On the sidewalks of Singapore are seldom seen the likes of the poor in tattered clothes. There are always hand-me-downs, even branded ones. The Salvation Army even rejects clothes if they dont meet a certain “criteria” or standard. The poor are often in homes away from the city and mainstream. Many have no savings and resort to collecting cardboard and cans to make the next meal, yet the flats or apartments they are stying in, are fully paid for. It’s a different definition of poverty.
More of the aged are taking to the streets with karaoke sets, a guitar, a flute or a harmonica. Occasionally, you get to hear a trombone or trumpet. They still need a license to perform as a busker, a luxury, that only as recent as 5 years ago, was allowed. Public performances can lead to the formation of a mob, legally defined as an illegal gathering of 3 or more people.
So, one day i was pleasantly surprised to see an old, dark but simply dressed, Chinese man in long grey pants and checked, fading but sturdy, maroon shirt. He is belting out Frank Sinatra hits, a selection of Teresa Teng classics, and even Bee Gees numbers in the subway tunnel. Nice acoustics! He misses a few notes, but the music is intact. You can see he has patched some parts of his pants with white thread. Of fashionable design, it is not. Bottom parts are neatly attached with packing tape.
He is blind, holding onto a drumstick [not the edible type] in one hand, facing a small tomtom drum. The other is clasping a harmonica. There is a single box speaker singalong “karaoke” box by his left side, as he sits on the short bamboo stool, headset mike next to lips. A stainless steel bowl is lined with a handkerchief inside, lies in front of the drum to complete the scene. Further down the passageway, some teenagers chat, and an executive lady in her 50s walks past, stops, pauses, hesitates, backs up, then throws in a few coins. The crowds flow as fast as the trains, and I am sure he “feels” the waves move by, but hardly anyone drops in their small change. Maybe it is the rumour that these buskers are part of a syndicate out to extract money from the public in an organised manner. This is Singapore, so why do foreigners often ask “is the mafia controlled by the government”?
I was carrying some school supplies. For no logical reason, I pulled out about 12 assorted pieces from a box of chalk. Pink, blue, yellow, green, white. I placed them neatly in a row in front of our old “Moon River” singer, and next to his bowl. Actually, i think the handkerchief was to stop the coins from clanking and distracting his singing, because anyone could have just taken his coins away. I waited and watched from a distance to see what would happen.
About 6 minutes later, 2 little girls, 5 or 7 years old, walked past with their older sister. They stopped, spoke to each other, then walked back to the busker. Now, I thought they would place money in the bowl and take a piece of chalk each, like the story of the little match girl. I was wrong. They picked up 4 pieces of chalk each, and started to draw on the floor in front of the old man who was now singing “Massachusetts”. Panic caught my throat. Oh no! What if they drew naughty pictures that might get him into trouble!
Slowly, i walked toward them, preparing to shuffle my shoes over whatever nasty drawings they might be creating to make fun of him. But what i saw brought tears to my eyes. The 2 girls were drawing a park scene with kites, birds, flowers, animals, big clouds, smiley sun, and 2 doves carrying a circle in the centre. When they were done, they put his bowl right in that circle! They opened their small “bus pass” purses, and emptied their coins into the bowl, then gave their chalk to the next set of children [students] who were walking past. With a hippity hop, they joined their sister and away they went. Holy moomoo i was thinking…I just met 2 angels!
The 3 students in school uniform decided to add their own trucks, trees and butterflies [i think the only girl of the 3 did that]. By now, the wave slowed down as people were curious as to what the drawing was about, and started dropping more coins in the process. You know, I bet they thought it was a great drawing effort by a blind man!
I guess this was an incident that inspired me to study multimedia. The lesson I learnt didnt come from the classroom.
12 pieces of chalk