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District 14 Rasa Workshop

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

| Documentation by Koh Maan Lin |

3 October 2020, 10am - 1pm

Rumah Rimau Dapor

I met with Iskandar, Hasyimah, and Haizad at Zarina’s house before the associates arrived. All 4 of us greeted Zarina and moved to the back of the house where there was an open space to conduct the workshop. Haizad, Iskandar and I laid out the different bungkusan (packages), or dumplings, as we called them, on the ground in one line. The 7 bungkusan contained the offerings from the Geylang merchants from the Benda workshop, which are then wrapped in the marked textiles which contain the emotions and sentiments of the participants from the first 5 workshops.

As the associates arrived, Haizad and Iskandar discussed the timeline and process of creating the final dance film. Once everyone was here, Syimah gathered everyone by the road outside Zarina’s house and conducted warm up exercises. Afterwards, the associates gathered back inside, and Syimah tasked each of the associates to find a corner in Zarina’s house that they find comforting, or spoke to them in some way. A while later, Zarina brought out her tricycle for the associates to test-ride it outside the house, and each associate had a go. The spontaneity of the exercise was very refreshing, and everyone was having fun trying to master how to ride the tricycle.

Soon after, Syimah began conducting the first improvisation exercise of the day, starting with Sonia, who chose a spot in the front yard with an odd structure and many wasps. Valerie went next underneath a table with plants, followed by Hasyimah, who chose to perform on the sidewalk outside Zarina’s house. Jonit performed afterwards in a corner in the backyard, and lastly, Ismail, who performed next to some tables and chairs. Then, we all took a water break and the associates now had to choose which bungkusan they would work with for the rest of District 14.

Haizad and Syimah gathered the bungkusans to one corner of Zarina’s backyard, and the associates were told to close their eyes and take the first bungkusan they felt. Some associates crawled on the floor, and some simply walked with their arms outstretched. I appreciated the way this exercise was carried out, because it also means that the bungkusan could pick the associates, and the associates would just have to work with whatever they were given. Sonia ended up with the weighing scale, Valerie with the sarong, Hasyimah got the curry spices, Jonit got the prayer clothes, and Ismail got the bungkusan with the minyak serai. The 2 bungkusan left unpicked were the baking tin and the jackfruit.

The associates were then given some time to familiarise themselves with their respective bungkusan without opening it, as the item inside was to remain a secret until the final performance. It was interesting to see how each of the associates interacted with the bungkusan using their 5 senses, and try to guess what was inside. Syimah then told them to find another area in Zarina’s house to do the next improvisation exercise, but this time with the bungkusan. It was also carried out in reverse order, meaning that now, Ismail would go first, then Jonit, Hasyimah, Valerie, and Sonia (Hasyimah ended up going last because she wanted to clear her mind before going into it). Once everyone’s improvisations were over, we all took a water break and gathered back in Zarina’s kitchen away from the sun to do a circle sharing and debrief.

During the first round of circle sharing, the associates discussed their thought processes behind what they did for the first improvisation exercise, and gave each other feedback and opinions. Hasyimah expressed that she wanted to perform with the gate separating the audience from herself, so that the audience would have to do something in order to see her. Ismail commented that her performance brought up the question of whether Hasyimah was on the outside looking in, or if the audience was on the inside looking out. Ismail then shared that he wanted to emulate the feeling of a campfire with the elements of give and take. Jonit just wanted a space which was quiet and away from the other performers, and Iskandar noted that her performance played with light and shadow, and made use of how the space opened up to the sky.

Next, we discussed the second improvisation exercise which was carried out with the bungkusan. Two moments that stuck with me were when Ismail and Jonit shared their thoughts. Ismail said that he performed as if the bungkusan was his grandmother, as the smell of the minyak serai reminded him of the times he spent with her. It was interesting how the place he chose to sit (beside the fan) was a memory that resonated with everyone - somehow, the elders in our families all liked to sit near the fan. Jonit shared that she performed with Chinese funeral processions in mind, because her bungkusan was soft and felt comforting to her. Iskandar felt that it was such a powerful moment because even though Jonit did not know the bungkusan contained Malay prayer clothes, elements of religion and prayer had still influenced her performance. It was so amazing to see this because throughout District 14, all the participants had something concrete to draw emotions and memories from, but in Jonit’s case, she was still able to express that sense of reverence and worship even though she did not know what she was interacting with. Both moments really captured the essence of District 14.

After wrapping up the circle sharing, the associates returned the bungkusans to Haizad, and we all separated for the day.


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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