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The Canticle Singers staged the musical REFUGEE: IMAGES from Wednesday 9th to Sunday 13th August 2006 at Panggung Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur. The musical REFUGEE: IMAGES, by acclaimed director and playwright Chin San Sooi, is Malaysia's first full-length, locally-written musical in English. and was first staged in 1986 with exhilarating performances.

In two acts, the musical REFUGEE: IMAGES presents a series of contrasting images to highlight the theme that everyone is a refugee seeking to fulfil his life. It unfolds with the historical event of the Vietnamese boat people as political refugees, escaping from Vietnam and making a dangerous journey across the high seas, arriving finally at Pulau Bidong on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It tells the story of their hopes and fears and their desire to seek a better future for themselves. This is in contrast to scenes of Malaysians and others who are also searching and realising that there is hope and meaning even in the turmoil of living.

Isaac Chia working in collaboration with Anson Ong, did a brilliant job of contemporising the original music and scoring it for a SATB chorus, supported with a stronger orchestration. The music of REFUGEE: IMAGES is an eclectic blend of captivating and tuneful numbers -rhythmic, emotional, energetic, contemplative, stirring and rousing; with general appeal as well a couple of atonal passages to keep the chorus challenged.

The musical is apolitical and is a tribute to Malaysia, for her compassion shown during the saga of the boat people.

New Sunday Times
"......a dramatic musical, depicting each man as "a refugee to his soul"
searching for a meaning in life.."
"...The music was emotional and complemented the message very well.."

".. the boat people "were a metaphor of man".... .the musical is
essentially about life and death.."
"....Like many others, he found ...: "The music was good.""


Panggung Bandaraya, Kuala Lumpur


Day/Times of Performances

Date: Evenings of Wed 9 - Sun 13 Aug 2006 @ 8:30pm
Date: Matinees on Sat 12 & Sun 13 Aug 2006 @3.00pm


Ticket Prices

Matinee shows: RM45 & RM55
Evening shows: RM45, RM55 & RM65
Seniors & Students : RM35 (Selected Shows)


Axcess Ticketing outlets

  • Music Valley, Sg Wang Plaza
  • Music Valley, Cheras Leisure Mall
  • Lot 10 Info. Counter
  • The Actors Studio, Bangsar
  • Fantasy Music, Sunway Pyramid
  • Music Valley Greentown, Ipoh
  • Music Valley Midlands Park, Penang
  • Music Valley, Holiday Plaza, Johor Bahru
  • Box Office, Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil
  • Axcess Office, Jalan Semangat



Program Notes

from the producer and music director


The Canticle Singers is honoured  to be staging San Sooi’s  musical  “Refugee: Images” at  Panggung Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur.  This is our second musical in this wonderfully restored theatre since “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in 2004 which very  unexpectedly garnered  us a nomination  for Best Group Performance for Voice under the Boh Cameronian Awards.
Not many dramatic musicals feature the absence of a linear storyline and Broadway’s CATS is perhaps one of the more well known ones.  “Refugee: Images” is also of this genre and one where San Sooi provides a kaleidoscope of images  which he skilfully weaves into a tapestry of  the tale of man’s restlessness and  continuing search for contentment and meaning in life.
The original musical has been contemporised and scored for a chorus and stronger orchestration.  Isaac Chia is responsible for this and in collaboration with Anson Ong,  has done a brilliant job, resulting in an eclectic blend of melodies and rhythms which thread the musical.  In the process,  some new numbers were born, while existing numbers were re-engineered and rearranged. “Refugee: Images” offers a captivating collection of  music with  general appeal.
As a performing group, we have already received a good share of  bricks and stones ....with more on the way, from self-appointed  quarters; for attempting this production given its content and being a marked departure from our past productions.  We nevertheless are of the conviction that “Refugee: Images” reflects man’s spiritual and  physical struggles in this world.
The present Company features many new talents and who have demonstrated a resilience for hard work. Their combination of skills, talents and determination  have forged good team spirit and  a cohesive performing group. In particular I would like to commend those who took on additional  responsibilities as members of the production team:  Sue Yee and  Mabel.
In terms of the dramatic element, members of  the Company have found it even more challenging having to switch character roles from one scene to another, with minimal props and often without having to even leave the stage.   San Sooi has been patient and encouraging with our novices, honing them to give of  their best and  I am sure they have benefited much under his tutelage. 


