Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A personal Pogue

Lots of history and heritage on this one.

Just collected this serviced vintage piece from the horologist. This is the Seiko 6139 Chrono, or better known as the “Pogue” after the NASA astronaut, Colonel William R. Pogue, who wore a similar watch during a NASA Skylab mission in 1973. In testing, Pogue did not have access to a standard-issue Omega Speedmaster as these weren’t supplied to astronauts until nearer launch. As an alternative, he bought a Seiko 6139 – the brand’s first automatic chronograph. Pogue liked it so much that in November 1973, when his time came to blast off for Skylab, he packed his new Speedmaster but also took his beloved Seiko without seeking NASA approval. The 6139 thus became the first automatic chronograph in space.

Importantly, it belonged to my late dad. It has been sitting in the cabinet for the longest time. I haven’t been paying much attention to it until last week. The last time I properly looked at it was perhaps in 2004 when he passed on. He gifted many things to his children and I got this one. I wasn’t into heirlooms much so kept it safely and out of my sight. Last week while spring cleaning I took out the watch and Googled it. If you are into vintage watches you’ll probably know the value of this time piece - it’s place in evolution of time pieces. Hearsay when it first came out, the “Pepsi bezel” was so popular that Rolex adapted it on it’s watches. Bad move. It was a “looks like Seiko” on the streets and Rolex was not having any of it, thus removing the “Pepsi bezel” from its designs altogether.

Cool story.

Anyways back to this watch - I’m glad I rediscovered it after all these years. It may not be a Rolex or AP but hey, value is subjective. This vintage Seiko belonged to my late dad, I got it to work again and take his memory with me. Due to the watch being too old, many service centers refused the watch (even its official service center). I found this place Bonfield Pte Ltd that was willing to take it in. Thanks to the funny craftsman Mr Eric Ong.

Moral of the story is never overlook those “old things” you found at the back of the cabinet. Maybe I’ll make a story about this on one of my future films.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Read! Fest 2021

I will be speaking at the upcoming Read! Fest 2021 (25 June - 18 July 2021).
Date: 4 July 2021, Sunday
Time: 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

“Sanif Olek akan berkongsi bagaimana di Asia Tenggara, pengusaha perfileman berusaha memperolehi semula suara mereka dalam filem.”

“Gambaran terawal tentang orang Asia di dalam filem telah dirakam semasa era kolonial. Berdasarkan rekod arkib, orang Asia muncul dalam visual bergerak sejak 1896 di dalam sebuah dokumentari Amerika. Di Hollywood, orang Asia mula kelihatan di skrin pawagam pada 1914. Namun, untuk sekian lama, mereka dipaparkan menurut persepsi etnosentrik penduduk Asia Tenggara dan bukannya berdasarkan budaya, adat resam dan perilaku mereka yang realistik dan autentik. Dalam sesi ini, Sanif Olek akan berkongsi bagaimana di Asia Tenggara, pengusaha perfileman berusaha memperolehi semula suara mereka dan perwakilan dalam filem.”

This programme is inspired by “Mitos Peribumi Malas”, a featured title of Read! Fest 2021.

Basically, I’ll be speaking about how Asian filmmakers these days (aka someone like moi) are getting woke, lah. We are reclaiming our voices and identities into our films - deconstructing the film representions of Malay/Asians by the Ang Mohs.

About Read! Fest 2021
Read! Fest 2021 invites you on a forward-looking journey of self-discovery. With the theme of Reboot, take a moment to re-examine and refresh your lenses on day-to-day aspects that shape our lives.

Anchored by 12 key books and topics, Read! Fest will host over 60 programmes – from talks by world-renowned authors to workshops and experiences – each curated to immerse you in a world of thoughtful ideas for our time.

From myths and minimalism to work and womanhood, stretch out to explore new worlds and perspectives. Where will you find yourself?

To book your free seats and more details about Read! Fest 2021, kindly check this link.

By the way I was asked to speak in Malay - we shall see how that goes.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sunsets in PENDEKAR "The Warrior"

I’ve been receiving LOTS of queries on the 2 sunset scenes in my film PENDEKAR.

Yes we shot those scenes within a very short window time frame, ie 15-20mins, just before the sun disappeared from the horizon. 

I was blessed with 3 things,

1. The weather was perfect. It was hot and humid the whole day. Thus when the weather is such, ie no rain, the clouds were clear, somehow you just prayed that the sunset will be awesome. We were blessed with the perfect sunset. It could have gone the other way (because Singapore weather is nuts for filming). It will always be 50-50 so you just had to take chances and hope for the best. The sunset scenes were shot over two days.

