Outside the National Gallery, a crowd caught my eye. Many rapt gazes were fixed on a tall, sinewy man; a psychedelic scarf worn at a rakish angle under a dark wide-brimmed hat. Adults and children alike watched with a wide-eyed eagerness as he immersed the tips of a pair of long sticks into a vat of green liquid. “When I say ‘bubble’, you say ‘attack’!” he yelled to the crowd, drawing enthusiastic cries. Then, he unleashed a stream of bubbles—glowing rainbow in the setting sun, floating tantalisingly close to the crowd before vanishing as suddenly as they appeared. He thanked his audience and swept off his hat to a wave of applause.
He was a bubbleologist: Sandy the Bubble Pirate. Having only caught a glimpse of one of his performances for the Gallery’s inaugural Night to Light Festival, I was determined to catch the whole of his next show. Even before the performance started, he was answering the questions posed to him by the DJs with a warm, effusive charm. When asked about the composition of his bubble solution, he joked, “If I tell you, I’m afraid I’ll have to kill you,” flashing a winsome smile. There were three components to his performances, he said. First was for children—and children-at-heart—to pop the bubbles. The second was sharing the big bubbles—not popping them, but letting everyone enjoy them, because “not even the richest person can possess a bubble.” The third was outdoors performances—even considering Singapore’s finicky humidity. His mission was to spread fun and joy through the art of the bubble.
And what better place to carry out this philosophy than a bare, open space? He didn’t need many tools for his trade: three vats of mysterious bubble solution, a couple of giant bubble blowers affixed to poles, and a pair of hands (which could become very handy bubble blowers too!) But simply by engaging the audience, he transported them into a moment of joy, whether it was by eliciting excited squeaks when he accidentally rained bubble solution down over the audience, to gratuitously creating more large bubbles if the previous ones had popped just after they were created. The timid requests of children to take a picture with him and the hearty congratulations of grown viewers were testament enough to the atmosphere he had managed to create. Yet a question remained in my mind: how had he decided to become a bubbleologist in particular?
“I started with Smoky Bubbles,” he told me, producing a small blue tube from inside his jacket pocket. While he had lived in Singapore for 14 years, he had only begun performing with bubbles for the past 5 years. “It was a passion. Got into a bit of trouble on the MRT—became an incident in the news.” Nevertheless, he was able to find his calling. “I didn’t think I’d become a cook; I became a cook. I didn’t think I’d become an athlete; I became an athlete. I didn’t think I’d become a bubbleologist; I became a bubbleologist. It’s about finding purpose. Sometimes what you do is not what you’ll end up doing later.”
And why bubbles? “Bubbles are ethereal. They’re profound. They’re the meaning of life.”
Beyond the fun of bubble-blowing, perhaps one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find a metaphor for similarly ephemeral human lives in the greater scheme of the world. But the bubbleologist’s main purpose would be to entertain, and his bubbles have the power to create positive memories that can never be bought by the richest person in the world.