My grandma’s stories: Hungry ghost festival, part two [PICS]

(This is part two of the eighth installment of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eight part I of this series)

A live getai, literally translated as a singing stage, performance

“Many ghosts that come out of Hades during the Hungry Ghost Festival are hungry and miserable spirits roaming the streets for food. Misfortunes might befall upon you should you bump into the fierce and hungry ones. The way around it is to burn more money and prepare food for them in hope they will leave you alone,” grandma explained.

The Hungry Ghost Festival or yu lan festival, held during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, has gradually evolved from the past to today in Singapore and Malaysia as culturally interesting events.

One of the highlights would have to be the free entertainment that could be found almost everywhere around the island every day of the week for the seventh month.

If you have yet to read the first part to this post, click here. [Scroll below for photo slideshow]

Show it to your ghostly buddies
The loud and garish side of the Hungry Ghost Festival are seen particularly at open-air performances held to entertain the ‘ghostly buddies.’

Think performers with colorful, shimmery and flamboyant costumes singing and prancing away to tawdry Chinese dialect songs on stage with glaring disco lights half-blinding your vision under an outdoor tent.

A performer dances and sings on stage live in an outlandish costume

This is getai, a free, live public performance that aims to entertain both the dead, where first row seats are always exclusively reserved for the invisible VIPs, and the alive today.

Back in the 70s, getais were much simpler affairs according to my mum, who used to love watching them with her sister, for they were the few entertainment available.

“People performed in more languages such as Malay and various Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Teochew (Chiu Chow). Unlike today, they only converse in Mandarin or Fujian,” my mum explained. “There was of course no fancy lighting and stage setups back then.”

Audiences from all walks of life enjoying free, public getai performances

For Ah Ma, it was Chinese opera that kept her entertained through the seventh month festivities.

“Most of the time, I would have to stand and watch the whole show till my legs ache,” grandma said. “The few hardworking folks will bring along a stool with them to sit on, but I’m just too lazy.”

Chinese operas, together with puppet shows, are now seen as a dying traditional trade, practiced by few and watched by even fewer.

Below are some pictures taken by me when I went for a getai performance last week. It sure was loud and uncouth at times but the energy of the performers were incredible!

You can catch up on previous posts below:
The eighth [part one] is about grandma’s Hungry Ghost Festival experiences.
The seventh part is about Ah Ma’s children.
The sixth part is about Ah Ma being a child bride.
The half-way post is an update about the difficulties I faced when writing this series
The fifth part is about Ah Ma’s job after war
The fourth part is about daily life during the Japanese occupation.
The third part is about the early years of the Japanese occupation.
The second part is about Ah Ma’s family.
The first part is about Ah Ma’s early childhood.
The introduction gives some background information about “My grandma’s stories”

2 thoughts on “My grandma’s stories: Hungry ghost festival, part two [PICS]

    1. Hahaha, I literally laughed out loud when I read your comment because I share the exact same sentiments that you do! Loud garish music blaring with blinding lights in your eyes are not my cup of tea neither

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