2. I was blessed to have a team of wonderful cast and crew. We knew we were on a very complicated window time frame. Everyone was on the ball and knew what they were in for. Every single one knew what they were supposed to do, and to quote one of my former trainers - “very automatic”.

A special mention to the filming crew for being so kickass.

3. When you have perfect “money” shots, I’ve decided that to go forward, the film deserved a good post-production treatment. My gratitude to everyone at the post house. You’ll need the best to achieve the best. My platoon sergeant once (no, in fact many many times) said - “may as well go all out or don’t do it at all”. I can never thank the post production team enough for giving that useful lift to turn the already awesome footages into something phenomenal. And for always being soo accommodating. So paisey every time I sent that little text or email.

(Just in case you’re wondering why I quoted my ex-trainers twice… it’s because they were legends and many of my army peers reading this can grudgingly agree on)

My apologies for digressing. 

Back to PENDEKAR. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do yourself a favour to watch it. You may not understand poetry (many of us don’t either), but PENDEKAR is meant to be universal. I take inspiration from lots of martial arts films by Zhang Yimou and many of his contemporaries from China. PENDEKAR is truly a cross-cultural piece regardless your background. It’s a little snapshot of Singapore cinema when it’s given room to breathe. Thanks to Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay for giving that space.

Now, please watch PENDEKAR on your biggest monitor you have if you haven’t done so. And just marvel at the glorious beauty brought to you I am proud to say, by a production team that’s one of the best in Singapore - not I say one but many industry folks and the international awards say one (that’s if you’re clueless about Singapore production). Stay to watch the end credits to see who these folks are to have blessed Singapore with such cinematic highs right now.

The film premieres on 10 June, Thursday, 8pm
(Available online until 27 Jun, Sun, 11.59pm).

Watch PENDEKAR here.

PENDEKAR "The Warrior"

In May 2021, I was approached by The Esplanade for a commissioned project. The theme is to revolve the Nusantara. After much thought, I have decided to go cultural by incorporating Silat, the Malay martial arts, and Puisi Sajak, or Malay poetry.

I have always been intrigue by the modern Malay identity. In adapting Tuah and Jebat, popular heroic figures from The Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu), questions about these identities are redefined as their roles and timelines are subverted. In Pendekar, Jebat has seen much of the world. He is worn but wise. Tuah is young, idealistic and zestful. They both are still on a journey of self discovery.

I have always been inspired my the martial arts films from Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou and his contemporaries. He brings beauty and ballet into each of his scenes. The framing and mis-en-sene looks like a Chinese painting. Film like Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Shadow are mesmerising masterpieces from Zhang Yimou. I have always been intrigue by movement in performance art. 

Incorporating silat would be a good opportunity to channel that inspiration. To top it, I decided that the puisi sajak is a good way to round off the visual essay about warriors and soul of a nation.
“Transported to the modern world, Tuah learns how to navigate his new environment while reflecting upon his existence. In his journey, he meets Jebat, an encounter that causes a shift in his perspective.”
Screenplay & direction: Sanif Olek
Production: reeljuice
Director of Photography: Sofyan Daud Mohamed
Martial Arts: Perguruan Silat Harimau Minangkabau Singapura (Tiger Silat Minangkabau Association of Singapore)
Poetry: Muhammad Salihin Sulaiman Jeem
Voice: Joe Jasmi
Translation: Suhaimi Nasrain
Post-production: Gravitate Pte Ltd

Premieres on 10 June, Thursday, 8pm
(Available online until 27 Jun, Sun, 11.59pm)

Thank you to Each and Everyone who made this beautiful project possible.

Watch the PENDEKAR trailer here

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Street encounters.

18 November 2020.

Encounter 1, Putu Piring stall.
Uncle refuses payment.
“No need. I know who you are. My grandson in JC watched your film about the barber shop. Now I have hope. Every time I cut my hair at the barber, I will remember how you made it possible for my grandson”.

Encounter 2, Singpost brudder on meal break.
“Next time make a documentary about us lah, the postmen”
I tried to catch his drift. And then I remembered the profile documentary I did about security guards early this year.
We both laughed.
“Don’t forget about us, ‘bang.”

Awkward encounters from random folks on the streets. Perhaps these are ones that are more meaningful than the ratings and awards. 

It’s one thing to be validated on the streets for your work but to get acknowledged while wearing a mask..!


