Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Great World Returns: the Movie and our fading memories - by Peter Chan

Kelvin Tong has his 2011 “It’s A Great Great World” film to tell the story of a multitude of characters who lived, worked, played, sang, danced and fell in love in Great World Amusement Park. But long before that movie came along, my cousins and I made our playground at the Great World Amusement Park; each of us had different childhood experiences.

Photo 1: Cut! Cut! Cut!

Before television transmission was introduced into Singapore in 1963, I listened to stories from mother and grandmother over dinner. If that was not enough, I did my fair share of Yam Sengs at Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant because of uncles’ weddings and grandparents’ birthday functions. By the time I was in primary school, I saw my first English movies at the Sky and Globe. I think it was Werewolf! Even at the tender age of 6 months, I did my first nude pose and it was also in Great World. Don’t believe? Check this out! I am curious why a male and not a female firstborn have to do this.

Photo 2: Great World’s Lye Ying Photo Studio has a well-known embossed watermark.

Dolly my vivacious cousin remembers, “It was the era of “Worlds” then: Happy World, Gay World, Beauty World, New World and of course my Great World. I used to boast that Great World was my turf and was I proud about it. Mum would bring me there in the evenings and then I disappeared the rest of the evening running wild all over the place and returned to the shop late in the night.

Photo 3: Give that look Dolly!

There was one night I really forgot about the time. Well, I was too young to be wearing a watch and I only knew when shops started putting up their wooden shutters - single wooden planks that you place next to each other one by one along tracks on the floor and ceiling. With crumbled dress, ribbons that untied, dishevelled hair, I reached mum’s shop which like all the other shops, was already closed for the night and there was mum standing outside the shop, her eyes “shooting fire” and in her hand was the CANE!”

Well her mum sounded like a very fierce person but to me Yee Kuchea (二姑姐) was a darling.

Yee Kuchea was a very enterprising woman and before we hear of SPRING Singapore she started her first SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) business at the Great World. She believed in the maxim, “Make what I can sell. Not sell what I can make". I remembered the shop was across Flamingo Nightclub, beside Atlantic City Cinema and the kopi char poh. On some nights I saw pretty girls dressed in frocks and cheongsams from the Flamingo with matured guys. Much later in life I learnt the guys were Kai Yeh (godfather). Whilst Dolly recalled hearing this 1961 tune from a record shop on the same row of her mum’s shop, I heard something like this from inside the Flamingo.

Photo 4: Flamingo’s “Taxi Girls”. They can do the Cha Cha, Mambo and Rock n Roll for the price of $1. The girls were Chinese, Eurasians and sometimes Javanese girls and they stayed in shared accommodation at Bo Bo Tan Garden, Melody Mansion and Pacific Mansion (c 1960).

When my parents brought me to Yee Kuchea’s shop, I was fascinated by the wide assortment of things she sold - ladies handbags, sometimes a ballerina/couple figurine dancing inside a musical box, ladies accessories/clothes, children clothes and toys. She had glass display cabinet to house her goods but some lady dresses were displayed on legless plastic-type mannequins.

Because I was curious I peeped under the mannequins and wondered why they didn’t have legs or why the dresses spread out like an open umbrella – later I learned the meaning of “Can-can”. Do you know why they call it “Can-can”? One time, I eyed a toy gun, Yee Kuchea said OK but my mum felt I Har Kuchea (Har – meaning bully or take advantage of). Many decades later I asked an elderly Yee Kuchea why she showered me with toys way even before I stepped into primary school, she replied Lay Chee Mah, Kuchea Sek Tay Lay Loong (translation: You know, your kuchea sayang you till you toasted/burnt). I am indeed deeply honoured and should be very thankful of having such a kind-hearted auntie.

Photo 5: Yee Kuchea’s first shop Hoi Cheong (c 1950).


** Last Instalment: Great World: From the Director’s Chair.
** Note: Italic words have to be pronounced the Cantonese way.

18 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

I noticed that in your baby photo, you wore metal bangles around the ankles. In those days, parents liked to make children where these things. In our kampong, the kids usually wore bangles with tiny 'bells' or chimes - don't know exact name - which make noises when the kid runs around. Maybe Peter coming from rich family could afford expensive bangles.

Andrew said...

Nice article! Knew Peter would be at the set. Pity they took it down, was told.

Lam Chun See said...

