ProjekBrunei.com - Everyone has a Story
Editor's Note: We discovered Chynna on Instagram. Her creative style immediately caught our attention, and we are happy to share some of her art and story with you. Check out more of her work and follow her journey here: @chytxy
Who are you?
My name is Chynna Tan (How long did it take you to realise it sounds very much like China Town?). I’m one of those many students you hear about being Malaysian but really identifying more as a Bruneian.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Raised in a home with creative and do-it-yourself mindsets, it was always all about thinking outside the box as well as doing things slightly unconventional. Helpful by nature, I always say yes to helping others before realising that it may be beyond my capabilities but I strive anyway to help as much as I can. Like anyone, I love food and that’s the reason why I force myself to spin every week but I thoroughly enjoy it; both eating and spinning.
How did art find you?
The earliest memory of art that I had was back in primary school. My parents enrolled me in Art as an extra curricular activity in school. I remember my love hate relationship with oil pastels and how patient my teacher was to tell me every single time to clean pastels. I had a very supportive art teacher through out my primary years in PDS (now SMS School) and I joined many local and international competitions. Art took a back seat in secondary however but it found me again when I decided to take Art and Design for A-Levels; the hardest but tremendous two years I had rediscovering and solidifying my passion for art.
Which is your creative medium of choice?
Watercolour is my main medium and I love illustrations; small, whimsy and soft illustrations. I am well versed in hyperrealism with animals always being my main subject. I’m dabbling in typography as well as calligraphy as of recently. My favourite is always when I paint for someone close to me. Painting knowing that it’s for someone significant in my life just makes the piece just that much more special besides the fact that it’s always personalised and tailored just for him or her.
What's your favourite kind that you do?
Anything watercolour would be my favourite. I thought myself how to play with watercolour whean I was in doing my A-Levels. It's such a fluid medium, literally. There are no right or wrong ways to use watercolour and I’m constantly learning and discovering new techniques.
What inspires you?
I try to take inspiration from anything and everything. But usually it’s nature and patterns I see wherever. The Internet is also a good source of inspiration; IG being the best as I follow many artists with similar interest and practice. I like painting and gifting them. So when I paint, I always have someone in mind and he or she may be my inspiration. My parents are also a great source as they do help me see things from a different perspective from time to time.
You’ve spent some time studying in Germany. Describe the art scene there.
Being in Germany exposed me to the different kind of scenes out there that we unfortunately lack in Brunei. Galleries are just littered everywhere and I was spoiled for choice. It opens your perspective as to what art is. Art has always been subjective and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion upon seeing something intriguing. I’ve seen thought provoking works as well as just silly ones. Art is literally everywhere as you walk down the streets and see graffiti art and murals. It’s very inspiring.
What is your message to other young aspiring artists?
I hope to see more artists out there not be afraid to share their work and speak about it. I was like that before and I’m still learning to share. It would be great if one day we could gather all the artists together and just talk about the same passion we all share. Also, it would be great to have an extensive art supply store. I bet you all artists feel like a kid in a candy store when in an art store.
What are your immediate and future plans?
I’m always open to trying new things. Perhaps holding a watercolour workshop one day? As a kid, I thought I would be an art teacher just like my teacher back in primary. A collaboration with one or more artist would also be great!
Editor's Note: The Creative Core BN is a relative new-comer to the local creative scene in Brunei. They had a busy 2015 delivering a range of creative projects, and there is more to come in 2016. To appreciate what they do, read on to understand the 'why' behind their what. Check out their Instagram @thecreativecorebn and find out more about them here.
Who are you?
My name is Charlotte, and I am passionate about the art of Dance. I have been dancing since I was four, I did my sixth form in England [Tring Park School for the Performing Arts]. While in Tring, I discovered contemporary dance and fell in love with freedom within this dance form. I then went on to pursue it in a contemporary dance institute in Canada for a year. I then did an internship at Asia Inc Forum and got interested in events. So I went on to study a Bachelor of Business in Australia.
I came back to Brunei noticing that the creative industry is still growing and decided to put both passions together to form The Creative Core BN.
