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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Laksamana Cheng Ho 603rd Anniversary Night

Even though the procession was cancelled, there was a cultural night of sorts, with contemporary performances of the sort not unlike the seventh month getai one sees in Singapore.  Well, I think the Singapore getais are much better!  Some of the singers spoke and sang very poor Mandarin but this was probably no better than what an activity starved garrison in a remote corner of Xinjiang today could have gotten from time to time.  I bet Zhenghe's sailors would have appreciated this after six months' voyage from Mogadishu and Hormuz.

 

It was certainly a great night out for a typical Semarang Chinese family.  Pretty lanterns lit up the river banks and surrounding parts of Chinatown.  Numerous vendors added to the bustle with tasty desserts, useful appliances and tacky souvenirs.  Loud trashy pop on the stage built in the shape of a Zhenghe treasure ship, in a tradition that stretched back to the old days of the traditional opera during a temple fair.  Margaret remarked that trashy this whole scene may seem to us, this was probably how the more sophisticated citizens of old Kaifeng would have felt during the Song Dynasty.  In a few hundred years time, historians would look at our photos and remarked how much this resembled a Semarang equivalent of a scene in that famous 11th century Song Dynasty scroll painting (上河清明图), Upriver Qingming Scene, which depicted the vibrancy of Kaifeng during a temple festival.

 

A local dance troupe performed quite a few of the dances in what could be best described as Chinese Communist dance school style.  There was a dance of exotic South Sea Islanders welcoming the Admiral and his fleet, wearing strange greenish veils and pseudo-Islamic headscarves but coconut shell bras and hula-hula dress, though with what could have been exposed bellies covered in a translucent white vest worn awkwardly underneath, in an attempt to protect the sensitivities of Muslim VIPs.  And there was that classical pseudo-Tang Thousand-Arm Guanyin dance, which immediately captured the attention of the many bored photographers.  Then we were given a treat of a visit to Tibet whose significance I could not figure out for Zhenghe's fleet could not have gone there unless it was a new chapter of Menzies' well known fantasy tale.  The dancers did a typical CCP (Chinese Communist Party) piece on the ever happy and cheerful ethnic minority, in a most un-Tibetan manner.

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