At a luncheon today, the Amigos shared a poem each of us wrote about the group. I am especially touched by what one wrote about me: **


Few are her words,

Deep are her thoughts.

Seemingly aimless,

Indifferent and lost.

But calmly and surely she* rises,

Like a phoenix from burning ashes.


Her laughter and tears

Are expressed in her blog,

And music and concerts

Are her comfort zones and warm resort.


* My Chinese name is used here.

** The poet had given her permission for me to post her poem here.


How to Publish a Comic Book


I was recommended by a fellow participant at the Book Authoring workshop recently to register for a talk by Asiapac Books when he heard my reason for signing up for the workshop, and he explained that Asiapac also publishes books other than comics and that I would get to meet the staff and talk to them.

At the Promenade, L8 National Library Building this afternoon, Ms Chong Ling Ying, gave a short welcome speech and introduced this 35-year-old publishing company. She also said that the company’s focus is on Asian culture and literature; though today’s seminar is on How to Publish a Comic Book, the company also publishes an eclectic range of subjects, from health and wellness, dementia and care giving, food and history to even science fiction and fantasy. This is to encourage creativity and freedom of expression.

The few important points to note about publishing are as follows:

  • Content – This comes from people. The direction the company takes is towards Asian literature and culture, and legacy.
  • Production Process – this is labour intensive and time consuming. There has to be a script, editing, drafting, inking and painting the pages, and layout design.
  • Talent – There is room for more diversity and different voices expressive of the community represented.
  • Money – This is a nuts and bolts issue. There are a few funding sources available from NAC and some non-profit organisations.
  • People – This would include the readers, producers of books and publication. Self-publication means working informally with friends; but the production and publicity/distribution process require manpower. It is recommended that application be made for an ISBN to ensure copyright protection and identification throughout the world. The NLB is the ISBN agency and would ensure that the books have LIFE and would be stored in the NLB archives.
  • Time – A realistic time frame would be nine months, if some work has already been done. The first step is to have a Proposal (synopsis and a few pages of script), then comes editing, the drafting, then more editing … … until the book is ready to go for a lock-down period. Time is the most valuable asset to a project because you can save a lot of money by giving a lot of time; for example, time to read the work, time to review the work, time spent supporting the events/talks/seminars, time contributing and following the progress. Considering the value created, it would build up knowledge and experience.

This is followed by a question-and-answer session of sorts. One question raised is why locals do not support locals. (There’s competition from imported sources like Japan and the US; Singapore does not have the budget for marketing and branding like these countries. Half the books published in Singapore are textbooks. There’s competition from social media; local publishers do not really have a e-book set up that gives greater accessibility and convenience.) Another question is that of budget. A comic book would cost about $10,000 because of the painstaking details in consistency and spotting errors in the illustrations/drawings; but there are smaller budget book projects.

The most important takeaway for me is to find out that Asiapac will publish, edit and market books; they would even handle the marketing for self-published books by handling the distribution process. (They could recommend the printer.)

I managed to speak to the founder/owner/boss of Asiapac, Ms Lim Li Kok, at the end of the session. She was very interested in my project and we exchanged contact details. She has already made an interesting suggestion which I will discuss with my teammates at our forthcoming meeting.

Brunch with Dr Azariah Tan

I was excited to find out that a veteran piano teacher¬† (Dorothy Chia, Forte Music Training and Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup) has organised a brunch with Dr Azariah Tan today. Foremost in my mind was to get Dr Tan’s autograph for his album, Azariah Tan plays Chopin

which his parents gave me soon after it was released in late 2016. And to congratulate him on being awarded the NUS Outstanding Young Alumni Award 2017. I did not expect, but am so privileged to end up seated next to him!

As an introduction to today’s event, we are told that this intimate gathering is a precursor to another event scheduled for May. Dr Tan also said he would like to get to know the present local music situation better, as he has just returned to Singapore for good after being based in Michigan for the last few years. Among those present are a writer for The A List magazine, a monthly guide to arts and culture in Singapore, available free at more than 200 places islandwide, including all public libraries (where I get my copies). She and a colleague recently conducted an email interview with Dr Tan (to appear in next month’s issue), so today was the first time they met face-to-face.

The session was very informal, beginning with the organiser’s question: How true is the statement that “the best feeling is when there’s nothing in the brain”, as expounded by a student of hers? Have piano lessons become therapy sessions of sorts? This brings forth a lively discussion on the number of piano students who only practise half an hour before the lesson (some not even that).

Dr Tan recounts that he has also had a wide range of students in Michigan; and this also spurs his wish to understand the challenges local teachers are facing in Singapore. He worked with Randy and Nancy Faber as a clinician teaching students according to the Faber Piano Method at the Faber Piano Institute, which is in the same town as the University of Michigan. The Faber Piano Adventures are not only about learning to play music but to imagine and express music, with a fun element; this is so important because learning takes place when there’s fun! Some parents may think having fun is wasting time, but this is totally not true. Examples are pieces that imitate the clock (repetitive movements), or sudden forte or stray notes.

Good teachers, therefore, are of paramount importance. Also important is the chemistry between teacher and student. For instance, Dr Tan himself decided on a career in music when he was 11 years old partly because he enjoyed the humour in his piano teacher, though he had started lessons at the age of 4 (and had to be prodded by his parents to practise at times).

Then, there are teachers who feel demoralised and others who would like to stay updated and try new ideas. The present generation of ‘durians’ (prickly on the outside but soft on the inside) and ‘strawberries’ have to be constantly praised and motivated. Students these days are also getting lazy about practising, so what the Faber Piano Method advocates is to introduce adventures and feelings into every piece; eg. imagery or something that is happening, then the children would become enthusiastic.

What does Dr Tan think about students (sometimes it’s even the parents) who think all they need is to learn/practise the scales and three pieces required for the exams? Well, perhaps the only saving grace is that at least they have been exposed to (a little) appreciation for music and the arts. Here again, good teachers are key – it is important to make every lesson different, and change the activity related to the piece in concentrating on the different aspects llike techniques, phrasing, textures and colours. A good teacher would guide students through the practising process by going through the pieces.

How is this done?

  • Break down all their blocks and handling one block at a time.
  • Fingering is important. Wrong fingering will damage the hands (eg weird fingering or uncomfortable fingering). There are usually 2, 3 or 4 different possible fingerings for the same passage,¬† so what is needed is to try and see which one the student likes best.
  • Something that is difficult to play with one hand can be split between the two hands. The fingering can be rearranged so that it’s easier and musically it can be better too. Sometimes composers want certain things but usually rearrangement is possible. Sometimes composers write certain things for a specific reason, for eg the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata – awkward shifts of the hands could mean that the pianist can’t focus on the melodic line.
  • If anything feels uncomfortable, it will not get the best out of the pianist. This works differently for different people. At this point, Dr Tan shared that it is so good that Prof Logan (his teacher at the University of Michigan) worked on fingering on every piece to make it better!
  • Many pianists incur injuries because things are not always done in the most efficient ways because sometimes they are forcing things together. Dr Tan has come across many such pianists in his career. Hence, he reiterates: If something is uncomfortable, there is always a better way.
  • People who work on the nitty-gritty – like fingering – are a rare breed; they have a different type of psychology.
  • Much also depends on the age of the students: how able or willing are they to communicate to their teachers on how it feels and why certain parts don’t feel so good.
  • Doing things in steps: for eg, how to make music out of scales? Scales could be played from forte to piano; scales are running notes and beautiful melodies. Imagine the hands and arms flying! This is also where body positioning comes in.

One question that came up was: Is it advisable for students to participate in competitions? Dr Tan’s response is: talk to the parents. From his experience, competitions are very demanding and emotionally draining too. The first step is for the student to get used to playing for friends and family and enjoy the experience. He also gave little snippets of how he warms up before a performance (such as whooshing up scales in the left hand, conducting the music, certain gestures – easier to do when alone – in the way music is played, to illustrate things, the movement, the focus on the eventual sound rather than the technique (which of course must have been pre-worked out), focus on shaping the line, having a very clear idea of the exact ideal sound in the head what the piece is like, how to shape the phrases (and how technical limitation will affect the sound produced).

All too soon, two hours have passsed and the session has to come to an end. I look forward to more such sessions, and am especially curious about the upcoming event in May.


Du Mu (Tang poet, 801-852) wrote a couple of poems which he titled as Farewell; this is the second one:


There is so much love but

The passion seems to have gone;

There is a feeling that

Smiling is impossible.

Even the candle grieves

When we say our last goodbye;

As though it has a heart

To weep for us till daybreak.

Dealing With Negative Emotions

Two weeks ago, I signed up for this talk with a couple of friends at the Serangoon Public Library, forgetting all about the jazz performance on the same afternoon at the library@esplanade.

I wondered if I had made a wrong decision when I saw there were only about a dozen attendees at the talk. When the two facilitators could not play the introductory video, I wished I was enjoying the jazz performance instead.

It was only when the facilitators role played an incident highlighting the destructive emotional cycle that I felt that perhaps I would learn something, like some useful tips on how to deal with negative emotions. For eg, instead of blaming others and justifying our triggered thoughts when a hot button is pressed, we should learn not to take things personally, nor make assumptions, but move away from the situation to avoid further conflicts.

Besides discussing what “thinking” and “emotional” brains and “emotional destructive cycle” mean, the facilitators also shared some signals to show that the body is stressed and strategies to manage negative emotions. These include

  • Body Talk – clenched jaw & gritted teeth, stomach upsets, aches & pain, chest pains & rapid heartbeat, insomnia, nervousness & shaking, ringing in the ear, and cold & sweaty hands & feet;
  • Feelings Talk – easily agitated, frustrated & moody, feeling overwhelmed, like losing control or need to take control, difficulty relaxing & quieten the mind, and feeling lousy, lonely, miserable & depressed;
  • Mind Talk – constant worrying & racing thoughts, forgetfulness, inability to focus and poor judgement;
  • Behaviour Talk – changes in appetite, procrastinating & avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol, drug or cigarettes, and exhibiting more nervous behaviouss such as nail-biting, fidgeting & pacing.

Some ways to stay calm and happy in the long run include:

  • Giving people the benefit of the doubt
  • Looking at yourself for the problem first
  • Be mindful
  • Choose your battles
  • Confront with compassion

In conclusion, Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony (Mihandas Gandhi).

Book Club Meeting @ BPPL

I visited Bukit Panjang Public Library for the first time since its re-opening on 1 July 2017. My last visit was the last Interactive Book Club meet there before the renovation ten months ago.

My first impression of the renovated library was that the old one was better, in terms of layout and design. After ten minutes, I began to wonder if the designers were readers or library users and whether they spared a thought for the elderly and colour-deficient readers.

As the photo above shows, to locate the different zones (eg fiction, non-fiction, Chinese, magazines) one has to follow the different colour ribbons on the floor. The ribbons on the ceiling are supposed to be of corresponding colours. This is not clear even to a non-colour deficient person like me, so how is a colour-deficient reader to find his way around the library?

The next area for concern is the steps. There are steps all over the place. (Unfortunately I couldn’t find such an image online and I didn’t take any photos.) There is no indication (whether with railings or signs) to warn one of the steps ahead. This is a potential hazard, especially for the elderly. In fact, one of the book club members (probably in his mid or late 70s) missed a step, stumbled and nearly fell if not for a younger man beside him who held on to his arm.

The book club meet was to be held in the Programme Zone, and to the disappointment of all present, it was an area that is “sunken”, surrounded by glass panels (with no curtain or blind) which could not be fully closed, so every sound from inside was transmitted loud and clear outside. The uneven steps too caused a lot of concern for everyone. It felt like we were in a fish tank. I’m sure the noise from the discussion irritated the readers in the main area. Worst of all, amidst all these, I noticed that a sign on a pillar to tell readers to look after their belongings was in sub-standard English: “Hey! Where is your phone? Please look for your belongings.”

I was also disappointed that there was no ‘serious’ discussion of any book or essay at this meeting. Instead, a few enthusiastic members shared their own readings and experiences. It was only towards the end of the two-hour meet that the facilitator conducted an audio sharing on How To Be A Better Reader by Li Xiao Mu. I agree with the recording that Reading would nourish the soul; we read to experience beauty; and reading is a beautiful experience. Unfortunately, I noticed that one left mid-way after waking up from his little nap, three others dozing or nodding away with their eyes closed and two talking away. There was no discussion from the group.

Copies of a contemporary Chinese poetry anthology was distributed at the end of the session for members’ loan, in preparation for the meeting next month. I do not think I would be attending the next few sessions at Interactive Book Club as I’m not keen to spend more than an hour’s travelling time to a place that I don’t find conducive to book discussions.