So there I was trying to make my way through the hawker centre to my HDB flat and I went bang up against a sea of red. Red table cloths. On what looked like 100 tables or so which were laid out on any open space you can find in the neighbourhood centre. There were many empty tables with cutlery at the ready and plastic bowls and saucers. Pink serviettes were neatly folded into glass cups.
Some tables were half filled. Men and women of differing ages who looked like they had come straight from their shop, stall or whatever business they had in the neighbourhood sat around. I recognised a few of them. The woman fruit seller and another who ran a provision shop. We nodded at each other in recognition. I felt very out of place in my dress and heels. Everybody, whether seated or standing, were so casually dressed. Some men, I believe, traded up for a collared tee-shirt but in the main, it was a round-necked tee-shirt and bermuda crowd. Some tables had a Carlsberg bottle holding fort, which must, I believe, be the pre-dinner aperitif for some people.
I stared at the half dozen or so pig heads which stood on a table that took pride of place on that assembly area. Dark brown. Braised? Roasted? I don’t know. I tried to enter a passageway to cut through a car-park to my HDB block and this time, found myself bang up against a kitchen. The cold dish(es) were all lined up and I wondered if they will be warm when they were finally served. Because it seems that the tables were NOT empty. The patrons were all in another part of the assembly seated on plastic chairs enjoying the getai.
I decided that I, too, should enjoy the show and found myself wedged in the back with people with all manner of personal mobility devices. I wondered if they too were accidental spectators or had made their way for the show. Friday, I said to myself. Nothing to do. No work tomorrow.
A skinny silver-clad young female was prancing on stage in her silver-coloured boots. She was belting out, I think, a Hokkien song. The crowd looked on – passively. It looked like they were doing an assessment of the show. Or they didn’t have enough Carlsberg in the system. I asked myself how the silver young thing knew Hokkien so well, and whether the audience knew what she was singing. So many years of the Speak Mandarin campaign, and it is still dialect which connects the Chinese heartlanders…
Song over, she carried on in a mix of Hokkien and Mandarin to address the audience, giggling about the “boy band” (in English) she had as her backup. Evidently a joke because the drummer, guitarist and organists have probably eaten a lot more salt than she has rice. The crowd remained stony-faced. Not enough beer, I thought to myself again.
Then the emcee came on. A big guy in a chilli-red blazer withe most incredible curry-puff hair fringe I’ve ever seen. The fringe stood straight up and I thought I could make out every strand of hair from where I was standing – or maybe there was just too much gel. He too, spoke in a mix of Hokkien, Mandarin and, I think, Teochew. He was introducing someone known as a ”princess”, which of course, got me pretty excited given how much of a fan I am of Chinese period dramas. Another skinny, silver-clad young female emerged, but this one also had a silver crown. Out came another song in a dialect I can’t recognise – or maybe her pronunciation was bad. The crowd was getting thicker. I thought to myself that these people had already had their dinner at home and had come out to see what the fuss was about.
Were there non-Chinese there? Yup, but not many. I don’t remember seeing Muslims or a Muslim table but a few tables had some non-Chinese – more likely Indian – men sitting there. I thought I would see plates, fork and spoon – but no, the table setting was just like the rest. I asked myself if there were dietary arrangements made for them – or maybe no need…
I spied a few non-Chinese in the standing audience. One sari-clad lady had brought her own chair and made herself comfortable. Some of the wheel-chair bound had their domestic help with them. But non-Chinese were far and few in between.
As I write this, the getai is still going on. I can hear them through my bedroom window and am bracing myself for the auction that has yet to come. Or maybe that segment was what I heard last night? Do they do it twice?
I thought about Crazy Rich Asians, which I must admit upfront I have not read nor viewed. But I don’t think it includes this scene of the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations, which isn’t quite in the class of the crazy, rich. If it was included, it might have been viewed as an attempt at injecting some Asian exotica. But it is probably more representative of the majority of Chinese Singaporeans than those who crowd Marina Bay Sands. Not crazy, not rich (maybe mediocre). But more real.