Nov 26, 2013

4 Days To December

For the rest of November, I watched the numbers in my bank account shrivel, vaguely feeling an urge to panic but I couldn't find a reason to regret spending the money. 

Well, let’s see. Most of them are normal expenses. Tithe, youth camp fees, lunch, dad repayments for the laptop, and train tickets. What else did I spend it on?

I even exercised self-constraint and didn’t take advantage of Airasia’s Free Seats!

Hasn’t had a new bag in ages!

Lost touch with recent sales and newest store items!

Every ringgit counts. Times are hard, man. 

This is disturbing. Where did the money go?


Then the answer came to me.

After #TSBreakAway ended and I came back from Penang, I plotted the first available lunch hour to head to Kinokuniya.

I enlisted Nico to buy sandwiches beforehand so the measly hour can be fully utilized. We had tuna on rye, talked about his new job, and headed straight to the beautiful giant bookstore to hunt for books.

Honestly, Kinokuniya is my 4th favorite place on earth. Just stepping into the store with its blond bookshelves, blond floorboards, an ocean of books, competent store clerks, and book-loving customers slows down my breathing. More importantly, one is safe in the knowledge that even if you couldn’t find the book you want, no worries; the wonderful staff will order it for you.

Of course, the three books were found in less than three minutes (checked their location and availability online beforehand hehehe); and I paid about 10 percent of that month’s salary on them. that's why lah. felt so poor. 


But those wonderful competent staff still gave me the dark blue plastic bag though. When can I get that nice paper bag version?

Here are the books I got!

1.      In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

2.      Telling True Stories on non-fiction writing

3.      Bird by bird by Anne Lamott

Why these three books? 

On the second day of #TSBreakAway, we took the boat to Pulau Ketam, and groggily settled in the town hall for Dina Zaman’s writing workshop.

Her workshop is basically 70% why I decided to join in the first place :D 
(15% for photography workshops, 15% for paragliding hehe)

The workshop was really short, and (in Dina's words!) slightly "school teacher-ish", with her drawing mind-mappy points on the white board, then sending us out to observe the pretty little morning market and describe it in different styles like happy, confused, angry, etc.

It's been awhile since i jotted down notes in a classroom setting. it's a a nice feeling. feels like i'm in English class again. 

Two things:
Dina passing out excerpts from In Cold Blood, 
“It’s from one of my favorite authors, Truman Capote.”

Then some writing advice from a book called Telling True Stories, 
“You can buy it from Amazon, I think. It’s a very useful book.”

There are so many writing advices online, but I’ve been looking for something more in-depth. And now I got some recommendations! 

Also, Truman Capote’s name regularly appears on most “Books You Must Read Before You blah blah” lists, but I’ve never checked out his books. The reason is kinda lame. In Cold Blood sounds like some major violence will happen, and I don’t want to read books that will make me unhappy. Hahah. Anyway his writing from the excerpt is superb, and I want to read more. 

Reminder: You won’t get to places being comfortable.

(Another author I insisted on avoiding is Murakami. Well, now I’m making my way through IQ84.)

One of the regular questions in the Goodreads Author Interview section is “What book are you reading at the moment?” (John Green is reading Wolf Hall!), and this particular author raved about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, calling it light-hearted but really good advice on writing. Brainpickings did a pretty good job of summarizing Bird by bird here

So there you go.

I’ve read Bird by Bird, almost finishing In Cold Blood (shivers), and I’ll keep Telling True Stories for the next year. Have to ration my reading lah, or else every month will be spent in starvation.

The basic gist i got from Bird by Bird: every writer struggles, and what you need to do is just write. every single day. bird by bird. not for the glory of being published, but for the happiness of telling a story on paper. 

I think this is the first time I happily spent so much on books at one go. Usually only book vouchers or Big Bad Wolf allows that, but since I don’t think I have the patience to hunt for these particular books in the BBW tsunami and I don’t get book vouchers anymore; I’ve come up with a pretty good justification: INVESTMENT.


Stretching out the skinny ringgit by making lunch to work, and it’s just four more days to December!

Thinking about these books still brings a smile to my face though. There’s nothing like unwrapping plastic cling wrap and running your hands over the smooth books. Then reading them, over and over again.

Now for the bookshelves… …

Nov 15, 2013

A Village of Artists

The sun beat down mercilessly as I crossed the road. I wanted to ask the Malay girl about the mystery art installations in Kuala Selangor.

