It was early January 2019 when I met up with Shu Hui from Tzu Chi Foundation. The meeting was set up by a mutual friend, Inn Ping, whom I met when we were both working on our first major theatre production as fresh crew. The production was The Silver River by Theatreworks in 2001. Inn Ping told me that Tzu Chi was going to run a youth centre in Yishun and it’s important to have the arts involved. I went to the meeting not thinking or expecting very much, maybe just to provide some inputs. Perhaps I was too used to working outdoors and without a permanent space.
“We have a lot of space.”
This was the first thing that Shu Hui told me. To create a universe, according to the Big Bang theory which I briefly understand, two things are required. 1) Space and 2) energy. Most people think that we need a lot of things, as in matter, to create something but Einstein has already disproved that. Energy and mass are both sides of the same coin. Matter is destructible, but energy exists indefinitely. Creative people tend to have a lot of energy, and our inner universe keeps expanding because mind space is free to use. But we lack the physical space, especially in Singapore, because this space is very much controlled by power and money. The artist’s universe is often transient and difficult to expand because we are usually offered time to create a work; time is not equivalent to space.
I asked Shu Hui what is the motivation for Tzu Chi to take on a project such as converting an old polyclinic space into a community space. She replied that it is the wish of Master Cheng Yen (founder of Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation) to create a space where people can find space to slow down, reassess and reconnect with themselves. This is of course in line with the values and practices of Humanistic Buddhism. This thinking is also in line with arts engagement (as least what I believe in), where we want to emphasise on the value and agency of human beings by reassessing and reconnecting our places individually and collectively. The humanistic approach is a long process. After many months of conversations to understand and reach a common agreement in philosophy, we went ahead with the decision that arts engagement should feature as an important part of Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre. I wavered for some time if this would mean any religious association, but the long talks with Shu Hui confirms to me that there is respect for the centre partners to be free from any religious evangelism. The other partners include OMG (Onemakersgroup), Circular Asia (former Terra), and Bhumi Lifestyle.
Funnily, we barely talked about what we were actually going to do. Perhaps we all believe that with a common energy, and space, the universe will just emerge and keep expanding with time.