non-fiction rock from Aotearoa New Zealand

Southeast Asia Tour Diary 7: Transient in Singapore

6am Singapore passport controlThe overnight bus from Terengganu is exactly that, the best way for us to make the long hike to Singapore. Should we try to travel during the day then we would not get to the show on time. Sleeping in transit sounds infinitely sensible, though being cold from the aircon is novel for a while.

It’s impressive watching the thousands upon thousands enter Singapore early in the morning. Imported labour on a daily basis, trans-versing passport control in a sea of scooters, bus, car, and flatbed trucks crammed with bodies, all Singapore bound. The logistics of managing, monitoring and making order of this tsunami of flesh is mind-boggling, Singapore manages to do it.

We are two tiny pieces of flotsam on this human wave and we enter the city easily. Our bus delivers us to the final destination where we assemble our bags and walk into the dawn towards Little India where we are told we shall be able to secure accommodation for the duration of our visit.

After two hours of walking into every backpackers we can find to be told there is zero accommodation we figure out that it’s probably best to wait for check-out time to see what comes up. It’s not looking too hopeful though and we find a place to have coffee to contemplate a plan B. What we really want is a place to dump our bags and maybe a few hours sleep before tonight, it wasn’t the best rest on the bus.

vegan feastThis enforced opportunity to practice patience pays off, our one lead comes through on the deal and we secure two bunk beds in an ‘Australian’ themed hostel for the next few days. Now we can rest!

Singapore busAfter this downtime, contact is made with Cher, our organizer in Singapore. We arrange to meet at a local Chinese vegan restaurant for food, then to catch a bus to our first show at a venue called The Pigeonhole. The food is fantastic, and the Singapore style of food has been something that we have been looking forward to, it’s a great place to be vegetarian.

Sated, we travel across town to the venue. Two connecting rooms with a very Japanese aesthetic to interior design. Tonight we play with two local acts, and at sound check we hear they are of a more post-rock/experimental bent.

Transient workers Count TooWhile waiting for the show to start we poke around the literature in the store. We come across an AGM report of an NGO called Transient Workers Count Too, TWC2. This service is advocating for the rights of transient migrant workers, like the many we saw enter the city this morning. We also see quickly that this story is incredibly similar to our friend Lestari back in Blitar.

‘Transient migrant’ workers have no clear working protection – it largely depends on the employer. They often come from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and anywhere else that looks upon the Singaporean currency as a financially strong and desirable, for example compare it to the Rupiah in Indonesia. The many women are often employed as maids, to look after children, do every household chore, as well as cook every meal. Many of the men are employed to bolster the building industry.
PigeonholeOne of the current campaigns that TWO2 is advocating for is the ‘Day off’ campaign, to give your ‘transient migrant maid’ a day off. It’s not clear that this means weekly or monthly. And we’re told there is heated debate in Singapore about this issue. Some believe that a day off for those who work seven days a week, up to 15 hours a day is irresponsible.

Back home, we barely contemplate the weekly access to two days off, we grow believing it to be a right, and it is but it wasn’t given easily and only came after significant struggle.

Chrissie PigeonholeIt adds another layer to our delivery of the song Stella which is about this very issue.

Two other bands perform with us, performing experimental, improvised and composed music. The audience is receptive and encouraging, and post-performance is full of conversation and interest. And to finally wrap the evening off, a particularly fine drop of Japanese whiskey to wash the evening down, followed by  a mid-night meal with punters from the show then back to the backpackers to sleep.

Saturday is restful in the afternoon, we tidy up our kit, managing to wash a few clothes, stroll a bit and eat. We meet Cher later in the afternoon. It takes a couple of taxi’s to get us to the show. The first taxi ride became a free excursion at getting lost due to the wonders of GPS – uselessly taking us around in circles with the driver trying to convince us we should be where we wanted to be, the only problem being that we weren’t. The next taxi, minus GPS, was swift direct and correct.

mr sterile ObservatoryThis show is the last in a series of six local events of improvisation and collaboration. They are being hosted by a Singapore group called The Observatory, whose members have a long lineage back to early days of adventurous and experimental music in the city. The space is wondrous – a vast white theatre, people seated on the floor and generously arranged chairs. Large mirrors and high high ceiling, and the equipment provided is delicious – a Bassman valve amp, and a cute small drum kit.

Chrissie ObservatoryThe evening is purely for improvisation, the seven performers are grouped into collaborative arrangements, drums, electronics, percussion, guitar, bass, lap steal and voice, with each of the four sets lasting approximately 15 minutes. Wild, explosive, quiet and muttering, the evening shifts through dynamics and textures, a successful and adventurous play, what fun.

Chrissie & kieran The Observatory Photo by Martin Chua

Photo by Martin Chua

There is a Q&A session after the performances where the players are asked to respond to the question (floated by Kieran) of “Why Bother?”, and our answers remain similar – to make connection, tell stories, explore and push personal boundaries and challenge our own particular playing delivery style each time, whether visually or sonically.

The Observatory Photo by Martin Chua

Photo by Martin Chua

Fantastic conversations and networking afterwards.

As a touring band, it’s a great opportunity to be able to shift between the composition/rock shows to then be able to perform at these improv shows. And though sonically the sound of one may not appeal to the other, we feel that the intention, intensity, and joyfulness in play is reflected in both styles of performance. The beautiful thing about not bothering to care about what ‘genre’ we belong too means we can go anywhere we want and maintain integrity in our performance.

We had initially planned to catch the over night bus back to KL from here, but the show finished too late, or the bus went too early. We camped again at the backpackers, getting a decent sleep before rising early to walk back to the bus depot satisfied.

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