Psychogeography in Little India: Looking for Alternative Narratives of Singapore

For a psychogeography exercise the White Team chose to go to one of our assigned neighborhoods: Little India. We chose Little India because we thought there would be visible signs of the subaltern or that which goes against Singapore’s narratives and social norms. Through our visits to the Urban Redevelopment City Gallery and the National Museum, we have determined that Singapore’s narrative is one of pride, determination, order, cultural acceptance, efficiency, and precision. Therefore, we shaped our methodology to locate visible signs of which go against Singapore’s narrative, or subaltern expressions that contradict this narrative, in Little India. We chose to look at little India because it is original and unique to the rest of the city. Therefore, we determined that alternative expressions of Singaporean identity would be readily visible in this area. Our strategy for this began with walking down the main streets, where we hypothesized we would understand the character of the neighborhood by seeing its residents in their everyday routines. Then we decided to move to side streets, where we hypothesized we would see more “grit and grime” of which goes against Singapore’s narrative. What we discovered, however, was different than what we expected.

We began by walking down Birch Road from the Farrer Park MRT station towards Mustafa Centre, a large department store located in Little India. It was along Birch Road, which eventually turns into Syed Alwi Road, that we saw minute, yet still visible signs of the subaltern. First, we felt as if this neighborhood was a little different and grimy in a way: trash and dirt were visible and the people moved in a more chaotic and unorganized way, often jaywalking to get where they needed to go. In addition, we noticed many construction sites within this rapidly globalizing city. These construction sites are usually protected from the public using large barriers, which surround and reduce the visibility of these construction sites to protect those passing by. However, at the intersection Serangoon Road and Syed Alwi Road this particular construction site did not have barriers to surround all sites and the construction site was open and visible to the public as shown in the picture below.


We also noticed a larger presence of garbage cans blocking the sidewalks and trash on the streets. The largest piece of “trash” we saw was a washing machine tipped over, dented, and laying in the gutter.


It was here that we turned onto Jalan Besar.

On Jalan Besar, there were two visible signs of the subaltern. First, a skater and BMX biking themed store appeared along the street. We are uncertain if skater themed stores are popular in Singapore, but it seemed like it was certainly out of place for such a neighborhood. In addition, the skater trend in the United States identifies those who wear skater clothing to be subaltern and we hypothesize the case is similar in Singapore.


Second, shop house over hangs supported by temporary yellow and black scaffolding. Knowing Singapore’s desire to knock down and build as well as their efforts to preserve traditional shop houses, we determined that these pillars contradicted Singapore’s usual rapid construction. There were also spray painted warning signs which said “DANGER” in bright red above this scaffolding.

The final visible sign of alternative narratives of the city dealt with public consumption of alcohol. Along our walk through Little India, we saw signs that banned public consumption of alcohol on the weekends. Yet, on the corner of Veerasamy Road and Serangood Road, a beer can sitting on the street appeared.


This made us question whether or not the presence of the Kingfisher beer can along the street went against the rhetoric and rules of the city and possibly even indicates a culture of alcohol consumption in a very traditional neighborhood.

We chose to identify alternative expressions of Singaporean identity in a neighborhood such as Little India because it is a unique neighborhood rich in culture. We hypothesized that if there were any subaltern narratives in Singapore, they would be in neighborhoods of which aren’t traditionally Singaporean such as Little India. However, what we discovered was that Little India had very little visible subaltern expressions despite trash, general disorganization of people moving throughout the neighborhood, the skater store, lack of construction site protection, and public consumption of alcohol. Rather, Little India was truly an Indian neighborhood.

-Abby, Gordon, and Bonny


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