A little introduction on the Young News Network and The Next Change:
The Young News Network is a group of young adults who wants to voice out their views– visually. Besides making videos on interesting discoveries which can be found on Switchup.TV, they also organise camps and video journalism workshops for teenagers.
The Next Change is the second Young News Network workshop of the year. It is a visual communications camp where members of the Young News Network will explore effective and creative ways of telling stories in videos, audio slides and photo essays.
16th December 2011, Friday
The first day of the workshop was held at the Cyberhub at Menara Star. That morning, I was sort of late and by the time I reached Level 2, most of the other participants were already there. It was my first time meeting most of the lower secondary Starstruckers: Amber Kiew, Wong Jo-yen, Chelsea Teoh, Sitti Najihah (not a lower secondary but she couldn’t attend the internship so it was my first time meeting her in person), Vanneeda Keowmang (ditto Najihah’s case), Kathy Chin (also not a lower secondary but her internship starts right after the camp), Wong Yen Ni, Manson Kho (ditto Kathy’s case except for the fact that he didn’t get the internship), Shareka Logendran and Cassandra Yeoh.
However, we Starstruck! ones weren’t the only participants of this event. Five were non-Starstruck! people: Ember Loh, Chelsea Wong, Yeoh Wei Jeat, Ilyas Chow and Daniel…something.
After a round of introductions, we entered the Cyberhub to start the workshop. Tan Ju-Eng from New Media department was the head facilitator of the entire event while the other facilitators were Jo, Jac, Lisan, Sonia, Adrian, Ebrahim and one other girl whose name I cannot remember (I’M SORRY).
After a brief introduction on the Young News Network, all 30 of us were sorted into four groups of seven and eight. My teammates were Ellora, Paik Suan, Kathy, Le Shea, Najihah, Jo-yen and Wei Jeat. We had the first round of ice-breaking that involved cats and dogs and ducks and wolves and tigers and donkeys while the second round was a memory game.
After that, we launched deeper into the real thing. Lisan showed us several Switchup.TV footages of the Bersih rally, and also a 13-minute “How to cook frogs” video that made me and most other people squirm and fidget in our seats. Now that we’ve already gotten a brief idea of what we were supposed to do during the four-day workshop, we were given Videocam 101 lessons. Granted, I wasn’t paying much attention to the tutorial because a) it hasn’t really stuck in my mind yet that we were really, genuinely going to create a real video by the end of the workshop, complete with interviews and scenery shots and whatnot as well as b) if we were going to produce a decent video, I sure as hell wouldn’t be the videographer. It just didn’t seem legit. Me? A videographer? I can’t even take decent photos, much less decent videos; but for all I knew, Life had been sending trollface signals to me all day but I was too blinded by my own blissful ignorance and indifference to notice it.
The next challenge came as a total surprise: everyone had to stand in front of camera and talk about…anything. I was the second person to talk. Needless to say, I stammered and stuttered until I didn’t even sound understandable to my own ears. It wouldn’t have been that way if I knew what to say but that was just the problem: I didn’t know what to say at all. Paik Suan, who was before me, started talking about the internship so, desperate, I decided to talk about the internship too. But my brain, being a natural troll, began to hand me a blank sheet as soon as I stood in front of the camera, hence the awkward stammering and stuttering. Later, when I headed back to my seat, my brain did another trollface stint again by handing me paragraphs of the incident that happened last night (my fake pneumonia scare) and then I realised, goddammit, I should’ve just talked about that but it was too late.
The emphasis of the videojournalism workshop was to think in visuals. Hence, the next session had everyone close their eyes and taste/smell/feel random things the facilitators passed around and draw the first image that came to mind. We tasted coffee beans, felt lotion and I am convinced it was a KFC lunch we smelled but they refused to tell us what it was to maintain the “suspense”.
