While her peers have their noses buried in their books in preparation for school examinations this month, 19-year-old Anderene Choo is busy juggling the dual role of student and getai singer.
She is used to it. For the past four years, the Chinese seventh-month Hungry Ghost Festival has coincided with her N-level and O-level examinations at Chung Cheng High School (Yishun), and then end-of- semester exams in the first and second years of her diploma course in integrated events and management at Republic Polytechnic.
But the chance to perform on a getai, or song stage, is too much fun to pass up.
On her busiest night, Ms Choo, whose stage name is Zhu Hui Zhen, can be on stage at five shows in three hours.
This year's Hungry Ghost Festival is from Aug 22 to Sept 19. It is believed that the gates of the netherworld open during this month for spirits to roam the living world.
The getai used to be a stage for traditional opera and puppet performances meant to be enjoyed both by the dead and the living.
But it has evolved to include performances by singers and entertainers who have become heartland celebrities in their own right.
A getai singer gets paid between $80 and $200 for a performance, depending on his or her experience and popularity. Ms Choo can earn up to $6,000 during the seventh month. She now does an average of 70 shows, compared with 33 when she started out at the age of 14.
Some people have the perspective that getai is not a very appropriate place for youngsters. However, it really gave me life experiences that I would never have got from textbooks, such as managing interpersonal relationships, showing sincerity towards the audience, and being polite and respectful to veterans in the industry. I am thankful for what I've been given.
MS ANDERENE CHOO, on how getai has helped her grow up.
Besides supporting herself, the money she earns also goes to help with her family's household expenses and her older sister's university education.
Her passion for singing Hokkien songs began early. "When I was young, Hokkien songs were played in the car. That was how I got acquainted with them," says Ms Choo.
She lives in a three-room HDB flat in Yishun with her parents and two sisters. Her father Choo Beng Hai, 49, is a mechanic, and her mother Cheng Sok Pheng, 46, is an office administrator. She has an older sister Fong Ying, 22, and a younger sister Jasrene, 14, who also performs.
In this business, connections are everything. A friend introduced her to getai veteran Wang Lei, 56, who took her on as a protege and introduced her to the industry.
"I have 14 proteges now and I hope I can nurture them to take over one day. The main criterion is simple. They have to love getai," says Mr Wang.
Ms Choo fits the bill all right.
"If I don't sing, I feel like I am missing out. Even if I'm having exams, I want to perform," she says.
Her mother plays the supportive role of manager, driver, occasional singing teacher, photographer and videographer. She has never had to worry about her middle child, who manages her time well.
Although Ms Choo has been heckled by drunks in the audience, this has not doused her passion.
"Some people have the perspective that getai is not a very appropriate place for youngsters. However, it really gave me life experiences that I would never have got from textbooks, such as managing interpersonal relationships, showing sincerity towards the audience, and being polite and respectful to veterans in the industry. I am thankful for what I've been given," she says.
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