In my blue uniform, standing outside my primary school gate, I looked down at my white pair of shoes; my vision gets blurry, my hands cold, my heart thumping as I quivered, "Where am I?"
I've just turned 11 years old and long distance traveling has already become a part of my life, flying between Singapore and China for my intensive training and competing in international competitions. My body suffered under injuries sustained from training, my mind confused as to which part of the world I was in, and my heart was in pain as I felt lost in a world so huge, that only a child would feel insecure in.
Traveling as a young gymnast
In the past few weeks, people have commented that my songs and writings revealed some kind of sadness. An image comes to mind--a white canvas sploshed to the brim with black-grey coarse paint, and from a distance stands a lonely girl. My growing up years were spent in China where I could go one week without saying a word, shut out from the society with no form of communications. I did however have my cassette player with my favourite songs that keep me company in my cold bed at night.
Where I lived in China
However, there was a lifeline, a goal that was to become better at my sport. It was like a comforting guiding light for me; the pain in the heart can sometimes be unbearable, which felt like someone giving it a tight choking squeeze till it stops beating, but overtime, I've learnt to mask that unpleasant feeling as I knew time would pass and situations would improve, as long as I follow that light.
The news of the passing of Huang Wenyong, a well-respected MediaCorp actor best known for his roles in the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation like "The Awakening" and "Samsui Women", has brought tears to many. When I was five years old, my mom and I were extrasin the filming of "The Awakening". I recalled how he and his co-actress, Xiang Yun, would walk around during break time to ask if we were alright. Humble, polite, generous, I was in awe of them! I was learning gymnastics then; my mom asked me to perform a cartwheel for them and in front of a crowd of video crew and other actors and actresses. I was painfully shy at that point in time, I never did it and would never be possible to perform one for him now.
The night that I agreed to play the Huang Wenyong tribute segment at the Star Awards 2013, I felt the pain in the heart again, similar to the sense of grief for someone you love. Instead of ignoring it, I soaked myself in this deep sorrow to experience the sensation further, knowing that the moment on stage would be an emotional one: my heart was as heavy as the statue of liberty, my blood was as viscous as volcano lava, and I could hardly breathe properly--tears welled-up in my eyes. How would the audience feel when they are faced with the visual of the video montage, voice of Xiang Yun and the sound of the violin in the quiet theatre?
As I stood on stage with Xiang Yun, there was no doubt I felt nervous, but an inner voice told me this, "Let every note be a tribute to Wenyong; play for him so that memories of his good art remain in the hearts of people forever." I played my first long note, like entering a twilight zone, touching stories of sports person, artists and professionals unfold in front of my eyes--the million hours of hard work to learn and master a new skill, the endurance to sustain positive energy when faced with great challenges and opposing views, and the passion to continue with one's love even when finance liquidates.
Everyone has a past and a story to tell. Huang Wenyong's daughter, Huang Mei En, who received the Honorary TV Award on his behalf, said the following during the acceptance speech, "My father had come to Singapore from Malaysia in the 1970s with only two shirts, two pairs of pants and $50...I'm sure everyone has his own take on how good my father was. As family members, we have even more good things to say about him." We go through challenging times in our lives, some may be hard to bear, but we learn to remain positive, overcome difficulties, stay focused at our goals, and follow our light.
Follow your light and all will be alright
I teach improvisation in my violin classes as I believe it draws out the inner feelings of the players. Within a structured guideline, students of different backgrounds play differently--some play at an upbeat tempo, some play slower making sure that they do not bow the wrong notes, some play with more legato emotions. Joshua has a passionate feel: every bow he makes tells a little story. Slowly, his music would paint a lyrical picture that pulls on heartstrings.
Joshua plays with passion
A new live loop, "Pain in the Heart" played on my rig, with electric violin and vocals.
In a quaint al fresco corner of Dempsey, the sun's golden rays casts a soft shadow on my pastel casual. Sipping on my sparkling and refreshing lemonade, I hear the distant clattering of voices, communications.
There were the dronal murmurs of the recent Boston Marathon bombing discussion, a colleague's birthday celebration and a new acquaintance chat between a lady and a gentleman. Wonder if new romantic sparks will fly? Love chemistry or not, everyone in the cafe was trying to make a connection with one another.
I've been very fortunate to meet many incredible people in my life. And, to have the opportunity to chat with them is an even more enriching experience than one can ask for.
Richard Bok, former Head coach of Singapore Armed Forces Football Club (SAFFC), now known as Warriors FC, has led SAFFC to winning the S. League title four times, from 2006 to 2009, as well as the Singapore Cup in 2007, 2008 and 2012, and was also the S. League's Coach of the Year in 2006, 2007 and 2009. He also lead the team to two Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup quarter finals in 2007 and 2008; and made history in 2009 by leading the team to the highest club competition in Asia, the AFC Champions League, where his team won a crucial match to finish 3rd in the group.
Richard Bok, winning the Singapore Cup 2012, with his team
His journey in coaching can be likened to a soldier injured on a battlefield, but makes a heroic comeback for the army. Is this a fictional war story that we only find in a forgotten section of a bookshelf?