WIRA KITA season 2

I was involved in the production of WIRA KITA "Our Heroes" season 2.

Directing this series (and being involved hands-on during the research and scripting processes) saw me returning to my first love - storytelling. Crafting documentary stories of real, living people is more challenging that writing dramatic fiction. I have always been curious about people and their personal journey. I craft their respective stories based on how I see these individuals.

Most importantly, I want to showcase the humanity that makes their journey special.

Absolutely loving the National Gallery location.

Running through the keypoints with guest and host. This was one of the first interview sessions. It was after the first interview session that I will find out if the host can carry through the interview questions with the guest. I will take over when I realise that the host are not able to. (See 2nd past post caption)

The series has total of 5 episodes but I was only involved in episodes 1-4. The series premiered on 19 October 2020 on Mediacorp Suria channel and streaming on MeWatch.

Wira Kita profiles individuals who make a difference to the community with their deeds. These individuals are,

Episode 1 (Volunteer and Social Worker); Sarimah Ithnin and Rahimah A Rahim
The pandemic brings out the worst and best in people. Sarimah and Rahimah showed that humanity exists in times of need. The full lockdown circuit breaker that was first imposed in late April 2020 had made some segments of the community, especially the elderly and those living below the poverty line, to be greatly affected due to their supply chain of daily essentials being cut off. Meanwhile on the other spectrum, racism and prejudice reared their heads while the more important issue at hand is about securing measures to keep everyone safe and not start pointing fingers.

Pre-shoot research with Rahimah A Rahim

Episode 2 (Physically handicapped); Danial Bawthan "The Wheelsmith" and Nuraziana Mohd Said
Physically handicapped does not mean handicapped at living. These two individuals showed how adversity has turned their life around when peppered with positivity and sense of adventure at what life has to offer. 
Pre-shoot research with Danial Bawthan

Pre-shoot research with Nuraziana and her husband, Iskandar

Episode 3 (Youth); Aminur Rashid and Noor Zakiah Zainuddin
This episode is about youths taking the initiative to move beyond their comfort zones to do something for the community and along the way, discover about themselves. Nothing is too small when it comes to paying it forward.

Pre-shoot research with Aminur Rashid

Pre-shoot research with Noor Zakiah

Epsiode 4 (Teachers); Ira Wati Sukaimi and Shaheed Salim
Teachers, Educators, Mentors, Friends, Hope. Each one of us has taken one of these mantle at least once in our lives. One who shapes enquiring minds - both in the traditional school system and operating along the road less travelled. This episode pays tribute to the tireless teachers that aspire us and the teacher we want to be.‬
Crew shot with Ira Wati Sukaimi (President's Award For Teachers 2020 recipient)

Behind-the-scene at Ira Wati's beautiful home

Thank you, Ira Wati cher! 😜

The filming process
Before the camera rolls, I brief the profile on the interview thought process. This is to ‘revise’ with the profile, anecdotes from pre-shoot research sessions. I prefer to be present on these pre-shoot research to get a sense of the profile’s character on-hand. I then craft the different scenes based on the anecdotes shared during these research sessions into an outline before submitting the outline to the scriptwriter.
Pre-shoot briefing to run the keypoints with Shaheed Salim

Pre-shoot briefing to run the keypoints with Ira Wati
This is much like how one crafts the beats in a narrative fiction/drama. The difference between a narrative fiction and a documentary; in a narrative fiction both the setup and story are the writer’s concoction whereas in a documentary the setup is one that I aka the storyteller, crafted but the actual story (the anecdotal interview/soundbites, the people you see in the documentary) is the profile’s.

Pre-shoot research with Ira Wati and her husband at MacDonalds. This was done right after a long day shoot with another Wira Kita profile. Myself and Ruby Mohd (researcher) were exhausted.
Pre-shoot research with Shaheed Salim
I’m very hands on when it comes to storytelling. In a documentary of a people profile, it’s essentially a mini-biopic - you only pick the most compelling and juiciest bits. You also have the responsibility to tell the Truth. In television you don’t have the luxury of time with frivolous information. As a director and main storyteller I need to be precise with what I want to tell in crafting the outline before the scripting itself.

Furthermore, you’ll be doing your video editor a great favour by not having to go through a mountain of mush at post-production.

