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. (^^)

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