This is the story of a young Singaporean named Chong Jun Feng.
The 28-year-old is a filmmaker by day. By early morning, morning and evening, however, he is an unofficial, self-appointed red junglefowl custodian.
Chong has lived in Sin Ming Avenue, in the heart of an estate called Sin Ming Court, all his life.
And all his life, he has grown up with these guys roaming around:
The case that brought the birds to his attention
You might remember this community of native red junglefowl, too — when 24 of them were slaughtered by Agri-food and Veterinary Authority representatives back in 2017.
Here's a recap of the tail-end of it:
But anyway, it was this incident, Chong admits, that first alerted him to really notice the community of feathered fowl living in his neighbourhood.
"I was very angry because these chickens have been with me the entire part of my life. I hear them every morning when they crow at 4am, and when I come back home right, I see them along the road, and you know, they are like neighbours to me."
He wasted no time making up for lost years, though.
"So ever since that incident happened, every morning when I don’t hear them crow at 4am I will be very nervous. I would wake up with a shock and be like, ‘Oh no, oh no, where is the crow?’ And then I would just jump out of my bed and look out of my window to make sure that — ‘cause usually they crow on the trees — I can see them from the trees, and they used to stay near my block.
So ever since then, they kind of have migrated to other blocks and other estates. So I am very worried. Whenever I go to work, I walk around the estate to take attendance and make sure that my chickens are there, before I can go to work with a peace of mind."
In this time, Chong can now tell us with confidence where he finds the chickens around the estate, depending on the time of day — in the coolness of the morning, for instance, he knows they're out at the grass patch behind the bus stop opposite the housing estate.
He knows the spots to find them, too — the clusters of trees the males like to roost in (because they often fly up into the trees for shade from the hot sun), and that all the families of fowl come together at around 6pm ("the golden hour") at one specific spot in the neighbourhood.
He even points out one spot where he suspects someone deliberately curved a few branches from a plant down and anchored it to form an arch for the junglefowl to rest beneath:
He distinguishes the community of roughly 20 chickens — not all of which are purebred red junglefowl, he qualifies — by colour and by the families they tend to hang out with, as well as their usual roosting spots, and finds joy in moments like noticing a hen with a new brood of chicks:
And it seems it is known to a few of his neighbours that he pays special attention to these birds too — particularly when he embarked on a personal passion project: a short fictional film in tribute to them, and to the community he (and they) live in.
Titled "New Resident", Chong says he chose to create a fictional film in the hopes that it will remind his elder neighbours of their years spent living in kampungs with wild chickens running around freely — the way they do now also — and without giving away too much about the film, also how it was common to keep chickens as pets in many homes.
And his eventual goal: to dedicate and show it to his neighbours in Sin Ming Court, the estate he lives in, who share his love and appreciation for the junglefowl community living there.
"At the end of the day, when I look back, this film is really made in conjunction with the residents. It’s not only a film made by me and my crew. It’s really with the support of the residents as well. So I thought it would be quite good if I can show and screen this film to them."
And indeed, in numerous ways, the film he shot was a product of the cooperation of several of his neighbours. Chong recalls with amusement how many concerned aunties and uncles would warily eye him up and question his actions, only relenting when he explained what he was doing to them.
"I actually spent more time trying to talk to the residents and coax the residents, more than directing the film itself. Because whenever I was directing and they see the chickens, they would be like, 'Oh my God what are you doing?? Are you catching the chickens?? Are you going to do something to the chickens??' So they were very worried and I would say, 'No, it’s a response to that incident and I’m just paying my tribute as a filmmaker to do that'. And so they’ll like, 'Ohh okay,' then they would feel at ease."
This often went down on occasions where Chong and his crew were filming with chickens — and in case you happen to be wondering, no, he did not use the actual Sin Ming junglefowl; the chickens that appear in "New Resident" were borrowed from a friend of his who rears them — in the estate.
Other residents, also to Chong's fascination, could recognise that the chickens he was working with were not the actual Sin Ming birds.
