An evening of ROJAK (not the comestible kind)

Inside Golden Mile complex, lurks an event hall

I've actually spent more time than you'd imagine in the Golden Mile area, not because I'm in the habit of catching the express buses to Malaysia or hunting down cheap Thai food, but because the optician that my family went to was, for many many years, housed in the basement of Golden Mile Tower. Seeing as everyone in the family wears glasses, we spent many Sunday afternoons of quality family time in that place. If we weren't visiting the optician, we were enjoying a splendid repast at Thien Kee, the steamboat restaurant; frequently, we combined both on the same visit.

I hear Thien Kee is still in that basement, although our optician moved out some years ago to Keypoint down the road. His reason for moving: the Golden Mile area was getting seedier and seedier, which was becoming a turn-off even for his most loyal customers.

(Tangent (TM Stellou): Ironically, I stopped getting my glasses at his shop after he moved, --- but that was because the timing of his move coincided with my getting married and moving away from the parentals, and it became just more convenient to go to Terz's optician which is nearer to where we live.)

All of which is a belaboured introduction to the fact that even though I've watched ROJAK draw a larger and larger following over the past few sessions, I wasn't sure that many people would turn up last night because a) England was playing Paraguay in the World Cup at 9 pm Singapore time, exactly when ROJAK #5 was slated to start (no prizes for guessing where Terz was), and b) the organisers, in line with their objective of focusing more attention to unsung and unloved yet architecturally iconic and culturally resonant modern buildings in Singapore, had decided to hold the session at Golden Mile Complex.

If you haven't figured it out already, Golden Mile, despite its name, ain't exactly the swankiest part of town. Over the years, it's become the haunt of Thais working in Singapore, which means that xenophobic-but-I-won't-admit-it Singaporeans give the place a wide berth, lest they feel like they've wandered into a foreign country (and what is so wrong with finding a "foreign country" in the midst of home, anyway, if we truly pride ourselves on being multiracial and multiculture? But I digress ... ). All the guys know the military supply stores above Beach Road hawker centre across the road, but the Golden Mile side of things has become gradually ghettoized --- although judging from the construction hoardings around Golden Mile Tower that I spotted last night, it looks as if that building's trying to revitalise itself by slapping a new "modern" glass and steel facade on its front.

Let me put it this way: It's the kind of place where, after the event's over and people are trickling off, I say goodbye to a friend and he tells me not to walk out on my own, even though almost all the shops in the building are closed, the place is brightly lit and there are plenty of cabs waiting right in front of the building. I did end up walking out with some people, but I'm not certain that I wouldn't've been just as all right on my own.

Anyhow, surprise, surprise, Golden Mile's reputation and the somewhat cryptic instructions for getting there ("come up by the central escalators and then at the third floor, transfer to a flight of staircase [sic] with a roundtop door") didn't stand in the way of a healthy turnout for ROJAK, including a couple of older (read: in their 50s) people who seemed surprised to find themselves surrounded by twentysomethings.


For future reference, here are some handy pointers for those who might want to speak at future ROJAK sessions (disclaimer: even though I know the organisers, the observations here are my own and have absolutely nothing to do with them):
  • Know your audience --- Most people are from the "creative" sectors or have a strong interest in those fields. Many are designers or architects, others are artists, photographers, filmmakers and musicians; as a writer, I'm definitely in the minority. Many work and experiment in more than one field of "creative" expression. Most, if not all, have strong opinions about creative techniques and endeavours. Most, if not all, really really love what they do, regardless of, thank god, what the Powers That Be decree. Oh, and a number of them are gay, if not pro-gay. In case you were wondering.
  • Talk about the why, not the what --- The ten slides and ten minutes rationed out to each presenter are precious. Let the slides show the work that you've done; use your voice to tell us what couldn't possibly be expressed in a slide, like the creative impetus or spark behind it, the unquantifiable obstacles or inexpressible moments of serendipity that you experienced in the course of your work, the heart, the spirit, the passion. Don't describe what we see; tell us the story behind it.
  • Be appropriately humble --- Yeah, maybe you've done some good stuff that you want to shout about, but in a roomful of egos this size, don't expect to crow about yourself --- even in a "joking", offhand manner --- and get away with it. Play nice. There's always someone out there, smarter, better, or if nothing else, crueller than you.
Having said all that, the reason I love ROJAK is that even though it's a hit-or-miss situation, the hits are such good hits that they make the misses worth it. Like, for instance, The Changi Murals, a yet-to-be-released short film that clearly needs to make it into a cinema, stat. (More disclaimers: I know the filmmaker, but not well enough that I knew about the film before last night or that I'd be endorsing him just for the hell of it.)

So the Golden Mile experiment worked well enough. Let's see where the next ROJAK session'll take us.

Edited to add (12 June): See also ampulets' experience of ROJAK and, more importantly, the poetry of Golden Mile Complex.

Editor's note: I'm aware that this blog post is full of way-too-long sentences. I blame it on the lazy grey pre-thunderstorm weather we're having this afternoon.


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At 6/11/2006 8:40 am , Blogger tscd said...

So...your slides were about your writing process?

At 6/11/2006 8:48 am , Blogger Tym said...

Oh no, I was strictly there in an audience capacity.

At 6/11/2006 1:04 pm , Blogger Olorin said...

Yep, I can assure you Thien Kee is there. I just had dinner there today... :)


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