Puppet putonghua

Puppet putonghua

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Puppet master Wong Hei, affectionately known as Uncle Ka Ming, with students at Pui Kiu College in Tai Wai. Photo: May Tse

Lai Ying-kit talks to puppeteer Wong Hei about a lifetime of teaching and bringing smiles to children's faces

Monkey claps his hands as the class of Primary Three pupils yell in unison that they want the tiny chestnut-coloured monkey to come and tell them tales again soon.

The Monkey, brought to life by Wong Hei, is actually a glove puppet. He has been teaching Putonghua at Pui Kiu College in Tai Wai for the past week.

Affectionately known to generations of fans in Hong Kong as Uncle Ka Ming, the man behind the puppet has been enchanting young people with his adaptions of traditional Chinese fables for decades. At the age of 80, he may no longer appear on television - it's been some 20 years now - but Wong says he will keep telling children stories for as long as he can.

This week, he is putting on shows and workshops with Czech Republic puppeteers Truhlar Marionety at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin.

But performing for children is still closest to his heart. "Seeing children laugh is my biggest pleasure in life," he says.

Wong, who started his career in the 1950s, was the first television host in Hong Kong to use glove puppets to tell children's stories. He doesn't know how many puppets he has made over the years, but he does know that animals are most popular with children.

Born to a family of actors in Guangzhou, Wong grew up among opera, puppet and acrobatic shows in his hometown. All of these art forms, he says, have had an influence on his puppetry.

He puns in Cantonese while his voice shifts and changes intonation, breathing life into his puppets.

The puppeteer says it is easy to make your own puppets. All you need is some kind of plastic glove, a stick and a piece of cloth.

"You can buy polystyrene balls from stationery shops to use as a puppet head. Find a stick and attach it to the ball. Then, put some cloth around the stick to make the body."

Use your creativity when you're coming up with a face for your puppet, Wong says.

Wong sees puppetry as a miniature version of the big stage.

"Children who are too small to act in a play can put on a puppet show easily," he says.

He came up with the concept of using puppets as a teaching tool when he was at the then Grantham College of Education, which is now the Hong Kong Institute of Education. He realised that puppets could be used to teach would-be teachers. He also began to use them as a teaching tool for children.

"It's a more lively teaching method, especially for younger children, and it holds their attention."

He had a huge impact on many of his students. His son, Harry, also a puppeteer, appears on television and on stage.

Along with the shows at New Town Plaza, a small selection of Wong's puppets will be on display together with 30 wooden puppets made by Truhlar Marionety.

Wong and Marionety will be celebrating at the mall tomorrow and Christmas day. Puppet-making workshops will be held from tomorrow to Sunday and from December 31 to January 3

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