Friday, July 20, 2012

Rediffusion Story Tellers

Starting tomorrow, 21 Jul 12, with the Heritage Fest, at the Kwong Wai Siew Li Si She Shut Clan Association, 25 Ann Siang Road, over two weekends, many people will get a chance to listen to Lee Dai Soh's tales. For the young, it would be a chance to hear what their grandparents used to enjoy when there was no TV and even radios were rare. For the older, it was like being transported back to the old days.

What better place to have this event than at the Li Shi She Shut Clan Association where Lee Dai Soh was a member. Go and spot his photograph, lined amongst the many elders of the Lee Clan.

When I was very young, being a Hokkien, I was not conversant with Cantonese. But sitting and listening to the Rediffusion was one way to pass the time, especially, sitting with the old ladies and men. By and by, some words would get into the head.

I always remember that very familiar sound in such a warm tone starting his session in the Rediffusion, "Cham Mun gor de kong tho ... " (Last night we were saying till ...). Somehow, when the time was almost up, he would be able to end with us all hanging "on the cliff" furious that we would have to wait for another 24 hours to know what happened. I remember that it was a daily programme of about 45 minutes (or was it less?) during the weekday.

From a pack of CDs of Lee Dai Soh's stories

Rediffusion has a few storytellers who had their faithful followers. There were Ong Toh, the Hokkien storyteller, again, with his own familiar tones, somewhat higher than that of Lee Dai Soh. And there was Ng Chia Keng, the Teochew storyteller. And a couple more (if you can remember, please add to the comments. (^^) )

For me, faithfully, every night, at about 9pm (or slightly earlier?) I would sit on the ground in the open air-well in the middle of the "pre-war" house, where I grew up, feeling the cold damp ground (of granite) while my grandma would sit on a chair with the landlady (a very strict Peranakan Matriarch), all listening intently to the story. Most of the stories would be gongfu stories.

I remember that there were also some erotic parts, described in such a nice way that would leave everyone to his or her imagination. One particular that I could remember goes like this, "Chew jit eh yet, huay jit eh sit, .. " (with a wave of a hand, the light went out ...) During those times, we could not ask the old ladies what happened then? (^^) Children were meant to be seen and not heard.

In those days, for me, in the 50s, storytelling was a favourite programme for many. In the wet and dirty market place off Craig Rd, in the night, benches would appear, lining around a small table (made from boxes). On the table was a tin converted into a lamp with a chimney like tube going up from the cover. This tin was probably made from used Ovaltine tins, a popular beverage then. This was the carbide lamp, where pouring water into the tin of carbides would create a flammable gas. So with a match stick, the end of the tube will light, providing quite a good light, at least good enough for the storyteller to read from his book.

Most the people, I think all men, probably the coolies ending the hard day sitting, somewhat more like squatting on the bench, would gather around the storyteller. I did not get near to watch or listen but was told that they would have a joss-stick lit just before the story telling. The listeners would pay (5 cents or was it 10 cents) for the length of the story determined by the burning joss-stick. I suppose if there was a draft, that joss -stick was going to burn out faster. (^^)

In the early 60s, when there were still storytellers around, I remembered seeing community centres providing such storytelling sessions to the old men who would gather there. The storyteller would probably have to compete against other distractions especially in terms of noise that he would have  a very primitive loudspeaker with a microphone to work with.

The last time I came across a storyteller was a couple of years back when a chain selling "Pau" (dumplings) invited a Hokkien storyteller from Xiamen to come to tell stories. Alas, I could only attend one of his sessions before he had to rushed home on some domestic emergencies (we were told). He was explaining, as part of the storytelling, the Hokkien idioms and the differences in the way of pronounciations of the Hokkiens from Xiamen (Amoy), Zhangzhou and Quanzhou. Imagine pigs being call Ti, Tu, Ter. I cannot remember which is from which area now.

For the experience, register for a session in the heritagefest website. Chinatown Visitor Centre is also having an exhibition of Lee Dai Soh's storytelling.

Tell me your experience, or what your granny told you. (^^)

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Beer on the rocks, anyone?

Last night I was at a dinner in a local kopi-tiam style restaurant serving duck rice. While some of us had lime juice (which I believed started off with the famed Singapore signature dish, Fish Head Curry, and has been with this Duck Rice for quite a decade or two), home-made barley, two opted for beer. This lady, speaking only Teochew with a spatter of Mandarin brought a bottle of ice-cold Tiger Beer and two mugs with ice inside. My friend looked in horror. "Where got drink beer with ice?"

And so I started my story that before she was born, we (I mean the older folks) used to drink beer with ice. Why? Well, for one, there weren't much refrigerator in the local coffeeshops, home too. It was a luxury. And so, pouring beer onto a mug of ice seemed a logical solution. I think the habit went on right into the 70s and possibly till 90s. For some, habits die hard.

In the old days, the old men might gather at the local coffee shops to have a beer or two, or more if they have a gathering of neighbours or friends. But although beer was cheap them, it was still a luxury item. For some who like to start with beer and probably get into something heavier, like the popular "sa tiam chi" (Three Stars Brandy), they would go into a bar which had shelves of all kinds of hard liquor.

I remembered helping my maternal grandma in her kopitiam. Selling beer or stout was regular. I found out then that there was this stout that they called "Ohr Kao" (Black Dog), which was popular with the tough looking guys. Interestingly, if I took the bottle caps and put in a bowl of warm water, the Alsatian on the cap came off. It was a sticker. Beneath it, if my memory holds, was the Guiness Harp (?) drawing. There were also similar bottles with the bulldog. For some reasons, the men preferred this warm. No ice!

Drinking beer or stout in the local coffeeshops seemed to be isolated in the old days. Many of the older folks would take them with a plate of duck necks, wings and legs, and even the "bishop's nose" (as they called). Nothing like chewing on these bony parts of the duck and downing with beer or stout.

In the past couple of years (or more?), with the aggressive promotion of the beer and stout companies, with the promotion girls (from young ones to aunties), going to the neighbourhood coffeeshops, the number of people drinking beer and stout in the coffeeshops seem to be more visible, and in certain places, very visible!

Walking into the hawker centre in Chinatown in the afternoon and evening is like walking into a hive of many bees. Given the built of the place that was designed more for "eat and go", the low hum of the place with the old folks drinking and chatting, with their mugs filled almost as instantly by the beer girls serving the different coffee stalls turned bar, it was a vibration not for everyone. But for the drinkers, they did not seem to notice it. Almost every table in the general eating area would have a pail or two of ice to keep the beer cool. No more ice for beer? Apparently not. Beer of many kinds could be seen. Some relatively unknown. I could not help that if more people were drinking, could we overtake the Germans in per-capita consumption of beer. Unlikely, but this was a big evolution in Singapore, given what I am exposed to.

First there were men drinking. Now I see the occasional tables with women joining in. Even those selling and serving (are there free lance servers?) have to be good drinkers as they would be offered a mug or two. Reminded me of the time when I was in China where in the private dining rooms, the girl serving the meals would also have to be good drinkers. The host would get them to do the toast to encourage the guests to down their drinks. Not beer but more of the fiery Bai Jiu category.

I missed the corner coffeeshop at Sago Lane from which I could get a bottle of Weiss Bier and walk over to the Wurstelstand (Sausage Stand) to enjoy a Bratwurst or two. Beer drinking has also changed over time, from the typical Lager to more exciting imports from Japan (I remember I liked the Asahi Super Dry) to the German Weiss Bier. Oktoberfest has also arrived in Singapore.

Would it be retro and hip to offer a mug of Beer on the Rocks? Anyone?