What is The Creative Core BN?
That is a very big question. The Creative Core BN (TCCBN) exists to gather local artists of various fields within our community together to connect with each other, share personal experiences and experiment with new ideas. I believe that TCCBN will develop and continue to evolve over time, however, at present, this is what it is.
Why did you decide to start this "project"?
One thing that acts as the main inspiration and drive of TCCBN is our interest in the individual behind the art, hence, the “creative core”. This means that we put our focus on connecting with artists on a human level as much as we do connecting with them through their works. The human being behind the art very much shapes the art itself, in whatever form it may present itself in. and that! We want to tell their story. I guess, just as you do here at Projek Brunei; sharing the stories of individuals in our nation.
The other side of things of course, is our interest in the arts. I must say this side of things is as important. To put it simply, Michelle (co-founder) sings, and I dance.... at the same time. Haha. Michelle is a self-taught singer - song writer and musician. She has a great ear for music and plays the keyboard, ukulele and guitar. Her unique voice is loved by many, including myself of course. :)
Along with this, we also had the privilege of seeing many many talented individuals here in Brunei over the years. The country may be small, but the talent here is awesome! When we started talking about the idea of TCCBN in 2013, we saw a gap that needed to be filled, and that gap was the absence of platforms or opportunities for these artists to showcase their works. We’re not saying that TCCBN will be the ones to fill that gap, but we would like to see what we can do contribute to this, together with the other creative enthusiasts out there. At the beginning of 2015, we saw that the creative industry was present; though small, it was picking up in pace. We decided then that it would be a good time to step into this and to see what would come out of it.
Are you able to use your experiences from overseas here in Brunei?
Definitely! I think it’s a beautiful thing when we choose to make use of our past experiences to create something new ‘today’. Many things that I have learnt or experienced within the arts and events scene whilst in Canada and Australia have shaped the way that I plan, think and connect with others.
What has The Creative Core BN done in its first year?
January 2015 marked the beginning of our journey. We have split our year up into different seasons with 1 major event and smaller pre-events (e.g. workshops) to fill it up. We have done so as to focus and delve into one form of art at a time as there is much to discover.
In our first year, we had two main seasons, plus a little initiative in December to wrap up the year. First, our dance season ran from April - July. The season started out with a 3-part video series called I AM. Dancer. The production of this series in collaboration with Beluneu Films looked to present the why and who behind the what. The stories and dance works of 3 local dancers / choreographers were featured; Aizat, Adeline & Hanif. We ended the season with Dancers Meet 2015; a night showcasing the creative process and works of the 3 featured choreographers.
In August, we moved into our Music Season. In the duration of the 4-month long season, we once again had the opportunity to take a look into the heart and soul behind a musicians work and presented it to the community through video features. Following on from that, we opened up a space where local musicians, both up and coming & established, had the opportunity to meet, share, learn and inspire each other in this journey; #WORKSHOPMONTH. We had the privilege of having our local and international singer-songwriter Eia on board as a coach throughout the 3 workshop weekends.
The season ended on a high with a fun collaboration with the collective to put together a major jam session with musicians across our community; The Big Jam.
To wrap up the year, we decided to celebrate the holiday season with a little bit of kindness; #randomactsofkindnessbn. Anyone and Everyone could get involved by doing a simple act of kindness. The purpose for this initiative is to encourage people to continue to put the focus on what is most important. At the end of the day, it the hearts and the lives behind the art that matter most.
That was our first year! We had a lot of fun meeting new people and trying out things that we had never done before.
On local culture and the role it plays in your decisions.
Well, over the past year, we have seen a big, positive growth in the public’s perspective and interest towards the creative industry. It’s great! It’s even greater to see companies like the collective as well as Kaleidoscope holding more and more art events. They are paving the way for other creatives in this nation, including us. We owe them much!
This however, does not mean that there are any hurdles for the individuals pursuing arts, whether as a hobby or a career. Therefore, the decisions we make and actions that we take are sometimes still heavily reliant on local guidelines. This does not mean that we are restricted nor discouraged. Limitations and boundaries often times pushes us to think outside the box and push our personal borders, which is great!
