When Travel Plans and the Law Don’t Mix

I passed a couple of police officers interviewing a shaggy-haired lad outside OverEasy in Singapore yesterday. On the pavement, the lad had placed a bucket of liquid, a tin wrapped in a jack-o’-lantern jacket and a sign.

That sign said, ‘I’m colecting (sic) money to travel around Asia.’

Ah, a traveller, I surmised. Probably someone who decided that the ordinary life was not for him and was determined to see the world, even if it meant busking. I’d read and met many such people at TBEX and in New Zealand, and they funded their adventures in many different ways. It’s another thing, however, to see fellow Singaporeans put obstacles in their path.

As I wandered around the mall’s restaurants in search of dinner, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I saw. Who is this guy whose plans to fund his ambitions had just run afoul of the law?

I wanted to know his story, so I went back.

When he had finished packing and the mata had left, I asked if I could write about him. We introduced ourselves, and I figured he was Polish. Things got way easier then. He was glad to meet someone who had been to his part of the country, and I was glad to meet someone who had just been to Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Michał quit his job building film sets in Poznań to travel the world. He had been on the road for eight months and had already visited New Zealand, Australia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Along the way, he relied on his savings and the takings from making massive soap bubbles. As for his future plans, South Korea and Nepal were at the top of his list. There’s plenty of time for him to decide.

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We revisited what happened an hour earlier. Michał hadn’t been making bubbles for 20 minutes when he saw the policemen walk straight towards him. Clearly, they hadn’t been on patrol; somebody had called them without warning. Maybe they didn’t like getting soap in their eyes; otherwise, I didn’t see any harm in what he did. It beats what sometimes passes off for singing in the underpasses.

I was disappointed that yet again, somebody called the police instead of settling things amicably. Michał said that in other countries, shopkeepers would approach him and ask him to leave, so this was entirely new to him. We know how some people need others, preferably those in power, to set their world right for them, instead of taking charge of the situation. This particular caller must be proud of him or herself for restoring order to this country, saving it from the threat of giant soap bubbles.

This is just one of Singapore’s uglier sides.

That said, the officers weren’t rude as they took his statement and his details. They told him that only Singaporeans and residents were permitted to busk, a fact that can be verified on the National Arts Council’s page.

However, even in the short time that he was making bubbles, people smiled and children laughed as they passed. Some even left notes of admiration and encouragement in the tin. While the mata were conducting their investigations, I witnessed a young lady offer to link him with a host. Another chap bought him a drink from the juice stand. They may not be able to live the nomadic lifestyle but they appreciate it when someone makes that choice.

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One post is not going to change an entire group’s attitudes and behaviour. I was happy though to give Michał a listening ear. I will also be satisfied if this post makes at least one person reflect on his interactions with people who are different from him.

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