From a Dutch woman offering electric trishaw rides to the elderly, a young Malay artist picking up Chinese calligraphy from a renowned master calligrapher, to an international dragon boat team bonding over beer and intense training sessions — these are some of the authentic and undiscovered stories featured in a new short film series called “One Dish at a Time” in Singapore.
The series released here in the city-state recently showcase authentic stories about how friendships between local Singaporeans and foreigners are forged through food.
Presented by media company Tenshell and supported by Singapore’s National Integration Council, the film premiere was held on Sept. 6 at the National Gallery Singapore.
Gracing the event was guest-of-honour Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, representatives of the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, China and Bangladesh and 200 invited guests.
Tenshell was founded in 2018 by veterans in the film and television industry, such as Tan Chih Chong, Wen Nanfei and prolific director Boris Boo, who made his directorial debut in 2009 when he co-directed Where Got Ghost? with Jack Neo.
The series, which currently span five episodes, kicks off with the first episode “A Simple Gesture”, which features an unlikely friendship between Singaporean beauty trainer Sharon Han and Madam Gu Yongchun, a grandmother in her 60s from East China’s Jiangsu Province.
Intrigued by the sight of Madam Gu jogging speedily around the Bukit Panjang estate and swinging energetically on the monkey bars, Sharon struck up a conversation with her.
A few weeks later, Sharon heard a knock on her door, only to discover that Madam Gu had tirelessly gone door-to-door to track her down in order to gift her with some homemade dumplings. Later, Sharon invited her to dinner and prepared dishes like sweet and sour pork.
“Food brings people together. Sharing a meal bridges cultural divides and connects people of differing backgrounds…and ultimately helps create a more inclusive and cohesive society for everyone,” said Wen Nanfei, executive producer of the “One Dish at a Time” series.
In the second episode of the series, “In Pursuit”, it traces the extraordinary journey of Bangladeshi construction worker Ali Md Mamun, who has lived in Singapore for the last 11 years.
With the encouragement of his former manager, Mamun sacrificed his rest days and studied late into the night, just so he could enroll himself into the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
Now, he has completed three years of studies at the ITE and is midway through a specialist diploma with the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore.
Mamun has also started an informal volleyball group called Bangladeshi Friends, which has since expanded to include workers from other nationalities. The film depicts Mamun enjoying mutton curry with his friends.
He went from being helped by his mentor, to helping others,” said Tan, fellow executive producer.
In another episode, “Shoulder to Shoulder”, it spotlights German Dragons Singapore, a rowing team of Singaporeans who had studied or worked in Germany.
Founded in 1998, it evolved to include a contingent of Singaporeans, Germans and people all over the world who race internationally.
It showcases the camaraderie between former captain Thomas Gascou, a Swiss national, and current captain Jamues Ng, a Singaporean, who share a love for the same sport.
Above it all, they have become a big family where teammates bond over beer and potluck.
“It’s not just a bunch of people rowing down the river on a Sunday and then having a potluck. They train very seriously, they train to win. In the sense, they are putting us on the world map,” said Tan.
Other stories show Malay artist Malik Mazlan’s journey of being caught between two cultures while pursuing Chinese calligraphy, and the relationship between Marieke Bink, chief executive of charity Cycling Without Age and her first trishaw passenger Aunty Annie, who whips up Peranakan food and has since become the surrogate grandmother to Bink’s two daughters.
It was a challenge to source for good stories with nuance and depth, and the team relied on word-of-mouth to find these stories. “There are so many interesting things happening in Singapore that not many know about,” said Tan.
Sharing her biggest takeaway from the project, Wen said, “The distance between people is short. When there is kindness and grace, there is no race divide. Friendship, trust, and beautiful things will follow.”
Going forward, the team is planning to reach out to more schools locally to screen the One Dish at a Time short film series, as well as to collaborate with film production students from various polytechnics to produce more of such episodes.
This October, it has been invited by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) to screen the series at an event on inclusion and integration. Enditem