Presenting the Past: Chinese Gardens Playtime (Part 5 of 7)

30 Jun

Visitor numbers to the JTC operated Chinese Gardens these days are hardly something to shout about, but once upon a time, it was a popular tourist and Singaporean family hangout. I don’t really remember much of this trip my family made in the 1980s but photos are always there to remind us. 🙂

My brother and I playing at the Chinese Garden

The park was first opened in 1975 and in those days, you had to pay an admission fee and even incur additional charges if you brought a camera into the Gardens! But that did not stop young families visiting the popular park to spend quality family time together, like mine. Nowadays admission is free but the crowds have gone to more modern and popular leisure spots now available on our sunny little island.

I think just about every boy growing up in the 80s would have badgered their parents into buying them a superman cape – it’s so precious to see my brother in his! I don’t really know what I was so happy over though…


Anyway, I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the gardens with my parents again. We didn’t stay long, there wasn’t anything to do there really… Our mission was pretty straightforward – go back to the same spot where the photo was first taken. Unfortunately, there was a metal fence erected in the place where we once played. This was the closest I could get!

My brother and I playing at the Chinese Garden

My brother and I playing at the Chinese Garden


If not for the humidity, I guess it would have been a nice quiet and tranquil spot for people to sit, relax and talk. Times have changed… people would much rather hang out at air-conditioned spaces and who could blame them in this 34 degree celsius heat.

Just before we left the park, my dad insisted that I take a picture at the entrance, which left me really amused cos it just felt so… amusing?! Hahah. Maybe the entrance arches and the stone lions hold some significance that I must be missing.

Me at Chinese Garden gate

Despite being Chinese, the space did not resonate with me and my cultural identity. It felt to me exactly like what it was – a specially designed and constructed space inspired by elements from imperial China and Chinese architecture.

I feel more affinity to the MRT station that shares its namesake – Chinese Garden MRT station – for I have many fond memories of travelling there to reach my dad’s now defunct music school for my music lessons. And of evening escapades for lantern watching during the annual Mid-Autumn Festival with my aunties and cousin.

Last year, the JTC announced that the gardens will be undergoing a year-long refurbishment starting end 2014. I wonder what changes will come again to this oriental Garden in the Western part of Singapore.

Till next post! Hopefully I won’t take so long again.

yuehann’s notes: Today’s post is the fifth in a series of posts first born in reaction to Looking into the Past. Read the very first blog post here & also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of the series. And also a related article I wrote for online e-zine Draft (pg 68-73).

EZINE Volume 2 Memory X Space

EZINE Volume 2 Memory X Space


Writing from the Heart : Finale

3 Jun

Like the green Just for Laughs monster-whiner on TV, I lamented the inevitable end to the week-long playwriting workshop with Tony Perez.

But as with all things, nothing is forever. Life will go on. So back to the recap.

Weird as it was starting the session in daylight, we settled quickly into the circle and began another day of exploration.

Defense mechanisms

The Ego uses it as a weapon, wielding either constructively or destructively…

Tony began a roll call of these little monsters in the cupboard.

Identification. Denial. Avoidance. Isolation.  Repression. Aggression. Regression. Rationalisation.  Projection. Compartmentalisation. Reaction formation.  Displacement.  Ritual & Ritual thinking.  Rumination & excessive thinking.  Fantasy & Escapism.  Compensation. Intellectualisation. Sublimation…

It was beginning to look a lot like Psychology 101.

“All these help give texture to dialogue and characters. Creating immediate tension,” Tony said.

We all tried our hands at it and I was stoked. Because for the longest time my characters were always so.darn.boring!

Now I know what I can do. *twirl pen with glee* Level Up!

S: Why… (whines) Why must you go? Don’t you love us anymore?

B: Pass me the salt. I think this cake needs a little flavour. Did you know that in all sweet desserts you can/

S: I don’t wanna know about cake. I want you to stay here with me! Not her! She sucks. (pout)

B: Mmm, salt is good. Especially sea salt.

Can you guess which two I picked as inspiration?

Playing story Boggle

Like athletes, we as writers need to train our stamina. We need to be able to write on cue and sustain that ability to create.

Throwing random objects into the circle, Tony had us vomitting all the word associations out.

A black paper envelope. ..
An orange lighter…
A strange metallic square medallion….
The sand slipped quickly by and we shot out words as fast as we could in response.

Lighter→ light, love, affair, burnt, hotel, fire, tragedy, lost.


“Now make a sentence with those words!” Tony pushed, like a gym instructer, looking absolutely nothing like it.

Switching off the light, my love let our sweet affair burn this hotel and brought fire to tragedy lost.

Argh! Don’t know what that even means!

The others were so brilliant though.

Venturing into dreamland and confronting my shadow
So… we were told to bring make up.  I knew we were going to”paint our faces” and become our Shadows. 

But I could not have guessed what came next (not very pre cognitive am I).

“This is a serious exercise. (pause for dramatic effect). Ok, now with your shadow face, take a walk outside Theatreworks, by yourself. For 15mins. ”

No way. Seriously??? 

I panicked!

“omg omg omg omg omg omg omg (repeat)” I ruminated as the exercise objectives sunk in. My ears roared as blood rushed to my head. My face already red with lipstick, drained.

And then. .. in a rare display of courage, despite wobbling a little and floating a bit, I went out.


Taking a walk downtown.. my shadow and me

To be honest, what happened next was not as bad as I had imagined.  It helped that I wasn’t alone in the crowd with the painted face. Also, I observed that people actually avoid looking at me in the eyes.  Those rare few that did, would smile or just say Hi. Not most Singaporeans though. Perhaps they were being polite or just too shy to ask.

