Me") by the renowned HK writer Xi Xi (real name: Zhang Ai Lun/ Zhang Yan 张彦、张爱伦) and till now, it still leaves a deep impression on me. The story is about this funeral makeup artist who was discriminated and looked down upon by society. When her boyfriend found out about her job, he left her. She was devastated but knew that someone like her would never find true love. Even though this is just a story, I think it reflects something about society and human beings: the fear of death and anything to do with the dead. I have not come across any of this makeup artist who can share stories with me but in this male-dominated industry, the spirit and determination of these ladies are worth mentioning:

A very short writeup about the Ang sisters of Ang Yew Seng funeral parlour:

A more detailed one in Chinese:



September 28, 2010

Video on Kim Giak Low Choon Puppet Troupe

Indeed a family of talents! 非看不可!

马来西亚槟城的金玉楼楼春木偶剧团 Kim Giak Low Choon Puppet Troupe from Penang, Malaysia
更多有关该剧团的讯息,More information about the troupe:

September 21, 2010

An imposing glove puppet stage

Was trying to dig out more photos on puppets/marionette and I managed to find a picture of a glove puppet stage taken in mid-2009 at the Singapore History Museum.

Pardon for the poor quality of the picture: 

The quality here is probably better but details of the stage are still rather blur.

Description provided by the museum:  
Glove puppet theatre
Fujian, China
Painted Wood

Chinese puppetry was a popular form of street entertainment that shared stage conventions and story selections with Chinese opera. It was not unusual for retiring opera artists to continue their career behind the scenes as puppeteers (still the case today). 

This glove puppet stage belonged to Sin Sai Lok, a troupe that arrived from Fujian, China in the 1930s. As a portable theatre, the stage could be assembled or dismantled by the troupe within an hour. Installed with over 1,000 electric light bulbs, the stage was a sight to behold when it was lit up in a dark open space. 

The imposing structure has a traditional Chinese roof. The name of the troupe appears above the stage, which is flanked by pillars adorned with dragons. At the far ends are boards where the title of the performance would be written. 

Below the stage are six colourful panels depicting scenes from an episode in Journey to the West, a literary classic based on folk mythology. The contact details and the range of services provided by the troupe are advertised above the six panels. The illustration by Xuanhua studio, is also acknowledged on the...right. 

From the description above, we can tell that some of the traditional practices (e.g. name of troupe above the stage, title of performance written on a board etc.) are still continued today. 

P.S. Although the Chinese name written on the stage cannot be seen very clearly, I think it says 老新春乐班. 

Photos of Marionette spotted

Happen to chance upon these marionette photos put up by SNAP (Singapore National Album of Pictures) some time back. Shall have the link posted here: 

Troupe featured: Xin Feng Zhu (新凤珠木偶班)
Venue: Bedok area
Photo taken: October 2009 (Hungry Ghost Festival)

The marionettes look almost brand-new. What caught my attention was that these marionettes have round faces and a more well-rounded appearance as compared to other marionettes that usually have elongated faces and slimmer appearance. It will be interesting to find out where these various puppets originated from and why they look different. E.g. Quanzhou marionettes are usually characterized by the protruding earlobe and double chin, believed to have a distinct Buddhist origin. These characteristics set them apart from other marionettes in Fujian (Marionette Theatre in Quanzhou, 2006, pp. 117-119). 

Photo credit: snapshot of website taken from the link above 

September 1, 2010

Mulian performance (marionette) at Hin Ann Thain Hiaw Keng

A clip on the first part of the Mulian performance (28 August 2010, 19th day of the Seventh lunar month) by chinatownboy:

As some of us have already known, there are numerous characters in the Mulian performance. There are some which I cannot recognize but interesting enough, Dua Ya Pek (大爷伯 White Guard of Impermanence) also appeared for a short while in the performance. Others who were present included King of Hades (阎罗王). 

When the main performance had ended, families of the dead took part in the redemption ritual (超度) via the marionette performance.   

Marionettes involved in the redemption ritual, including a monk (目连尊者) carrying a 4 or 5 coloured cloth, anyone knows what is the significance of this?

August 23, 2010

Upcoming marionette performances

This blog is having some problems loading Twitter updates, shall post it here: 

-Marionette performance (Hokkien) at Geylang Lor 33 for the whole of the seventh lunar month. 
-Sin Hoe Ping performance (Henghwa) on 25 & 26 Aug @ 280A Changi Road temple.
-There may be some events going on at Kiew Lee Tong 九鲤洞 (Jalan Tambur), to be confirmed. 

August 13, 2010

Tradition VS Puppet performance

This month (Gregorian month from 10 August to 7 September) is a traditional Chinese Festival known as the Lunar Seventh Month (aka Hungry Ghosts Festivals or in Chinese, better known as 鬼节). On the 14th (Southern Chinese belief) or 15th day of the Seventh Month, this day is known as Zhongyuan Jie 中元节 by the Taoists or Yulanpen Jie 盂兰盆节 (Ullambana) by the Buddhists. As had been reported earlier, the Teochew rod puppet performance had already begun since the first day of the Seventh Month, so be sure to expect more performances (Hokkien and Henghua marionette) for the whole of this month! Stay tuned for more updates... 


