Saturday, January 19, 2008

One Scoop of Porridge

In the early sixties, when television was not yet widely available because of the high cost of owning a tv set as well as the short transmission hours, our main form of news and entertainment was the radio. Unlike my friend Victor who lived in town, we did not have rediffusion in our kampong. Our favourite programme was the wuxia (Chinese pugilistic) stories told by the late story-teller Lee Dai Soh. But did you know that besides such stories, we also had radio dramas. These were usually in Cantonese and broadcast in the afternoon at around 2 pm, whilst Lee Dai Soh’s programme came on at around 6 pm. My siblings and followed these mini-series faithfully.

It’s been a quarter century, and of course I am not able to remember most of the stories that we heard, but a few titles remain fresh in my mind. The first one goes by the title of Yat Sat Chook (pronounced in Cantonese) or “一失足“。 This is actually derived from the Chinese idiom, 一失足成千古恨,回头已是百年身。Roughly this says that one wrong step can lead to a life time of regret. The reason why I could remember this title was because we gave it a nickname of our own. At the start of the programme, there was this announcer who read out the title in a solemn drawl - Yat …Sat … Chook. We thought it was rather comical and promptly changed the title to Yat Putt Chook which, in Cantonese, says, one scoop of porridge.

There were some stories which were actually adaptations of famous English classics. I seem to recall that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was one of them. Do you know what was Jane Eyre in Chinese? It’s 简爱. I also vaguely recall that Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was another. It’s Chinese title was 魂归离恨天. Yet another one could be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But I have to admit that my memory could be playing tricks on me. It could be that I actually saw the Cantonese movies of these stories in the South Country Theatre in Kampong San Teng and got things mixed up. Anyway, I hope some of my older Cantonese readers like Zen or Frannxis can help me out.

But one title I am quite sure about was Lei Pik Wah (李碧华). Do you know what was the original title in English? It’s Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; which incidentally was a wonderful love story with a bit of mystery. My siblings and I enjoyed this story tremendously.

I think my love for reading English classics could be attributed in some way to these radio dramas. Anyway, I hope my young readers have gained a bit of knowledge of Singapore’s history today. I bet your history teachers never taught you this in school.

16 comments:

peter said...

Yah remember that modern Cantonese radio drama. I think it was on Radio Singapore and not Rediffusion. The man who spoke with many voices was a "Lam Tok Pan"? I think it was a 1/2 hour show which was ended with Mendelson's Meditation. I listenedto the radio drama as I took my lunch.

zen said...

Those literary stuff was not my cup of tea, but Lee Dah Soh's stories would entrance me even in my dreams. Apart of Lee's unique style of story telling which captivated old and young alike, keeping listeners glued to the radios for his one hour session was his specialty. Lee would change his tonation according to the gender of his story character, varied his pitch accordingly to the story-line as though he acted out each character in a movie. In the process he would inject chinese proverbs, sayings, quotations, illustrations, metaphors and the likes at regular interval, enabling his story presentation to reach its climax. The end result of each session would send his listeners into a spin, yearning for the next day continuation of the story serial. Undoubtedly he was a master cantonese story teller of his time.

peter said...

Now i recall, the signature tune for the Cantonese radio drama was "Gone With The Wind".

Victor said...

Chun See - How come your family could afford a TV but yet could not afford a Rediffusion set?

I remember our local radio used to announce share prices too. For example it would go "Seaview Hotel, 60cts to 59cts to 58cts" and so on. Oops, bad news for shareholders of that hotel. BTW that hotel is no longer there. A new condominium now stands in its place.

Also, do you remember that they used to announce horse racing results too? (I am not talking about 4D results here.) It would go something like "$4 for a win, $2 for a place" and so on. I didn't know what the heck that all meant (and still don't).

And all these "speculative activities" were broadcast on radio long before anyone even thought of coming up with the IRs (integrated resorts aka casinos).

peter said...

Yah remember the stock n share information came on the english radio channel around 6.45pm. Back then the share prices on London Stock Exchange were also quoted. Prices were quoted in ",ixed numbers", "up 1/3 pence" or "down "1/8 pence". I like the horse results from Turf Club because the horses got strange names like "Luck Strike", "Hard to Beat", "Forever Young". Sometimes the winning horse won by 1 furlong - how far is that I dont have an idea.

Why Chun See cannot afford Rediffusion? Victor, Rediffusion was operated on cable lines you forgot? Not all places in Singapore had cable lines.

fr said...

