Writers, bloggers and story-tellers meet to strengthen friendship
Friendship goes beyond race and religion. The all-time boxing great Muhammad Ali once said: “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
A group of people with experiences in various fields of occupation, though busy in their own field of interest, meet at least once a year to chat of current affairs, and of old times, exchange heritage matters and eat together.
The group has met at various places, often at eateries but the preference is the studio of Sitting-in-pictures, a film production company, located at Syed Alwi Road.
Yes, this time, 3 December (2016), only 10 friends met at the studio; the rest were either overseas or were engaged with some unavoidable work. The potluck food was varied but engaging, all halal; the most appetising being the fish curry and puttu piring. There were also other mouth-watering foodstuff like fruit rojak and minced-mutton stew cooked by my wife that morning. The mouth was busy, both in munching and talking.
The most well-known figure in the group was Ms Chang Soh Kiak, a documentary film maker. With a degree in Economics and Political Science, she became a current affairs producer for the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation and remained in the TV industry ever since.
Soh Kiak, who straddles between Singapore and Melbourne, Australia, where she resides, is a co-founder of “Sitting in Pictures”, a Singapore-based production company formed in 2000. The company produces various genre of documentaries, including factual lifestyle, travel and adventure as well as science and history, which have appeared in such networks as the National Geographic channels, Discovery Channel, AETN and FremantleMedia, UK.
She said: “Although I have lived through various technologies from 16mm film to ENG cameras, HDcams, Internet TV, Mobile video apps, my main interest has remained constant – story telling.”
And this interest – visual story telling – is her mission in life. It drives her towards making her next project the best one.
Another member of the group is Mr Dick Yip who is an ukulele teacher, player and performer. The ukulele is a musical instrument that looks like a small guitar.
Dick, a retired senior education officer, holds the world record for “The Longest Ukulele Solo Marathon” of 32 hours non-stop play set in 2015 at the Marina Bay Sands.
Leader of an active band, Dick Yip & his Minstrels, Dick loves listening to music and songs. “I also play badminton, do swimming and fishing and gardening,” he said.
But Dick’s main passion is playing the ukulele. When he comes to my house for Hari Raya, he wouldn’t fail to bring his ukulele along to entertain us with songs like Bangawan Solo.
Dick’s wife, Daisie, also plays the ukulele and is the Admin Manager of Dick Yip & his Minstrels Band.
A retired Principal and School Superintendent, Mrs Yip is currently a part-time Lecturer and School Adviser for the National Institute of Education and the Ministry of Education.
Apart from gardening and cooking, she involves herself as a heritage guide.
Another friend in the group is Mr Victor Koo who is a retired civil servant. His blog of nostalgia is at: victorkoo.blogspot.sg. But he quickly shies away from its mention and says: “It is dormant. I’m quite busy and have no time to write.”
Indeed his blog has taken a long rest. The last entry was about bottle caps, “Old bottle caps of Singapore”, posted three years ago, in August 2013.
“But, I want to revive it,” he assured me as he drove, giving me a lift home. “I must find time to do it.” He would as can be discerned from his soft voice.
A rough voice was heard coming from the table a couple of metres away at our meeting place. It was the voice of Mr James Kwok who is a life-skills coach (semi-retired), working with schools and mental wellness clinics.
James was imitating the voice of his favourite singer, Louis Armstrong. With clenched-
like lips he sang Louis’ famous song “What a wonderful world” as Dick strummed his uke, a short form for ukulele.
James’ hobbies include reading and writing, but he is currently inactive as he looks after his grandchild.
He said, “I once had a blog, but I am too busy to maintain it,” and then, with an assuring Louis voice, he added, “It’s time to blog, but I shall start a new one.”
There is another James in the group. He is Mr James Seah.
James, a retiree, does nostalgic blogging as a hobby. He is a Singapore Memory Project Memory Corp volunteer and ‘Friends of Yesterday’.
About the subjects he writes in his blog, he said: “I document my personal memories to remember what Singapore was like in the past. I wish to pass on these memories to my children and others. I enjoyed writing about nostalgic moments.”
There is also a stamp lover in the group. He is Dr Tan Wee Kiat.
A retired NIE lecturer, Dr Tan loves physical activities. He swims and plays the harmonica. But his passion is in Singapore stamps.
“I have published several small books, based on stamps,” he said rather humbly. “These books serve to promote Singapore history and heritage among schoolchildren.”
Wee Kiat’s latest book, published last year and translated in Malay, “Ikrar Kita – Singapore: Our Pledge”, is for children. But, his stamp stories are also good for adults and stamp collectors.
I had the privilege to write two articles about Wee Kiat’s stamp books – in inSing.com, an online commercial magazine, titled “The stories behind stamps: Retired lecturer releases stamp book for Total Defence” on 13 February 2013; and in Berita Harian, a Malay national newspaper, titled “Setem alat susur sejarah” (Stamps are tools for uncovering history) on 15 February 2013.
Talking about books, I too have written books, 14 in all, most of them being exposition of Islam. This is because I want to relate Islam’s structure and concept so that people of other religions would appreciate it and not think that the tiny number who are ignorant of Islam and commit atrocities in its name are not really following Islam. My latest, “Allah: Understanding God in Islam”, was published in June this year.
Initially, I wrote general articles for magazines and The Straits Times and have written over 300 articles thus far, which I indexed them in a 12-volume album.
My interest in writing made me write fiction as well as an autobiographical (heritage) novel, “A kite in the evening sky”, which was set in Geylang Serai in the late 1950s and the 1960s. It was published twice by different publishers and became a school literature textbook at one time.
A retired senior lecturer at ITE College in communication skills, I am now taking care of one of my two grandchildren and blog whenever I find time to spare. Mine is a general blog: https://readnreap.wordpress.com (Fb: https://www.facebook.com/shaik.kadir.3 )
The friendship we have established with the members gets strengthened further as we age. We look forward to the next meeting, and till then, have a time nice time, friends.
17 December 2016