H.K. Chong


from the artistic director and playwright


No words can express fully one’s deepest feelings. Even more so in this case when a group of people come together voluntarily to create a piece of work I initiated and bring it to fruition. I feel honoured, humbled and blessed, my co-mates.  In this production, slight changes have been made to the script to enhance the musical development of the play.

The challenging music as it stands now stems from much discussion with HK Chong, the musical director, Issac Chia and Anson Ong, who provided the additional music to the original by Chin Yoong Kim & Jane Tan and re-scored others.  Isaac played the pivotal role in orchestrating and re-formulating the music and scoring it for a chorus.  The grilling process of hours of discussion and labour is a study in enthusiasm and steadfast conviction. Without any music background, my only claim to the music, if I may make the claim, is that I would like to think, I am the song.

My apologies for having to explain the play as it has a chequered history.  It was initially banned in 1980 and then allowed to be performed in 1986 albeit with the script being censored....Refugee:Images is apolitical.... In two acts, it presents different images juxtaposed to highlight the theme that every man is a refugee seeking to fulfill his life for better or worse. The first act presents four sets of images: the disco going crowd, the Vietnamese boat people, the kampong folks and Malaysians wanting to emigrate or have emigrated.  The second act shows the Vietnamese boat people on Pulau Bidong, some of the dreams they have and people the world over.  Hopefully, the play would inspire in us optimistically that there is morning in night.

I digress a little:  I was asked by the powers that be in 1980 that if the play were allowed to be performed could I guarantee that the audience would not cause trouble.  In 1986 when the play was allowed to be performed with some scenes censored and some content changed, a reporter asked me how I felt about it.  To the reporter, I said that the powers that be then needed time to mature.  When they do so, they shall see that the play is patriotic in its expression.  To these powers, I would like to say that the Malaysian audience is most gentle and kind.  They love to see good entertainment, visually and intellectually.  They are thoughtful and certainly not rebel rousers.  In fact, the theatre is the safest place to express contentious thoughts as the audience will quietly leave and chew upon them.

Our dear cast and crew have given precious hours to work on stage and off stage since mid-February to bring about this production.  The many hours of sweat and laughter committed to the task of bringing the play to the stage is a celebration of an act of creation.

We dedicate this play to the audience, to Malaysia.
Chin San Sooi




In two acts, the musical “Refugee: Images” presents different images juxtaposed to highlight the theme that everyone is a refugee seeking to fulfill his life for better or worse.


Act One presents four sets of images: the Vietnamese boat people, the kampong folks, Malaysians desiring to emigrate or have emigrated and patrons and the party crowd at a discotheque.  The Vietnamese boat people are depicted as political refugees seeking economic and social gains….while the kampong folks feel the impact of the Vietnamese refugee maelstrom as it hits Malaysian shores…..and we have Malaysians who have migrated or planning to migrate,  shown as cynical people or honest people trying to justify their actions….and of course there is the  discotheque crowd who are portrayed as empty hollow urbanites who are engaged  in all kinds of issues but do not act.


Act Two depicts Vietnamese boat people on Pulau Bidong and some of the dreams they have for a better life in another country..…as well as  people the world over.  While waiting to be processed to be accepted as refugee immigrants in other countries, the boat people in their dreams and nightmares come to face the realities of life and death and are shown that they cannot run away from life itself. This is juxtaposed by images of people all over the world affirming that one must look into oneself for morning in night i.e to realise that there is hope and meaning in the harsh realities of life.

Note:    For those who are particularly sensitive to brilliant bursts of  light, please be cautioned that strobe lights are used in Act II Scene 5 of this production.



