Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition 2016


To talk about heritage in such a young country like Singapore seems somewhat pretentious. Yet, in a fast economy like ours, where an ever changing landscape  and a recent loose immigration policy have the danger of diluting or even destroying what little we own, it is with much urgency that our heritage, however young, be preserved before it is lost forever.

I do not know my heritage and I really had no interest in it. My chief purpose of attending the screening was that I suddenly had an unusual free Saturday afternoon, plua I wanted to support two friends who were co organizers of this event. Am I glad I went, for I was given a wake up call on the poor knowledge I am lacking about my own country. I believe I am not the only one.

There were eight finalists in the 2016 competition which was curated into this movie, each which was given 10 minutes of screen time.

The screening started with Singapore Icons In Pop Culture by Humble Productions. The documentary features five companies who revolutionize what iconic objects represent Singapore, and it’s not the Merlion. Instead, the humble ang ku keuh (Red Tortoise cake) has been made into keychains, cushions, magnets and various touristy souvenirs by these companies. Tee-shirts which shout Huat and kueh tutu (another pastry) souvenirs are commonplace items which are found to be dear to Singaporeans that are uniquely us.

Preserving Art by Rise Pictures is another documentary which is about amateur Chinese opera groups which are sprouting up island wide. An aunt of mine is part of one such group, thus I have special fondness for this. Plus, I am always in awe of seniors who spend their time pursuing their passions.

Retrospection by Shutter Speed Crew captures the nostalgia of film photography, which is still being practiced.

I especially enjoy the animation Curry Fish Head by Hommade Animation, which tells the story of a girl growing up in a kampong to her adulthood in modern day Singapore. The stunning artwork flows so naturally from one to the other that it is no wonder it won the second runner up.

My friend’s production (Blacspice Films)  won the first runner up for The Old Voices. The story, was the other rare film, among the documentaries, which was told as a creative non-fiction story. It tells of an old man suffering from demantia who listens to radio stories that has been extinct.

Cassette by Cassette, a quaint very short clip, brings back nostalgia for those who used to record their own playlist from radio.

Transcend in Heritage by Team DKX is a documentary about puppetry in Singapore. The dying art form is being revived by paper Monkey Theatre and I hope to catch the actual act.

The winner of the competition is Art of Singapore by Project Unsung Heroes, which is a clip from a series from Project Unsung Heroes that was commissioned for SG50. The documentary showcases the art of Mr Ang Hao Sai, the last movie painter in Singapore.

At the end of the screening, there was a question and answer session with the organizer and three of the finalists.

Image may contain: 3 people, people sitting

The competition was judged by a panel of two film makers and two heritage experts, thus giving equal weightage to artistic film style and heritage content.

This anthology has been circulating around the island  and the next screening will be at the Art House on 25 Mar, Sat, 3pm. Please support it.

Kindly register your attendance at




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Portrait Essays

I find Creative non fiction a challenge. My hermit crab essay – for which we were supposed to write an essay in a given ‘shell’ – form – from a source text, was a mess that I got a C, my first and only grade from this course. Somehow, the ‘shell’ really confused me.

Following the Hermit Crab essay, we were to do a portrait essay through an interview. The interviewee should preferably not be someone whom you are related to, close to , or work with. Imagine someone sitting for an artist for a portrait. That’s what we had to do, except not visually, but through written words after interviewing the person.

In the book ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’ by Lee Gutkind,  he writes : First you are watching them,  taking notes,  and always thinking about how you’ll capture them in words on paper…. They’re on your mind day and night while you’re just a fleeting memory to them when the article is finished.

My lecturer told us that an interviewer is in a powerful position – you ask questions to your interviewee that you would not ask your friends/relatives. Of course, the interviewee does not have to reply, but surprisingly most do. I had already conducted my interview then and I thought what he said was really true.
In class, we were made to practise by interviewing our peers. We got 10 minutes each to interview and then to write a short profile of each other, before presenting it to the class. The time constraint for spontaneous essay indeed was stressful.

