Armed with a baseball bat, some enter the concrete-walled room and pause, hesitant to put bat to object.
Yet others go in and immediately start smashing everything in sight, emitting loud roars that can be heard down the hallway.
Welcome to The Fragment Room, Singapore’s first rage room, where stressed-out people can relieve their pent-up frustration by smashing wine bottles, plates, laptops and television sets.
At the nondescript, 951 sq ft establishment in Balestier, customers are promised a safe space to wreak havoc and blow off steam.
And it seems that Singaporeans are a tense bunch. Since opening last Tuesday, about 100 customers have signed up for a session, says founder Royce Tan, 24.
A 30-minute package for one person costs $38 and includes the use of a baseball bat and a crate of breakables, such as ceramic plates and bowls, glasses and bottles. Customers can request certain items in advance, such as TV sets and laptops, or upgrade their packages to add on more items.
They can also bring their own unwanted items from home, but have to pay an additional cleanup fee.
To prevent injury, customers are suited up in coveralls, a safety helmet with a visor, heavy-duty welding gloves and thick-soled covered shoes .
A short safety briefing is given before they enter a 110 sq ft room – there are only two and each can hold a maximum of only two people at a time – that is bare save for a pile of debris from previous sessions and a stand on which customers can smash the items.
These rooms are all the rage globally too.
Since the first ones were reported to have opened in the United States and Japan in 2008, more and more have popped up all over the world in the past year, including in Britain, Australia, Russia and Egypt.
Some take the concept further and design the rooms to look like a home or office.
A video of one of these rage rooms on Facebook drew Mr Tan’s attention late last year. He had just quit his sales job after feeling stressed out and frustrated and was considering a new career path.
“Going to a rage room was what I needed, but after Googling for one here, I couldn’t find anything,” he says. Realising that this was a gap he could fill, he set about opening Singapore’s first rage room “before anyone else does”.
The first-time entrepreneur then spent the next few months finding a location and sourcing suppliers for the breakables, which are either factory rejects or from karung guni (rag-and-bone) men.
He declines to reveal how much was invested into the space, but says he consulted with Battle Sports, a rage-room operator in Canada, to get tips on running the business.
“I feel like Singaporeans have a lot of pent-up anger and, one day, they might just go crazy from keeping it all in, so this is an avenue for them to let it all out,” he adds.
He is heartened by the positive response so far and says he has seen all types of people walk through the doors. Some need just 15 minutes in the room while others have to be coaxed out after their 30 minutes are up.
One customer felt uncomfortable being watched through the small window on the door and the room’s closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera.
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Then there are others who look as cool as a cucumber but morph into raging monsters once inside the room.
Customers have to be over the age of 18 and must sign a liability waiver, although Mr Tan says there have been no serious injuries so far.
Many patrons agree it is a cathartic and therapeutic experience.
Entrepreneur Chris Chong, 28, says: “I’m not an angry person, but when you enter the room, you can release all the pent-up frustration.
“Singapore is a bit of a pressure cooker, so it’s really good to just come here, let go and smash things up. You feel relaxed after.”
Others such as Ms Sonia Teo, 30, were unsure about what to do in the room. “This is something we are never allowed to do in our daily lives, so that was holding me back,” says the IT project manager.
Mental health professionals, on the other hand, believe that this might not be the best form of anger or stress therapy.
Clinical psychologist Jeanie Chu from The Resilienz Clinic believes that rage rooms reinforce the manifestation of anger. “The underlying message is that violence is an answer to one’s rage. This conditions the self to be aggressive,” she says.
Her colleague, consultant psychiatrist Thomas Lee, adds that the experience is a “quick cathartic relief of anger”, but will not resolve the root of the problem.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, recommends that those with anger management issues or psychiatric disorders seek treatment instead.
He suggests that rage-room operators put up signs or be trained to notice people who are excessive in their aggression and advise them on appropriate channels to seek help.
Still, Mr Tan believes that rage rooms offer the same release as, say, playing violent video games or engaging in martial arts.
“There are plenty of ways that could lead to aggression. This is a safe place for people to let loose.”
He is well-aware that the hype might fade after some time and other rage rooms might open.
“There are people who just come for the thrill of it. We want people to make this a weekly session,” he says.
Words by Gurveen Kaur, The Straits Times
This story was first published in The Straits Times