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Writing from the Heart Day 2

28 May

“I use drawing to teach writing,  and writing to teach drawing, ” said Tony, our playwriting guru.

Today, 20 of us soaked up the exercises and spilled our creative juices over crayon lines and clever words.  Ok, maybe my words weren’t particularly clever but certainly some of my classmates were. 

I found looking at them hugely fascinating. A smorgasbord of characters. Dark brooding serious types,  anarchic idealists,  jaded corporate souls hoping for revival through the arts.  All with different histories,  coming together for a moment time in creative catharsis. I lapsed into sponge-mode and just simply took it all in.

We were exploring “personal mythologies” today.  Learning about how to create a character’s past, present and future. 

“We are going to draw an anamorphic picture,” Tony instructed.

With a pen in my hand,  I scrawled curly lines like a miscarried signature across my piece of paper.

“Now try to make sense of the picture,  transform it to something.”

I fought my mind in over thinking the task and allowed myself to just go with the flow. And ended up with –


“Mermaid spearing a blob at the edge of the sea? ” I explained.

Honestly!  I don’t know if it was my technique which failed me or my incoherent thoughts. I just tried not to draw “a pretty picture”, focusing on letting the empty spaces fill up intuitively. I loved the colours.

Later, using someone else’s picture as a stimuli, we were told to write a story. I was amazed by how many could compose such elaborate and complete stories in just 10 minutes.  Through their words,  you could see their unique approach to life.


I tried hard not to feel like I sucked. After all, today was the day to suspend all judgement (part of Tony’s daily personal awareness training).

But I could not help but feel a damper on my spirits by the end of day.

Never mind.  At least I made a picture and a story! Sort of…


Once there was a happy man. He lived in a small village in the poorest part of the country. He had no place to call home and only the sky as his roof.  He showers when it rains and eats when fruits came into season. When he was sad,  which wasn’t often,  he would sing. His voice brought tears to those who heard him. There were those who cursed him. For when he sang,  it often would be,  that someone dies and their family would be grieving.

“O cursed fool, take your silly songs elsewhere. We don’t want you here,  we want you nowhere.”

He took a tear from the crying father. Curious and befuddled, he asked, “What is this thing you shed? ” No one answered . They just looked at him with such a look, a look he could not read.  But in his heart of hearts,  something bubbled and before he knew it,  the lines of a song followed.

He skipped on from the poorest part of the country to the richest part of the country.  And he would sing and sing,  and no one stopped him. As it would come to be,  as time gone by,  that finally he was alone.

And as mysteriously as he came to singing,  his songs finally stopped.

It was based on a fellow classmate’s drawing of a mad hatter sorta character. He took my mermaid killer in exchange. I felt like I delivered him an injustice!

Haha. .. my lack of confidence strikes again!  Oh well.

For Day 3, our awareness training – watch your emotions. Question what you are feeling and try to ask “Am I dreaming?  Or is this real? ”

Bohemian Rhapsody comes to mind.  😉


Writing from the Heart Day 1

27 May

I don’t really know why I’m putting myself through this week-long playwriting workshop.

I only know I needed to learn something new. And this was meant to happen.

I thought I was going to be tired coming into the workshop after 8+ hours of work. But instead find myself energised by the encounters of the day.

Twenty strangers sat in a circle earlier this evening and literally shared their little hearts out.

In one of the exercises by guru Tony Petez, we were asked to draw “our heart”. And then write a 10-sentence monologue for it.

Here’s me sharing mine. ..


I don’t know why but I started with a heart shape and the other parts just filled themselves in.

And then it spoke these words to me ~

Where would you go when you are free
what if right here is where you are meant to be
Look inside your heart,  your journey begins
Run out, take flight, be fancy free!
Let me tell you the answer you wish to know
Answer your prayers,  tell you where to go
Would you be happy if I told you so
Or feel trapped again,  round bound with sorrow
Come here, sit down,  talk to me
You’re here. Don’t you know?  You are home and free.


It shall be a week of unlocking creativity! Looking forward to it!

Presenting the Past: The Pelican of Ang Mo Kio (Part 4 of 7)

20 May

This picture was originally taken at a public playground in front of Block 304 in Ang Mo Kio Ave 1. And in this picture, stood my grandparents in front of a Pelican structure. 

The Original Picture

The Original Picture

This would have been taken back in the 1970s, some years before I was born. Ang Mo Kio town would have just been a new town, starting out as all new towns do, with many young couples moving in to high-rise flats designed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). This was where I spend my early growing up years.

I remember many childhood days spent frolicking in the sandbox playground, pushing myself to achieve greater heights on the swings, and mostly, climbing up, in and through the Pelican.

It has since been torn down, to make space for development I guess.

