Busking - for the love of it

Busking - for the love of it

Universal music

Ms Eileen Chai is a former national gymnast who teaches violin. For her, busking is a way to display her passion for music.

As a child, Ms Eileen Chai enthralled audiences by balancing on the beams and swinging on uneven bars.

Now 36, she entertains a different crowd - the former national gymnast dishes out pop tunes and original compositions by the river at Clarke Quay. Sometimes she also sings.

While her violin teaching schedule can be demanding, she makes time to perform on the street because she wants to "engage the public".

"I hope people will realise busking is not just for people with no money and is not a bad thing," said the musician, who started performing in 2012.

"My desire is to reach out to people and show them that we have a passion for the arts. Anyone can try it. It just takes time and effort to showcase what you love."

Ms Chai started learning to play the violin at age four, but later chose sports. It was difficult to juggle both, especially when she became a national athlete.

Yet, music remained a passion of hers because it sustained her during the arduous sports training she endured in China.

"I listened to casettes to get by. Music is a universal language and the lyrics helped to ease my pain, especially when things got tough and I felt lonely and tired," she said.

Ms Chai returned to music again in university when her sports career was over. She joined various bands and learned to play the violin again.

"Music is my lifeline. I did not just want to listen to music. I wanted to make it," she explained.

The full-time violin teacher says she used to busk twice a week during lunch hours, but has stopped performing so frequently since she started writing a book, which was published last month..

She admitted that there were times when she felt dejected and discouraged by the lack of people who stopped to listen.

"It can be straining mentally to stand in the hot sun and watch people just walk by. Sometimes, I asked myself what I was doing," she said.

But comments she received from international street performers at a buskers' festival on Sentosa last year inspired her to keep going.

"One of them told me that I have to always give 110 per cent of my effort, even if there is no one listening. If I can just touch one person's life through my busking, I would have succeeded."

She does caricatures for free

If you want a caricature done by a street artist, you usually have to pay for it.

But Madam Diana Lim offers her artistic talent for free.

She churns out snazzy-looking caricatures of those who approach her at Clarke Quay, where she busks on selected weekday evenings and during festive periods.

The 57-year-old's signature style is sketching people with large heads and tiny bodies.

"Most people are familiar with Western-style caricature that exaggerates a person's feature such as making a nose big or a chin long.

"But mine is Japanese-style caricature that emphasises the cute factor," Madam Lim says.

Her day job is as a private art instructor for small groups of adults.

Madam Lim started her caricature career in 1999 by renting a stall at flea markets.

About a year later, she began busking.

Armed with a small table, drawing block paper, markers and a box of pastel crayons, Madam Lim is ready to take on any sketching challenge that people throw at her.

"Some people are in a hurry. So I have to draw very fast. My quickest sketching time is three minutes.

"If they can wait, I will take up to 15 minutes to do a more detailed caricature," she says.

She does not ask for payment, though customers usually offer to pay $5 to $10 for her drawings.

She sketches about 20 people in about five hours, the duration of each busking session.

"Couple drawings" are popular, she says.

"It is usually the lady who will bring her partner over and ask for a caricature of both of them," Madam Lim says.

But people are not always willing to stop to watch her craft or engage her talent.

"There may be many people walking past, but they do not stop for me.

"Sometimes, I wait for a whole hour before the first request.

"But once the first person stops by to get a drawing done, others will keep coming," she says.

Madam Lim is a member of the Singapore Watercolour Society and she teaches her adult pupils how to paint in the medium.

But she has a soft spot for caricature.

She gladly shares her hobby because she wants to show that the arts are very much alive here.

"I want to show people that Singaporeans can also draw and that we have artistic culture and a talent pool here," she says.

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