Vivian Tan was home for Christmas from Melbourne after graduation. It was a Friday night when she and a friend entered Barbeza. Lips the bartender greeted them with “Vivian! Want to make friends? There’s an event happening inside. Quick! Go join!” She laughed and brushed Lip’s idea off. At that point all she wanted was her standard Friday night, chatting with her friend and unwinding over a couple of drinks. This was her concept of a Friday night in Ipoh after all. Everything easy and laid-back.
Vivian continues in her own words:
“This place is packed with youngsters, all ready to shine” – a returnee from Melbourne
I sat there talking to my friend but my attention was on what was happening behind him. Every few minutes I would hear a bell ring and people would swap seats and shake hands with the next person they were seated with. During that couple of minutes, people were engrossed in conversation, reading off sheets of paper and jotting down notes. Curious about the energy, I was interested and wanted to be part of it.
Lips introduced me to Joanna Gough who was in charge of this interesting activity. She gave me a quick run through and before I knew it I was seated talking to another participant. I referred to the sheets of paper Joanna gave me, following the instructions. It contained some examples of questions I should ask, things I should and should not do. It was telling me to get to know the other person, the aim was to make friends and share ideas. This has the concept of speed dating, I thought. Except this ‘chat’ made the whole idea seem more approachable.
Then it hit me; I’m participating in a little event in Ipoh. It did not matter that it was a little event; it is the fact that there are people who are making the effort to create connections, to share their ideas. It takes one person to go the extra mile and make it happen and I realised that the people around me were all interested in this idea; they just needed to be brought together.
Speedychatz – A personal Social Network
I sat down over coffee with Joanna, the brainchild behind Speedychatz. There is a much bigger picture behind this event. Speedychatz was created so that each individual is given the opportunity to build a personal social network. It connects everyone for the greater benefit of self development and allows people to collaborate with each other and push their ideas forward.
“The youths who stay in Ipoh need to be connected to the society around them not only on a local level but also on an international level. Living in Ipoh with its slower pace of life, I personally think that the youth here have greater opportunities of learning than if they were in Kuala Lumpur. I learnt many, many skills and heard many stories from the adults and experienced/retired elders here. Growing up here, at age 4 I helped design a stage for my church. At 8, I was raising funds with my friends for the old folks home; at 14, I wrote for a newspaper and at 16 I was creating concepts to rake in at least RM2000 in 45 minutes and when I went to KL for my tertiary education, I noticed how different my life was from many other youths around my age. From then on, I got hired for jobs based on my attitude, personality, skills, connections…and never once wrote a resume. I learnt entirely from my community and knew how to deal with problems from a young age. That was my asset growing up in Ipoh. It’s because I had a strong community who supported me since I was a child. The funny part though, is that everyone thinks I’m so smart because I’ve studied in America, a place I’ve never been”, chuckles Joanna Gough.
Where are our Ipoh Youths headed in the next 10 years
The online registration of TEDxIpoh (story on page 10) was an overwhelming response from the 18-25 year olds, most wanting to learn, connect and be inspired to push the city forward. The older generation of Ipoh were also interested in the topics and wanted to, in some way, discuss through an open dialogue or contribute. When Speedychatz was held on December 7, it saw people from Egypt, Austria, returning fresh grads from Australia mixing with 60+ year old ‘Uncles’, one from Amnesty International Ipoh, and where a 21-year-old participant exclaimed that one of the Indian ‘Uncles’ was so cool because he was traveling to China at the end of the month.
“The youths of today are slowly going to start putting themselves in positions that will allow them to grow. The most important factor of growth is connections. Around the city, we are already starting to see the desire for youths to connect. Everyone wants to be where everyone is at. Within this year, communities are going to open up. Collaboration ties and ideas are going to start flourishing. Energy is based on fun. And fun will be ‘The Everything’,” continued Joanna.
Lifestyle: Food and Fashion
The food industry already has youths setting up franchises and restaurants around the city. However, the quality of food and service at these restaurants are in no way competitive on a global market. The current generation of youths are leaning towards more concept dining. Most of these restaurants are concept-based with less emphasis on food. A good example would be Sakai where the menu is basic with pastas, chicken and fish but it is the innovative décor that appeals to the youth of Ipoh. The restaurant has its dining area in sand, like a beach, with soft blue neon lights for room ambience.
Malaysia being a food haven and Ipoh, being branded as a food heaven, is going to see a drop in reputation if culinary skills are not upgraded. The current/future generation of food makers in Ipoh are going to compete with Kuala Lumpur, Penang and eventually other cities. Our hawker food is second to none and renowned throughout SE Asia. But it’s a start to know that these days, people don’t just eat the food, they take photos of it before eating and immediately update the shots to their Facebook profile to tell the world what they’re eating. The evolution will continue from there.
Digital Entertainment and Sustainable Living
As Digital Entertainment in Ipoh is slow in picking up, it’ll be awhile before actors, dancers, producers, artists and all those involved in visual arts, jump in and push forward the talent field.
On the other hand, heritage conservation in Ipoh is starting to see a rise in interest. The concept of ‘Preserving the Past in the Present’ in keeping the interior designs rustic and bringing a semblance of nature into city projects such as: SeKeping Kong Heng’s Boutique Hotel, Burps and Giggles Cafe and Bricks and Barrels Pub. These are fine examples of sustainable developments and are aligned with world standards. According to renowned architects, Hubert Klumpner and Alfredo Brillembourg “The sustainable cities of the future, can’t be built (or built out) from scratch; sustainable urbanism will require retrofitting and reimagining existing infrastructure. Throughout the world, the new will be built on or in the old.”
Ipoh has great potential in Architecture and Design, but it’s about time we stopped and really understand what our society is all about rather than to implement a one fit MSC architecture resembling Malaysia all the way from Johor to Malacca to KL to Ipoh.
What reflects our society? Our youths seem to prefer ‘Chillout Comfort and Clean Scandinavian Interiors’ (as seen in shophouses); in retro looking spaces, such as: Jubilee Park (S.O.S nightclub), Bricks and Barrels on Jalan Lau Ek Ching, Burps and Giggles on Jalan Sultan Yussuf (Old Town) and the inimitable SeKeping Kong Heng. Are we heading in that direction? Clearly our youths enjoy the old colonial buildings of the past with a clean interior. Preservation of architecture is key.
Where do we go from here?
“People can use Speedychatz to solve problems. One person’s problem may be another’s solution; everyone can help each other out. All they have to do is talk about it and immediately they can get connected to the right people. Ipoh is a ‘small town’ where everyone knows everybody who is a somebody. We’ll get there”, explained Joanna.
‘By fostering a community, which caters to everybody, we all want to be heard but we often do not know how to go about doing this and in a way Speedychatz gives its members a sense of identity and more importantly, a voice,” concluded Joanna, an iconoclastic young person who has set her sights on shaking up Ipoh.
I celebrated the New Year in Ipoh this year. I mentioned earlier in this article what my perception of Ipoh is. A few words come to mind: laid-back, quiet, relaxing, food. However, this New Year’s Eve, we were caught in a traffic jam for about two hours; every now and then we would hop out and get rejected by the numerous bars in which we thought we could pass the night. I was taken aback; the whole town was flooded with people. What happened to my quiet little hometown? I thought nothing happened around here. Clearly, I thought wrong. This place is packed with youngsters, all ready to shine.
Vivian Tan & Joanna Gough