"So some of them see that these are actually not Sin Ming chickens... but it’s also very heartwarming to see so much fervour and so much passion in them, like, “What are you doing!” or “Don’t touch my chickens!” As much as I feel the ridiculousness of all this, I also felt very encouraged to make this film. At the end of the day, when I direct, I feel that they are supporting me. So that’s why I feel better!"
Chong also recalls an occasion where a boy came up to him with a chick in his hand:
"I said, 'Huh? Where did you get this chick from?' He said, 'Oh, it fell into the drain.' And I was like, 'Oh my God! Okay let’s find the hen.' And we went around the whole estate and found a hen with four chicks (instead of five originally), same colour! And we returned it (laughs).
So yeah, quite interesting. I feel like it’s a family in Sin Ming, like we all enjoy the chickens and we try to find the family, so it’s quite cool lah, it’s quite funny."
So roughly two to three years later, "New Resident" was completed, funded fully by Chong's personal savings, and the passionate young man set about making his neighbourhood screening happen.
The plan: to join one of any regular evening events organised by the Residents' Committee (RC) at this nifty and cozy-looking amphitheatre tucked behind Block 445 at Sin Ming Avenue, and load the film to project onto the block walls so even residents living in the block behind the amphitheatre could look out their windows to watch it if they were interested.
Like any good law-abiding Singaporean, he checked who the right people were to seek permission from and called his RC, which directed him to contact Bishan North Community Centre (CC).
He eventually heard from a constituency director, who told him, to his dismay, that the content of his film was problematic as it "puts the enforcement agencies in bad light” and they (the CC and RC) “still need to maintain good and long term working relationships with these relevant agencies”.
"I was very confused, like why does it reflect badly on the authorities? It’s really something that I don’t understand. I actually offered to go down to the screening and explain to the audience as well after the screening that it is actually a fictional story, and I had no intentions whatsoever to badmouth the authorities or to the CC."
Alternative offered: to screen at new Bishan North CC
Chong then went to his Member of Parliament, who happens to be Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo.
In her response to him, which we independently confirmed, Teo was not only supportive of Chong's film, but also offered to organise a screening for the film at the new Bishan North CC when it opens in March this year.
In an email to Mothership, she explains her thinking:
"I’ve seen Mr Chong’s film and I would like to help him reach the wider audience. We’re looking for a suitable occasion. Most Sin Ming events are in the day, and past experiences with outdoor places were not too good. Bishan North CC will likely be more comfortable and offer a better viewing experience."
Chong responded to this idea with concern, though — for one thing, taking the screening to Bishan may mean his neighbours (his target audience) would not necessarily be reached, especially if they didn't take the effort to travel there to watch it.
Last resort: releasing it online
The conclusion he came to, after deliberation: to put it online.
"The whole intention was because I wanted to show this film first to the Sin Ming residents. And so when all opportunity to screen publicly here has been crushed, I was very sad, I thought very long about it.
And if my intentions was to screen it for Sin Ming residents, I feel that firstly, maybe I should post it online, and to let as many people watch it — not only the residents of Sin Ming but other Singaporeans as well — so that they know about the chickens and the incident here in Sin Ming, back in 2017."
And so, as of Wednesday (Jan. 8), you can watch Chong's 16-minute film in full, uploaded to his short film's Facebook page, here:He accompanied the film with a write-up about his experience trying and failing to organise a screening for his neighbours in the estate.
Most recently, Chong told Mothership he has also printed postcard-brochures telling residents in the estate about the film, which he plans to go door-to-door to share with his neighbours. He also told us he is working with the town council to see if he can put a poster with a QR code and link on the digital signboards around the estate.
"... So that at least there are some ways that I can gift the film back to Sin Ming, and I hope that the Sin Ming residents can feel proud when they watch the film. They can feel that 'ah this is my estate, these are my neighbours, the chickens', and something they can be proud of."
Top photos by Zheng Zhangxin
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