Folks. In case you did not know. Peter was interviewed on one of the documentaries promoting the movie It's a Great Great World. There were 2 such documentaries. I am referring to the one aired on 27 Jan on Channel 8; hosted by Chen Shu Chen. The other was on Channel U.

Andy Young* said...

KONG HEE FATT CHOY

Pat said...

Peter: "Even at the tender age of 6 months, I did my first nude pose and it was also in Great World. Don’t believe? Check this out! I am curious why a male and not a female firstborn have to do this."

On X'mas day last year, an American-Chinese friend with a Korean husband & a new baby girl remarked, "Asian families seem to enjoy taking nude photos of baby boys ... as if they are trying to show off that they have a boy !" (There was no mention as to whether these nude male infants are firstborn or otherwise.) She went on to conclude that "it must be an Asian thing" -- ie. those of North-eastern Asian ethnic origin (eg. Chinese/Korean/Japanese/similar) who are living in Asia. Apparently, the American-Chinese in USA do not have such a tradition.

If her explanation is correct, then I suppose there must be nude portraits that are more gender-explicit than the coy version shown by Peter !

See Chun commented: "kids usually wore bangles with tiny 'bells' or chimes"

Baby anklets ? (ie. ankle bracelets). Which brings up the curious question: Are non-Asian *babies* made to wear these ? If not, do NE Asian babies run about a lot more, or do NE Asian parents have a greater tendency to lose their kids ?

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Zen said...

It was quite common for aunty (older generation) to love her pet nephew or niece so much that she treated he or she as though her own children. Should she came to know that her favourite kid being caned by the actual parents - hell would break loose and score must be settled immediately, such was the intensity! This practice also applied to grandparents.

Thimbuktu said...

Zen is correct in earlier times. The Chinese traditional culture practice during the time when Peter was born, special favorite treatment was bias to carry on the surname of sons..."重男轻女".

Nowadays, times has changed. Sons and daughters are equally treated as long as every child respect their parents, relatives and family with filial piety, regardless sons or daughters!

peter said...

As I write I am slowly re-discovering some Chinese traditions especially Cantonese customs about filiapiety and carrying on the family surname.

For example, have you heard about this practice at a Chinese burial ceremony when the a cockerel is thrown into the air and the male descendents who have to catch the cockerel? What's the implications?

BTW I also learnt that why so many folks speak dialects in those days of the 1950s/60s, not because it was cool

I think for the sake of the younger generation and those interested in Singapore politics, Mandarin (speaking-wise, attending a Chinese school where Mandarin was the main language) was considered Communist. The People's Republic of China under Mao gained independence in 1949 and gathered much influence in Singapore by then.

Student protest like the one in 1954 when 7 Chinese Middle School was detained by the Colonial government. The students were defended by a QC named Pritt and a young lawyer called Lee Kuan Yew.

Anonymous said...

It is quite an irony in present Singapore that on one hand the government is vigorously promoting speaking mandarin with no stone left unturned, and on the other hand actively encouraging chinese clans to flourish and expand, especially catering to the needs of chinese nationals (going to be prs or citizens). The big question is how are clan members going to communicate with one another- speaking mandarin or in their own dialect or both?

herbal tea said...

In our kampong, the kids usually wore bangles with tiny 'bells' or chimes - don't know exact name - which make noises when the kid runs around. Maybe Peter coming from rich family could afford expensive bangles

appointment setting said...

The big question is how are clan members going to communicate with one another- speaking mandarin or in their own dialect.

wedding photographers bristol said...

I made sure to bookmark your website so I can come back later. I enjoyed every moment of reading it

anthony morrison said...

It can be promoting speaking mandarin with no stone left unturned, and on the other hand actively encouraging chinese clans to flourish and expand.

blurbpoint said...

I made sure to bookmark your website so I can come back later. I enjoyed every moment of reading it

virility ex said...

expand, especially catering to the needs of chinese nationals (going to be prs or citizens). The big question is how are clan members going to communicate with one another- speaking mandarin or in their own dialect or both?

dreambox hd said...

it is a movie that traces back to the time when the amusement park Great World was considered. The Great Spirit guards a World Tree.

satellite dish said...

Zen is correct in the past. The practice of traditional Chinese culture during the time when Peter was born, the preferred treatment especially prone to bear the surname of the children. I share this blog with my family and the friends.