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Singapore fling: The People Who Watched us pass by in SIN from fake plastic trees

fake plastic trees

supertrees in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

After j accepted her prize in Madrid, we flew to Singapore, where we laid over for two nights. On the plane i started reading some Badiou .. but it was too heavy so i switched to The People Who Watched Her Pass By by Scott Bradfield.

art science museum in Singapore

Singapore skyline with the science & art museum in the foreground

In another life ago (circa '90) i read Bradfield's The History of Luminous Motion & liked it quite a bit. That book is told from the point of view of some wunderkind of boy who lives with his trashy mother in the backs of cars mostly, in the central valley of California .... if i remember correctly. This new book, published by Two Dollar Radio, is similar, except it's an even younger girl, who is abducted by a water heater repairman, set around LA or the valley thereof.

gardens by the bay designdesigns for Gardens by the Bay (Singapore)

The book seemingly has nothing to do with Singapore or Madrid, so perhaps a strange choice to read on a British Airways flight between the two (though we did layover in London, where i guess Scott Bradfield now lives). It captures Southern California well, as the trashy underbelly of America.

pitcher plant

pitcher plant in the cloud forest

And in signature fashion, Bradfield captures it through a child-like voyeuristic lens. In Luminous Motion, the kid breaks into suburban houses with his friend.. just for the hell of it .... to snoop through people's stuff. I remember almost being inspired enough to try it myself, he made it seem so compelling. Some more breaking & entering just to peep goes on in The People Who Watched Her Pass By:

«You want to know the funniest thing about sneaking into people's houses, kid? It doesn't feel funny at all. It's almost like you belong there, even when you're hiding behind the couch and they come home and don't see you. It's almost like they know you're there and they're playing along. Nothing bad can happen to you. You just feel really safe and warm.»


Sal (the 3-year old girl, who is wise beyond her years, to say the least) is fairly lackadaisical about her abduction, as are her abductors .... which i say in plural because after the boiler repairman who lives in a van, comes a string of temporary guardians who take her under their wing until they get bored or lazy or not up for the responsibility. Not that Sal is high maintenance, she is go-with-the-flow, if not defiantly stoic .. & like in Luminous Motion, it is the kid who shoulders the responsibility, to compensate for dysfunctional loser adults. And nothing 'bad' happens as you might expect .. it's all innocent & good-natured. Some of the adults think that calling social services would likely do more harm then just letting the child live free & independent.

DNA bridge

Eventually the language becomes generic & she refers to this series of misfit guardians as «they» .... just like how in Luminous Motion, all the suitors of the boy's mother start to blend together as one.

«"I'll miss you, pumpkin," they would say, blowing their red noses into tattered wisps of Kleenex, and releasing the emergency brake with an autonomic little thunk. They didn't look back as they drove away, but sometimes they waved goodbye over their shoulder, perfunctory and candid, as if thanking another motorist for letting them into a busy lane.»


waterfall in the cloud forest

And this voyeurism goes both ways in such a transcendental existence, like living in a glasshouse.

«The best part about life was the part that happened when nobody was watching.»

banana fake plastic trees

.... where one's privacy is thrown out the window in lieu of living on the streets, with random people.

«The trick about writing books, Sal soon realized, is that you could only perform the secret of yourself when no one was listening.»

use letters

It's a transient existence sort of reminiscent of Galgut's In a Strange Room, which i recently read in Tanzania, only it's not the wanderings of privileged & bored adults with nothing else to do with their lives, but the homeless non-wanderings (at one point she lives in a laundromat, hardly ever leaving) of a fiercely independent child that has nowhere else to go & no one to turn to.

garden grid

These are some things that stuck out reading The People Who Watched Her Pass Byscott Bradfield, en route to Singapore.

little India

little India (Singapore)

Last time i was in Singapore was when the first gulf war broke out in 1991. I was in a youth hostel, in a room with two bunk beds that i shared with 3 Iranians who seemed distressed & angry about the war. They were saying shit to me but i couldn't understand them because they didn't speak english & i don't speak farsi .. which was maybe a good thing. It was uncomfortable to say the least.



The only other thing i remember is, after seemingly being trapped in malls & subterranean passages, actually asking somebody where i could go up to the street & see the sky.

orchid thief

orchids in the cloud forest

I don't think anybody really goes to Singapore just for the hell of it. Usually you are trying to get to somewhere else .. then i think i was going from Indonesia to Malaysia, or Thailand. This time we were trying to get to Timor Leste & the planes to Timor only go like every other day. But being that it's a sort of confluence of Malaysian, Indian & Chinese culture, Singapore has some great food. We stayed near Little India, so had some great South Indian food (at Lagnaa & Komala Vilas). And good Chinese food (at Songfa Bak Kut Teh).

tribal garden

For the most part though, Singapore is a fairly sterile & boring place (far from the 'SIN city' airport code), but perhaps interesting in some utopian antidote kind of way.


We went to the new Gardens by the Bay, which was pretty cool .. a big complex near the water with all these strange & modern gardens & 'supertrees' & a glasshouse 'cloud forest'.

Then after two nights & 3 meals, we headed back to the airport to catch a flight to Timor Leste ....

singapore skyline

 >> next: as i see Timor-Leste: guerilla-hack 'visual ethnography' far east of eden

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