The highlight of the workshop that day has got to be the storyboard session. Each group had to come up with eight clips on a storyboard complete with openings, bridges and closings narrated by a stand-upper to be presented in front of everyone. My group did a story about a girl and her gay best friend who spent their holiday in Paris. There, they both met this really hot guy complete with a six-pack and both of them fell in love with him. However, things turned out to be a tragedy for the girl when the hot guy announced that he was gay. So the girl’s gay best friend got together with gay hot guy and depressed, the girl went shopping and somehow got spotted by a model scout and got turned into a model. And everyone lived happily ever after. The end. My group also performed it in front of everyone and Le Shea was the girl, Wei Jeat was the gay best friend, Najihah was the hot guy and Paik Suan was the stand-upper. It was hilarious. But hands down best storyboard goes to Min Hui’s group, who did Princess Fiona’s Adventures: Around the World in 8 Clips. Before you ask, yes, this is sort of a Starstruck! inside joke so…yeah. Sorry.
Five o’ clock came quickly and before we knew it, all 24 Starstruckers were preparing for our Starstruck! Night, a mini self-organised gathering slash dinner since we were as complete as the Starstruck! family could get. All of us headed for 1Utama in two vans (courtesy of The Star themselves) and we just randomly walked into the first restaurant we could find: TGI Friday’s.
It was my second time eating out at TGI Friday’s ever since I came to KL, and this time, I was wise enough to share my course meal with Min Hui. I almost couldn’t finish my portion even when sharing, but in the end, I did anyway.
It already sounded like a perfect night but things took a turn for the better when people clad in TGI Friday’s uniforms started singing “Happy birthday” and at first, I thought they’d gotten the wrong table until I found out: they were celebrating Kyle and Amanda’s birthdays! It wasn’t their real birthday yet but somehow, someone (hint hint nudge nudge, Alicia) must’ve told the restaurant people who then decided to spring a birthday surprise on both of them.
Both Kyle and Amanda had to stand on top of two chairs while holding ketchup bottles as fake mics. With much persuasion on our behalf, Kyle (and also Amanda, who joined in eventually) started singing Friday! Granted, it was only the chorus, but it was as good as any. Soon enough, everyone at the table started to sing along to the addicting tune by Rebecca Black and that was when I realised, it was an infinite moment, an infinite night.
(Irony alert: We were all singing Friday on a Friday at TGI Friday’s.)
Kyle gave his speech, thanking us for the “pleasant” birthday surprise, his voice dripping with sarcasm, and ending it with a confession of his undying love for Rebecca Black. Amanda’s speech was slightly less malevolent, exclaiming that Starstruck! was the best thing that has happened to her this year and that it was her best birthday party ever. Everyone broke into laughter, hugging each other and screaming “Happy birthday!”s at the top of our lungs, and I realised that this group right here, Starstruck! 2011, was the best family of friends I could ever have, and that I belonged here. I was accepted and liked here. I would never trade that night for anything.
17th December 2011, Saturday
We gathered at Menara Star at 8.30 that morning where we waited for the bus with our luggage. I brought along a backpack, a sleeping bag and a duffel bag.
That was also the morning when Ellora and Ann-Marie made a viral trend out of my Last Friday Night video which I made for Beneh for her birthday in which I, uh, danced along to Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night. I was greeted that morning with my own dance moves and everything went downhill (well, perhaps for some it’s uphill) from there. This was worse than the time my schoolmates found out about the video. Thanks, insane Starstruckers. (Also, what is it with Starstruck! and Friday?)
It was a 2-hour bus ride from PJ to Bentong and we even had to alight from the bus to get into jeeps which are apparently the only vehicles that are accessible to our campsite. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: are they sending us into the jungle or what?
Well, sort of. Eight Acres (and a little bit more) is a holiday resort literally located in the middle of nowhere. It was just oil palm plantations, then durian orchards, then trees, trees and more trees before we finally caught our first glimpse of Eight Acres, and despite the absence of genuine civilisation, the place was ethereally beautiful. The first thing we saw was this ginormous bungalow complete with tatami mats, paper doors and transparent sliding doors as well as a huge pond right in front of it which was filled with bright pink lotuses and lily pads.
