Singer-songwriter Inch Chua draws inspiration from quiet kampung life on Pulau Ubin

Straits Times 28 May 15;

Since March, singer-songwriter Inch Chua has been staying mostly on Pulau Ubin by herself.

A typical day for her starts from between five and seven in the morning, when the sound of roosters crowing wakes her. She goes for a morning jog and then heads down to the coffee shop near the island's jetty to have breakfast as well as use the Wi-Fi connection there to do administrative work on her laptop for an hour or so.

For the rest of the day, she hikes around the island, takes mid-day naps and works on her music.


She pumps water from a well daily and, once a month, has to empty the toilet's sceptic tank.

Such has been her inspiration for the 20 new songs she has written so far while living on the island.

She says: "I always find it particularly funny that my peers will always say, 'Oh no, if you want to find inspiration, you must go overseas, somewhere far away.' I think that's a lie, there's got to be a place. And Pulau Ubin came to mind because it's so out there."

Chua, also known by the stylised moniker iNCH, plans to stay at a three-bedroom kampung house on Pulau Ubin until the middle of next month.

There is solar power available in the house, but because the wattage is so low, she uses electronic gadgets sparingly and turns on her mobile phone only occasionally.

For meals, she cooks or buys food from the island's coffee shop or hops on a boat and heads to the hawker centres at Changi Village.

"That's the interesting thing about living on the island, you get conscious of how much food and water you consume, so I realise I do things like conserve a lot of water when I shower," says the 26-year-old.

She will also be performing at Barber Shop by Timbre on June 27 as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts' public engagement initiative, The O.P.E.N.

Some of the new songs she has written will be in an EP she plans to release in September; the rest will go to a full-length album expected to be completed next year.

In a joint project with The Artists Village, National Art Council and Lee Foundation, she has also conducted workshops in which participants get to spend time with her on the island and see how the rural environment affects the music she makes.

Adapting to a new environment for the sake of her music is nothing new to Chua, whose discography includes an EP, The Bedroom, in 2009; as well as two full-length albums, Wallflower (2010) and Bumfuzzle (2013).

In the past few years, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York, gigging and doing music work. She has plans to return to the United States, possibly to Chicago.

But for now, she is enjoying the simple life. The kampung is next to a cemetery, but Chua is not in the least spooked. In fact, she relishes the quietness of the area and even goes for night walks there.

"The solitude really affects me in a good way. I do find that because of the pace of life here, putting myself in an environment like that has altered my thinking. It calms me down, which is something I have been wanting because I am a nomadic person and it's good to practise the art of stillness for a while."

Singer-songwriter Inch Chua conquers the world inch by inch
HON JING YI Today Online 1 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — To say Inch Chua leads an interesting life would be quite the understatement.

She is only 26 years old, but the bold-as-brass Singaporean singer-songwriter has lived a life that is fuller, more closely examined and more action-packed than most of her peers.

In the past few years alone, she has published a collection of her writings, paintings and drawings, released well-received and highly adventurous EPs such as Wallflower and Bumfuzzle, driven all by her lonesome across the United States in 11 days and, to her mother’s chagrin, gone on a solo expedition up Mount Everest last December.

And her adventures, Chua says, have been crucial in shaping her perspectives, work and even goals.

“I would say I am less ambitious (now) than I was before,” said Chua, as she spoke of what she hoped to achieve in the music industry. “The shift happened during my trip to Nepal, when I was climbing Mount Everest. While you are climbing up, it’s really tiring, and you get less and less oxygen. When you finally get to the glaciers, you think they look amazing. But more than anything else, it all felt very dead because nothing lives at that altitude. There was something very silent about the place, like you were on an alien planet. The texture of the mountain was very dark and rough — but it also had a personality. If I were to describe Everest as a human being, the first words that pop into my mind would be ‘unforgiving’ and ‘bitter’. That was the energy I felt.”

She continued: “You kind of realise that it needs to be that way because it’s the tallest mountain in the entire world. But the best part of the trip wasn’t climbing up — it was climbing down. Not because you get to go home, but because when you are walking down, life introduces itself to you again. The shrubs, trees and animals come out again. (And then you realise,) being at the top is overrated. When you look at it from the outside, it seems amazing and grandiose. But when you are actually doing it, you need a certain kind of personality and calibre — and it’s something that doesn’t sit well with me.”


For Chua, the goal is not to be at the top — it is about finding out where the “sweet spot” is. And right now, it’s currently at sea level. More specifically, Pulau Ubin.

Since March, Chua, who was previously based in New York and Los Angeles, has also been living on the offshore island to write and record her brand new Ubin-inspired EP, which will be released in September.

And while most of us pampered souls would bemoan the loss of modern luxuries such as air-conditioning, hot water and proper sanitation facilities, Chua seems quite taken with her new home.

“Oh, it’s awesome, I love it! I love my life in Pulau Ubin so much more than urban life,” Chua revealed. “There is more stillness and calmness. And I do love the solitude more than anything else.”

That said, she admitted that living on Pulau Ubin is no walk in the park. Chua lives in an old kampung house, which not only has no electricity or running water, but also occasionally admits the odd (and

very unwelcome) visitor or two.

“The first day I got there, I was like, all right, I am ready for insect genocide. I was just murdering everything I saw non-stop, from cockroaches to mosquitos,” said Chua, whose legs bear visible scars of insect bites. “There are also snakes and scorpions that wander into my house. Step one is to calm down. Step two is to calm down again. And step three is to gently direct it out of the door.”

She continued: “The truth is, if you get bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion, you probably deserved it. That is how I feel. Because they are naturally not antagonistic. They bite only when they feel threatened. As long as you make sure you let it know you are in its territory, they back off.”

Chua was also once chased by a pack of stray dogs, which had been startled by her presence.

“That was a sensation I had never felt before — fear. It’s a sensation you don’t normally feel unless you have seven dogs chasing you,” she quipped.

However, in the face of all these obstacles, Chua has fallen in love with her life on the little island. Although she conceded that she misses her 17-year-old dog, which lives with her parents while she is away.

“I genuinely went into (this Pulau Ubin project) wanting the experience to be a total immersion,” she said, adding that she wished she did not have to return to the mainland at all. “What I enjoyed most about it was that it was Pulau Ubin. It’s something very close to our identity as Singaporeans. And, at the same time, it feels so detached from us — it feels so rural, undeveloped and so different. It’s great to be able to find a place where you can practise the art of stillness and just immerse yourself in something new.”

But for Chua, the biggest adventure of all is not one that takes you across countries or up mountains, but one you take into your own heart and mind.

“I really believe in taking trips on your own because if you travel with someone, it’s about you and that someone, more so than the experience,” she said. “When you actually do it on your own, it’s the process that goes through your brain. Where does your brain go normally when there is no one else? There is so much more time to deeply think about life.”

Catch Inch Chua at the House Of Riot concert on Saturday, June 6, at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Tickets at S$50 from SISTIC. Chua will also perform at the Singapore International Festival of Arts’ The O.P.E.N on June 27 at 9.30pm at Barber Shop by TIMBRE. Admission is free with O.P.E.N. Pass. Limited single entry tickets also available at the door.