At a glance:
- Freegans fighting the country's high waste levels, and the conundrum of their existence.
- Cosplayers spanning all ages, and the opportunities to become part of something bigger.
- E-Sports gamers' committing professionally, and its steadily-growing global market.
- Drag queens forging familial bonds, and the principles behind their houses.
- Metalheads addressing common misconceptions about the genre, and the nature of being niche.
Oh, who are the people
in your neighbourhood?
In your neighbourhood?
In your neighbourhood?
Say, who are the people
in your neighbourhood?
The people that you meet each day.
‘PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD’
noun; activists who scavenge for free food as a means of reducing consumption of resources.
There are many names for the pursuits of a freegan. The most common being dumpster diving, and if that sounds unpleasant, urban foraging. Or, to give a justifiably heroic ring to it: food rescue. Likewise, there is more than one reason behind getting things for free and living with the discipline of a vegan. Whether it is to save money or the environment, the result is the same. There’s only one thing that food needs to be rescued from—waste.
“It’s the problem for our century I think,” Daniel Tay, founder of SG Food Rescue and famed freegan opines. “And the waste is not the real problem but the symptom of the problem. The real problem is consumerism and capitalism. It’s probably why Singaporeans are stressed; working so hard to buy new things because we’re not satisfied with what we currently have.”
There is nothing disdainful about the statement, only wistfulness. It’s a natural reaction to knowing that the model we live in that has been so inculcated into us is not a sustainable one. Planned obsolescence. When there exists a term for the increasingly universal practice of building an item to fail such that customers buy another to drive sales and growth, you know that we’re in a bad place.
“You can’t keep growing infinitely on a finite planet. At some point of time, this whole thing is going to collapse.”
It’s straightforward; more items mean more materials are used. And when items are discarded before they are fully utilised, the rate at which resources are drained and landfills are filled grows exponentially. Not to mention the pollutant level increase with combustion as a typical method to clear the waste.
Hang on, we’re talking about food. At the very least, food is biodegradable so its wastages should not create such an impact, right? Wrong. Terribly wrong. Planned obsolescence is equally applicable to food. It’s called an expiry date. Expired food means it can’t be sold. It doesn’t necessarily mean the food has gone bad. More often than you think, especially with dry goods, it hasn’t.
Companies are required by law to put a sell-by date, but the chosen date is up to them. If a product could last a decade, ie grains (beans last 30 years), naturally as a company, the profitable thing to do is to put an earlier date so purchasers will come back more often.
There is a certain balance because shortening the product lifespan too much would result in a loss, but most consumers continue to throw away a perfectly fine item to buy one that is hardly different from it at the store. Ten out of 10 times, the items are packaged. So, when discarded, not only is the food wasted, so is the packaging. Determining whether the ‘expired’ food is still edible is as simple as using your senses, comparing its scent and taste to how you know it should be.
The local freegan community is about two years old at almost 8,000 members. SG Food Rescue visits retailers and suppliers to clear out unsold food. The amount of food is often so much that it’s donated to soup kitchens and charity organisations. It all grew from word of mouth when Tay first started to share his findings on Facebook.
Initially, when Tay tried scavenging around his block as a starter project from his freegan mentor Colin, he thought all dumped items were trash. It was only when he began opening up the plastic bags abandoned along the stairwells, foyer and void decks did he discover that only half of it was. A good portion of it comprised items in usable condition that people do not entirely want to bin but are unsure what to do with.
Being exposed to the reality regarding the high quality of things Singaporeans throw away—where they are disposed not because they are faulty or damaged but because they are not the latest—made sense of this lifestyle to him. It’s a lifestyle that has made life richer and made Tay more resourceful.
Unfortunately, it is also a lifestyle some perceive as being a cheapskate, or freeloading off the system. What they fail to understand is that turning everyone into a freegan is not what freegans truly wish. Almost counterintuitively, freegans want to reach a point of reduced consumer wastage such that the freegan lifestyle can no longer be supported. This is the ultimate goal.
noun; people who engage in the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction.
