Class Observation @ Studio Miu

A few days ago, I went to observe my father during his Chinese-Ink painting class at Studio Miu. From its initial location at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Studio Miu has relocated to Centre Point to better serve its students.

You can read about my coverage of his lesson at Jin Yin Mo.

What struck me about my father’s lessons was that he was very approachable and interested in sharing his knowledge to his students. This is an aspect of my father that I had not witnessed but have heard about from his students or peers.

His students at Studio Miu waxed lyrical about how they loved his teaching style and how they enjoyed his lessons thoroughly. One student even stated very firmly that they plan their lives around his Friday lessons – to much fervent consensus.

I have never been taught by my father to paint. He talks to me about painting and all the important concepts behind the paintings, but generally left me to my personal development.

At a very young age, I developed an interest in painting due to my father’s influence. So he sent me to Gradsign Art School instead. I was taught children art by a Ms Tan, followed by Mr Lim Leong Seng and Mr Boo Sze Yang for watercolours.

I stopped attending art classes at Gradsign when I went to secondary school, but continued my interest in painting at the Art Club headed by Mr Ho Cheok Tin. Under Mr Ho’s tutelage, I learnt Chinese-Ink painting. I even managed to get an award from the Singapore Youth Festival for one of my paintings.

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Dad and me at the Singapore Youth Festival 1994

Besides covering Chinese-Ink painting, watercolours, gouache, I learnt Chinese calligraphy under Mr Lim Wong Hoe (whom I admired for his precise yet unique style of calligraphy).

Personal development is the core of my interest in art, with my father watching and supporting from a distance. When I made the decision to not pick up painting at a local art college, he was disappointed. While I may not be an artist now, I am supporting him as his manager… my interest and passion in the arts have never been extinguished.

When he shares with me the social going-ons in the art community, discuss various artists’ developments, and even asking me to critique his work, I am still able to rely on my self study of the arts and personal talents to be a competent arts commentator or as a participant in a dialogue.

While I may not have inherited my father’s flair for Chinese-Ink painting, I am honoured to be relied upon to support his work, and be able to advise other younger artists in their professional development.

As a personal belief, something that I hold very dearly to, I am a professional. Choon Jin maybe my father, but work is work. Just as I believe in paying the full value of a painting as per the label price, I do not favour my father’s works when I see something better from another artist.

While some people have laughed at me for being so silly and not asking for favours, I can firmly stand up on my own feet and act as I am, because I have straight convictions about art and knowing when things are professionally aligned. Thus on a professional level, my father is an artist in the wider arts community and he is treated as such.

I am relying on my own skills as a professional – my good eye and sense (for aesthetics, techniques, colours and compositions), my knowledge (of art and its social communities) and my preference for discretion (in the art community) – perhaps these are attributes that set me apart.

Standing here at Studio Miu and observing my father at work, I am appreciative of the way he delivered his lessons in class. Reflecting upon my newly-acquired knowledge of adult learning, he seems to have utilised an instructional approach but couched it in a friendly and open manner.

The students whom I have met, have different learning needs as well. The morning class was more socially interactive (two European students and one Chinese student) while the afternoon class leaned towards a “teacher to student” interaction (one Japanese student). I think my father’s friendly manner makes the students’ learning process much easier and adapt to, as well as receive feedback and critique from him.

Reinforcement and encouragement through his friendly critique seemed to go well with his students, as they earnestly accept his critique and expands the feedback session with more questions. His willingness to share more of his knowledge, and even suggestions for self practise, shows his passion in encouraging his students to push ahead on their own pace and even develop on their own areas of interests.

I hope to be able to participate in more class observations. I may have been away for a long time, I think this is a good time to understand my father and his work much better.

Planning a Credit Agency

[ Public Service Announcement – this is tongue firmly in cheek. ]

On this historical day, June 6, two strapping young lads (a handsome eloquent Caucasian and an irreverent Chinese guy) created a new brain child of a new workforce-centric credit agency. In line with a national accreditation process, a competency map was thus created to effectively plan and assess the competencies of one such credit agency’s employees.

In the competency map, there are five dimensions: task skills, task management skills, contingency management skills, job & role management skills, and transferable skills. These dimensions grant the ability to assess the current skills of the employee against expected skills – any gap will lead to further training to bring the employee up to standard.

