When I was a student in KL, people would giggle each time I say I’m from Penang. They’d test their “Hokkien” out on me and ask me why Penang people say certain things so differently from others.
Later on, it dawned upon me that people regard Penangites as weird because of our dialect, habits, cuisine and …perhaps coz we’re a city island makes it a bit fascinating to non-Penang people. (Personally, I strongly dislike the sound of the word “Penangite”. The sound of it is so sengau…..) – Penang people were also, apparently, (in)famous for the way we conduct business…and the way we drive as we go our way to conduct our daily business.
About a year ago, I became obsessed with branding, promoting and selling Penang. I had no idea at the time whether we were bidding for or had won that Heritage thingy-thingy. I just got to know about that Hertitage thingy-thingy a couple of months ago. (Yes, I’m ignorant…you can go laugh yourself silly now.) Not that I was doing anything about my obsession; but day and night I was visualizing Penang as a cauldron and we had discovered alchemy – we were making Gold out of nothing except what was already available and free to us!
I shared some of my inspiration with my students and they found it extremely hilarious. We thought of ways to ‘sell’ and ‘brand’ Penang. It was an exercise for them to think creatively and express their thoughts in English. Since all of us are from Penang, the topic was something that students had both knowledge of and a personal affinity for. It was a full hour of laughter, as one person built upon another person’s idea – it was like a scene from an Advertising Agency’s boardroom, a brainstorming session gone right. Honestly, if I had been CD, some of the ideas were seriously low-cost and highly do-able. Because the ideas came from people who had a piece to complain about Penang, allowing them to turn their grouses into creative ideas unlocked a floodgate. These were the perfect ‘focus group’ because the group was the perfect demographic; young, adaptable, trendsetters and future decision-makers and entrepreneurs. We know that often, we can’t mine useful information from actual market research focus-groups because ‘scouts’ get their friends or friends’ friends’/relatives to attend these groups, sometimes, feeding them information so they can respond to what the interviewer/client wants to hear. But there I was, staring at faces who were genuinely wanting this vision to be real. We knew it was just for fun, that we had neither the infrastructure/qualifications to galvanise it into reality, but it was just really fun, to imagine a Penang that, in Tiffany’s line, “Could’ve been so beautiful, could’ve been so right….”
The most significant difference with this ‘focus group’ was that, the pitchers (of ideas) were also the Customers; these young people will grow up to OWN Penang, eventhough it was just a discussion piece, they have a stake in it. We wrapped class up feeling really good about ouselves as Penang people – and I told them to watch out for opportunities because now they have seen in their mind, that such a scenario is possible. But in our hearts, we knew, no one else but a bunch of kids and their facilitator, could even think of such an idea, what more, take it seriously.
It’s OK to be crazy as long as it’s good fun for everyone. But it’s even better when, 8 months later, you see a talk being organized by a college titled, “How to Brand Penang when everything is so different.” I almost fell out of my chair laughing…….and I was alone, on a Saturday evening, at a kopitiam. It’s really a lot more fun being crazy when people take our crazy ideas seriously.
After watching the entire ALIAS series on DVD recently – well, guess what it did to me? I started liking the idea that some ideas/events will unfold themselves and be set in motion. If very few people understand that but you believe in it, it’s called, “an obsession”. If more people start to accept it, your obsession becomes, “a prophecy”. If things unfold with little collateral damage, and a lot of economic advantages, “you’re a wizard!”. If things unfold with collateral damage people cannot be patient enough to see why the destruction of something was necessary, “you’re insane! a villain!”
I’ll be attending the talk this Thursday at a location in town. But I’ll be sure to keep my mouth shut and my mind wide-open. As much as I’m interetsed in what the Lecturer has to say about branding Penang, I’d be more intrigued by what size of turnout it would attract, what sort of questions will be asked, what sort of responses elicited?
[Note (28th October 2009]. I had just imported my blogger into my wordpress. I am in the process of adding trackbacks, tags, etc. Apologies for imperfect hyperlinking reading experience.]
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