Saturday, September 08, 2007


Singapore is a multi-cultural society as everyone knows. I sampled a part of it last night; this culture is particular to the Singaporean Chinese. The end of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar is upon us now but the entire month had festivities to honor and “entertain” the dead. Did you read that right? Of course you did. During the 7th month, it is known by the Chinese that the gates of Hades (or hell) are thrown open to the dead and they come down to the land of the living. They are known as the hungry ghosts. I’d be hungry too, if they had me locked up in hell for a year. So, the month is known as “hungry ghost’s month”. This festival is also big in Hong Kong and Taiwan except that in Singapore it has a twist.

(Getai-sound stage before performance)

During this month it is common to see Chinese origin people burning joss sticks, incense and conducting prayers for the returning dead. In order to provide entertainment to the returning dead, Singaporeans went one step further and organized singing concerts on stage. This is known as a Getai (sound stage) performance. Such performances are held throughout the island and this has become quite big in recent years. The Getai singers dress up in pretty skimpy outfits (yup you read that right as well) and perform for the hungry ghosts. I’d be hungry too if I returned to such entertainment, indeed. A live band accompanies the singers/performers. The front row has candles lit on them and no one is allowed to sit there, no mortals I mean. They are meant for the returning dead!

(Front row of seats with the lights-not for mortals!)

The songs are all in Chinese and such events throughout the month also attract overseas singers/performers from Taiwan. This year’s biggest local movie hit in Singapore has been the movie called “881”. In Mandarin, 881 sounds like Papaya (Pa Pa Yaw). The movie is based on the Getai culture of Singapore, all the songs in the movie are in original Hokkien and the movie runs with English sub-titles. The two main protagonists in the movie are called as the Papaya sisters and they are challenged by the Durian sisters in a Getai duel! Yours truly went to see the movie and then went on to see live Getai performances shown (in the photos) in this blog piece. For those who don’t understand the language, that’s OK, the melodies sound haunting (literally) and I loved the performances.

(click on pictures for bigger format-getai performers)

I would have liked to see more participation from other cultures in Singapore, just to learn, appreciate and integrate. It’s all in good fun. However, to my dismay, I was the only “Indian” in the movie hall and also in the crowd at the live performance. The next big event is the mid-autumn festival that is going on now, also Chinese origin culture where paper lamps of various hues and designs are lit all over Singapore. This is also the best time to tuck into very local “moon cakes” made from lotus seeds and consumed during the mid-autumn festival. All this talk of food, I’m hungry already lah, got to reach for that moon cake. Ta till next time.


Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Oh yes, I have heard of that festival. Although not in such detail. Sounds spooky, looks like Halloween came early. Thanks for educating me.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks Lakshmi, for your comment. Yesterday was the last day of the hungry ghost month and people were out everywhere lighting up joss sticks and burning prayer papers in drums. Smoke and soot filled the air. There were offerings of Mandarin Oranges and I saw this all over the place, frenzied activity I'd say. Regarding the festival month, it is not really spooky, I guess I made it sound like that! It's all about entertaining the masses (especially those we cannot see-our guests from Hades!) with live singing and sometimes elaborate costumes and dancing! No one dresses up to scare others, like they do on Halloween.

A festival update, Malay Singaporeans are going to start their fasting month of Ramadan. In Malaysia and SIngapore it is called "Hari Raya Puasa". Interesting name, something that surprised me years ago when I first heard the name and thought it had something to do with Hindus! The day of Ramzan (as it is called in India) is called Hari Raya Aid Ul Fitri over here and Malaysia. Arab Street and the ancient Sultan's Mosque area will be decorated with lights and pavement sellers of food and goodies will line up during evenings.

As mentioned, the mid-autumn chinese festival is going on in full swing. China town in Singapore is wearing a festive look with lots of chinese lanterns and they have also re-created the wonders of the world in paper lanterns (and these are huge). For a week starting this weekend, they'll have lanterns lining up the Singapore river and a lantern dragon sputing water into the river as well. Pretty interesting stuff.

By the way, Deepavali is also very big here but unlike India, one cannot burst crackers and fire rockets at will, the Little India district wears a festive look with all roads lit up beautifully. But that's in November.

Madhukar - VU2MUD said...

Hari Raya Puasa

Almost sounds like Upavaasa - could be a mutated word?

Keep it going Capt.


Capt. Anup Murthy said...

We wondered about it too Madhukar. I could not see the relationship between Ramadan/Ramzan and Hari Raya but thats exactly what it is called in this neck of the woods! Puasa certainly means fasting though, so it's Sanskrit origin is unmistakable. There are many references to this, here's a wikipedia link for the festival and origin of the name:

Michael said...

I found in a previous post information on converting foreign pilot licenses to Indian ones. The website given seemed to apply mainly to commercial pilots. Do you know where I could find information on converting a private pilot license? Thanks.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

In fact the website given before is of the Indian DGCA (Directorate general Civil Aviation) and it does not have info only for Commercial licenses. If you look up the licensing link on their website you can go down to the link (related rules) you will see that the AIC there says "Conversion of foreign licenses to corresponding Indian licenses". That pretty much says it all and it means that the foreign license that a person holds, can be converted to a corresponding Indian one. So, a private pilot license holder from elsewhere can convert to a PPL in India. In case you missed the link, here is the particular page for reference:

Hungry Ghost movie in Singapore! said...

Thought you might be interested in my movie: A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS. Playing in Singapore cinemas, August 2008. ... Thanks!