May Ang Seok Leng
Erna  Mahyuni
Elvira Carrie ArulCindy Oei
Chan Wai YeeTan Hui Kee
Alex  Chai Ming FongTan Sue Yee
Brian Cheong Chee Yoong  
Geoffrey Woo
Jason Cheong Tze YeenBenjamin Yap Kok Bin 
John Chai Chuan WayJunie Yong Jia Yi
Mabel Kong Su MeiJoshua Yap Joo Lake
Lam Chee LeongYudi
Caleb Lee Jia Lieh 
Isaac Chia
1st Violins
Prody G Barholome (Leader)
 Ken Lee Chee Fatt
 Li Xin Qiao
2nd Violins
Jonathan Lee Kit Sing
 Man Sok Meng
 Goh Tong Keat
Chan Yit Fei
 Edmond Tan Phooi Boon
Keyboard 1
Sow Peck Yin
Keyboard 2 Liu Wen Chin
Yeow Boon Shin
French Horn  
Koh Jiun Yen
Chin Hong Da
Eddy Lim
   Kenneth Ooi
   Esther Ang & May Ang
H K Chong
   assisted by 
    Darren J Weller, LH Fong
   & Harris Cazaly
   Wong Li Jian
Chin San Sooi
    Tan Sue Yee
   Hong Chiuk Wai, Esther Ang, 
       Jason Tan & Brian Khoo
Isaac Chia
    Mabel Kong Su Mei
    Richard Small
Chin Yoong Kim & Jane Tan
Additional music & 
   Junie Yong
   Pearlly Chua
arrangements by 
Isaac Chia & Anson Ong
    Ong Wan Ping
   Chen Huen Phuei
Chin Yoong Kim
   Visionplus Televideo
   Anis Rozalina assisted by
Wong Wing Thim
   Elvira Arul
        Brian Cheong
Noel Jayaratnam
    assisted by     Irene Wong
   Chan Soi Noi,
Chin San Sooi
   Evonne Siew Yi Von,   SHOW TRAILER
    Ronald Chai Min Zen   Isaac Chia & Brian Choeng
Tan Eng Heng
    Leslie Hong
   Jean Cheah & friends;
   and the team from
   The Boy's Brigade from
Woon Fook Sen
   Stella-In International
   Trinity Methodist Church

Many young Malaysians have never heard of the boat people nor of this 260 hectare island called Pulau Bidong off the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Those who know a little, do not fully understand the full significance of the great pain and suffering the island had once seen.  Some choose to obliterate this tragic story  but the boat people will always be part of our history and  should never be forgotten. The heritage of the boat people lives on....once so controversially intertwined with our country's destiny - an  island of solace brought about by the kinship of man with man.


The first batch of Boat People (the popular term for them) fled South Vietnam after the communist North captured the capital then called Saigon (since renamed Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975.  In 1978, conditions worsened as China invaded the newly-reunified Vietnam, giving rise to fierce sentiments against the minority Vietnamese of Chinese descent.  Their assets and wealth was seized by the government. Thus they resorted to buying a safe passage out of their country heading for Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Australia.


Thousands of middle-class Vietnamese gave up hope of a future in the land of their birth and  fled by boat. Some left to avoid conscription, others were victims of political persecution  or feared the "re-education" camps. Others were repulsed by the new regime whereby "Uncle Ho" commanded loyalty greater even than for one's family. The brutal new regime  would mean a life without freedom and no hope for their children. Thus began the huge exodus of the Vietnamese in often overloaded un-seaworthy vessels across the ocean in their quest for a better tomorrow and it is estimated that about 850,000 died while transversing the South China Sea, victims of  starvation, drowning and attacks



Death, disease and pirates.
Fleeing communism was a perilous journey.
A group of Vietnamese refugees revisited the camps they
 stayed in while waiting to find new homes in Australia.