Task skills refer to the performance of individual tasks based on expectations in the credit agency.

Task management skills refer to the individual’s abilities to handle multiple different tasks in order to complete an entire work activity.

Contingency management skills refer to the individual’s abilities to handle exceptional cases beyond the expected work situation.

Job & role management skills refer to the individual’s capacity to handle responsibilities and expectations in the work situation that is not directly related but in parallel to the individual’s job scope.

Transferable skills refer to the individual’s ability to transfer or up-scale existing knowledge and skills to an expanded work situation or expectations.

With that in mind and the local context (Singapore), a proposed credit agency’s skill set is thus developed – introducing Ah Long Inc.

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Competency Planning for Ah Long Inc.

For task skills, ad-libbing (for clients and public agency enforcers), prospecting (for clients) as well as collection of due assets.

For task management skills, documentation of receivables and client particulars is a very important skills. Decorative skills are required as well. Minor renovation-related skills (such as the ability to use adhesives on various materials for strong binding intentions) and butchery skills were considered, but something more realistic and less messy would professionalise the employees.

For contingency management skills, athleticism is a necessary core skill for unexpected and dynamic changes in the working environment. Hand to hand combat skills is proposed but a deep focus on self defence is needed to protect the employees from abuse and potential violence from clients. Contrite submission to authorities is a must for self-preservation skills.

For job & role management skills, the ability to persuade is very important. As professionals, this ability is tantamount to the survival and professionalism of the credit agency.

For transferable skills, employees will be able to transfer their existing knowledge to expanded operations or related fields. One such industry would be credit card companies as collection agents or loan officers. Ad-libbing will be another important transferable skill if the Commercial Affairs Department decides to have a chat with them.

Thus, with a well-thought proposal for the competency dimensions, a professional credit agency will have a good set of standards to adhere and aspire to today!

[ Public Service Announcement – this is tongue firmly in cheek.] 

The laughs in class were long and loud.

There was another activity later on developing standard operating procedures. The role play activity was to create a SOP on how to greet customers from various F&B service levels (from high-end dining, fast food dining and to hawker dining).

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My eloquent Caucasian course mate role played as a hawker assistant, while I role played as a customer. My hearty well-done to him for trying to speak in Mandarin.

Pro tip – go with AI CHIAK SIMI as the SOP for hawker assistant.

Academic Writing is a Chore

I am aware that I am treading on controversy with that proclamation.

I remembered the days when the keyboard was pressed firmly against my face as I raged silently (and tiredly) at the futility of it all.

Attending the lectures in the evenings for the three years was a different experience for me personally. I would observe my course mates trudge into the lecture/tutorial rooms with heavy hearts and leaden feet – most are working adults and they are making the extra effort in their evenings to study. In comparison, the younger subset of the university population are full time students without work commitments (largely) and were having the time of their lives.

I truly believed that I learnt a lot from my course mates, who come from a wide variety of industries and backgrounds – I was exposed to their collective wealth of experience and perspectives. Some of whom I can definitely get along with, and some of whom I just (I can’t help it) berate endlessly for jumping on different political bandwagons and sending class discussions off the metaphorical cliff.

Due to my certification process in adult learning, I can now make a connection to the challenge of teaching adult learners. During my university days, some lecturers try to explain certain concepts but sometimes they get corrected by the students. A typical exchange would have a lecturer going on about an outdated government policy, and the student (from the relevant government agency) who would point out the error and expand on the current policy in place.

I see it as a humbling experience for the lecturer, who may not be updated on the latest information. Maybe it is a cultural thing, some lecturers take it very personally and spend time trying to justify their explanations.

How gracious, these dwellers of ivory towers.

My favourite exchange was how a lecturer introduced herself as a “twenty year veteran in the communications field”. Her credibility suffered a dent when she marked down assignments for “not having a hook or enough media punch”.

The context was a case study of a serious matter related to a government linked company. The contention was that the context itself is a headline without the need for sensationalising.

Given the operation and media profile of the government linked company, any error that arises from their operations is an instant headline as thousands of people are directly and adversely affected. There is never a need for a press conference call – the reporters will be banging on the lobby door within minutes of the news.