I tak tau lah, I bukan orang sini, I sewa saje. Boleh pergi tanya orang cina kat belakang sana, mungkin mereka tau.

Thanking her, I cautiously drove into the small housing area. It was one o’clock in the afternoon and the streets were empty. Indeed, it seemed to be a Chinese community. 
But who would be out in this weather? 

Suddenly, I spotted a man in his thirties, locking the gate of his one-storey home, with someone I presumed was his wife waiting in an idling black Myvi. I weighed my chances.

Should be safe to approach.
a lone motorcyclist going up the cyclists' bridge over Sungai Buloh, or Bamboo River.
“Hi sir, I just want to ask about those iron art things outside by the road. Do you know anything about them?”

“Oh, those are the artworks by our local arts association. They’re just nearby—Hey!”

Yes. Finally, someone who knew something. He waved to someone behind me and I turned around.

“He’s a member of our arts association. He can help you out.”

In what seems to be perfect timing, a slightly plump man in a bright yellow shirt rode up on his motorbike, sweating heavily.

“Hey, this girl here is looking for information on the art things. Why not you bring her to the association?”

With a earnest smile, the new guy eagerly said, “Ah yes, I’m a member of the arts association. You can drive right, follow my bike ok?”
With no time to lose, I trailed his bike for about 500 meters to another quiet shop lot. A huge pink paper fish hung outside a closed shop. Seemed legit. There was no need to bolt after all. 

After parking, he led me to a coffee shop where a bunch of uncles were having their lunch.

It was all very surreal, with a chorus of “Yes yes we’re the local arts association, how can we help you”, etc, I can't believe that I would actually get to meet the guys behind the whole movement!

tiny fungi flourishing on the installation.
A quiet, bespectacled man stood up, and my guide introduced him as the chairperson of the association.

They had just finished lunch, and he readily agreed to an interview. He led the short walk back to the shop with the pink paper fish and unlocked the grilles.

“This is our studio.”

This was unbelievable!
Light streamed in the studio (or workshop depending on what you want to call it), stacked red plastic chairs, huge canvas paintings stand propped up against walls, crusty dabs of paint on the easel, wire sculptures casually sit next to the telephone. Someone has swept the place recently. 

I walked around, admiring his works and newspaper clippings.
You painted this? I ask.

“Those are my works. Those abstract ones are more popular. People don’t like big weird eyes staring at them in their homes.”

How about that paper fish?

“Some of the villagers made it for the mid-autumn lantern festival.”
That, is the story of how I met these guys who dared to dream something big for their little village. 

Sad to say, I’m terribly ignorant and said many a stupid comment. “You’re an artist? You actually live here?”

HAHAHA. so embarrassing. 
constructivist steel sculpture by Thai artist Natthapon Muangkliang
His name is Ng Bee. He reminds me of a friend’s dad. Although his hair is graying, he seems really young and energetic; my guess is that he’s in his late forties. He wore a crumpled formal grey shirt, oddly paired with baggy black and orange basketball shorts. During the interview, my pen ran out of ink. 

Then his committee members dropped by, all happy to share stories about their arts festival.

It was in 2008 that Ng proposed the idea of an artists’ workshop in the local primary school. Although the villagers didn’t entirely understand whatever that art thing is, they went ahead, and 34 artists came at his invitation. 

From China, Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, there were nine countries in all.
cracked leather seats on a plastic tugboat-like installation
It was difficult. Apart from the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, no one had ever attempted something like this before. 

An international artists' workshop in a Malaysian village? Unheard of. 

Other than a tiny mention in Nanyang Daily, they had zero publicity. More importantly, for Ng, the villagers became enthusiastic. 

It was something new to them.
butterfly hunting in the sun-drenched art park
As the artists worked on their paintings or sculptures, villagers were encouraged to ask questions and even help out. For example, a Thai artist designed the sculptures while the village men pitched in to weld it together.

How about the village youths? 

“On the first day, those young kids who volunteered to help out; they were all focused on their phones, what you call the 'Lowered Head Syndrome'. They left before the event ended. They wanted to go home two hours earlier.”

He smiled. “The next day onwards, they didn’t want to leave at all. When they started to learn about art, they loved it. ‘Give us more time! Give us more time!’ they would say.”