They are going back for different reasons, to the refugee camps where more than two decades ago one life ended and a new one began. Often it is to give thanks to the countries that gave them a gateway to freedom; sometimes it is to return as an adult having had then only a child's perspective; or it may be to mentally revisit the hardships they endured and to feel grateful they were able to live for the past 25 years a free and happy life in Australia, the US, France or Canada.  As the motor boat to Bidong Island lurches around in the swell, Than Nguyen sits wearing her life-jacket, staring ahead, silent, a look of utter desolation on her face. Twenty-one years ago, Than spent three days in a boat with her husband and four children, aged four, seven, ten and twelve. During the voyage, her four-year-old became very ill. "When the boat sailed past Thailand he became sick, vomiting," she tells  me. "After two days he died." She knew there was no way to save him, but at least he could receive a proper burial. She asked the boat's owner to go to land to bury him but the engine wouldn't start. As the stricken vessel floated, some men on board found a piece of tin and fashioned a barrel. They put the boy's body in and pushed it out to sea. She is going back to honour him.
Thanh Thai is a 49-year-old Melbourne architect who escaped Vietnam in 1980 and spent six months on Bidong. He is going back to find the grave of his aunt, one of 15 people killed when a boat capsized just a few metres from shore. "On the first day we found three bodies, on the second we found two and on the third we found five, of which she was one. The function of this trip is to find out where I buried my auntie. I trust with my heart I will find her."
After a 40-minute ride from mainland Malaysia, the boat arrives at the jetty. It is hot. No one is talking now, due to some seasickness, and partly to the import of what is about to be experienced. After so many years, the people on this boat will revisit Bidong to see where they once lived, where countless boatloads arrived and where they watched the agony of parents whose daughters had been kidnapped by pirates, where they saw the shattered lives of the often teenaged victims of rape on the pirates' fishing boats, where they saw little children die of thirst. And where they began their first steps into another world.
Sister Maureen Lohrey was the headmistress of a Melbourne Catholic school before spending three years on Bidong. She and two other Catholic nuns - Sister Carole McDonald and Sister Joan Campbell - lived and worked with the Vietnamese boat people, calling themselves The God Squad. The nuns did what they could to maintain a humanity amid the tension and uncertainty. "No one was allowed to fish or get coconuts, which was ridiculous because they didn't have enough food," Sister Maureen said. "We became like criminals ourselves. The kids would climb up the coconut trees and drop them onto a blanket. They would have look-outs and we'd keep an eye out too and we became complicit."    Sister Carole McDonald spent six years in Bidong where she started a junior high school with 600 children studying for two hours a day. "They were so lonely and sad without their parents that you saw them letting go, giving up," she says. "You had to persuade them, encourage them, love them."

With eyes half-closed Bidong looks like paradise, its jungles spilling to white coral sand beaches and coconut palms lapped by azure waters. But as you walk into where the camp used to be, past the skeleton of a boat on the shore, you realise what this place once was. Behind overgrown vines and trees is a shell of a hut, once the bedroom of one woman on our trip. Amid the weeds and thick, overgrown foliage there are derelict temples and monuments in bad repair. You can see the foundations that were once the school, the hospital, the supply store and the water and rations distribution points. Most structures have been destroyed by storms and time. No one visits here from mainland Malaysia. The once rat-infested settlement is now a ghost town.
The visitor group wanders around, trying to locate sites of personal significance. Derrick Nguyen stands on a bluff overlooking the water. From here you look down on the island's jetty, where the delegations would arrive by boat, causing an excited ripple. It's here 25 years ago that Derrick would sit and "contemplate what life was going to be for me". He would watch the boats carrying people who'd been granted citizenship to another country leaving. "When the boats left with my friends on them, I used to run from one end of this bluff to the other to wave to them, and I'd keep on waving untiI I couldn't see them. I feel ashamed to say I cried. While I was happy for them, I was sad for me."
Son Lam, a 41-year-old tiler, is standing in a derelict Chinese temple. Aged 19, he performed in plays here, but the stage has rotted away. Son met his wife in the Bidong school, and acted in plays with her in this room. He stands quietly looking around. On the bluff overlooking the jetty, he approaches a monument containing small thanksgiving plaques, bearing people's names and the number of the boat in which they arrived. Son finds his plaque. It's an extraordinary moment. He brushes the dirt off and decides to take it home to Sydney.
Andrew Doan is photographing the site of the camp to show his family. He remembers the night his family of eight children fled. The boat owner told the 92 passengers, "we're going tonight." The crowd walked five kilometres and stepped on to a boat 13 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. Andrew’s parents stayed behind, joining them two years later -by the fifth day food, water and fuel had run out, and the boat was drifting. Andrew remembers the exhaustion and, among the mass of bodies. Eventually, an English oil tanker picked them up. The captain radioed Singapore but was told the refugees were not wanted. The family was transferred to Bidong where they stayed being accepted by Australia.
It's late afternoon and time to leave Bidong. It's been an emotional and often sad day. Near the jetty a group of 20 people gather to sing a famous song, waving the Vietnamese flag and clapping while others take photographs. The dead have been honoured, curiosity satisfied, and some ghosts laid to rest. On the boat trip back to the Malaysian mainland, a cake for Sister Maureen is brought out and everybody sings Happy Birthday.
Condensed from an article ‘Come Hell or High Water’ April 17, 2005; by Peter Wilmoth