Upon walking into to Levin Ballroom, a poster depicting a brightly colored sunset hanging over the ocean with glittering letters spelling out “MATAHARI” caught my eye. As AYALA coordinator Kate Nguyen ’21 explained to me, “Matahari means the sun … [It] implies that we want to look towards a brighter tomorrow.” Each coordinator had their own idea for AYALA this year, but they managed to connect Matahari, the ocean and family under one distinction: connections. By making connections with others, we can build a brighter future for ourselves, but our very first connections begin with those we consider family. The ocean symbolizes the connection between all 11 Southeast Asian countries. Even the audience members were incorporated into the whole design! We were people from various backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures gathering around, connected by the ocean and the sun. 

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TALENT FROM THE STUDENTS: Brandeis performers graced the audiance with pop songs from Southeast Asia. 

The theme I noticed the most throughout the night was family — possibly because I’m homesick and I miss mine! Sitting at the table, I was greeted with adorable place cards labeled with family members (I was the uncle). Already Southeast Asia Club’s attention to detail was apparent; the place cards included tiny drawings of each family member and a short but effective conversation starter, such as “Brother or sister?” or “Who hogs the bathroom?” If these conversation starters weren’t enough, they also had a game for each table at the start of the show. Much like the game “hot potato,” you passed around an origami animal (we had Pikachu!) to the tune of “Baby Shark,” sung by the SEAC executive board. The one who ended up with the animal by the end of the song was the winner. Their prize? A family-sized bag of popcorn, perfect for sharing around the table and snacking on during the show. If you didn’t know those sitting at your table before, you certainly would have after the interactive games and snacks, not to mention the dinner that was also served in the style of a traditional Asian family dinner, where everyone gathered around a table with dishes laid out to share. 

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FEELS LIKE HOME: The Southeast Asia Club prepared games and food to bring together the audiances.

The journey began in Singapore with the e-board video, “Crazy Rich SEAC,” a humorous and fitting parody of  “Crazy Rich Asians,” which was set in Singapore. It featured Nguyen as the “outsider girlfriend” being introduced to the exclusive and crazy family of SEAC. The audience was then graced with two song performances. The first was a simple and sweet cover of “Lost” by Gentle Bones, sung by Ashley Kamal ’22  and Michael Cheng ’21. The second song was a passionate serenade between Myles Gui ’21 and Chloe Yu ’22, with dancers floating around them. 

In Vietnam, N’SEAC performed a dance to the V-Pop song “Đoá Hoa Hồng (Queen)” by Chi Pu. The soft lighting changed color as the beat of the dance varied until the dance concluded with each dancer holding a rose and swaying gently like the petals of the flower. After the show, dancer Nancy Tran ’20 shared her thoughts as a performer. “I don’t have that much contact with Vietnamese pop even though I’m Vietnamese,” she said, adding, “you get to learn so much [culture] from being a part of it.” N’SEAC’s well choreographed dance transitioned into a popular Vietnamese game show, “Người Ấy Là Ai,” that originated in Thailand. Four bachelors were presented and each table voted on who they thought was single or taken.  Just like regular family, my table found common ground on discussing other people’s love lives. Some Thai tea was spilled, it was great. 

The start of the next performance had was noticeably hampered due to technical difficulties. I’ll agree that delayed flights are the worst, but a dance performance by Kaos Kids that took us around the world made all the waiting worth it. Choreographed by different members of the dance crew, this performance incorporated various styles of song and dance from Asia, Southeast Asia, Mumbai, India and France. Audience member Elli Xiao ’22 said, “My favorite performance was Kaos Kids — they were super cool and fun, and I thought their airline theme was really inventive and a nice way of piecing [sic] the individual songs/cultures together.” Well said, Elli. This dance truly had me shook. 

Our around-the-world trip next took us to six regions of Indonesia, where Jennifer Taufan ’20 choreographed an authentic traditional dance known as “Lagu Daerah,” in which pairs of dancers from each region displayed the wonderful variety of Indonesian culture. Flashback Filipino (Chris Calimlim ’19, Mari Guzman ’19, and Maia Reyes ’19) brought us to the Philippines with a “Heartbreak Medley” of original Pilipino music. The special guest of the night, D-Trix, a Filipino-American most prominently known from YouTube as a comedian and dancer, displayed his talents of singing and improvising on the keyboard while cracking jokes here and there, all in spite of being sick. During the Q&A, he offered some very good life advice about making decisions based on love instead of fear before leaving us with free merch. 

Our final stop: Thailand! Lead by Nguyen, the SEAC e-board presented an energetic and fast-paced dance to “Theme Song” by BNK48. A high-energy finale to a high-energy night. 

In an interview after the show with the Justice, SEAC President Alice Gong ’20, explained her hopes for AYALA, “We really want to give it our all and showcase the beautiful cultures that Southeast Asia has … regardless of if you’re Southeast Asian, you can come and enjoy all the cultures at one time.” However, AYALA isn’t just another culture show. Gong emphasized that the “main purpose is [for] charity.” This year, SEAC sold raffle tickets for a chance to pie an e-board member in the face to support the Burma Task Force, a coalition of 19 US and Canadian Muslim Organizations. Their purpose is to advocate for the rights of Rohingya refugees encountering religious persecution, genocide, and other injustices within Burma. 

Overall, I had a fun time experiencing various Southeast Asian cultures. My highlight of the night? The show’s hosts. Despite sound system issues, Elizabeth Gentile ’20 and Jason Kwan ’20 smoothly played along with their charismatic and humorous exchanges. So in a fitting echo of Kwan’s words, I really did take home lots of Thai tea and a great performance.