Friday, November 9, 2012

Pilgrimage to Kusu Island

Each year, during the ninth Chinese lunar month, devotees from Singapore and the neighbouring countries, from Malaysia to the Riau Islands, flocked to this tiny island, known as Kusu Island. In the fifties, it was a tiny island with waters washing up to the temple. Today, the island is a little bigger and travel to this island is in very comfortable ferries, unlike the sampans and bumboats of yesteryears.

In the past decades, Siong Leng has been visiting Kusu Island in each 9th month of the year. From a small group of members travelling in the small bumboats, the number has grown that include devotees who like nanyin and now, many heritage enthusiasts who want to soak in the atmosphere of what a kampong temple with devotees and music is like.

So, on the evening of 3 Nov 12, which is the 20th of the 9th Lunar month, in two ferries, more than a hundred people went to Kusu Island. As in the past years, the Siong Leng members and supporters/friends joined the group in chanting a Buddhist mantra to Tua Pek Kong and the resident Deities in this Kusu Island Tua Pek Kong temple.

There after, while some went on to the nearby Keramat up the hill to offer their respects, the others settled down to have a simple but delicious packed vegetarian meal of beehoon or rice. Green bean soup, coffee and tea were prepared and offered by the temple. Each find his or her own corner to enjoy dinner while chatting with friends or fellow members of this trip.

For some first timers, it was an opening to a new world, as they explored the temple.

Soon, it was time for the performance dedicated to Tua Pek Kong. Members of Siong Leng took up their instruments and performed. There were music and there were songs. It was a very informal evening where there were no costumes. So, each performer could be in jeans or very casual air. And members of the trip gathered, some sitting on the steps, watching the performance with Tua Pek Kong. Some grabbed any available chair to sit and watch, akin to the old days when people BYO (bring your own) chairs to the operas. Some preferred to sit further away just listening.

All too soon, with the continuous performance for about an hour, it was time to return to the waiting ferries. The devotees paid their respects to Tua Pek Kong one more time, each in his or her own way, and made their way to the ferry.

In the cool evening, under a threatening sky, with a light breeze, the participants bade farewell to Kusu Island. Many will return with Siong Leng the next year, about the same time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Multisensory Nanyin Banquet III

Each year, in celebration of Lang Jun Tan (festival in honour of Lang Jun, patron saint of Nanyin), Siong Leng organises a dinner and performance show. It is also a fund raising event to raise funds for Siong Leng's activities. This year, it is also special with a tribute to the late Mr. Teng Mah Seng who has contributed much to Siong Leng to push it to what is it today.

Each year comes with a new theme - although the name might seem to be the same - with new programmes. This year, the event is held at Changi Beach Club. Given the big space, the programme took on a bigger dimension.

Guests were treated to a Drum performance at one corner of the Club premise. They could view from the restaurants through the glass windows. And just as the drums, beautifully choreographed in steps with the beat, beat on a retreat, the drums inside the restaurant rose as if in continuation bringing the distant sounds nearer. The audience, especially, the kids, were enthralled and excited, swinging their heads from one side to the other to catch the sounds.

And if one was to expect that it was the end of the excitement, a more subtle awaits. In the distance, the sound of Nanyin appeared, amplified to the restaurant. A procession had started with members of Siong Leng walking around the path, that skirted the Club's seawater pool, in a very traditional way complete with playing of the music, and carrying the ritual paraphernalia that is part of the tradition carried out for centuries. The procession walked all the way to the main stage of the restaurant where the ritual was conducted. For those who went to the Sacred Music performances in the Esplanade, you would have seen a similar one.

In between meals, the guests were treated to more performances. One specially arranged performance was the video slide presentation on the late Mr. Teng Mah Seng - including some video clips of his speech - with the young members of Siong Leng playing Nanyin in accompaniment.

This evening was a milestone to show that Mr. Teng Mah Seng's dream and foresight has been achieved in that a young group of Nanyin performers has come of age. Through the interests of these young people, guided by the elders in Siong Leng and trained by Nanyin veterans in Fujian, China, their achievements could be seen and heard on this evening. The Lao-Shi (teacher) and the young members were presented to the guests who are ardent supporter and Nanyin enthusiats. An ancient tradition since the Han-Tang Dynasty in China, it had moved from the upper part of China to Fujian where it grew its roots in Quanzhou, and from there, spread to Nanyang and the rest of the world. These young people represent that hope of continuity into the next millennium in Singapore.

Appreciations must be accorded to the guests and supporters who helped made this event a success and to the organisations who helped Siong Leng in many ways as it continues its journey. And to the members of Siong Leng, kudos, for you make it happen!