No English? No Problem!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Birthday Blessings

(Of course it was originally posted on my birthday! Have edited the post slightly but the message remains the same.)

Yay, it's my birthday, a day I feel entitled to behaving like a spoiled child and getting whatever I want. Of course, this does not always happen but it feels good to carry this sense of special entitlement even for one day.

Reaching 35 for some people I know would be traumatic. But somehow, I have never worried over getting old the way some do. I know this is because I have been blessed in my life, more than a lot of people and definitely more than I deserve.

I have been blessed with a wonderful house, chockful of the stuff I love, a kitchen for me to cook in and a study with a bookshelf stuffed full of books and cameras and a desk overflowing with art and inspiration, both of which I love dearly. I am blessed to have this house for me, husband and the various cats around in stuffed, plastic and porcelain form. 

I have been blessed enough to be able to do a number of the things I love. I have been blessed to be able to afford violin lessons and reach a (though low) level of proficiency. I have been blessed enough to be surrounded by more paper, art and writing materials than I could possibly indulge my creativity in. I have been thoroughly blessed to be able to indulge in film photography and spend money and time developing film when most people would think me mad and just download them from an SD card. 

And I hate to admit this, but I am blessed to be in my job, a job that pays well enough for me to do all the above and to have fun acting as young as the children on some days. Even on the days when I feel like throwing it all in. 

I have been blessed with great friends, not in quantity but in quality. Friends that have seen me through my whole life, seen me married, come to my house for food, drinks, TV, gossip, snacks and filled it with noise, mayhem and merriment. Friends that are there, no questions asked, who welcome me into their lives with open arms and whom I'll welcome in my front door, no questions asked either, other than, "Need a drink?"

I have been blessed with a great husband. One who negotiates through the financial paperwork that I'd rather just shred, who does all the bookings online, who remembers all the nitty-gritty stuff that I will always forget, who stands by me when I'm down, calms me in my emotional maelstorms and makes effort for me just because I'm, well, me. This kind of man, who will change for you, do things for you, support you when you need it, is harder to find than anyone thinks and I'm grateful he is mine. 

Even with all the crap I've put myself through, overall, it's been a good and blessed 35 years. My wish for myself is that I always remain thankful for my blessings as they come. (And a TOTO jackpot would not hurt either) 

Already Know and Want to Know

This month's focus for me is writing. Sadly, I haven't been as persistent at this goal as I wanted to be, blame it on work and all the other things I wanted to do as well. (sigh) Gladly, however, I have seen some progress, however little it is, and that gently nudges me to keep it up. 

From another page in the Pocket Muse, I was prompted to make 2 lists: One of what I knew about a subject, and another of what I wanted to know. Below is the list I made in my planner:
Those in the same industry as me would recognize this as part of a strategy called KWL, standing for what I KNOW, what I WANT to do and what I LEARNT. I learnt to use it to teach non-fiction texts, but never had I thought about using it as a self-reflective tool. 

So how do we use this?

Think first about the subject you want to know about. For me, this would be writing on a professional basis and publishing.

In one column, write down everything you know about your subject.knew that I had the ability to form sentences in English (duh) and that given a good enough prompt, I would be able to spin a small tale. 

In the 2nd column, which is the more important one, list down everything you WANT to know. Here, it is easier to refer to the 1st column to see what else could be added to complete my knowledge. So I knew I could write in English, but I also felt that my current ability wasn't good enough for publishing, maybe just good enough to write a blog and hope some people outside of my circle of friends and family would read it. This tells me I needed to know what made a good story. I also needed to know other things like how to add enough detail to make a good story, how much characterization and plot development I needed. 

What would be the next step for me? Find material and ideas to tackle the items in the 2nd column. Take notes, references and practise this on a regular basis. 

This method turned out to be more useful than I thought. I realised that in writing, even with the skill I had, there was still so much I had to learn and now I desperately want to go to a bookshop to find books to read on this. Not only that, I'm wondering now about doing this for everything I want to learn and improve in. 

Pitfalls? Of course, the most major one being the difference between an intention and an action. It's not enough for me just to know my shortfalls, if I don't do anything about them! Then for the rest of my life, all I would learn from the list is how I'm not good enough yet and I would never see the improvement I want.  

So next steps: Go find a good reference material I can work with and read comfortably. Buy it, keep it and read it regularly over the course of my life. Practise, practise, practise what I read.

