Nanyin @ Thian Hock Keng
As usual, crowds began arriving ahead of time while staff prepared the venue. The audience profile has been developing and showed an interesting mix of people attending the performance. There were senior citizens, young professionals, tourists, expatriates, as well as others armed with cameras and video recorders. A team of journalists from the Chinese paper was also there to cover the event.
Siong Leng performed in front of the main door facing the central hall. On the anniversary of the Guan yin, one of the “must have” piece is the Ode to Guan Yin. The rest of the pieces performed were selected from the works of Mr. Ding Ma Cheng, 丁马成.
One of the most touching piece of the night was “Old Man from China”, 唐山阿伯 presented by three male artistes. “Old Man from China”, 唐山阿伯 sang the story of Chinese migrants who came to Singapore and their lives in the new land.
This piece is especially touching as the MC related it to the migrant’s experiences and the historical background. It told the story of Chinese migrants who came to Singapore and because of subsequent political development (Sino Japanese War, Cold War, Communism), they were unable to return to China.
Whenever they became homesick, they gathered to listen to Nanyin as if the melody brought them back to their home village, helping them to overcome the sorrow of homesickness and dealing with the reality of permanent separation with love ones in China.
Siong Leng’s performance of “Old man from China” is highly symbolic as Thian Hock Keng was the first place Hokkien migrants visit upon their arrival to Singapore. They thanked Mazu, the Sea Goddess, 妈祖， for her blessings and for the safe journey. From there, they venture out to start their new life in Singapore hoping, dreaming, and waiting to make enough money to return to China.
Many of the migrants, especially those who left in the 1940s, would not have expected that the farewell in China was a final farewell. Many of them never got to see their love ones again.
The place, the melody, and the historical context seem to have fused into an experience for audience to hear， to relate to the sad, helpless feelings of homesickness and appreciate the melody that acted as a relief even for a moment.
Mr. Ding Ma Cheng’s pieces and Siong Leng’s performance at Thian Hock Keng is one of the ways to preserve social memories of many unknown individuals who contributed to Singapore’s success but whose own personal stories remain unrecorded.