On challenges faced in doing public art related events.
There were many challenges of course, because #life. Hah! However, because of the paved path before us we had a pretty good run in 2015, seeing that it is our first year. We had much support from the public as well as those who have been on this journey for a while, which was more than we could have asked for.
I guess our main challenge in 2015 was an internal one. As in, a challenge we faced within our own in-house team. Due to the fact that it was our first year, we had many firsts, many tasks, that we were not really prepared for logistically. (Communication is hard!) I will say that team work is something that needs to be practiced and worked at. :p
Who have you worked with in past events?
We had the honour of working with a couple of amazing human beings last year: The guys from the local film company, Beluneu Films, Shinny from the collective, the artist- illustrator Chynna Tan, UBD TV, Eia, Relentless Entertainment, Community of Dance and many more local creators who were involved in our seasons.
What do you hope to see in 2016?
Our motto is Impart. Impact. Inspire. For the artists, we want them to come to our events with an open heart and mind to share AND learn something new; to be imparted with new skills and knowledge and in turn impart their skills and knowledge into the greater community.
We would hope for TCCBN’s events and creative works to make a significant mark, print, impact whatever you may call it, in our society. To educate and inspire others to open up their hearts and minds to art, and all that it carries with it.
Editor's Note: There is a saying that goes, "A rising tide lifts all boats." It is associated with the idea that improvements in an ecosystem will benefit all participants in that ecosystem. Shinny is a colourful catalyst and her journey and efforts through The Collective Art Events has lifted the local creative tide. Read on, get to know her a little better, but more importantly, I hope you catch Shinny's spark.
Find out more about the collective here.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm a free spirited human that runs local creative company 'the collective'.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Unfiltered, adventurous, down to earth lover of the arts.
You are a #girlboss. What advice would you give the 16 year old you?
I would tell myself to stop worrying about things that ultimately aren't a big deal in the bigger picture, and focus on building myself up, building real skills, and making real connections. I think when you're a teenager, it's easy to get caught up in silly teenage drama and look for the wrong kind of validation. You so easily lose sight of the opportunity to start building yourself as a person, while you actually have the time, because you're worried what other people will think of your choices.
Even at 16 it's so important to be aware of the world around you, and be involved in life beyond the confines of the bubble of high school, so you can start building the foundation for becoming the person you want to be.
I'd probably also tell my 16 year old self not to take family time for granted and stay disciplined. Focus and dedication are important!
Have you always been creative?
I have actually always been creative but I think I've expressed it in ways that are atypical to a normal artist. I had a really vivid imagination as a kid! My first creative 'project' was probably designing clothing. I was a magazine hoarder and had a million issues of Vogue and used to design things I wanted to wear to be like the glamorous ladies in the magazines!
Describe your creative brainstorming process.
I don't know that I have a particular process. My brain can't really handle routine so I don't even have a standard process for brainstorming. I just like to constantly seek out new adventures and experiences, see new things, do new things and just kind of break my brain out of any monotony. I do brainstorm better by myself because I get distracted easily. Having said that, when I find someone who I bounce off well with creatively, it's the best thing ever! You can't beat a good human connection!
On a scale of 0 - 10, (0 = nonexistent and dry, 10 = vibrant and flourishing) where would you place Brunei's creative scene? Why?
I think we're currently at a 5. The local creative scene has picked up a lot in the last two years, and everyone I've spoken to has echoed the same sentiment. There's a lot more happening now, on a regular basis than there ever has been, and we're starting to see the roots of an arts appreciative culture begin to form, but I think we're also at a really critical stage of growth where the market needs to be carefully grown and self-regulated to ensure that we see a diversity of creative brands/businesses with integrity emerge, otherwise the local art scene is going to grow but not in a sustainable way.
The Bruneian market is so small, that there's a real risk of over saturation from too many businesses doing similar things and cannibalising each other instead of new concepts coming up. I guess in a nutshell, we're kind of halfway because it's growing and stuff is happening finally, but the originality and creativity factor (which creates vibrancy) still has a way to go!
