Remembering KONG Yin Ling 江燕玲

It is not often I speak publicly or write about artist deaths within the arts community through the decades that I have grown up in and be part of as a professional today. Remembering them fondly for their presence, private conversations, close friendships/relationships and thoughts on art is how I cope with the morbid reality of the passing of such ageing or ill-stricken artists – it saddens me in a personal way due to my relationships with them (as opposed to an obligation by means of work association). However today… the passing of an artist compelled me to seek a personal way to remember her.

Condolence notice submitted by members of The Molan Art Association (names redacted) and as published in local Chinese broadsheet Lianhe Zaobao, Obituaries. 2020 May 21.
Condolence notice submitted by members of The Molan Art Association (names redacted) and as published in local Chinese broadsheet Lianhe Zaobao, Obituaries. 2020 May 21.

As a relatively low profile Chinese ink painter and calligrapher based in Singapore, the late Madam KONG Yin Ling (江燕玲 Jiang Yan Ling) graduated from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and further studies at the China Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou.[1] She first began her exhibition career in 1988 with her Chinese ink painter husband CHEN Shi Jin (陈士仅),[2] and had since been active as a participating member of the Molan Art Association, Singapore Art Society, NAFA Alumni Association and Shichen Chinese Calligraphy and Seal-Carving Society. Memorably, she studied portraiture under Singaporean portrait artist SIEW Hock Meng (萧学民). She passed away at the age of 58 on May 18, 2020. She is survived by her husband.

While an art historical perspective of paintings is not the focus of this article, I deeply respected and loved her Chinese ink paintings of Southeast Asian women that she had seen in her travels.

KONG Yin Ling, Untitled, 1991 (辛未), unknown dimensions, Chinese ink and pigment on paper. From exhibition catalogue Molan Association 25th Anniversary Special 墨澜社二十五周年纪念特刊, 1992.
KONG Yin Ling, Untitled, 1991 (辛未), unknown dimensions, Chinese ink and pigment on paper. From exhibition catalogue Molan Association 25th Anniversary Special 墨澜社二十五周年纪念特刊, 1992.

Placing aside her ability as a Chinese ink painter, I always remembered her bright smile and kind voice whenever I visited her and her husband or travelled overseas with my family with them.

At Cameron Highlands, early 1990s. L to R Dad (LIM Choon Jin), KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin, KOH Mun Hong and unnamed lady. Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.
At Cameron Highlands, early 1990s. L to R Dad (LIM Choon Jin), KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin, KOH Mun Hong and unnamed lady. Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.
At Myanmar, 1999. L to R - Local guide, KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin and Dad (LIM Choon Jin).Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.
At Myanmar, 1999. L to R – Local guide, KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin and Dad (LIM Choon Jin).Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.

She always had a kind word or story for everything that could be taught to a young child – and I grew up calling her Yanling-jie (燕玲姐) much to the annoyance and chagrin of many other artists’ wives or female artists. Her quiet personality, resilience against adversity and constant support of her husband help to shape my thoughts and inspire me over the years (as well as to serve as a personal “matrix” to seek out my significant other).

As time went by, I seldom had the chance to meet Yanling-jie but retained fond memories of her over the decades. It was in 2016 during National Gallery Singapore’s presentation of Ink Masters series (with Singaporean Chinese ink painter KOH Mun Hong 许梦丰) that I met her again. I did a double take and had to seek the confirmation of her identity with “Uncle” GOH Chiew Lye (Singaporean Chinese ink artist 吴秋来) and “Aunt” YEO Yang Kwee (the wife of the late Singaporean Chinese ink artist CHUA Ek Kay) who were both there at the presentation.


Turning around, she was shocked and surprised at my salutation. She called me by my personal name and said that only “that one rascal” who would call her in this manner over the decades. My eyes were moist with tears as were hers, while we emphasised our mutual inability to recognise each other (I mean, the last time we met I was still a child). Thus under the wry smiles of Uncle Goh and Aunt Yeo, we began to catch up over what we have been doing over the years.

Before I had to return to my duties, I mentioned to her that I would like to interview her one day (after my studies) with regards to her Chinese ink paintings of Southeast Asian women. She was thrilled and told me that she is looking forward to that.

Alas, she is gone too soon. I hope I will still be able to pick up the pieces of her gentle voice and loving personality in her art in due time.

[1] See The Molan Art Association – 35th Anniversary 1967-2002, ed. The Molan Art Association (Singapore: Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, 2002), Exhibition Catalogue. Unfortunately, the exhibition catalogue has minimal chronological details.

[2] See “Visual Artist – Chen Shi Jin,” Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 2011. Accessed May 21, 2020.

Understanding Myself

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” ― Harlan Ellison

Over the years whenever I was bored or had to undergo some kind of personality test, the results are pretty much consistent – I am identified as an INTJ sort of person. If you are not sure what this means, you can refer to a simplified version of it here (the graphics are really pleasant too).

Nothing annoys me more than a slight gap of knowledge, be it with myself or with others.

For myself, I would often read up on what I am not sure of, and become vested in the knowledge of this newly acquired knowledge – sometimes, I feel that I may eventually become the Master of Useless Information. To temper this potentially embarrassing achievement, I only pursue things that I am interested in and achieve mastery in those areas… for things that are of lesser importance, I would try to gain some passing knowledge of it.

