Temple Street scene
The sound of music - nocturnal version
By Elaine Tai
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When night falls, the street corner is silent. Few people pass by. When the clock strikes 9, the corner changes to a totally different scene.
Lamplight shines. A huge crowd gathers.
A man sings, singing in the moonlight.
Without scene, stage, costumes and make-up, he has been performing Cantonese opera for 18 years in Temple Street.
Chan Man Shui, 47, a singer of Cantonese opera, is a fan of Yum Kim Fai and Sun Ma Tsaih, Cantonese opera stars.
He has loved singing since 7.
My family had a great impact on me; they liked singing, too, he said.
But no one taught me how to sing. I listened to records and learnt by myself.
Even when walking in the street or when at home alone, he sings.
His began singing professionally in 1981.
While a trainee could get a salary at that time, he had to pay about $20 to his troupe in order to have a chance to sing.
Since then, Temple Street has become his second home.
I just joined them and got paid for performing. They soon accepted me as a member, he said.
At that time, his salary was only $50 a day.
He was worried about money and opposition from his family, but he finally determined to do what he loved.
His family disliked his singing in the street. But he had no other interests besides singing.
But I dont care. I only know that I love singing, he said.
He doesnt like studying, but he loves operas and English songs.
I love Cantonese operas most.
Maybe its because Cantonese is my first language, so I can express myself better.
The lyrics are so beautiful. Those by Yum Kim Fai are irresistible, he said.
Apart from satisfying himself, singing in the street also helps him support his family.
The audience asks them to sing the songs. For each, Mr. Chan is paid from several dollars to hundreds.
I had no choice because singing was only practicable here, he said.
As the breadwinner for his family, his voice is everything to him.
I remembered that I got a sore throat several times, and I could hardly sing, he said.
I was singing with tears on my face, he said.
As a performer, standing on stage is not his dream. On the contrary, he believes that a sense of belonging to the place is more important.
This place suits me most, he said.
He works happily with his band members.
Our troupe has totally 10 members, including the musicians. The troupe is just like a big family, Chan said.
He has some special feelings for the audience, too.
Their faces are familiar. I chat with them sometimes, he said.
I am happy when they praise me. Admirers are important for a performer.
Mr. Chan thinks admirers drive him to devote himself to singing, as they know how much effort he makes, how strong the feelings are in him.
However, few people truly admire him.
Its quite odd that customers who give me rewards know little about Cantonese opera, but the true admirers are among the poor, he said.
Being a performer, he thinks he has lost a normal life style.
While other families are watching TV together at night, he leaves his children and sets up the equipment for performances nightly.
I usually come at 8 for preparations and perform at about 9, he said.
According to him, there is no fixed working schedule, but he often ends his performance at about 11.
Luckily, his wife stands by him.
I met my wife here, he said. We sang in the same troupe.
As time went by, he found she was the right woman for him, so he tied the knot with her.
We have the same interest in Cantonese opera, but hers is not as strong as mine.
He has two children. His son is 9 and daughter is 2.
Mr. Chan said that he would not teach them to sing Cantonese Opera.
I dont want them to do my job because its really hard, he said. I prefer them to be more educated.
He describes himself as a perfectionist.
Said he: I have been always striving for the best to improve my performance.
However, its difficult to achieve, as the quality of musicians isnt that good.
Most good singers have gone, either having retired or performing elsewhere, he said.
There has been a decline of Cantonese opera. Ten years ago, the place was crowded with people and seven troupes performed here.
There is a smaller audience now and only two troupes left.
The future for Cantonese opera is discouraging.
He worries that this traditional performance will disappear in Temple Street soon.
Our audiences are mainly the elderly. They have retired or passed away one by one, which results in further shrinking of our audience size.
When asked when he will retire, he said, I m not sure, as I cannot guess when my voice will go wrong.