However, we were particularly dismayed when we found out that we wouldn’t be staying in the aforementioned bungalow. On the contrary, we would be sleeping in tents. It wasn’t a nice thing for most people to take in and while I might agree, I was also mildly curious as to how sleeping in a tent would be like since I’ve never really done it before.
After unloading our luggage and being sorted into our tents (Claire and Shareka were my tentmates), all of us headed for the bungalow. Bright side: at least our activities will be held in the bungalow; not-so-bright side: the path from the tents to the bungalow was winding, steep, muddy, rocky and slippery. Oh, and it rained almost all the time every single day. By the time I reached the bungalow, it felt as if I’d run a full-on marathon (lol, in your face, Michelle’s under-exercised muscles).
In the bungalow, we got into our groups and decided on our group names. Ann-Marie’s group was called Cepumas (shakes head exasperatedly), Amanda’s group was called Pisang Emas or Bananas, Eibhlin’s group was called Ayamas and our group was called– Christmas! You see the trend here? When Ju-Eng gave us the name suggestion, I accepted it straight away without even consulting the other members (I am so, so sorry) but what can I say? I love Christmas!
Ju-Eng gave stern speeches again, and somewhere in the middle of that, I came to the realisation that this was real. We’re going to be making a legit video. All by ourselves. Hence, by the time her speech ended and we were instructed to give out roles to all members in the respective group, I was starting to get nervous.
It turned out that I had good reason to be nervous, because at the mention of “videographers”, Ellora pointed to me and Kathy, since Kathy said she’s a compact camera user but apparently Ellora chose me because I made a video of myself dancing to Last Friday Night. That’s penguin logic, that is, Ellora.
Ellora got voted as the producer (hah!), Najihah and Jo-yen were the script writers whereas Wei Jeat was the video editor. The rest were members of the post-production crew.
Our assignment was to interview an interesting personality in Eight Acres itself, Kelvin Henry, who is a former karate player and a part-time pilot who is in Eight Acres as a volunteer. Bananas’ assignment involved Bentong’s durian trading post, Ayamas’ assignment involved pit cooking and Cepumas’s assignment involved Eight Acres itself. Needless to say, I was quite glad of our assignment as it was a relatively simple one.
Lisan and Ebrahim were our mentors, so being a seasoned videographer, Ebrahim gave Kathy and I a brief lesson on how to handle the cameras. Kathy got to use the incredibly adorable pink Nikon compact camera and I got to use the Panasonic HD videocam. The scary, black, huge one. The one you see reporters use on TV. This one:
Needless to say, I wasn’t a confident kid that day. But I decided to just try my best because since when were we professionals anyway? Give a kid a heavy videocam and give him lessons for an hour and let’s see how professional he can get.
Anyway, we did up our storyboard before dinner and were brimming with confidence by the time we finished it. After dinner, games like pushing-people-while-you’re-leaping-on-one-leg-only and Simon Says (I was the Simon!!!) were played. After that, we were sorted into pairs (or in my case, trios) and each pair (or trio) was given a lantern to be hung on the spots where ribbons were tied to, and they were on tree branches, benches, tent flaps etc the surroundings of Eight Acres. Then, based on the paper tied to the ribbons, we had to create a drawing. The story on our paper described how a little girl asked her uncle why he was alone with no home and he told the story of how he broke his lover’s heart but now that she’s dead, he still loved her. Everyone had different verses, but apparently, the idea was pretty much the same. The drawings were collected, and later only did we find out that our drawings were scanned and compiled into a slideshow which was also an interpretation of a 1980s’ song called After The Ball written by Charles K. Harris. Eventually, everyone started singing along to the song despite the fact that it was our first time hearing it. Ju-Eng then explained how powerful visuals and music are, combined.
