Sunday, August 26, 2007

Getai 2007

This is the Chinese Hungry Ghost Month again. It falls on the 7th Lunar Month. During this month, devotees of this belief offer prayers, food and entertainment to the hungry ghosts who are released this one month a year to our world.
The entertainment for the ghosts used to be traditional Chinese opera. These come with thick gawdy face makeup, wayang costumes and erhu, drums and gongs. They are usually in Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese (southern Chinese dialects). However, over the years, such wayangs got less popular and now staged concerts (getai) almost took over the entertainment circuit for the Hungry Ghost month.
Apart from the ghosts, these getais are popular among the common people, the HDB heartlanders in Singapore and the working class.
I managed to find one at the Serangoon Road area, near Kitchener Road. It is situated in a charming corner of the commune. Isn't these town houses lovely? The architecture embraces European colonial columns and architraves, wooden slated windows with green tinted glasses, Portuguese wall tiles and Chinese wall motifs.

This is the entrance to the getai site. The devotees have put up tents for the stage, the dinner and the auction.

These are their celestial saints and deities in heaven.

This are the items that they auction during the dinner.

It is usually a noisy affair. Especially when they compete with the music coming from the stage. :)

These are worker dormitories in the construction site next to the getai. These workers come mainly from China.

These front seats are for the hungry ghosts. There is a packet symbolic of their presence placed on each chair. You are not supposed to sit there. Those behind are human beings. They are construction workers from China.

They fill up the chairs before dusk. Most of them are Chinese from mainland China. It is good that they get to have such entertainment amid their hard life in the construction site. It reminds me of my CO Evening when I was in the army. During CO Evening, we likewise had entertainment from the Music and Drama Company.

I took a seat right behind these workers, where I took this pix.

Then, next to me, I noticed three seats with silk covers immaculately arranged, complete with Guinness Stout, cigarettes and cakes. These seats are for the ghosts in the high pecking order. I guess the ordinary ghosts are not supposed to sit here either.


There is a devotee who will come around to light up the cigarettes for these 'seniors' every time their cigarettes burned out.

Notice that each chair is pasted with a yellow paper talisman. These talismans are prepared by mediums when they go on a trance.

Then at the left side, I notice a small crowd forming around a yellow bicycle. The crowd seemed amused with this old fella here. He has made himself to be the unofficial sound man at the getai. With his improvised bicycle, he managed to put a high microphone to connect to his little compact cassette tape recorder.

Look how earnest he was!

He must have a really old bike as it still has its bicycle registration plate. Bicycle registration was abolished in Singapore probably 30 years ago!

Now, the show must go on...

The sun has set and the stage is glittering and ready...


The show started with the famous MC in Singapore getai and Karen Lim, the most popular female getai artiste in Singapore. May be even JB and Batam. :)


Karen appeared in the recent Royston Tan's movie "881" which is musical based on getais.

She is a great entertainer with a wonderful voice... ok... and a great body! That helps! :)

She sang songs out from the movie "881". You can find those songs at the end of this posts.

.This gentleman is the most popular male singer in the getai circuit. He sings mainly Hokkien songs. Later he managed a Mandarin song for the mainland Chinese audience who are mostly from North China and would not understand Hokkien, which is a southern dialect.

. This lady is another singing veteran. She sings in Teochew - a funny song about the number of stars in the sky and what happens to her family when there were 1 star, 2 stars, 3 stars,...etc.


When my mother sang that to me when I was a kid, I fell asleep before we reached 3 stars...

As we leave the getai, we noticed this contrast between the old and new. Traditional operas have almost exited the 7th month scene. Getais are the ones that draws the crowds, and may be the ghosts too. However, these are great draws amongst the common folks and the less educated in the Singapore. Commentaries and jokes uttered in getais are usually rough, bordering on profanity and mostly in Hokkien - the street language.


Youngsters now are getting better educated. Most of them now no longer speak dialects and are probably more comfortable with American Idol and Youtube. Perhaps getai will one day have to go through its own transformation. Already the better funded ones have background dancers and acrobatics as the singer literally flies in from the stage roof. The one here already uses a lot more light than those I saw when I was a kid. There is also use of lasers and disco flickers.


In the near future, they may have to continue to innovate and use newer entertainment technologies. May be there will be fireworks, pyrotechnics, more electronic music, more techno beats, holographic displays, large LCD screens for those in the far end from the stage, or even simulcasts on Youtube. I wonder if this was how New York Broadway and London Westend entertainment started.

I enjoyed the evening very much. First it was such a nostalgia listening to all those old Hokkien songs complete with cha-cha beats and gaudy kitch. It reminded me of childhood, when we mingled under the stage trying to poke the singers feet through the gaps between the floor boards. And the little 'tikam tikam' (lottery) stalls underneath the stage.

But most of all, I love it because it is so truly local. While the jokes and songs can be vulgar, they are all unpretentious and well meaning just to have a good night's entertainment with the ghosts.

If you are in Singapore and haven't visited a getai, you ought to do so now. It is true blue Singaporean entertainment. I have ever been to one where I was even served food and beer. And it is all FREE!!! Elsewhere in the world, there would have been a riot! :) In England, you would see many drunk!!!

For the highly educated high brows, perhaps this would be a time for a reality check at the getais and learn to love people as they are. Besides, if you can truly understand these folks, you can be sure to win the election!

As we walk out from the getai premises, we slowly transit to Little India. Isn't it amazing? One minute true blue (or rather, gawdy red) Chinese kitch getai, a few minutes down the road, it feels like being in India with the Sunday Indian crowd.

At Little India, we went for a delicious dosai supper. Yum!

It was a splendid evening!

This is from the movie "881". I think Royston Tan has done an amazing job to lift the standard of getai and make them popular among the young. Well done!

For getai schedules in Singapore in 2007, click here


andi said...

The special special chairs should be for "Tua Di Sa Ya-Pek".

Big, 2nd and 4rd "Uncle". The guardian gods of the ghosts.

jupilier said...

Thanks for the enlightening information, but I think you made a mistake in the English translation, which should have been "Big, 2nd and 3rd Uncle. The guardian gods of the ghosts."

Beau Lotus said...

Never used to have to go very far for the getais. They were everywhere in the HDB estates. I especially looked forward to the ngoh hiang stuff they usually sold near the stage - but that was before the govt tightened even further illegal food hawking.

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