Sunday, 28 October 2018

Back Story | Canton Singing House | Hong Kong

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I'm periodically on the lookout for interesting locales that inspire my so-called fashion-travel audio slideshows (such as the water town of Xitang, near Shanghai for The Legend of Hua), and I may have found another in Hong Kong.

On Temple Street, in the Yau Ma Tei neighborhood, the Canton Singing House has been in existence for ages (metaphorically-speaking, but more factually since the 60s or thereabouts). It's technically called a 'singalong' parlor; a precursor to the modern karaoke.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Some of these 'singalong' parlors still exist, faded and tired but otherwise unchanged, offering a taste of popular and cheap entertainment from a past era. How these survive in anyone's guess. The parlors usually have an organist (who can also play a guitar) and a handful of habitual customers who sing Cantonese songs...and occasionally Western oldies such as "Sealed With A Kiss" by the Canton Singing House organist.

My still-embryonic idea is to enlist the help of a local acquaintance who would wear a cheongsam (aka qi pao), and take the role of a sing-song girl. The photo shoot would take place in the streets of Yau Ma Tei, and in the parlor itself. Whether the parlor would allow it or not is an open question that will be answered when I'm there. The owners and clients seemed very laid back when I made these photographs.

The sing-song girls were the courtesans in nineteenth century China, but my story would much more recent than that era...perhaps almost contemporary.

Wikipedia tells us that "...before the founding of modern China in 1911, concubinage was legal. In Chinese custom, males carry the family name and the family's heritage after marriage. To ensure male heirs were produced, it was a common practice for an upper-class married male to have one or more concubines, provided he could support them."

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Similar to geishas, the "sing-song" girls (also known as 'flower girls' were trained from childhood to entertain wealthy male clients through companionship, singing and dancing in special sing-song houses. While the practice of concubinage was officially made illegal, it has recently been popular amongst the wealthy in China as a result of the country's prosperity.