Singaporeans slam Western 'begpackers' busking on subway

A video of a pair of Westerners busking on the subway in Singapore quickly drew backlash from locals. (Photo: Twitter)
A video of a pair of Westerners busking on the subway in Singapore quickly drew backlash from locals. (Photo: Twitter)

A viral video of a pair of Westerners performing in the subway in Singapore has drawn backlash from locals, who called it another example of “begpackers” hoping to make small change during their visits to Asian countries.

The man and woman, dressed in matching printed tops and shorts, are seen playing a ukulele and a guitar and singing the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout”. Their performance drew claps from the audience and was shared on Twitter in late May by user @heliumdaisies, who thanked the pair for “starting my day right.”

The video has gone viral, garnering nearly half a million views as of Thursday afternoon. But online users were less than pleased.

Many lamented the phenomenon of “begpackers,” in which wealthier Western (and often white) tourists perform or sell small items in the streets in order to fund their travels in Asian countries, where the average pay can be a fraction of what people earn in Western countries.

It is unclear whether the pair are tourists, but they were seen singing and asking for donations several days earlier aboard the same East-West train, according to the local site Mothership. They claimed to use their earnings to perform across the world.

The swift backlash and the fact that the video went viral underscore the resentment that many people in Southeast Asia feel toward the so-called "begpackers." Some online users also pointed out the irony of Westerners asking for handouts from locals, who are often required to provide bank statements when applying for tourist visas in Western countries.

Others slammed the duo for busking on the train, calling the performance a nuisance and saying they preferred a quiet commute.

Buskers need a permit to perform

Busking on the train is illegal in Singapore. Those interested must pass an audition in order to receive a permit and are required to perform in the hundred or so designated locations in Singapore. In 2015, local authorities ran a pilot project that allowed musicians to perform in more than a dozen train platforms across the island.

“Begpackers” have been widely criticized for their blatant attempts to make money off of local residents when they are short on funds for the next leg of their trip or for their flight home. They’ve been seen selling postcards, strumming guitars and occasionally even swinging babies in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand as well as Singapore.

Singapore ranks among the most expensive cities in the world, but the median annual resident come is around 50,000 Singaporean dollars, or around €33,000.