August 11, 2010

Teochew Rod Puppet performance at Chee Chung Huay

Chinatownboy informed me that there would be a Teochew Rod puppet performance at Chee Chung Huay on 10 August (first day of the Seventh Lunar month). As I have never seen one in real life, I decided to have a look.

The performance by Sin Sai Bao Feng troupe (新赛宝丰班):

A closeup of the rod puppets (dan and sheng):  

Notice that the puppeteers manipulating the puppets were not singing. Like some of the glove puppet performances that I had seen, 'voices' of the puppets are created by other performers backstage. This is different from the string puppet performances that we have seen so far.

A glimpse on the backstage (an ensemble of performers and musicians is less seen in street performances):


                                                        A video clip of the performance (note the fast rhythmic beatat 00:00:30 and see comment below):

July 26, 2010

A followup of the glove puppet performance at Central's River Promenade

A followup of the glove puppet performance (in Teochew) at Central's River Promenade last Wednesday (21 July) that did attract some curious crowd, including tourists who took a few snapshots as well. Here are some pictures:

A closeup on the glove puppets:

 Initially thought there were subtitles, but it was more of a synopsis of the performance: 


July 21, 2010

Puppet performance in conjunction with Singapore Food Festival

In conjunction with the Singapore Food Festival 2010 (16-25 July), there will be string and glove puppet performances. Visitors can munch to their hearts' content while enjoying the puppet performances. 

String Puppets 提线木偶
Venue: Merlion Park
Time: -7.30pm to 8.00pm
          -8.30pm to 9.00pm 
Language:Hokkien, with English synopsis 

Hand Puppets 布袋戏 
Venue: Central's River Promenade
Time: -8.00pm to 8.30pm
          -9.00pm to 9.30pm 
Language:Teochew, with English synopsis

June 24, 2010

Marionette Performance in celebration of Zhang Tianshi's birthday

Was a little worried that the performance would be affected by the heavy downpour earlier but fortunately, the rain stopped when the performance began at 5pm. It was staged in front of a house (along Hougang St 21) where the owner had requested for the marionette performance and religious ritual in celebration of Zhang Tianshi's (张天师) birthday.

Notice the ritual conducted by Taoist priests behind the stage

A closer look at the ritual

Worship of Marshall Tian (田都元帅) near entrance of the house

During the break, I met Master Li of Hian Eng Daoist (显应道坛) for the first time. Master Li is actively involved in the Taoist scene in Singapore as well as China, UK. The performance ended at about 9pm when the ritual had also come to an end. 

May 23, 2010

The Legend of Tian Du Yuan Shuai 田都元帅

Perhaps, the one Deity who comes to mind when we talk about Chinese Marionette Theatre, it must be Tian Du Yuan Shuai 田都元帅. There are many different threads and tales about Tian Du Yuan Shuai and his involvement with the Chinese Opera and Marionette.

Professor Kenneth Dean did a detailed study on the Chinese temples in the Putian Plains, Fujian, China, and with them, the Chinese Marionette Theatre. Below is a teaser to his full length DVD that tells a little about Tian Du Yuan Shuai.

Bored in Heaven teaser from Image Fatale on Vimeo.

May 18, 2010

Mosquito bites leg? You are wrong..

Sorry folks, I know I have not been updating..but had a good chat with Singapore's very own historian painter Marcus Lim and he corrected my (and a lot of people) misconception of the term "Mang Ga Ka"(referring to the Balestier area, including Bendemeer area).

That's what Marcus said: 
The name actually means "under the jackfruit tree". The Balestier area used to be home to Whampoa (Mr. Hoo Ah Kay) who owns Nam Seng Garden (南生花园) and it is in that villa where many fruit trees, especially jackfruit trees, were grown.

In the old days, the locals who are mostly illiterate would use physical landmarks as place names, thus this place (referring to Balestier/Bendemeer area) is named after that.
As explained by Marcus, "Mang ga" refers to jackfruit, so "Mang Ga ka" means "under the jackfruit tree" ("ka" means leg, so it has the connotation of below the jackfruit tree). This cleared my misconception of the term after so many years...argh..stop thinking Bendemeer/Balestier area is a place where people get bitten by mosquitoes ok..

Picture by Marcus of where the location of Whampoa Gardens is, later on identified as Bendemeer House:

April 11, 2010

Marionette Performance in Celebration of the Monkey God's birthday

Pardon me for the backdated entry..the Henghua marionette performance was held from 8-10 March at Kampong Kapor Road in celebration of the Monkey God's (齐天大圣) birthday

As the performance was staged at Kampong Kapor, a place frequented mostly by Indians and tourists, performance on the first night was especially swarmed with curious onlookers who stood there for quite a while, enjoying the rare sight. The tourists behind us were also busy clicking their cameras away.
Besides the performance, the Tian Xing Gong temple  (天性宫) nearby also came 'alive'. Ronni told me the temple was usually closed (opened at night) when he visited it a few times. He sounded very excited when the temple was finally opened and I was also happy to 'discover' yet another Henghua temple.