More often than not, their faces are not covered. Yet, they carry a semblance that’s vastly different from their usual selves. Their masks are a constitution of vibrant wigs, make-up and coloured contact lenses. When assembled with elaborate attire, they are easy to spot. For that moment, they are not themselves. Their identity is found in the costumes worn and the characters they are role-playing.
Cosplay is hardly a trend in Singapore. Anime Festival Asia, alternatively known as C3AFA, reported an attendance of 105,000 fans at last year’s convention. The annual affair typically held in November celebrated its 10th anniversary, which saw a growth of 20 times its community since the first edition. And it isn’t the oldest collective. Cosfest, organised by Stephanie Loh and Takahan Tan, has been around since 2001 and was even graced by the late Lee Kuan Yew in 2007.
The opportunity to physically live out a fantasy is said to be one of the main driving forces of cosplaying, a manifestation of the love of a character or particular anime. Creativity is clearly exercised in the sourcing and creation of the ensemble, which features many points of DIY. For some, the motivation is simply the community itself. “It’s the fastest way to befriend people who have the same interests as you,” says Liu Yu Jia, a student and practising cosplayer.
It’s also easier to get into it when you know someone who does. For Liu, it was his cousin who persuaded him to try it at the age of 10. It was also at that age where he cross-dressed as a female character and no one suspected his gender. As to whether he would introduce this world to his friends outside the community, he feels that the appeal might only work on those who watch anime, a gateway where they would already be familiar with certain characters.
It goes without saying that you do not have to participate in cosplay to know anime. The international and lasting reach of one of the strongest aspects of Japanese culture is very possibly what gives some of its dedicated fans celebrity status. When the fan is able to gain his or her own fans through their work, in this case, their level of similarity or creativity in interpreting a character, they enjoy a treatment most subcultures do not have.
Guest invitations, judge appearances and endorsements are what makes it possible for professional cosplayers to engage in their craft full-time, with some earning up to a six-figure salary overseas.
For everyone else, it’s simply a hobby. Liu is aware of the less-than-positive general perceptions of cosplayers, but assures that it is nothing more than a pastime. His family sees it as a recreational pursuit, with elements he does not incorporate into his daily life. Sure, he might have bleached blond hair and wear subtly coloured contact lenses, but in an ordinary outfit and barefaced, he looks like any other teen.
While cosplay has little limitations in the diversity of who can play the characters, a large majority of cosplayers are predominantly youths. Comics and animation sweepingly attract a younger crowd. While many current cosplayers often do not stop to consider the longevity of their passion, there are exceptions who start late.
Take 71-year-old Shirley Chua, or Aunty Shirley, who is a regular at cosplay conventions. She went from a chaperone and seamstress for her son at cosplay events to eventually trying it out for herself. Even then, her son had told her that it was an activity for the young. He suggested roles closer to her age, but she soon progressed from there. The reception was more than warm.
At point of writing, her Facebook page stands at over 7,500 followers. Her profile picture? A rainbow meme of her with the words: ‘Too old to cosplay? No such thing’. She has been featured in several articles, television programmes and even the side of a plane thanks to a family nomination for a Jetstar campaign. Popularity aside, the community plays a part in her involvement. Chua has seen how she is an inspiration to other cosplayers, especially those of an older age group.
It makes sense for community to be a pillar in this venture. Part of the process is the usage of the biggest factor in cosplay—costumes. As cosplayers customarily disguise themselves as different characters each time, many old costumes are sold on an online marketplace. Whether a full garb or just pieces of accessories, the forum is one way to recycle the wardrobe and another to build the next character. And with each exchange comes interaction and subsequent continuation of the cause.
Lastly, we cannot deny the significance of the chance to exhibit. Without the community to appreciate and be appreciated by, the act itself almost becomes devoid of purpose, or at least, enjoyment. Where is the fun of dressing up if no one is there to see it?
noun; people who are involved in competitions using video games known as electronic sports or e-sports. e-sports can take the form of multiplayer video game competitions, either solo or in teams.
