[Singapore Arts Festival 2012] Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) Hotel – Hotel Maids - Alvinology

[Singapore Arts Festival 2012] Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) Hotel – Hotel Maids

Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) Hotel – Hotel Maids is one of three programmes in this year’s Singapore Arts Festival that showcase a side of Singapore not often noticed.

The lobby of Ibis Novena
The lobby of Ibis Novena

In Hotel, you’ll be at Ibis Novena and will get to visit several installations within the rooms of the hotel, giving you some perspective on the hotel’s hidden workers – its chambermaids. This is the first time this project is carried out in Asia, with the participation of two real hotel staff in Ibis Novena.

Hotel Maids is an installation composed of biographies. Each visitor adopts the role of a maid reponsible for five rooms per hour – but instead of cleaning, the audience gets to spend the hour walking through the five rooms, where you will discover portraits of the cleaning staff, films, original voice recordings and photograhs that bring to light something of the invisible beings who clean up after others.

In  this Singapore edition, the audience comes into contact with stories from Ibis Novena Singapore and also from the same Ibis chain in Zurich, Berlin and Warsaw. In every city there are the same sames, the same architecture, but very different life experiences.

I was issued with five hotel key cards to visit five different rooms in an hour
I was issued with five hotel key cards to visit five different rooms in an hour

In the first room I visited, I got to know Mariyamah. She has been working in Singapore for the past 4 years and wakes up at 4.30am each morning to start her daily commute from her home in Senai, Johore. The journey does not seem that long as she is making her way to a work team that seems like an extension to her family. She has been a chambermaid at Ibis Novena for just over a year and in her own words, “is always happy with the lovely guest”. Her dream is to save enough money to build a nursing home in her hometown for old folks.

The first room I checked into... looks like a normal hotel room?
The first room I checked into… looks like a normal hotel room?
There are some notes on the table addressed to me from the chambermaid
There are some notes on the table addressed to me from the chambermaid
I was instructed to open the room safe
I was instructed to open the room safe
I discovered some photos of her in the room safe
I discovered some photos of her in the room safe
I found a note addressed to her by two hotel guests who praised her service
I found a note addressed to her by two hotel guests who praised her service

Next, I moved on to Warsaw, Poland:

Entering into another time zone in Warsaw
Entering into another time zone in Warsaw
A pile of towels greeted me in the room
A pile of towels greeted me in the room
I got myself into a cosy position to watch a video of a chambermaid in Warsaw talking about her life
I got myself into a cosy position to watch a video of a chambermaid in Warsaw talking about her life
She said it was common for guests to leave chargers and vibrators behind. The former they will come back for, not the latter.
She said it was common for guests to leave chargers and vibrators behind in their rooms

Zurich, Switzerland was my next destination:

This greeted me in the room
This greeted me in the room
The Zurich chambermaid is deaf from a young age, she is Algerian, but adopted and brought up by Swiss parents
The Zurich chambermaid is deaf from a young age, she is Algerian, but adopted and brought up by Swiss parents – she speaks slowly to us from a video screen on the wall
The time in Zurich
The time in Zurich
Pictures of the Zurich chambermaid when she was really young
Pictures of the Zurich chambermaid when she was really young
Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom
In her youth, she has won a beauty pageant for deaf and mute people in Zurich
In her youth, she has won a beauty pageant for deaf and mute people in Zurich
She fell in love and married a flamboyant dancer when she was young. Together, they had a daughter
She fell in love and married a flamboyant dancer when she was young. Together, they had a daughter
A journal documenting her trip back to Algeria to trace her birth parents and her roots
A journal documenting her trip back to Algeria to trace her birth parents and her roots

Next, I moved on to Berlin, Germany:

The chambermaid here is a Chinese male and the video is projected on the ceiling
The chambermaid here is a Chinese male and the video is projected on the ceiling
I had to lie in bed to watch the video of the Berlin chambermaid
I had to lie in bed to watch the video of the Berlin chambermaid

The last stop was back to Singapore:

Meet Max, Wang Hong Jian from Shandong province, China
Meet Max, Wang Hong Jian from Shandong province, China
This room was converted into a sandy beach!
This room was converted into a sandy beach!
Tsing Tao beer anyone?
Tsing Tao beer anyone?
A photo of Max and his friend celebrating at a banquet
A photo of Max and his friend celebrating at a banquet
A mirror filled with a man's life story
A mirror filled with a man’s life story
There are writings on the window too
There are writings on the window too
Photo of Max and his wife
Photo of Max and his wife
Photos of Max's wife and children
Photos of Max’s wife and children

Max, Wang Hong Jian left his wife and twin children back in Shandong province, China to make a better living for himself and his family. With the help of social media and a web cam, Max watches his children grow up in real time and keeps in touch with them. English may be a challenge for Max, but it doesn’t seem to come in the way for him and his guests as he has made friends with many.

A big surprise came at the end when Max appeared in person and called out to me when my hour is up! He then brought me on a guided tour around Ibis Novena:

Max showing me around the hotel
Max showing me around the hotel
The changing room
The male changing room
Laundry cart
Laundry cart
Dirty laundry goes into these trolleys
Dirty laundry goes into these trolleys

Moving from one room to the next, Rachel and I felt like we were traveling across time round the globe, snooping into the lives of others like floating ghosts. The experience is pretty surreal and emotive at the same time.

Both Rachel and I walked away from this installation getting to know the lifetime of five complete strangers whom we are very likely not going to ever meet again.

Rachel and I both enjoyed this installation very much
Rachel and I both enjoyed this installation very much

I love the concept of this whole installation series. If you find this review for Hotel Maids intriguing, do check out the other two Parallel Cities installations – Roof and Factory.

Introduction Video on Parallel Cities:

I think it is great that ibis Singapore is supporting an art initiative like this. FYI, in line with its participation in the Singapore Arts Festival, ibis Singapore Novena is organising a photography competition titled “The Lost Poem”. It aims at bringing life to the many familiar scenes that we have taken for granted at Balestier.

By keeping the memories of Balestier alive with your pictures, you can stand a chance to win 2 nights stay at ibis Northpoint Hong Kong or ibis Styles Bali Benoa! Find out more on the contest via their Facebook page. 

An Introduction to Parallel Cities via the Singapore Arts Festival website: 

…being someone else for a day and looking at things from a different angle.

Hotels, factories and rooftops – these are places you have heard of, or are familiar with, but barely take notice of. After all, they are just…there.

Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) offers you the chance to be a participant, an observer, a provocateur or an intruder, to engage in another perspective of these spaces as they transform into experiential theatre platforms.

Hotel — Hotel Maids: Who are these people who go into your room when you’re not there? This is an installation composed of biographies. You will discover portraits of the cleaning staff: films, original voice recordings and photographs that shed light on the ‘invisible’ beings who clean up after others.

Why you should experience Parallel Cities:

…to indulge in a blend of reality and theatrical fiction.

…to gain a different perspective of life.

… to change your attitude towards everyday, functional areas.

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