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November 13, 2011

Puppet performance to mark the opening of new Chong Yee temple

Was finally at Chong Yee temple on 12 November although the actual puppet performance started one day before. Here are some pictures of the puppet performance by "Ri Yue Xing" (日月星, popularly known as "Ji Gua Seng" in Hokkien).

 Marionette performance by Ri Yue Xing
Close up of the puppet

The origins of "Ri Yue Xing" could be traced back to its previous owner and famous Hokkien puppeteer Lee Chye Ee. See my post on the late Mr. Lee Chye Ee:

Entrance of the Chong Yee temple but the sign writes "Jalan Kayu United temple"

Was initially confused by the address as there was almost no information providing the specific address of the new Chong Yee temple (万国山忠义庙) until I visited their facebook page. I shall include the address here: 

Jalan Kayu Buangkok (Hill) Chong Yee Temple 
72 Sengkang West Avenue
Singapore 797652

October 19, 2011

Talks on Chinese puppets and opera at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园), formerly known as Sun Yat-Sen villa, is now known as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. It was closed for redevelopment last year and reopened this month which happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution of China.

Statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen outside the Memorial Hall

Photo courtesy of Derrick See

There will be a cultural festival (9-30 October) which is already ongoing. What is of interest to me is the upcoming talks on Chinese puppets and opera.

27 October "Puppetry in Chinese Opera", 2-4pm

29 October "Puppetry in Chinese Opera", 10am-12pm

The English and Chinese titles on the programme sheet are a little confusing but according to a friend, both talks will be on Chinese puppetry and the content is the same on both days (so don't worry about missing out anything if you cannot attend the Thursday talk). 

Details of the programme can be found here:

Will update soon on the talks!

October 12, 2011

Who says puppets are unrealistic?

Was very delighted to see puppet display at the Esplanade walkway last month. These puppets are actually depictions of real-life people who are usually neglected by the mainstream society, like the utensil collector, street performer, cardboard collector and gardener, etc.

Mr Ali, the gardener

Uncle Fong, the cardboard collector

Auntie selling noodles

Mr. Tan, can collector

Uncle Tan, construction worker 


Indeed these are the various occupations held by some of the middle-aged and elderly people in modern day Singapore. They belong to one of the lowest strata of society and can barely afford 3 meals a day. I like the details of the puppets and the way the creators bring out an interesting aspect of these people's lives through the use of puppets. The expressions on the puppets are usually gloomy or sad which can be interpreted as a kind of social stigma these people have to overcome in life. 

The puppets have strings attached to them which mean they can be categorized as "marionettes". However, the creators and manipulators of these puppets also cleverly perform these puppets in real-life situations, e.g. on a walking street, near the garden etc.

This puppet project titled "Circus of Life" is created by the Papermoon Puppet (Indonesia) and the School of Design and Media, ITE (Singapore). More details of the Papermoon Puppet can be found here:

September 26, 2011

Sun Yat Sen and Cantonese opera

Chinese revolutionist Sun Yat Sen is known for his founding of modern China. But do you know that he has a brief contact with Cantonese opera before? Does this picture serve as a hint? More information to be revealed later...

August 31, 2011

Italian aria + Southern Chinese music (Nanguan) = Glove Puppet show "Marco Polo"

"Marco Polo" by Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company
Friday 26 August, Saturday 27 August, 7.15pm & 11.30pm
Glass Atrium, Level 2, National Museum of Singapore

Adapted from taovictor's writeup: 
Hi folks,
If you missed the Tai Yuan Puppet Theatre Company’s performance of Marco Polo, you missed one of the best potehi (glove puppet) shows! Imagine how many are there in the world, maybe only this one, where there is a puppet show where Italian Aria and Nanyin are sung! (^^) What a hoot! And I wonder how many in the world would be able to understand both languages? Maybe some Taiwanese … well, some Nanyang Chinese who are Aria singers. (^^)
And trying to do a duet??  Must be challenging to put the music and lyrics .. but what fun! I cannot understand Italian and so would need Stefano to tell us. Maybe give us the subtitle. The Hokkien was hilarious. Imagine what the maid said about this strange guy who looks like a pig! (^^) Much of the dialogues are not displayed … it would be a mammoth task to do that subtitling at the speed which the dialog goes. I looked around and wondered, how many in the audience could understand Chinese. Not many local children I think, but many foreign ones!! And look at the crowd! Yes, this is Saturday night. But one could count by the two hands on potehi in Singapore! At, but perhaps, it is because the local potehi is meant for the Gods and so the stories are very serious, often sobby, and difficult to follow. Marco Polo? Fun, comic and certainly poking fun at the cross-cultural understanding, or misunderstanding. Is it true that Marco Polo stole the diary from his brother Matteo? (^^)