It is a common imagery: video game players are hunched, red-eyed and bathed in the warm glow of the screen. This is the bogeyman, the stereotype from a propaganda poster. The truth of the matter is far from it.
These days, video gaming is ubiquitous. It has permeated into our lives whether we’re aware of it or not. From your family computer to your smartphone, video gaming has also taken on a competitive edge. Known as electronic sports or e-sports (variants include ‘eSports’ and ‘esports’), this competition has its own spectators, leagues and even cash prizes like any other professional sports.
Leagues consist of professional gamers who specialise in specific games and are recruited from all over the world. Each league might have a roster of players charged with different genres that include fighting games, first-person shooters and multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA). There is also the sport genre, with FIFA Football as the biggest game in that category.
Joseph ‘Zarate’ Yeo is one such professional in FIFA Football. He is one of five members of Team Flash, a local e-sports league. He was 16 when he started getting serious about playing FIFA When he was 16, Yeo finished second at a FIFA tournament and got hooked. He was winning competitions but he didn’t think that this would translate into a career.
“Anyone could do what I do,” Yeo says. “A lot of young players have the potential but they need to get their priorities right.” What Yeo means is that as with anything, time and effort needs to be invested. But schooling, work or enlistments often get in the way of practice. Yeo points to Ben Davis, who signed a professional contract with Fulham, as an example. “You may be great at the sport but after two years of not being able to play or practice, by the time you’re released, you won’t be as good as before.”
Yeo puts in the time. He practises eight hours a day, working on improving on manoeuvring tactics or tricks. Practice, practice, practice. But it’s not so much about training on your own.
In order to ascertain one’s skills, Yeo needs to compete against other human players online. He likes that gaming on FIFA is an individual effort. “There are other e-sports titles that require a team. The complication with that is that if one member were to falter, the whole team suffers with him or her.”
It does take the fun out of it though, this career. “You can’t take things lightly because you’re competing for the prize money. When that happens, it becomes a job. I’ll be honest with you: I don’t find it quite as enjoyable as I used to. But given a choice between a normal job and this, I’ll choose e-sports over that.”
You’d expect there would be more local e-gamers but that’s not the case. Terence Ting, CEO and founder of Team Flash, cites that with the data gathered, the number of people interested pales in comparison to that of China or South Korea. Singapore is ranked 26 in the e-sports world with a prize earning of USD3 million, with only 504 active players to date.
“There are 380 million fans worldwide who are involved with e-sports,” Ting adds. “In Singapore, it’s a small market. But the market is slowly growing.”
According to Newzoo, a market research firm, the “global e-sports audience will grow to 453.8 million worldwide in 2019”. With these numbers, the revenue raked in looks to be a veritable cash cow. With this in mind, it behooves the Olympics to include e-sports as a medal sport. This year’s Southeast Asian Games will have e-sports as a medal event, a move that’s sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee.
While popular, the e-sports industry does face its share of detractors. In September 2018, a Swiss Super League Match in Switzerland was halted because football fans threw tennis balls and game consoles onto the pitch as an act of protest against the increased investment in e-sports. And before the League of Legends finals in 2014, John Skipper, the president of ESPN, told a media conference that e-sports isn’t a sport. “It’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”
Yeo wants to prove that the e-sports community isn’t something to shy away from. Especially in Singapore where everybody is familiar with the status quo of studying hard to get good grades so that you get a normal 9-5 job and earn a living. While his mother finds it hard to come to terms with Yeo’s profession, his father is cool with it. “His stance is,” Yeo explains, “that if what you like to do isn’t illegal, he’s fine with it.”
But what a sea change it has been, that an activity of being holed up in your room as you’re lost in the moment of video game playing is now shown in an arena filled with thousands of fans.
noun; performance artists who cross-dress and assume the identity of the opposite gender because of self-expression or for performance.
This is how a female parent is greeted by her child or children. But do you know that there are circumstances where males can embrace this gender-specific term? Equipped with luxuriant wigs, full silicone breasts and contoured make-up, these men become drag queens and adopt personas that complement their newly transformed physical look.
