The following article is reproduced from NewsLoop. Thank you so much.
This is part of a series of interviews by NewsLoop with prominent Singaporeans, to celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday. Visit NewsLoop regularly and tap on the “Exclusive SG50 Interviews″ trending topic for more of these stories.
15 Minutes With Top Malay Director, Sanif Olek
Long-time film-maker Sanif Olek may have worked on many television and short films since 1996, but his first feature film was only released in 2014. Sayang Disayang is produced in Malay language about the Malay community in Singapore.
With so many years of experience to back him up, it probably isn’t very surprising that the film has received such an acclaimed response. The film won Best Cinematography & Story at the World Film Awards 2014 held at Jakarta, and was nominated to represent Singapore in the Best Foreign Picture category of the Oscars 2015. The film is available on Singapore Airlines’ in-flight entertainment, so you can watch it the next time you travel by SIA!
We caught up with Sanif Olek over email to find out how his childhood in Singapore was like.
NewsLoop (NL): What is your fondest memory of growing up in Singapore?
Sanif Olek (Sanif): Before my family moved to the HDB estate in Jurong, we used to stay at a little sub-rural community near Nanyang estate (where the present Jurong West Sports Stadium stands). There used to be little dusty strip made up of trading shops where families make their weekly trips for groceries and general household items. There were also two barber shops that were run by a Chinese and an Indian man.
My fondest memory of growing up was the bi-weekly trips my father, my brothers and I used to make to the barber shops. My father would put me on his bicycle as he pushed it while my older brothers would walk alongside.
While waiting for our turns, my father would be chatting non-stop with the barber as the latter’s scissor snipped our hair. I seldom listened to their conversation. They would talk about family and the weather. I got bored whenever the conversation moved on to politics. I got restless easily, so I played with the equipment at the barber shop when not sitting on the barber’s chair.
After we had our haircuts, we would cross the road to the trading shops. I loved going to the trading shops as I enjoyed browsing at the latest plastic toys that were put on display. The shopkeeper was usually kind enough to let me play with the sample toys. On some days, he would hand me little sweets. He had children but they were unsociable girls older than me. They would leave me alone to do their homework behind the counters. My brothers would be outside to look after the bicycle and acting like the adults. These happened while my father settled payment for the groceries that my mother had bought during the week. Sometimes these visits at the trading shops would take some time as my father would be too caught up catching up with the friendly shop owners. I remembered that all these conversations my father had with the Indian and Chinese “uncles” were in bazaar Malay.
NL: What do you think has been the biggest change you’ve seen in Singapore in the past decade?
Sanif: On the surface, the most obvious transformation that has taken place in Singapore is the rapid urbanisation of its skyline.
Nevertheless, beyond this exterior transformation, the diverse communities that make up Singapore is evolving deeper into a cultural fusion. I remember perhaps ten years ago when one sat on the MRT trains, it was perhaps easy to distinguish the respective, main, local ethnic races, i.e. Chinese, Malay, Indian, that make up Singapore. However, if one happens to take the train these days, it is getting rather complicated to identify these respective “traditional” ethnic races.
Other than English, which is spoken by most commuters, we are also listening to other languages. Furthermore, the three main national languages may also be spoken with non-local or non-familiar “Singaporean” accents.
I think this simple observation speaks a lot about the diversity of people who currently live in Singapore. The cultural representation of the current third-generation Singaporean and general population who live in this country have moved in tangent to the first-generation of Singaporeans. This evolution with regard to the ethnic composition makes the population more dynamic for growth in the long run.
NL: What do you think it will mean to be “Singaporean” in years to come?
Sanif: I lived overseas for long periods of time while pursuing my studies, and subsequently for work. It was during these periods that the attachment to the homeland became impactful. I became fond of the familiar spaces and faces that I identify with in Singapore.
For the gentlemen, the shared experience during National Service often becomes typical ice-breakers during conversations. I remember on several occasions when I was overseas for long periods of time, it was comforting to hear Singlish from a mile away and subsequently speaking it in a conversation with fellow Singaporeans. Spicy local food that we used to take for granted at the neighbourhood hawker centres became comfort food in the middle of winter.
I also think many Singaporeans who grew up in Singapore will agree that it will take some time to adjust to the respective cultural attitudes overseas when it comes to studies and work. Furthermore, as more inter-marriages become common, Singaporeans have generally become more tolerant and I think this helps us to adapt easily in cross-cultural environment overseas. I suppose in years to come, there is not one identity that makes a “Singaporean”.
NL: What’s the one thing that you love about Singapore?
Sanif: I always have a peculiar sense of relief when I step into Changi International Airport after returning from overseas. This relief stems from the comfort that there is a system that not only “works”, but works effectively in Singapore. It’s like coming home to re-appreciate the familiar environment that we have taken for granted.
NL: What are your hopes and expectations for Singapore in the next 50 years?
Sanif: I consider the first 50 years as the first phase of identity building post-independence. During this first phase, we have sought to build ourselves economically and to some extent, socially. We can only move forward when Singaporeans have a strong mutual sense of belonging. This shared experience and identity are the qualities that shall keep us united to move forward and competitive as dynamic people. On that note, we also need to be able to maintain our tolerance to not only hear, but listen to the different voices that make up this multicultural homeland. Taking my own experience in the Commandos as an example, we need to be united in looking out for one another as brothers, sisters and family. It is only when these bonds are strong that we can grow together as Singaporeans and stay ahead of the competition. Each one of us is a pillar to remind one another that Singapore is our homeland. A home requires everyone’s responsibility to keep it comfortable and safe to survive the next 50 years and beyond.