Quintessentially Singapore calendar's popularity waning
The classic wall calendar listing horse-racing days is a rare find in today's households. We look at how the calendar is made and why it's a time-consuming process
For eight months, she pores over Gregorian dates, lunar dates and the almanac.
She also liaises with various organisations to obtain significant dates for the respective religions and cultures.
Then she gets down to proofreading the artwork that will make the horse racing calendar.
It is tedious work, especially when accuracy is crucial, says Ms Chew Fong Ling, 28, who works with Chee Seng International.
The firm specialises in producing calendars, diaries, leather products and red packets.
Ms Chew is one of the faces behind the production of horse-racing calendars here, which retail for about $2.50 each.
Such calendars have seen their popularity wane over the years, giving way to modern desktop calendars and smartphones.
But the traditional calendar, which shows the horse-racing dates here and in Malaysia, still has its fans among the older generation.
The calendar features monthly pages, each day filled with details such as the Chinese lunar date, Islamic date, Hindu date, public holidays, school holidays and even daily do's and don'ts according to the Chinese almanac.
Most times, the calendars are given away free by companies to their customers, or they can be bought cheaply.
But the amount of work that goes into the production is tremendous.
Ms Chew and her colleague, Ms Marie Tan, start working on the calendar as early as April.
Ms Chew says her role is to source for the additional information that goes in with the dates, while Ms Tan, 44, a graphic designer, creates the artwork.
The challenge comes when the dates from different associations for the same faith or event don't match.
That means they have to do more research and calculations on their end plus double-checking with the various organisations repeatedly. This is to ensure accuracy, explains Ms Chew.
"In the end, we have to decide which one is more reliable and follow that," she says.
Ms Chew also has to pore over the Chinese almanac on calendars imported from China, and summarise the do's and don'ts of each day to be incorporated into the calendar.
After nearly eight years into the job, both women say they can now recognise certain Tamil words despite not understanding the language at all.
After the designing stage is over, the next process right to the end product is labour-intensive. This includes cutting the printouts into various sizes, collating, gluing and metal-binding them manually, before distributing them to the smaller printing companies and shops.
Despite the hard work, Ms Chew is pleased when she sees people of different ethnicities use the same calendar.
She says: "It is truly a Singaporean calendar."
Keeping tradition going as long as possible
Local printing firms have not given up on the horse-racing calendar despite its waning demand.
The few companies that still design and print these calendars say there is still demand, albeit not as much as before.
Mr Charlton Kwan, 47, owner of Chee Seng International, which prints and supplies horse-racing calendars, says he has seen a drop of about 30 per cent compared to 10 years ago.
But it is still viable to keep the production going, despite its tedious and labour-intensive process.
He says: "There are still people who want to look at the racing dates. It also gives a quick view of the dos and don'ts of the day."
Mr Kwan adds that the horse-racing calendar is popular among the older generation, especially housewives and hawkers.
Demand also comes from companies supplying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders and hardware, and small and medium enterprises that give away the calendars as corporate gifts.
Another player in the market, Living Calendars, says demand has dropped by an average of 10 per cent a year.
Owner Jeffrey Lau, 51, says: "The younger generation checks the calendar on their mobile phones while the older generation prefers to have a hardcopy at home."
He adds that he will continue to supply the calendars until the day it is no longer economically viable to do so.
"We foresee that in five to 10 years' time, the demand may drop so much that we have to import instead," he says, adding that he estimates there are fewer than five companies producing the horse-racing calendars locally because of the potential risks.
"You have to put a lot of effort into producing it. If there is any mistake, the client won't pay you."
Mr Lau also says that the timeframe for producing the calendars is narrow. "We have to get everything on standby, once the confirmed dates are released, we quickly put them in and send the calendars for printing."
Swearing by the horse-racing calendar is freelance writer Sylvia Toh, 68, who has been relying on it for the past 60 years.
She says: "It is large and pictorial. At a glance, you know when are the weekends and the public holidays.
"And at a little corner somewhere, you have the Chinese animal zodiac, if you need to refer to it."
Ms Toh uses two such calendars - one on the wall and another on her table to keep track of appointments.
She says: "I don't bet on horses but I bet on this calendar. And I tear only 11 times a year. The last piece, you just throw away."
While people like Ms Toh appreciates the beauty of the calendar, getting the younger generation to appreciate it is an uphill battle, says Mr Kwan, citing his own experience with his two teenage children.
He says: "It is good to pass down the tradition but it is not within our control as it depends on people.
"If the trend is no longer in fashion, how do you stop it from dying?"
But he vows to keep supplying it to keep the tradition and culture alive.
He says: "If there is a demand, we will produce it as long as possible. As long as we can keep it going (without losing too much money), we will. It is still viable at the moment."
Mr Kwan says that it will be a waste to see the classic calendar fade away with time.
"It has sentimental value. We would be losing something of our culture and tradition if that happens."
"We foresee that in five to 10 years' time, the demand may drop so much that we have to import instead."
- Mr Jeffrey Lau, owner of Living Calendars
Demand so low it's more cost-effective to import calendar
TRADITIONAL: The tong sheng calendar shows the almanac, the dos and don’ts, as well as the best timing of the day. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
Another traditional calendar that is fast disappearing from the local scene is the tong sheng calendar.
The daily calendar, complete with the Chinese almanac, is printed on low-grade paper.
It is imported from countries such as China as it is not cost-effective to produce it locally, says Mr Charlton Kwan of Chee Seng International.
Demand has been dropping over the years and slowed to a trickle last year, says Ms Helen Chan, 50, a manager with Living Calendars which hot-stamps corporate logos onto calendars.
Ms Chan says: "More than five years ago, we used to have a lot of corporate orders for tong sheng calendars.
"Now we get only one or two orders for the calendar a year."
Mr Kwan, who has seen demand for the calendar drop more than 50 per cent over the past 10 years, says the role of the almanac on the calendar has been taken over by apps on mobile phones.
Ms Chan adds that the fans of this calendar are the older generation.
"They prefer to tear one piece every day, knowing that a day has gone by. It is a habit."