Tell us about the origins of The Collective Art Events.
the collective started from me just being frustrated at not having any creative events to go to in Brunei. I was experiencing a huge culture shock having just moved back to Brunei from Sydney. The original concept I had was to run a hair braiding workshop called braid bar, and after talking to people in the creative community and them wanting to be involved, that concept grew into a small little festival, which grew into a larger festival, and the snowball kept rolling! I feel really grateful every day that people like what the collective is about and support it so much!
The primary objectives are to build a strong local art scene / culture, help build a sustainable commercial market for the local creative industry, and bring a little creative fun and sparkle into peoples lives! the collective didn't start out with the express intention of becoming a business, it was more about just wanting to do some fun creative stuff and meet new people in the process, so that sentiment is always at the heart of everything I do.
Which collective project are you most proud of? Why?
Ahhhhh. Tough question! Probably the Creatives Against Cruelty festival because it pulled in close to a thousand people despite only having a weeks worth of marketing and we helped raise something like $4000 for CAS! It was such a last minute decision to run it and everyone from the vendors to our venue host (local designer Sabrina Wong who started L'Orient), to the public really rallied together to support the cause. A lot of the vendors privately donated more than they needed to, and there was so much support from the public with private donations to CAS and people just coming by to show their support. It just gave me the warm and fuzzies to how much people cared, because I'm a huge animal lover.
Tell us about The Maker Space.
I am SO excited about the Maker Space! The Maker movement is something that is really taking off at the moment and I'm really excited about being able to connect with this global movement towards hand made items. The Collective's Maker Space is going to be a mix of open plan workspace for creatives and retail that features some staple creative brands from our festivals, and a curated selection of arty things we love. I really miss being able to go to a great space, that makes me want to stay and just sit for hours so the space is designed for people to stay for long periods of time! It's basically going to be a go-to space to do your creative work, get inspired, and get your creative product fix!
I think the collective has needed its own space for a long time now: making our installations and other crafty projects usually requires a lot of space and it typically gets messy, and in general, having our own office has become somewhat of a necessity with the company diversifying into other avenues.
There are so many things I've been wanting to expand into and late last year I was lucky enough to find a mentor that helped enable that. the collective is expanding its services to include the launch of a creative design agency handling everything from full-scale branding projects to one off graphic design jobs, so the maker space is our headquarters, where people can find us if they want to talk about how we can help them get things done! There's also going to be a bespoke floristry service at the Maker Space which is going to be completely different from anything that exists in Brunei!
What can we expect from The Collective in 2016 and beyond?
Expect the unexpected, haha! I think the last two years have been a focus on shaking up how people experience events in Brunei and creating that demand for an artistic flair to things and this year it's expanding that focus to creative lifestyle and space. Our flagship events like pop up dinners and our creative arts festival will run, as always!
Tieng Chwei Peng, who goes by Peng, is a 22 year old MINDEF scholar from KB. Currently Peng is in her final year of an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States. I spoke to Peng recently about her time in the States, as well as the website she founded for Bruneian students who are considering applying to the US for further study (Bruneians Guide to US Education - http://bnguidetousedu.wordpress.com/).
On choosing to pursue a degree in the States.
For years, I pictured myself pursuing higher education in the United Kingdom. It was not until a year before I had completed my A-Levels that I considered attending a college (university) in the United States, an idea espoused by the Ministry of Defense at the time and supported by my family. After hearing positive experiences from people who had studied in the United States, and after days – if not weeks – of extensive research, my decision was made. Ultimately, my decision to steer off the tracks that I had built up in my mind for years and to study in the States boiled down to three things:
1. Years after being primed as a “science” student, I yearned to fill gaps in my knowledge, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.
2. I liked the idea of building my own curriculum, to have the freedom to choose my classes and which semesters to take them.
3. I wanted to diversify my experiences and was intrigued by “the road less traveled”.
The fact that the United States is sparsely peppered with Bruneians and the inconvenience of starting over in a new place inevitably crossed my mind but I saw these as minor setbacks that were far outweighed by the benefits that I would reap from an American education. Safety, especially with regard to gun crimes and natural disasters, did not weigh heavily in mind but I was sure to look into campus safety during my research about colleges.