Many times during the interview shoot, where the host is incapable of carrying the interview, I would be one doing the interview. I find that many hosts are not able to follow through the questions or not able to enquire concisely the keypoints being enquired. When this happens it will be frustrating because many times the interviewer does not answer the questions - and this will in turn be frustrating during the editing process. Subsequently, after the filming with the interviewer is completed, I'll get the host to sit at my seat and film the scripted questions. Thus during post it will appear that the host is the one carrying the interview. Why I'm doing this? Perhaps that will be in another blog by itself.

On the last day with Danial Bawthan after his shoot wrapped

Obligatory wefie at The Singapore Flyer.

Photobombed by Asraf Amin (host) and Ruby Mohd (researcher)

Wrap on my last day of filming for the series (episode 4)

...And a gift from Ira Wati for the production crew which she had sketched herself that morning at 4am before coming to the National Gallery for her filming. This came totally unexpected and it caught everyone by surprise! Thank you so much.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Sayang Disayang on NETFLIX, part 2

A local newspaper posed some questions recently when my film feature debut, Sayang Disayang, got streamed over at NETFLIX.

The following are the questions and my responses in full. It may get edited for space when the article is published in the newspaper.

1) How did you feel when Sayang Disayang is now on Netflix?

Each achievement that Sayang Disayang gained beginning in its world premiere in late 2013 has been a great milestone for everyone that has been involved in this film since production began in 2008. Being on Netflix is another great milestone for everyone involved. When production began, it never crossed in anyone’s mind, including mine, that it would have achieved these “slow-burner” achievements, including having the honour to be the first Malay language film as Singapore’s Official Entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Sayang Disayang was conceived from the belief that there is an important story to make – an important documentation of Singapore’s place in the Nusantara.

2) What were some feedback from friends who watched it for first time?

I think Sayang Disayang is a unique film where many in Singapore has heard of but not many has actually seen it. The last wide public screening was 2 weeks during National Day of 2014. Thus, there is a word-of-mouth buzz and perhaps a genuine interest to what this buzz is all about. It has been about 7 years since Sayang Disayang was had its world premiere in late 2013 in the Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival. I received many DMs on my social media from friends, film lovers and strangers who admitted Sayang Disayang is a very different film from the Malay films they watched, ie in particular with regards to the narrative structure, the subject matter and even the casting of the protagonists. But the most inspiring notes are the ones that thanked me for putting out a refreshing perspective of Malay social drama in the visual narrative. I have also received many DMs from younger generation Malay filmmakers who felt inspired from the style of filmmaking.

3) Why Sayang Disayang was special for you?

Sayang Disayang was special for me because it was actually completed from the effort of the Malay community. It was special because I think I had the genuine “Duas” from the community who had genuinely wanted a Malay-language film that speaks from the heart of the contemporary Singaporean-Malay. Konsert Ramuan was a crowd-funding event that was held in 2011 by 25 band acts and more than 100 performers from the Malay performing community with a common vision to generate awareness and funds for Sayang Disayang (it was called Ramuan Rahasia then, thus the name of the event). Although it did not generate the targeted fund, the spirit of the organisers and performers were enough to make me not give up but to complete the endeavour of making this important Singapore cinema milestone.

4) Where has it travelled to?

Alhamdulillah, Sayang Disayang has actually travelled to all continents in the world. It world premiered in the Philippines in 2013 at the Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival in 2013, where it received the Best Asian Film (Jury Prize). Some notable ones are the prestigious Asia-Pacific Screen Awards (in-competion), Hawaii International Film Festival, Phnom Penh International Film Festival (opening film), Silk Road International Film Festival (China), etc. It was even screened inflight on Singapore Airlines. And of course screening to the members of the Academy Awards that organises the Oscars.

5) Why do you feel stories such as this should be on Netflix? What other works of yours do you feel worth to be on Netflix?

Just like printed literature, it is very important that film-goers are exposed to diverse voices and various storytelling structures. The human condition is complex. This complexity is a cause for celebration, not discrimination. Being an important international streaming platform, it is thus important that Netflix continues to provide diverse and bravely showcase complex narratives to its audiences.

The Singapore-Malay voice has been underestimated for so long, largely because of the commercial viability in relation to its national demographics. Thus importance and “screen time” has always veered towards the appeal of the dominant demographics. Perhaps mediacorp should consider many of the award-winning shows from Pesta Perdana for Netflix. 

6) Netflix introduced Malay interface, adding Malay content - how do you see this as giving a spark of hope for our little community of Malay filmmakers?