I was paired to Subject A, only because of the geographical distance of our seats in class. Otherwise, unknown to my lecturer, we had chatted often and I was rather familiar with her. She had asked me about Ajahn Brahm when she heard I had worked at Brahm Centre and we shared information of the retreats, as I had just returned from a silent retreat in Bali. Still, I was surprised by the amount of intimate information she shared, like the sudden death of her stepfather which lead her to re-examine her life. Here is what i presented in class:

I feel an instant connection to A as I sat across her. Shy and soft spoken, yet intense in how she shared honestly with me within five minutes of our conversation. At twenty-nine, A tells me she wants to be a better human being by improving her character. She feels she is judgmental. She wants to be more mindful and be more appreciative, and learn what her intention in life is. She does this by reading Buddhism books and going to retreats. I can’t believe this young lady just articulated who I was just two years ago, except I am almost twice her age.

Gutkind says: Sometimes, you never know if your subject resent or appreciate your work-and why. 

And so,  I made it a point to ask A what she thought of my profile of her. She replied that ‘it was great!’. 

Coincidentally, the interviewee for the actual portrait essay, my yoga teacher, is similarly spiritual. Our interview went on for two-hours and he tried his darnest to answer every questions, some of which was so vague that I myself have no answer to. (I had googled for the questions!) I even found some simple questions difficult, as I don’t really know myself very well. Perhaps that’s why I find the know yourself quiz in The Bitecharge Daily so interesting. I was hoping for some answers from there.

He liked my profile of him too. Perhaps both my interviewees were too polite. 

A visiting professor I showed the essay to wasn’t impressed and suggested I rewrite. He felt I had put my yoga teacher into a box, into which was how I felt a yoga teacher should be, instead of showcasing him as the interesting personality he is who just happens to be a yoga teacher. 

The lecturer  was right.  I had wanted the readers to feel they would like to join his yoga class after reading it. I hadn’t done justice to the man in the portrait. 

I have learned so much after doing both these portraits that I all I want to do is to do more interviews and portraits. I am amazed that both these interviewees, who are much younger than me, are constantly seeking self-improvements through frequent introspection.

When I was twenty-nine, I was already a mother of two toddlers and juggling a full time job that required regional travel. I didn’t have the time nor the energy for self-reflections. For the next decade or so, I devoted myself to child rearing, and was almost the helicopter mother. I wanted my sons to be a better version of their mother, but I wasn’t presenting the best of myself to them. As I approached middle-age, the stress of how I was living my life started to make me ponder. And I have been pondering since, although not as often as I want.

There is just too much distraction in my external life to allow for any introspection. But I shall get there soon.

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Down Orchard Road Musing

Friday. 6pm. Orchard Central.

It is unusually cool and gusty. I feel the wind on my recently coffee-henna treated hair, the coffee fragrance an olfactory delight, masking the cigarette smoke from the well-groomed office employees congregating around  bins and benches alongside equally well-groomed hedges separating the walkway from Orchard Road.

I shall begin my mindful walk down the busiest part of Orchard Road. Orchard Central is decked for Valentine’s Day. The baby-blue cardboard cut-outs of skyscrapers silhouettes are tacky, so are the Cinderella carriage and bird cage where one could enter to sit. I see men having no qualms doing just that even without an escort on hand, just as I had been amused once in a restaurant seeing the men at the next table taking photos of their ramen. There’s sexism in me.

The awful Chinese New Year fish pond with the mermaid is still there at the Orchard Gateway entrance. There are obviously many who do not share my view as they pose in front of it. At 313, I pass many with oblong paper shopping bags, those bearing names I can’t afford or can’t pronounce. I see a clean-cut young man who looks to be a teenager carrying a Victoria Secret bag and take a double look. Is what is contained inside for him or someone else? Perhaps he is an androgynous female? I am not sure.

At the junction of  Orchard Building, where H&M is, I join the crowd waiting to cross. A man mingled among us, handling out booklet-pamphlets with the word Bible printed on it. I try to think of something to say to decline, like or-ni-tou-fo but he skips me, and I feel a little insulted.

I cross the road and I see Victoria Secrets is doing brisk business, with stream of shoppers entering and exiting. There are various models and photos of lacy red brassieres displayed on the window and I realise I have never owned a red brassiere in my entire life thus far.  A few men in jackets and clipboards are loitering where I pause and I hurry on. In front, I see an elderly woman carrying an open box in her arm. Without warning, she pokes  an unsuspecting woman and I give her a wide berth, but not before I see the pens in her box.