It was strangely liberating.

A circle of trust

We started knowing each other through a drawing of our hearts. Be it closed, strangled, open,  vulnerable,  colourful,  jaded, flying, sinking,  blossoming… we shared them.  I thought I would be weakened being so exposed, but instead, I felt my heart grow a thousand heartbeats stronger over the past few days.

And so it seemed apt that we ended with another drawing. It could have ended there but Tony surprises us yet again.

“This week, I took responsibility for all of you. Now, it is your turn to take care of each other.”

One by one, we left the circle to pick a picture off the floor. We were tasked to be responsible for the owner of that picture. And for a week we will take care of our partner. And in a week, we will meet again and return their picture.

It gets to continue! I was thrilled.


See you in a week!


Writing from the Heart Day 5

2 Jun

Today we talked about walking in balance, between Life (eros) and Death (Thanatos). We each shared our natural inclination towards one or the other – whether we liked colours, flowers, parties, children, food,… or preferred rain, antiques, silver, night, rain, dark chocolate…

“Fluctuation is an indication of psychosis. It is normal to fluctuate between the two states,” Tony explained.

Normal and psychosis in the same sentence. How rare!

And then the writing exercise for the day began. We wrote a short para for each state – eros and thanatos.

This was what I expelled –

Christmas. My favourite time of the year. The salad is done, the turkey and ham made the whole room smell beautiful. Soon, Uncle Philip, Aunty Susan, Mike, Jason, Suzie and all my friends will be here. Hubby bought a bottle of bubbly for tonight but there won’t be any for me, but it’s okay cos ….. Baby, you are worth more to me than another tipsy night. And soon you will join our great big family.

Alone again this Christmas. I had no plans. I couldn’t bring myself to join the party and checked into the Four Chain hotel. It was no Four Seasons – windowless and smelling like sex. Sex. I can still remember the last time. I remember the tears that flowed as he broke me, inside out. I tore the gaudy wrapper off the present with the type-written card. Dark chocolate from Godiva. Typical. So what if your wife is giving birth. I really don’t like babies.

As a writer, the real challenge is to be able to be both.


Can’t I just be me?

Writing from the Heart Day 4

30 May

Today.  No games. No pictures.  Just a whole lot of truth.

Using a emotional truth exercise called “exorcism”, Tony tore into the raw emotional core of our fellow student. It was disturbing yet cathartic.  As everyone shared their messages for the brave “bare-er”, I felt how powerful emotions were. And even more so the connection we all had at that moment.

Truth hurts huh?

It felt like group therapy.

After that, we delved into colours and energy centres.  Diagnosing each other and based on what we knew each chakra represented, we had to write a story of our partner.

Here was what I wrote –

A worldly wise and down to earth sort of person,  she knew how best to protect herself. Favoured by the gods,  she saw no reason to doubt them.

As a painter she had all her colours,  as a writer she had all those letters. Yet of late her tap of inspiration ran dry.  Sure, she was a teacher and a vessel of experience. so she always had the vision and words to give to her students. She had love to give, the kind of love like a mother.

But of the carnal passions, raw and true, a laugh that hurt and a love that shook, she forgot.  it didn’t show and no one knew that her world of colours turned a little blue.
Careful not to show her feelings, that’s how she was taught.  Don’t show your weakness.  Power your mind over body and master your emotions. 

Class is getting reaaaally interesting.  And I hope something will come out of this at the end.  I know it’s in me and I’m getting closer. To tell my story. .. and be real.

Writing from the Heart Day 3

29 May

No pictures today. Only tons of fun exploring the right brain and non verbal communication through games. Many hilarious and best tickling moments!

We kicked off with a sea of fairy tales.  We wrote down our favourite ones and talked about archetypes in them. Jungian theory based.  Tony explained that we inherit stories, patterns… and that archetypes are universal and present inside us and outside the world around us.  We instinctively use them.  Characters embody these archetypes.

Tony talks a lot about letting feelings guide your writing. I find it a very cathartic way of creating. But often I wonder if pure emotions,  unbridled,  can bring about a structured piece of work. One that would make sense.  Do you create sense first or make sense of it later? I’ll ask.

And then we spoke of stimuli.

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Anything can be a stimuli to your writing,” said Tony.

To prove his point,  he picked a random scratch on the ground and challenged us to write a story.

Some of us wrote about the life of the scratch,  pleased to be noticed.  Some wrote about the sound of a scratch.  Some wrote about scratches in other places,  like me.

I wrote something straight from the wells of my heart this time.  I imagined the scratch morph into the face of a clock, and into a mother’s anxiety of her child who has yet to return. And this is the story that came to me –

Every Tuesday,  8pm was tuition time. But Alice was not where she was supposed to be. She knew she was in trouble. But getting to class was not in her mind. She was trying to understand what has just happened.

“I need to pee,” she said to the stranger.

“Here. Just do here.”  he grunted.

“But this is not a toilet.  I need a toilet.”

“No toilet here. Just do it. Nobody will scold you.”

And so the little girl,  unable to repress her urge to pee, squatted down at the staircase and pulled down her shorts.


The warm sensation spread down her little legs and some of it got onto her feet and slippers. But she couldn’t stop.

She kept staring at the crack on the grey steps.

Shhhhh…. drip…drip.

Quickly,  she pulled up her panties,  stepped away from the yellow pool trickling down the steps and felt immediately dirty.

When she turned,  she saw him. His pants were down.  Maybe he needed to pee too, she thought and she ran.

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