Most of us would consider Simei ("See-May") a small heartlander estate. With a general hospital and learning hub at Eastpoint Mall but no cinema, the estate is not a crowd-puller unlike neighboring Tampines. But the estate has a little secret. Hidden among the housing blocks are the legendary four beauties in Chinese history who reputedly gave the estate its name. Not many people know of their existence, much less seen all four of them.
In November '08, I combed the whole estate to "uncover" the beauties.
The title comes from a famous Chinese expression for the four beauties. The four were so stunning that each caused fishes to stop swimming, geese to stop flying and the moon and flowers to retreat in shame. You can imagine what happened to the poor fishes and geese. Femme fatale!
It was fun carpet-searching the whole estate for the beauties and luckily Simei is not anywhere near the size of Tampines. Here I'd like to thank Victor for "uncovering" one beauty for me. I emailed him one day in 2008 about the beauties' location (I mean he is the undisputable "king" in such things right??) and he replied in less than an hour. So I had my first beauty at void deck of Blk 116, courtesy of his friend.
Below is my field report condensed in pictures, arranged by the beauty's chronological order in history. To help our gahman promote their language campaign (think "huayu is cool"), I inserted snippets from baidu on the origin of the famous Chinese expression. I have also indicated where the beauty can be found in the field guide. Do update me if the beauties have changed location today!
Surprisingly there were two portraits of Xishi, at Blk 123 and 116. The only beauty who is duplicated; that makes five beauties in Simei. A simple kampong girl from the Spring and Autumn Period, do not let the portraits that do her injustice deceive you. An account (东施效颦) tells us Xishi had some kind of heart problem and walked, with a frown, clutching her bosom. Even so, she looked beautiful! The other beauties were aristocrats or royalties, resplendent in their make-up and outfit, but when Xishi sank the fishes, she was doing laundry by the river.
Wang Zhaojun, from Western Han, is the beauty with pipa decked in winter clothing. Actually the story does not say her stunning look caused the geese to plunge to their death, rather the culprit was her melancholic pipa music. Maybe we should award her "Best Musician" instead.
Many youngsters are most familiar with Diaochan, having played variants of Three Kingdoms (三国志/三国演义). Somehow I can't resist the seductive image of Diaochan - of her dancing under the moonlight, of her mesmerising the invincible Lu Bu; do you get that with kampong girl Xishi or winter-outfit musician Zhaojun?
Tang Dynasty imperial concubine Yang Yuhuan was rubenesque all right, but this did not deter later generations from conferring her the title. We tend to associate lychees and hot spring bathing with her. Ok, a steamy "sex-factor" wouldn't harm if it gets the plump-women image off our mind (no offence to those in TAF club). The famous poet Bai Juyi (白居易) helped too, in his Forever Sorrow (長恨歌) - "bath at Huaqing Chi in time of chilly spring; rinsed her silky skin in slick hot water spring" (春寒賜浴華清池; 溫泉水滑洗凝脂).
From the Chinese account, it is clear that only Xishi deserves the award of femme fatale. Zhaojun's music killed the geese, clouds happened to obscure the moon for Diaochan and Guifei could have touched mimosa. No wonder baidu champions the primacy of Xishi and the name itself as the epitome of beauty (其中西施居首，是美的化身和代名词).
That's all folks! Hope you enjoyed this article. :)