Now here is the real baba culture and not soup up melodrama of "little nyonya" And theater is the venue where this culture is transmitted One organization that does this is Gunong sayang association of Singapore
Normally still using the baba malay patois
Gunong Sayang Association have us asking 'Lu Siapa?', 'Who Are You?'
This year's production starring Jessie Cheang as the loving and attentive matriarch Bibik Tan Swee Neo, Lu Siapa? (Who are you?) touches on the rising trend of dementia, as an outcome of our rapidly aging population in Singapore. It tells a bittersweet tale of Bibik Tan Swee Neo’s struggle with dementia and how her family responds to this domestic predicament.
Entering GSA's clubhouse at Joo Chiat Place, I received a warm welcome, and it was like stepping back in time into a living museum. Singing and laughter from upstairs and phrases in Baba Malay drifted down. Before going upstairs to watch in on a rehearsal, I was invited to the [marble-topped] table, and enjoyed finding out more about GSA and its members and activities from Frederick Soh, Vice President. Following our conversation and later visit with the members of the theatrical cast, it is obvious to me that GSA is more than an association to its members, it is a family. And in contrast to the play's title that asks 'Lu Siapa?', there is no doubt that GSA provides its members with a very real sense of who they are.
Nya Veronica Tan Lyann, playwright of Lu Siapa? gathers her inspiration from her personal journey living with elderly parents. She writes the story based on her first- hand experience in taking care of the elderly and sick, and the challenges that her family had faced. She spent an extended amount of time with friends and elderly who had dementia and paid heed to common symptoms and conflicts encountered.
GSA hope that Lu Siapa? will create awareness of the challenges that the illness brings to both patients and caregivers. This subject is of great importance to GSA as Peranakans value family bonds as a significant foundation of its culture.
Nuwa interview with GSA Vice President Frederick Soh (abreviated to FS below).
Nuwa: The GSA was founded to promote singing of dondang sayang and the social interaction surrounding that. Can you explain for those not familiar what this style of singing is?
FS: Dondang Sayang is a Traditional artform of singing where 2 parties will sing in 4 liner pantuns to the tune of dondang sayang , it’s a kind of banter between 2 parties on a specified topic be it love , the universe, the birthday boy,etc…
Nuwa: Does the association still promote this style of singing? If so, has it changed over the past 100 years and how? Why do you think it important to change/remain the same?
FS: Yes, the association still sings it but due to the lack of native Baba Malay speakers, those that perform these artforms usually memorise the words.
Nuwa: The forthcoming play ‘Lu Siapa? Who are you?’ produced and presented by GSA explores how a Peranakan household will respond to the fall of their matriarch who has early stage dementia. Can you tell us how you chose the topic and how this relates to GSA’s mission?
FS: The Script writer Veronica Tan Lyann and GSA committee felt that this year we wanted to address the issue of ageing population in Singapore and also the different illness that afflict them. We also know that many of those that came to watch our shows annually have also been affected by it [dementia], as such, we want to show how roads paved with good intentions can sometimes add to the challenging reality of caregiving.
Nuwa: Can you tell us a little more about the production of the play? Do you do everything in- house e.g. stage direction, scripts, lighting & sound, costumes and props?
FS: All those involved in the cast and helpers are all volunteers and members of GSA, however there are some professionals that we need to engage such as the lighting, sound, set designing…
Nuwa: Are you looking to expand or recruit new members from the professional art community? If so, are you looking for any particular skills artistic or otherwise e.g. musical, theatre, arts and crafts, volunteers...?
FS: We are recruiting members that have a passion for the Peranakan culture, once you have a passion for this culture, the rest will fall into place.
Nuwa: ‘Lu Siapa?’ is performed in Baba Malay with english subtitles. Do new members of GSA need to speak Baba Malay to participate in arts activities?
FS: Not at all, Like I mentioned earlier, as long as they are willing to learn, we are more than happy to impart.
Nuwa: In addition to theatre and singing, what other activities do you run that are open to members/ the public?
FS: We have embroidery class, Cherki card game class, 3D agar agar making class, Kueh making class, Mari Kita chakap Baba Class, even handbag beading class,etc….., its open to the public but members have discount.
Nuwa: And...please tell us what is your favourite peranakan dish? And can you cook it?
FS: My Favourite have got to be Itek Sioh, and yes I can cook it well.
Nuwa interview with cast member Jessie Cheang (shown centre left above and abbreviated to 'JC' below) playing lead and matriarch Bibik Tan Swee Neo.
Nuwa: Please can you share what it was about playing the role of Matriarch Bibik Tan Swee Neo that interest you most?
JC: I always have a passion for acting because I get to be someone else and with this year’s role, I used to be a nurse and have seen how Dementia patients react to different scenarios, acting as a Dementia patient gave me a better understanding of how these people felt.
Nuwa: How do you think the peranakan ‘setting’ for the storyline helps the play connect with audiences?
JC: Even though this play is in a Peranakan setting, it connects with the audience at all levels even if they are not Peranakan because everyone knows someone with Dementia.
Nuwa: From your point of view, is it important the play be performed in Baba Malay? Why?
JC: Personally, I feel that having the play in Baba Malay makes it nostalgic for the Peranakan audience at large, many of the audience will tell us that they miss listening this Baba Malay that were spoken by their grandmother, mother etc…
Nuwa: Lu Siapa addresses an important but sometimes taboo topic ‘dementia’. Have the cast and crew found talking about dementia has become easier having participated in this production? Or has it impacted you in another way?
JC: Dementia is a condition where diagnosis can only be made by the close observation of the love ones and there is no cure for it, Having been involved in this play makes all of us know the importance appreciating and telling your love ones you love them because there may just be a time when they wont know it even when you tell them.
Nuwa: Please share with us your favourite Peranakan dish? And can you cook it?
JC: Ayam Buah Keluak and I can cook as well.
Well Done Hendrik_ 2000. You are well versed in Chinese as well a Peranakan Cultures.