Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chinatown Buskers

Long long ago, there were buskers, but not the type that we know today. Or maybe, they are not buskers that we know today. It was in 1959, when I was in Primary One, when my "driver" (you would have thought that this was like my chauffeur, but no) whom my Mum paid to fetch me to school - it was Tanglin Boys' School and I was living in Turn Tiam Hung (Pawnshop Alley, Craig Rd) and in those days, apart from trying to ride the wild wild east buses, getting a car that went round putting all the kids into one Morris Minor (like chickens in a coop) was the other option - brought me with other kids to the show on ice in Happy World (I think that was the name before it became Gay World and then, disappeared with the change of the meaning of the word) followed by supper in the open air People's Park. That was the time when I saw this lady, or was it girl, who would put some sweets and dried kanna (Chinese olives) on the table and proceeded to sing. I was not sure if anyone paid.

And there was the lonely old men, some were blind, sitting by the corner of a street playing his erhu producing mournful sounds and singing equally mournful songs.

Those were the pre-licensed days. These days, buskers have to be "licensed" to perform, as I understand.

Long gone were the singers of yesteryears. For a while, there were no street entertainers in the streets of Chinatown. Not even the koyok man (street pedlars and performers who would use drums and gongs to welcome the onlookers like Ah Hia, Ah Chek in Hokkien, followed quickly by his assistant in Cantonese like Ah Kor, Ah Jie, each accompanied with a hit on the gong). There might be one or two "medicine man" demonstrating his prowess in gongfu and selling the traditional Chinese oil for rubbing tired muscles in some of the fairs organised.

Interestingly, with the onslaught of Karaoke (Empty Orchestra in Japanese - my first encounter was in a fair in Tokyo in 1976), many people discovered their talents. No more bathroom singing. Many took to singing like fish to water. Be it the popular songs or even the Cantonese Opera. One could sing with just a tape or now, a  DVD. While many youngsters in the western world or even in Japan might perform with their musical instruments, a number of the older folks started lugging their small Singapore made DVD player with a small amplier and a loudspeaker to a good spot to sing. Soon, like honey to bees, old folks gathered to sit and listen to the crooning of the songs sung in their young days.I was tempted to go by these folks to ask, "A penny for your thoughts." I am sure, many must be reminiscing about the old days, good or bad, happy or sad. Perhaps, I could scan with my video camera to catch the facial expressions that might have inadvertently been released as the person gets deep into thoughts with the journey in time.

While some old men, and even old ladies, would join in as a group singing, there is also another group that entertain the older folks. The ladies were singing to the delight of the old men, and they even invited them to come forward to do a duet. The bolder men would join in doing some dances that were probably their signature movements of the younger days.

And so, if you are feeling bored, on a not too hot and humid evening, you could park yourself by some of these spots in Chinatown to enjoy the songs of time gone by. Reminisce or explore, depending on your age and experience. (^^)