I have never entertained the thought of losing my memories. But lately, I seem to have forgotten what Singapore is. On a good day, I can probably name all 50 states in the USA and the accompanying state capitals. But if you ask me which stations lie between City Hall and Woodlands, well, I won’t be a millionaire. About a year ago, I began romanticizing the notion of “making pictures with my heart.” Here’s a typical scenario in which I would use that catchy phrase: when I miss a Kodak moment because I am too lazy to carry a real camera, I say: “Don’t worry, I have taken that picture with my heart, it stays.” Alas, there are indeed limits to the human brain (and heart). To borrow the words of American photographer Jeff Jacobson, “I simultaneously feel deeply at home in this country and like a perpetual visitor to a strange and bizarre land.” So these pictures are, on one level, my attempts to clarify those conflicts. And on a more practical level, they are just my personal effort to eternalize some scenes which will soon be gone. These are also my gifts to Singapore.
Published in 2006
My Funny Valentine
by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
Every artist has his own city. Mine is Singapore. That it is the city of my birth and that I have spent most of my life here have not made photographing it easier. In the constant struggle to decide between what’s exciting and what’s boring; what’s real and what’s fake; I have also been cursed with the burden of having to discern what is picturesque and what is unphotographable. How do I convince a man that his sunning of pillows along the corridor is worth recording, when he has been doing it for years? How do I explain to a commuter in her bright red stockings that her legs are a visual treat? There seems to be no immediate answers, only more questions. I shall continue to believe in photography and not words.
This is a modern-day Cinderella story about the thousands of Filipino women working as domestic workers in Singapore homes. For almost seven days a week, these Filipinas, better known as maids, serve their employers in their every need. In most households, they are often the de facto nanny, cook, washer and runner. Many of these domestic helpers are well-qualified professionals who are forced to seek alternative employment overseas because there aren’t jobs back in their home country. Every Sunday, many of them flock to the Crazy Horse pub, located in the infamous Orchard Towers. They are not drawn there by the attractive prizes in the self-funded, self-organized beauty pageants. Many come just for the comfort of being around people in the same boat. They dance, they chat, they oogle at people, and are oogled at. Some will eventually find love, most will just enjoy their weekly escape from work. When the clock edges close to 7 p.m., reality sets in. All the Cinderellas have to return to their real lives. Another week of hard work is waiting. Until they meet again.