Grit Hunting in Singapore


On a clear, warm Tuesday afternoon the Red Team set out to find some sub-altern communities or areas in Singapore.  We followed a tip from Jamie Gillen who said that Newton Road would have some of the grit we were looking for.  We may have misinterpreted his suggestion because the grittiest thing we found on Newton Road were two Filipino women, who were employed by a Chinese-American upper-middle class family, walking the family golden retriever.  We also saw some construction workers, which are pretty wide spread around the island, and one man sleeping under a bridge.


One interesting scene we encountered consisted of a guitar player/singer performing music for money within the Novena MRT station entrance.  We witnessed many donations being given to the man in the few minutes that we stood and watched.  We also noticed that he had an official looking document clearly displayed by the donation box.  We looked into it and found that all street performers in Singapore must have licenses in order to perform and gain money from it. This licensing also had an effect on how many people gave the performer many. It may be because they viewed him as giving him money for his job as opposed to supporting his lack of a job like street performers in the United States.  Because these licenses are given by the government and enforced by the police, we do not consider this scene to be part of the sub-altern terrain in Singapore.

We did not find much grit in the upper-middle class area of Newton Road, but on our trip to Little India we noticed a few things that did not fit in with the common Singaporean narrative of cleanliness and global development.  As we walked from the Farrer Park MRT station to Mustafa center, we moved across uneven sidewalks and an undeveloped, city-block-sized field of sand, grass, and rubble.  We saw trash on the sidewalks and in alleyways behind businesses.  The area was generally dirtier than the CBD or other areas that exemplify the Singaporean narrative.


One of our team members, Max, explored Little India on his own on Monday late afternoon. While there he was able to observe some aspects of the Singaporean narrative that could be considered “subaltern.”  He left Mustafa’s and walked up Syed Alwi Rd. and walked towards Verdun rd. On Verdun Rd the “official narrative” of Singapore began to unwind. First a couple of men between around the age of 30 were sitting on the sidewalk playing with a box cutter while others were blatantly disobeying Singapore law, jay walking and driving the wrong directions on “one way” streets. These are all examples of minor subaltern cultures within the Little India neighborhood, if these were occurring in a more strictly policed area it would have resulted in a fine or arrest.


At one point on his walk he stopped to eat at an outdoor vendor, ordering prata, an Indian bread. While waiting for the bread to be made the owner of the shop noticed him looking at the bread making process and offered to teach him how. Max helped to make one of his two pieces of prata, which is not allowed due to the fact that Max does not have a license to do so. These examples of grit were all seen within a 4 block radius and occurred in a 15 minute time span. What can be said about the experience in Little India is that, while brief, it is very apparent that the “grit” that we were looking for is located here. These are examples that do not fit in with the “Singapore Narrative” that we have been looking at.


One comment

  1. Fran Ewart · · Reply

    Hi Max…Metro is starting to advertise for people to apply to perform in the subway in Washington. I am sure you are going to have to have a license before you can do this inside the subway stations.

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