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.