Keeping Chinese Opera alive in Thailand
Interest in Chinese opera has waned, but for this travelling troupe in Thailand, the show must go on...
With Chinese New Year kicking off next week, the nomadic Lau San Chia Soon troupe from Thailand, who pitch their stage wherever they are invited, are expecting a particularly busy few days.
But this eye-catching form of musical theatre is struggling as younger generations of Thais look for entertainment elsewhere.
The performers want desperately to reverse this trend.
"The history of Chinese opera is getting forgotten and is vanishing as new generations don't really know much about it," 25-year-old Natnicha Saeung, who began performing with this troupe at the age of 13, told AFP at a recent performance in Nakhon Pathom, a province to the west of Bangkok.
Her fellow artist, Mr Chukiat Thippan, 23, agreed.
"There are not many people watching Chinese operas now," he told AFP behind a hastily erected temporary stage.
"Some of the older Thai-Chinese people passed away and the new generations don't really continue the tradition."
About 14 per cent of the Thai population is ethnic Chinese, following centuries of immigration and assimilation.
Many more have Chinese roots among their forebears.
But the number of Thais of Chinese descent who understand the Teochew dialect used by this group of singers is dwindling.
There was a time when nomadic Chinese opera troupes like this were a common feature of the Thai landscape, travelling from village to village and bringing the entertaining sights and sounds of a tradition that dates back centuries.
Mr Mangkorn Supongpan, 62, whose parents founded Lau San Chia Soon, said there are now fewer than 20 mobile groups like his travelling across Thailand.
He admitted that it is hard to attract people to the lifestyle. Performers bring up their children, eat and sleep beneath the stage and every few days, they pack it and all their belongings up to move to a new venue.
"It's a hard life because we barely go back home. We perform all year long, non-stop," he said.
And few will see riches.
The average monthly wage for a performer is between 10,000 baht and 20,000 baht (S$390 to S$790), depending on his or her role.
Most communities that invite opera troupes to perform do it more as a way to honour ancestors than to entertain the masses.
But some of the largely elderly crowd who watched the performance that night hoped that younger generations might be inspired to give Chinese opera a try.
"People now stay home and watch TV," said Mr Prasit Puthiprapa, a sprightly 81-year-old.
"But watching Chinese opera is like watching movies and soap operas, it's good fun especially when you pay attention to it," he added, somewhat admonishingly.
At the start of the show, shortly after dusk, dozens sit on plastic chairs watching the drama unfold.
But by the time it wraps up around midnight, just a solitary audience member and a street dog remain.
The troupe aren't bothered though. By morning, the stage will be gone and they'll be off to the next village.
US town in uproar over shooting of stray dogs
An order of fish, please?
Woman charged over $17K stealing spree at ION
A Vietnamese woman was charged on Thursday with four counts of committing theft with common intention.
Dang Bich Thao and four other accomplices - Nguyen Quoc Hung, Hoang Dinh Cong, Nguyen Thi Luong and Dinh Ngoc Luan - are accused of stealing from three clothing shops at ION Orchard on Jan 27 and Jan 28.
The group had allegedly targeted fashion outlets like Zara, Pull and Bear and H&M, looting items said to be worth more than $17,500.
On Jan 27, Dang, 25, and the group allegedly stole 28 items from Zara comprising printed tops, T-shirts, pants, dresses and a jacket with a total value of around $2,000.
On the same day, H&M was also hit.
More than 200 clothing items worth around $9,900 were allegedly stolen from the shop by the group.
The list of stolen items included tube tops, dresses, blouses, denim skirts, bags and knitted sweaters.
It appeared that only female clothing, which cost between $19.90 and $79.90, were stolen from H&M.
Under the law, Dang can be jailed for up to seven years and fined if found guilty.
Mr Unbelievable preps baby for first CNY
These local celebs share how they will be spending Chinese New Year and their hopes for the Year of the Monkey
'BAI NIAN' WITH BABY ON BOARD
For the first-time dad, the few days before Chinese New Year have been spent instructing his eight-month-old son Genghis on how to greet his relatives.
