Singapore is celebrating its 50th year of independence and there are so many events organized that are free, in a year long SG50 party celebrations.
As a book lover and a wannabe writer, I try to attend as many book launches as I can. It’s always a joy hearing the conception of the book to its’ birth. Yesterday’s event, organized by the National Library (NLB), included a free pictorial coffee table book. This is a project to get ordinary Singaporeans to narrate their history and so far the stories I heard have been touching and interesting.
I first heard that Singapore had its own circus during a tour at Bukit Brown. I was ecstatic that the descendant, great granddaughter of the first circus owner, Alele Wong, has taken the trouble to compile the photos and stories from her grandparents, into this wonderful book.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Tai Thean Kew Circus would tour Malaya and Singapore, entertaining people of all creeds and races. Grandmother Sze Ling Fen started in the circus at the tender age of 6, earning herself the Circus Princess nickname, performing various acrobatic acts. Grandfather Wong Fu Qi joined the circus when he was fourteen, doing the flying trapeze. They fell in love, got married and continued their marriage life in the circus until they retired in the fifties.
Yesterday, the elderly couple were bombarded with questions from the audience, many who had attended the circus as a child and were delighted to reminise about the joy and excitement the circus and brought to their childhood.
One man confessed he had often visited the circus just to throw stones at the elephants. Yes, there were wild animal acts, tigers and lions, which are now forbidden, but oh so exciting for the children in the 60s when there was no zoo.
The couple were nonchalant about their extraordinary lives. Grandma performed into her 7th month of pregnancy, doing tight rope walking. Grandpa fell from a height of 40 feet, was carried of stage, took some medicine and then returned to continue his performance.
It was fascinating listening to their lives in the circus, and the kaypoh (busybody) among us wanted to know more of their love story, which they brushed aside in a few words.
I am glad Adele compiled this wonderful book to share with her fellow Singaporeans, and I can’t wait to read more about other ordinary, and extraordinary lives of Singaporeans.
The book is available for sale next year. In the mean time, do check out the circus website to reminise: https://www.facebook.com/taitheankewcircus?fref=ts