The scenes were many and the story moved very fast .. climax after climax, the audience had no time to rest. Never mind that they did not understand all the dialog, the actions were enough to keep them glued to that tiny audience.
I noticed that there was a video recording of the show. Hope this is made available to the public, especially, the schools. Add in the subtitling, and it would be a great piece. Certainly an interesting way to get the students to learn about Marco Polo! (^^)
Videos as well:
Seeing 'stars': a plot to save Marco Polo from death
 Marco Polo confessing his love
 Hokkien Nanyin (Nanguan, Southern music) VS Italian aria

The only dalang of Chinese descent in Malaysia

A Peranakan cina (Chinese Peranakan) of Chinese, Malay and Thai descent working hard to preserve his multicultural tradition and also to preserve the art of shadow puppetry  (wayang kulit in Malay) in Malaysia (the Chinese also has shadow puppetry but I have not seen it in Singapore or Malaysia yet).

Being an avid fan of her father's wayang kulit shows, the tok dalang's daughter also wrote a thesis on the topic when she was studying in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM, 国民大学). I am trying to gain access to her thesis and will share later.

Here's also a Chinese report on the daughter's wish to help her father promote wayang kulit even though the art can only be passed down to sons and not daughters.

July 27, 2011

Guangdong puppet in early Singapore?

I have previously mentioned that there are a few puppet types in Singapore during the early twentieth century:

1. Hokkien (Nanguan 南管) glove puppet/string puppet
2. Teochew iron stick puppet
3. Hainanese rod puppet
4. Henghwa string puppet
5. Waijiang (外江) string puppet

However, to my surprise, I have recently gathered some information which may hint at the existence of Guangdong traditional puppet in early Singapore. The advertisement below is one of them, even though it might not fall into the category of 'traditional' as I suspect that it is only a one-time kind of performance where the Merry Opera Company employed puppeteers who can perform in Cantonese. The puppet type is unknown.

Source: The Singapore Free Press, 22 October 1924, Page 2

Thanks to a friend who kindly shared with me a Chinese article on the various puppet/opera types in Malaya (and later Malaysia and Singapore), the author also mentioned that in 1911, there was a Guangdong puppeteer by the name of Zheng Wan Kai (郑万楷) who performed in Malaya. His son later performed in Singapore during the years 1916-1922. As the article did not state the exact source, I have reservations on its credibility but it is nevertheless an important view to be made. I will also reserve the use of "Cantonese puppet" as Guangdong may refer to various dialects like Chaozhou (Teochew) and Hakka (客家话), both of which are existing dialect groups in Singapore.

More discovery on the way!

July 15, 2011

Century-old temple at Port Klang due to be demolished soon!

Just learnt from a friend who lives in Klang that she recently encountered a century-old temple by the name of Cheng Neong Teng (清凉亭) in Port Klang, Malaysia. The sad thing is it is going to be demolished soon! Looking at the pictures and the supposed date of establishment, both of us felt that perhaps UNESCO should do something about it.

Here are some of the pictures which are not of high quality, but nevertheless clear enough to see the fine details of the architecture:

  One of the more prominent effigies inside the temple: the 18 arhats

April 26, 2011

No strings attached: Hainanese rod puppet performance at Mazu temple

I have read about Hainanese rod puppets but it was my first encounter with them yesterday at the Mazu temple located at Beach Road.

Venue: 47 Beach Road
Time: 2pm, 7.30pm (Day and night performances)
Troupe: Xin Xing Gang Qiongnan Theatrical Company (新兴港琼南剧社)

          A photo to keep your brain cells moving first: what exactly are these holes used for?

