Fresh take on Chinese Singaporean culture by youth at Re-Mix 2K22

In Re-Mix 2K22, crochet artist Hayley Sim presents a modernised version of the samfoo while retaining its traditional elements. PHOTO: HAZEL SIM
In Re-Mix 2K22, crochet artist Hayley Sim presents a modernised version of the samfoo while retaining its traditional elements. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HAZEL SIM

SINGAPORE – The samfoo, which was worn in different variations by Chinese Singaporean women right up till the mid-20th century, will take the spotlight at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre’s Re-Mix 2K22 youth cultural festival from Friday to Nov 27. 

In her installation called Samfoo: Re-imagined In Modern Singapore, crochet artist Hayley Sim brings the traditional everyday attire into the contemporary wardrobe with her modern interpretations. 

Samfoo, the Cantonese term for the humble set of upper garment and loose trousers, has been neglected in favour of the cheongsam, she says in an interview with The Straits Times.

The 19-year-old created seven sets of a top and matching bottom, with each piece portraying modern living in Singapore and with a choice of yarn blend, colour and silhouette. She gets her inspiration from local icons such as the Toa Payoh dragon playground and her favourite snack, kuih piring.

“I had a vision of showing some styles and ways in which the traditional samfoo could have evolved if more people had been interested in it,” she says.

But, she adds: “I stuck to the idea that the top and bottom of the samfoo are constructed from the same fabric, and I used the same colours and stitches for each set.”

The Lasalle College of the Arts student, who is taking the Creative Direction for Fashion course, says she was drawn to the samfoo’s silhouette and impressed by how comfortable and utilitarian the garment is.

“I think the samfoo is an important aspect of Singapore fashion history, as it tells of the Chinese women of the past and what they endured,” she says.

She started learning her craft after her O-level exams in November 2019 when she saw a YouTube video on how to make a Rilakkuma bear keychain. She has been hooked on it ever since. She now has a sizeable Instagram following of more than 30,000 at @softlymadecottage, which brings her commissions for the items she models.

“The main idea of crochet is doing the same motions over and over again to create the fabric,” she says. “I find it really relaxing. It helps to take my mind off things.”

Re-Mix was first held in 2020 for youth to learn more about Chinese Singaporean culture and spark their interest in embarking on their own cultural journey. Its on-site activities, including art exhibitions, street dance competitions, concerts and an escape room game, offer visitors a fresh take on Chinese Singaporean culture.

In an installation titled Flavours On Call, 24-year-old Ong Leang Ren, a film undergraduate at Lasalle College of the Arts, hopes to raise awareness of Chinese banquet culture among the younger generation.

For example, he says, why must the whole chicken and not just chicken wings be served? What is “yum seng”? Through visuals, he hopes to introduce banquet history and fun facts to visitors.

“It has been a struggle for mobile banquet services to get the interest of the younger generation due to the lack of venue amenities like air-conditioning,” he said. “Over the years of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of those working in these services have also retired.”

Born into a family that owns an egg supply business – he has two older brothers and two older sisters – he grew up hearing stories of cooks working at makeshift banquets and their struggles. To him, they serve up food that is nearly on a par with hotel fare, but suffer from a lack of public appreciation. 

“The older generation may not be good in expressing themselves and their culture,” he says. “To ensure that we have a continuous record of Chinese Singaporean history, it is up to the younger generation to comprehend and help document it.”

Re-Mix 2K22 will be held at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre at 1 Straits Boulevard from Friday to Nov 27. All the events are free. Go to remix.singaporeccc.org.sg for more information.

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