Javanese “Horse Trance” Dancing In Joo Chiat

It’s been too long since I showed Joo Chiat some photo-love on this blog. We often wander there for bak kut teh at Sin Heng or drinks at The Cider Pit, but perhaps because I take it for granted for being so close to home, I rarely bring my camera. A few weeks ago, I did, which is why I managed to film and capture one of the intriguing things I have ever witnessed in public in Singapore.

At the junction between Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place, a traditional Javanese dance called Kuda Lumping (also referred to as Kuda Kepang) was being performed. Apart from carrying and manipulating horses made of woven bamboo, the participants in this dance are said to go into trances where they behave like horses and are treated accordingly, such as being fed and whipped. As they are supposedly immune to pain while in this trance-like state, they also perform various dangerous feats such as eating broken glass.

Read more to see my photos and videos of the performance


You know how when half-asleep and half-awake you can get lost in thoughts that are almost like Dadaist films? And if someone happens to come wake you up in the middle of this you start babbling incoherently, like “No, I’m not going to work today because I need to stay and wait for the clothespeg inspector,” and it’s really embarrassing while you sleepily try to explain why the clothespegs need to be inspected (so that your kindergarten teacher can use them in her home renovations, naturellement) and somewhere along the way it slowly begins to dawn on you that no clothespeg inspections will be necessary, you haven’t seen your kindergarten teacher in twenty years, and the other person is laughing their ass off?

(Please God, don’t let this just be me.)

So anyway, this has happened to me a fair number of times while sleeping normally in my bed, but Friday was the first time it was prompted by the particular music I was listening to. Deep in my usual commuting drowse on the bus to work with Hood’s Cold House on the iPod, somewhere around the last 50 seconds of I Can’t Find My Brittle Youth I became convinced that the popcorn machine on the bus was overheated and about to explode. Why was everyone so calm? Maybe I needed to raise the alarm and alert everyone to the danger so we could escape from the bus! Maybe it was too late and we should just all hit the floor to avoid being skewered by flying shards of hot buttered metal!

I jerked awake in shock and stared bug-eyed around the bus for a good five to ten seconds before I realized that springing into either course of action would be a very very bad idea.

Death Of A Party

So I decided I felt like throwing a party, and because I love dumb innuendo, I used my upcoming call to the Bar as an excuse for calling my party “Barely Legal”.

I wrote up an invite and emailed it to my friends. So far, a nice number of positive responses have been coming in, you know, the usual “Sounds cool, I’ll see you Sat then” type of email. And then my friend’s Italian boyfriend sent this:

“Uhm, still have some trouble with the law in italy over some public drunkness and indecent behaviour charges….how about consultation in exchange for some excellent duty-free smirnoff?”

And then Kelly replied with this:

“funny. pat’s in some legal trouble with the fashion police in US for his hair too. no wonder you guys are stuck over here.

alec, so what’s your true story? why are you here? what are you running away from? it’s truth time.”

And my weirdo boyfriend replied, to all my friends, some of whom have never met him, with this:

Kelly, I returned to Ireland in 93′ and found only deprivation and poverty awaiting me. The blight had returned to haunt the land and all around was the smell of marsh mellows rotting in the diseased ground. Without marsh mellows there’d be no lucky charms to feed the young ones. The leprechauns had packed up their pots of gold and forsaken us all. A great sorrow engulfed the land, made all the worse by the awful lamentations of Sinead O’Connor’s latest album “I was genitally mutilated for old Ireland”.

After just a fortnight at home, I’d already sold the clothes on my back for a few precious bowls of luck charms. I wandered around the house, buck naked and freezing, worrying day and night what I could do to feed the family. It was my mother who pointed out the only feasible solution.

“A young fellow like you, with a big lad on you, should be a gay porn star. ‘Twould be putting your willy to some good use, not like your father who does nothing but annoy me with his.”

I moved to Ballynabollix, home of Ireland’s burgeoning, alternative porn industry and became an overnight sensation. Using only what God gave me, I landed my first major role in “Jesus, Mary and Joeseph!!”. A spate of other movies followed, including such ground breaking works as “Jaysus, you could plough drills for potatoes with that thing!”, “Orgy in Ballingory” and “Feck off Bono, Larry Mullen is mine.”

My ego inflated faster than my money maker and decadence set in. I started to listen to Enya, taking Bob Geldof seriously and eating only the pink marsh mallow bits in my lucky charms. I was drinking and doing drugs and then one morning,…..Oh Jesus, it hurts just thinking back on it,….one morning I woke up and there was Michael Flatley in the bed beside me. I’ve been impotent as a Catholic Cardinal ever since.

Living with my condition has been hard. To save myself from further shame, I decided to emigrate. I looked at international birth rate statistics and surveys of sexual activity. I reasoned that if my condition could not be cured I could at least live amongst similarly afflicted individuals. Singapore has been a God send.”

If I start getting “Um…actually, I’m not free any more, I have to, uh, wash my laundry’s hair” responses, someone’s head will roll. And I don’t mean the one on top of his neck.

St Synchronicity

The two books I’m reading at the moment are 100 Years of Solitude (re-reading) and Life And Times Of Michael K.

In 100 Years Of Solitude, a plaster statue of St Joseph left by an unknown visitor at the Buendia house is found to be full of gold coins. For years after that, Ursula, the matriarch of the family, insists on asking every visitor to the house whether they once left a plaster statue of St Joseph there. She has hidden the coins to keep them safe for their owner, and steadfastly refuses to reveal where they are to anyone else.

13 pages into Life And Times Of Michael K, a plaster statue of St Joseph has been stolen from a charitable mission building, now devastated by an outbreak of looting and disorder.

The Dream With The Lemon Cult

I went with a faceless friend to a flat. We were greeted by someone who was there to welcome us, but the other people who were meant to welcome us hadn’t arrived yet. The person served us lemon tea. It was very good lemon tea.

More people arrived, all dressed very well. They all knew each other. We didn’t really know anyone. They were all really friendly and welcoming, but in that way where you think, well, this is great, but I don’t know you at all, and I’m getting a bit tired of being so moon-facedly smiley, and actually, what on earth am I doing here at all?

I asked the first person we’d met why I was there. He looked a little surprised, but explained that they had invited us there to introduce us to worshipping the lemon. He showed us pictures and brochures about the lemon, and spoke earnestly of the need to worship it.

He asked if we’d like something to drink.

“The lemon tea you gave us earlier was pretty nice,” I said.

“Oh no,” he said, “that’s only meant to be drunk for special ceremonial purposes. That was part of your special welcome to our community.”

We left shortly after. Everyone was still very nice and friendly as they waved goodbye. I woke up craving lemon tea.


Forgive me. I generally try avoid meaningless blog entries, and I promise I do have an entry about the last few days in the works, but I have just woken up from a bizarre, neither-sleep-nor-waking-dream at my library desk to find I have typed “Effect on the contract of carriage of the carrier deciding to stow the cargo on deck without first obtaininggggg beanbag ffor my room, but is there a spare kayak?” into my notes.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the law of carriage of goods by sea is boring.