Saturday, May 28, 2011

Being Schooled at 21 by 13 year-olds

Recently, I had the fortune of being asked to conduct a drama enrichment programme at Edgefield Secondary School. The thought of teaching drama to secondary school students filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. Such feelings are influenced by the fact that I am finally getting paid to do something that I love but if my relief teaching experiences were anything to go by, it may not be what I expected. As it turns out, it was indeed not what I expected. Unexpected in all senses of the word for I felt that they taught me more than I taught them.

Despite being in normal academic* which, in this country, meant that they shoulder prejudice and the occasional dismissal of their ideas or capabilities, they were able to carry their own weight and stand by their ideas. They possess a strength that most of us seem to have lost in face of an overpowering authority or someone that we truly admire for their knowledge for the fear of appearing silly or childish.

While they are learning the basic principles of drama through games or working on their project of creating a short ten-minute skit, I am often struck by their immense creativity and how it is translated to solving various problems that cropped up along the way. While they often expressed their awe when I worked with them on improving their plots, I am more amazed at how they managed to deliver on the several occasions when I said to them, "I don't know how you are going to do it, but I want this done." That is why I find myself cringing whenever I had to impose boundaries on them as I know that it will kill their creativity bit by bit.

Another instance of maturity and strength was illustrated by one of the boys in the class. The director of his group was absent as one of his grandparents had unfortunately passed away. Most of his group members were panicking, as the director was the only one who knows what was going on and what the blocking should be, except that boy. What he did next was simply amazing. He picked up the pieces by asking his group members if they knew anything about what is happening next and tried to block the piece to the best of his ability while constantly seeking my opinion. For someone who has no experience in drama whatsoever, he really puts all of us to shame.

Seeing these children reaffirms my love for drama and how it is so important to help them fulfill their potential and not stifle it by expectations and academic grades. While it was only a very short span of time that I got to train them, I certainly missed them and definitely will do so for a long time as they are my very first class. And till now, I have no idea who was the teacher and who was the student.

*For those who are not familiar with Singapore's education system, click here to find out more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Building Blocks

Recently, as I was waiting for my bus to IKEA from the bus stop opposite Queensway MRT Station, I was shocked to find that the apartment block beside it that I have grown so used to awaiting demolition.

Built in the 1970s, such an apartment block is indeed a rarity with apartments above and provision shops below. While I do not go there often, I used to buy snacks and drinks to fill my tummy whenever I am waiting for a bus to go to IKEA. It really feels like seeing an old friend go without you knowing. Hence, I decided to capture some of its features that are no longer seen in the modern apartment blocks.

(Clockwise from top left: A Shopfront, Letterboxes, Old Pawnshop, Sign Spotted at Pawnshop) 

While taking these pictures, I thought to myself: in the face of rapid changes, what is worth preserving? I turned to my aunt and asked her if she thinks if such an apartment block should be preserved or totally demolished. She replied that it should make way for change as it does not have architectural value such as the likes of Raffles Hotel or the shophouses in Arab Street.

While it is a rational argument, the nostalgist in me could not bear to see it go and I struggled internally to find the architectural value in this apartment block to render it worth preserving. After much thought, I realised that while apartment blocks in the '70s are built with practicality rather than aesthetics in mind, it does reveal how one lives way back then. When this apartment block was built, Singapore is still a fledgling nation and a main concern for the government is to find ways to integrate the people. As such, it is no wonder that this apartment block is a self-contained community where housewives buy groceries below and share the week's gossip or the children could play catch in the open spaces while their mothers keep a watchful eye from the corridors above.

In this light, I feel that at least one of such apartment blocks could be preserved for posterity. Singapore's history should not be found only in pictures. Unfortunately, in the hunger to push ahead the physical remnants of history becomes a thing of the past.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

我的父親母親, The Road Home

我的父親母親 is a heartwarming film that illuminates the pursuit of love and how it still resounds in one's heart after so many years. The audience are brought on this beautiful journey through the eyes of a son who returns home after the demise of his father, a respected village teacher, to handle the funeral arrangements.