"Art changes people"

“Art changes people.” Ng was adamant. “I wanted to bring art into my village.”

The vice chairperson is Mr. Lo, an extremely soft spoken man with thinning hair. 

“I knew nothing about art. I’m a businessman, you see. When Ng (we knew each other since childhood, it’s a small town) asked me to help him, I tried my best.”

"What is installation art?"

Ng chipped in, “You know, at the beginning, he (Lo) bugged me for the WHOLE month. What is performing art? What is sculpture? What is installation art?”

Laughing, he added, “Now he knows as much as I do, maybe even more!”

In 2009, the Sasaran Arts Association was born. Well-known local writer Duo La bestowed them with a Chinese name: 傻傻然. 

Pronounced Sha-Sha-Ran,  (sha) means foolish, and  (ran) means nevertheless

“She said, ‘You people are really brave hor? Going ahead and doing things like this?’”

“We liked it. It sounded like us, doing things that seem brave and foolish. So Sha-sha-ran it is,” says Ng.
colorful crabs made from wooden pallets
The Association has plans to organize one major event every three years.

December 2011: a twelve-day Sasaran International Arts Festival, themed “We Art Together”. 

More than 50 artists from 17 countries came, including Italy, India, Denmark, Russia, Vietnam, Japan, Germany, China, Romania, United States, Thailand, Singapore, Mongolia and more. 

3D art murals, installations on the school grounds, pottery, sculpting, performing arts... 
Again, there was no publicity budget of any kind. However, Ya Zhou Zhou Kan, or Asia News, the Chinese equivalent of Newsweek somehow got wind of this.

Word was passed to Tay Tian Yan (郑丁贤), the highly popular Deputy Chief Editor of Sin Chew Daily.

When he penned a column on the Sasaran Arts Festival, it was a stroke of extreme good luck, their hard work paid off, and the rest is history.

Thousands came every day, from as far as Kedah, Penang, Pahang and Johor. Most visitors say they came because of Mr Tay’s column.

“NTV7 and TV2, the local television news network crew came by at the exact same day and time! They knew something newsworthy was going on here.”

The Sasaran International Arts Festival remained true to its mission to promote understanding of art to the public. 

Their manifesto also included cultural exchange between Malaysia and other countries, environment conservation, as well as to nurture a new generation of artists, ultimately transforming Sasaran into a permanent Art Village.
True enough, the festival wasn’t only about creating and exhibiting, but developing relationship between the artists and the local community. The studios were open to the public so people could crowd around and ask about what was being created.

There was huge support from the villagers.

In one story, they needed people who know how to operate sewing machines for the street fashion parade. 

Housewives sixty to eighty years old rallied, men carried sewing machines to the hall, and everyone worked together to complete the outfits.
Mr Lui the association secretary sports wraparound shades and very tanned skin, as a result of his contractor job. He shared another tale. When a young resident artist was collecting bras to create her project on domestic abuse, the village chief asked, and he received. An outpouring of 200 bras a day came from the village ladies.

"bian tai!"

“Everyone called him the perverse chief! bian tai! Ha ha ha!”

Fishermen, businessmen, machine shop owners, even the unemployed, all gave what they could.

The sponsorship list read like a giant grocery list:

Farmers donated 200 chickens for the meals.

Grocers gave hundreds of kilograms of vegetables.

Each committee member selflessly sponsored at least three thousand bucks to the event.

“We’re not in for the money, so every little contribution is important to us.”

Artists paid for their own air tickets, while room, board, meals, materials and even sightseeing were provided to the artists. 

In exchange, they donated at least one piece of art to the association to raise funds. 

Ng explains, “What every artist want is just a platform, you see.”
Are there any hotels around here? Where did those artists stay?

 “No, Sasaran doesn’t have a hotel. We’re a fishing village, so the fishermen usually have homes here while they go away to sea for the week. So we talked to them, and they happily lent out the houses for the artists to live in,” explains Lui. 

Ng continued, “You see, we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support. It’s really rare to find these ‘uneducated’ villagers enthusiastically talking about art.”

Deep in thought, he slowly said, “To be successful, you need the combination of perfect timing, place, people, and favor from the gods.”

"I am lucky. I didn't do this alone."