The green man crossing is on and I cross over to Takashimaya. A woman and a man on a wheel chair are stationed at the crossing to Paragon. There is a large cardboard stating their life story with the hope of some donation. I ignore them and continue. A man overtakes me. I notice that because so far no one has overtaken me even though I am walking at a slower speed than usual. I note his gaunt feature and the extra large square plastic bag with the word Diagnostics, containing his medical film under his arm. I know it is a medical film because I had taken one recently when I fractured my toe. I wonder if he is worried or happy with the results. More likely worried, judging from his hunched shoulders, as if bearing some invincible burden.

At Wisma Atria, I hear a familiar voice and song. Ken, as is advertised on a board, is singing on his make-shift stage of Persian carpet. I wonder if I had heard him sing at the Matchstick concert organized by my son Aaron last year for the Bone-Marrow Foundation. He has a few audiences watching him from the stairs of Wisma Atria and I long to sit and let him finish the song. But I have an appointment to keep, and after hearing another two verses, I depart. An Indian couple obviously on honeymoon tries to take a photo of the Orchard Road sign. I guess if I am them, I would do the same. Our familiar Orchard Road might have been on someone’s bucket list, much like how I had always wanted to be at Time Square.

There is a wrought-iron fanciful fence at the Paterson Road junction and the instruction board on it tells me to use the cocoon underpass. I thus end my mindful walk there and enter into the chaos that is the Orchard Road I am more accustomed to.

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Reading list

Last Friday,  I attended a networking session for postgraduate students at my college.  Among the people I met,  I bonded most with the students from Arts History,  as their class is like ours, newly setup. Their lessons are held three nights a week versus my two,  unless there is a visiting professor,  then it could be four nights. It was comforting hearing them lament about their overwhelming workload and how academic papers had to be read a few times and even then,  one might still not understand it. I am sure they shared the same sentiments when we told them we too are struggling. 

Struggling is an understatement. My classmate described the situation as appearing calm above water and threading furiously under. Our group chat consists of reminders, encouragements and self doubts. There’s a ticking clock every week for the essays submission and reading list.

Just this week,  I have to juggle to read the following :

Three chapters of Burrowway. 

Part III of Miller and Paola,  consisting of five chapters, which I am still not done. 

Four chapters from Gutkind on Framing and lede and leads. 

We are encouraged to keep reading fiction and on my bed side, neglected after chapter one, is a romance novel so sad it made my professor cried. It’s not been abandoned… Yet. 

As if these are not enough,  my teacher highly recommends audio books,  for the times when your hands are not available. So in my car, I listen to James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Boy. 

These excludes the academic papers and supplementary readings that we received regularly just before or after a lecture. 

As if he wanted to make sure we read our texts,  we were given a surprise short quiz in the second week. That certainly spurred me to be vigilant. 

I asked a classmate who works full time how she cope, and she said she chooses her reading, and not read everything. 

I am still trying to balance my load unsuccessfully. I read, with my unwritten essay niggling at the back of my mind,  and the opposite occurs when I write.

My professor is strict.  He tells us unless we have an organ hanging outside our body,  we’re not allowed to skip class.  In the review of our essays,  he is unforgiving,  although he does points out the wow moments in it.  

And you know what? I never knew a three letter word WOW! can make all that I have written here seems frivolous and trivial. I am really enjoying my class. 

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Sarong Party Girl by Cheryl Lu Lien Tan

It was not a book that I would normally read but the author was a visiting lecturer to my Master in Arts creative writing course last month, so I thought I should at least uncover what her writing style was. 

This book,  published in the US,  is narrated completely in Singlish.  I had problem getting use to it while at Chapter One, but after hearing it read  out loud by Cheryl during a public reading,  it became easier as I could hear her voice speaking as I read. 

The Singlish is peppered with hokkien vulgarities which I am not familiar with,  something I would expect army boys to use and not girls who had graduated from convent schools.  But then,  what do I know,  since the culture in my school is completely different,  being a Chinese school or what is now known as Special Assistant Plan (SAP) school.  I had to ask my husband to explain most of the words, like kani nah, which the narrator, Jazzy, often exclaims which I would interpret as what the hell.  (what is LC?) 

This story could be the Singapore style of Sex and the City,  where four girls (in this case in their late twenties but they consider themselves as old) frequent various high class clubs, usually at the expense of a rich local Chinese man, with the hope of hooking a western expatriate in marriage. Why?  My classmate,  a French,  asked me the same question,  since these girls are not exactly in dire straits like those in Philippines or Thailand. (My classmate is married to a local.) I told him,  for the Chanel baby, a status symbol – a term the Jazzy coined to describe babies of mixed origins between Asians and Caucasians. 

