We move on to what are some of my happiest memories in my time in Singapore. It all started simply enough. There is an annual event on Japanese TV called the Kouhaku Uta-Gassen (Red White Songs Battle, or KHK for short) Basically famous (and semi-famous) singers and celebrities get split into two teams, one red and one white. They sing, the audience votes, the New Year comes in. Cheers for everyone. It’s a pretty fun event – or so I’ve heard because I’ve never actually watched one. Despite my love for Japanese and music I don’t actually like popular Japanese music all that much. Give me my mecha anime openings any day!
What does this have to do with me? Terrence Kwok got it into his head at some point to do a homegrown version of this event. Get a bunch of anime fans together, hold an audition, get the best of them together and sing your hearts out. Charge minimal admission to cover costs and…profit? I don’t think we ever made a single cent out of it.
This was around 2002 and given the state of technology at that time it was a major undertaking indeed. These were also the days before anime really took off (if not I can guarantee you we would have been on national TV and/or Youtube) and it was quite a feat to be able to gather the resources necessary to put on the show. Our anime club’s meager budget would barely cover it, even after charging for admission. Not to mention the admin duties, renting the venue, training the singers…a lot of work!
I put a lot of myself into the KHK. Even today I can’t quite believe how much I gave. If you’ve ever performed on stage before you know how it can suck you in – you end up devoting more time and energy and effort than you would ever have believed into getting the thing off the ground. It becomes your world for a while and though the reward is worth it, it takes a lot more out of you than you would think.
I can remember one year being the translator, behind-the-scenes production, MC, singer, and dance choreographer. That’s a lot of hats to wear! So many that I fell ill with a nasty flu after the show was over. It was a tense time for Meimei and I, (we were doing a duet together…Yume no Naka e from Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou) and one of the few times I can remember shouting at her because she was being completely and utterly unreasonable. (she even admits it!)
This was the first major schism between my sister and I in a lifetime of being together. She was still small and I guess she felt that Big Brother’s friends were taking him away from her. She was jealous and it showed. I could well appreciate it but at the same moment, it was a pain to deal with when I was younger and all I wanted to do was sing and dance.
I had my first semi-formal singing lessons here (courtesy of one of the organizers that had choir singing) and I must say it made a difference. Previously I had the heart but not the technique. All those late nights spent karaokeing with friends and by myself in my room finally paid off in some way!
I made a lot of friends here, too many to list. But I’m going to do my best anyway. Hua Xing, cosplayer-for-life (she made her Chun-Li outfit before her wedding dress if that is any indication) who loved Sailor Moon and Sakura Taisen to bits. Feng Xiang, Terrence’s good friend and second-in-command, a fox-faced petite Chinese girl who snapped at you but never meant it. Sekira, a thin girl with an angular face whose slim frame belied the power of her voice.
Ibrahim, a Malay youth both wise and angry beyond his years. We were really close at one time, despite (or perhaps because) of the difference in our ages. Yuuko, a pretty Indian girl with quite a voice. Tokki, a whirling dust devil of hyperactive energy disguised as a human female. (and the very first person I ever met who spoke faster than I did) Aki, a canine-toothed rapper with an infectious laugh.
Arianna, an INCREDIBLE cosplayer (she’s won several competitions, some international) Yuri, a beautiful girl who sang well and danced better. I sort of liked her back in those days but I never said anything. (goddamn motherfucking mental issues always messing up my life) Newtoo, snarky but reliable. Tsubaki, an ex-choir singer with a heart of gold and love of jazz. Ulyssa, who I swear is Aretha Franklin’s twin sister reincarnated as a Chinese woman in a pant suit.
Alice, Astel, Beth and Clarie, the 4 girls who came in during the very first audition. I would grow to know all four in different ways over the years, but I’ll always remember how they all piled in together on the very first audition, giggling and laughing and talking together as teenage girls do. Alice trying (and failing) to hit the high note on the Angel Sanctuary opening, and me singing the Vandread opening with Beth when we realized our voices were compatible with each other.
Five years, thirteen singers each. We sang, we danced, we went for karaoke and prawn noodles. Hearts were broken, hearts were mended. There was plenty of drama both on and off-stage. People shouted at each other. We hugged and cried and sang some more. Rehearsals and practices, and then more rehearsals and more practices. There were after-parties and barbeques and late nights spent talking.
Ah, the memories. Coaching Hua Xing behind stage because she wanted to say Yuna’s entire ending speech in Japanese before singing Suteki Da Ne. She totally and completely flubbed her lines but it didn’t matter.
Once when a performance was lagging way behind I got really angry and actually shouted at one of the stagehands (this was when I was still repressing my anger big time) Astel came up and hugged me suddenly. I couldn’t quite believe it and I think I was so shocked I stopped being angry.
Allan came back from Australia and we put together a duet of the Machine Robo opening with sword moves (with fake Chinese swords) cribbed from Super Robot Wars. With a speech. It went down pretty damn well. Everyone whom I’ve ever known who has ever seen that act remembers it.
I performed the Honou no Tenkousei opening (in costume no less) complete with martial arts moves and EVERYBODY wanted to join in. Thanks guys.
Tokki completely forgot all her lines in the middle of a song (the Mahoromatic ending if memory serves) and went over to the wall to bang her head against it instead. Strangely enough it fit the performance very well.
Tsubaki singing Motherland from Full Metal Alchemist, her high and steady voice ringing out across the hall. Clarie running around, frantic about her makeup, wanting to know how it looked. Honesty is the best policy, so I told her she looked like Cher and she was distraught to realize it was actually true.
Yuri telling me to take a break because I was really pushing myself too hard one day…and I was. I hadn’t heard those words in..10 years? More? I was much more touched than I knew.
The actual productions were kind of amateurish, but had a lot of heart. I’ll go on record here and say that my numbers were kind of show-stoppers, but really, not everyone had the same amount of talent. Some singers couldn’t even sing on key, despite months of training. Others (besides me) were really good. We had some real talent there.
There was drama too of course. A LOT OF DRAMA. Terrence felt people weren’t given him enough respect and stopped being the organizer for a while. Arianna came in instead and she was actually a lot better at it. (sorry Terrence) Singers got really really jealous of each other and could be quite catty about it. What do you expect right? Most of our cast were in their late teens and early twenties and all theatre carries with it its share of rivalries and relationship issues.
I became a sort of big brother to the younger singers during my later years there. I had become experienced enough to offer performing advice to others and it was a good feeling to be able to help out.
I’ll always look back at the KHK with fondness and affection. All things considered it was pretty miraculous that it even got off the ground, let alone remained alive for as long as it did. It was a little bit of Singing In the Rain in a country that was better known for high math scores and GDP. Imagine, a bunch of girls and guys putting together time, money and effort to train in singing and dancing, design costumes, get lights and stage music together, design a pamphlet, hold rehearsals, (some pretty harsh ones too!) just to sing anime songs in front of a live audience? It happened.
A lot of my KHK friends also were my cosplay buddies, and since we spent so much time and energy there we built very strong bonds there, stronger than perhaps I knew.
I think that many of them were my first real friends in Singapore, a land that was supposed to be my home but never really could be in the same way again. They couldn’t have known what was eating me from the inside and I didn’t know how to tell them, but with them I had songs and laughter and more besides. They turned on the switch inside my heart and I shook away the tears, at least for a while.