For others, I find that it is kind of an double-edged sword. If the other party is knowledgeable, that is all well and good. However, if the other party tries to pass off as knowledgeable (and fail), I would find it hard to respect the credibility of this person, and with it, the entirety of the person himself/herself. Always on hindsight, this annoying trait of mine can undermine my relationship with others (especially at work) – as I grow older and perhaps more experienced, I do try to temper it. But it’s hard.

A decent strategy that I have adopted is to refrain from commenting, but silently judge. I guess being silent is far better than making potentially terrible remarks.

Oooh! That’s so J of the INTJ. I just can’t catch a break.

When I often get approached for help, I find myself willing to extend my hand or even provide advice. I believe deeply in the success of group objectives rather than individual objectives. If there is a way that individual objectives can be achieved along with the core group objectives, you know I will be there to provide assistance or to give advice.

My friendly nature contradicts with my private nature – I am often described as the quieter version of the “social butterfly” (not in an ostentatious or loud way) who can make social connections easily, and build trust with people who matter to me. I believe that by being a warm person, I am able to connect deeper with my colleagues (who often become my close friends). Yet at the same time, I am fiercely private where I keep to this small core of close friends whom I trust and rely on. In this context, I find that being sociable allows me to read the general perceptions and feelings of others… and prepare accordingly in advance.

In a leadership class I have just attended, my team was tasked with an activity to think of ideas and to present them. Due to prior classes and getting to know each other, I realised that I often get singled out to lead the teams. In the past, I have often been asked to lead teams by unanimous agreement – I find that puzzling.

Since this was a leadership class, I asked my team mates why they picked me. My team mates felt that they could trust me to lead them because they found me warm and friendly – “good intentions with no motives” as one would describe it.

Good intentions. That got me into trouble when I seemingly over-extended my assistance. While the beneficiaries are grateful, they were horrified that I got sanctioned for my assistance.

When I attended an investiture function last week, the guest of honour mentioned that the incumbent government and its agencies are looking for people who will be good leaders. She emphasised on warmth more than competence in seeking leaders – she demonstrated on the need for warmth over competence by sharing examples of sincerity and connections that made people trust and believe in their leaders. “Competence can be provided by others who work for the leader, but the leader has to be a leader of people, not a leader of competence.”

Wow. I agree wholeheartedly, but I think there is still the need some
form of competence, but just not specific technical competence?

Some reading for your enjoyment…

At the end of it, be it I am INTJ or otherwise, I still believe that life is a journey… and having others following and yet on the same level… will be a wonderful experience.

Premonitions as Part of My Journey

When my journey made abrupt change in direction in 2015, I began staying with my parents after twelve years away from them.

The first week saw me preparing my old room for my own use, intentionally creating an enclosed environment within my room surrounded by my boxes and shelves… a small gap from this enclosure leads to my bed where I can hide in this private space of my own – and perhaps to figure out what I am going to do from there on.

One month in, I told my parents that I want to visit my Malaysian relatives again – an absence of almost twenty-odd years. I had fond memories of my old kampung house there, where I grew up with my cousins in a small area with chickens and almost-farm-like environments.

Childhood memories.

I remembered helping out with my aunts with their cooking and even accompanying my cousins to the nearby Chinese high school. I had stopped going back when I started preparing for my final year in primary school… and I have never been back since.

We took the train from Woodlands and got off at Kluang, Malaysia – my mother’s hometown. Stepping off the train, and onto the same old platform, brought back a tremendous flood of memories of my childhood.

I returned to Malaysia for a reason – it was not because I wanted a trip to distract myself, but to answer this dreadful premonition that was in my heart and mind. There was one person whom I was close to, and I had to meet and talk to this person even for a few minutes or seconds; and it was my third maternal aunt.

She operated a simple hawker stall just opposite the previously mentioned Chinese high school. She became extremely animated when she realised the stranger who accompanied my parents was actually me. “I have returned,” I greeted her shyly. Her warm smile almost broke my heart, and started offering to cook for me.

My mother saw my exchange with my aunt, and asked me quietly later, “Is there a reason why you wanted to come back?” I deflected that with lies: I wanted to see my old home town, I wanted to eat the good food, I wanted to heal my broken heart… and so on.

Just last month, my third maternal aunt passed on due to third-stage cancer. My mother cornered me again and demanded whether I knew. I did have a premonition: I felt it and that’s why I wanted to go back.

And now, I am having another one.

Beyond the fact that I am staying with my parents again, there was something nagging at me – my parents themselves. In a way, I am glad I am able to be nearer my parents should the time come. On the other hand, it is a worrying burden that I am quietly enduring before the inevitable happens.

Lately, I noticed a change and I do hope that I am wrong.

This morning my mother spoke to me about arrangements for the family and made me promise to look after my sister. I already know the details that are to go into such arrangements – my mother and I think alike, and we just have a knack for certain things. When she talked, I shared with her what my intentions are regarding such arrangements, and she said she felt a burden lifting from her shoulders – she knows that I know what to do, and that I will be able to look after the various things for the family.

Sure, I know how to be fair and where to draw the lines. Still, it is a terrible burden for one person to carry and undertake through the years – but this is my lonely journey, I guess.

What about my sister? She is someone who needs to be looked after. I do hope that she can find a good companion to trust and rely on – that’s my own wish as her brother. Till then I can only do what it is expected as her only older brother. And she knows that I will always unconditionally turn up when she needs help – no need for words, I will be there.

But you know, I am tired. Really tired.