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Photo Essay: Chinese Opera, 九皇爺 Festival by Gary Wang

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival (Chinese: 九皇爺; pinyin: Jiǔhuángyé; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Káu-ông-iâ; Cantonese: Kow Wong Yeh) is a nine-day Taoist celebration beginning on the eve of 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which is observed primarily in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, and also the Riau Islands. More here.

Chinese opera (Chinese: 戏曲/戲曲; Pinyin: xìqǔ) is a popular form of drama and musical theatre in China with roots going back as far as the third century CE. There are numerous regional branches of Chinese opera, of which the Beijing opera (Jingju) is one of the most notable. More here.

I saw the stage being set up as I was on the way to work on the train in the morning, rushed down after work just to shoot all these! It was a rewarding experience! At first, I was afraid that the performers would be unfriendly to photographers but instead, when I asked if I could take some pictures, they invited me up the back stage to capture all these lovely moments.

This Chinese Opera Troupe is made up of a few old ladies. There were kind enough to allow me to shoot despite the busy movements in the backstage. The sweet old ladies even bought me ice cream as a treat as I was shooting & gave me plenty of sweets! Such awesome hospitality! I was shocked! I spoke to one of them, Chinese Opera is a dying art in modern Singapore, as the younger generation like myself are not keen on it as an art. They only earned SGD40 per day but there were no complains because to these old folks, they love being on stage entertaining the crowd & it was a hobby to them.

To them, they are just performers whom entertain old folks in the audience. To me, they are artists. Performing a slowly dying art in Singapore that would be lost should no younger generations pick this up. I hope by taking these pictures, I can share the art form of Chinese Opera which is an ancient art.

Photographer: Gary Wang

Camera: Konica Hexar RF + Canon 50mm F1.4 LTM + Canon 35mm F2 LTM

Film: Kodak Tri-X 400



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