National Day Dinner
Oakland Bay Bridge
In New York City with other Bruneians
What kind of support did you receive during the applications process, and what do you think would have been helpful, in retrospect?
The Ministry of Defense was very supportive and had arranged a workshop on the SATs, a US college admission exam, for its scholarship recipients. This helped me hit the ground running. Some of my friends were very encouraging of my endeavor in different ways, from giving me a written guide, to proofreading my essays, to accepting that I was going to be a hermit for a while as I labored over my application. Although my teachers were not too familiar with the US college application process, they put in effort to learn about it and helped me refine my application.
One of the challenging parts of applying (while having to study for the A-Level modules at the same time) was dealing with the uncertainty of it all – the uncertainty that I was doing things right, or that any of my efforts would pay off. With so few in the same boat, navigating the college admission process under the guidance of an experienced peer or mentor, or knowing some alumni (if there were any) would have been helpful. Additionally, earlier exposure to and awareness of the United States as a higher education option would have been beneficial.
What has your experience in the US been like? What do you think is unique about US higher education, and what kind of student would benefit the most from a US-style education?
My experience has been great so far! Despite not conforming to the tree-hugging Berkeley hippie stereotype, I have been fortunate enough to have found myself on a campus whose culture resonates with me. As I had expected prior to college, I am enjoying the freedom of tailoring my degree based on my interests and am participating in a flurry of club activities
One of the unique aspects of US higher education is the opportunity it presents for students to interact with people across different majors (degrees), enhanced by the fact that students are not confined to classes specific to their degrees. The liberal education system also encourages students to acquire and indulge in eclectic interests. Five years ago, I would never have thought that I would learn Irish dance from a professor or build a canoe...out of concrete.
A student who appreciates breadth in knowledge as well as research and networking with professors and professionals would benefit from a US-style education. US education is also great for those who would like to build on skills such as initiative, independence, and resourcefulness, derived from living in an individualistic society with relatively far and few Bruneians.
Occupy Movement at Berkeley
The concrete canoe
Tell me about the Bruneian's Guide to US Education!
The Bruneian’s Guide to US Education is an online resource designed specifically for Bruneians who are interested in learning about higher education in the United States and the college application process. The website contains a growing repository of information on the college admission process, student guides on living in the US, and -- hopefully in months to come -- stories from Bruneians in the US and a public database of students and alumni.
The idea was first developed on my first summer away from Brunei in the sweltering Texas heat. Perhaps I saw it as a way to reconnect myself with Brunei at a time when I would usually be at home with my family, devouring char kuay tiao purchased from my favorite noodle stall. More importantly, I was compelled to build this online resource because I had been approached by several Bruneian students over the past few years who were considering studying in the United States but lacked information and/or had already missed the SAT exam deadlines.
I was also inspired by the comprehensive online guide set up by the Singapore Malaysian Student Association on my campus that helped me immensely in adapting to life in Berkeley and the US college education system. Having had a positive experience studying in the United States, I was set on making information on pursuing college education in the US more accessible to Bruneians, be it prospective applicants, parents or teachers who want to help guide students.
In the years to come, I would like to see this resource grow to become more comprehensive, detailing information not only regarding undergraduate colleges but also those pertaining to community colleges and graduate schools. Ideally, the website will garner contributions from Bruneians with a variety of educational experiences in the US, be filled with stories of student life in the US, and have a fleshed-out public database of current Bruneian students and alumni of US colleges. Ultimately, this website will not just be informational tool but also a platform to help build a more robust Bruneian network in the US.
The physical distance between Bruneian students in the US (and their scarcity!) means that it's virtually impossible to have the same kind of support system/community that is available in, say, the UK. How important do you think this kind of community is?
The Bruneian students in the US have started finding ways to touch base with each other, be it through the Facebook group dedicated to Bruneians in the US, group travel during breaks, or if we are lucky, casual meetings on weekends. However, there is still plenty of scope for this community to be more cohesive to be able to provide the support system that we might need once in a while.