As he tries to balance between his mother's seemingly stubborn request of a traditional procession to the limitations of reality, he relates the love story of his parents as we (the son and the audience) collectively discover the reason behind his mother's insistence that is borne out of an unwavering devotion for her husband. This motivated the son to fulfill his mother's wishes to conduct a tradition funeral against the odds.

The courtship all those years ago started when Luo Changyu comes from the city to teach the students in the village. On seeing him, Zhao Di, the belle of the village, becomes infatuated with him as he is taken aback by her beauty and kindness. This sparked off a blossoming romance that consists of exchanged glances and the silly things one would in the midst of being intoxicated by love.

Yet, the course of true love never did run smooth as they are separated due to the ambiguous political trouble that Luo has gotten into. But Zhao's devotion never wavered as she awaits his return at the expense of her health. Fortunately, true love did triumph in the end as they were reunited and never to be separated for forty years.

This film, anchored by the brilliant performances from Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Yulian (young and the elderly Zhao Di respectively) and Zheng Hao (Luo Changyu) as well as furnished  by Zhang Yimou's directorial vision, is certainly a masterpiece.

The innocence and chemistry between Zhang Ziyi and Zheng Hao certainly moved me as the flush of first love between their characters unfolded. The subtleties between the actors through each sideward glance and emerging smile communicated so much more than the usual melodramatic fare. Despite having little screen time,  the quiet strength exuded by Zhao Yulian in her devotion to provide a proper funeral for her husband and fulfill his last wish of rebuilding the school is a beautiful contrast to that of Zhang Ziyi's portrayal of innocent anticipation. The evolution of Zhao Di's devotion provided by the contrast in the portryal of the two actresses gives us a more realistic sense of the strength of her devotion in different times of her life.

Having said that, the direction of the film provided by Zhang Yimou is simply outstanding. His interesting choice of presenting the present day in monochromatic colours to enhance the bleak physical and internal landscape of winter and Zhao Di's mind respectively as opposed to the lush and vivid colours to paint the flush of love in Zhao's youth enhances the brilliance of the love story. The same could be said of the pace of the plot as there are extended scenes of nothingness in the present day as compared to the quick unfolding of the love story. While the scenes in which the young Zhao is waiting for Luo to return may be long, the emotional beats of anticipation, longing and hope somehow increases the pace of the scene emotionally in the midst of the stillness.

Another aspect of the film which must be credited to Zhang Yimou and Bao Shi (screenwriter of the film which is based on his novel, Remembrance) would be the use of silence in the film. The economical use of dialogue is meant to explain and accelerate the plot and nothing else but images of Zhao running clumsily in a state of pure happiness or close up shots of a bowl being mended act as symbols of love and understanding. This truly appeals to the raw emotions of the audience. While it is unknown to us if Zhang Yimou ever intended his film to reach beyond his Chinese audience, he has certainly woven a beautiful story poised for the international screens.

This cinematic work of poetry transcends all boundaries and I challenge anyone not to be touched by it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Opening a New Chapter

"A new chapter has opened in Singapore's history..." as the people, rightly or wrongly, have truly spoken. The close statistics in the polls have shown that the incumbent has taken a much smaller slice of the political pie even in those constituencies which were once considered their strongholds. Many of us will definitely be still reeling (either in euphoria or disappointment) from the results as we all wonder: what now?

To answer this  question, we can look to an intellectual luminary that has witnessed the birth of the world's greatest democracy, Thomas Jefferson.

"But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren  of the same principle." - Inaugural address, March 4, 1801

This beautiful phrase really sums up the symbolism behind electing MPs. The people have placed their trust in the elected MPs  to look after their needs and voice out their opinions in parliament. Therefore, regardless of which party they come from, they are all working for the good of their constituents.

