Editor’s note: This installment of One of Us is penned by Kendrick Chia, an undergraduate at the Singapore Management University and our latest inductee to the Memory Corps volunteer initiative. Find out how his chance encounter at Singapore Day 2012 led him to volunteer for the Singapore Memory Project.
On 14th April 2012, I embarked on a trip from the west to the east coast of the United States with a purpose – to document this almost yearly phenomenon that my overseas Singaporean friends constantly raved about and for a project for a fine art photography course in the University of Southern California. After months of being with the American education system, once again hearing Singlish ringing through the air was certainly a nostalgic sound. From bits and drabs of Singaporeans streaming in from different entrances of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, we began to form a stream, with one group behind another and in typical Singaporean fashion kept to ourselves and our distance.
This was to be until we arrived at this impressively barricaded structure that was Singapore Day where mock MRT turnstiles greeted you and instead of an American behind the information desk, a Singaporean was there instead. It was homecoming in many ways. Once past the gates, everyone started mingling with each other and our homegrown talents Hossan Leong, Michelle Chong and Chua En Lai wasted no time in enculturing us back into our old ways.
It was here that I met Yeong Chong, who enticed me and my friend to pen down our thoughts about what Singapore was or still is to us. Like every Singaporean, the lure of a freebie was a definitely a driving factor. It was when we were penning our thoughts down that he introduced us to the Singapore Memory Project.
Upon noticing that I was carrying around a Nikon FM2, a film camera that we struck a further conversation about this project and that I would be interested to volunteer for the cause. It was a perfect match of interest and subject, photography and documenting Singapore. I was asked to then submit my photos for consideration and I was given a packet of paper toys which represented things which are considered old Singapore, such as the sand based Dragon playground and the Tiong Bahru SIT flats, to shoot and submit to him.
It was not until I returned to Singapore about a month later that I started work on the paper toys. When I opened the packet I was shocked to find that the toys were not perforated, which meant that I had to spend some time working on them with either a pen-knife or scissors. I chose the former as I wasn’t too good with scissors. Working on “arts & craft” certainly threw me back to the days of primary school education with compulsory art classes which I wasn’t fond of due to my innate lack of artistic expression, where people in my world then were best represented with stick figures.
But after a while I got into the groove and it was fun seeing how all the small pieces came together into a coherent representation of a ‘relic’ in Singapore. Not content with just taking a shot of the paper toys on a white-washed background or tabletop, I decided to do a field trip to find the places which these replicas are based off.
The journey took me to places where I lived as a child – Toa Payoh and Tiong Bahru. It was more nostalgia and surprises for me as these places while they retained their old school charm, there was definitely a face-lift of these places. Toa Payoh has changed from the sleepy major bus terminal to a place filled with a lively bustle and Tiong Bahru, a gentrified estate where my grandparents used to call home to one that is filled with a hotel and hipster food establishments.
While it took me a whole day just to build two paper-models and cover these places, it was a fun and enlightening experience – a visitor in a country I am a citizen to.
Through working on the Singapore Memory Project, I hope to discover more of Singapore’s little nooks and crannies which house such a rich assemblage of cultures due to our immigrant beginnings; at the end of this endeavor, I hope to fall in love with this place I call home more than I already do.
Photos and text: Kendrick Chia
Volunteer, Memory Corps
Singapore Memory Project