Singapore Apr-Jun 2010

SIFQ2-2010It’s been said that Singaporeans have only two passions: shopping and eating. But look beneath the surface and you’ll discover some passions that take an unconventional turn. From cosplayers, Stormtroopers, Singapore cowboys, Harley bikers to Goths, here is a peek into some niche interest groups that go beyond the usual.

Culture Underground

BY SHERALYN TAY

Marketing executive Frank Koh, 25, is your regular Singaporean guy. By day and most instances, he’s in a sharp dress shirt and trousers, but several times a year, Frank is someone else – literally. As an anime cosplayer (costume player), Frank regularly dons elaborate wigs and self-made costumes to emulate his favourite characters from Japanese manga and anime. He admits he didn’t always appreciate the hobby: “I thought it was quite silly at first; the idea of a guy dressing up and putting on makeup,” he said.

Frank is dressed as Kamui Gakupo from the series Vocaloids: Sandplay of the Dragon, decked in a self-styled purple wig and Edwardian velvet suit, complete with cravat, boots and lace trimmings as he speaks to Singapore. But silly is not the word for it.

In fact, cosplaying is pretty serious business. Frank was persuaded by a friend to give the hobby a go in 2005 and has not looked back since. According to Frank, the appeal lies “transcending the barrier to transform a two-dimensional character into the fourth dimension”.

“We not only create the look of the character in real life as in 3–D but also role-play the personality (the fourth dimension),” explained his friend Goh I Wah, 25, who is dressed in a detailed corset and striking aquamarine coloured wig. Costumes are elaborate affairs that are closely modelled on those of the animated characters. “Hunting for the right lace, buttons and fabric can take months,” Frank revealed.

Lots of ingenuity is also needed to craft related props such as wigs, weapons, wings and armour. In his fi ve years of cosplaying, Frank has seen the scene evolve and grow to include more male cosplayers, although it is still dominated by females at about 3:1. Also growing, the number of events every year, he added, “When I first started there were only three main events a year. Now we see an average of one event every month and at least three to four cosplay photoshoots every weekend,” he added.

Playing dress-up
Anime fans are not the only ones who emulate their favourite on-screen characters. Meet the 501st Legion Singapore Garrison, Star Wars enthusiasts whose white Stormtrooper suits never fail to draw a crowd. They are part of a worldwide movement with over 4,600 members. According to Gordon Ho, a public relations officer with the Singapore Garrison, the Singapore group is the biggest in Asia with 72 members, a handful of females among them.

One such lady is Fatimah Ahmad Affandi, 30, who plays a TIE (TwinIon Engine) Pilot. “I love costuming and Star Wars! It’s been my dream to be part of the 501st,” she said. “I used to be into anime cosplay, but there are limited characters for me to play and many of them dress skimpily.” For Gordon, 27, an engineer who joined the group in 2008, it was a way to take his love of all things Star Wars to the next level. “It came to a point that simply collecting figures of my favourite Stormtroopers wasn’t enough. I had to become them,” he laughed.

A replica Star Wars suit costs from S$1,000 to S$2,000 and is imported, usually from the United States. Each replica armour is sold unassembled and the form-molded plastic sheets have to be cut and painstakingly assembled to fit its user. According to 501st member Ananda Kang, 19, it takes more than 24 hours to assemble each suit and the Garrison often holds ‘armour parties’ to help new members with their suits. It was this sense of community that appealed to Ananda, a long-time fan of the movie.

The Garrison may dress like movie baddies, but beneath all that armour lies a soft spot for charity. In fact, the Garrison often “deploys” their members to charitable functions. They don’t get paid for appearances but request that donations be made to any charity of the organiser’s choice. “We’re like a big family,” said Gordon.