All of us went to bed (or rather, tent) early that night since we decided to wake up at 5 next morning to film the sunrise as part of our assignment. Let me tell you that walking uphill then downhill on muddy slopes in pitch black save for a torchlight to guide your way is not something you want to do especially when you’re dead beat. We managed it anyway and arrived at our tents, only to have to ascend the hill again to use the toilet at the higher and bigger tents (ours weren’t equipped with toilet stalls, hmph). After all that, we climbed down again and into our tents. We were told that it was going to be freezing cold what with the endless rain so I had my sweater ready. Despite the uncomfortable condition I was in (three people in a small tent, in sleeping bags on a thin yoga mat with half a pillow which I shared with Shareka), I fell asleep quickly and didn’t even wake up once because I was too tired.
18th December 2011, Sunday
Whoever warned us about the cold should come spend a night in the smaller tents because when I woke up, I was sweating. I was the first one in the tent to wake up because Claire and Shareka’s groups had later morning calls. It was still drizzling so I put on my poncho and brushed my teeth at the nearby sink, the only light source being my torchlight since 5 AM was still pitch black.
After getting my knapsack and putting on my poncho, I was already ready to head for the bungalow when I realised a) no one was awake yet and b) there were no lights at the bungalow. I hesitated between waiting for someone from my group to wake up and heading for the bungalow in the dark anyway. In the end, I decided with the latter since everyone was going to be heading for the bungalow eventually anyway with or without me waiting for them.
Right then, walking in the rain with my poncho on in the dark, I felt like a hobbit headed for Mordor. It must be the poncho; it felt like a cape.
It was a hard journey, since my torchlight was running low on battery and I had to stop on occasions to switch it off then on again to actually get it to shine. In the end, I gave up on my torchlight and had to switch on my phone to use the torchlight app to actually see in the dark.
I was almost reaching the bungalow already when I heard a loud thump sound just right behind me. My heart literally leaped and I almost screamed. The first image that came to mind was that someone had dropped their water bottle on the floor, but that wasn’t right, because if someone was there, I would’ve known. No one could possibly walk in the dark like this without some kind of light source. So I shone my phone towards the source of the sound and found– a durian.
A durian. That missed my head by mere inches.
I shone my phone at the trees above my head and found more durians.
It was a hazard zone.
It was one of those moments when I felt as if my life hung on a thread; a durian could fall down and hit me on my head at any moment and that would be the end of me.
I started running back (as close to running as I can get, anyway) towards the campsite, ignoring the mud and the puddles, desperate to get away from durian trees. There were myths that durians won’t fall on people’s heads even if they stand under them but I wasn’t ready to debunk that myth just yet. Fortunately, as I neared the campsite, I saw another light source ahead and heard someone yelling, “Who’s that?” It was Paik Suan. Relief flooded my entire body and I told her it was me.
My second journey towards the bungalow was worse because this time, not only do I have to avoid the mud and puddles, I had to avoid the durian trees too.
Despite everything, I managed to survive, so at least that’s something I can tell people now. (“I walked downhill in pitch black, avoiding dropping durians at the same time while it was raining with only a torchlight app to guide me. Beat that.“)
Both Paik Suan and I were the first ones to reach the bungalow and we had to wait for the others. Eventually, our whole group turned up but our spirits were abruptly splashed with cold, freezing water when the owner of the campsite, Mr Kam, heard our arrival and told us that in this weather, we would be lucky if we could see the sun even at noon when we told him our motive. There went our sunrise filming plan.
We spent the next hour lazing about while waiting for the other campers to wake up. Waking up at 5 in the morning for nothing was frustrating, but surprisingly, I was quite energetic because I’d gotten 7 hours of sleep the night before. After breakfast (we had nasi lemak), we began our filming.
Before I continue, let me just tell you that we were probably the luckiest group because not only did we get the relatively simpler assignment, we also got a friendly and supportive subject. Kelvin was ready to do whatever we told him to, so firstly, we followed him to the pond where he carried out his first activity of the day: feeding fish. After that, we headed for the horse stables where he fed the two horses there (Zeus and Athena) as well as clean up their dung. Jo-yen interviewed him a little about the horses too. Next up was -and to quote Kelvin- the “Five Zorros”, which in this case, referred to the extremely annoying tormented souls in the form of geese. The sounds these geese make can make your ears bleed even from miles away.