The 52-year-old actor said: "We teach him how to say 'gong xi, gong xi', but he is still very young and 'blur', so he doesn't know a thing. We have been teaching him to clap his hands, too."
Chen said that he and his 30-year-old China-born wife will wake up slightly earlier than usual this year to prepare porridge for their baby so that they can pack it and take it with them while visiting.
"I've been taking my son out in the past few months, so I don't think it will be any different this time round," said Chen.
"We just need to have his milk powder and his porridge so that he won't go hungry."
The new father has also set aside a few sets of new Chinese New Year-themed clothes for Genghis, saying: "I bought mostly onesies as he's very scared of the heat and can't wear long pants."
Chen, who has been in showbiz for three decades, enjoyed a second wind in his career last April after he sang and starred in two hilarious music videos, Unbelievable and Sandcastle In My Heart, which went viral.
He said that his relatives and friends often ask him to sing Unbelievable whenever they see him and he is certain it will happen this Chinese New Year.
However, he has declined all requests, saying: "There's no music, how to sing? Most of the time, I won't sing."
But for fans who miss Unbelievable, Chen can be seen wearing yet another over-the-top wig and retro outfit in a new cheesy music video Happy Together, for a new Channel 8 series, Don't Worry Be Healthy, which starts on Feb 16 and will air every Tuesday at 8pm.
In the clip, which has attracted more than 218,000 views on Facebook, he performs a Chinese song with his co-stars from the show such as Chew Chor Meng and Carrie Wong.
The lyrics are about exercising and staying healthy.
For the new year, Chen, whose Chinese zodiac animal is the Rabbit, has just two simple wishes.
"I just want my son to be healthy and for me to take on more jobs. I have heard that it's going to be good for those born in the Year of the Rabbit and I certainly hope so."
Chinese New Year is one of her favourite festivals.
And giving red packets to her relatives and the younger ones is one of her favourite activities.
Ng, who is in her 40s and has been married for six years to a man known only as Mr Yang, said: "I feel happier after I got married, I can give out hongbao. It's such a blessing to (do so) as it makes other people and myself happy."
For Chinese New Year, the actress and host will change her curtains, tidy up her home and buy new clothes.
She said: "I am superstitious like that, everything has to be new, even my underwear."
On the first day of Chinese New Year, Ng will visit her in-laws with her husband and play mahjong with them.
"I always end up losing money," she said with a laugh.
"But it's okay as long as everyone is happy."
For the Year of the Monkey, Ng wants to achieve a better work-life balance.
She said: "I want to have more work and earn more money, but I also want to have time to stay at home and cook."
She said she has been making simple dishes and soups at home and that her culinary skills have improved.
"My husband has been packing some of my meals to take to his friends' gatherings. He praised me for my skills," she said proudly.
"I like cooking a lot. In the new year, I hope to have the chance to host cooking shows."
Fang is always thrilled to return to Shanghai for Chinese New Year.
That's because the China-born actor will get to visit his 88-year-old grandmother, whom he is extremely close to.
Fang, 26, who will be there from Feb 8 to 11, said: "In China, Chinese New Year is a very big thing... and they have huge celebrations. I wish I could have more days to celebrate it in my hometown."
In 2016, Fang wants to get more acting gigs and work even harder.
He is busy filming Channel 8 blockbuster The Dream Job and will be busy until April. Fang said that he will take on a role in another blockbuster drama right after that.
However, even though the jobs are coming in, he does not want to let it go to his head.
He said: "This industry is very unpredictable, there is no formula set in stone. I can be getting many jobs today, but I can lose it all tomorrow...
"I have really worked very hard and I will strive to be the best version of myself."
MONKEY (BABY) BUSINESS
The 37-year-old actress is very clear about what she wants in the Year of the Monkey.
"Hopefully, I'll have a little cute, healthy, bubbly, jumpy Monkey baby," she said with a smile. "Every year I say the same thing (about babies)."
Chan has been married to former actor Alan Tern, 39, for eight years.
"We really hope God will give us a baby. Plans for kids started way back, even since eight years ago. We're letting nature take its course, so we'll see what happens."