I do think it is important to build and maintain some sort of Bruneian community in order to alleviate any sense of detachment from our own home country and culture that may develop. Nothing beats the comfort of being able to roll out Malay words that form naturally at the tip of our tongue or being able to talk about matters that are local to us. That being said, I do think that the lack of a community on the scale found in the UK or Australia may provide more room for students’ personal development and pushes students to meet more people.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Peng! All the very best for the rest of your time in the States.
About the Contributor: At her day job, Kathrina thinks and talks about books at UBD. At all other times, she can be found reading books, being a nosy parker (resulting in interviews like the one above), and daydreaming aggressively and voraciously. Occasionally she likes to pretend she doesn't hate exercise and can be seen moving sluggishly around Shahbandar.
Kathrina likes cake and always welcomes book recommendations, and can be reached at
(Or in other words, When are YOU getting married?)
If you’re a typical Bruneian, you probably get invited to wedding, tahlil, doa selamat functions at least once a week. You’ll probably run into people that you see on an almost daily basis, people you haven’t seen in a while and people you have to suffer politely. You’ll exchange news about who just came back from university overseas, who bought a new car/house/phone and whose mother is worried they are still single at the ripe old age of 27. You’ll find out who got married and who’s pregnant and who just gave birth. And if you are single, female, and in your late twenties, the chances are you will be asked “Bilakankaukawinni?”
As a single woman (30 going on 31. Ouch!), can I just say, on behalf of all my fellow sufferers out there, how irritating and hurtful this question can be?
There are likely two scenarios here:
One. I would like to get married. In fact, my sole goal in life (now that I have a good degree and a cushy job) is to settle down and make babies. But for some reason, I can’t. Perhaps I am repulsive to the opposite sex. Perhaps I have not been lucky enough to find someone. Perhaps there are private obstacles I have yet to overcome.
Asking me pointedly when I am getting married while you hug an adorable (so cute that my ovaries ache in envy) child in your arms while exchanging texts with your adorable husband about how much you love each other is just cruel. After all, would you go up to a man with no legs and stretch for your 15km marathon all the while asking him when he was going to get off his butt and make an effort?
Two. I am actually fine being on my own and do not need to be convinced that I am wrong. I enjoy coming home after work to a quiet house not covered in toddler drool and filled with the bickering of spoiled and ungrateful teenagers and a husband that needs some attention. I like being able to go out at any time of day without worrying about who will breastfeed the baby if I step out.
If you ask me when I am getting married, I am going to tell you some lie about how I am not ready or that it’s not for me. The chances are high that such a response will subject me to a lecture about how I shouldn’t wait to long, time and tide wait for no man (or the Brunei equivalent) or that I shouldn’t think so negatively. Alternatively (if you are the tenth person to broach the subject that day and I am sick of being polite), I tell you that I think people are stupid to give up their independence for marriage and the shackles of parenthood and you are offended because you feel that your life choices are being attacked. After a few awkward “Hmm”s and “Uh”s, we find an excuse to go talk to someone else.
I hope you will agree that neither scenario is particularly desirable.
Dear Brunei, I would like to make a simple request. Let us eradicate this question from the social sphere (unless, of course, the single lady in question is sporting an engagement rock that she is flashing in everyone’s faces). Let us respect each other’s privacy. Let us stop putting single women on the spot by asking them when they are FINALLY going to get married.
Fed up with having to think up witty answers
About the Contributor: Joyce is a dedicated teacher at a Sixth Form centre in Brunei where she daily entreats, begs, threatens, cajoles and teases her students in an attempt to develop their skills in the English Language. She is a self-confessed bibliophile and excessive book addict who enjoys doodling, diving once every school holiday, messing about with bits of paper and string, and dancing in her car at traffic lights. In her free time, she annoys her fighting fish and long-suffering hamster who oversee her day to day adventures. She plagiarises from the Pixar cartoon “Up” to remind everyone that, “Adventure is out there!” and from Tae Joon in “A Beautiful You” to say, “Miracle is just another word for effort.”
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