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Mr. Liu used to be an artist, singing and acting in Peking operas. We meet Mr. Liu is his shop selling artificial flowers and other decorations.
My voice was very high, so I sang Qingyi (also known as Guimen Dan or Zhengdan; the role of the virtuous lady; usually one of the leading roles). In Peking opera, the voice comes from the Dantian, not from the throat (he points to an area around his navel, which means he is referring to the “low dantian”).
When singing in the wrong way, you’ll hurt your voice. Excessive strain and cold can cause problems too. However, the most important reason for a voice to fail is that the voice itself is not good, or born with problems. Nothing goes wrong with some people’s voice for a whole life. It’s because they were born with a good voice and protected their voice well.
I performed in different places throughout China. It was really a hard time, but I felt very happy then. My first big performance was around 1963 or 1964, performing for foreign friends and guests in the Great Hall of the People. I performed in both big and small theaters. Zhushikou Street marked a boundary for Peking opera actors and actresses, dividing the theaters into the north and the south. Only prestigious actors and actresses could perform in the north. It was a harsh road from the south to the north.
Graduating from the opera school, I was recruited by the Beijing Peking Opera Troupe and lucky enough to perform in the north. There were many theaters in the north, including Jixiang, Dabei, and Capital Theater. Theaters in the south concentrated around Tianqiao in Zhushikou. Many renowned performers also came from those south theaters.
Today’s Tianqiao is quite different from the old days, but still, if you come on weekend morning, you can enjoy programs like waving flagpoles and wrestling.
Tianqiao used to be like a big market. There was once a cross-talker. He didn’t have much knowledge, but he could write with sand. He clutched a handful of sand and sprinkled it on the ground to form a Chinese character. Few people master this skill now.
My favorite role is the matchmaker in the Peking opera “Matchmaker”. I like it because it’s a comedy. I don’t like tragedies which make people feel sad. Comedies can delight people.
I prefer to play kind and good characters, though it requires more skill to perform the bad character. For example, I feel very uncomfortable to see a particular bad character in a TV series and sometimes I will go away until that character disappears. Everyone likes good people.
I listen to all kinds of music. My daughter plays rock & roll. I think rock is too noisy, but she forces me to listen. My wife and daughter don’t like the Peking opera, so I only have to listen to it in my room alone. Besides the opera, I also enjoy some nostalgic and old songs.
My daughter works in a bank during the day time and in her spare time she does organizational work for the Finger Family band. I also have a nephew, who graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music. He is the bass player of Chiren band. They’re now more professional and experienced in music than I am.
Next to the shop selling decorations, my wife and I are running a restaurant. It just opened a month ago and is in the old Beijing style. I’m mainly in charge of the flower shop, while my wife manages the restaurant.
It’s not the first time we run a restaurant. We had one in 2009 and signed a contract for 18 years. But a year late, the place was demolished, so we moved here and opened another one. The reason to run a restaurant is to realize my potential. I want to see whether I’ve got the capability for such a thing. Running the restaurant enriches my life.
My wife and I get along very well. We always have topics and issues to discuss and we often happen to have the same idea about the same thing at the same time. Now we are planning for a journey with the family to Hong Kong next month.
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