This year, Chan also plans to eat healthily, on gluten-free and low-GI (glycemic index) foods - which means no pigging out on pineapple tarts and the like.
"I realised I feel more energetic with less sugar and carbs," she said, adding she will not be tempted by the New Year goodies.
"Being such a determined person, I'm going to stick to my regimen for a while," Chan said.
"It's not for slimming, but for overall health. I think the essence of a happy life is keeping things simple."
Hopefully I'll have a little cute, healthy, bubbly, jumpy Monkey baby... Every year I say the same thing (about babies).
- Actress Priscelia Chan, 37, who has been married to former actor Alan Tern, 39, for eight years
A YEAR OF ADVENTURE
While the rest of us enjoy gobbling Chinese New Year goodies, the actor is not tempted by snacks like bak kwa and prawn rolls.
"My family is not really into Chinese New Year and you get really heaty eating all those New Year goodies," said Lim, 43.
He is married to former actress-host Evelyn Tan and they have four children aged between three and 11.
"It's a lot of hassle running around visiting and it tires me out completely," said Lim.
"Eve and I don't really enjoy it and even our children are not that excited. They don't really care about hongbao and all that."
The Lims live on a three-room Lagoon 400S2 catamaran, but will not host any boat parties this festive season.
"We love hosting at other times of the year, but everyone is really busy during Chinese New Year anyway.
"Besides visiting family, like my grandma and Eve's and my parents, we will be at home, hiding," he said with a chuckle.
The Lims plan to set sail for Phuket for an unspecified duration after the festive season.
The voyage will be a test run for a bigger trip to Okinawa, Japan, later this year.
"The plan is to go to Japan eventually. It's still a dream at the moment," said Lim.
"Hopefully we'll have safe travels, good weather and a year of experiences and adventures."
After the clean-up: Gloomy life for former hoarders
Woman whose family of hoarders got help with a clean-up has lost three family members in two years
Since her family made news in February last year for their excessive hoarding, Madam Wee Joo Choo's home has been cleaned up.
But despite the brightened home, life has been gloomy.
In the past 12 months, she has had to cope with losing her husband and mother-in-law. The previous year, her son died from cancer.
Madam Wee, 56, and her family made headlines when their 18th-storey flat at Block 222, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh underwent a major clean-up initiated by their Potong Pasir MP, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin.(See report below.)
THE NEW PAPER, FEB 4, 2015
Madam Wee, her husband Tan Teck Ho and their youngest son had been living with Madam Wee's 91-year-old mother-in-law who was the owner of the four-room flat.
Since the major clean-up, Madam Wee claimed they have changed their ways and no longer hoard or fill their home with trash.
When The New Paper asked to visit the family's two flats, which were previously packed with stuff, she declined.
A neighbour on the 18th floor, who did not want to be named, said: "Ever since that incident, it has been all right.
"They no longer cause problems with their hoarding. It is better now."
But tough times plague the family.
Mr Tan, 65, who was the main breadwinner, died on Monday evening.
He was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital last Saturday morning after experiencing breathing difficulties.
Madam Wee said he later fell into a coma and had to be hooked up to a breathing tube.
Their eldest son, who was 35, died from cancer in 2014.
Madam Wee's mother-in-law died last August from old age.
Speaking to TNP at her husband's wake at the void deck of their block on Thursday, Madam Wee said: "He was a caring husband. He took good care of us but didn't take good care of himself."
Mr Tan was retrenched from his job at the airport last December after working there for more than 35 years.
For Madam Wee and her remaining two sons, the future is uncertain.
"I can't bear the thought of not seeing (my husband) any more. I don't know what we will do," said Madam Wee, distraught and in tears.
"Why is my life so hard? I've lost so many people."
Madam Wee is unable to work because she has heart problems.
Her second son, 35, works in sales.
Her youngest son, Mr Tan Wei Sien, is a final-year student at the Institute of Technical Education.
The 21-year-old, who will be enlisting next year, said he has to be more responsible now.
"I will take care of my mother now that my father is not around."