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“It is a film about finding my roots, my connection with my culture.” 
– Caleb Ming, Director of New Huat Kueh
 

The traditional huat kueh (dialect for the Chinese steamed rice flour cake), symbolises luck and prosperity, is often used as a religious offering by some Chinese. The documentary, New Huat Kueh, uncovers more than just the history of this Chinese cake. We hear from Caleb, a recipient of the irememberSG Fund, on his thoughts about the project.


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The traditional huat kueh, which symbolises luck and prosperity 
(Photo: Caleb Ming)


1. Why did you choose to focus on huat kueh as the subject of the documentary?

I grew up in a family of kueh makers and my parents made huat kueh for a good part of their lives. I like the idea of this memory project; it is a way for me to dialogue with people who have had some experiences with the cake in one way or another. I got to know my parents better through the making of this film. With demand for huat kueh dwindling, the craft of making huat kueh may also disappear with time.


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Pictured: Caleb's father
(Photo: Caleb Ming)


2. Tell us about an interesting experience while producing New Huat Kueh.

From the filming of the Chinese Teochew Opera Troupe, I learnt that street opera in Singapore is a dying trade. As fewer people are still proficient in the Chinese dialects, the operas have become less popular with people. I also learnt that the opera performances go on with or without people watching. This is because they are linked to temples, and their performances are like offerings to usher in the deities. 


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Backstage at the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival: A Teochew street opera performer getting ready for a performance 
(Photo: Ng Hui Hsien/New Huat Kueh)


3. Why did you choose to use film as a medium to tell the story?

It really is a medium of “the now”. It has always been my dream to make a film but I did not have a story of my own to tell until recently. It is also a medium for people of all ages, something that my family can understand well. Film is a good way to connect with people and I have chosen it to help me reconnect with my family, to tell their story, and to bring us closer together.


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Pictured: Caleb’s aunt 
(Photo: Caleb Ming) 


4. What is one thing that you have learnt about the huat kueh through the making of this film?

I learnt that the huat kueh is made from black sugar and not brown sugar. The two are not the same!


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Huat kueh is also used as an offering to usher in the Deity of Wealth during the Chinese New Year celebrations 
(Photo: Marina Sinitsyna/New Huat Kueh)


5. Why should people look out for New Huat Kueh?

It is your history too.


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A hand-made signboard indicating the prices of huat kueh 
(Photo: Caleb Ming)


New Huat Kueh is part of Rewind/Remind – a film festival by the Singapore Memory Project. Don't miss the various screenings at a library near you from now till July!


This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and content.