We didn't have a radio then, we only listened to Rediffusion. I don't recall those stories you mentioned. But I remember Lee Dai Sor's other stories like the historical Three Kingdom. I think I learnt a lot of Chinese history this way.

Another was a series of half-hour stories by only one person - Tang Kay Chan. He could speak in the voice of an old man, a kid, a girl, or any other person.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter is right. Rediffusion was not available to our kampong. In 1974 whne we moved to Farrer Road we subscribed to Rediffusion.

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry. Para 2 ... It's been more than 40 years, not quarter century.

katherine said...

I remember South Country Theatre as we lived in Jalan Girang off Braddell Road and often my maid would bring me for movies there after she had done her chores. Her friend would come along too. After the movie we had to walk pass a small path with cemeteries on both sides and we had to use torchlights. It was kind of eerie and we had to walk as fast as we could. South Country Theatre also know as Lam Kok was in Peck San Teng which is now Bishan.

Chun See, are you familiar with Jalan Girang in the 60's. The year I mentioned above is 1965 and I was 7. I remember there was a Chinese kampong nearby and also a rubber tannery behind our house. My maid, Poh Choo's (I still remember her name) family lived in the kampong and I would often spend my days playing at their farms. They also had a few fish ponds. Would be grateful if you could tell me the street name of that kampong.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Katherine. It's so nice to finally 'meet' someone who remembers Lam Kok. Unfortunately, I cannot recall any Jalan Girang. But I do remember that on the way back from my school (Braddell Rise School) towards Lorong Chuan, we would pass by a kampong on the left, just after Lam Kok. It would be roughly where the Bishan Flyover is today. There were a lot huge bamboo trees. Was that where you stayed?

Do you remember what Lam Kok Theatre was like? I want to make a sketch and explain to my readers what it looked like. At that time you can comment or add details.

katherine said...

Chun See - Sorry I don't remember what Lam Kok Theatre was like. I was only 7. I remember the cemeteries !

Jalan Girang is still there with the original houses but of course many of them were remodelled. We lived at No. 36. The houses there were built in 60's - semi-detached and terraces. At that time, it was only accessible by Lynnwood Grove off Braddell Road or Kampong Arang (or could it be Arang Road?) off Upp Serangoon 4th Mile. When we first moved there, my siblings and I had to walk a long way to the bus stop at Braddell Road to catch a bus to school. I attended Lee Kuo Chuan Pr School. Not long after that, we had a driver (Ahmad) to drive us to school.

I think the site where the Chinese kampong was is now Serangoon Ave 3. I only recall I had to walk a small path with lots of banana trees and also had to pass by some bungalow houses. Maybe that's Lorong Chuan. Anyway, I will brush this up with my older siblings when I visit Singapore for Chinese New Year next month. Hopefully, I will get it straightened up.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

The kampong might have been along Bukit Arang road, around where Yangzheng Primary school and Zhonghua Secondary (Serangoon Ave 3) are today. Bukit Arang Road used to be a dirt track which led eventually out to Upper Serangoon Rd. I grew up along Jln Girang too, but about ten years later.

Chun See has put up a photo I took of what I think is the remains of the rubber factory, http://goodmorningyesterday.blogspot.com/2007/08/from-my-inbox-12-august-rubber-factory.html

algae said...

Moved to Bishan North 17 years ago and wanted to know if where I stayed sits on former cemetery land. I went to URA (Urban Renewal Authority) office at Maxwell to check.

They still have old maps dated 1958 for public viewing. I don't think they show names of kampong or cinema. Where can I find a more comprehensive map of that era?

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Algae. I am sorry, I don't know the answer to your question. Personaaly, I would guess No. Because, from my kampong house in Lorong Kinchir, near Lorong Chuan, there was a dirt track that led all the way to Thomson Road, near the present Peirce Sec School area. I have cycled this road a couple of times and described one trip here. It passes over mainly kampong farmland and rubber plantations. I think Bishan North would be within the vicinity of this road I passed througn.

pinto said...

Hi algae,

Not sure if this will help but I have a high-res photo of a post-World War II map of the Bishan area.

Hope that is of some help.

pinto said...

If I remember correctly, the U-shaped symbols represent cemetary ground. The cemetary paths are indicated by the wiggly dashed lines, near Ang Mo Kio III on the map. This is roughly where Bishan East stands today.