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SAF 2012: Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) – Hotel Maids

June 3, 2012

Photo Credit : Marta Pruska

Event: ‘Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) – Hotel Maids’ by Lola Arias (as part of Singapore Arts Festival 2012)
Venue: ibis Singapore Novena
Run: 18-20 May, 22-27 May, 29 May-2 Jun 2012

You are given five keys. Each key leads you to a room, different, yet the same. The only difference would be that each tells the story of a chambermaid from another (ibis) hotel elsewhere in the world, the city silently indicated by a tag under the clock, set in their respective time zones. And so, we take a peek into the lives of so many whom we do not see, yet their presence is seen and felt when we return at the end of the day, to a room tidy and clean. In a way, we are introduced progressively into these people’s lives and daily operations.

First, you are greeted in a standard room by just a handwritten letter left on the writing table by a staff. Then, you are “brought” to Warsaw with a representative mess (a tower of towels on the bed) of what one may find in a guest’s room, as a chambermaid talks on the TV. And guess what, there was something under the bed, as directed by her for us to go peek! We move on to Zurich as we get to know an Algerian deaf-mute chambermaid through her photos, journal and decorated room of the 3rd room, as well as a short video of her. The next room “forces” us to lie on the bed to watch on the ceiling, how a male chambermaid in Berlin goes about his chores and his life there. And lastly, the most striking, was when you open the door and step onto a “beach” with a room covered with sand, complete with seaside umbrella, as the voice of a male chambermaid from Jinsha, working in Singapore, tells his story and experiences. The stories speak mainly of how they came into this profession, about their family, their life stories and their life cleaning guest rooms like how they’re paid, things they’ve seen, etc.

Although the whole experience felt relatively subtle, Parallel Cities lets us catch a glimpse of similar contexts across the globe in different cities, and captures the lives and perspectives of people in the most ‘ordinary’ of circumstances which we would otherwise hardly notice or take for granted.

What I liked was how it maintained the “invisibility” of the chambermaids as one moves from room to room, and in the same way, we experience it like them. It felt like we’re looking into the secret life of these people. And I really liked the ending which came as a surprise  (*SPOILER*), when the said person in the letter from the first room, Xiao Hong, appeared at the door of the last room to take me around to their work areas. And I knew that it was her when she touched her ear, as was the indicated “code” in the letter, where it stated that if we ever met her, touch our ear to acknowledge that we have read the letter. That was a nice touch and it really brings them to life or we might miss them in our everyday going-abouts and take them for granted. They do help make our stay more comfortable when we’re away from home and we should appreciate them. They are real and human, like all of us.

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