Singapore's Chinese Opera

Back in 2003, when my husband and I used to live in a studio at Beach Road, we often saw night street Chinese Operas held on a patch of land between the said road & Tan Quee Lan Street. The first time we saw one, we wanted to watch and took some pictures. But we changed our minds. Something was odd. The opera's stage was about 20 feet from the audience who were having dinner inside a huge tent. While these people were seated far from the opera, there were about 10 unoccupied chairs right in front of the stage. We did not know what was the occasion. Someone's birthday perhaps? Were they supposed to sit on the empty chairs after the dinner?

On other nights, the audience were seated in front of the stage but behind a row of empty chairs. Didn't they want to have a better view of the opera?

Then we noticed a pattern: empty chairs were always present in every opera.

So years passed since then but whenever we remember those encounters we were still baffled. Our puzzle was only solved when we saw "The Maid", a movie. (Warning: spoiler ahead) The empty chairs were for the "other" audience... ghosts! Whew! Thank goodness we changed our minds! Imagine the look on their faces when they see two sillies taking pictures of the dead people...

Warning: Don't play this video to avoid spoiler

More about "The Maid":
  • It was a 2005 Singaporean movie that broke the country's box office record for the horror genre. It tells the story of a Filipina maid's (played by Philippine's Alessandra de Rossi) recent arrival to Singapore during the Hungry Ghost. Most Singaporean Chinese believe that during this 30-day period, the gates of hell open and spirits are let loose. For 30 days, the dead walk among the living. It is a time when, in the words of one author, ghosts get a vacation from purgatory.
  • Official website
  • Trailer
  • At Wikipedia
  • Review


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