of Singapore's pioneer Chinese entertainers is in
semi-retirement, and takes his leisure seriously,
reports AUDREY PERERA
THE taxi draws up outside Wang
Sa's Telok Kurau semi-detached house and the
driver's expression changes from one of indifference
to bright-eyed excitement.
We -- a Mandarin-speaking friend and I -- follow
his stare to catch sight of the man himself, waiting
outside the front gate of the two-storey building.
Wang Sa is
immaculately groomed, dressed in a perfectly pressed,
long-sleeved grey shirt and dark trousers with
The wasp-waisted 70-year-old stands ramrod
straight, his arms behind his back, unsmiling, at
Taxi-driver Tan Kim Tiong stops the vehicle, leans
across the front passenger seat and, with a reverent
gesture, salutes Wang Sa.
In return, the almost-poker face breaks into a
big, infectious smile.
The encounter captures both the past and the
present of the comedian, one-half of the duo, Wang Sa And Ya Fong, who
entertained television and live audiences from the
The past because he was always able to raise
excitement and draw laughter from those he met and
performed for. And the present because, these days,
it is a lucky fan who comes into contact with him,
for he seldom makes a public appearance.
||Comic touch : Wang Sa
with his 1976 screen
persona, the cartoon character Lao Fu Zi, for
which he is still remembered
Speaking in Mandarin, the
performer, who also portrayed the Chinese cartoon
character Lao Fu Zi in a 1976 movie, Mr Funny-Bone,
says: "I consider myself semi-retired now."
He now does only the occasional show, mostly for
"These days, I rear my fish - I have about 20
Japanese carp -- do a bit of gardening and read,
mostly books on history.
"At the moment, I am reading a book about
principles for living, about how we should look
beyond fame and money.
"It is not being pessimistic. True, you need
money to survive, but you must know when it is
"I feel that I have enough, and I don't have
to perform anymore.
"I have fulfilled my responsibilities. My
youngest daughter has graduated."
In the living-room, framed family and graduation
photographs stand atop an electric organ, sharing
space with some pussy willows in a green vase.
A glass-fronted cabinet contains plaques and
mementoes received over the years for contributions
to the world of entertainment. There are plastic
oranges and red silk flowers in another green vase.
The sound of a little fountain in his fish pond
outside somehow matches the elaborately carved wooden
Chinese furniture in the hall.
These days, he spends most of his time at home.
"Aerobics? Cannot, lor! You know how old I
"I wake up, go for a walk in the
neighbourhood, feed the fish, have breakfast and read
"Sometimes, I go out with friends for tea,
then come home for lunch and an afternoon nap.
"My life is very organised. If I don't have
any official engagements in the night, I stay at
home, have my dinner, watch a bit of TV and
Although he reads so much, books are not in
evidence in the hall where we are talking. His
collection is upstairs, and by his bed.
His TV diet is sparse. As one of the first local
performers to appear on screen in peoples homes in
the 1960s, he feels that it has changed a lot, and
not all for the better.
He says he is troubled by what he sees as an
unwelcome direction that local television is taking.
"There is nothing much that is worth watching.
Our entertainment programmes are a failure.
"Look at Tuesday's Live From Studio One.
There is a singing competition where the competitors
have to sing while balancing on a skateboard."
"We have become boorish. We should be ashamed
"It is not that Singapore is lacking in
talent; it is just that talent is not discovered and
"SBC should not just pander to audience's
tastes, but should also produce programmes that are
of a certain quality," he says.
His own favourite programme, for instance, is It
Pays To Travel, a Taiwanese travelogue-type
production which is screened on Tuesdays.
"The language it uses is refined, not rough
or vulgar, and it is full of information. It does not
try to incorporate comic elements and yet, is able to
attract viewers," he declares, waving aside a
cautioning "Shush, don't talk so much" from
his wife of 30 years, 55-year-old Siew Eng.
"I am an old man, I can afford to be
honest!" he says.
own career in entertainment began in 1937, when he
was 13 years old.
He was a back-stage helper and then an acrobat
with a travelling show.
In the 1960s, he teamed up with Ya Fong, whom he
met at a stage show, and that was the start of a
roughly 15-year string of Laurel and Hardy-type
Comedy, he says, has changed, and a younger
generation of comedians like Moses Tay and Jack Neo
have taken centrestage.
"I do not consider them to be competition for
myself and Ya Fong because their presentation and
style are totally different, more suited to the
young. Our performances were more timeless, like
classical old songs.
"We emphasised more on content, the use of
language and wit, and puns.
"The present comedians are more
action-oriented," says Wang
"I don't want to comment on the styles of
others, everyone has his own.
"But I am sad to say that I can't see any duo
who can take the place of Ya Fong and myself. Times
and ideas have changed."
He speaks fondly but minimally of his former
partner in comedy, who is now in the chicken-rice
"We had visual impact: one skinny and tall,
the other short and fat. And a lot of the time, we
didn't need a script because we had chemistry."
As he continues, in a manner so intense it is
obvious he still has a keen interest in comedy, I
begin to wish I could speak Mandarin.
When I tell him so through my friend, he replies:
"I wish I could speak English. It is my one
regret in life.
"We were colonised by the British and they
looked down on us and treated us like second-class
"So I always despised them and refused to
learn their language. Now, I regret it."
"I did not even finish my primary education
in Tuan Mong Primary School before I joined the
"That is why I have placed so much emphasis
on education for my children." He talks proudly
about his six children - from two marriages - the
eldest of whom is now an assistant-superintendent in
the police force.
Speaking intently on topics like the importance of
fulfilling family obligations and artistic integrity,
the bespectacled Wang Sa
looks much like the stereotypical Oriental sage
It is an image far removed from the buck-toothed -
fake ones - and gangly Ah San (Skinny) which he
played for so long.
Until he tilts his head at just the right angle
and raises an eyebrow, and for no apparent reason, I
First published in The Straits
Times, Nov 14, 1993
Copyright © 1998 Singapore Press
Holdings. All Rights Reserved.