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Dec 13, 2009

"The fishes sink, the geese plunge, the moon and flower retreat in shame" - Searching for the Four Beauties in Simei

Welcome to Simei Estate

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.

Four Beauties Map

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!

Added 2 May 2010:

One anon updated me on what could be the complete set in the estate:

Xishi (Simei St 1) - Blocks 116 and 123
Diaochan (Simei St 2) - Blocks 141 and 146
Guifei (Simei St 3) - Blocks 101 and 107
Zhaojun (Simei St 4) - Blocks 226 and 229

As pointed out by anon, the positioning of the portraits exhibits symmetry. By plotting the eight locations on a map of Simei, we begin to see the mirror symmetry exhibited by the pair of same beauty.

The Fish (沉鱼) - Xishi (西施)

Xishi Portrait
Xishi PortraitSimei Blk 123

Xishi PortraitSimei Blk 116

传说西施在古越国浣纱溪边浣纱,水中的鱼儿看到她的惊艳容貌,都感到自愧不如沉入江底。

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.

The Goose (落雁) - Zhaojun (昭君)

Zhaojun Portrait
Zhaojun PortraitBlk 226

传说“昭君出塞”时,行于大漠途中,悲怀于自身命运和远离家乡,在马上百无聊赖,弹《出塞曲》。而天边飞过的大雁,听到曲调的幽怨和感伤,肝肠寸断,纷纷的掉落在地。

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.

The Moon (闭月) - Diaochan (貂蝉)

Diaochan Portrait
Diaochan PortraitBlk 146

传说貂蝉在花园中拜月时,有云彩遮住月光,被王允看到。此后王允就对人说貂禅比月亮还漂亮,称为“闭月”。

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?

The Flower (羞花) - Guifei (贵妃)

Guifei PortraitSimei Blk 107

传说杨玉环在花园中赏花时悲叹自己的命运,用手抚花,也许是含羞草,也许是别的原因,花瓣收缩,花叶垂下。被宫女看见,就说杨贵妃与花儿比美,花儿都羞得低下了头。

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).

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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. :)

14 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for a very informative post; not only about the historical 4 beauties, but also about a part of our little island.

Coincidentally, I had a short holiday in Xian earlier this year and visited 2 places associated with 2 of these beauties. One was the Huaqing Chi. On the way to the airport we passed the mausaleum of the emperor who 'gave' Wang Zhaojun away - forgot his name. Anyway, our tour guide narrated the very interesting story of “昭君出塞.

Victor said...

Haha. Google ads found your "plump-women image" and posted a slimming ad in your side-bar.

Adelin Lok said...

this is very interesting, i only saw 2 or 3 while i was there. Thanks for finding all 5 of them! :D

Lam Chun See said...

Wow .... There was a huge article about your blog in My Paper today. Well done man!

Icemoon said...

Err, Chun See, I thought you drive? Where did you get the paper from?

Icemoon said...

> Thanks for a very informative post; not only about the historical 4 beauties, but also about a part of our little island.

I think I shall skip Orchard to explore some of our housing estates. Just like Chun See, haha.

Next time I go Xian must visit the famous Chinese pyramids. They say you can see one along the way to the airport ....

Victor said...

Congrats, Icemoon. Now can use real name liao. :p

Victor said...

>I thought you drive? Where did you get the paper from?

No need to drive to get paper. Just know how to surf can already. Get from here.

Icemoon said...

They never asked if I wanted a batman mask lor .... :(

Aiyah, come on la .. everybody is exposed already. YG, LKK, KHP ....

Lam Chun See said...

Referring to the mausalsums; not only can see on way to airport. Can also see from the air.

Everyday, My Paper is delivered right to my house; and also Today.

Laokokok said...

My apology to you for thinking that Icemoon is a lady until I saw your photo on My Paper.

Nice write up about you and keep up the good work on 2nd shot.

Regarding the 4 beauties in Simei, are they originally paintd on the walls and later defaced and disappeared for many many years. Now their portraits are all framed up and cover with transparent plastic to protect them. Glad they are back in Simei. Wonder when did they come back again?

Merry Christmas to you and fellow bloggers.

CINDY CHUA said...

I saw another picture of zhao zun. It's at 101. =)

CINDY CHUA said...

*edited* It's either zhaojun or guifei. Cause my vehicle drove past. =X

Icemoon said...

woo, thanks for the tip, Cindy MM. :)