Thursday, 17 April 2014

Documenting the Street Artists in Singapore/South-East Asia - Clark Quay

Documenting the Street Artists in Singapore/South-East Asia - Clark Quay

Clark Quay

It was still early in the evening. The sun was about to set. The weather was great. The air was warm but cooling down, breezes over faces. It was also the first time my dad came to Singapore. He came for my graduation ceremony. I was bringing him for the famous Chili Crab at Jumbo – the one at Clarke Quay along Singapore River. There are two Jumbos along the river if you frequent the place: one to the left of the bridge, in the busier zone with more throngs, and the other to the right, quieter but still attracting a decent crowd, that is to say if you don’t make a reservation, you’ll probably have to wait for tables if you come around dinner time.

We went to the one on the right, as it was the only one I knew at the time, and we needed to pass a tunnel to reach that side. As I said it was still early in the evening, the waiters and waitresses were still setting up the tables and the restaurant had not “officially” opened. We were asked to wait for a while. But before long, they let us in. We were told that the table had been reserved at 8pm but in the end we dined for quite some time and nobody came to chase us away. I remember we ordered quite some food and dad got himself a bottle of beer. As usual, he was all red afterwards. I remember he snatched a very nice photo during the dinner. It was a couple under the backdrop of the night sky and the glistening river. Judging from the chemistry, I dare say they probably had not met for long but they were going on quite well.

Gossips aside, by the time we footed the bill and walked out of the restaurant, the night had started. We could see the neon lights from the other side of the river, projecting onto the river, waving and dancing. We decided to take a stroll to the more bustling part of the quay, so we passed the tunnel again. This time, it was no longer the lifeless concrete before sunset. It was lyrical. Right in the middle of the tunnel, a tall musician was fingering the guitar and singing a song. He had a dark complexion. His hair was long and wavy, and topped by a worn-out British hat. He wore a loose t-shirt, jacket and pants. He swung to his music, smiling and enjoying. His smile was heart-melting. The whole tunnel was surrounded by a soft, bubbly, laid-back atmosphere. For a moment, I felt I was in a totally separate world, transient but transcendental.

Back to reality. We asked him if we could take a photo with him. He said, “Of course.” So dad took some close-up shots of him alone, and him and me together. Then, we switched. He asked us where we were from. I answered China. Then he started to sing for us “A Girl Called Xiao Fang”. We smiled, grateful for his hospitality. I don’t remember where we walked to afterwards but that night was surely sweetened by his voice and guitar. After that many years, I have not seen him again. Not that he might have left the place, but that I seldom go there. I made a New Year resolution last year that I wanted to perform in that tunnel during Christmas with my ukulele and best possibly with him. But it remained an unchecked item on the list and was carried forward to this year. Hopefully it will not be forever postponed. Cheers.           

Yang Bowen,


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Documenting the Street Artists in Singapore/South-East Asia - Scotts Road


Documenting the Street Artists in Singapore/South-East Asia

Street Artists
Scotts Road

I must mention him first. He was the first street artist I met when I flew to Singapore from my hometown at the age of 16. At that time, my friends and I did not even know our ways around Orchard. We had had to ask the passersby to get to where we wanted to go, despite the fact that we kept passing Orchard Road everyday on our way to school.But then you have to understand that our bus ride was in the earliest of the morning when the stars were still visible in the sky, when everyone on the bus was half-awake and could not care more about the mobile TVs casting English-subtitled Japanese cartoons with incessant signals and with sounds muffled by the engine, and when the bus driver was perhaps the only sober person on board. What was going on outside the bus was beyond our consciousness and left unbothered in the silence of the dark. Out of a group of five or six or more of us, maybe one was vigilant enough to vaguely spot an overhead bridge and press the “stop” button before all was too late.
I’ve probably sidetracked a bit too much. Let’s come back to our artist stationed in the tunnel at the turn of Scotts Road. He is a key-board player cum singer. You will surely remember him the first time you see him. Or you do not even need to see him. Just hear him would suffice a life-time memory. His voice is of the deep mellow kind, not too coarse. It blends nicely with his merry-go-lucky melodies. He uses a loudspeaker; so even in the busiest hour of a public holiday when the tunnel was flooded with people and din, his voice comes unmistakably into your ear, undistorted. If you follow the sound, you will find a man of a certain size with a bulged belly sitting on a chair, wearing a headphone and playing the keyboard, blind. His face is of a broad and round shape, contorted somehow. His wife would always sit beside him and do her own stuff, oblivious of the traffic, as if sitting on the balcony of her own house.
They would be there rain or shine. They would be there day or night. After so many years, when you pass by the tunnel and see the same man playing the same tune, you cannot help feeling that some things are bound to stay and bound to last despite the passage of time.
Yang Bowen,
Nanyang Technological University