Madam Oon Ah Chiam (aka Ah Chiam) is a Hokkien street opera performer in Toy Factory’s Titoudao. During her 20s, Madam Oon performed the comic servant role so well that she came to be known as Titoudao thereafter. The play traces Madam Oon’s life from her childhood to the present. More than anything, it is a dramatic account of all the hardship she had to undergo to become a top wayang star in Singapore and Malaysia.
We catch a moment with Madam Oon (played by Pam Oei) in between singing breaks, where she waxes lyrical about life in the ’40s, her son, stage makeup and get this—supernatural powers.
Which singer bowls you over?
The late Teresa Teng. Her voice is like honey.
And who do you think should not sing at all?
My son Goh Boon Teck. He can direct plays and write award-winning scripts, but he cannot sing.
Do you practice your singing in the bathroom?
No I don’t. Chinese opera singers sing at a whole different frequency and volume. If I sang in my bathroom, I would go deaf myself.
What do you think of KTV lounges?
I think they’re great fun but they must have Teresa Teng’s Hokkien songs or I won’t go.
What is your most unforgettable moment on stage?
A lot of Chinese wayang is improvised within a flexible structure. When I was first starting out as a wayang actress, I was given one song to sing as a courtesan. However, the actress who went on just before me sang the same song, knowing full well that it was the only song I had learnt. I burst into tears when it was my turn to go on stage because I didn’t have a song to sing.
Where do you learn stage makeup at?
At the opera troupe, Xin Sai Hong, where I trained when I was 16. Also, backstage from other wayang actors.
Your take on Hollywood movies?
I don’t watch Hollywood movies. They talk ang-mor. I liak boh kiu (don’t understand).
What is the most valuable lesson that being a wayang actress has taught you?
That hard work is a must for success.
How do fans typically show their adoration?
Very few people recognize me now, but when they do, they always point at me and shout “TITOUDAO” very loudly.
What’s one thing about the ’40s that you miss a lot?
My carefree, childhood kampung days with my 12 brothers and sisters. Playing was the only thing we needed to do.
Your philosophy towards life?
Whatever has happened, has happened. Do not dwell on it too much and think of “what ifs.” It is pointless.
If you had supernatural powers, what would you do?
I would turn back time to return to the ’50s & ’60s when a wayang performance had more audience than the entire capacity of the Indoor Stadium. When Titoudao was at its most popular, sometimes we had audiences for as far as the eye could see. I also wish I could fly. That would make me very happy.