Eighteen-year-old twins Thien Si Si and Thien Jia Jia at Albert Complex on 25 August 2013. They have been performing in getai shows for three years as The Shining Sisters. Their glittery costumes reflect the lights of the stage, appearing to cast a "shine" on the audience. (Photo: Lim Weixiang)
Getai (song stage) performers Thien Si Si and Thien Jia Jia may earn as much as S$10,000 a month during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival, but showbusiness is not something they want to seriously consider as a career.
They say it is just a hobby for now.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is observed by some in the Chinese community during the seventh lunar month in Singapore, and it is marked by getai shows put up in public housing estates at night.
See the gallery: From students to getai stars
The 18-year-old twin sisters have been performing in the getai circuit for three years under their stage name, The Shining Sisters, but if you saw the time and effort they invest into their performance, you wouldn’t think it was "just a hobby".
The sisters started singing at a young age. They sang in the choir at Rosyth Primary School, and when they moved on to Peicai Secondary School, they got their parents to send them for voice training lessons.
While in secondary school, they were talent-spotted by getai veteran Wang Lei, and every day since then, have spent an average of two hours a day practising singing and stage skills.
PERFORMING FOR THE FIRST TIME
But even that was not enough to prepare them for their harrowing first experience on stage in 2010.
Jia Jia said: “The audience began leaving just as we came on stage. We were too ‘green’ and didn’t know what to say to ‘keep’ the audience. We were close to tears, but we had to finish our songs.
“After the performance ended. We broke down and cried. We were very disappointed in ourselves. But we picked ourselves up after that and improved.”
Practice time was also spent learning the Hokkien dialect, as the sisters knew how to speak only Mandarin and English then. Many getai songs are sung in Hokkien.
“The way you sing a Hokkien song can be very different from how a Mandarin song is sung. Fortunately, our mentor Wang Lei was able to help with this,” Si Si said, adding that they are now fluent enough in Hokkien to hold a conversation.
Si Si attributes getai to helping her become more outgoing. “I used to be a very shy and quiet girl.”
At the peak of the getai season, the girls can make up to S$600 a night, performing four shows. Off season, the sisters also perform at community events and private events such as company dinners and weddings.
Not all the money they make is theirs to keep. A significant portion of what they earn is used to make new costumes, so that their performances are constantly fresh.
In three years, they have accumulated almost S$10,000 worth of costumes, accessories and shoes that are selected and sourced by their mother, Sandy Chng, 48.
Many of the costumes are specially made for the girls, with the material coming from Malaysia, Thailand and China.
When their school teachers at Peicai Secondary School heard that the sisters were working as getai singers, they were worried that the girls would not be able to keep up with schoolwork, especially as O-level preliminary examinations clashed with the peak getai season.
To make time, Jia Jia and Si Si cut down on other activities. The sisters ended up being among the top 10 performers of their cohort when their O-levels results were released.
“We love singing, but we know that school is also very important. I am glad we did not let our teachers down,” Jia Jia said.
Their mother has been instrumental to their success.
Chng accompanies them to all their performances and helps them prepare for each night’s show, which typically start around 7.30.
As early as 5pm, their mother lays out their costumes and helps them with their hair and makeup. She also scrutinises them thoroughly before they get on stage to make sure there are no "wardrobe malfunctions".
The sisters, who appeared in the Singapore movie ‘Ah Boys to Men’ as recruit Ken Chow’s twin sisters, cannot imagine themselves doing the getai circuit beyond their 20s, and are not sure how long getai shows will be around.
“Getai and showbusiness in general is not a stable career. The shelf life of singers and performers is short,” Jia Jia said.
Both sisters are now in Nanyang Polytechnic, pursuing diplomas in Mass Media Management. Jia Jia hopes to start her own business after she graduates, while her sister intends to pursue a university degree after completing her diploma.
Still, given their interest in singing, it can be hard to resist a good offer. The sisters recounted an incident where they were approached about performing overseas after one of their shows in Sentosa, and they were open to the idea.
“I won’t say that pursing a career in showbusiness is completely off the cards. It depends on what opportunities open for us,” Jia Jia said.
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