Busk in their glory

His wife inspired him to be a busker.

Well, kind of.

Mr Tan Chai Heng, 80, revealed: "My wife doesn't like me to play music when I'm at home. She used to complain that I keep playing the same tunes, and play very loudly.

"So I decided to come out and share my music with others."

He added: "I don't need the money, but I guess having more money is always a good thing."

Mr Tan is the oldest busker in Singapore with a letter of endorsement from the National Arts Council.

He has been playing the erhu and the dizi (Chinese flute) outside City Hall MRT station every afternoon for the last two years.


The father of two - and grandfather of four - lives in a four-room flat in Bukit Merah with his wife.

The former employee of the then Port of Singapore Authority has been playing the Chinese instruments since the 1950s, after meeting a Hainanese busker..

He bought the instruments from a shop in Chinatown and taught himself how to play them.

After retiring in 1993, he practised more often.

He said: "What can an old man like me do? I can't work, and going to coffee shops and playing chess gets boring after a while."

His favourite song is the Hokkien number I Ask The Sky, the theme song of popular Taiwanese soap opera Love.

Mr Tan revealed that the first time he began busking in 2011, he made only $1 after playing for an hour.

He said: "At that time, I wasn't very good, and felt nervous. An elderly auntie took pity on me."

But these days, he makes more than $100 on a good day.

He said: "Sometimes, nobody gives me anything all day, and somebody will just drop a $50 note in my box."

After two of his front teeth fell out last month, he has been playing the dizi less frequently.

"It's harder to play because there are holes in my mouth where my teeth used to be. But if I concentrate, I can still play."

Said student Joanna Lim, 21, who gave $1 to Mr Tan last Friday: "I'm very impressed with his playing, it's energetic and full of spirit.

"If you didn't tell me, I won't believe that he's the oldest busker in Singapore."

Mr Tan also does not feel threatened by young buskers dishing out flashy numbers.

He said: "They might have expensive instruments and formal training but they can't play the erhu.

"We are just catering to different audiences.

"Some of them might also be trying to become professional musicians, so their acts are more flashy. But for me, I just want to pass the time and be happy."

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