About No Parking On Odd Days

Synopsis

Kuo Pao Kun’s 1984 monologue examines the rigidity – and sometimes absurdity – of bureaucracy through a series of confrontations that a man has with the authorities over parking tickets.

First Stagings

The English version of No Parking On Odd Days was first staged on 2 June 1986 at the Shell Theatrette in Singapore, starring Lim Kay Tong and directed by Kuo Pao Kun.

On 13 May 1987, the Mandarin version starring Sum Chong Keong was performed at the Victoria Theatre. It was directed by Tay Bin Wee. That same year, the English production also made its debut in Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Responses

The play, as well as Lim’s and Sum’s performances of it, was lauded by both audiences and critics, who immediately identified with the struggles of the play’s protagonist.

It was a situation so compellingly presented on stage that one could not help feeling that writer and director Kuo Pao Kun had written it from personal experience. Mr Kuo, however, was not saying.

[…]

Kay Tong worked the audience beautifully, building up a bubble of anticipation which explodes in a hilarious shock of recognition that rocks the theatre.

[…]

“I like the underlying message of the play – that we accept too much,” said a civil servant.

A businesswoman said she was surprised and pleased that the Ministry of Community Development had included this play in the festival’s programme.

A teacher added: “It means we’re maturing…”

And the loud and sustained applause yesterday was as much a bouquet for the ministry’s good judgment as for the efforts of the writer/director and actor.

Source: Fine way to have a dig at bureaucracy by Irene Hoe. In The Straits Times (4 June 1986), http://tinyurl.com/kls2fqf

His father is disappointed that his son, an inquisitive and upright boy, has become servile and seemingly indifferent towards injustice.

This drew laughter from the audience, who even applauded. But how could they? Would they laugh at such as pathetic situation in real life?

The comperes called this comedy of situation ku zhong zuo le (amuse oneself when in distress). People laugh at others in situations that they have been caught in themselves. It amuses them to know that they are not alone in their plight.

The audience was also taken in by the skill with which [Sum Chong Keong] put the message across. His many tongue-in-cheek jokes threw them off.

Amid the laughter, the seriousness of the situation is not lost. Although I laughed then, I also felt lost and depressed.

Source: Laughing at others - and ourselves by Maggie Tan. In The Straits Times (19 May 1987), http://tinyurl.com/ms8m7fp

No Parking quickly became a landmark work in the Singapore dramatic canon. Academics praised Kuo’s skilful presentation of the Singaporean condition.

As a critique of societal power and ideological apparatuses, it mockingly dismantles the apparatus of state and societal power until the idealistic kernel of “Truth with a capital T” (No Parking, 63) is itself symbolically and literally lost behind the gridlock of legalese and bureaucrats. Then the monologue distorts and undercuts its own dubious truth, finally turning onto the narrator’s “Truth” at the same time it destroys the principles of Law.”

Of Coffins and Parking Tickets by Jeanette Ng. In Interlogue (2000, Vol. 3), p.45. Published by Ethos Books.

Another highlight of the play was its veracity in reproducing the speech patterns and vocabulary of the average Singaporean.

In [T. Sasitharan’s] opinion, too, “here, at last, was a Singaporean writer who knew how to use the word, ‘lah’.”

“Before, it was just an appendage. A writer would sprinkle ‘lahs’ all over the place to make his work Singaporean.”

Source: HK to hear about our parking woes by Caroline Ngui. In The Straits Times (8 January 1987), http://tinyurl.com/mp83g6f

But Kuo’s real achievement in the play is his profound entrance into Singapore English. It is not quite Singlish, the local patois that was gaining in currency and in controversy in mid-1980s Singapore’s English theatre. It is also not quite BBC English either. But it is just as grammatical and lucid. What Kuo has done is to create a fictive Singapore English that feels like the local version but he has reconstructed it in such a way that is eminently usable for drama. Remarkably, Kuo, hitherto a playwright in Mandarin, has created one of the most dynamic and useful forms of dramatic English for the English language theatre of Singapore.

No Parking on Odd Days by Krishen Jit. In Images at the Margins (2000, p.96). Published by Times Books International.

 

No Parking on Odd Days is available in the following published collections:

  • The Coffin Is Too Big For the Hole and Other Plays. (1990). Published by Times Books International.
  • Images at the Margins. (2000). Published by Times Books International.
  • [Chinese version] The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun (Volume TWO) – Plays in Chinese (2): The 1980s. (2005). Published by Global Publishing.
  • The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun (Volume FOUR) – Plays in English. (2012). Published by Global Publishing.

 

Vault Event Logo

The Vault: Dialects and Dialectics revisits two monologues by the late local theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun: No Parking On Odd Days and The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole. Nine Years Theatre’s artistic director Nelson Chia explores the cultural sentiments and grassroots sensibilities of these plays by staging them in Cantonese and Teochew respectively. Presented on 5 May 2017, 8pm,  and 6 May 2017, 3pm & 8pm, at Centre 42 Black Box. Admission is give-what-you-can. Find out more about the event here.