The puppeteer bringing the puppet up to the temple after the Eight Immortals performance 八仙戏

Food for thought: Ronni suggested that I took a photo of the marionette performance from Tian Xing Gong to see the 'connection' between the temple and the performance..can you spot where it is?

April 7, 2010

Puppet troupes

Was supposed to watch puppet performances in celebration of Guangze Zunwang's birthday but probably due to getai, both performances held at Hong San See and another one in the open space at Hougang Central ended early. They usually performed at 8pm but this time round, they performed from 5pm-7pm. Nevertheless, here are some of the pictures:

                       Xin Cai Yun puppet troupe's stage (新彩云木偶掌中班) at Hong San See (凤山寺)
                                                      A closer look at the puppet stage
                            Xin Xing Lai (Glove) Puppet troupe's (新兴来掌中班) stage at Hougang Central

April 2, 2010

The Classics

Was quite into reading the classics though I don't deny that was done with some difficulty..the reading started partly for a better understanding of the philosophy and thoughts as an attempt to link to the present. First it was Daodejing (道德经) and while searching for the translated versions of Hanfeizi (韩非子), I found a good website that places both the Chinese and English versions side by side for easy reading and reference.

Here is the table of contents in English and Chinese (just the chapter name is hard to translate if you have not read or understood the Hanfeizi):

Book One
1. 初见秦 The First Interview with the King of Ch'in: A Memorial
2. 存韩 On the Preservation of Han: Issue Between Han Fei and Li Ssŭ
3. 难言On the Difficulty in Speaking: A Memorial
4. 爱臣On Favourite Vassals: A Memorial
5. 主道 The Tao of the Sovereign

Book Two
6. 有度 Having Regulations: A Memorial   7. 二柄 The Two Handles   8. 扬权 Wielding the Sceptre
9. 八姦 Eight Villainies

Book Three
10. 十过 Ten Faults

Book Four
11. 孤愤 Solitary Indignation    12. 说难 Difficulties in the Way of Persuasion
13. 和氏 The Difficulty of Pien Ho
14. 姦劫弑臣 Ministers Apt to Betray, Molest, or Murder the Ruler ('assassinate' is more appropriate?)

Book Five
15. 亡徵 Portents of Ruin 16. 三守 Three Precautions 17. 背内 Guarding Against the Interior 18. 南面 Facing the South 19. 饰邪 On Pretentions and Heresies: A Memorial 

Book Six 
20. 解老 Commentaries on Lao Tzŭ (Laozi)'s Teachings 

Book Seven 
21. 喻老 Illustrations of Lao Tzŭ (Laozi)'s Teachings 22. 说林上 Collected Persuasions, The Upper Series

Book Eight 
23. 说林下 Collected Persuasions, The Lower Series 24. 观行 Observing Deeds 25. 安危 Safety and Danger 26. 守道 The Way to Maintain the State 27. 用人 How to Use Men: Problems of Personnel Administration 28. 功名 Achievement and Reputation 29. 大体 The Principal Features of Legalism  

Book Nine 
30. 內储说上 Inner Congeries of Sayings, The Upper Series: Seven Tacts  

Book Ten 
31. 內储说下 Inner Congeries of Sayings, The Lower Series: Six Minutiae 

Book Eleven  
32. 外储说左上 Outer Congeries of Sayings, The Upper Left Series  

Book Twelve 
33. 外储说左下 Outer Congeries of Sayings, The Lower Left Series  

Book Thirteen  
34. 外储说右上 Outer Congeries of Sayings, The Upper Right Series  

Book Fourteen  
35. 外储说右下 Outer Congeries of Sayings, The Lower Right Series 

Book Fifteen 
36. 难一 Criticisms of The Ancients, Series One 37. 难二 Criticisms of the Ancients, Series Two 

Book Sixteen 
38. 难三 Criticisms of the Ancients, Series Three 39. 难四 Criticisms of the Ancients, Series Four 

Book Seventeen 
40. 难势 A Critique of the Doctrine of Position 41. 问辩 Inquiring into the Origin of Dialectic 
42. 问田 Asking T'ien: Two Dialogues 43. 定法 Deciding Between Two Legalistic Doctrines 
44. 说疑 On Assumers 45. 诡使 Absurd Encouragements 

Book Eighteen 
46. 六反 Six Contrarieties 47. 八说 Eight Fallacies 48. 八经 Eight Canons 

Book Nineteen 
49. 五蠹 Five Vermins: A Pathological Analysis of Politics 
50. 显學 Learned Celebrities: A Critical Estimate of Confucians and Mohists  

Book Twenty 
51. 忠孝 Loyalty and Filial Piety: A Memorial 52. 人主 The Lord of Men 
53. 饬令 Making Orders Trim 
54. 心度Surmising the Mentality of the People: A Psychological Analysis of Politics 
55. 制分Regulations and Distinctions