Saturday, February 7, 2009

cashing in on generosity during the chinese new year

when we lived in the kampong, i did not recall seeing any lion dance troupe - at least, not in the earlier years - performing during the lunar new year. it was later, in the 70s, that the lion dance made its appearance in our kampong. even then, its performances were restricted to the few provision shops in the kampong. the lion dance was more to help business to prosper.

however, there were other enterprising groups - usually small troupe of between two and five members - who would go from door to door to collect ang pows from the kampong folks after staging a short performance.

each small troupe would comprise a laba/suona (chinese trumpet) player, a cymbal (xiao bo)player and one or two singers of teochew opera songs. sometimes the cymbal player doubled up as the singer. some troupes even had a er hu player. it was always teochew opera style of singing, not hokkien or any other dialect group.

in the kampong, unlike the housing development board (hdb) housing estates of today, all doors were left open and so the performers would just announce their presence by playing the musical instruments and breaking into singing just at the threshold of your house. sometimes they did not even wait to be invited into the house.

after a hasty performance, usually lasting less than 5 minutes, they would move on to the next house but not before collecting their ang pow. there was no fixed amount; the amount was somewhat dependent on the number of performers. a $2 red packet was quite acceptable in those days.

most of the time or practically all the time, we - the children - did not know what the singing was all about. i supposed it was some auspicious words or some blessings for the household. i also wondered if my mother - the one who gave them the ang pow - understood what was sung. the performance - singing with accompaniment - invariably ended when the ang pow was handed over.

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