If you follow American popular culture closely, Emmy-winning reality TV show Rupaul’s Drag Race will sound familiar. Although it’s an individual competition that sees drag queens vying for the coveted winner’s crown, certain contestants share a particular bond (and they are not in the same season together). An example is Alyssa Edwards (Season 5 and All Stars 2) and Plastique Tiara (Season 11), who shares a mother-daughter relationship.
Drag families reflect the close friendship among like-minded drag performers. Paris is Burning, a 1990 documentary themed around ball culture, initially defined ‘houses’ as surrogate families for young ball-walkers who face rejection from their biological families for their gender expression and sexual orientation. Often, drag queens who are mentored by veteran queens are described as having a mother-daughter relationship.
Thus, drag families provide support even if they’re not related by blood.
The second season of Rupaul’s Drag Race Thailand spin-off features Singaporean representative Vanda Miss Joaquim, who is the Mother to the House of Miss Joaquim. Portrayed by Azizul Izzy Mahathir, Joaquim, a veteran in the Singaporean drag scene, has seven drag daughters under her wing and it wasn’t a walk in the park to establish her own ‘house’.
“I had to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, to negative comments about me establishing the House of Joaquim. My main intention is to groom these girls. I see talent in them, so why waste it? I am a strict person when it comes to presentation so with my guidance and the knowledge from the other queens I’ve acquired from, I pass it down to them. I just hope to set a good example for them and that they learn all the good things and the bad things as a lesson”, Mahathir discloses.
In a similar vein, Fadli Rahman, a fashion photographer who goes by the drag name of Salome Blaque, started adopting the female identity professionally last year to develop more creative inspiration to benefit the nature of his work. Rahman founded the House of Blaque earlier this year because of a vogue ball.
Members of the House of Blaque include Pitch Blaque, the creative eye; Mawar Blaque, the designer; Liza Blaque, the model; Lilith Blaque, the face; and Nikita Blaque, the sex siren. All daughters were selected based on their unique attributes and aesthetics.
“In a family, we grow apart and start our own families eventually. This applies to drag families too. The only difference is that the drag community aims to perform and produce better craft over time. [We’ll] share it with the future drag generation and welcome those who are not accepted by their biological family to prove that they’re not alone. They too can be loved and do what they love,” Rahman emphasises.
These chosen families manifest when like-minded individuals seek acceptance from a given community and often, individuals have been marginalised in conservative societies due to their sexuality and participation in drag culture. This collective identity helps to fortify a bond, similar to a family unit. Mahathir shares that “not all drags are out to their parents, and some of them are still struggling with that and sometimes with their own saboteurs”.
Comparing drag and biological kinship, he notes that “not everyone can get along with each other”. “I can’t speak for others, but I have an unexplainably close connection with my drag daughters, and also a special kind of connection with my biological mother and blood ties that matter to me. It’s two different things but my mum’s love beats everything.”
There are no hard and fast rules in starting a drag family. However, the House of Blaque requires members to respect the art (of drag) and have a presence that’s identifiable. It has been observed that different drag families serve different styles of drag—aesthetically and performance expression. “We are all performers in our own ways and we do get specific clients who’ll allow us to share our talents.”
Likewise, if Mahathir sees something special and feels a strong passion running in someone who yearns to be a drag queen, that individual has potential to be part of the family. “Being modest and talented are qualities you can’t buy.”
So, what happens when everyone is out of drag? Nothing changes. Mahathir reinforces that “house rules still apply, both in and out of drag”. While Rahman reveals that “interactions are tighter and we still respect everyone as individuals”.
noun; people who are involved in the metal music scene, specifically the subgenres of trash / death / black metal.
Heavy metal is recognised by its distorted, brutal bass and lead guitar riffs, fast playing, emphatic beats, aggressive vocals and general loudness. This subgenre of rock music has spawned several sub-subgenres that range from trash (overall aggression, fast tempo, lyrics about social issues and criticism against the Man) to glam (pop-influenced hooks and riffs, flashy outfits) to death (low- tuned and heavily distorted guitars, growling vocals, lyrics about occultism, Lovecraftian horror and extreme subjects).
