Dusk was descending as we sailed into the Malacca Strait on the first day. From the ‘Captain’s Log’, which was the default Channel 3 on all of the ship’s TVs, I could see that there was an ‘’easy breeze” forecast that evening. I was on a cruise – but if you think it was the decadent kind with cheese-and-wine, piña coladas by the pool and salmon-coloured shorts, it was quite the opposite.
So how to describe what it was like? Well, let me ask you, what is the worst scenario you can imagine yourself being in?
My idea of hell is a world without bidets (cebok – Malay for the act of washing your nether regions – is important), with crowds of extroverts approaching you and asking you to dance, extreme heat and humidity, no opportunities to interact with cats, bad wifi and the thumping bass of EDM music playing so loud outside you can feel it inside your bedroom at all hours of the day and night.
Yet here I was, signed up for “It’s The Ship”, Asia’s largest EDM festival at sea. Packing with me some “protection” items like crystals and palo santo bodywash, I purposefully subjected myself to this nightmare scenario because I was on a mission.
It’s a fucking 24-hour club
It’s The Ship is a two-days-and-two-nights long event featuring a line-up of regional and international DJs – there’s a helipad but the organizers assure me that it’s for emergencies only, not to transport the acts on and off – who come together to pull off a wild dance festival on the high seas.
With shows and parties happening from sunrise to um, sunrise, this meant no sleep for some of “the shipmates” (what we were all called in solidarity).
When we were unpacking in our room before checking out the scene, Nadia, my colleague on the cruise, said that the type of music you like says a lot about you – she’s wise like that.
So what kind of people can you find on The Ship? The types that love neon (the color, not the noble gas) and walk around with speakers blaring songs like a remix version of Like A Prayer. I had to sit through dinner listening to Tokyo Drift and Erasure’s Always.
My mission? An aunty onboard the ship
But, as I said, I was on a mission. Which is not to say I didn’t meet a lot of friendly people — shout out to Malaysian influencer Arfan Rashid and friends (who asked me where in the Google Maps we were at the moment), and the cool auntie I met on the dancefloor near the pool who was on a FaceTime call — just that my focus was not on socializing.
I was on this cruise ship, miles away from Singapore, no land in sight, to meet a special lady, The Ship’s special “guest captain”, Sima Taparia, aka Sima Aunty from Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking.
The Ship has a long-running tradition of appointing interesting personalities to be the event’s captain, including the likes of David Hasselhoff and Michael Dapaah aka Big Shaq.
If you haven’t already seen her show, Sima Taparia is an elite professional Indian matchmaker with clients in India and America. Arranged marriages are still commonplace in India and even though instances of couples marrying for love are growing, especially in urban areas, it’s estimated that a good 90% of all marriages in the country are still arranged.
Sima Aunty is feisty and fierce sometimes – she isn’t afraid to call out her clients. Although this may come with some controversy (she has been criticized for being nicer to the guys and for also making sexist comments), it all makes for good television, right?
Hate her or love her, Sima Aunty is not afraid to say that she works hard for what she does and loves her job – as she told me herself.
“My hard work has paid off”
Before speaking to her, I watched Sima in action during a speed dating event on the ship where a newly formed couple took the stage to thank her for their union. “We have so many common interests!” they said.
Sima ‘blessed’ the couple before taking a couple of pictures with the participants and then went off to chat with her own husband, who was onboard the ship too. I wondered if they went to any of the parties, or woke up at 4am because there was an impromptu singalong of Happy Together out on everyone’s balconies.
Upon meeting, she offers us all mukhwas – a South Asian digestive aid or mouth freshener made of various seeds and nuts. She made it herself, she said, and handed me a pack. It had the same packaging as a dubious baggie Nadia and I found on the floor of the club where the speed dating session was – now we knew.
We get into talking right away and I had to ask her what the heck was she doing on a dance cruise.
She answered, “When I got this opportunity, I was so excited to be on the ship because many thousands and thousands of people want to meet me. And I want to meet them!”
“I’ve been giving advice to people, bringing life to the ship, doing matchmaking here,” she said about what she’s been up to as the Ship Captain.
The self-proclaimed “typical traditional Indian wife” told us how she did not expect her show’s breakout success and popularity.
“I was just doing my work, I was passionate about my work, I was focused about my work, that’s all. My hard work has paid off. I always wanted – from childhood – to get love and respect for what I do, and that’s what I got with the show. It had rocked the world and made me a star. It’s beyond my dreams!”
Sima Aunty also uses astrology in her matchmaking process and maintains that it is a “science” but she doesn’t believe that there is a perfect pairing based on horoscopes. Instead, she says it ultimately depends on the person.
And guess what – ‘common interests’ are not even important, according to her. Ha.
“When the hobbies or interests are opposite, that is a good pair. There should be some spice in their life so if they are different, it will be fun – they will enjoy staying together. People always think compatibility means having the same everything but you need some spark – that’s when it is fun.”
She also didn’t joke when she said she was here to give advice: “Love is to understand each other, trust each other, respect each other.”
“When you have all three then your love will be very smooth,” she added.
She actually gave a ton of love advice on top of that – “appreciate each other’s qualities”, “drop your ego” – but I get the idea.
As I walked back to my cabin post-interview, mouth fresh from mukhwas, to change into my party attire (a shirt with Shrek’s face on it), I saw one-half of the winning couple from the Speeds dating sesh emerge from a foam party, and he was with another girl. I guess life’s like that.
When the party’s over
I admit, though the ship was not exactly my scene, and the longest conversation I had was with an Indian matchmaker, it was not an experience I’ll soon forget. Sure I’ll forgive the bidet-less toilet sitch, almost getting accidentally inked (“Hey Nadia, this is henna right?) and the thumping music in the hallways. It’s easy to see how this was it for some people.
Although I’ll never forgive myself for paying S$84 for really shitty internet.
From the look on their faces as they queued up to meet Vini Vici, or running from a set to catch the male dancers from Dreamboys, or schmoozing in the dining room looking out for cuties, or that one guy who was in the pool just floating placidly during a pretty rowdy set on the main deck – there really is something for everyone here.
As I packed up all my crystals before disembarking, I accepted that I will never understand Hard Style and that’s okay.
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