Thursday, August 6, 2015

Umrah Ramadan/Syawal 1436

Alhamdulillah, after missing my trip last year I managed to visit the blessed Holy Land for my bi-annual Umrah trip - the third. Below are selected posts from my Instagram - visit @sanifoo for more pictures.

Many times great patience and divine intervention work together in ways you least expected, In Syaa Allah. Those familiar will tell you of the passive push and shove involved at Ar-Raudhah. By His grace I got not one but two spots (and several rakaats) - the second after being offered by a kind brother to his when I was further inside. Alhamdulillah. At the Ar-Raudhah exit I realized it's almost Tahajjud. The guards were clearing the place of streamers. I immediately took my spot. It was then I realized I was directly behind the imam. The snail-paced 10 rakaats session, lasted about 2 hours. On "normal" evenings, only one's determination and concentration to overcome the only-human, past-bedtime weariness will get through the session. But last night - it was a breeze. It didn't even feel like 2 hours. And I felt so close to the Prophet Muhammad SAW, who's tomb was only a few meters to my left and the Ar-Raudhah behind me. MasyaAllah, MasyaAllah, MasyaAllah. Alhamdulillah #umrah2015 #umrah1436 #ramadan2015 #ramadan1436 #exploreMadina #exploremedina #madinah #saudiarabia #alhamdulillah #islam #muslim #masjid #mosque
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

During Iqtikaf I had the opportunity to make friends with Muhammad Iftikhar (white shirt) and Shabier. Both are from Pakistan. Iftikhar's from Lahore and he has been a Hafiz for the last 4 years, teaching folks in USA and New Zealand to read Quran via Skype, while Shabier's from Karachi but now works in Riyadh as an electrician. Iftikhar was more chatty as he spoke English reasonably well. He asked if I read the Quran well, I said errr... that I'm still learning. He offered to help via Skype, ikhlas if I want to. In Syaa Allah. I told him I'm a (ahem) scriptwriter. He wants to learnt from me too haha. He plays the cricket if he's not teaching folks reciting Quran. We had Iftar together. We exchanged numbers and hope to keep in touch In Syaa Allah. #umrah2015 #umrah1436 #ramadan2015 #ramadan1436 #exploreMadina #exploremedina #madinah #saudiarabia #alhamdulillah
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

Sunday, August 2, 2015

15 minutes

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.

SAF50 - Generations of Men

I'm a contributing writer for the #SAF50 commemorative book, GIVING STRENGTH TO OUR NATION. The following is reproduced from the "Generations Of Men" (page 55 onwards) in the publication. 

Thank you to the Ministry of Defence and Singapore Armed Forces.

I'm honoured to be representing my ex-NS unit - 1st Commando Battalion. This one's for the kickass band of brothers in 1st Company.
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

Some people have said that SAF training in the past was tougher than the present. What is your opinion on this?
In the first generation of the Army, training to be soldiers meant regimental authority was unquestioned, individuality was secondary and fleeting self-reflex was suppressed. The mantra to “sweat more during training to bleed less during war” further validated the idea that the self takes a backseat to achieve group goals.

Based on my commando background, training needs to be more about building rugged, mental strength and “survivability” during war, rather than largely driven by monetary incentives. Soldiers prioritise team objectives and thinks for their country and nation. In war, battle will proceed regardless if the weather is CAT 1 or 3.

Too much dependence on gadgets may also negate initiative and hamper natural, ground-survival instincts that are imperative during battle. When batteries for gadgets run flat or touchscreens crack, the soldier can depend only on his natural instincts to complete a task and sustain his survival at the battle zone.

Share a defining SAF moment.

The first defining, positive, moment for me was when I received my red beret. Throughout history, the red beret of the commando represents one of the ultimate achievement that a soldier can receive in the Army. For me, it was not just about personal achievement and glory, it was a bittersweet and humbling moment to be associated with glorious soldiers whose dedication to honour and excellence is second to none. Deep down I shed tears of joy at this accomplishment. It was also a moment when I understood the meaning of brotherhood and camaraderie, regardless of “race, language and religion”. In any battle, we seek to complete the task regardless of circumstances. Most importantly in the process, our bond grew tight that, no matter what, we never, ever leave a brother behind.

How have these instances and your SAF experience generally contributed to you as a person?
Even as a civilian, the manner I carry myself personally and professionally personify the high degree of expectations one would expect of an elite soldier. There is an expectation that I am someone they can trust to complete a task regardless of circumstances - higher-degree tasks and with mental preparation for contingencies. In all these life instances I have learnt that in life, respect is earned, never given.

How has your SAF experience connected you to people and society?
In the commandos we were taught to appreciate everything that life has to offer and to respect fellow human being regardless of their background in society. As many operations in the unit are done in small groups, I learnt that collaboration and tolerance are keys to connect with people. In professional capacities, I thrive as a leader who listens to collaborators and surbodinates, yet is firm in making decisions. I think these traits have allowed me to achieve many things as a professional creative director.

How would you like to see the SAF develop?

I would like to see the SAF as a sophisticated organisation where each soldier first and foremost understands the need to defend Singapore – not just the superficial, vague notion to defend itself from an enemy, but also the need to appreciate why we are defending it.

The SAF can only be successful when it truly integrates itself into the social fabric. Every Singaporean citizen can contribute as an individual, regardless of their background without prejudice, to the national defence. It is only when every citizen has a sense of belonging that everyone has the instinct to protect our homeland.

Imagine, within your experience, Singapore without the SAF. What do you see?

Without the SAF, each Singaporean will still need to live out the heart of national defence – to honour our citizenship.

We need to honour our duty as responsible and disciplined Singaporeans. It is only when every single citizen have a clear idea of this commonality as Singaporeans that we can stand together as one people in camaraderie. What we may lack in defence machinery, we can stand together and rise against the enemy in common spirit as Singaporeans – because history showed that the spirit of the mind is much stronger than all technology put together.