Answer revealed: the thick rod used for holding the puppet (indicated by red arrow) will be placed in these holes in a scene when there are too many puppets for the puppeteers to handle

A better picture: if there are a number of puppets appearing on stage, they will be placed in these "holes"

It was definitely an eye-opener especially when you see puppets that were often likened to woodblocks but these puppets have the ability to move their eyes!

April 21, 2011

Marionette performance at an industrial site

A rather unusual sight to see a marionette performance being staged at an industrial site..

Venue: Blk 31 Defu Lane 10
Time: 2pm, 8pm (Day and night performances)
Troupe: Sin Hoe Ping 新和平

From my observation for the past few hours, I guess it's a Henghwa manufacturer dealing with woodcraft who employed the troupe to perform for the deity Liu Gong Yuan Shuai (刘公元帅)

A peep inside..they have an altar ready and the stage was situated right opposite as it always should.

                      Marionette performance "Chen Wen Long" (陈文龙) at night which started at 8pm

View from was like a tiny yet lively Henghwa community enclave tucked in a remote part of Singapore

March 3, 2011

Remembering Mr. Lee Chye Ee (b. 1919)

Reading the old articles of the late Mr. Lee Chye Ee (b. 1919) reminds me of what it is meant to be "人才被埋没" (a talent gone to waste). He was a remarkable puppeteer, priest and carver from Yongchun, Fujian. During his darkest times, he never gave up and carved more than 100 puppets, including those where the eyes, mouth could move. I hope, in the near future, I will be able to do something to commemorate this remarkable man of talents.

Some information about Mr. Lee:
Learnt the puppetry art at the age of 15
Learnt the art of carving at the age of 17
Set up his own troupe "Ri Yue Xing" (日月星) in Yongchun, Fujian
Came to Singapore (Nanyang) in 1947 and established his troupe "Ri Yue Xing" here
"Ri Yue Xing" performed in the Nanguan (南管) style
In the 1950s, due to lack of popularity of Nanguan music, he founded "Shi Ye Fei" (是也非) and sang in the Gezai style
1960s: the semi-retired Mr. Lee shifted his operations to Malaysia
1970s: Came back but business was worse than before, stayed at home to carve puppets; over 100 marionette heads were carved over the 3 years but sadly, they were never really put to good use

Puppets carved by Mr. Lee Chye Ee (photo from Sin Ming)

Mr. Lee Chye Ee with his marionettes

Mr. Lee Chye Ee as a dan actor
Mr. Lee Chye Ee with his glove puppets

February 17, 2011

Singapore's very own puppeteers: The Yeos

There have been far too many backlogs until I'm not sure which one to post first. I will start with a brief outline of some of the happenings of my puppet encounters early this year, there were many 'firsts':

1. Interaction between Singapore's very own puppeteers: Mr. Yeo Lai Hoe and Frankie (Yeo) Malachi
2. Encounters with 2 Teochew puppet troupes left in Singapore: Lao Sai Poh Hong (老赛宝丰) & Sin Sai  
    Poh Hong (新赛宝丰)
3. 1st trip to Kiew Lee Tong 九鲤洞
4. 1st encounter with Zhangzhou glove puppet performance @ Esplanade
5. 1st puppet writeup in the media

7 January 2011, a day before the actual performance @ Bukit Merah Library

It was a heartwarming experience for the elderly folks who probably had not watched puppet performances for a long time. A day before the performance, I witnessed the interaction between two Singapore's very own puppeteers: Mr. Yeo from Sin Hoe Ping and Frankie from "Mascots and Puppets". Both were interested in each other's arts and Mr. Yeo even played with Frankie's self-created "Modern Monkey King" complete with retro clothes and eye-catching boots.

    The setup by Mr. Yeo before the arrival of Frankie, characters from "Journey to the West"

                                      Frankie with his monkey marionette playing with the peaches
           (the peaches were said to be stolen by the Monkey King from Queen Mother of the West)

The actual performance was on 8 January. Basically, the performers were trying to tell the story about the Monkey King and his encounter with Queen Mother of the West. The interesting part was the transition from glove puppet to opera actor to modern marionette in which all of them are renditions of the Monkey King.

Here are the mini (glove puppet), traditional (opera) and modern (marionette) versions of Monkey King. Interesting indeed!