UnRepresented KL: Week 1

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If I didn’t have the Waze app, I’d probably still be driving in Kuala Lumpur right now, my skin all shriveled up from tears because my ability to get lost is phenomenal.

So, Week 1 of UnRepresented KL went down last Sunday and I drove up to Kuala Lumpur. Anyone who knows me know that I absolutely detest driving up and about in the city. To me, Kuala Lumpur is a maze of highways and signboards with unhelpful names. If you don’t know KL, you can’t drive in KL. But if you don’t drive in KL, you’ll never learn the ways around it. This game of Catch-22 annoys me to no end. When one of the organisers asked us if it was our first time here, I had happily said, “Yep! This part of KL”. That answer met with a few shocked responses; she meant the studio that we were gathered in.

And then she asked, albeit delicately, if I was born in this country. Oh. 

With that said, the organisers are darlings, each bouncing with optimism and friendliness. The main duo behind the UnRepresented KL writing programme are Veronica and Adriana, both clearly in love with the city of KL. Both of them could rake up the history of KL, the names of the streets and even recall the lives behind some of the original city-dwellers before all the mega corporations moved in. There was also Ling, who runs the Poskod.MY website! She’s much younger than I expected her to be.  And the nine other participants? Veronica and Adriana couldn’t pick a more random bunch of people. I have to admit, I was scared at first, thinking that I’m not hipster enough or intense enough or something. But it turns out everyone was as unassuming as the next! Sure, the women outnumbered the men (typical really, when it comes to anything writing- or art-related) and one person wore an obscure band tee, but everyone seemed equally nervous and cheerily excited.

The meetup place for the writing programme UnRepresented KL is an art gallery called FINDARS that doubles up as a studio, which triples its hipster value. You can even set up an artist residency in the studio and chip in some money for maintenance. It’s that kind of place. The minute you walk in, there is a huge space in the middle, artistically sparse, occupied with tables topped with plank wood and chairs made of plumbing pipes. At the back, there seems to be a small kitchen counter boasting a humble menu of coffee and things. The walls surrounding that kitchen are filled with glaring eye-catching graffiti. There are artworks on every wall. Surprisingly though, it has a very warm and calming quality; immediately you feel settled, charmed and ready to get down to business.

And we did. I had assumed that since this was the first day of the programme, we would be just introducing ourselves, getting to know the programme a little bit more and socialising randomly. Those things did happen but we were also put immediately to the writing aspect of things, which naturally happens since it’s a writing programme. The first writing exercise was cheeky. We were asked to write about our names and our relationship to our names. So, I was trying to be funny and wrote a joke-y bit about it. Then, the organisers gave a twist to the exercise and said that we have to partner up, let the other person read it and then, they have to recount your story about your name to the rest. Cheeky. But it was also a great way to break the ice. My partner was a girl named Shari and we really hit it off! It also helps that we both bumped into each other earlier because we couldn’t find the venue.

The next writing exercise made me feel a little glum. Veronica and Adriana asked all of us to write about our hometown and our relationship to it; they also asked us to write about Kuala Lumpur and our relationship to the city, tying us back to the main theme of the programme. My hometown is Subang Jaya and although I never explicitly mentioned it to anyone, looking at Subang Jaya now makes me sad. It’s been 9 years since I was uprooted and I feel as though it has gone through such a severe rapid development where I no longer recognise it. I didn’t expect my piece to end up sounding so sad but it was made even more obvious compared to everyone’s happier versions. From all the writing exercises we did, this writing exercise was my favourite as it tapped into something that I had never put into words before. I have included my version of the writing exercise below if you are interested.

The organisers liked my piece so much that they featured a phrase from it on their Facebook page!

We ended the writing session with a word association game and a couple of brain storming activities. We talked about our aspirations for this programme and what we want to achieve from it. I went for the honest truth: I want to get to know KL better. And honestly, I think I’m in great company to do so. The organisers mentioned a couple of upcoming plans and namedropped a few very familiar names. I seriously can’t wait to blaze through all these ten weeks!

Week 2’s post will be shorter but with more photos, hopefully!

I will end this post with my piece about Subang Jaya under the “Read More” below. It is quite short because the perfectionist in me insisted on writing and rewriting the same lines over and over again.

Subang Jaya

Growing up in Subang Jaya is like growing up in a tiny manicured aquarium. It was suburbia at its best. Before news of kidnapping and casual robberies, everything was a walking distance and, if it wasn’t, there’s always a parent on hand. You lived in a calm bubble that was entirely your own and you never resented the boundaries because you already have what you need.

Going back to Subang Jaya is a difficult drive as I refuse to learn the new roads and still believe that, somewhere, the aquarium still exists. My childhood slowly erased by the outstretched tentacles of highways. Unfamiliar buildings taking root; the old shoplots looking awkward in their new shiny surroundings.

It has been nine years since I called Subang Jaya my home.

Now, it is an estranged friend I bump into now and then.

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