Peeking behind the piles of towels at Singapore Arts Festival 2012 – Ciudades Paralelas (Hotel)

So if you’re not up to speed on things yet, things have been a little slow around here because I was super busy! One of the major festivals happening in Singapore in the last 2 weeks was the Singapore Arts Festival, and while I admit I’m not much of an artsy sort in my every day life, the programmes that they brought in this year are pretty fascinating, especially after someone’s taken the time to tell you about them – which is what I’m going to do here! (you can check out my earlier review of another Arts Fest programme called Umbrella for 2 here)

This particular programme resonated with me because it’s something we’ve all encountered as travellers – the best thing about a hotel room which makes it different from living at home, is to come back after a long day to a perfectly turned down bed and clean towels. But who makes it happen? You rarely ever see the people responsible for it as they only enter the room when you’re out, or unless you’ve been a chambermaid yourself…

Hotel – Hotel Maids is created by Lola Arias, a part of Ciudades Paralelas or Parallel Cities, which explores parts of the city which are often overlooked. Hotel in particular explores the lives of the hotel chambermaids, the invisible forces that keep our hotel rooms neat and tidy. Who are these people, what are their lives like? This really unusual show happened on site at Ibis Novena Singapore, where visitors went to installations in several rooms that told stories about the lives and experiences of these elusive chambermaids.

A visual journey if you will:

you're given a bunch of room keys and told precisely when you can head upstairs (see my lovely, festival-tribute two tone yellow nails)
What does the first room hold?
A seemingly innocuous room...
With a letter from Mariyamah the Chambermaid
Reading her story against the backdrop of the busy Balestier streets
Why you should always read right till the end: I almost missed that crucial liner that directed me to open the safe which contained an envelope that held Mariyamah's personal stash of pix! I barely had time to take them out of the envelope before I had to move on...
The pile of sheets and towels on the bed is definitely hard to miss!
Who's that stuck in the TV set?
I settle into a chair next to the bed and listen to the Polish Chambermaid tell her tale
She directed me to check underneath the bed...
Woah I've never seen one up close but that is... big. Apparently they get strewn around hotel rooms a lot!
The next room looks like a mini gallery, with photos and a pop-art artwork on the wall
It actually belongs to an Algerian Chambermaid, while she is deaf-mute, was a top beauty contestant back in her hey-day
She was adopted into a Swiss family, with Tibetan half-siblings
The pictures and stories around the room trace her life to date
She never did connect well with her original family back in Algeria, and she was a real go-getter
She kept a personal travel diary when she went back to visit her birth family, which I wish I could understand
The 4th room is dark, and invites you to lie down on the bed
You watch the film projected on the ceiling. Those are my toes hanging over the end of the bed. It was a bit odd as the subject was a Chna Chinese dude speaking in German as he worked in Ibis Berlin as a part-tme chambermaid, part-time student!
The last room is the most amazing though - you enter to sand between your toes and the sound of waves in the distance
The entire floor is covered with sand! Those are my shoes yes
That's Max's wife and kids back in China whom he doesn't get to see much =(
Max's story is written on the windows and the mirrors, and he narrates it in Mandarin over the sound of waves
I really do feel like I'm on the beach (there was a surprise in the toilet too!)
The best part was after all that, Max himself popped into the room to say hello to me! I didn't take many pix at this point as i wanted to get to know him better, and not make him nervous by snapping pix... he showed me the backstage of the hotel as we walked through the service entrances, offices and finally exited by the back door (Picture from - he's got more backroom pix if you're curious, I just really wanted to show you Max in person!)

All in all, I really enjoyed this programme, though I wish that we could have heard more local/Asian stories of chambermaids – while I appreciate the international flavour happening here, it was the Asian stories that really resonated with me, and I would have liked to hear more of those! Meeting them was also really cool – I think I’m a pretty decent hotel guest who doesn’t trash rooms, but it’s really made me more conscious of these invisible figures, and maybe I’ll leave a tip the next time =)

If you’re curious to find out more, check out this video below. Ciudades Paralelas has made its way to cities like Buenos Aires, Zurich and Berlin, but this is the first time it’s been in Asia. the Ciudades Paralelas website has videos of each version of Hotel it’s undertaken so far.

Two other versions were also available at the Singapore Arts Festival which sold out – Roof – Review (I had gone for a preview of this and it was quite illuminating), as well as Factory – La Fabrica (my favourite one of the lot).

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4 comments to Peeking behind the piles of towels at Singapore Arts Festival 2012 – Ciudades Paralelas (Hotel)

    • Eek that means our comms not so good =/

      but it really was very good! the videos are quite representative of the experience though, do check them out on the Ciudades Parelelas website when you have the time =)

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I couldn’t make a booking for this one and felt left out. Your post makes me feel like I didn’t completely miss out on this //Cities. I liked riding in the open air truck in the Factory tour.

    • Factory was fun! I liked it because it had a really local flavour to it… I’m sorry you missed out on Hotel though, and I’m glad my post helped even if just a little =P

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