August 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm
The second day of the festival started out a little bit more toned down compared to the first day. I guess it is always good to start something with a bang. Ever since I saw the brochure, one of the major events that I felt I had to catch was the Teochew puppet show performance. I have never had the chance to see such a show, one of the disadvantages of growing up in a big city. Cultural themed performances like the Chinese opera that is usually performed during the Chinese 7th month or even puppet shows like this are a rarity in the city. As this particular performance is scheduled to happen throughout the whole three days of the festival, I decided to schedule the visit to the second day.
Today, most of the events revolve around the history of Georgetown in a form of public talks. These talks are free to the public and to avoid disappointment, members of the public are encouraged to register themselves earlier at the Penang Heritage Trust located along Church Street. For some reason, most of the talks were scheduled to start only in the evening, that is from 7.00 pm onwards. There was a talk on the Japanese occupation of Penang during the World War II and another on Dr. Sun Yat Sen during his time in Penang, where he planned the Canton Uprising in Guangzhou, China. The other two talks touched on the subject of Straits born people – the Jawi Peranakan and Straits Muslim’s culinary heritage and the history of the Baba Nyonya. While two of the talks were held at the Town Hall along Jalan Padang Kota Lama, the other two were held elsewhere.
Other than the public talks, there was also an Indian dance and musical performance later that night. It was held at the junction of Penang and Chulia Street, not far from an enclave known as Little India. There were other events going on as well, like the Heritage Celebration at Acheen Street and the Penang Teochew Association Exhibition. I, on the other hand, was biding my time and conserving both me and the camera’s batteries for that night’s shows. For those of you who have never heard of a Teochew puppet show (like yours truly here…), do allow me to briefly explain what is it all about. The puppet show utilises painted wooden puppets that looks somewhat like the paper effigies that the Chinese burn for the loved ones in the netherworld. These wooden puppets are dressed in elaborate costumes, similar to the performers in a Chinese opera show. A metal rod is attached to the back to allow the puppeteer to manipulate it from the back. Two smaller rods attached to the puppet’s hands allows the puppeteer to make the puppet more interesting by introducing hand gestures while it is acting.
The puppet show that I managed to catch during the festival saw four main people managing the works backstage, with one or two additional hands to help with the minor stuff, like placing props during the performance or preparing the other dolls. Two were playing the musical instruments for the show, another two sitting backstage manipulating the puppets. The young man that was playing the music also provided the voice for the male puppet whereas one of the lead female performer provided the voice for the other female puppet. The show is run by a family of puppeteers called the Kim Giak Low Choon Puppet Show. They are famous throughout Penang and can often be seen performing during the Chinese Lunar seventh month around town. This troupe originated from China and later migrated to Malaysia.
As one of the ladies was putting on make-up for the two kids who will be performing later, I noticed two other ladies sitting quietly at the far side of the stage, busy putting on thick make-up. From the colours and layers of the make-up, I noticed that it was most probably the make-up used for an opera show. While the finished results may look simple but striking, the process of getting that look is an elaborate one. The whole process from the start to the end can easily take up to 45 minutes to get it up. Nevertheless, it is an interesting watch to see them get into character before the show.
As the time drew near to the start of the show, many people gathered around and made themselves comfortable. While most people preferred sitting at a table to enjoy the performance, I chose to sit on the floor and directly in front of the stage with a few other kids, which in my opinion, are always the best seats in the house. The show started soon enough, with a female puppet making its appearance on that tiny stage enveloped in a cloud of mist. I later learned that she is a ghost (the biggest clue was when the male puppet came on stage and later shivered in fright, calling out ‘Ghost!’ ‘Ghost!’ in Teochew). There was an LED board on the stage, with the dialogue in Chinese characters for those who do not understand the Teochew language. Since I did not understand both the language and the words, I just enjoyed the show as it was, with all its music and antics from the puppets. After the show, it was time for the two youngest member of the troupe to strut their stuff. I must say they were really good, given their age and all. But then again, if one have been doing this since they were young, I would say that it has already become like second nature for them to perform opera shows in front of big crowds.
As much as I wanted to stay to watch the whole thing, I decided to head back towards Little India to catch the Indian cultural performance there. At the end of Chulia Street, I could see the Kapitan Kling Mosque all lighted up for the festival. I passed by the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, where there was a group of dancers and musicians all dressed up in their dance costumes. There were a few guys who dressed as a horse and two girls who had peacock feathers attached to their costumes. When the music started (there was also a band of traditional Indian music performers), the whole entourage started to dance and walk along the busy streets. They stopped at the stage where they later demonstrated a few Indian folk dances, like the one which is known as the ‘Stick Dance’ and the ‘Peacock Dance’. There was also a Sitar and Tabla recital as well as other Hindi dances performed later that night.
It was well after 10.00 pm before I started making my way back to my nice and fully air-conditioned room, where I could take a well-deserved shower and rest my poor aching feet. Two days of the festival down and just one more to go…