And one day, hopefully you see me announcing my new novel! (or blog entry......)

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Creative Fatigue

Sometimes you think something is so difficult. And sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

Like today. I had originally intended (in good faith, I swear) to head to the gym after work. I had packed my gym gear the night before and I was even looking forward to it.

After the end of today's work, I only wanted to go to my bed. I told myself, I will just go! If I just make myself go maybe I can do it!

I managed as far as Plaza Sing, and then I headed to the foot reflexology centre where mercifully they had a space. I took it as divine intention and I enjoyed one hour having my calves kneaded.

I suppose I didn't foresee just how tired I would be. I had forgotten that I was supposed to stay back to help in a cleaning exercise and the heat of the afternoon did not help at all. I don't think I have ever refilled my waterbottle so many times in a day. Of course, by the end of the day, I would have no energy to exercise.

Even if I like to think of it as divine intention......

I took my dinner there and I went home and took a good shower. Then I went to my study and looked at my journals.

Something funny happened. I thought I was tired. I knew I was tired. I had already admitted through the act of foot reflexology that I was tired. Yet, I took up the art journal I had not finished from last month and I stared at the blank page for a while. 

And I then I drew. 

Something funny about fatigue. If you are that into something, fatigue takes a back seat and a form of creative energy seems to take over. I've encountered this before, where I became so wholly engrossed in what I was doing that by the time I finished, I was physically tired, hungry despite having not moved from my chair for the entire duration. It's like suddenly, there was a goal to reach, it was within my grasp and I knew what to do and so without thinking too much about being tired, I did it. 

Of course, once I was done I felt the exhaustion again. But at least this time, I had something to show for it at last. Besides well-kneaded calves.

That which gives pain, also dishes out pleasure [originally published 14 Feb]

This thought came to me during my session at the gym today. I've been trying a new fitness app I downloaded which plays fitness routines at set intervals for you to follow. After such a long fitness hiatus, however, I was feeling plenty of pain. The wall squats I held for 40 seconds made my thighs burn and so did the regular squats. The push-ups made my triceps and biceps scream in collective agony. At the end of 15 minutes, I had to seriously evaluate if I was going to have a heart attack right there in the gym. 

Yet exercise, strangely, also gives me a kind of pleasure. A weird, sick, twisted one, to be sure, but exercise properly done makes me feel stronger instantly. (This is before the muscular aches begin) Regular exercise over time makes me better able to walk up stairs, carry heavy loads and prevents me from getting sick often. Thus, I may have suffered 15 minutes worth of pain, but it also gives me a longer-lasting kind of pleasure, as I am more fit to do all the other activities that I love.

We rightly associate pain with something gone wrong in our body. Migraines, chest pains and stomachaches, to name a few obvious ones, can be signs that something is wrong in the body and needs to be rectified. However, the pain I speak of is something different. This kind of pain can make you uncomfortable, frustrated or even cause murderous and destructive urges but at the end of it, transmutes into overwhelming pride.

One venture that serves as a good example of this are the times I tried sewing. Being plus-plus-sized and alarmed at the dwindling amount of XL clothing being sold in shops, I felt it prudent to learn some sewing techniques. (I believe that there is an ongoing conspiracy in which all clothing manufacturers have decided that only the skinny people have any money to buy their clothing) I went for a round of classes at Spotlight and I also experimented with some smaller projects on my own. 

Once I started, I realised that sewing required a delicacy that I had very little of. It's a very good hobby for women with dainty little fingers, but with fat chops like mine, threading the needle was like playing darts with a very, very tiny dartboard and at times resulted in tears. Even when the needle was finally threaded, my troubles did not stop. Sometimes, the machine jammed. I don't know why, maybe I forgot to offer dead scraps of cloth to some deity of sewing. A few times, I threaded it wrongly so that after stitching one seam, one gentle yank was all it took to rip out the entire piece of thread from the fabric, thus wasting a whole afternoon's work. 

(Here, contemplate smashing the sewing machine with my bare fist.)

So I can say that the process held a fair bit of pain for me, and that some of it I almost inflicted on myself willingly.

Yet, after all the pain was over, the amount of satisfaction and pride I held on seeing the finished product was immeasurable. That is a beauty unique to sewing, that after you are done, you can have an item of practical value.

