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Hazirah Marzuke co-founded both Open Brunei (openbrunei.org) and B:Read (https://www.facebook.com/breadbn), communities which serve the Bruneian population in different ways. I speak to Hazirah here about the creation of Open Brunei, what it’s like to collaborate online and off, and the separation of public and private spaces.
Hazirah is a graduate of the University of Warwick, and worked in e-government in Brunei for five years before beginning an MA in Digital Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2013.
Before Open Brunei and B:Read, there was…
My history on the Internet: I created my first website on GeoCities in 1998, and yes, I am responsible for my father's Internet bill that same year. I ran a fan website for a popular game for a few years, and had a blog which was off the Simpur Blogging Nation radar and quite unremarkable. Many years of my Internet life were spent as a fangirl and making websites. Now I'm just a lurker on Reddit, I occasionally tweet and blog, and I run Open Brunei and B:Read with my friends.
The Open Brunei origins story.
Open Brunei came about when Faiq Airudin and I came up with the idea of an MRT or London Underground type of map, but using Brunei locations. We called this the Brunei-Muara Metro Service. It seemed like something different from what we usually posted on our own websites; his was photography, and mine was a blog. Faiq was already in discussion with Hazwan Jaya about writing about art and culture from a Brunei perspective. So we thought about creating a new website on art and culture and other subjects that we were personally interested in. I wanted to make infographics and spreadsheets, things to do with data, and also share Brunei-related stuff I digged up on my online travels. Seriously, this is the story.
But after posting our Brunei-Muara metro map and write-up, we reached almost 1000 views in a week. For a handful of posts on a new website, I hadn't really expected more than one or two hundred views. There was a modest amount of comments, including on Facebook, and a lot of shares. I really liked the idea of provoking people’s thoughts, and of people discussing things contemplatively and critically.
So with Open Brunei, we aim to generate interesting discussions but also maintain a level of quality in terms of clarity and openness. I hope this has been demonstrated so far!
What has been the most interesting thing to come out of running Open Brunei, personally?
I can think of this in two ways. I was personally surprised to see my own role emerge as an editor and, to a lesser extent, as a writer. I always think it’s great when we try new things and discover more about ourselves.
It’s also been very interesting to see people’s responses, when they comment and share. I am generalizing, but I might surmise from the responses that people are interested in thoughtful content about arts, culture and - for some reason - transport. For the metro post, I liked some of the critical comments that were posted on Facebook - one pointed out that Jalan Menteri Besar, the same road where the Immigration Department and several Ministries are located, should be serviced by more than one line. Another pointed out that Brunei is still covered by forest, hence a metro service could not be built in a big circle. There were a number of good comments for Tourists for a Day as well.
You are also one of the co-founders of B:Read! Both Open Brunei and B:Read seem to me to be very community-spirited. Tell me about this.
I have never really thought of that, but yes, I suppose you could call me somewhat community-minded, in the sense that I believe in community-created things like wikis.
With B:Read, we tell people that they can initiate their own gatherings or even book-swapping events. The first bookswap we participated in wasn’t even initiated by us, but by a member of the group (then called “Brunei Bookswap”) on Facebook. I have heard of other swaps happening in Brunei and am pleased to hear it. You can view this cynically and see us as selfish; maybe the B:Read committee want to lessen the burden of doing things ourselves because the community is doing them instead. But I also think it’s a matter of not wanting to control everything that has to do with the reading culture in Brunei - why should we claim that mission as ours and only ours?
I also like to see a range of perspectives and discussions that are open and tolerant, so in another sense I’m interested in different subgroups within communities. B:Read has been great for meeting people outside of my social circles - teenagers who don’t have their own money to buy books, teachers from other districts, business owners - who all have a perspective on reading and books.
I think Open Brunei is less diverse in its scope, because our posts are exclusively in English and perhaps colored by our overseas-educated backgrounds. I’d like to see more variety of thought, including intersections where people with knowledge or experience can fill in the gaps made by the Open Brunei team and our contributors.
