Lamenting the slide of the Roman Republic into an imperial dictatorship, First Century poet Juvenal wryly noted that if the people were given bread and circuses, they would never revolt. The People’s Action Party (PAP) government has clearly taken this observation to heart.
S$1.5 billion is on its way to 2.4 million adult Singaporeans, under the Grow and Share Package. This is being conveniently distributed at the start of the election campaign. And now, it’s getai time.
(click image for the entire scanned article)
Getai is the term Singaporeans use for community entertainment held in public spaces. The program includes much singing interspersed with a few comedy routines. Sometimes, the evening starts with a dinner and local community leaders are encouraged to sponsor whole tables. It is descended from the Chinese tradition of street operas normally held during the Seventh Lunar Month. Chinese tradition has it that during that month, the spirits of the departed return to earth; to keep them distracted from causing havoc, village communities would put up street operas every night through the month.
Today’s getais are still mostly performed during the Seventh Month, though it has lost a lot of its religious significance.
A translation of the 26 April 2011 story in Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao is given below. It speaks of an unprecedented number of getai shows in the off-season period of April and May. What is also unusual, if you read carefully, is that unlike Seventh Month getai which are usually organised by local Taoist temples or local business associations, these are being organised by Citizens’ Consultative Committees and Community Development Councils.
Citizens’ Consultative Committees are “grassroots” extensions of the People’s Association, itself a supposedly non-political arm of the People’s Action Party. The groups may call themselves “grassroots” but they are more top-down initiatives than bottom-up, descended from the Leninist organisational plan that drills down to local communes via party cells. The PAP is a Leninist organisation in many ways.
Community Development Councils are administrative bodies led by regional mayors (all of whom are PAP members of parliament) doing things like “helping the needy” and “bonding the people”, i.e. quasi-social services, as distinct from Town Councils that focus on municipal, sanitation and maintenance services.
The article also points out how costly these April and May getais are, involving as they do, foreign artistes. Where do the Citizens Consultative Committees and Community Development Councils get all this money? From the People’s Association? From the government? Could readers help me do some investigation?
Another thing very unusual about these off-season getais is that cabinet ministers and incumbent members of parliament are invited to participate, and doubtless readers will see that they are thinly veiled election events.
It’s a convenient way to “bond” with residents just in time for the general election. And what’s more, the whole shebang doesn’t count within the electoral expenses limit of S$3.50 per elector — as prescribed in the Third Schedule of the Parliamentary Elections Act.
There’s a rather piscerean odour to the whole thing, isn’t there?
Below is a translation of Zaobao’s story, with thanks to Russell Heng:
26 April 2011, page13
April-May getai business particularly brisk this year
Many interviewed getai-owners said that in comparison with business in the past several years, the two months of this year has been especially busy with some of them having bookings for 15 shows which is twice or thrice their usual business. Two nights ago Foreign Minister George Yeo, and the advisors to Aljunied GRC, made an appearance on stage at the Kaki Bukit “Song and Dance Takes Flight 511”, a cultural and entertainment event, to sing songs such as 要拼才会赢 (To Win You Must Strive). The photo is on his facebook.
Report by Gu Gonglei
The usual 7th Lunar Month Hungry Ghost Festival busy period for getai has arrived early. Bright neon lights, lively songs and hot dances have turned April into getai heaven.
During interviews, many getai owners revealed that compared to April and May in years past when the average getai troupe would be booked for four to five shows, the two months of this year has been especially busy. Some getai owners has bookings for 15 shows. Some will be doing at least 10 shows in the fortnight ahead. This means business has increased one to two fold when compared to similar periods in the past.
Yishun Citizens Consultative Committee plans 8,000-strong getai for Monday
In the fortnight ahead, some getai owners have to stage at least 10 shows throughout the island. Well-known getai organizer Chen Zhiwei has invited famous foreign artistes for a grand show on the evening of 2 May near the Yishun MRT station which is expected to draw a crowd of 8,000.
Getai owners pointed to a difference between the April getai and those staged during the 7th Lunar month. For some communities, local residents not only watch as audience but can get on stage to sing along with the artistes. For some they could sit round a table and enjoy a sumptious dinner as they watch the show.
Last Saturday, at a dinner in the Pasir Ris Elias Road neighbourhood park organized by North East Community Development Council (CDC) to mark its ComCare programme, the entertainment on stage was organized entirely by Chen Zhiwei, the founder of Lixing Entertainment Production Company. As senior citizens in the area sat down to enjoy dinner, they were entertained by artistes such as Chen Jianbin.
That CDC intends to spend $1.1 million in the next two years to help the elderly poor living in the area. Northeast CDC Chairman Teo Ser Luck said in an interview that inviting artistes to sing a few songs would help to liven things up.
Chen Zhiwei said since Qingming Festival, he had been organizing getai non-stop. In the month leading up to Mother’s Day on 8 May, he has to present 15 shows which is two to three times the four or five shows he would do within a similar period in other years.
Last weekend, Coffeekid Qixian performed at at least two getai shows in Aljunied, Hougang and Sengkang West. In the coming weekend, he has to perform in places such as Jurong, Ulu Pandan and Kovan.
Last Saturday, Qixian did a show in Yew Tee’s Stagmont Park, attracting 300 to 400 residents and there were some who joined him on stage to sing.
According to the area’s grassroots advisor Ren Ziming, Yew Tee grassroots organization would organize a variety show every few months to provide entertainment in various neighbourhoods and foster interaction among residents.
The evening before last, Foreign Minister Geroge Yeo and Aljunied GRC Advisors Tan Hwee Hua, Cynthia Phua, Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Ong Ye Kung went on stage together at Kaki Bukit’s “Song and Dance Take Flight 511” variety show to sing three songs: 要拼才会赢(To Win You Must Strive), 月亮代表我的心 (The Moon Represents My Heart) and 朋友 (Friends). Yeo displayed photos of the event on his facebook.
In an interview, Cynthia Phua said that as Mother’s Day approaches, grassroots organizations would usually put on celebration events such as getai which would entertain the elderly residents.
According to people in the getai business, ever since the films 881 and 12 Lotus, getai followings have risen to a new height and to experience so many shows even before the 7th lunar month is a first in history.
According to what Lianhe Zaobao understands, Yishun Citizens Consultative Committee will be staging a grand getai next Monday (2 May) in the huge playing field behind the Yishun MRT station. It is expected to attract up to 8,000 people.
This show which is possibly the largest in the next two weeks is a key event in Yishun Cultural Month. Organized by Chen Zhiwei, the two comperes are Qixian and Lin Ruping.
Besides that, Chen Zhiwei has also invited Weng Liyou, the original singer of “I Ask The Heavens”, the theme song from the Taiwanese TV serial “Love”. Other foreign artistes invited are Xie Weina, the runner up in Indonesia’s Global Hokkien Song Singing Competition and Malaysia’s Getai Championship winner Yes Group. A least 6,000 residents are expected at this show.
According to what is known, a getai organizer will charge $4,000 to $5,000 for an ordinary show but the show that Yishun intends to present with its galaxy of foreign artistes will cost $40,000 to $50,000.