Lovin’ the 60s

Since we’re showin’ our lovin’ for the 60s, I figured some of y’all might want to know how love in the 60s was like. If you fell in love during the 60s, I should think you’re currently about… 60-70 years old? Basically the grandparent generation of today. My own grandparents are half dead and the other half senile, so my research for this post didn’t actually come from firsthand interviews. My informant was actually a drama professor (Prof. Pru) at NIE who was giving a presentation on a community-based reminiscence theatre project.

Learn something new errday. What is reminiscence theatre?

I will spare y’all the cheem definition of ‘reminiscence theatre’ (which you can find by just googling the phrase…). Instead I shall summarize my understanding of this theatre form: Basically reminiscence theatre uses drama to give voice to real-life/true stories of older people, and usually of the minorities/marginalized. So a drama practitioner will have to work very closely and often intimately with the person whose story is to be represented in the theatrical work. This form of drama is frequently used to foster intergenerational sharing, and sometimes participants even find it emotionally therapeutic. Such is the power of story-telling.

Love in the 60s

So this particular piece was themed ‘love’, and the older participants (aged 54-74) were asked to tell their love stories from the 60s, to a small group of polytechnic drama students. For about the first 10 minutes into the presentation by Professor Pru, I was frankly not very intrigued. I mean the concept of reminiscence theatre is kinda hipster and cool, but come on, what kind of love stories can I expect from a bunch of totally average-looking grey-haired people? And not least from Singapore… What could you do on a date in 60s Singapore??? Walk down by Singapore River and pretend not to notice the smell? Oh and let’s not forget the Stop At Two in the late 60s… Love? What love?

The drama instructor ran into the same problem at first. The older folks were perhaps shy or just didn’t know what to talk about. It wasn’t until the instructor whipped out photographs of the good ol’ days that the juicy scandals started to see the light of day…

Mr. and Mrs. Tiong Tai King

Mr. and Mrs. Tiong Tai King

The Story

There were several great stories that came out of this sharing session, but the final theatre work was based on the most epic (this was probably everyone’s opinion).

The protagonist is a young seamstress who falls in love with her fabric supplier. (Please pardon my story-telling skills, I am obviously a n00b.) The fabric supplier has similar sentiments about her, but sadly they cannot marry. The dude’s parents aren’t too happy that the seamstress is of a lower social class. So the dude is to marry a “more suitable girl” by his parents’ standards. After his marriage, the two of them ‘break up’, but continue to do business. Occasionally, she even goes on “all-expenses paid” business trips with him. At this point, errone’s like O_O … And she must have noticed everyone’s expression, for she insists thereafter that their relationship remained strictly platonic after his marriage. They were just really, really, reaaaaaally very good friends.

So that’s the story. And it should give a vague overview of what marriage was like in Singapore during that time. There was a trending decline in arranged marriages, but there was still a lot of social pressure on the compatibility of a spouse. It was also still taboo for people to remain unmarried after their 20s.

For those of you who are gonna venture forth and quiz your own grandparents about their love stories, you might be wondering what magical photographs the instructor used to elicit such intimate stories. Here are the exact locations that she used: Tiger Balm Gardens, Queen Elizabeth Walk, Mount Faber, Orchard Road Indoor Market, and Changi Beach. For those of you not old enough to know, Tiger Balm Gardens is Haw Par Villa. We all LOAO-ed at the thought of young people making romance in the ten courts of Chinese hell. But apparently that was the in thing to do… Totes badass.

Changi Beach Singapore, 1958

Changi Beach Singapore, 1958

So… What’s changed?

  1. Well, we’re a lot more open-minded about ‘love’ these days. Now we can date angmohs, die single, …
  2. One of the comments from the polytechnic students was that they “didn’t realize how little status women had in the past. They didn’t realize what it was like for women.”
  3. The space, obviously. These days we go on dates at… I don’t even know man. I don’t date. But we most certainly don’t go to Haw Par Villa no m0 :(

What hasn’t changed:

  1. Scandal is still juicy. Scandal will always be juicy, till the day the definition of ‘scandal’ changes.
  2. “The problems that they faced and the problems that we face today are more or less the same”—according to the polytechnic students, the activities and stages of dating back then were pretty much the same as right now. I don’t know if they used the baseball euphemisms; actually I don’t know if anyone still uses those euphemisms now… But point is, the students were surprised that their older friends had the same kind of relationship problems back in the days, as we do. Which leads to the next point:
  3. Back in the 60s, young people didn’t learn about ‘love’ from their parents, like we don’t now. They learned it from their friends or popular media, i.e. the Agony Aunt columns in the magazines that they would read when they visited the hairdresser’s. How absolutely adorable is that? And this isn’t too far from what we do today, I guess, with all the love stories and tips we ever hear coming from movies and tumblr and books including facebook.

The Take Home:

The seniors loved that they got to mingle with young people, which helped them “feel younger”! Some even said that they’ve gained new/”modern” perspectives on ‘love’. The students too enjoyed the seniors’ stories and tips, and all of them were inspired to speak more with their own family members. At the end of this collaboration, I think everyone grew to better appreciate the intangible beauties that come out of reminiscing with members of another generation. Especially when spaces have drastically changed, which only makes memories all the more precious. When the final piece was staged, there was a lot of “oh YES that happened to me too…” going around among the audience :)  Awww.

Some good ol’ tips from A60NY AUNT that are still *valid today, in case your relationship has been kinda uninspired lately:

“These social taboos you don’t have to care too much” —Singapore lovers: breaking taboos since 1960.

*Disclaimer: terms and conditions apply.