“A good storyteller never lets the facts get in the way.” Dave Allen, Comedian.
Before the Japanese invasion in 1941, there was plenty of entertainment for Ipoh people although many could not afford it as the world recession had hit the price of tin and rubber badly and Ipoh, relying on these products for survival had suffered more than many other places.
Then, during the Japanese occupation, entertainment was severely curtailed and what was available only consisted of Japanese propaganda films. Consequently in 1945 after the Japanese had been defeated and left these shores, Ipoh’s ability to provide evening entertainment was almost non-existent for all but the privileged few who still had money to spend.
Two local men however saw this vacuum as a space to be filled and although their names are not known they have gone down in history as the men from Storyteller’s Street, not a street in itself, but a piece of open land between Panglima Street and the river, directly across from Han Chin Pet Soo building at 3 Treacher Street in Old Town.
These two entertainers worked every evening and are well remembered by several of today’s residents of Ipoh as being the only place to go for entertainment after a hard day’s work Their equipment was basic but effective and consisted of a table holding a small oil lamp, a packet of Joss sticks and a Joss stick holder. One of them also managed to provide some benches as public seating but for the other the order of the day was bring your own stools or squat on the ground.
From the public’s point of view, the first decision was which of the two entertainers to support, for they were quite different in their approach, one telling stories and legends of old China or reading from fictional novels while the other would read from the daily newspaper (Nanyang Siang Pau) as most people could not afford or did not wish to buy one. Many of these of course could not read anyway.
Finally, decision made, a position close to the chosen orator was taken up by the prospective audience and when he judged there were enough people to make it worth his while he would collect a fee from all adults present (children were free if they squatted on the ground and kept quiet) and light a Joss stick from the oil lamp. Once the stick was burning brightly he would begin his tale, story or newspaper report, which would continue until the Joss stick burnt out. Then it was time to pay again or leave and make room for others.
Started in 1945, this practice continued into the early 1950’s (some say as late as 1955), but as life improved in Ipoh, tin and rubber production picked up again and movie distributors and cinema owners like Shaw Brothers got their businesses going again after the war, the storytellers audiences dwindled to a level where it was no longer a worthwhile venture. At that stage one of the two men, famous for his clear voice and pronunciation, was employed as a broadcaster on the advertising loudspeaker vans that became so popular in Ipoh in the 1950’s.
Do you have any Ipoh stories to share please?