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“I don’t care what you think! EVERY news item NEEDS a HOOK! Every news item NEEDS a PUNCH!”

No wonder she is a freelancer for twenty years after a few initial years at a local agency.

After than incident, I don’t remember seeing her name on the list of adjunct lecturers any more. “Oh, you know… she could be too busy with her media work to teach us,” a course mate told me with a sly smile. “You’re terrible!” “I know. And I don’t think it’s just me.”

As I woke up from the soreness of my face, imprinted by the keyboard, I remember the very reason why I dreaded academic writing.

THE AWFUL WORD COUNT.

I love words. I love long sentences of long narratives and soul. Modern academic writing is the antithesis of my nature. Simple! Short! Concise!

I tried so hard to be concise. Then I hit the second wall, the legendary “provide a relevant example” and “explanation of the concept is too simple” comments from the lecturer.

Look, you can only summarise an entire chapter of a singular concept into a few sentences. AND stop asking me to write the explanations as if the lecturer is completely ignorant. If the lecturer is ignorant of the concept, wouldn’t a detailed explanation give the blank-slate lecturer an idea before launching into an “application” aspect of the writing?

Say, I want to condense the entire works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto in four sentences (summarising each of the four chapters), I can give you this gem:

Disparities in resource ownership lead to endless class struggles. Equalise all resources with common ownership. The road to common ownership is full of obstacles. All hail Utopia.

If you tell me that you don’t understand, as a blank-slate lecturer, it is your fault for giving me a word limit when you want me to talk about its preceding influences, core theory and ultimate destination where communism will replace socialism (where socialism is the interim period towards the common ownership that communism is about).

Don’t get me started about writing collaborative ideas, substantive applications, and examples – all for a low price of 800 words!

Rummaging in the Attic

I was rummaging in my boxes when I chanced upon a dusty old folder filled with illustrations made during my secondary school years.

I fondly remembered my Macbeth series; to me it was a terrible vengeance on my cohort’s literature teacher because my cohort studied Midsummer Night’s Dream, instead of Othello or Macbeth. I remembered being gleefully dismissive of my cohort’s literature teacher’s pleads to draw a series for Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The winner was my junior cohort’s literature teacher, a Ms Saleha. Sometimes when my juniors communicate with me in recent years, they would often talk about my Macbeth illustrations. I remembered one commenting that the principal was shocked that there was murder scenes being depicted in the illustrations.

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Hello? Macbeth is bloody murder. Since when is regicide not bloody or not have dead people? For that matter, violence is constantly depicted on television, and I’m censored for drawing a regicide scene, a dead child and the death of Macbeth? While all illustrations were shown to my juniors in the literature cohort for their lessons, a selected number of those same illustrations were published in the school magazine (1997, I think) by the organising committee (some say, as a silent protest over censorship).

My only quibble (till today) is that none of the fashion styling, weapons, armours, interiors, and food were representative of the implied time period and locality. If I was to do this again, I will research it a little bit more before I actually start drawing.

For example, as the Macbeth implied time period (11th century) and locality (Inverness, Scotland), you would see the characters being armed with Viking-influenced weapons and donning early forms of mail hauberks and chausses.

Yes, I’m crazy like that.

After going through all the illustrations I had, scanning them in for archival sakes… I realised something… my illustrations are getting simpler. 😀

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Comparing the series on Macbeth and my illustrations from IAL, it’s a sobering moment.

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I mean, just look at it! They had proper tops and pants. Now? My illustrations are basically potatoes. Haha, nevermind.

And thus, Natsu’s Story

As suggest by a reader, there are fragments of Natsu’s Love that I can share with you – and perhaps to give you an adequate conclusion to Natsu’s story.

The eventual meeting with Tenjin’s mentally disturbed mother (she seems normal except the habitual preparing for the father’s meals) will unearth Tenjin’s personal motivations on the reasons of wanting to be a healer – to attempt to bring her back to health again. As Tenjin and Natsu spend the night at his mother’s place, Natsu encounters a strange girl in the garden when she is about to visit the outhouse (literally outside the house). The strange girl flees into the darkness and leaves Natsu puzzled over the trespassing.