Another relationship between the two, I think, is that the teams for both B:Read and Open Brunei aren’t especially interested in making money, and that drives some of our decisions, such as seeking sponsorship (or not), our approaches to promotion and who we work with and whether we will ever make B:Read t-shirts. I guess we share similar ideals of the free culture ideologies, hence swapping books instead of selling them.
On using online communities to foster offline communities.
For Open Brunei, I can’t say there is any offline community activity at the moment. The “Tourists for a Day” public transport experiment was conceived by my friends, so I can’t take credit on that point.
But for B:Read, we are definitely conscious of supplementing the online community with offline activities. I initially saw the Facebook group only as an online community for swapping books, but talking to other co-founders, Teah Abdullah, Mohamed Nazmi, and Faiq, our ideas for B:Read as a way to encourage reading culture were rooted in the physical. Partly I think it is to do with the physicality of books - gathering books for book donations, for example - and also acknowledging different ways in which to encourage reading in the wider public - doing book readings (reading out loud from a book to an audience), having public events. We also think that meeting other readers is important. Who else but a fellow reader to engage in discussion about books, or to recommend or receive recommendations about books, and in effect keep your reading habit going?
I have a love for the online world, so I definitely still believe it’s a good way to pursue any specific or niche interests you have - as a teenager, I frequented Harry Potter forums discussing more in-depth aspects of the series - whether “good” and “bad” are really so black-and-white in the series, theories about understated moments in the books, and even critiques of whether JK Rowling’s writing was actually good. But I know quite a few Potterheads in real life now, and I think these are things I can discuss with them. There is a joy meeting other people who read, and who are also from the same culture or country as you - people you can relate to because they also grew up with the idiosyncrasies of Bruneian society.
I think this will play out with any hobby or interest, really - the power of the Internet to find other like-minded people online, and to offer them the option to meet in real life, and use these online and offline spaces to share their world with one another.
Hello World. Get ready for Yasmine, the first feature film from Brunei. The official release will be in August 2014 but already it has gained the attention of the film world and many from the international media including the Monocle and The Guardian.
The team behind the movie shared, "Yasmine is a beautifully choreographed story that inspires us to revisit our dreams. Action, comedy and drama come together powerfully in this unforgettable journey."
Yasmine will be introduced to the international film industry at the Hong Kong International Film Festival (March 24 to April 7) and at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year. Find out more via the Yasmine website.
Let's get to know Liyana Yus who plays the lead role of Yasmine.
What do you do?
I’m an actress.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Hyper, musically influenced, has a passion for sports and loves chocolate!
You play a key role in Yasmine - Brunei's first feature film. Share with us some highlights from that experience.
Getting told that I got the role of Yasmine, working with massive talents during the production, and all the training I had to go through for acting as well as the action sequences.
Are you naturally 'dramatic'? Or was there a steep learning curve in preparing for your role in Yasmine?
I had help from the best individuals in their respective fields, so it was a great advantage to my learning process. Of course being new to all this, there was a bit of a struggle in making sure the director was satisfied with the takes. I was constantly learning as I was shooting for the film.
Describe a typical day on the Yasmine set. Super glamorous? Or super hard work?
It was definitely super super hard work, since this is our first film. And since it's an action movie as well, the preparation in getting into character and making the action sequences look so natural was intense and incredibly challenging.
What are your thoughts about Brunei's creative scene.
I think Brunei has great talents. It's just not so often that people get an opportunities to share it. We lack the proper exposure and platforms, but we can start with supporting each other to develop a productive and healthy artistic scene.
Who are some key people you would like to thank or acknowledge?
I would like to thank my family, my manager and director Siti Kamaluddin and the Origin Films family, my friends for supporting me and keeping me motivated. And of course the most important, all of my fans for the never ending support even though they haven’t seen Yasmine yet but they are still patiently waiting for it.
What's next for you?
Next would be promoting Yasmine as it’s coming out this year. I also just shot a short film for International Women’s Day in Malaysia, part of the Ikal Mayang and WOMEN:girls Initiative, called Mentari which was written and directed by Siti Kamaluddin. It's part of an anthology of six films, comprising of female directors from Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
There is a saying that goes, "Variety is the spice of life." I like that saying. It is more than sentiment. I have found it to be true. The more I take the road less traveled, the more people I meet, the more I broaden my music intake, the further out of my comfort zone I step, the fuller my life becomes. Of course, colour and adventure do not come around every day, but this should not stop us from looking for them.
