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District 14: Khabar Workshop

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

| Documentation by Syarifuddin Sahari |

29 August 2020, 10am - 2pm

Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre and Muslim Kidney Action Association (MKAC)

The first “rehearsal” for the associates was also the first workshop of District 14, which was Khabar (letters) and conducted by Sonia & Diana, and the meeting point was in Wisma Geylang Serai. The rest of the associates were to observe the workshop, participate or assist in facilitation wherever necessary as well as to plan & recce for their own workshops in the weeks to come. Once everyone arrived, there was a round of introductions (facilitated by Hasyimah who was the liaison between P7:1SMA and MKAC).

The start of the workshop marking the beginning of the District 14 process.

It was followed by a conversation on their memories of / from Geylang Serai:

  • Mr Rafi: Gerek Galaxy Cinemas with $0.50 movie tickets, and the “padang hippies” near City Plaza.

  • Singapore Traction Company (STC) with its drivers being of Bengali descent.

  • Mr Fauzi: mamashop, coffeeshops, Hawa Restaurant, kedai pisang (banana shop).

  • Mr Hathri preferred to keep his stories to himself.

  • Mdm Mithrul: beca (trishaw) with $0.50 and $0.70 rides depending on the distance travelled and usually operated by Malays, kereta sapu (sweeper cars), pawanca (an old taxi).

  • Yakob: an embassy, went abroad for a period of time, came back to many changes.

  • Firdaus: tudung-selling pakcik.

  • Drinking the blood of macaques (with straws tapped through their heads) used to be a sight in the old market.

  • Open-air cinema.

  • Anwar: used to send parents for their errands in Geylang.

After which the workshop was moved to Geylang Food Centre. As it was raining heavily, the initial plan of walking around shifted to having a discussion amongst the crowd.

Having a workshop amongst the crowd in Geylang Food Centre.

Once everyone had settled, the participants were invited to read poems and prompts that Sonia and Diana had prepared (some of the associates also recited the texts to them). They were also invited to answer some questions regarding Geylang and its people in the past and present. As some of the participants were illiterate, the associates stepped in to transcribe their answers and stories.

Transcribing of memories and stories.

There was also an exchange about letters and the gift of writing, commenting how it was a labour of love and the scarcity of messages made each one more valuable. It was agreed among the associates (including myself) that the participants took their time to scribe each word and letter carefully with consistent and neat handwriting, at times looking like they were digitally printed from a computer. They also lamented how penmanship is not currently as emphasised in schools as there is more focus on the content with minimal criteria for legibility.

Upon personal reflection, the realisation of oral transcription into letters is akin to recording the memories of both written and verbal thoughts, the only difference being in the presentation and permanence, where the intonations and fluctuations in voice are transformed visually through the writing, decoration and arrangement in the letter.

A labour of love.

The final exercise and debrief were conducted back at MKAC as the heavy rain made it less conducive to do so in the food centre. The final exercise was to write a love letter to Geylang Serai, which could be in a form of a poem, song, letter or any other text /written form. Mr Hathri was reluctant to participate (he only attended the workshop to accompany his wife) as he felt he was not in a position to do so as he had never resided in the area. He also shared that he is no longer able to write / out of practice, however he demonstrated writing Jawi smoothly.

Sonia and Diana (along with the other associates) elaborated on what the letter to Geylang could address; their hopes and well-wishes, their grievances, happy memories etc. As they were writing, they excitedly continued to share their stories and thoughts about Geylang Serai especially after witnessing its developmental journey from a kampung to the old Geylang to how it stands now.

The final exercise for the workshop.

Finally, the participants took turns to share what they had written. Everyone in the space listened attentively as genuine hearts voiced out their deep-seated affections / afflictions for Geylang. There was a collective silence after each reading to soak in the words that usually go by unheard.

Drawn into the words both written and spoken from the heart.

A short poem I’ve written (as I had a brainwave) to both partake in the final exercise and as a summarisation from the stories shared:

Wahai Geylang, tempatku Geylang,

Hujan lebat, muka terpandang,

Riang riuh, sudahkah hilang,

Semangat tempat, ataupun orang?


As much as we will attempt to record the process, this journal does not necessarily reflect the artistic direction or intention of the work. This is our interpretation as we experience it with the artists and collaborators.

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