Life on the dark side
For Saito Nagasaki and the members of the Singapore Dark Alternative Movement (SDAM), the Dark Side has quite another meaning. Their interests lie in the moody and macabre. Saito, Singaporean Mark Koh by day, founded SDAM in 1998 as a “social collective”. “Our goal is to create a financially sustainable Goth scene in Singapore that can develop into an ecosystem where Goth performances, promoters, business owners and the larger community can interface,” explained the 28 year old. “We see ourselves as part of a larger alternative community [and] have friendly relations with other interest groups such as the punk, heavy metal movement and others.”

For student 24-year-old Vanessa Toh, an SDAM committee member, discovering the group in 2008 made her feel like she finally belonged. “I was so happy to fi nd people who liked the same music and had the same interests as I did,” she said. “Before then, I felt quite alone.” Her friend Dalif Roos Heilig, 22, echoed her sentiments. “I first got into the Goth scene when I heard Marilyn Manson – he was so different from teeny bopper bands.” The freelance writer who is half-Dutch returned to Singapore when he was eight years old and found it hard to settle into life here. “I didn’t have many friends when I came back so music became my refuge,” he recalled. He explained that there is more to ‘being Goth’ than the dark clothes
and eyeliner. “It’s the music, literature, fashion and outlook. The gothic movement came about in the 18th century and was a way to challenge the norm and offer a different – if macabre – perspective,” he explained, “For us, it’s not just a weekend thing but our lifestyle and identity.”

The old west
Having an unconventional identity is something that JR Ram, better known as ‘Texas Ram’, understands. JR, 60, is a self-styled Singapore cowboy – part of a small group of American Old West enthusiasts in Singapore who don’t see their passion as a mere hobby.

“I never leave home without my boots,” JR said. “My collar tips, my hat, belt buckle and boots are all part of my own style, my identity.” The lore of the Old West first captured his imagination when he was 16 and working for the British forces. “My American friend Michael taught me how to dress up like a cowboy,” he said. That was in 1965. Then the young JR saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the seminal spaghetti western fi lm by Sergio Leone. He was hooked for life. “When I saw that film, I wanted to be like them.”

And JR has done just that. For the last 20 years, he has run a third-floor store in Peninsula Shopping Centre selling genuine US-made leather boots and all things Old West. Some customers are local, but most are from Australia, Europe, Malaysia and Brunei (where horse riding and polo is still popular with the royal families). In the last five years, there has been more women customers as the line dancing trend took off. But asked if he dances, JR smiled and shook his head: “I’m an Old West cowboy, not a dancing cowboy.”

Wheel love
The love for a classic American icon takes a different turn when it comes to the “Thundering Herd” –  Harley Davidson enthusiasts who are part of the Harley Owners Group, Singapore Chapter, also known as HOG Singapore. According to activities officer, David Goldman, the local HOG arm has some 260 members from Singapore, the US, the UK, Germany, Australia, Finland and all over.

David explained that apart from their motorcycles, HOGs can be easily identifi ed with their signature jackets or vests adorned with patches and badges. “For every event a member takes part in, they get a badge,” he said. Commitee members also get a patch for every year they serve. It’s a visual diary of
their activities and a great way to collect memories. Apart from a shared passion for the classic two-wheeled monsters, the group also shares a passion for philanthropy. They not only take group trips on their bikes together – an impressive sight when they are out in force – but are active in the charity scene, holding annual toy runs to children’s homes with gifts and joyrides. “We are also strong supporters of breast cancer awareness, and work closely with the traffc police on road safety issues and as well as visit old folks homes,” the American said.

David, in his 50s, has owned motorbikes since 1975. “But when I rode my first Harley, I never looked back!” he declared. “When I’m riding, I forget all the demands of everyday living and just enjoy the moment.” The rush is almost as good when he sees the delight in the faces of the children and elderly folk he meets during HOG charity events. “For us, it’s a way of living our passions, and giving something  back,” he said. The same can be said of the many others who live out their passions – un-apologetically, joyfully and many with the desire to pay it forward.

Publication: Singapore
Client: Singapore International Foundation
Date: Apr-Jun 2010
Work Scope: Editorial management, feature writing

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