I was looking around, and I came across @Fayen's journey on Instagram. I cannot recall when exactly, but one day I noticed she posted up a picture of a typewriter. And then of a tlr camera. And then of a bunch of other really vintage-y photographs. I made it a point to connect, and she agreed to share her story. Check out her other photographs here.
Who are you?
A girl who believes that everyone has their own story and their own little ways in shaping their lives. As for me, I graduated from UBD last year with my first degree in something I did not expect to major in, which was English Language & Linguistics and have since been trying to get myself a job. Apart from that, I always feel like I am this 23 year old with a very old soul and always so sure that I might be having some kind of quarter-life crisis, however, that’s not necessarily a bad phase.
This is Max Jerry Horrowitz, a character from an Australian clay-animated film called Mary and Max. I know this may be an unfamiliar movie to you, but this is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen in my life. It is basically "a tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a fourty-four year old, severely obese man living in New York" (IMDB).
An old friend once described me as, "a girl whose spirit is stuck in the vintage zone, who takes pictures and uses a typewriter. She writes letter too." I see myself somewhere in between Mary and Max, a girl whom without reasons would just randomly sends letter to people (like Mary) and then always feeling anxious about (mostly unnecessary) things (like Max).
What get's you going?
Meet my little family.
I don't exactly remember when was the first time I held a camera and took my first picture but I've always been drawn to them, especially Analog Cameras.
When I was 12, my family and our relatives went to visit Mt. Kinabalu. My parents were so kind to let me hold the camera at that time, it was a Canon Automatic Point & Shoot camera, and everything about the place was so beautiful and there was this really bright yellow flower that really caught my attention so I took a picture of it. When we finally developed the film, and printed out the pictures - it was the only one that made me realised how much fun capturing moments can be.
Would you say you've pursued photography ever since?
According to my parents, pursuing Arts at that time was not exactly an ideal approach. As parents, they ought to seek for the best in their kids so they were hoping I'd choose something that would benefit me in the future, career wise of course. However, I was stubborn and tried to convince them day to day on why I made my choices on wanting to study Photography, alongside Design & Technology until eventually my father gave in and bought me my first Analog SLR camera, which was a Nikon F801-S (I call her Casandra). It's semi-automatic, has both auto and manual focus, fairly modern and pleasant to work with.
Your thoughts on Analog vs Digital photography?
I took Photography for my A-Levels and I spent so many hours being in the darkroom; it's located at the basement of my school, since it's a darkroom, it's always dark and cold. Nothing about it is quiet though since you can always hear water passing through the pipelines. To me, there is something beautiful about taking a picture and then processing the film with your own hands. I am glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to learn on how to do so because most camera shops and photo studios in Brunei are no longer using these manual methods to process their films, which is a bit frustrating.
So in my final year of A’level, everyone in my class seemed to slowly move away from the analog phase and jumped into digital photography. I didn't want to be left behind, so I saved up some money and bought my first DSLR. It was a second-hand Canon EOS 350D (I named this one Fayera). The first two or three thousand shots were meaningless for me but with a digital camera, there was plenty of room for improvements. Also, with the power of editing, a digital image can be so easily manipulated and you can even turn a bad picture to a good one.
Dk Hanisah Lia Pg Hj Mohd Salleh, 30, or Ness as she’s usually known (“I got this name when I was studying in Australia. Ozzies couldn’t pronounce “Hanisah,” so Ness it was!”) is a Human Biology graduate from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and the co-founder of HayaaMusfirah (http://www.hayaamusfirah.com), local online retailer of clothing for Muslim women.
On a background in business.
I have no background in business except I think it is in my blood. My maternal late grandfather had a mini mart back in the day and my mom had a tailoring business as well. I didn’t have any interest then in “inheriting” my mother’s business and after I got married, my husband said he didn’t want me to work, but he did influence me to dip my feet in the business world so I decided to take up business just to fill in the time.