Further examination of the genre further plummets one into other sub-sub-subgenres but regardless, the umbrella that is heavy metal is a counterculture to mainstream music. As with its fans, the commonly known metalhead (interchangeable with ‘headbanger’, ‘hesher’) is, according to Heavy Metal: The Music and its Culture by Deena Weinstein, part of an “exclusionary youth community” that was “marginalised from the mainstream”. This code also includes the “opposition to established authority”.
Identifiable by their de rigeur attire: combat boots, black pants; his or her allegiance shown through a worn band T-shirt; and denim vests or jackets riddled with patches, members of this fraternity congregate at heavy metal concerts, long-haired and heavily tattooed, but not all fans look like that.
Art toy designer Jeremy Tanavit doesn’t look like the typical metalhead. He was six when he first listened to Metallica and Black Sabbath on the car radio when his father ferried him from school. “When I attend gigs, I’d bump into familiar faces. The metal scene in Singapore is so niche that we usually recognise one another and keep in touch outside of the concert environment.”
Theresa Tang, a freelance copywriter, started listening to rock music before progressing to metal. “I resonated with the lyrics a lot more than with pop music. Metal was deep, mature.” She cites Iron Maiden’s coverage of historical moments as interesting, such as ‘Alexander the Great’ and ‘The Pilgrim’, about the journey to America aboard the Mayflower in 1620.
Tang’s presence at metal concerts is not uncommon, but there aren’t as many women in the metal scene. “For every one female, there are 15 guys at your typical concert but I do see more women coming to shows. Maybe because it’s so accessible.”
It is metal’s contradictory nature that most people would find confusing. As a counterculture that prides on being an outsider, its follower numbers pushes them into the mainstream. In a 2015 article put out by Spotify, it revealed that metal fans are the world’s most loyal listeners.
The local metalhead scene took a hit when the performance licence for Swedish black metal band, Watain, was rescinded on the day they were suppose to perform. Although the band agreed to the restrictions set out by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)—terms included that the concert be classified R18; ‘potentially sensitive songs’ be removed from the set list; there would be no ritualistic nor satanic acts on stage—the authorities banned the band from playing due to pressure from local mainstream Christians.
There was a furore from the metal community. While they were forbidden to play, Watain stuck around to meet with fans outside the venue. Metalheads who weren’t even fans went down as a show of support. Despite the setback, the metalhead community continues to exist and the foofaraw led to a Streisand effect—people who were originally unaware of Watain are now curious about the band and the culture of metal.
Tang feels that the public exposure to more metal bands could help dispel unwarranted fears of the genre. “Local bands like Wormrot, who have achieved worldwide acclaim, are proving that there’s a local groundswell of support. Being aware that there are Singaporean metal bands can help normalise the genre.”
But does the metal scene need to prove itself to the rest of the country?
Ahmad Zahid Isnin, chef and creator of Global Mat Soul Kitchen, wonders if it even needs to be normalised. “Metal has always been outsider art and will always be niche. It finds its way to those who do not yet realise they need it and makes itself seen to those who seek its unbridled fury and power. I don’t think metalheads have to prove anything or try hard to be extra normal and extra nice just to counter the public’s opinion and perception. Since when did other people’s opinions concern us?”
“The genre has always been stereotyped to be negative,” Tanavit adds. “Metal music, after all, is a form of art. It’s meant to be an entertainment like fiction.”
But peel away the theatrics, the Grand Guignol-setting, and you’ll discover a tonality that befits its rebellious ethos: question everything; fight the power—it puts the little man at the seat of power, it gives back control to the hoi polloi.
Attend a metal concert. Mingle with the devotees. Bear witness to the black candles, black draped curtains, motifs of skulls and pentagrams, half-melted candles and smoke. Listen. You think the music is starting but it has always been there…