With all the routines done, we had a proper interview session during which Kelvin was as supporting as ever with just the right amount of charm. We did some scenery shots of the waterfall and morning mist before calling it a wrap.
We were the first group to finish shooting that day, at around 10 AM. The rest of the day was then spent on video editing, and although I didn’t help much in this department, it was a real feat for the video editor of our group. The editing actually carried on until midnight, and even then, it wasn’t complete yet.
I spent that day mostly camwhoring with Ann-Marie, Ellora, Min Hui, Wee Nie and Le Shea, as well as chatting non-stop with these fabulous people about anything and everything when boredom and stress took over.
That night, I gained back all the weight I lost from the hill hiking by filling my plate with barbecued lamb, chicken, beef and turkey straight out of the pit. Pit, as in pit cooking, as in digging a hole in the ground and lighting charcoal in it to grill raw meat. It was simply fantastic, complete with spaghetti and potato salad. I would say I regret the influx of calories but I don’t regret it at all.
We also had quite a huge karaoke party that night when the power generator went off again (it went off about 10 times a day, every few hours, and that was when everyone’s editing had to come to a halt in case of sudden laptop blackouts which would discard all the saved work). The party comprised of Ann-Marie, Ellora, Kyle, Paik Suan, Wee Nie, Le Shea, Min Hui and I. Friday and Last Friday Night were definitely in the playlist, as well as Superbass and Price Tag. It was amazing. We were making such a huge racket but I didn’t care because really, screaming along with your newfound friends to a song in pitch black darkness is not something you get to do everyday.
Most people wanted to crash at the bungalow since their editing wasn’t done yet but the facilitators threatened to switch off the power generator totally if they didn’t leave the premise by midnight. So, by midnight, we had to drag our derrieres to our tents anyway.
That night, I found it harder to sleep as I wasn’t as tired as I was the previous night and woke up several times in the middle of the night, only to be safely lullabied back to sleep by the gentle pitter-patter of the rhythm of the rain.
19th December 2011, Monday
The last day of camp saw me waking up at 7 AM reluctantly. After cleaning up, I started to pack my stuff as we would be leaving in the afternoon on that day.
Then, Min Hui and I went down the slopes together to get to the bungalow. Funny episode: Min Hui’s shoe got stuck in the mud and she perpetually couldn’t get it out and Min Hui, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry but it was really too funny what with your hysterical squeals and all. But yes, I did help, regardless of what you say! I offered you a limb! That’s not what everyone would do for a friend, hah!
The entire morning was spent touching up on our videos, and thankfully, all four teams managed to meet the deadline by 11.30 AM. Being the first group to finish with our shootings, we were one of the last ones to actually finish the entire video. But in the end, we were all quite satisfied with our video and applause erupted when we can finally call our video “done”.
There were more camwhore sessions as the facilitators compiled all our videos, and then it was viewing and judging time.
Everyone was given a piece of paper to rank all four videos according to to their preferences. Ayamas was first– pit cooking. Despite the fact that they met many obstacles in the process, their video turned out to be a decent one. In fact, I thought Cassandra was great as a stand-upper and I was pretty sure everyone was salivating by the end of the video. The next group was Cepumas and it was a tour around Eight Acres as well as an interview session with the owner of the place, Mr Kam. Ours was third, and as it was played in front of everyone, despite little of my effort in the production of this video, I felt quite proud to be a part of the production crew. There’s just something amazing when you achieve something you’ve never dreamt of doing before. I mean, videographer? Me? If you’d told me I’d be a videographer before the camp, I would’ve thought you were barking mad. In fact, I still don’t really believe what I’ve done. Granted, it wasn’t exactly excellent, but at least now I can tell people that I’ve shot a 35-minute footage of horses, geese, fish and an interview session with an interesting personality before. Pretty sure not many 16-year-olds can say the same. (Narcissism.)