I was hopeful to find some… evidence of its existence when I revisited the old neighbourhood for my picture. But was disappointed to find that it was not only gone, but totally replaced by new walkways and landscaped gardens. An unrecognisable space, it has become. I tried to make the most of my trip and finally took this shot. Not perfectly matched .. but in a way, realistic.

Somewhere along Ang Mo Kio Ave 6

Somewhere along Ang Mo Kio Ave 6

Oh, the ever changing face of the Singapore heartlands!

It makes it real hard to hold onto old things and associated memories. Thankfully, I have pictures to remind me that my memories of childhood playtime at the sandbox playground was real.

The playground housed the “Pelican”, one of many such animal-designed playground structures designed by local HDB architect Mr Khor Ean Ghee. That was when HDB still designed their own playgrounds. I would say, these were iconic sculptures of my generation! I bet many Singaporean children of the 1980s would remember playing in at least one of them.

The Remember Singapore website has a brilliant record of all the Playgrounds of yester-years. The Singapore Memory project also captured these playgrounds by way of an interesting visual map  – Mosiac Memories.

For now, back to the Pelican.

I was a little sad when the last Pelican was demolished in 2012 – its residence at Dover was demolished to make way for… yes, you guessed it, “development”.  The Ang Mo Kio Pelican was probably torn down much earlier, which would have been after I moved out of the town, around the mid 1990s (or later?).

Here’s a closer look at the Dover Road Pelican, before it fades from our collective memories – the only place our dear friend the Pelican will henceforth reside –

Dover Road Pelican Playground 

(image from the Remember Singapore website)

Although all the Pelicans are now gone, there is some hope in saving the Dragons – the iconic dragon playground in Toa Payoh was saved from demolition – and a small victory for sentimental Singaporeans. 🙂

Earlier in April, I visited The People’s Collection exhibition over at the National Museum of Singapore. And I was pleased to find that I wasn’t the only one nostalgic about those old playgrounds!

I was surprised to find amongst the exhibits, the design plan for the Pelican.

Design plan of the Pelican playground at The People's Collection at National Museum of Singapore (2014)

Design plan of the Pelican playground at The People’s Collection at National Museum of Singapore (2014)

It made me smile a little to see my old playmate again.

Next up, read about my playtime at the Chinese Gardens. 🙂


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

Present(ing) the Past: A Date at MacRitchie Reservoir (Part 3 of 7)

14 Feb

MacRitchie Reservoir – A popular dating spot for couples in the 1970s. This picture was taken at the park’s iconic zig-zag bridge.


The old Band Stand and zig zag bridge

To me, the best part about finding old photos is discovering the stories behind them. And armed with the entire album of which this photo was part thereof, I sat my parents down and asked them about the day this photo was taken.

Mum & Dad at MacRitchie Reservoir

Mum & Dad at MacRitchie Reservoir (1971)

So the story goes – Dad took this photo using my grandfather’s camera and tripod. They were out for a day in the park with a pair of young twins that my mum’s family helps to care for. They were still dating at that time, probably in their early 20s, if the year marked on the photograph – Aug 1971 – can be trusted.

The story of how my parents met just had to be asked.

Mum: “Your Ah-Mah (maternal grandmother) and Ah-Ma (paternal grandmother) were classmates in school. At that time, Papa’s family ran a bookshop. I just finished my GCE O-Levels and went to help out at their bookshop. That’s where we met lor.”

And so that was how my pretty sweet mum charmed my cheeky playful dad and began their 7-year courtship. According to my other sources, Mum and Dad would spend hours talking on the phone well through the night and were inseparable.

Mum and Dad at Dad’s Paya Lebar house (1971)

Two years after that photograph in MacRitchie was taken, i.e. 1973, my parents said “I DO” in the presence of family and the Justice of Peace at the Registrar of Marriages.

Mum and Dad's ROM (1973)

Mum and Dad’s ROM (1973)

In Singapore, even though you may be legally bound as husband and wife, you aren’t really “married” till you’ve been through the customary rites and wedding banquet etc etc. That much hasn’t changed through the years at all!

Mum and Dad (1974)

The young lovers at mum’s Alexandra Rd home (1974)

The legal union allowed my parents to apply for a flat in the new town Ang Mo Kio, where I spent the first decade of my life. (The Remember Singapore blog has a brilliant blog entry on the development of Ang Mo Kio.)

Mum and Dad were finally officially and customarily (?) husband and wife after the tea presentation ceremony with both sides of the family, and a traditional local Chinese wedding banquet with all kin and kith, to celebrate the blessed union. This was in 1976, a good 3 years after their ROM. Gosh, what a marathon love affair! Which probably means they were well prepared for what’s to come I guess! Heehee… 2014 is year 38 and counting!

