DADDY DEAREST

Pioneer acrobatic cyclist's photos a heritage boon

Mr Chia (left), with his wife Madam Ong, shows off his prized photo album containing pictures of his time with the Kong Chow Clan Acrobatic Cycling Troupe (far left). The pictures will be uploaded onto NHB's roots.sg portal - a website on Singapore's
Mr Chia (above), with his wife Madam Ong, shows off his prized photo album containing pictures of his time with the Kong Chow Clan Acrobatic Cycling Troupe. The pictures will be uploaded onto NHB's roots.sg portal - a website on Singapore's heritage and history.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Mr Chia (left), with his wife Madam Ong, shows off his prized photo album containing pictures of his time with the Kong Chow Clan Acrobatic Cycling Troupe (far left). The pictures will be uploaded onto NHB's roots.sg portal - a website on Singapore's
Mr Chia, with his wife Madam Ong, shows off his prized photo album containing pictures of his time with the Kong Chow Clan Acrobatic Cycling Troupe (above). The pictures will be uploaded onto NHB's roots.sg portal - a website on Singapore's heritage and history.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mr Chia Kum Loke, 74, has a photo album that he likes taking out at family gatherings to show off - in it are pictures of him and his wife dating in their younger days.

But the pictures that have really wowed the younger members of his family are those of Mr Chia performing gravity-defying stunts on bicycles, said his daughter Judy, 37, a media presenter.

In his glory days, the now-wizened Mr Chia was part of the Kong Chow Clan Acrobatic Cycling Troupe, one of the best known troupes of its kind here in the 1980s.

The Kong Chow Wui Koon or clan association is a Cantonese clan group based in Chinatown, and one of the oldest clan groups here.

The clan's acrobatic troupe, which was formed in 1957, trained more than 100 acrobatic cyclists over three decades. They would perform at the National Day Parade, Chingay procession and other charity and community events.

The pictures have recently been loaned by the family to the National Heritage Board (NHB), where they have been digitised for posterity. Tomorrow, they will be uploaded on the NHB's roots.sg portal - a website on Singapore's heritage and history.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Ms Chia said the family decided to hand the pictures to the NHB because they felt the photos were a part of Singapore's heritage.

"My dad was one of the pioneering members of this acrobatic troupe, and these photographs will serve as a great memory for the next generation," she said on her father's behalf as he has Parkinson's disease and cannot speak.

Despite this, Mr Chia perked up when looking at his old pictures with The Sunday Times in his three-room flat in Bendemeer yesterday. Pointing to a picture of himself sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle perched atop two short ladders, he laughed as he savoured the memory.

His wife, Madam Ong Sui Kim, 62, a housewife, said this stunt was particularly difficult because the bicycle would keep moving.

Said Ms Chia: "My father always said it was important to learn how to fall safely - so each time you fall, you can get up and continue training."

Mr Chia joined the troupe when he was 15 and mastered all of the 20 or so acrobatic stunts that involved both unicycles and regular bicycles.

He would train in his spare time, after he finished his day-time work as a welder.

One of the most difficult routines was "Pile-up Arts", where nine men would clamber one atop the other in a pyramid formation on a single moving bicycle.

The Kong Chow Clan Acrobatic Cycling Troupe disbanded in the 1990s after young people here lost interest in the acrobatic stunts.

Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's assistant chief executive (policy and community), said the board was intrigued by the little-known story of the troupe. Thanking the family for the photos, he said: "They provide us with rare visual insights into an early form of entertainment offered by the clan."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Pioneer acrobatic cyclist's photos a heritage boon'. Print Edition | Subscribe