This is a life path of a local coach who pursued his dreams for the last 17 years--to train his professional footballers to become stronger, quicker and more creative with their passes and footwork, and to build team players that cohesively support one another and overcome challenges together.
Coach Bok not only has a bird's eye view of the team, but also an eye for details. He goes beyond his job scope to answer his calling: new team recruitment, taking upon himself to understand all his team members to enhance his coaching on them. Individual players from different walks of life, some had it better, some tougher situations, but any dischord in their daily routines would affect their training preparation, competitive mindset and recuperation. Our bodies run on limited resources; we can potentially hope to achieve near Superman power, performance that surpass our expectations. However, we need enough physical and mental rest, to claim that athletic prowess. A bridge of connection, of trust and faith, has been painstakingly and successfully built overtime.
In the mini television series, Band of Brothers, which depicts the epic journey of a paratrooper unit from their training camp in Georgia to the D-Day triumph, war veteran, Richard Winters quoted a passage from a letter he received from Sergeant Mike Ranney, "I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said 'No...but I served in a company of heroes.' " (reference from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Winters) The band of brothers established a connection with one another through their difficult battles during World War II; coach Bok has, not only developed groups of team players, but made individual connections with, and amongst the teammates.
Zachary, a very young violin student has been making steady progress in his playing. Like anyone who is starting to learn a new skill, we make mistakes but continue to find alternative ways to do it better each time we try. His concentration has shown improvement, he thinks through what he is going to play and make good attempts to focus on areas that require more attention. Student showing an interest in the instrument is wonderful, making a connection with a student is definitely a plus--a happy and enriching lesson will go a long way for the child. Teach a life, for life.
Making a connection with young violinist, Zachary
A new live loop, "Tribute" played on my rig, with electric violin and vocals.
Looking into the reflection in the waters of Bintan island, I see a little girl dancing and twirling high on her toes, and smiling ever so sweetly to the music of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"; it reminds you of the ballerina that you find in a beautiful music box, turning gracefully on one slender leg with her aesthetic image captured on all the mirrors.
My curly locks @ 7-years-old, donning the national colours
Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast who scored the first perfect 10.0 in the history of gymnastics, pirouetted across the floor ever so daintily, wowed the crowd with her beauty, confidence and charisma, and her superb technicality in the sport which she performed with ease; she was adored by everyone around the world.
Although I lived miles away from her, I felt like I was in one with her: dreamed and imagined that I was Nadia--somersaulting gently in the air, moving my flexible body rhythmically in gymnastic routines, yet having the strength of a lion. It was an arduous journey for her to achieve that elite level of mind, body and soul; it required 100% commitment, dedication and passion from such a young girl. I was inspired by her--Nadia was the gymnast I looked up to when I was a child.
On a Balance Beam, home-made by my mom,
practicing at home @ 4-years-old
Every morning, I wake up early to watch my favourite video, "Nadia." The 1.5hr movie documented her life from a normal school-going kid to an international gymnast. Like any other Hollywood movies, it showed glimpses of her love life, including friendship and relationship with her father. Watching the movie sets the tone for the day: the sight of her body movement and sound of her voice, send warm pulses to my heart that tinkle my fingers and toes, bringing a smile to my face--I was ready for my daily gymnastics training.
Landing on a crash mat while performing at Bras Basah @ 4-years-old
Training was fun as a young kid, performing outdoor gymnastics with teammates, participating in friendly competitions and gatherings with club friends at the then newly-opened Pizza Hut at the Tanglin Shopping Centre. After my second South-East-Asian Games which was held in Jarkarta, Indonesia, I knew I had to seek for higher level of coaching expertise; found the network and began my training stints in China--the start of my own arduous journey at nine-years-old. Never once, did Nadia leave my mind: her soft silhouette remained etched in my mind vividly, spurring me on to continue what I did best and striving to become even better; when my hands bled from the friction against the bars, when my ankles hurt from the constant landing impact, when my heart seemed like it was going to explode, I continued to push myself, beyond my limits to reach greater heights in my sport--if Nadia could do it, so can I.
Flexing my limbs at home @ 5-years-old
Neil Gaiman, an English author, said in his Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts graduating class 2012, "Do the stuff that only you can do. The urge starting out is to copy, and that's not a very bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we sounded a lot like other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has, is you--your voice, your mind, your story, your vision." We find someone who motivates us, draw inspiration from him and imitate his ways. Slowly, in whatever discipline we are in, whether it's the arts, music or sport, we will find our own style, voice and concept of play. Nadia was my model, over the years, I've integrated her into my life.
Last week, my student, Caroline Mikaella Soo, a marketing consultant, surprised me with her quick-learning in playing legato. Generally, I try to find alternative ways to facilitate my students to achieve a playing style or technique, through imagination, listening or drills. I asked her what went through her mind as she played "Long Long Ago" on her violin. She said something that inspired me to write this blog, which has never occurred to me but it made me realise again how important an educator is to another life.
She replied,"I simply tried to imagine myself playing like you."
Caroline playing "Long Long Ago" on her violin
A new loop song, "Sparkling Diamond" played on my rig, with electric violin and vocals.