Saturday, December 02, 2006

my Nusantara 2006 article in RPI's Poly Newsletter

I was requested by the Poly's journalist to write an article about our Nusantara 2006 event last April... (doh, our original intention of calling up the Poly is for THEM to write a coverage of our event...). Almost forgot about this article's existence, until I stumbled upon it again, in digital form. Here it is, reproduced for your reading pleasure...


Malaysian students unite with Nusantara <-- (Not my original title btw...)
Posted 04-12-2006 at 7:09PM
Nik Mohamed Nizal
Special to The Poly

Malaysians at RPI are quite an odd bunch. You may see some of them around campus; the girls with bright-colored headscarves scuttling around, always at least in twos or more; the guys who are generally more mild-mannered and sometimes easily mistaken for Mexicans in terms of looks. You might even be familiar with some of them through class or work. The consensus seems to be that yes, they are quite an amiable lot once you get to know them, and they do cook great food, but overall they are somewhat ... withdrawn.

Then came Nusantara 2005. All of a sudden, the West Hall audience was bedazzled with explosions of color and rhythms, of bewitching motions and of artistic postures, of exquisite culture and of mystical myths. For three hours, the people in the audience were transfixed in their seats as we bombarded them with all-out Malaysian-ness like they never experienced before—transfixed, that is, save for the times when we mercifully gave them some pauses to blink, breath, and get some quick refreshments from the food stalls at the back. The event was a tremendous success despite being the first of its kind, and the first of such a large scale—we employed close to a hundred people to run the event, audience turnout was well over 400, and we pulled in about $1200, all of which we donated toward the Tsunami Relief efforts.

That was last year, and with over 30 senior Malaysian students having graduated soon afterward, we were not sure whether we could pull off something of that scale again. Accordingly, we adjusted our approach, and when we held Nusantara II: Rojak! last Saturday, we focused more on the food (which has always received favorable reviews) as well as games, which relies on the cunning formula of letting you entertain yourself rather than us spoonfeeding it to you—more interactivity and active brain processing for you, and less burden for us. There were still onstage shows for those who desired the couch potato style of immersion, only this time, we held the reins a bit; we did not want the performers, who were probably going to both design and assemble the props, handle the stage lighting or some other logistics, and cook and sell food for the night as well.

We did go wild with the room decorations though. Seeing the sheer amount of decorations we had put on all around the McNeil Room, one can’t help but be absorbed in the atmosphere of rustic villages juxtaposed with cosmopolitan cityscapes; what with the handconstructed thatch hut in the games area bordered with picket fences and dotted with river rocks and rolling expanses of paddy fields in the background view; what with a model of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center Twin tower, the world’s second tallest building, gracing one of the pillars and the Kuala Lumpur Tower on the other one; what with the realistic rural-style food stall design contrasted against the city-bound ones, all lined up on the side of roads complete with margin markers and traffic signs.

Nusantara II: Rojak! signifies medleys on many layers as the name indicates. Rojak is a Malaysian cuisine that involves mixed fruit cuts dipped in hot and sweet sauce. Likewise, our event that night featured mixed themes of shows as well as mixed themes of food. There were nine food stalls selling over 15 different dishes covering all aspects of a full-course meal, all authentically Malaysian in their exuberance of taste and freshness of texture, lovingly made with human hands and rich natural ingredients instead of cold industrial machines soaked with artificial chemical substitutes that typify the modern food of the West.

Nusantara II: Rojak! started off with the traditional Dikir Barat, where 10-15 people sat crosslegged (a feat which I heard many westerners find hard to do, if I may smugly remark) on the stage and sang out jovially while letting only their upper body dance. Then it was followed by a humorous wayang kulit (shadow puppet) show, voiced over by none other than the MCs themselves, Kwattz and Mitch. There was then a half an hour break to allow the audience to rush the foodstands. The show continued afterward with a selamat datang (Welcoming) Dance, a colourful performance embedded with many cultural welcoming gestures, if one was to observe carefully. As martial arts demonstrations are the staple of cultural shows, we also took the opportunity to perform ours, with a unique twist of female warriors dominating the show. Another break ensued, and then we had the bagaikan puteri (Like a Princess) Dance, based off from a contemporary Malaysian pop song.

Next was the highlighted How Hot Can You Go contest, a Fear Factor style competition of tongue endurance against increasing levels of hot and spicy Malaysian sauces. The ultimate challenge was called “the Chip’s Sauce” in recognition of the person concocting it, who was notorious for at least one occasion of making sauces so hot yet so good that people can’t stop eating it, even though it resulted in them having diarrhea for two weeks. Incidentally, there was also a hilarious mix-up before the contest when some hopeful youth turned up asking about the “Hot cheerleading competition,” probably due to the misleadingly alluring imagery portrayed in the contest’s posters.

After the contest was the Endang dance, symbolizing the motions of eight ladies washing clothes at a river bend. Yes, for us Malaysians, even the dreary affairs of laundry can be done in an exquisite style. Following that was a short session of auctioning of Malaysian Handicrafts, where half of the profit goes to charity. The last show of the night was a band performance of the song Eyelash, a suitably soothing lullaby to the event’s closure.

Overall, we had about 200 people in attendance. Since each food vendor kept all the profits for their sales, there is no total figure yet, but the charity auction and donation booth collected over $450, which shall be channelled toward United Nation’s World Food Programme, which seeks to address world hunger issues.


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