a noisy night of nostalgia

The view from the top of the hill at Fort Canning Park–looking down onto the stage, rockers in full glory, bright lights blinding those in the pit, the Singapore skyline in the background–that’s one of my favourite concert scenes.

And I have been spoilt for choice, lucky to attend many outdoor concerts with stunning backdrops, especially during my four years studying in California. The Greek Theater at Berkeley, my home away from home, holds a special place in my heart. Bob Dylan, Green Day, Live and Counting Crows together, they all played their part, as the sun set behind San Francisco, the city in the distance, the scent of eucalyptus, hotdogs and burning herbs wafting through the air.

Or the Chronicle Pavilion in Concord, more than an hour from Berkeley, which meant having to drive back an hour somewhat intoxicated; drunk enough to fail a breathalyser, but not drunk enough to cause any trouble–the drink driver’s hymn, that one. Crosby, Stills and Nash (very old, and no Neil Young), and Third Eye Blind sang their hearts out beneath the crimson Californian sky. Magic.

Or Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, nestled between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, where retired hippies chill while wannabe hippies and dotcom millionaires rock, bang and gyrate. I saw too many here, the pick were the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Dave Matthews Band (twice). But my good times memories are always tainted by the nightmarish traffic, leading in and out of this place, which made me miss even more the Greek Theater, minutes from my dorm.

And despite all those wonderful events there is something special, something unique about Fort Canning Park. Certainly not the overpriced drinks and mediocre food, pitiful in a gastronomic capital. Not the listless service offered by the lost schoolkids who’ve swapped school for waitstaff uniforms, all eager beavers with no clue, personifications of Singapore’s productivity dilemma–pay as low as you can, get as many as possible, and don’t you worry about the quality. (No disrespect to the kids–they tried their best, but they’re just not trained well enough.)

And also not the long walk to the bathrooms in that grand old colonial building sitting on top of the hill. Nor the sight of brutish, drunk, belligerent White males walking to the nearest fence and unzipping their pants, showering the trees and grass, because they were too lazy to walk to the top of the hill, too eager to return to the electric Kasabian atmosphere and their plastic cups of beer.

My BIL and I, half hammered and bladders full, alternated between cursing at the foreigners pissing on our park and wondering if we should join them. It is easy to lament the torrid influx of foreigners into this country, especially at times like these, but just by looking around I was reminded that if not for them, acts like Kasabian would probably never bother coming here.

Still, we had to leggo some Singapore machismo. We heckled one bloke, who shivered nervously, barely 10 metres away, and then turned around and walked towards us.

As he approached, all seven feet of him, I realised one should not judge a man by his pissing physique. We started smiling, and luckily so did he. Instead of getting thumped, all I got was a rather damp handshake.

It was while on a separate urinary mission that I had my first brush of nostalgia. I was up in the old colonial building when I ran into a Singaporean Malay guy. We didn’t shake hands. He was dressed in loose jeans and t-shirt, and spoke with a rather proper accent, as if he didn’t care much for Singlish.

He went to secondary school at Saint Patrick’s, and I at Saint Andrew’s, and we found a lot of joy in reminiscing about ancient football rivalries.

“You know, I used to love hanging out with the Eurasians and Bhais, like you,..”
“I’m not a Bha..”
“You guys are the best. A lot of fun. We’d go drinking together”
“Yes we would.”

It won’t be the last time I get mistaken for a Sikh. I never mind, they are a great bunch, and there certainly wasn’t time for a geographical clarification. Besides, even if not the letter, the spirit of his point rang true–the Eurasians, Indians and Malays of my generasi all had a rollicking good time in school, corralled in Malay class, we became members, BFFs. Or so we hoped.

As I left the old colonial building, bladder empty and nostalgia recepticon tweaking, I gazed down the hill once more, and admired the view. And then it struck me why I like the skyline so much.

From Fort Canning Park, the only two buildings one can really see, far behind the stage, are Peninsula Plaza to the right and to the left the Westin Stamford (or Swissotel or whatever it’s called today).

Peninsula Plaza, which at night wears that kitschy red and green neon crown, evokes memories of football shops, where one could buy English football jerseys, posters, photos and other memorabilia, a veritable emporium in those barren pre-Internet days. Or guitar studios. And photography labs.

Westin Stamford was the world’s tallest hotel when it was built. For some reason I remember that, and remember being proud about that. Much more than I am today when I look at the Esplanade, the Marina Bay Sands, and all those other temples of the new, global, Singapore.

So I guess what I’m trying to say, dear Reader, is that I really enjoyed Kasabian, and the opening act, the Vaccines. But what made the night special was the view, of a 1980s-90s Singapore, unencumbered by all those burdens and trappings of being whatever it is we are supposed to be today.

It felt nice. But also strange.

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