I didn’t know what to do after National Service (NS). I was a barista for a while but I didn’t like that job. They made me drink espresso before the start of every shift and tell them if it tasted nutty or fruity and which country the coffee came from. I wasn’t into any of that.

One day, my best friend said if what I was doing didn’t match my interest, why don’t I do something that I liked and make some money out of it? Since I like taking pictures, why don’t I study photography at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE)?

What he said made sense, so I went through the catalogue and discovered that ITE College Central offered Higher Nitec in Filmmaking (Cinematography). They were looking for students who had completed NS to guide the younger ones, so I joined.

To be completely honest, I found the first few months really boring. I didn’t have to read or study that much in the army, so that quick shift to a school environment where I had to attend classes regularly was hard for me.

In Fuchun Secondary School, I had this very encouraging principal with this strong belief that everyone is good in different areas. She said technical students are not stupid. We might be a bit slow in academics, but when it comes to anything technical, we’re really good.

That’s how I found hairdressing; it was an elective module offered in secondary school. As I felt like I wasn’t doing well in ITE, I decided to get a part-time job as a barber to earn some money while I was still studying.

But things picked up in Year Two, and I started to properly understand what filmmaking was all about. For my final-year project, I told a dramatic love story about how a guy and a girl from two different worlds met, but brain cancer made her forget who he was.

My teacher was really proud of me. I scored four points for my GPA, and I thought there was a real chance for me in the world of filmmaking. After I graduated, I joined a local studio thinking I was going to be a cinematographer.

I ended up being hired as a camera assistant. All I did was carry stuff around; I didn’t get to create anything. I was also bullied and exploited. They told me I didn’t need to get paid for working overtime if I really worked for passion.

Most of the staff were these old Chinese guys who’d always communicate in their own dialect. Once, a producer asked why I looked so lost. When I said I didn’t understand what they were talking about, he simply said, “I thought you were Chinese” before walking off.

After seven months of working there and feeling underappreciated, I left. Now, I’m working full-time at Deepcuts Barber’s; I was actually there as a part-timer since I was in ITE. My primary role is barbering, but my secondary role is handling their social media.

I still love creating film and telling stories, and this barbershop has given me a platform to showcase my work on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. I’ve produced a few videos for the brand and a lot of people gave really good feedback.

My dream? Well, I hope to create bigger productions with the limited equipment we have. But I do want to grow together with the company. Compared to my previous workplace, I do feel respected here, so I want to help them the way they have helped me.” – Nurhakim, 24



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Arman Shah

A former travel writer with fond memories of solo adventures in Southeast Asia, Arman is now Founder of The Everyday People. He's also the co-host of Channel Empathy, a podcast about the marginalised in Singapore.