This is a very important milestone, not just the Malay voice but Singaporean-Malay voice. From my own experience, one of the huge reason I made my first short film from the Malay-Bawean-Singapore perspective in 2005 was because I did not see any representation of the Singaporean-Malay onscreen in both the local and international film festivals prior to that. Thus we cannot underestimate the power of representation onscreen, in this case Netflix, would do to the many aspiring Malay filmmakers in Singapore.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Sayang Disayang on NETFLIX

The journey had not been easy.

I am humbled that SAYANG DISAYANG has travelled this far. It began filming in 2009. To get this project further off the ground, the Singapore-Malay music community rallied together in a project called Konsert Ramuan (2011), a one day event consisting of 25 band acts (more than 100 performers). They came together because they believed in this little project when no one else did. I am grateful to them.

It was truly a community effort. Yet, we did not hit the target budget but the compassion and blessing from all around were enough to drive the project forward, albeit for a longer completion time frame. It felt like returning to film school, but without the film lecturers, textbooks and highly-subsidised film equipment to assist. I went back to the school of hard knocks - back to the actual on-the-ground work experience and utilising what was practical that were not taught in the classrooms.

There are many ways to tell a story. Filmmakers use structure to manipulate storytelling. Instead of fretting over what cannot be done, I fell back to the essence of cinema - the visual storytelling. I do not want this project to be a replica of those good-budgeted, guilty-pleasure narratives I have done for television. Nor replicate narrative concepts that have been done before. Storytelling is an individual expression. Furthermore, the project is an independent production anyways. I could have walked away and forget about this project but live my life regretting about not completing that everyone at Konsert Ramuan believed in. And forever regretting that post-independence, contemporary Singapore cinema is denied a Malay representation on its screens. 

SAYANG DISAYANG had its World Premiere at Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival in 2013. It received the Jury Prize for Best Asian Film. After travelling to many continents, it was the Official Singapore Entry (Best Foreign Language Film) at the 2015 Oscars.

Watch it when you have that quiet moment. The film is not something to watch when you're on the run. 


(Just for the record, the production budget for Sayang Disayang was about $10 000, not $400 000 as quoted by this article. I was ill-advised. It was all self-funded - $400 000 was the projected production for the film. There was no way I could have raised $400 000 as stated. I am sorry)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Directing Mr Ballerino, part 2

I was contacted by a national newspaper with regards to my experiences in directing Mediacorp SURIA's first ever drama series where Ballet forms the premise. The following are the questions asked. 

Subsequently, for brevity and standard newspaper spreadsheet word limit, my responses were edited.


1) How do you feel when you were given this project to direct? About guys who do ballet?

Each project that I take up to direct has its own set of challenges. However Mr Ballerino is special because in close to 25 years directing Malay dramas for Mediacorp, this is the first time that Ballet takes centrestage in a drama series for the local Malay channel. Perceptively, ballet is a contemporary dance form that is foreign to traditional Malay culture. Even in Asia, ballet is embraced only recently during the later part of the 20th century. 

For many societies in Asia, including the Malays in Southeast Asia, there is a clear line between femininity and masculinity. Men are stereotypically seen as being aggressive, competitive, and instrumentally oriented while women are seen as being passive, cooperative, and expressive. These roles become problematic when a guy takes up ballet. In many ballet performances, one sees many ballerinas and seldom a ballerino. The idea of a male in tights and tutu does not confirm to the pervasive Asian idea of masculinity. However, the irony is that while ballet performances showcase grace and poise, it also requires aggressiveness to perform movements like the Pirouette, or a spin, and the leaps. Many who are not familiar with ballet fail to see this concept. I take up this project to also debunk these stereotypical perception of ballet that many in our community may have towards this classical art form. 

2) How different is Mr Ballerino from the other projects?

I like to take up left-field challenges and this project has given me that opportunity. Perhaps ballet is something that is not fully embraced in the Malay community. In my work, I often see myself with a responsibility to open up our own perspectives. Perhaps there are Malay youths out there, probably a young Malay male, who is curious about ballet and is facing a dilemma about taking up ballet due to the stereotypical challenges he may be facing within his community circles. Thus, Mr Ballerino is not just a frivolous concept. It is relevant to educate our community.

3) What were the challenges faced?

Except for 1 or 2 actors that have done formative contemporary dance training a (very) long time ago, none of the actors have any ballet training at all. They went through about 5 sessions of intense training by Ricky Sim, a professional ballet trainer. These are 1 introductory, 2 basic moves and 2 for finale and duet. 

