Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ramadan/Syawal 1431 (2010)

I have meant to put this up during Ramadhan this year to commemorate 1 year of my visit to the Holy Land. I was tasked to direct the documentary "Modern Pilgrims" for MediaCorp's ChannelnewsAsia. I look back at the series with fond memories. Three things come to mind.

1. The project was delayed for one year, ie the trip was supposed to take place in 2009, but delayed by paperwork. Alhamdulillah, on 3 September 2010 the crew and I left for Madinah. I would also like to add that it was Ramadhan 1431 through Syawal 1431 when I made that trip. I arrived Madinah during the last 10 days of Ramadhan and left Makkah at the end of the first week of Syawal.

2. I was raised in a conservative Islamic environment - my parents pursued their utmost responsibilities to be the best Muslim parents. Although I attended up to Primary 6 in a Madrasah (Islamic school) - somehow, pop music seems to be more appealing. So it was high anticipation, excitement yet apprehension as to how I would "perform" in the house of GOD. I'm still perfecting my self.

3. It was in the middle of the northern-hemisphere summer when we arrived, in Ramadhan. The temperature was up to 45 degrees celcius. I had to be sure I get ALL the items I had planned to film, liaise with the ground via the fixer on our daily programmes, which was a tough call. AND on top of that the ibadah itself. It was hard, Subhanallah. I had an awakening - an awakening of my self. And the extreme humility I felt in His presence. 2 things - visiting the Prophet Muhammad SAW at his tomb and THAT sunset experience at Mt Uhud. Masya'Allah! And of course that moment as I faced the Kaabah. It was magical to be at THE centre of gravity where all of solats/prayers are directed - wherever one can be in every part of the world.

As the filming team did not restrict ourselves to just the respective city centres, we often wandered off the beaten tracks, ie, making friends with the endearing locals and visiting quaint street corners where these locals hangout in both Madinah and Makkah. I also got to know closer the rich Ottoman heritage that is being eroded and bulldozed by the current Saud government. The various stories of the human condition from people I spoke to in the streets - determined kindred spirits who made their way to the Holy Land despite poverty and other personal drives - were so inspiring and humbling! So much were going on that could be told but unfortunately were not within the documentary's narrative (and telecast duration). And I feel fortunate to be able to connect with the Holy Land this way.

In the midst of these challenges, I completed a total of 4 Umrah rounds in Makkah. The first round was completed at around midnight on 1st Syawal 1431. We returned to Singapore on 18 September 2010. Alhamdulillah

Here is the documentary.

UPDATE: Since 2010, I have been blessed with resources and time to revisit the Holy Land again during the summers of 2012 and 2015. Alhamdulillah.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Project Neighbourhood

I am currently researching/shooting/editing a new series called Project Neighbourhood. I'm drawn to the series because these series is about a celebration of the community spirit as well as an analysis of the efforts and movements that help to uphold it. It is about the people and their memories, the effects of infrastructure on people, the lifestyle that binds people and the future of the people. It's also about heritage which I'm growing to be more interested in.

I am directing 3 episodes - Jurong, Serangoon and Tiong Bahru.

Having lived in the west since I was forever :) I thought I'd have Jurong at my fingertips. Man, I was wrong. Firstly it was nice to reminiscent my childhood. Apart from the new housing flat buildings, there was really nothing much else in Boon Lay. I remember many of us could still smell the paint and concrete from the flats. The piece of land where the markets and malls are located along Boon Lay Place was still a barren grassland. I'm also intrigued by the stories of two gentlemen who were among the first batch in the National Service. There is also the pottery factory along Jalan Bahar that is just counting it's away days to closure. Now, I've stayed in the West all my life and I've only stepped into this pottery heritage enclave. An then, there's the quaint story of Pandan Gardens. Do you know that Pandan Gardens was considered a backwater estate in its early days. It's amazing to listen to stories of it's residents who stayed and formed close-knit communities. At one point, I recalled hearing stories of how Pandan was sinking! Not forgetting is the story of a funeral broker whose perspective of business of the dead changed when there was a death in his immediate family.

The Little India neighbourhood has always fascinated me with its authentic colours, smell and beat. But Serangoon offers more than that. There was a map drawn by a Mr Jackson during colonial times that suggests Serangoon Road runs across Singapore, beginning "downtown" Singapore of the time and Northwards to Hougang thru Sembawang! It could stand as the longest road in Singapore. Some said Serangoon comes from the bird, the ranggong, that once populate the area. Besides stories of the pioneering Indian merchants and ex-convicts (during colonial times, Singapore was an Indian penal colony) there were also stories of the Baweans. Now you wonder where or who this group of people are. There hailed from Bawean, an island north of Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia. The Baweans occupied many of the shophouses that they called the Pondok (or Ponthuk), which turn out to be a large, encompassing support system providing refuge for the new arrivals and Baweans who arrived prior. It's fascinating that at one point the number of Pondoks was so overwhelming that the area where they resided, ie Kampong Kapor, was also known by Kampong Boyan. There was even a mosque built by and named after the Baweans. Further up northeast, there is of course the hip, middle-class enclave of Serangoon Gardens. IN the midst of the tranquility, Serangoon in the past was a refuge of big-time criminals! Many shootouts (!) took place too when police raided these refuges.

Tiong Bahru
Tiong Bahru conjures images of art deco, whitewashed residential flats. The flats are unlike the 20-30 storey housing flats you see in the heartlands. But these are 3-5 story walk-up apartments. Dwelling further, Tiong Bahru in its heyday was like the present "Punggol 21" estate. It housed mainly 2nd generation Singaporeans of middle-class parents. Many of the residents were regular wage-earners. Take a walkabout along the lanes in this district, one is transported back into the 50s and 60s. There is a sort of vibe that one feels when one takes a walk into the old estates. The only other estate that brings me that sort of throwback is Old Airport Road. Do you know that many of the swinging pop bands of the 60s were from Tiong Bahru. There is also the Monkey God Temple that has just commemorated its 91st anniversary. Away from Tiong Bahru, there were the folks from the quarters at Singapore General Hospital. This estate was a total contrast to the swanky Tiong Bahru. LIke Bukit Ho Swee, the folks from the quarters represent the real working-class residents. However, regardless of their background, these folks have one thing in common - The Great World, a mega-huge entertainment center that catered to all walks of life and tastes.

NOTE: Project Neighbourhood is an 8-episode, 1 hour documentary series to be telecast on the OKTO channel. (Date + time TBC)