Ng Bee has hopes of converting the temporary site, currently an empty lot where shops had been destroyed by fire, into a permanent Sasaran Art Park featuring rotating art installations. 
installations of mirror-faced faux gods by Malaysian artist Tan Chew Kuan
How to get there!

here's a little video! watch 00:34 to see how the mirror structures move lazily in the wind :D

Visit the Sasaran Art Park at Jalan Sasaran, Pekan Sasaran, Jeram, Kuala Selangor. 

An Interview With: Ng Bee, Artist

the radical founder of the Sasaran Arts Festival tells us about paris in the seventies,  his big plans for the small fishing village he grew up in, and why malaysia is a desert.

Tell us about yourself. 
You can call me Ng, "Huang" in Chinese. Ng Bee. I grew up here in Sasaran. I'm already 60 years old this year. I'm an artist.

When you were growing up, were there any art programmes around? 
Well, that was back in the sixties. There wasn't much development, so not much artsy stuff. I had absolutely zero sense towards arts, or anything art-related. 

How did your journey begin then?
I was a student of Pin Hwa High School in Klang, you see. Pin Hwa is famous for producing many artists. I think it was because we had a really good art teacher. I chose the arts stream, and although I wasn't the brightest student around, I liked to draw. Also, I was unsure of what to do in life and with my bad grades, I couldn't get into any universities. 

So when my friend suggested, "Why don’t we go to this art university in Singapore?"

That's what we did.

I spent three years at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, you can look it up. I liked it there. With art, you can reflect the happenings in society. I met many, many artists, in particular, a professor from Paris. In the seventies, Paris was the It place, the mecca for artists. Everyone must 'pay homage' in their lifetime. 

So you went to Paris right after Singapore?
Oh. Not immediately. After graduation, I came back to Sasaran. Spent two years here, preparing for Paris, stuff like that. 

What happened in Paris? 
I went to Paris for five years. I enrolled in the national art academy (the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts), generally dabbling in art. Paris is the center of the whole art movement! 

The National Art Academy? How did you manage to afford the admission fees and tuition? 
Oh, basically it's free. You pay around three hundred bucks for admission, and that's all I paid for five years. How else do you think Paris managed to attract so many artists all over the world? Artists came from Japan, Korea, everywhere. 

The atmosphere was formed unintentionally, and all of these individuals contributed their different styles to the era. There's a Chinese saying called Bai Hua Qi Fang, which means "hundreds of flower varieties blooming together, at the same time". 

It was refreshing. 

How did it affect you personally?
I got to see different styles. I had been trained in the Malaysian way of creating art. It was how I grew up and saw things. But then you meet this artist from Africa or from Saudi Arabia, and they have their own very distinct and strong techniques and cultures!  
After you graduated from Paris, where else did you go? 
I came back to Malaysia. To Sasaran. My roots are here. 

Were your parents supportive? 
My father passed away early on, so my mother was the one who raised us. She didn't support me, but she didn't forbid me either. She never raised a fuss about it, unlike kids now. You know what? I think children nowadays had less freedom, with parents forcing them to go into science or marketing where the money is, rather than what they like. 

Oh? I thought it was the other way round, society being more open-minded and all. 
No lah! Kids today are so controlled, everything is money this, money that. My mother's viewpoint is, "you do what you like, but just be clear that I won't be financially supporting you."

We all knew that and I worked the way out on my own. She never stopped me. 
Do you have any siblings? Are they artists too? 
I have two brothers. They work in the fishing industry. They're okay with what I do. You must know that back in those days, there were no resources to help artists. I had no concept of how to survive, make a living, things like that. I just had a pure and simple dream, and look! It's been forty years. 

Today, the way parents are preventing their children from pursuing what they want, it's not a good thing. 

Malaysia is a desert. Empty of culture. Of humanities. 

We need to help the younger artists today.

The girl you see over there in the newspaper clipping who created the shark, she’s a student of the Malaysian Institute of Arts. Her domestic abuse project is now on display at the Petronas gallery in KLCC. She came to us, she needed a studio. No one wants to be an artist anymore, it is too difficult. 

What did you do back in Sasaran? 
The villagers didn't understand what I do. I wanted to continue doing arts, but I didn't want to be an art teacher. So I opened an advertising firm in Klang.

Imagine the situation. There was no advertising 'field' yet, if I had continued the business, my income would have been in the millions today! 