For my part, I also have to do my own research and watch them during training. I have to make sure that during filming, the poise and grace during the performances are respectfully captured. We even have a ballet trainer on set during the dance sequences. The other challenge for me personally is to capture the idealism of young adults in tertiary education. The youths portrayed in Mr Ballerino exist in 2020. Their sensibilities are different from when I attended tertiary education as a young adult.

4) What is your takeaway from directing it?

I see directing Mr Ballerino as an ongoing personal effort to keep myself relevant with contemporary sensibilities. I love projects that not only entertains, but also that challenge myself and the audience. I see contemporary drama as a reflection of our times as a society. It’s about time that Mr Ballerino and ballet be showcased to mainstream Malay sensibilities.

5) What’s exciting about the drama?

Ballet, like many other danceform, showcases grace and poise. When it comes to filming, I have to keep in mind that the shots respectfully captures the form. Many of the shots are deliberately taken in wide shots. 

To capture the drama in specific movements, the dance shots are also taken on a gimbal. The ballet dance has drama and it’s very exciting that these subtle drama in ballet is respectfully captured for the untrained eye.

Update: 3) Challenges

I have forgotten to mention that perhaps the biggest challenge was doing post production during the nationally-imposed Circuit Breaker (April - June 2020). On normal, non-CB situations, the usual practice during any post-production would be the editor and myself editing together in person. Such process can achieve the spontaneity of creating effective scenes. Editing is like composing music. One needs the immediate, face-to-face communication between the editor and myself at each stage.

What happened was that after we did episode 3, the CB was imposed. The editing studio was moved to a new makeshift room, because it is against the law to work from the office. All "non-essential" services were prohibited to operate. It's basically Singapore's version of the Covid-19 "lockdown". Thus the editing process was done remotely between myself and the editor - where I worked from home and the machine was at some place not in the office. Every edits need to be communicated and written down. At the end of the revision, there will be a very long list of instructions via timecodes. on Many occasions these timecodes are overlooked. On a few occasions, some movie files were "missing" or files jumbled up, which would have been solved easily if I sit in during edit in the same room. Oh the frustration. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

A humble story about myself and my chickens.

Long long time ago, before my family moved to the flats, we used to rear chickens. I love playing with the chicks more than the chickens. Those weeks-old chicks were so adorable to chase around - to play with. However on some days, my feet was too fast for those chicks

When my family moved to the flats, I had no chance to play with the neighbourhood boys at the void deck. My cousins who lived in the same block (and their neighbours) were the closest "budak blok" friends I had. It was probably the boys at my immediate block were much much older. My parents never encouraged my siblings to mingle with the neighbourhood kids nor discouraged any casual friendships we may have had with the budak blok. Staying in what used to be the *red zone* of my estate, my parents did well to protect my siblings from mixing with the "wrong" company. Thus we never got into any serious trouble, except for the 3 cm cut I had across my forehead while playing jumping rope on the slippery common corridor right after the rain.

I went to study at a very. good. school at Bukit Timah. I hung out with the affluent kids and I made friends with many of them. Initially I was in awe of things these kids had, ie the overseas holidays, the houses they lived in (yes they were kind enough to invite me home) and the school bags they carried their fancy stationery in. They seemed loud and boastful when I first met them but later I realised these was how privileged lower-secondary wealthy kids (from that very. good. school) spoke. It was normal for them to talk like that. For many boys like myself from "humble" background, we had the tendency to be mindful of our words when we speak to any body - at least that was how my parents taught me to do. Beyond that, we were just typical, boisterous boys. 

I think my classmates learnt a lot from one another. I aspired to study hard and break away from my blue-collar cycle. To the privileged classmates that I made close friends with, it was the first time that many had stepped into a 3-room HDB flat. I think it was also the first time that a handful had actually made friends with a Malay person who was not their father's personal driver or their mother's housekeeper. So we learned a lot from each other from that very. good. school.

I got to where I am today by not using my past as an excuse to get out of that circumstances to be in a position with certain privilege. I am still staying at the 3-room flat that my family stayed in when they moved into the newly-built estate. I embrace my background, my neighbourhood and many of the first-generation families who are still staying in my neighbourhood. I remembered I actually felt safe coming home any time of the day - because the "kids" in the neighbourhood were good to me, although I chose not to be in their company. I got used to the way these kids express themselves. People are people. And they care enough to know that I had chosen to take a different path from them. We are still friends.

Coming home to this part of Singapore always reminded me to get back down to earth, however well-connected I may be with the establishment.