Peculiar pastimes

By Megan Lye

As her lip-sync performance to Iggy Azalea’s Black Widow draws to a close, drag queen Yeastmonster raises the cans of Silly Strings in her hands and sprays them all over the dance floor in Peaches Club. The crowd goes wild.

As part of his Yeastmonster persona, Adam dons a gothic dress adorned with baby dolls at the waist for his first performance of the night.

Decked out in flamboyant makeup, heeled boots and an intricate black dress with stuffed toys shaped like humans strung at the waist, she struts off the stage with her head held high.

This is who Adam Ameng, 23, transforms into when he performs as a drag queen.

While most students like to read, play music and jog, some have more unconventional interests, and Ameng is just one of them.  

The amplified persona

The second-year Sports and Science Management student, who has been a drag queen since 2015, describes his Yeastmaster persona as an amplification of his everyday personality.

Performing in drag allows Ameng to project himself on a theatrical level. It also gives him immense courage and confidence, he said.

“When I put on my drag self, everything I wouldn’t dare to do as Adam, I would dare to do,” he said. “It is every gay boy’s fantasy. You feel like you can be anything you want to be.”

While the visual aspects of drag, such as the costume and elaborate makeup, are part of his artistic outlet, Ameng feels that his truest form of self-expression is the performance itself.

“For me, drag is a performance of gender. I dress as a woman because it is more interesting that way,” he said. “If I dress as a man, there is nothing special about that.”

Ameng’s first brush with drag was at a friend’s drag-themed party three years ago.

However, he already had an interest in drag before that, being an avid fan of shows such as American reality series Rupaul’s Drag Race.

A student by day and a drag queen by night, performing in drag is both an investment of time and money. Ameng performs two to three times a month at Peaches Club, and spends a week preparing for each show.

First, he selects a song and chooses an outfit. Then, he decides on how he wants to perform. On the day of the performance, he can spend up to four hours getting ready.

The salary he gets depends on how long or elaborate his performances are, but it is usually barely enough for him to break even.  

“In the beginning, you have to fork out more than you can get back,” he said.

His friends and family are supportive of him. However, he is often the subject of scrutiny when he appears as his drag persona in public. The misconception that all drag queens want to be women irks Ameng.

He recalled his ex-boyfriend, who broke up with him because he thought Ameng was too effeminate.

“He told me that he wanted to date a guy, not a woman,” said Ameng.

Yeastmonster was originally Ameng’s Instagram handle because he loves to eat bread. However, once he started doing drag, people started recognising him by that handle, and it has since stuck.

Ameng does not intend on making drag a career as he wants to go into physiotherapy or nutrition instead, but he wishes to continue doing drag for a long time.

“I feel like a superhero,” he said. “I take risks and then I do things I don’t believe I can do.”

Pulling no punches

Wilson Loh (left) and his coach engaging in a “wristlock”. Trainees are reminded that their facial expressions are an important part of the performance.

When he was 10 years old, Wilson Loh, started playing wrestling games on his gaming console. His mother, thinking that they would make him violent, confiscated them.

Today, Loh, a first-year student from the Nanyang Business School, is living out his childhood fantasies as a professional wrestling trainee at the Grapple MAX dojo.

Loh, 21, enrolled in the dojo last December. He trains there thrice a week and made his debut in a match against a trainer in March. His second match occurred on 20 Jul, when he participated in a tag match with a fellow trainee.

Unlike most sports, professional wrestling is not a competition. It is designed to be a theatrical performance with a predetermined outcome, as wrestlers put on a show and tell a story.

Because of the theatrics, Loh has faced criticism about his sport being fake. However, he stands by his passion for it.

“It’s just like acting, but there is more action,” he said.

In one of his matches, Loh played the role of an underdog who showed tenacity the role of an underdog who showed tenacity and a strong will to fight back against his larger and experienced opponent, a character who was initially disrespectful to him.

Even though the matches are scripted, Loh enjoys the sport because it allows for a build-up in excitement and hypes up the audience.

“I get bored easily. In other sports, it just takes one very good move and the match is over. I feel more satisfied watching a match with a lot of moves and storytelling,” he said.

As a wrestler, he gains satisfaction from the audience’s cheers for his actions in the ring.

Although he had always dreamed of being a wrestler, he did not have the courage to sign up alone at first. However, after he completed his National Service, he decided to bite the bullet.

“I knew if I did not at least try, I would never have ended up doing it at all,” he said. “So I told myself to man up and I went on my own, and it was the best decision I ever made.”

The puppet maker

Chia Kun Liang (centre) with fellow puppeteers and their puppets.

As a child, Chia Kun Liang, 22, loved watching American children’s show Sesame Street. Now, he has become a puppeteer himself.

The first-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information is the leader of Project Five Fingers, a group of puppeteers that aims to nurture creativity and self expression in children.

First, he designs the puppets himself and sends them to a professional puppeteer, who sews them by hand. Then, Chia writes scripts for his performances.

Chia’s first encounter with puppetry was during his first year in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where he joined the Young Advocating for the Younger Club, and had the opportunity to perform a puppet show.

That performance showed him that puppetry was a suitable medium to deliver messages to children. It also inspired him to form a band of puppeteers with his friends in 2015.

“In the past three years, I realised how puppetry can bring all kinds of children together in a safe and inclusive setting to learn and have fun,” he said.

The group performs in preschools whenever they can and occasionally holds short basic puppet-making workshops for children and their parents.

“I hope to bring across the message that puppets are easy to make and not that expensive,” said Chia.

As a self-funded group, Project Five Fingers no longer had a suitable venue or resources that it could tap into after its members graduated from polytechnic. So, the group started to hold rehearsals in Starbucks or on empty rooftops.

Despite the inconvenience, Chia has kept the group together and they continue to use puppetry to educate children.

“I always want to encourage children to be greater than they think they are,” he said. “Whether it’s children with autism, dyslexia, or hyper-activeness, if they don’t feel like they are fitting in well, they shouldn’t be afraid to try out things.”

The group’s most recent performance was on 30 Jun, when they performed at PCF Sparkletots Preschool. In October, they will be giving a talk at this year’s Early Childhood Conference which will be held at Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre.

He said: “Children can express their thoughts well and they see everyone as equals. But as we grow older, we tend to lose that. Puppetry brings me back to where I want to be.”