But it wasn't like that. I wanted something small, not for the money, but just enough to survive, so I could continue drawing. 
How did the festival come about? 
Well, I continued to engage in arts quietly. During a Southeast Asian art workshop at the National Art Gallery in 2005, I met artists from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Singapore. We got to talking, and that's how it began. 

I wanted to have an international artists' workshop right here in Sasaran, but the villagers were skeptical. There was a lot of negative feedback. 

Everyone thinks art is a 'City Thing'

Everyone thinks art is a 'City Thing'. But that's wrong! Art is different. It's not politics. It isn't some lofty concept. You can't escape from art in your daily life. For example, you chose that shirt you're wearing today because it's a nice shirt. You chose it over the other clothes. You painted your house in this colour because you think it's a nice colour. Art is everywhere. 

So in 2008, we managed to do it. Nine countries; 35 artists from China, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and more. The public could interact with the artists. The villagers couldn't even speak English but with sign language, everyone enjoyed themselves! 

We did a bigger one in 2011. 

What happens to the art created in the festival?
The artists each donated a piece of art or sculpture to us so we could raise funds, and we tried to preserve some of the installation art. The one you saw by the roadside, that spot used to be a row of shop houses that got burned down. We applied to use the space to exhibit our installation art. Technically, the land belongs to the government, but the council has been very kind. 

Once art is installed, it takes on a life of its own. Some have even gone there to take wedding photos!

Art belongs to everyone.  

Visit the Sasaran Art Park at Jalan Sasaran, Pekan Sasaran, Jeram, Kuala Selangor. 

-This post is an entry for the Canon Photo Storytelling Challenge-

Nov 14, 2013

How to overcome your fear of heights!

You know, I think I'll be writing #TSBreakAway posts for many months to come haha. 

But before that, let's have some paragliding pictures! 

To cut the story short: Kak Orkid the extreme sportswoman extraordinaire & army man Kapten Ikhwan are basically paragliding pros who decided to start the first paragliding flight park in Malaysia. 

Born in a family of seven, Kak Orkid is the middle child; this means she can basically choose to go all girly or boyish. Thank god she choose the extreme sports route! 

She introduced the sports to Kapten, and this crazy couple bought their own paragliding kit and went jumping off various hills in Malaysia like Broga Hill etc to find out which place near KL has the best flying conditions. 

The answer is Bukit Jugra, Banting! 

After heavy rain during the night, it was a cold morning when we reached Bukit Jugra, with a huge Chinese cemetery and abandoned buildings rising through the mist. The cloudy day doesn't seem to bode well for us para-gliders. 
True enough. Kapten says there wasn't enough wind to get flying, and we should all go downhill to the flight park for some home-made nasi lemak(extremely delicious ones!) and watch videos of the previous flights. 

IT WAS A DAY OF WAITING. That's the first thing you should know about paragliding. 

no wind no go. cannot be any old wind though. 

it has to be wind coming from this perfect angle. Kak Orked says it taught her a lot of patience. 
 Handmade paragliding bear! :D
 While waiting for favourable winds, some of us went to visit the Jugra Museum hehe. 
After the museum, we drove to the river for a closer look. This catfish here has leaped onshore during the night, and now had to flip flop wanly in the shallow puddle, baking in the sun. What a painful way to die. I would've saved it if not for the two guys who were going to use it as bait to fish. :( 

The Jugra River is impressively clear and green that day! (Kak Orkid says its usually "teh tarik" tones! We're honoured!)

after ages of waiting, nasi lemak, lepak, museum visiting, mosquito repelling, and more waiting..... ..... 


Three Basic Rules: 

1. when kapten says 'run', you run run run run. 

2. when kapten says 'sit', you sit. 

presenting, the professional photo-bomber: 
and another GIF i made of Juan's flight! 

no jumping! just yelling, soaring and  lots of excited whooping heheheheh
 "Usually men are scared of heights."

"65% of our customers are ladies!"
smile and wave boys, smile and wave. 
no worries! Kapten does all the hardwork, so all you need to do is hold the GoPro at perfect angles and scream. 

There you go. no more fear of heights. hahahaha. 

it was such a peaceful activity; floating over the durian orchards below, admiring the glassy green river, and add in a bit of ganjeong-ness when it comes to landing. LOVE IT. 

too bad a basic paragliding set costs RM13k though. 


P.S: pleeease have a Work & Fly Internship programme soon :D

for more information on this free & easy method to overcome your fear of heights, go here: PLUM