Posted by: danguard | July 15, 2009

Week 5 – Dan on gangs (and other reflections)

Well, I’m now on the final leg of my trip, but the pace has picked up. Just as I thought I was running out of useful material I uncovered a wealth of sources in the old newspaper archives which are all conveniently catalogued and digitised and has resulted in me spending most evenings in the library till 9pm rather sadly. In between I’ve been nipping out to conduct interviews, another 4 in fact which have got increasingly better as I hone my interview technique. It makes research so much more interesting to be able to actually talk to people about their experiences rather than just reading them off a page, alone, in a dusty old basement (though the facilities in Singapore are far from that).

I’m currently staying in Little India which is great for food! I hadn’t realised quite how much I love Indian food until this last week and have been eating it constantly. Some dieting and exercise is needed when I get back methinks. The hostel is a little impersonal and was hampered by two absolutely obnoxious Kiwis staying here last week. One of them even threw a pillow at my head for no reason other than to wake me up, cretin! In what little spare time I’ve found I took a trip to Sentosa, the leisure island across from Keppel Harbour, where I visited Fort Siloso, an old British wartime fort, went to the butterfly park which was pretty cool and I got some good pictures from, as well as having a go on the luge, skyride and segway they had there. The Segway was particularly fun, I have no idea why those things never took off (‘you look like you’re off fighting dragons… in the future’ – little AD reference there for a few of you). I’ve also been to a rather excellent Tchaikovsky concert with a stunning rendition of Grieg, and to a performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Histoire du Soldat’ (A Soldier’s Tale). Today I’m taking the day off to visit the zoo and night safari, so long as the weather clears up.

The interview I conducted yesterday was particularly revealing. It was with a former Chinese gang leader, now a Reverend. He wasn’t a navy man but a lot of his gang were, and apparently most of the local ratings and officers in the navy were members of gangs, or secret societies, and even some of the British officers were attached to the gangs. In exchange for ‘favours’, they would release their men when needed for a fight with another gang, and the men would then leave the naval base, in uniform and navy trucks, and roll up to the rumble. A lot of navy stores – alcohol, cigarettes, and even ammunition – would find their way into the hands of the gangs and the blackmarket. One of the navy’s primary tasks here at the time was to prevent smuggling, but apparently what would happen is, when a smuggling vessel was captured out at sea and it’s cargo seized, before the naval vessel entered harbour smaller boats manned by the gangs would go alongside and the contraband would be dropped over the side to them. There are more startling revelations, but I’ll save them for the paper!

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