Friday, August 03, 2012

Lee Dai Soh tells a story

Some were amazed that Lee Dai Soh of Rediffusion Cantonese Storytelling fame was going to tell a story. Well, it was only a recording of his storytelling. To those who have heard his stories before, it was like a journey back home in time. To those not old enough to have heard him, it was probably curiosity. In either case, a number flocked to Kwong Wai Siew Li Si She Shut (Lee Clan Association) over the two weekends (21 & 22, and 28 & 29 July 2012) at 3pm to check it out.

Lee Dai Soh, a name he coined himself, was a member of the Li Shi She Shut. His photo hung on the wall of this association was probably better known to his fans and their children and grandchildren. And hence the most appropriate place to listen to his stories. What better place too as this Association has its old world charm with the beautiful old chairs to sit on. We sat by the long table, which was and is still probably being used for the Association's meetings, enjoying Chinese tea with great Cantonese pastries (like the famous Tan-Tart - egg tart - from Tong Heng, one of the heritage shops still standing in Singapore's Chinatown), and listened to the story.

ack: Li Si She Shut

For those of us who have heard his stories before, it was like listening to an old friend again. It was like yesterday, for many. It was like a scene repeated from days gone by, be it the tenants of the house squatting or sitting together to listen to the small Rediffusion box or the men drinking coffee in the local kopi tiam (coffee shop). It was delightful to see how each had his or her own ways of listening to the verbal descriptions and imagining them. Closing one's eyes would be the most probable case although some would be staring blankly into the space.

Where there were different people turning up for each sessions, there were some die-hards who were there on every of the four occasions. In the beginning of each session, the President of the Association, Mr. James Lee, would welcome the visitors in Cantonese and explain a little about the Association. At the end of the Storytelling, when the other participants came for the URA Clan Association Heritage Walk, he would explain in Mandarin the history of the Association.

Listening to the tales told by Lee Dai Soh, in his own style with humour and invitation to his audience to feed back to him, I discovered that much of what was shared in the storytelling was about the history, legends and folk beliefs of China. It is through such stories that our folks of the old days, many of whom were illiterate, learnt and shared with their grandchildren. Do you know why in the Southern Lion Dance, there was that guy with a mask of a monk and a fan? Listen to Lee Dai Soh's story on "Drangon Dance, Lion Dance" (this was told on 28 Jul 12).

It was an interesting four days of storytelling that I attended faithfully, although my comprehension was at best 40%. But it was like a refreshing revision as I suddenly could recall some of the Cantonese words long embedded somewhere in my skull. A friend was so excited listening to the stores, akin like a dehydrated fish finding water. Suddenly one program in her brain was activated and her Cantonese came rushing out.

Many asked if they could buy a CD of Lee Dai Soh's stories. Alas, they could not be found. I hope that there could be some way of making the stories available, be it in CDs or downloadable MP3 so that we could play for our grandparents who might get to listen to them again. It would not be a great business proposition but perhaps, a great heritage initiative. It might be great if Cantonese associations and even Community Centres organise (as they had done in the past) such Storytelling sessions in one of their Audio rooms for the senior citizens. Some local or even foreign storytellers could also be invited to drop by to tell. It could be a fringe or part of the heritage festivals or even Storytelling festivals!

Kudos to Kwong Wai Siew Li Si She Shut, National Heritage Board and URA for the great initiative and collaborations to make this possible for us to experience. Looking forward to repeats with more stories.

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