So! How was HayaaMusfirah born?
It was the brain child of Nabilah Taif and myself. A few years ago before we started in 2010, it was really difficult to find syariah-compliant hijabs (Syariah compliant here meaning to cover the chest as well as hair) - we had to order our hijabs from overseas. So we came together and pooled our money and started the business in April 2010. We both decided on the name as well. Hayaa’ means modest / modesty and Musfirah means elegant in Arabic. Our motto was you can still look elegant while covering up and maintaining your modesty.
In the last 5-7 years there's been a huge upswing of interest regionally (and globally!) in both Muslimah-friendly fashion, and the digital market. Where do you think HayaaMusfirah fits into this scene?
In comparison, I personally think that HayaaMusfirah’s standards are not similar to most local Muslimah businesses but maybe have more in common with a few regional businesses. My personal opinion on the “Muslimah Friendly” fashion trend is that most are not quite syariah-compliant. There are only a few global companies that I am aware of that sell syariah-compliant clothing (i.e. loose clothing, hijabs covering the chest, etc). Two of them are Shukr (http://www.shukr.co.uk) (UK-based, I think) and Indonesian brand Kivitz (http://kivitz.blogspot.co.uk) (OK, I’m biased. I love Kivitz!!!). Most regional Muslimah companies sell a mixed clothing line, of syariah-compliant and not-so-syariah-compliant clothing, unlike Shukr and Kivitz.
HayaaMusfirah's particular niche of the market is focused on syariah-compliance. Can you tell me a bit about how HayaaMusfirah has interpreted this compliance? How important is this to you, and has there ever been a point when you've been tempted to expand or bend what this compliance means?
Before we started we did extensive reading on how to make sure the business does not deviate from the teachings of the Quran and Hadith. We did some research on the attire of a Muslimah, the dos and donts, what is admissible and what isn’t. While there are differences in opinion by different scholars on the attire of the Muslimah, we decided to take the middle stand which is to follow the modern trend but if it goes to a point that the trend goes against the ruling we hold on to, then we will not continue that line.
Yes, many times we’ve been tempted to “bend the rules” and we did a few times but every time we did, we found that we would make fewer sales than usual. Even when the clothing line was in demand in other Muslimah businesses, it wouldn’t sell as well with us.
Strange but true. I suppose it turns off our customers because what appeals to them, I think, is the uniqueness of the business, how we focus mainly on syariah-compliant hijabs and attire. But once we deviate from that, we lose our appeal and become “normal”. I think. Hehe.
Jacqueline Liew, 29, became the 10th recipient of the prestigious Fulbright scholarship in 2013, winning a place on the MA programme in Educational Theatre at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Jackie, who is currently an education officer at Sekolah Menengah Rimba, is no stranger to either overseas education or prestigious scholarships, having previously won the Brunei Government Special Scheme Scholarship in 2001 to pursue her A-Levels and a degree in English Literature in the United Kingdom. I talked to Jackie about her time in England, her time in America (to date) and what it means to go abroad.
You were a Special Scheme Scholar from 2001-2006. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like?
It was the best time of my life! Just the opportunity to study in UK is every Bruneian teenager’s dream. I was really naïve though at that time, despite having visited UK several times before on holiday. I was certainly unprepared for life in a boarding house and being away from family for such a long period of time. Going to boarding school was stuff that I’d only read about in Enid Blyton’s “Naughtiest girl in School” series. I suffered culture shock, it certainly took some time to adjust to life in a boarding house full of girls: sharing a room with someone from another country and waking up super early so I don’t have to queue for the bathroom and getting used to listening to other people’s “business” (hahaha!).
In the months that led up to it, I was just so excited and couldn’t wait to leave. I started packing like months before, just throwing clothes into my suitcase and telling the other scholars about it and getting laughed at. But I didn’t care; I was going to study in UK! One thing I remember most clearly was filling in the form. I can still remember the three boxes we had to fill in for our choices. Initially, I had put Medicine as my first choice but after much discussion with the family and deep thought, I put Physics as my first choice, Maths as my second and English as my last one. It was after a talk with you that I changed my choice. I think I changed it quite a few times and the boxes had so many layers of Tippex on it that you could crack the paper in half if you folded it. I finally decided on English as my first choice because I believed that it would give me a better chance of getting the scholarship.