Tenjin’s mother mentions that recently a pale girl has begun visiting her occasionally and often leaves behind packages of tea. Natsu is curious about the packages of tea and asks to take a look. Natsu is shocked to discover an insignia of her family on the packages of tea. Natsu attempts to contact her sister, Haru, but to no avail. Fearing the worst, Natsu decides to wait for the strange girl to appear again.

Tenjin wakes from a nightmare and describes a strange pale girl that was present in his nightmare. In the nightmare, he sees a floating visage of a girl rising from a pool of blood. In that pool of blood, he sees an arm that reaching out towards to him. He tries to run but encounters this strange pale girl who threatens him. [The images for this part was actually drawn and posted up]. Fearful for his mother, he walks out of his room and enters the room where Natsu and his mother is sleeping in.

To his horror, the girl is hovering over his mother with gleaming red eyes [sic]. He fires a holy arrow at the girl and she escapes out of the room with a wail. Natsu springs up in the commotion and begins pursuing the girl with Tenjin to the courtyard. The girl stops and turns around. Natsu does not recognise her and is relieved that she is not Haru. The girl does not move, but Tenjin and Natsu hears a commotion from behind them.

Tenjin’s mother enters the courtyard in a horrendous fashion. Her movements are awkward and jerky. Blood oozing from her eyes. Blackened nails and gnarled hands. Natsu is pinned by Tenjin’s mother as Natsu is unwilling to lay a hand on her. Tenjin is conflicted on what to do, but eventually kills his own mother with his magic.

Heart broken, Tenjin turns to find the girl but only sees Natsu in a daze. Morning has broken, Tenjin and Natsu lays his mother to rest.

They journey back to Natsu’s house, but Tenjin is again troubled by nightmares. Tenjin begins to feel the darkness enclosing in his heart and begins to act in erratic ways. Natsu makes enquiries about the girl that they have seen at Tenjin’s house. The common reply would be that there would be packages of tea before a string of deaths in the house the girl visited. Natsu discovers a common clue that in all the houses the girl visited, no one actually used the packages of tea as it was with Tenjn’s mother.

That is about as detailed as I can gather from Kaori’s notes.

The following are just short scribblings that eventually lead to the end:

  1. Haru was shadowing her sister, but felt compelled to help the people who were being targeted by some evil presence
  2. Her packages of tea were meant to prevent disaster from befalling these people
  3. Tenjin becomes the next victim of the evil presence
  4. Natsu could not bear to kill him
  5. Haru appears and purifies Tenjin, saving him from the curse
  6. The evil presences manifests itself [not written in what way]
  7. Haru becomes possessed and is eventually killed by Natsu and Tenjin
  8. With her dying breath, Haru tells Natsu that it was the right thing to do and she will always be with Natsu
  9. Haru disappears [in the typical anime fashion] in a burst of light particles but crystallises into a necklace in Natsu’s hands [oh gawd…]

Interesting stuff:

  1. The necklace shown in K’MA 51 “A Different Point of View” was a gift to Kaori from her late mother (probably a reference to Haru crystallising into a necklace?)
  2. A purple-green caped and masked girl does not seem to be referenced anywhere, but I remembered Kaori mentioning that this masked girl is a necromancer
  3. Tamiko, referenced in K’MA 37, is supposed to be the name of the strange girl Natsu and Tenjin encountered
  4. I don’t think the story ends with Haru’s death but I can’t find or remembered anything else regarding that

Reflecting on it, I am not entirely sure whether Kaori’s storyline is any good, but I think she references to some cultural things or personal experiences that she picked up over the years:

  1. Some Chinese folk use flowers/tea leaves immersed in water to “wash away” evil spirits before they enter their own house. You will see this custom being practised especially after attending Chinese religious funeral wakes
  2. Kaori grew up in a house with the toilet outside. She remembers being terrified of going to that toilet especially at night. Similarly, even in broad daylight, she has an odd habit of switching on the toilet light in my house when she uses it (and often forgets to switch it off)
  3. The horrible description of Tenjin’s mother movement and visuals is probably inspired by Sadako (from the Japanese movie, The Ring)
  4. Kaori does not want Tenjin and Natsu to get married, but to develop deep affection for each other as friends (I hear all the booing and wailing). This stems from her experience of her teenage relationship with someone she liked

I hope this article can help you piece together a story and a conclusion.