Beyond Bars

It was my first time carolling, ever. To do it to a group of people in prison didn't make it any easier. except for the fact that they were a captive audience.
It was hard to look at them and sing songs about children skipping and dancing, snow-covered sidewalks and the like. We omitted some songs which might have proved more depressing then uplifting, but one has to admit, Christmas carols aren't the sort of thing you want reminding you of a world you have no access to.
It was hard to look at them because I saw a lot of myself there. Unlike most of the others who sang beside me, I was brought up in the slummier parts of Singapore, where my first uttered words were in Hokkien. Unknown to many friends and all of my family, I was part of a gang in Marine Parade. Not one of those teeny-bopper gangs you find so much of nowadays. Most of them are already married with children. Frankly, I am glad for all that I went through. I am not ashamed of who I am or where I come from. I am ashamed that I had changed so much since, and in the eyes of those behind bars it seemed like I have betrayed them. Gone over to the other side. Became English-speaking, yuppie trash.
Took a while, but I finally lifted my eyes above my music score and looked them in the eye. There was no resentment to be found. Some clapped along, others sang whatever they knew. If we repeated words enough they sang along. Angst is a luxury afforded to the affluent. I returned to my roots and remembered the simplicity of life there. The warmth of a friend and late-night talks under the void-deck. No running after riches, talking about the stock-market, no endless debates about current issues we honestly have no control over. No pretense. I liked it like that.
Life…their life…the life of a "low class, uneducated" man flows inside of my veins. I will not taint it with the synthetic cold and lifeless electronics of "new and improved" Singapore. I want to smell the rubbish along Kallang River. I want the old Singapore back.
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