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Amusement or a nuisance?

Looking hotter and sexier than before, the Filipinas strut and sway rhythmically to the 'live' music from buskers at their old Orchard Road haunt. -TNP

Tue, Mar 08, 2011
The New Paper

By Joyce Lim

THE Filipinas are back at their old haunt.

Looking hotter and sexier than before, they strut and sway rhythmically to the 'live' music from buskers.

And turn the walkway outside Ion Orchard into a street party.

Before Ion Orchard was built, Filipino maids gathered at this busy junction on Orchard Road and held picnics on the grass patch behind Orchard MRT station on Sundays.

The spot, which they called "Gulong Park" (Gulong is Tagalog for roll) has been developed into the current premier shopping mall, carrying some of the world's top luxury brands.

Last Sunday, when The New Paper on Sunday team was there, we saw hundreds of maids turning the former Gulong Park into a rock 'n' roll party scene.

The street party was kicked off at 8pm by husband-and-wife busking team - Leticia Habon Caya and Qamaruddin Mohd Amin.

More than 500 maids had parked themselves outside Ion Orchard - some were sitting on the steps, others were on their feet, grooving to the "live" music.

"I love this place. It feels like home to see so many Filipinos here," said Ms Darlene Monis, 35, as she danced to the music.

Make new friends

"I came here to work last year but only now I come here to party. My friend brought me here and I enjoy myself very much. Here, I can make new friends."

Ms Monis was seen exchanging telephone numbers later with Filipino seamen Rico Taro and Ernasto Grutas,whom she had met on the "dance floor".

Mr Taro, 32, said: "When I was here in 2007, I didn't see any party like this. Tonight I see many pretty girls. I will be back in Singapore in May and I will definitely come onshore again."

There were also some Singaporean men among the crowd who invited Filipinas to dance but they declined to speak to us.

Another Filipina who wanted to be known only as Lona, said: "This is better than going to a disco. It's more fun and it's free and I meet people from my hometown."

Ms Lona, 25, came here to work last year.

She praised her employers, who are expatriates, for being open-minded and for allowing her to party till late on Sunday nights.

"The party will end at 10pm and I will go home after this. Some of my friends' employers are very strict with them and don't allow them to come here.

"They can only listen to the stories I tell them of the people I meet here," Ms Lona added.

Madam Rose Benito, 44, said: "We work so hard for six days. And we come here for one day to enjoy ourselves.

"Here, we meet people from our hometown, from young to old. We feel at home here."

Creating a home away from home is exactly what busker Leticia, 57 and her husband, Qamaruddin, 61, try to do for these maids.

Madam Leticia, too, used to hang out at Gulong Parkon her day off.

She recalled: "We would bring our own radios and guitars to play at the park. After the site had to make way for Ion Orchard, many Filipinos who are new to Singapore didn't know what it was like before.

Cosy spot 

"But somehow we are able to connect at this cosy spot in Singapore."

Madam Leticia came here to work as a singer 25 years ago. She married Mr Qamaruddin and is now a Singapore Permanent Resident.

The couple make a living from playing at private parties and corporate functions.

Three years ago, they applied for and received their licence to busk at certain spots along Orchard Road. Madam Leticia sings while her husband plays the keyboard.

She said: "We would be busking on Orchard Road from Tuesdays to Sundays, if we don't have private gigs to play in. We started busking outside Mandarin Hotel before moving to Ngee Ann City.

"The crowd was getting bigger and we decided to move to outside Ion Orchard on Sundays to accommodate the crowd.

"Sometimes we have double of tonight's crowd, like maybe 1,000 people. It's amazing.

My husband and I feel so good to bring so much joy to the crowd.

"We see young and old couples enjoying themselves. Money can't buy such happiness.

We provide them with free music. We don't depend on our collection from them for a living."

The couple entertain the crowd with songs by Santana, and popular hits like the Wonder Girls' Nobody and Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

Madam Leticia added: "The crowd follows us wherever we go. Sometimes when we reach Ion Orchard and it starts to rain, we can see the disappointment on their faces.

And we will try to wait out the rain. If not, they will come back the next Sunday."

Maids 'downgrading' mall's image

YOU would think the maids add colour to the place.

But not everyone is happy.

The maids had previously been chased out of Lucky Plaza as the management said they had vandalised the building.

The management also said their mass gatherings caused overcrowding and posed a threat to safety in the mall.

The Filipino maids then had to spread out to search for new places to meet on Sundays.

They moved to Tangs, Wisma Atria, the park behind Orchard MRT station, Ngee Ann City and now they are back at Ion Orchard.

Not only has the group grown bigger, but certainly merrier, turning the walkway outside Ion Orchard into a whole new party scene.

Shopper Kelly Chen, 38, a communications director, said: "I feel that they are downgrading the image of Ion Orchard. I'll avoid going there on Sundays now."

Lawyer Amolat Singh is more concerned with the potential law and order problems.

He said: "When authorities organise parties on Orchard Road, a lot of effort has to be put into crime prevention."

Mr Singh added that if the maids created a public nuisance, the police could act.

"One could also argue that these women are providing public entertainment by dancing in public.

"The authority (the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit) can relook into issuing such busking licences to not-so-hotspots instead."

The maids also sit on the steps leading to the mall's entrance.

But Ion Orchard's spokesman wouldn't be drawn into a debate over the maids' presence.

The spokesman said: "Ion Orchard's prominent location and direct connection to Orchard MRT makes it a popular and natural meeting point on Orchard Road."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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