Singing in a Ghost Town

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
1
15
141
Trip End Jul 21, 2010


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Flag of Singapore  ,
Monday, February 15, 2010

I wake later than expected, sleeping through my alarm (that thing where you wake up long enough to turn it off. I'd never set it before and this is what happens.) and those belonging to others in the room. Light snoring dictated much of the evenings rest, but I feel good.

At breakfast it’s a wicked buffet – I knowingly stuff my face and make sandwiches for lunch, though we have Hooters coming up so it may be a morning tea. They have Bread and Butter pudding (!), fruit salad (from a can), noodles (?), along with your breads and cereals.

First on my list this morning is the art Museum we’ve passed many times since arriving. Once or twice it was closed, but I’m hoping today isn’t one such day. On the way I’m distracted by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, which isn’t open, but has some wicked graffiti pieces of the walls inside. I get a facebook with the bust too, before finding markets and temples also open for once. A guard at the front mumbles 'no photos’ and looks down at me (which makes sense, he was huge) so I walk in sans shows and see locals leaving gifts of oranges and money to the idols inside. Another school across from the stalls selling incense and oranges doesn’t appear to be teaching, but the gates are open so I sneak a peak. Inside I find a number of elephant costumes atop the lockers, stacked amongst chairs and other junk. The air conditioners and fans out the back also get a pic.

Finally making it to the Museum I discover it closed, but opening in ten minutes. I eat my sandwich.

The first installation I come across is a collection of hand blown glass vials with stoppers. Each vial holds a fragrance with a strong emotional, political or historic meaning held by the artist. These include happy moments of childhood relating to food, rain and flowers, hard times with pollution of the city and political views of those bought out to hush up things happening in her village. The curator takes me through all of them – the more pungent bad one in glass cabinets, some having no smell left inside. It’s really quite amazing how indifferent my nose was to a lot of them, everything reminding me of soap. The glass is light and fragile, only to be handled by the man with the cotton gloves.

Upstairs is a very quick piece on a man rediscovering his fathers trade of rebuilding pianos, complete with video (little boring), said piano (less boring), and butterfly sculptures made from piano shapes (freaking amazing!).

In the darkened rooms to one side of the upstairs is works by the Indonesian artist FX Harsono, who played a pivotal role in the development of contemporary art in Indonesia, and continues to be actively involved in the art scene up till today. This exhibition traces the progression in the artist’s communication from the ground-breaking conceptual works that re-defined art making during the New Art Movement of the 1970s to the politically-charged installations of the 1990s (one involving dressing up as an emperor and going to town an a collection wooden chairs with a chainsaw, representing law over government). The most recent pieces look at the artist’s own issues of self and identity.

Making my way through the rest of the building I notice metal tiles about waist height, the shaped metal embossed with patterns a strong contrast against the white walls. It’s a freaking stencil!

I ask about it downstairs and they hand over a kids activity kit, complete with sheet and pen (actually, only sheet and pen, but you know). I can (if I choose to, which I do for at least a bit) run around finding all the tiles and making them fit the suggested places on the page (some are in halves, some are hidden differently).

There is more graffiti to be found across from the Singapore Art Museum at 8Q (the move removed third building of the museum). The building is yet to be opened, but it appears to be a space dedicated to street art, with several artists half way through works all around.

The exhibition Contemporary Artist Collection takes up all three levels of the building. The collection is, as the name states "Singapore Art Museum's most iconic contemporary artworks". At the front door the playful question of what makes a work of art “classic” or “contemporary” – or “classic contemporary” – sets the tone for the collection – quirk across a number of mediums - painting, sculpture, video, photography and performance art. One interactive piece in particular is a collection of wooden boards, painted pale green and white and leant up against the wall at a precise angle. Viewers are invited to write responses to questions or their thoughts of Singapore in the pale green areas, which in turn creates a greater contrast between the background and what becomes the foreground. Across from the piece is a video projection of the artist’s illustrated face. It’s not until one writes on the panels that they notice they two are one camera. It then becomes the task of finding the angle of the camera to recreate the portrait correctly. The piece looks at perspective, communication and interaction in equal parts. I write about the number of air conditioners I seem to photograph like it’s going out of fashion – that is my Singapore.

