The last of Singapore's Chinese puppet performers

The last of Singapore's Chinese puppet performers

The elderly members of Sin Hoe Ping, one of the last Chinese puppet troupes in Singapore, belong to a fading tradition.


Singapore - It is 1.30pm on a rainy, humid December afternoon and the Sin Hoe Ping puppet troupe is busy making sure that everything is in place before they perform for Da Er Ye Bo, the two Taoist gods of the underworld.
It is the first feast day at the shentan or shrine festival for these deities, and the troupe wants the celebrations to begin smoothly.
Knowing that they will be singing for two hours without a break, the grey-haired puppeteers are clad in loose, comfortable clothing and slippers.
Two life-sized figures of Da Yi Er Bo glower at them from behind, macabre guardians of a dark curtained area where a spirit medium will be offering consultations to devotees in the evening. The medium, along with the getai singers whose traditional performance dates back to the era of the Japanese occupation, will be the star of the event.
But the members of Sin Hoe Ping don't mind being out of the limelight. As they begin to sing a high-pitched, mournful sounding song while manoeuvring the puppet characters around the makeshift stage, Yeo Lye Hoe, the 67-year-old troupe leader, shuffles off to an open area outside the tent where the festival is taking place. The only people in the audience are a little boy in a uniform, presumably on his way home from school, and his grandfather.
Yeo puffs away at a cigarette. "I'm going to do this for as long as I can," he says gruffly. "After all, if I don't, who will?"

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