What was my impression of William Scorpion the entertainer when I first saw him on Channel 8 way back in the 1980s? Well, he couldn’t sing to save his life and his crazy moves and silly costumes were really annoying. He replaced the lyrics of Cantonese songs with Mandarin words and his voice and diction were equally annoying, doing no justice to the original singers at all.
Fast forward 30 years. I checked YouTube for his recent performances. He has become a lot less annoying by not dancing and wearing his ridiculous costumes, but his singing is still bad. Then, this book entitled Sanuk Jing Jing Na on the “new arrivals” display shelf at the library caught my eye. I borrowed it immediately, curious about what his experiences in Thailand might be. Of course, I know what the title means in Thai. In Singlish, it would read “really shiok OK.”
Bringing writer Ivan Lim and 2 photographers with him, William showed them the Thailand he knows best. Of all places, he started off with Khao San Road. For the uninitiated, Khao San Road was once the backpacker’s enclave in Bangkok. But times have changed. It has become a bustling, touristy spot with inflated room rates and food stalls that display “photo 10 baht” (10 baht if you wish to take a photo) signs for people not buying any food. Genuine travellers would avoid such places, but if you turn to the back of the book and look at the list of sponsors, you’ll realise why all the hotel and night tour photos are necessary.
William Scorpion shocked Singapore’s entertainment industry with his flamboyant displays on TV as early as 1983 when he was only 22. The entertainment show was called 缤纷83. I remember it was a nightly spin-off from the very successful weekly 缤纷星期五 hosted by Zhang Wei.
In this book, William talked about interesting behind the scenes stories. He readily admitted he knew nothing about music. Nobody taught him how to dance and design costumes either. Fortunately for William, most people who only had TV for entertainment weren’t very discerning. Unfortunately, his inexperience caused him to fall prey to crooks and manipulators in the industry.
TV appearances were enough to lay the foundation for his fan base in the clubs. Off TV, he could sing Canto pop. As he moved from one club to the next, his fans followed him till some clubs had to shut their doors at 8.00pm when they reached full capacity. Those were his heydays, but after 1997, Canto pop began to slide. He started clubs of his own, but gave up on them early this year. Till this day, William has not recorded a single album.
William has decided to include a painful chapter in his life. He was performing at a New Year’s Day celebration at Pantip Plaza in 1988. Singaporean singer Shi Ni was also performing there. Then, fire broke out at the hotel they were staying. Seven Singaporeans died in the blaze at the First Hotel. Shi Ni was one of them. William recounted the chilling events that led to her death. Unable to come to terms with the tragedy, he felt her spirit was still around. He employed a mor pee to communicate with her spirit to find out how she died. He also brought a monk to the very room where she had suffocated to perform rites and discovered the costume she wore for the performance was lying in the room instead of Pantip Plaza where it should have been.
Various versions of these paranormal stories are still being told and retold all over cyberspace. With William Scorpion revealing publicly that he is an eye-witness to the event, he may be hounded by the fans of ghost stories. Anyway, William was too distraught to perform any further in Bangkok. An opportunity to release an album also went up in smoke, no pun intended. Just as well, perhaps.
William and his gang travelled to Chiangmai by train and stayed in a luxury hotel which sponsored the publication of the book. They then went to see a ladyboy cabaret – which is nothing compared to those at Pattaya. It puzzles me that instead of showing things that Lanna (Northern Thailand) is famous for, he went for ladyboys.
Without dwelling too much on Chiangmai, the team headed further north to Phayao where his home is. A small quaint town in the north, Phayao is not the kind of place that the average Singaporean would find attractive, but William was perfectly at home here, drinking, dancing and partying with the folks in a festival celebrating the dead.
In this book, William told many stories about his love for animals and his special relationship and encounters with horses. He loves riding and holds an International Certification Horsemanship from the Equestrian Federation of Australia as well as a tertiary qualification in horse management and riding. It’s a huge departure from the entertainment business and I think it somewhat disrupts the flow of the narrative. Nevertheless, he mentioned right from the start that his love affair with Thailand and horses started after he met his Khun Yai (maternal grandmother), a German lady who migrated to Thailand and was looking after horses in Kanchanaburi.
The team returned to Bangkok to sum up on William’s singing/performing career. I think William knows that he is no recording artist. He needs a stage with background noise and dancers to cover up his inadequacies. He believes that Singapore has talent and the part that touches me most is this:
“The constraints are the size of the market and the people involved. The industry itself is not open. You can’t do very much out there with no complaints. You will get complaints, either on moral or religious grounds, so there are a lot of obstacles.”
In closing, William admits that performing has become a job for him. Riding is his passion. He hopes to run a riding school in Phayao where poor kids can have to chance to enjoy what is usually a rich man’s sport. But why such a nondescript place like Phayao? It’s all because his Thai friend by the name of Jude, lives there. William first met Jude in Chiangmai in 2000 and decided to operate a furniture making business in partnership with him. That business failed miserably and he lost a lot of money. When he finally went to Phayao to meet Jude’s parents, he was “charmed by the mountains”. He quickly decided that he would buy a piece of land in Jude’s name next to another piece of land owned by Jude’s brother Jay and run a riding school there. It would be interesting to follow up on this.
I can’t help comparing Sanuk with Ivan Lim’s earlier work on Kumar. Compared to Kumar’s book, this book seems to be hastily produced. The writing is not as polished as Rags. In some instances, the author seemed to have taken words straight out of the horse’s mouth – so to speak – without editing out repetition and grammatical errors. To me, Sanuk also has too many “unnecessary” photos which only pay tribute to William’s narcissistic personality. The standard of the photography varies, with some pretty bad photos which should not have been there.
Overall, it’s an interesting read, partly because William is such a colourful personality and partly because I had a love affair with Thailand as well. But I still don’t believe how he could have made it as a singer.