There isn’t really a plot in the book,  just a description on the lives of these Sarong Party Girls,  first described by Jim Aitchison in his book SPG  published in the nineties. I am actually surprised that they still exist,  because Singapore women have progressed since then, that if they marry ang mohs (red hair men, for Caucasians), it on their own terms. The book revolves around the clubs they visit and the angmohs they meet. 

The book is rather fun to read –  eye opening to me at first (I somehow skipped the clubbing experience in my youth and plus I m not into ang mohs.) reading about the prosmicuity of the women described. (or as in the Jazzy’s word, I am very toot!) 

But if you are  a non-Singaporean reading it,  you get a chance to experience Singapore without stepping ashore: where the bird uncles used to congregate in Tiong Bahru, the kopitiam culture, and HDB family life of plucking the roots off tow gay(beans sprouts). 

I like how the book has no footnotes to explain the local lingo and it’s up to the reader to google them. 

Want to learn a new culture,  then read the book. 

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Happy Chinese Year 🐓 

May the rooster year

Rouse you to greater heights 

Accompanied by mother hen

Supporting you through your plight

For you’re not alone 

Like chicks you will take flight 

Be as proud as a peacock fan

And display your glorious might

Through all your ups and downs 

May you roost well at night 

To hail the calls of cockadoodle doo

At the dawn of morning light 

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Post Grad First Month 

As soon as people hear I am doing post grad studies,  they would ask for more information-how is the course, can I cope, etc.  I told them to give me a month to experience it. 

The course literally started with a bang.  By the second and third week,  I was attending classes four nights a week instead of two because there were two visiting professors. 

I whined to my ex-colleague on how heavy the workload is when I met her,  expecting a sympathetic hug and consolation.  Instead,  she told me with a straight face,  you asked for it. 

I really shouldn’t complain.  My prof reminded us every week that this is a master program and work load is heavy.  Indeed,  I had the  misconception that since there are only two night classes a week,  it shouldn’t be that bad. I didn’t know the amount we had to read, and how difficult the reading is. I thought,  as long as it is in English,  it can’t be that bad right? 

I have since learned,  although academic papers are in English,  it might as well be in Greek.  It took three readings and I still don’t get the point,  which got me very stressed.  (Try it: The Laugh of the Medusa by Helene Cixous) 

This semester started with fiction and creative non fiction (CNA) modules. 

I like the fiction module- the techniques,  the short stories given and even the assignment. Darryl is an amazing teacher and gives very good feedback to my writing. 

The CNA part is challenging because other than memoirs and poetry,  I have not done any CNA. (Oh,  I did some travel writings.) This week’s hermit crab essay,  while sounded fun,  was hair pulling.  If nothing else, it just highlighted how narrow my reading scope had been. 

I am almost afraid of my next essay, writing a portrait after interviews.  I need to really mull over it. 

Speaking of mulling,  I was told last night at a creative workshop that mulling is normal for creativity to spark. Other than my regular class,  we are encouraged to sign up for external workshops organized by the school which I did last night,  on Mindset and Creativity. I had an amazing time meeting fashion,  media,  music students doing diploma and degree courses. (yes,  all as young as my kids.) 

At the class, I was told I have a closed mindset after taking a quiz,   much like Trump.  A growth mindset is encouraged for creativity. I am told to embrace failure as ‘not yet(succeed)’ and to view feedback as a path for improvements. Fear of trying new things is a characteristic of closed mindset which I am aware of.  That’s why I try to get out of my comfort zones but obviously I need to overcome my fear of failure. Again,  we were reminded that success will only come with hard work and less Facebook.  I have been reminded that three times since I started school. 

My husband says I am stressed from the way I raise my voice and how I snap at him.  I probably am. After all,  it’s a entire change of lifestyle for me and I am still adjusting. Plus, my family members and friends assume just because I am no longer working,  I have reverted back to my tai tai lifestyle and am at their back and call. (I never had a tai tai lifestyle!)

Hopefully the situation will improve along with my writing. In the mean time,  I will remind myself to enjoy the process and be in the flow, and focus less on the product,  as I learned last night. 

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