I guess here's the thing: Pain is almost always part of the process in creating something grand. As long as I keep at doing it, learning from mistakes, learning better ways to do things, (use a threader to thread needles, for one) my reward will include not just the satisfaction of the finished product, but also immense gratification at the result that finally comes out of all my pain. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Practise that piano/violin/ukelele/recorder/drum/noseflute already! [originally written 13th Feb]

One of my resolutions for this year (and the year before, before, and before...) is to practice a musical instrument. I have had varying success with this on my violin and it's a great week if I managed 1 practice session before my Thursday lesson.

On top of this, I also had this bright/lame/whatwasithinking idea to restart my piano and get my diploma. After almost 20 years away from a keyboard. 

Fortunately a friend living nearby generously allowed me access to her house and piano, so that I didn't have to buy a piano of my own. If I ever get my diploma in the end, I think I should inscribe her name on the back. 

So now I have instrument and book. How to practice? Where to start? Ah ha, here's my...

Idiot's Guide to Practicing an Instrument: 

Round 1: Dexterity 
In this round, I intend to improve finger dexterity for better playing. On recommendation, I bought a book by Hanon. Hanon's book is full of finger exercises designed to train flexibility of finger and improve dexterity. I start off with 2 pages of this to loosen up fingers. This is boring playing but really helps when playing nice music later. 

Round 2: Exam pieces
Many shudder at the sight of the ABRSM books which brings bad memories. However, for anyone who wants to test their proficiency, they are a good guide. I found a best-of collection of grade 5-6 pieces, so I will play one piece from this book next. This is so that I know the standard of playing to reach. 

Round 3: Play for Pleasure
Music after all is meant to be enjoyed so I will finish off the practice with some music I like. I have been playing songs from the Les Miserables collection. I first played this book more than 20 years ago and it's amazing to see that while not perfect, my fingers still remember a lot of what they are supposed to do. Next project for pleasure: A Piano Guys collection.

This may seem like it takes a lot of time, but remember my other keyword for language learning: Keep it Easy. So I would do just 1-2 pages of dexterity practice, and play an exam piece 1 or 2 times, which is easy to do. This is the advantage that adult learners have over students. I no longer have to quickly pass my exam in a year in order to save my parents the extra lesson fees (!!) so I will aim for a standard of playing first. Then when I am able to play at least 5 exam pieces easily, I might consider going for an exam.

So my goals:
Be able to play 3 Grade 5 pieces
Be able to play 3 Grade 6 pieces
Be able to play 3 Grade 7 pieces ( Yes, I know this is getting predictable )
Be able to play 3 Grade 8 pieces and score a pass on the diploma

Will I be able to do it in a year, 2 years or will I even be able to reach my final goal before 40? Nobody knows this, not even me. But it's not just about the destination, it's also about the journey you take. So let's just see how the journey goes along and what I pick up along the way. It might just be more interesting than the destination I had in mind. ;)  

Updates: (4th April)

It's been about 2 months now since I first wrote this post so how am I doing? Is my method working for me? 

It has certainly helped in piano playing. I've almost reached my first goal of being able to play 3 Grade 5 pieces on the piano and I have one more piece to reach Grade 5. 

Having a structure in the form of the 3 rounds certainly worked. It became a routine for me and now whenever I practise, I do so knowing that there are good stuffs waiting for me at the end. The weird thing is that the pieces I play for pleasure are actually harder than the Grade 5 exam pieces I'm playing! Yet I'm willing to do so for the love of the music. 

I had some extra help along the way. I managed to show my friend what I had been doing so far and got some valuable pointers from her to improve my practices. Those I have to remember the next time I practise at her place.

Another thing that helps for instrument playing is reflective practice. I first learned this word as a policy at work, which sucked, but later I read an article that made me realize how it could improve parts of my personal life. 

When applying it to practising an instrument, I apply it in a few ways. Before I start playing, I might go over the piece to see which were the parts I had the most problems with and practise those parts first. As I play, I record the music occasionally to keep a track of my playing. I also actively think as I play, am I playing this smoothly enough? Is there enough expression? Did the volume enhance the music?

It's hard but well, thinking is free, so it certainly saves on a lot of fees.

But I could only do this on the piano, because I had already attained a certain level of proficiency. With the violin, it's an utter disaster! My sense of pitch is not good enough to tell whether I was playing off or on key so while I could finish a piece, I had this sense of stumbling through! To make it worse, my arms became tired if I practised too long and as they strained, I would unknowingly go off key and I would only find this out when I went for my next lesson!