Mr and Mrs Yeh Toh Yen (1976)

Mr and Mrs Yeh Toh Yen (1976)

mum & dad wedding2

Mum and her sister, who was also her Maid-of-honour

Mum and her sister, who was also her Maid-of-honour

As I was flipping through their wedding album, my parents recounted their wedding day. Dad remembered how they had their wedding photos taken at a professional studio but they could only pick a few to save on cost. The rest were all taken back at home. They were lucky to own their own camera equipment.

Dad said, “Your mum made her own wedding gown you know! She had a certificate for dressmaking,” which resulted in my mum responding with a little shoulder swagger and a smile tinged with pride.

“And then she fell into a drain.” Dad continued without missing a beat. Uncontrolled giggles ensued – dad, mum and aunt (mum’s sister). Me.. still not quite getting it.

Mum: “They were all so worried because I was bleeding (giggle giggle), I cut myself… all because I forgot I was wearing a tight petticoat underneath.”

Dad: “Well, it wouldn’t have happened if you took the long way round the drain like the rest of us.”

Mum: “Tsk.”

Me: …

I love Family time, sharing all our proud and  embarrassing moments… 🙂

Anyway, I thought this particular memory was perfect for sharing on this Valentine’s Day, which is coincidentally also the last day of the 15 days of Chinese New Year celebrations (元宵), traditionally a day to celebrate family togetherness. It was enlightening to learn how my parents met, their union, and the humble beginnings of our little family unit.

My first Chinese New Year!

Three generations during Chinese New Year in AMK (1980)

And just one last thing. A little trivia on the image below –


See that hand holding the photograph? That is the hand of my husband-to-be. (I always thought he had nicer looking hands.)

I still remember the day we took this picture. And now that I look at it again, it hits me… there we were, a couple, taking a picture of another couple, mirror images of each other (almost), separated by film and time.

Happy Valentine’s Day baby. This post is for you. ;-*


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

Posing at the Lim Bo Seng Memorial (Part 2 of 7)

28 Jan

Families in the 1950s would spend time at public parks, having picnics and simply enjoying nature. Nowadays, we hang out indoors at air conditioned malls.

Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park

Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park

I took this shot around the same time as the previous one taken at the Tan Kim Seng Fountain, which mirrors the original photograph in the sense that it was also an outing on the same day. It was a day out with family and friends – Singaporean Chinese writer/playwright Liu Renxin (刘仁心) and his three children.

Playwright Liu Renxin was also a teacher along with my grandfather Yeh Chi Wei (叶之威) over at Chung Cheng High School. The school was a breeding ground for artistic talent. And many “big names” in the local arts scene have roots in the school. I don’t remember what Mr Liu looked like but I remembered that Mr Liu had autographed a book of his works for me.. and gifted it to me years ago when I was still studying Theatre Studies in Victoria Junior College. Good memories there too!

Tan Kim Seng Fountain

Tan Kim Seng Fountain

In the shot above, my grandmother (third from left) looked so very young. And you know what? She was! At the time the photo was taken, she was only in her late 20s and already a mother of 6, including the youngest (at that time) – my dad (the cheeky one third from right). That’s way younger than me, i.e. mid 30s and mother of none.

Lim Bo Seng Memorial Up Close

Lim Bo Seng Memorial Up Close

I like this “stylo” pose. My dad having a ball of a time “riding” the stone lion, with one uncle looking suave (at the left) and the other uncle, meek (centre). The present day Esplanade Park doesn’t look very much different, which is a good thing. A constant in the constantly evolving Singapore landscape.

I like the colonial district, for it’s grand ol’ dame feel, not so much the “white men supremacy” connotations. I don’t reject our colonial history, for it makes us who we are as a people, and in a way, part of our Singaporean identity.

Anyway, I can only imagine how times were back then in the 1950s… living in colonial times. A bygone era I don’t feel anything for. A time where cars and cameras were few. There was no ERP surcharges or MRT train breakdowns to complain about. No mobile phones, no internet, no social media. People were poor but rich with memories.

Old pictures like this makes me feel somewhat connected to that distant history. And it seems a little more real.

Collage of pictures from family day out

Collage of pictures from family day out

I feel lucky and privileged to be able to share in these memories. Lucky that my grandfather was a camera buff and made all these images to be passed down to my generation. Privileged that my dad kept these memories for me to inherit and now to share.

Strangely though, neither my grandfather nor Mr Liu were in the pictures taken that day. Hmm… maybe there’s something about being an artist and preferring to create rather than be subjects in a creative (i.e. photography) process.

Coming up next: A Date at MacRitchie Reservoir… perfect for a V-day read!

Remember to leave me a comment!

♥  ♥  ♥

yuehann’s notes: Today’s post is the second of a series of posts on a project which was first born in reaction to Looking into the Past. Read the very first blog post here. And also a related article I wrote for online e-zine Draft (pg 68).

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