By Kit Ong
Kit Ong is an award-winning creative leader, filmmaker and children’s stories author. His solution-based work for clients in Malaysia, Vietnam and China was recognized at the major international, regional and local advertising award shows.
Outside of advertising, Kit Ong is a filmmaker and the creator of UBXED [unboxed] – a social impact platform that uses story-telling to address issues that concern the welfare of children. UBXED features stories tackling a diversity of tough subjects such as war, immigration, dementia, family ties, school safety, humanity, divisiveness, sexual abuse, depression and identity acceptance.
As I am writing this, I am trying to breathe in my N95 sitting in a semi-dark office in Shanghai. The first time I set foot in Ho Chi Minh City was the first time I saw colorful face masks made of cloth. I also saw practical creativity on display.
Creativity does not belong to only the talented. It is, to me, a human trait. It is more pronounced in some people, and lies dormant in others. But it is inherent in all of us.
Creativity has a flavor, and that flavor comes from the historical and cultural ingredients of a country. I think Vietnam’s creative flavor has a taste of practicality. There is realness to it when it is pure. The design of the nón lá and áo dài embodies this honesty. Honesty has vulnerabilities that create work that is useful, impactful and unforgettable.
In my seven years living and working in Vietnam, I have been fortunate to experience this honesty in the people I have met and worked with. Some of them have become my great friends.
As the world experiences an unprecedented turmoil, science and medicine will endeavor to save us. Creativity will save us too. Creativity will help us put forth extraordinary questions that allow extraordinary answers to happen.
Tough times evolutionize us. They force us to make creative leaps to seek solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. The Củ Chi tunnels are now a tourist attraction. Its history is entombed with human suffering. Its tunnel system is a network of creative planning.
Tough times force us to ration food, but creativity thrives when we have less. Money and power afford one to purchase unnecessary things, but when you have less of both, you innovate with what you have. Street food is proof of human ingenuity. In Vietnam, the humble rice becomes Bánh Tẻ, Cơm Nắm, Cơm Cháy, and Bánh Bèo.
In this incredible climate of the Covid-19 pandemic, we want things to return to normal, to the days before millions got sick and more than a hundred thousand have died. It is normal to want things to be normal, but I think for those of us who survive this, we owe it to humanity to want to do more than whatever we were doing before.
This pandemic is destroying families every day. It is destroying dreams. It is destroying normalcy. It is taking so much away from us. For those of us who survive this, we have to take something back from it. Otherwise, all is lost.
World leaders call this a war. I think war is worst, but we understand why this analogy is used. I have never experienced war, and I pray that my family and I never have to. The older generations in Vietnam have. The people who stayed, and the people who had to leave, the war took from each and every one of them.
But I believe, for the creative ones, they found a way for the war to pay them back. They used the war or effects of the war directly or indirectly to create a new future for their families and themselves. It could have been desperation, but desperation without ideas just breed more desperation.
The Việt Kiều diaspora who have returned to Vietnam brought new flavors of creativity back to the country. We identify as citizens of the country we were born in, but in reality, sometimes, things are not that clear-cut. I am Malaysian, but growing up, I was exposed to American pop culture. I am a Malaysian Chinese, but I do not feel a sense of belonging living and working in China.
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country, it is not perfect, but I identify with my country’s multiculturalism fervently. My identity or who I am as a people forms and informs my brand of creativity.
Identity seems undeniable, it is the information detailed in your passport, but it is really never that simple. I imagine the identity of being a Vietnamese or a Việt Kiều is also not that simple. But what is simple enough to see is that the creative exchange between peoples has created a chemistry that has worked in some cases like in the food and fashion businesses.
I have no idea what lies ahead of us. We all want the uncertainties to go away. We all want our lives back. I do not think that things can be the same, but I think that is a good thing. It means that we as a human species have once again adapted to a new age. It also means that we get to create for another day.