Click the link below to watch our video:
The last group was Bananas, Amanda’s group, and can I just say, Lee Min Hui for all the stand-upper awards. Seriously. It’s hard not to love Min Hui as the stand-upper in the video. Their video was about the durian trading post in Bentong and despite the fact that it was the hardest and most boring assignment of all, they managed to make it a superb one. My eyes were practically glued to the screen throughout the 3 minutes of the video. The effects were great, as was the storyboard. Hence, it wasn’t really any wonder that Bananas won the Best Video Award. I knew the entire team had put in a lot of effort into the video (judging by the stream of curse words Amanda had emitted during the video editing process) so if anyone deserved the award, it was them. Great job, you guys!
After that, we had a certificate-giving session as well as a group photoshoot. Hugs and murmurs of gratitude and appreciation towards the owners and facilitators of Eight Acres as well as the Young News Network team ensued. Here, I would like to thank Lisan and Ebrahim for being splendid mentors, as well as Ju-Eng for organising this camp at all. Sure, Ju-Eng can be scarily strict and stern at most times, but deep down, I know she meant well. Sometimes, the muddy and rainy surroundings as well as the constant blackouts and unavailability of phone networks and the Internet of Eight Acres which is literally located in the middle of nowhere can be pains in the asses, but I found out that I left Eight Acres with a heavy heart. Despite the absence of civilisation for two and a half days, leaving this wonderful and peaceful place was hard. It was only when I was in the jeep with Kyle, Vanneeda, Chelsea and Wei Jeat that I realised I hadn’t really appreciated most of the amazing things here. The waterfall, the horses, the lakes, the geese (despite their soul-tormenting cries) and the beautiful bungalow itself. And in spite of all the “I’ll be back soon!”s, I know I won’t be back soon, because the circumstances under which I’ll be paying Eight Acres a visit another time aren’t bound to be knocking on my door anytime soon. Eight Acres will definitely be a place I miss.
It was another bumpy jeep ride back to civilisation. Civilisation. Cars and tar roads and factories seemed foreign then. But finally, with the availability of phone networks again, we were all happy campers.
“Expect the unexpected,” Ju-Eng told us again and again during the camp, and now I finally get what she’d meant. Of course, the “unexpected” can be both good or bad, but the biggest unexpected incident of all unexpected incidents was my mere participation of the camp. If I wasn’t selected as an intern, I wouldn’t in a million years think of joining The Next Change, claiming that “I knew nothing about videojournalism” and “staying in the middle of nowhere for two and a half days is going to kill me”. But now that I’ve returned from this camp, I am grateful that I did, because I definitely had endless fun there, and I made precious friendships along the way. Who knew a camp about making videos could be so eye-opening and fun at the same time?
“Really” the End
We reached Menara Star at around 4 PM and the Starstruckers had to stay back for a little certificate-giving ceremony. Anne and Jeannette brought us up to the Warm Red meeting room again and I wasn’t prepared when Anne called out the five of us interns from the first batch to give speeches about the experiences and lessons we obtained from the month-long internship.
Two thoughts that popped into my mind at the time: 1) Oh shit, whatever am I going to say? and 2) Oh shit, this really is the end now. Like, the end end.
I went third, after Paik Suan, and needless to say, I stuttered and stammered in front of all the Starstruckers, Anne, Jeannette and Leanne Goh, an associate editor. It was embarrassing, but somehow, being embarrassed in front of my Starstruck! family…wasn’t very embarrassing at all. Almost everyone in the crowd knew how I was anyway, so I didn’t really have to explain my nervousness and anxiety to them.
After that, with many heartfelt goodbyes and hugs, I left with Min Hui, because Hoon Jie Jie had to go out for an early dinner. When I finally reached San Ku’s house, I gave Min Hui another hug, realising that this could probably be the last time we meet, and savoured the moment. It was hard to contain my emotions as I said “goodbye”, because this really is goodbye now.
As Min Hui’s car drove away, and I stepped into San Ku’s house, my heart ached due to the end of something amazing, but at the same time, I also thanked God for the magical wonders he’d presented my life with for the past month.