Published Date: Issue Feb/ Mar 2019
Behind the neat, ordered facades of HDB blocks is a living compendium of lives, people and stories; some more colourful than others, but all unique and interesting in their own special way. A home-grown group of chapteh players is keeping the heritage activity alive, with hopes of reigniting its popularity across the heartland.
A traditional game that requires both dexterity and balance to keep a feathered shuttlecock in the air, chapteh used to be seen by some as a pastime for children. Today, a growing community of chapteh enthusiasts of all ages is breathing new life into the old-school activity at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Their story is a testament to how shared spaces in the heartland bring people together and forge lasting friendships.
The game of chapteh attracts both the young and young-at-heart
From Strangers to Friends
At the heart of the group is Mr Lim Kwang Yan, affectionately known as laoshi (teacher) among the players. A veteran who only picked up chapteh in his 70s, Mr Lim did not let age get in his way of developing the flexibility and nimbleness needed to play the game well.
“I trained and practised stretching exercises for more than 5 years before I finally achieved a full split,” Mr Lim shares. At 85 years old, he is still able to pull off challenging moves, such as kicking the chapteh with his heel when it lands behind him. His personal record is kicking the chapteh in the air for more than 200 times.
Veteran Mr Lim Kwang Yan leads a group of passionate chapteh players
Mr Lim started out practising with a small group of friends at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West. “Our group mainly comprised regulars, as our practice spot was located slightly off the beaten track,” he recalls. These days, Mr Lim cycles to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to meet his friends for chapteh. Over time, the group of players caught the attention of passers-by, and the numbers started to grow. “Whenever passers-by stop to watch us play, we will offer them a chapteh to try,” Mr Lim says.
Among them is animation director Jun Yi. “I used to play chapteh when I was in junior college, and had been looking to get back into the game over the past decade, when I came across the players here,” he shares. “What I like about chapteh is that it is gender neutral, and every player is able to develop his or her own style, just like in other sports.”
Mr Lim is generous with his advice and guidance toward the players, and the group’s welcoming nature has fostered its diversity. Besides Singaporeans, its members include residents in the area who come from Vietnam and Japan.
Gathering 5 times a week, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, the players also stay in touch through group text messaging, with the retirees often heading to a nearby coffee shop at Teck Ghee for conversation over breakfast after practice.
The easy camaraderie of the chapteh club belies the wide age range of its members. Some of its younger members include a group of teenagers. “We are students from different schools who gather to play soccer near the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, and chanced upon chapteh on an occasion,” 16-year-old Ryan explains. “The uncles were very friendly, and invited us to give it a try.” The youths have been joining the group regularly on weekends ever since, and even help to keep an eye on other players’ children and pet dogs while the parents and owners are in the game.
Families also make up this group, such as the Teos, a family of 3. “I was actually the first one in the family to start playing chapteh! I introduced my husband and 9-year-old son to the activity to encourage them to exercise more, and now they have become better players than me,” Crystal jokes.
The players’ skills and enthusiasm prove that chapteh is not mere child’s play
Passion for the Game
Proving that chapteh is not mere child’s play, the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio chapteh group takes part in an annual tournament with other clubs in Singapore, including one based in Bukit Batok. Each club has their different and unique culture, and engage in friendly rivalry through frequent matches.
Members of the group who did well in a recent competition include father-and-son duo Jim and Joven, who were crowned runners-up in the categories they participated in. “Our dream is to elevate the game to a higher level, and compete at bigger venues in the future,” Jun Yi shares.
The supportive atmosphere contributes to the strong team spirit among the players, and motivates them to improve their skills. It is no wonder that most passers-by find it hard to resist the neighbourly friendship offered by the chapteh group. “Rain or shine, you will find us practising around the park, and we welcome anyone who wishes to join us!”
Father-and-son chapteh duo, Jim and Joven