On adjusting to a different academic system.
It was a bit difficult getting used to school there, the girls were very outspoken and confident, they were brought up to be vocal and that is something I am still struggling with today. Students were encouraged to speak up in class and voice their opinions and to argue their points. Something I was completely unused to…here I was coming from a non-English literature background and I couldn’t tell my metaphors from my similes. I was quite an avid reader but read mostly for fun and would have never thought about analyzing or reading in between the lines. Or learning about the context in which a text was written or appreciate how and why it was written. I didn’t know how to ‘read’.
My forte had always been Maths and the sciences and I was suddenly plunged into the world of English literature, I was drowning in a sea of terminology. I remember breaking down in tears one time over a poem by Ivor Gurney. We had to spend 15 minutes analyzing it and nothing came to my mind. I burst into tears and ran into the toilet. My teacher had to run in after me to talk me out of the stall. What followed was extra classes with her and “Why didn’t you say you needed help?” A stupid mentality I took with me from Brunei of not asking for help from the teacher because I had too much pride. I learnt how to use a library, how to write and reference properly and to just have the confidence to ask my teachers questions after that. But I still really struggled with voicing my opinions in class or saying anything. My heart would beat fast and I would feel the words on the tip of my tongue but my lips would never move and I would always second-guess myself and then when another girl said what I was thinking, I would regret that I didn’t say it. It was so much inner turmoil sitting in class.
On the other hand, math and physics lessons were a cinch for me.
It got a bit better in university but again I would have moments where words would escape me or I would just lose all confidence because I was scared to hear my own voice. Really silly.
Boarding School Days
Picture with members from SEEDS
Receiving the Fulbright scholarship in 2013
Orientation in New York
After you graduated, you came back to Brunei to teach – and you were thrown into Sekolah Menengah Berakas. What was it like coming back to Brunei after all those years away?
It was another culture shock. It made me realize what a bubble we lived in while studying in Maktab Sains (Jackie was a student in Maktab Sains from 1996-2001). It is so detached and far away from the reality that is Brunei. We had such grand views of ourselves and then of going on to study in the UK - I never truly knew Brunei until I came back. My views or what I thought I knew about home all changed.
Looking back now, I am so glad that I was put into a school like Berakas. It made me see home so differently, the glossy picture of Brunei that I once held in mind had suddenly taken on very disturbing features. It’s also the naivety of someone who has had no experience of being a government servant, I didn’t have many relatives who worked for the government at that time, so I sort of entered the government school teaching world with zero expectations. I can still remember the conversation I had with the principal on my first day. I was unaware of the ‘reputation’ of Berakas and thought that the principal was very peculiar when he asked me “So, you have never heard anything about this school?” I guess it is very easy to become detached from the reality of home when you spend five years overseas especially when you don’t have anyone to talk to, someone to sort of give you a heads-up, who already had the experience of teaching.
Even now, I am learning a lot of things about the government school system at home. I only found out this year from my year 8 students that I was the first non-Malay, non-Muslim teacher they have ever had and up to the point when they met me, they were unaware that there were non-Malay Bruneians. At one point, I actually took out my IC to show the kids that I was a local. Now, I understand why it was so hard for them to get used to me and also helped me in understanding my peers a bit better as well.
My first year at school was very stressful to say the least, I didn’t know how to control a class, I was a young and new teacher and the students could smell that from a mile away. I sounded different from them so that didn’t help with the alienation I felt. I didn’t know how to write a lesson plan and was unaware of the many rules that come with being a government teacher like asking for permission to leave the country, not being able to leave the country during certain days etc.
Just the transition from being a student to a teacher, going into a school like Berakas without any prior pedagogical knowledge. I was expecting to teach English literature, Shakespeare, how to read a play and there I was trying to remember the rules of grammar and cope with all the responsibilities of a teacher. There is a stereotype of Bruneians who have studied overseas: kambang, macam kacang lupakan kulit etc…I can see why but it was something that I had to disprove in my school.
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