I knew that my main problem with the violin was my sense of pitch so I needed a different strategy. I could not just play more and more and more. I had to aim for a level of accuracy instead. Instead of the practices I did with the piano, I downloaded an app that allowed me to record the music by tapping keyboard notes and then changing it to violin-like sounds. Then as I listened to it, I had a more accurate idea of what the music was supposed to sound like. 

It also helped to combat the tired arms, since now I was focusing on quality of note rather than quantity played. 

A goal for the violin then? Haha, lemme complete one more book of technique playing and then I'll decide... Maybe not all things require goals... :p 

Sunday, April 03, 2016


You might notice that the blog entry just before this one is about the River Hongbao festival, which I blogged about much earlier.

Here's what happened: Somewhere during February, I tried to toggle the layout of this blog and ran into some weird technical error, rendering the blog unreadable. 

Until today, I still have no idea what happened exactly.

I still wanted to blog, so I simply created another one [] to blog in. Which is where I've been blogging for the past 2 months.

Then when I checked my original blog yesterday, lo and behold, it has reappeared, hallelujah. But my pic is gone and the template is one of Blogger's basic templates.


It seemed a bit weird to have these 2 blogs, so what I'm going to do is to slowly cut and paste the previous entries back into my original blog every time I create a new blog entry. Think of it as living in a newly renovated house and slowly moving back the old furniture piece by piece. One day, eventually, we should all be living happily together again.


Anyway, it still doesn't change my focus on writing for this month, so as a reminder:

My Writing To-Do List
- Read the book each day, just like what I did with Big Magic.
- Write a story from Pocket Muse at least once a week. - Write in both my blogs at least once a week. 
- Start writing project. (Shhh, secret until I have done a few chapters)

River Hongbao Festival 2016 and Monkey Kings Galore

[original post: 13 February 2016]

On a Friday night, we went to the River Hongbao festival, held at the Floating Platform. The festival was originally intended to be a showcase of Chinese culture during the Lunar New Year. This year, when I went, it seems more like a light-up display of the Monkey King and a place to get ripped off for food and funfair games. (Whatever makes people happy...) 

Regardless, it still makes it an interesting place for a photowalk! For this, I opted for my digital Sony RX5000 because I only had ISO400 film in my film camera, which would not be strong enough to capture the people at the fair. I also used the Intelligent Auto mode, which would automatically choose the best mode to shoot in, so I could concentrate on taking photos. 

The Light-Up Displays

Monkey see, Monkey do

It's not CNY without the God of Fortune

It being the Year of the Monkey, the Monkey King is out in full force.

The hub surprisingly turned out to be a huge Monkey King drama fan. Having watched several versions of the saga, he could name almost all the characters here. 

Pawk, pawk, pawk, pawk........

Here, we saw people throwing coins at this lotus. Turns out that there are bells attached to couplets. Hit 'Gong Xi Fa Cai' and maybe you will strike it rich...? Well, the one who will strike it is most likely the TCM clinic offering free TCM treatment to the needy, because that's where all the coins will go to. All in a good cause......

Most people will aim for 'Xing Xiang Shi Chen' because it's in the middle and pretty much covers every wish you could wish for. Though the hub and I think that if you flung every coin you had at the 5 bells, you are bound to hit at least one of them. The TCM clinic will also be very grateful to you.

I got it!!!!!

 "You can buy a balloon from me... If you know where to find me......."

Nice... Candy art from China. He pours liquid candy and forms it into the shapes of zodiac animals. (Here he makes a dragon) When he is done, he will stick it onto a stick for you to eat. What a shame to do so, after all it's such a nice piece of art....

The Game Stalls
Lesson of Life: Rising COE prices may mean that this is the only car you will ever get to drive.

 "Is he gonna get it?? Is he gonna get it????"

 Lesson of Life: It is easier to hook a plastic fish than to hook a good man.

 "Imma gonna BINGO!!!" (Unfortunately, he didn't have 2 numbers to form a straight line. Lesson of Life: The House always wins.)
"Step right up! Try your luck!"

 And we finish off just in time to see a Monkey King performance at the Esplanade's outdoor theatre. 

The River Hongbao ends today, Feb 14, and there will be fireworks at 9pm so try to go around that time if you intend to do so.