When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, wayang stages were a common sight in Singapore. We called them hee-tai in Hokkien or hei-toi in Cantonese (戏台). They were usually located next to Chinese temples. For example, in my kampong at Lorong Kinchir, off Lorong Chuan, we too had one.
I guess what any Singaporean of my generation will remember most about wayangs are the sights and sounds of those festive occasions when opera shows were being staged. Usually, this would be during the Seventh Month in the Chinese calendar, or the Hungry Ghost Festival. Besides the fire crackers, there was the opera music. In our case, with the loud speakers blasting away, the operas could be heard clearly from our house which was situated about 200 to 300 metres away from the stage.
Of course during such occasions, there were lots of food and games stalls which were a delight to us kids. The one ‘stall’ that I remember well was the ice-cream stall with tikam-tikam. The tikam-tikam is actually a mini ‘wheel of fortune’. You have an arrow mounted on a board which is divided into a number of sectors. Some of them had hand-drawn pictures of the prizes that you can win. I cannot remember exactly how it functioned, but I believe that for every purchase of an ice-cream, you get to spin the arrow, giving you one chance to win these prizes.
The wayang stages were constructed of wood. For some of the bigger ones, the stilts were made of cement (see picture above – courtesy of National Archives of Singapore). When there were no operas, the empty stage provided a nice playground for the kids. We often played under the stage.
Besides the one in our kampong, I have also seen wayang stages at the nearby Plantation Avenue, Braddell Road, Potong Pasir and Kampong San Teng (Bishan).
The one at Plantation Avenue was near to where my sister-in-law (Chun Chew’s wife) lived. It was just a short distance off Lorong Chuan and looked very similar to the one in our kampong.
The one along Braddell Road is shown in the picture below (from the National Archives of Singapore). I used to pass by it daily on my way to school in Braddell Rise School. Today, it would be on the Toa Payoh side of Braddell Road between Kallang River and Toa Payoh North Flyover. At the time when Toa Payoh was being built, a lot of construction traffic entered Toa Payoh from here. Just across the road from this wayang stage were some shop houses. There was a small char kueh teow stall which sold wonderful fried kueh teow. In the evenings, my father often bought some back for us to enjoy. We used to call this place Lina Buay in Hokkien. I think my older brother Chun Chew (Zen) would be able to add more details.
Braddell Road today. The present location should be somewhere behind the bus stop on the left.
The ones at Potong Pasir and Kampong San Teng were for Cantonese operas because these two areas had mainly Cantonese residents. The Kampong San Teng one was very big because of the size of the temple there. My sister Pat, and her buddy Siew Tin were avid fans of Cantonese opera Their idol was a famous male singer by the name of Siew Chan Wan. I remember attending one such performance at Kampong San Teng with them. By the way, the temple was situated just next to the South Country Theatre which I blogged about here.
Besides these, I don’t remember any other wayang stages in Singapore until I joined the army for my National Service. During the early seventies, our army training was often held in rural areas like Hong Kah, Bukit Batok, Marsiling, Mandai and Tampines. During our topo training, we often passed by such temples and wayang stages.
I remember one occasion during my Section Leaders training when we had an exercise which was called either Fighting Patrol or Recce Patrol. We started after lunch from Safti (Pasir Laba) in Jurong towards Bukit Batok. Our RV (rendezvous point) was a wayang stage along what is now Bukit Batok East Avenue 2, near the junction with Old Jurong Road, just opposite the entrance of the Bukt Batok Nature Park. We had our dinner there and then made our way back to Safti. I recall that at that time, what troubled me most was not physical exhaustion, but an ache in my neck because of wearing the heavy steel helmet for such a long time.
After I left the kampong in1974, I lived in the Farrer Road and Bukit Timah Sixth Avenue. I remember three other wayang stages in that vicinity. The first was at Farrer Road. I will blog about it at a later date because I want to tell you more about this area where I lived for about 12 years. The other two were at Jalan Lim Tai See near Jalan Haji Alias and Beauty World.
I was quite surprised to see the one at Jalan Lim Tai See because it was located in a high class residential area surrounded by semi-detached houses and bungalows. In fact, it was just a stone’s throw from one of the most expensive areas in Singapore - Queen Astrid Park. My guess is that this area was probably a kampong before, and when they built the new houses, they kept the Chinese temple and the wayang stage. Today, the wayang stage is gone, but you can still see the Yun Shan Temple. And just one street away is a small mosque by the name of Masjid Al-Huda.
As for the wayang stage at Beauty World, it was situated along Jalan Seh Chuan. There is a huge Chinese temple there now, but the wayang stage is also gone of course.
And so that’s as much as I can recall about the hee-tai’s of the past. I hope my young readers have gained some knowledge about yet another of the many things that have disappeared from the Singapore landscape during the past few decades. I am sure some of the older readers will remember others in other parts of Singapore which I may not know about or recall.
Wayang at Pulau Ubin
Victor blogged about tikam-tikam here.
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