In this light, the MPs  and their supporters must note that:

"The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people."   - Thomas Jefferson to John Dickinson, 1801.

Personally, I am slightly disappointed with some of the results but at the end of the day, we as a people must celebrate the strength of democracy; the ability to make a once powerful incumbent sit up and pay attention. That is why I truly believe so strongly in exercising our birth right. It is with such results that call for a strong celebration come August as it is a mark of a mature society that we can decide for ourselves as well as the ability to field a resonant alternative voice in the parliament.

Yet, a bigger task and responsibility lie ahead of us, we as a people who have awarded the responsibility and trust to these MPs must hold them to task and ensure that they have delievered on their promises to the best of their ability. Their actions in the next 5 years that should inform us of our decisions in the next General Elections when we look back then for:

"History, in general, only informs us what bad government is." Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807.

Till 2016 then and all Singaporeans say: Majulah Singapura! (Onward Singapore!)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unwitting Archivers

In any landscape that has undergone rapid changes, there will come a time when there is an underlying need to capture moments in time as a means to chart out the evolution of the social and phyiscal landscapes of the past. Be it for the sake of nostalgia, safekeeping or academic reference, an archive is a valuable resource as the recent re-run of the documentary, 'Lost Images', on Okto has proven.

The documentary consists of footage taken by Dr. Ivan Polunin when he visited Malaya and later resided in Singapore during the 1950s-70s. Such footage were incredibly valuable in reflecting the lives of the people then as well as presenting the sights and sounds of certain aspects such as the orang laut community or the farming methods within the kampongs. These images would have otherwise been lost had it not been for Dr. Polunin who decided to record them now for his own remembrance and unexpectedly, for generations of Singaporeans.

Having enjoyed the film thoroughly, I realised that in 50 years time, we would not need to worry about finding archives that documents the major events of today but what about the sights and sound of everyday life? Who is the next Dr. Polunin among us not only in Singapore but everywhere else? I need not look any further than to switch on my computer and be bombarded by videos, sound bites and photos. So yes, the Facebookers, Twitterites and Youtubers will be the next Polunin!

It is undeniable that the videos and photos on these social media platforms do not have the focus of capturing a slice of life as what Dr. Polunin has done. But it is interesting to note that Dr. Polunin took those footage for his own record but never did he expect that the rolls of film sitting in his house will become a precious resource in depicting Singapore's past. Similarly, it is the candid nature and rawness of the various photos and videos that will inform our future generations of the current sentiments and culture of our time. That is why the editors at Time magazine celebrated You in 2006 and I am sure they will do the same in 50 years time. 

So what are you waiting for? Start shooting!

Rallies for Thursday, 5/05/2011

Dear Readers,

The venues and time of today's rallies have been updated. Kindly click on the "Rallies" page at the top of the page to find out more.

Today is the last chance for you to catch what the parties have to say. Do take some time to attend some of them.

2 Days to Polling Day!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rallies for Wednesday, 4/05/2011

Dear Readers,

The information for the rallies that take place today has been updated. Click on the "Rallies" link to find out where and when the various parties are holding their rallies.

Do take some time to attend some of them to aid you in taking an informed decision on Polling Day. 3 Days to Polling Day!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rallies for Tuesday, 3/05/2011

Dearest Readers,

I have updated the information about the rallies taking place today which can be found by click the "Rallies" link at the top of the page.

Do take some time to attend some of the rallies.

4 Days to Polling Day!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rallies for Monday, 2/05/2011

Dear Readers,

The information about the various rallies taking place today has been updated. Click on "Rallies" at the top of the page to find out more.

Do take some time to attend some of the rallies. 5 days to Polling Day!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rallies for Sunday, 01/05/11

Dear Readers,

The rallies for Sunday, 01/05/11 have been updated. Do take some time to attend the rallies and hear what the parties have to say.

6 days to Polling Day!