Growing up with getai

By Christy Yip

The 2Z Sisters kicked off the night’s performances with a Mandarin song, Xiao Ping Guo — a crowd favourite.

Once the clock strikes 5.30pm, Pek Jia Wei is the first out of the classroom. The 19-year-old only has about an hour to reach home, get dressed and made-up, along with her 20-year-old sister Jia Xuan, for their getai performance.

The pair, with their parents and chihuahua, Girl Girl, in tow, will then set off in the family’s vehicle – a red taxi that their father Mr Benson Pek drives – for the shows.

An intense night of performances typically ends around 10.30pm, and the girls arrive home close to midnight.

They then swap their glittery dresses and microphones for papers and pens to revise their schoolwork until the wee hours of the morning, before starting their day again at 7am.

For the last decade, this has been a daily occurrence for getai performers Jia Wei and Jia Xuan during the annual month-long Hungry Ghost Festival.

The pair – known as the 2Z Sisters – debuted when Jia Xuan was 10 and Jia Wei was nine, with the encouragement of their father’s friend. The girls discovered their love for performing through the singing and dancing classes they attended from a young age.

Aside from performing during the seventh month, the 2Z Sisters also put on shows on other occasions, such as Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

With such a hectic schedule, getai has become a family affair. Mrs Linda Pek, 59, the girls’ mother and manager, arranges their performances throughout the year, while Mr Pek, 64, chauffeurs the family from one destination to another.

On some days, they host the entire show at one stage. On busy days, they perform all around the island.

Backstage, Jia Xuan does a quick glance through her scores before beginning their first performance. The family’s beloved Chihuahua, Girl Girl, is never out of sight.

In preparation for their first performance of the night, Jia Xuan (right) touches up her makeup while Jia Wei (left) does a final scroll through her social media pages.

It is 7pm on a Thursday evening. At a multi-purpose court in Jurong West, all eyes are on the 2Z Sisters, who begin their show by having a friendly banter in fluent Hokkien with the host.

Next, they confidently belt out Hokkien and Chinese songs, accompanied by synchronised dance moves and multi-coloured strobe lights.

The girls were welcomed by throngs of residents from Ang Mo Kio, their second venue for the night.

The sisters may make performing look effortless, but balancing between getai and university life has been anything but. Those who know them may be surprised at their boisterous onstage personas, which are a complete change from their quieter personalities in school, said Jia Wei.

Jia Wei, the more outspoken of the two, cracks a joke before beginning the last performance for the night. She said that getai today boasts better lighting and stage effects compared to when they first started out.

Putting a skit alongside other getai veterans, the girls return to their yearly affair at the show organised by the Yun Yin Dian Association.

Besides having to put on an energetic show after a tiring day at school, it is also challenging dealing with the pressure of rising fame, they said.

Jia Wei, a first-year student at Nanyang Business School, said: “A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is. Sometimes, we would cry to ourselves and wonder why we chose this.

“But my sister and I will tell ourselves to resign to fate. Our name is known already – all the uncles and aunties know us. We can’t just disappear.”

Jia Xuan, a second-year student at the School of Physical and Mathematical Science, said the satisfaction from performing is what keeps them going.

“It is something that we love. We just have to encourage each other not to give up.

She said: “The smiles on our audience’s faces make it all worth it.”

__________

Getai myths debunked

The audience being entertained by antics on stage.

Myth 1: The performances are for ghosts

Getai (‘song stage’ in English), is one of the offerings made during the Hungry Ghost Festival, but it is not synonymous with it alone. Getai is performed throughout the year whenever there are Chinese festivities such as the Mid-Autumn festival.

The 2Z Sisters engage in friendly banter with the hosts, who picked on the girls’ mispronounced Hokkien words.

Myth 2: Only dialect is spoken

Mandarin songs are sung as well. While getai is a Chinese tradition, the younger generation of performers like the 2Z Sisters has taken it up a notch by performing pop songs — even in Korean.

The girls’ mother, Mrs Linda Pek, helps Jia Wei with the final touches of her outfit before the girls are sent on stage. Mr Benson Pek said that bringing the girls up through getai taught them life experiences that they could never learn from school such as their manners and attitude towards life.

Myth 3: The performers are uneducated or have bad upbringing

Jia Xuan and Jia Wei said they are the living antithesis of this myth. More youth are also entering the scene.