Setting out again I get nice and lost, heading towards on of three large commercial districts to find some temples and churches. Eventually I get to Brujis station and find a wicked big slice of watermelon! Hidden between shops and construction of what I think is a new station I come across several murals. Each with a sponsor – there’s a Converse, a Nike and a Puma – these seem dated by in a great way. Strange how they’re now being hidden, maybe people didn’t like the idea of sponsored art something.

Topshop is here! Thinking that would make a wicked gift for someone special, I ask the shop assistant where the bras are, as I can only see panties. The scariest giggle escapes this girl’s mouths, and doesn’t leave for the whole conversation. Apparently they don’t sell bras here.

Oh, so they sell them in the other one (seen on the way to Santosa)?

No they don’t sell bras in Top Shop.

Oh, but I’ve seen them on the net?

Oh, they don’t sell bras in Singapore?

As feared yesterday, all temples and churches visited (all three of them I think I get to) are closed for prayer on the holiday. Instead I spend about and hour shopping and find some wicked fabrics.

Passing a creepy park that feels like something from a horror movie (along with the place feeling a little like a ghost town). The buildings here are all so different in make, shape and colour. Near one church there are four apartment complexes in different colours – pink, blue, yellow and green. It makes me think of The Simpsons episode where Marge comments on the pretty buildings that the government paint bright colours so tourists don’t realise they’re slums.

Heading down to Clarke Quay for Hooters for lunch ($10 lunch! Can’t go wrong) I spot three of the others and make a dash to catch up. By the time I reach them I’m sweatier than I’ve been in a while. Suppose I haven’t seen anyone else running in this weather. There was a good reason for it. Most of the others have been taking it easy seeing the sights or even more easy veging out at the hostel.

The worst thing even happens. We meet Zoe and Dan with knowing looks on their faces and they tell us the bad news – Hooters is closed just like everything else. There is no God.

After surrendering to something less than satisfying – pizza and beer, but bad pizza and expensive beer – we head back to the hostel for air conditioning and washing. We play cards and watch bad televisions while the machine runs it’s course, then spend a good twenty minutes working out who’s is who’s.

Dinner is at a surprisingly nice 24hr place down the road (1 – air conditioning, 2 – good burgers, 3 – good prices)

where there are some goodbyes to be had. I follow Dan and Zoe home for a bit before breaking off and looking for some live music, but before making plans to try for Hooters again on the Wednesday.

I head back to the Clarke Quay area we were at today, as every second place there appeared to be a bar and bars don’t close for holidays, they stay open longer for them.

In the fourth one I find I come a across a wicked jazz band Chroma Zone with guest vocalist Richard Jackson (I only remember because I took a photo of the sign). They are amazing – keys, kit, double bass and sax with guest vocal scatting like a magic man. The sax player keeps his eyes closed a lot of the time, leaning back into the music and smiling to himself when he’s not playing. The piano player has the whitest teeth I have ever seen, and for such a big man the vocalist has the softest smoothest voice you have ever heard. Oh, and did I mention they have gin? The wicked Henricks with le cucumber? Indeedy.

On the way though Clarke Quay I pass many restaurant serving seafood, with the tasty morsels still tied up and battling it out in the tanks in front. Don’t think I could eat a crab I’d see walking around moments before. Then again, if it’s good crab it’s good crab.

I find two kids skating ear the library and on a whim ask them what music they listen to.

Ska.

Ska?

Yeah, you know Ska. Kinda like fast reggae.

I know what ska is, I didn’t expect you to though. I haven’t seen any of it around.

Yeah, you should have stayed in Bangkok. There isn’t any here. You like jazz? Acid jazz?

They suggest a place up near Arab street, the same commercial district I was in earlier to day. Get a little lost on the way again, bit find some bars, sans music. This probably isn’t the place they suggested but meet two guys from a band rehearsing nearby (I only know because they’re carrying instruments). They suggest some other places back in Clarke Quay, and I say maybe tomorrow, and they say a place called Palm something. Things are different and unreliable because of the New Year festivities but there should be something there.

On the way home I find another club called Home Club, one of the few places suggested by the hostel. I take photos so I can’t get too lost and make my way back.
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