BANGKOK — Unable to bear the melodic wailing of Chinese opera, condo residents called the police on a performance at a city center shrine Tuesday night.
The Sing E Lai Heng Chinese opera troupe was on its last scene at a performance held at the Pae Kong Sa Tee Chiang Hok Tua Shrine in Soi Naradhiwat Rajanagarindra 14 when cops came to halt the show due to a noise complaint from the neighboring Bangkok Horizon Sathorn condo.
But shrine regulars insist the condo residents should have known about the temple’s regular opera performances, given the temple has been standing for half a century.
“We were here first. You came afterwards, and chose to build next to a shrine. You should have expected that we would sometimes have celebrations,” Laksika Piyasuntornsup, 48, a shrine caretaker told Khaosod Thursday.
The shrine had launched five days of Chinese opera, or ngiew, performances starting last Saturday for the Teh Krajaad festival. Laksika said they received a call from the police Monday asking them to lower the volume due to complaints from the condo. On Tuesday the troupe scaled down their sound system to a few mics, one speaker, and drums, but it still wasn’t enough – the cops came and shut down the performance.
“We’ve backed up in every way. They told us to shorten the ceremony, and we did. They told us to lower the volume, and we did immediately,” Laksika said. On Wednesday night, the troupe used no microphones.
The shine had already received official permission from Sathorn district officials and police to hold the ngiew performances, which Laksika says have been held at the shrine for more than 40 years. Unlike years before, they shortened the performance to start at 7pm and end at 10pm, even though ngiew is traditionally held later at night. The shrine, called Pae Kong for short, holds celebrations thrice a year but their mid-year, five-day Teh Krajaad festival is their biggest ngiew showcase.
Much of the shrine is an open-air courtyard. The 24-story condo with 268 units towers next to it.
As modern lifestyles clash with old timetables and sounds, condo residents aren’t just complaining about ngiew performances – traditional celebrations such as Buddhist temple bells and mosque calls to prayer have received complaints from high-rise Bangkok condos in recent years. Complaining as a condo resident also offers more anonymity than complaining as a house resident.
Laksika says it’s the third time the ngiew performances have been complained about, with the first coming in 2017 when the Bangkok Horizon Sathorn condo filled up after its construction was completed in Dec. 2015. She told Khaosod that she wants the person submitting the complaints to come talk to the shrine directly.
The issue first came to light when Charlie Lew, a Facebook account known for promoting ngiew events in Thailand, wrote a widely-shared public post on Wednesday about the cops shutting the performance down.
“The condo was only finished a year or two ago, but this shrine and the performances have been here for decades,” Charlie wrote. “It was the last scene and would have ended in only five to 10 minutes. The troupe wanted to perform for the audience. But the police forced us to stop immediately.”
Charlie wrote that he finds it unfair that locals are unwilling to put up with ngiew but would gladly participate in merit-making parades that close the streets with police aid.
“What double standard is being used? If the complaint is from an influential person, do locals who’ve lived in the community for years immediately lose to the power of money?” he wrote. “How shocking that after material wealth comes in, spiritually helpful customs have to back off.”
Most of the commenters on Charlie’s post agreed that the ngiew show should not have been interrupted, as it is a dying art.
“If I lived there, I would come down and watch the entire ngiew show. Nowadays they’re very rare performances. Society nowadays is so selfish,” wrote user Rung Aung.
The condo was developed by CMC Group which also owns other building projects such as the Chateau in Town, Bangkok Horizon and Bangkok Feliz condos.
See our video feature on the disappearing art of ngiew here: