Friday, April 07, 2017

great violins

One thing about me as a violinist is that like a lot of my other possessions, I don’t take care of my instrument. They exist to serve me, not the other way around, though I am well aware that if well taken care of, our possessions serve us better.

The violin needs tender loving care. My violin doesn’t get TLC. I don’t wipe it clean after I play it, I don’t change its strings regularly, it’s like my phone, my car, my bag, my clothes, my shoes. It’s purely functional and I have little idea about the technicalities (like how to raise or lower a bridge).

At about $2,000 plus, it’s also a cheap buy, a violin made in 2011 which I selected for its loudness because I needed a gig violin, and which fit my budget and (care-less) mode of usage. It’s hardy.

But when higher-order sound is required, it doesn’t fit the bill.

For an upcoming concert with a very small posse of violinists, where each individual is larger than the sum of its parts, I needed a better sound. A rounder, richer, higher-class sound.

To my great fortune and delight, I was very kindly offered a couple of old violins, and a bow, to try out for a fortnight, and perhaps use in the concert.

It’s like being given a Maserati or some such equivalent after chugging away on a Chery QQ.

The 1885.

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The 1934.

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I was somewhat paranoid about both violins, made in 1885 and 1934, handling them like I’d handle a new baby, but it was a beautiful experience. Easier to keep in tune, softer to press, louder and sounding so much richer than my cheapo violin, it was an aural elevation and revelation. And there was one of the two which really sang to me, the 1885.

I know I will have to go back to the Chery QQ very soon. But I will treasure the memory of the Maseratis.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

day goes places

Day
* Photo by Feline Lim

Armed with his farecard, flush with $50 worth of credit because it's a hassle topping up, Day travels everywhere on his own.

He hardly spends time in the car anymore except on weekends, and this I consider a huge blessing.

He continues to commute to and from school on his own, on a public bus which is in many ways a school bus of sorts as school friends (all boys) come in and get off the same vehicle.

Day loves the transport freedom, and he loves being able to glue himself to his mobile phone, earbuds firmly jammed into his ears, unmolested by Mum nagging him to put away the screen, while on the long 45-minute bus journeys.

Anywhere else apart from school, he turns to trusty Google Maps and whatever transport apps on bus arrival times and whatnot he has at his disposal. Sometimes he tells me he is going to this or that place in Singapore, and I wave him off. 

Kids these days, how powerful and knowledgeable they are with their phones and apps and stored credits.

In a moment of drama the other day, he goes missing when we attend a concert.

Day had elected to go on his own by bus, after I left with the girls in the car for an earlier stop at the library, because he wanted to spend time at home completing Counter-Strike on his laptop.

The concert was at 7:30pm in town at the Victoria Concert Hall.

He messaged me at 6:50pm: I’m at the bus stop waiting for the bus.

I started to bristle. It was a trip I would have started at 640, latest, especially if I had never been to the place and had to wait for a bus.

At 7:20pm, I got a call from a strange number. I picked up. It was Day: "Ma, my phone battery is dead, I’m borrowing someone else’s phone. I’m almost there. I decided to take another bus because it came sooner. I’m still on the bus."

It was a bus number I didn’t even know went to the concert hall. What could I do? I hung up on my last shred of contact with him, and left him to his fate.

7:30, the concert started. I left his ticket with the usher, telling the old gentleman to look out for a 12-year-old boy called David, and went in to enjoy the concert. Gong Gong, who also attended the concert with us, kept craning his neck to look behind to see if Day had arrived. He was very worried.

7:50, the doors opened after the first piece and the late-comers were ushered in. No Day. Gong Gong was nearly frantic, I think he expected me to be a little more gan cheong. I figured Day would be fine, even with no phone to tell him where to stop or how to walk to the concert hall.

8:20, interval. Still no Day. Gong Gong rushed out to search for his precious sole grandson. The usher worriedly returned me Day’s ticket. "I'm sorry, he didn't turn up," he said.

We walked around, we searched, then suddenly saw Day in his skinny jeans and dark blue sweater, looking a little wan and pissed, emerging from the stall seats. We were up one storey higher, in the circle seats.

“I was here all the time,” he said.

He apparently got down the bus at the MICA building, asked passers-by where VCH was, managed to run over in time, dashed in through the glass doors and fortuitously met a kind lady usher who let him in to the stall seats even without a ticket to enjoy the first bars of the concert from the William Tell Overture.

(I did tell him to go to the third floor circle seats when he called me from the stranger's phone. He forgot)

So there. Day, his phone and his farecard. Together, they conquer the world. 

I hope I can add "passport" to the equation in a few more years.

Monday, April 03, 2017

chinese oral

(I think I keep talking about Chinese because its the only subject they have tuition in, and the teacher keeps talking my ear off about what's happening, what they need to know, striking fear into my heart, etc etc)

On the ground, changes to the Chinese syllabus are kicking in.

To hear it from the girls’ Chinese tuition teacher (my only available reliable source), Lu is going to have a hard time in 2020. She says, “她的考试会比盛文的难.” (Her exam will be harder than David’s)

I think Jo’s batch would be somewhere caught in-between the changes. But I can’t be certain.

I get it. Day was the luckiest of the lot. He got it “easy”.

What are the changes precisely? I’m not the most clued-in of parents, and their teacher, who is retired but goes back to school to teach Chinese, might not be the most authoritative of sources. She is also much more kiasu than I am.

She has regularly warned me, for instance, that Day MUST have Chinese tuition even in secondary school – “你这个儿子, 你要把他抓住” (this son of yours, you must “catch” him) but I haven’t acted on it.

What I gather from her about Chinese is:

The biggest change is in oral. Day got to look at a picture on a piece of paper and talk about it. He got by, by memorizing a lot of scripts. Not good, I know, but it did get him an A which was his PSLE crowning achievement.

Jo and Lu have to watch 1-minute videos, and then talk about what they see. During the exam, they will be given 10 minutes of prep time to watch the videos, enter the room, watch the video again, then talk about it (and they better remember what they saw).

I love the rationale. To engender Chinese as a living language being used in everyday life. But using an exam as the starting point is not nice.

Right now, what Laoshi is telling me is that she will have to boost the amount of things Jo / Lu will have to memorize because freed from the confines of the 2D printed picture of a fixed point in time, they do not have the prowess which comes from listening to and speaking Chinese regularly to eloquently talk about the scenarios.

It comes down to better instruction. Which, well… the poor hapless teachers. 

I am also getting the sense that Lu’s exam will be harder.

So…. the aim of all this is that Lu will be able to speak Chinese confidently and will use it in everyday life in future?

Saturday, April 01, 2017

cousins

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-17 at 20.53.40

With Liyen, with everyone in full show-teeth mode for the camera, which is too rare.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

duet

(Playing blog catch-up again! I was in Melbourne accompanying Choon on his overseas wedding photo shoot. Mighty interesting it was)

Because there are three of them, Mona likes giving them duets to play, the usual configuration being Day-Jo or Jo-Lu.

For some reason, Jo is always the one chosen to be involved in every one.

Here’s a recent one the girls did. I like the piece. Lu, as usual, sways back and forth while playing.

* Tarantella

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

otters

I bump into the lovelies while cycling.


The otter at 0:19 certainly looked confused at the attention it was getting: What you all staring at me for?

Jo asks: Why are they all over each other? Are they mating?

I don't think so. Google says they're cleaning their fur and socialising.

The humans were utterly captivated. 

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

kungfu

Tiger vs snake.

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Kungfu
* Photos by Feline Lim

Friday, March 24, 2017

young hawkers

I am seeing quite a few young hawkers around. It’s interesting how many of them pour their love into making atas food hawker-friendly and Instagram-worthy.  Fish and chips, pastas, wagyu this-and-that, truffle whatever…

Often, I thoroughly enjoy their offerings because I like things that are different. In the first few months of opening, when passion is at a high, the food is often really worth the price. Although I wonder how many would stay the course and do the same thing, chopping their own ingredients and doing their own cooking to the same standards, for the next 30-40 years the way the old hawkers did.

We check out one such stall recently which isn’t far from us, at a coffeeshop.

The two young men are exactly the ones who I saw featured in the magazine. Apart from telling us we could pay after the meal (not a usual hawker centre or coffeeshop practice), they actually turned away some customers (very politely) to take a lunch break.

I tell the kids, if they can cook one great dish - like carrot cake or some such thing - they're set for life. I wouldn't mind their being future hawkers.

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* Wagyu burger ($13) which KK pronounced "good and juicy"

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* Day's chicken burger ($6 or $7 I forget)

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* And because I hate burgers, my beef rice ($7 or $8 thereabouts), which was really quite beautiful especially after I broke the poached egg and the yolk melted into the gravied rice

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

sec cca

The briefing to parents was a serious one. “Do listen carefully. Your child’s choice of CCA in Secondary School is important.”

This was at the start of the year, at Day’s secondary school.

What came across clearly was that it’s not just a matter of having fun. He has to accrue points which would go toward his entry to junior college.

It’s certainly not new. I vaguely recall having to chalk up ECA points back in the late 80s, but it was a straightforward easy path because I was in the national orchestra which gave me a boatload of points, and I never had to consider other options.

It isn’t so straightforward for Day.

Following his experience in Primary school, he headed straight for one of the secondary school’s outstanding CCAs, one in which he’d be pushed to achieve greater things: the prize-winning badminton team.

His attempt was thoroughly disheartening as he was told after about 30 seconds of ‘audition’ play that there was no need for him to continue. Why? I think there were too many great kids who had started playing in primary school, whose parents might have paid for them to take classes before, or who had already won badminton competitions.

At age 12, he was already outclassed, and had lost the chance to try.

Never mind. He next tried for the Outdoor Activities Club, which promises to allow him to expend much of his energy in wholesome outdoor pursuits. Rock-climbing, running, canoeing, camping, stuff like that. He loves those things.

But the result of a ballot-like system in which he listed out his six top choices of CCA (his top three were Outdoor Activities Club, School Band and Chinese Orchestra), was that he was going to be a concert band member.

Day is very much like me in one aspect: He settles for less (than what he desires), and he accepts.

Surrounded by disgruntled classmates howling in protest over their CCA assignations, he said OK. His thought was: Why not? I put it as my second choice, means that I am OK if I don’t get my top choice, and it could be interesting.

It also offers him an advantage when it comes to points, because of the many opportunities to represent the school at performances. He doesn’t have to win anything, just participate.

Which instrument, then?

At a practice session, he was introduced to the band instrumentation, tried out a few things. His order of preference: Clarinet, saxophone, flute. Those were the few instruments he could play, given his braces which make it impossible for him to blast against a brass mouthpiece.

He got his first choice.

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