Review: Merged (2019)

Singapore is always under construction.

You might walk past a field today, only to discover barricades around it tomorrow and that the land will be built into a new condominium in the next year or so. Sometimes older buildings will be demolished to make way for the new, especially if the commercial value of that land trumps its heritage and cultural value. The sounds of bulldozers and cranes have become the backing track to areas close to the heartlands, alongside the bird calls and cars trying to park downstairs a HDB block.

Or sometimes, the KPIs that dictate almost all our economic decisions in this country cause buildings to have an undetermined fate.

Tampines Junior College is no exception to this rule.

In April 2017, eight local Junior Colleges will be merged into four instead. This decision was made due to the dip in annual student intake, which did not come as much of a surprise since the country’s birth rate has been consistently falling over the years.

Despite the logistics and the sense it may make to merge the schools, with Singapore land a constant scarcity right from the beginning, buildings are more than just brick and mortar. These places hold sentimental value for the people who have spent years making memories in every corner.

Merged is an interactive web documentary on Tampines Junior College’s last days on campus, before they merge with Meridian Junior College. The bite-sized videos are interspersed between texts and images of the school.

Besides capturing the facades of the school itself, this documentary also dives deep into the people that have made the school what it is todaythe students, teachers and the various staff of all capacities.

Through the stories and moments shared on camera, becomes a microsite of a collective storybank of what Tampines Junior College means to those it has touched. Besides the sentimentality, it also sheds light on the implications of what a merger entailsloss of jobs, and a change in physical landscape and the nature of the neighbourhood it is a part of.

Informative and candid, the documentary captures the honesty of its interview subjects well and the familiarity in each of their demeanours (friendly ban mian stall owner, anybody?) makes it easy to find yourself a part of the narrative being shared, and empathising.

I appreciate that some perspectives being shared are not ones that we tend to think of, and may very well take for granted. For example, a student shares about why he chose Tampines Junior College and that it has been his dream to attend it, as the first JC student in his family. It made me wonder how accessible a junior college education really is, and how many families may factor in convenience before choosing to send their child there.

And if convenience is a priority for some, then what exactly is Tampines losing besides a landmark and sense of identity of over 30 years?

The interactive documentary begs its audience to take part in this journey to uncovering and asking questions, instead of just being a passive viewer. Through scrolling and clicking links that lead you to different parts of the school, I become a visitor of the school and somehow, learn the little things that make me feel like an insider.

That this merger has something to do with me, and I am a part of its history.

After all, it is all in the small details and these are the things that we tend to miss the most. Some buildings may be demolished, but some memories stay with us for a lifetime.

Merged was featured in The Future of Our Pasts Festival (TFOOPFest), which included two panel discussions and an exhibition. The documentary can be accessed at this link:

Written by Dawn Teo

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