Singapore

Two TNP journalists recognised for their work

Two journalists from The New Paper recently had their work highlighted by the British Council Singapore and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. ELIZABETH LAW (lawsm@sph.com.sg) finds out what drives them

Entertainment journalist Tan Kee Yun, 32, speaks the way she writes - straightforward and to the point.

While her work is recognisable in The New Paper, less well known are the three Chinese books she has written.

Recently, her work as an author was highlighted in Writing The City, an initiative started in 2011 by the British Council Singapore.

It features a community of new, emerging and established writers who share their work with a focus on writing that is inspired by city life.

Said Ms Tan: "I'm glad they (British Council Singapore) are also highlighting the vernacular writers because it really shows the diversity of the Singapore literary scene."

Under the pen name Han Han, Ms Tan published her first collection of Chinese short stories in 2005, titled 7-Eleven Fantasy.

She wrote the stories while she was a student at Hwa Chong Junior College (now Hwa Chong Institution), but published them only when she was in university.

The stories are based on her personal experiences, Ms Tan said, dealing with teenage issues like love, friendship, and even idolising pop stars.

"I'm not that interested in politics and the human condition, so I don't try to write about that because it's something I'm not.

"It's not that it doesn't interest me, I would read books written about that, but I wouldn't write about such topics."

A second collection, Rescue Of The Idol, followed in 2006. Six years later, she published Superhero Squad.

The books were sold mainly to schools and in bookshops like Popular bookstore.

This year, six local authors from Writing The City were selected and an extract of their work was chosen for a "book trailer", a short film directed by a local film-maker that offers a sneak peek into the book.

Writers were chosen for their fresh, offbeat take on local life, said British Council Singapore's director of arts Sarah Meisch Lionetto, adding that Ms Tan's strength in writing about themes that youth can relate to was "particularly appealing" during the selection process.

"What stood out the most was her ability to feature both Western and Asian pop culture references and to balance them fluidly, that is, how comfortable she is with being bilingual, both culturally and linguistically," she said.

It was from Ms Tan's 2006 book Rescue Of The Idol that the short story, Three Packets Of Sugar In Coffee, was extracted and made into a film directed by film-maker Benjamin Ong.

In it, a young girl reminisces about the happy memories of her late grandmother, such as going to coffee chain Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, where the elderly woman would add three packets of sugar to her coffee.

PERSONAL

Calling it her most personal work, Ms Tan said this was probably the hardest of the stories to write because the inspiration came from a very personal place.

"I put myself into the shoes of the character.

"Of course, I'm not her, but the feelings are very real.

"The way I described her grandma is actually my grandma - things like her loving coffee and putting in three packets of sugar," she said.

As to how she is effectively bilingual, Ms Tan said this stemmed from a habit inculcated at a young age.

Her parents, who were Chinese teachers, made her keep a diary and she alternated between writing in Chinese and English daily.

She added: "Aren't we all bilingual? If you have gone through school in Singapore, you would definitely be (bilingual), to some extent."

What about a fourth book?

Ms Tan said: "I really hope to write something about K-pop, but you cannot write for the sake of just getting another book out. It'll be very paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassing), you'll stop very quickly."

Drawing on the 'details'

His ink and watercolour drawings have been exhibited as part of a group show.

But it still came as a pleasant surprise to infographics journalist Teoh Yi Chie, 34, when his works were picked to adorn the URA Building at Maxwell Road.

As part of the SG50 celebrations, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) picked 50 pieces of art from 33 artists that showcased Singapore, to be displayed at the building lobby.

Called URA Street Art, it is a collaboration between the URA and artists from groups like Let's Draw! Singapore, Urban Sketchers Singapore, Pathlight School and the Yellow Ribbon Project.

Mr Teoh had three of his works chosen - a bustling scene at Temple Street in Chinatown, a piece on Desker Road in Little India and a drawing of the Singapore Art Museum.

Each was done on site using ink and watercolour and took between 30 and 40 minutes to complete.

Mr Teoh has been part of Urban Sketchers Singapore since 2009. It is a group that meets nearly every weekend to visit a different location to sketch.

The group is the local chapter of Urban Sketchers, a global community of artists started by Seattle-based journalist Gabriel Campanario.

Urban Sketchers Singapore founder Tia Boon Sim, who is also artist-in-residence at the Centre for TransCultural Studies at Temasek Polytechnic, said it was natural for the group to provide artwork for a URA exhibition as it has had a long working relationship with URA dating back to 2011.

At the time, Urban Sketchers had just realised their first collection of Singapore streetscapes and the URA had awarded it a publishing grant, as well as offered space within its building for an exhibition.

Ms Tia said: "Teoh's work is stunning, so it's quite natural that his work is featured.

"He used to sketch only in black and white, but he has improved over the years. We all have improved by learning from each other, which is one of the main aims of Urban Sketchers Singapore."

When asked what inspires him to keep drawing, Mr Teoh said it is the ability to pay attention to details.

"If I were to take a picture, less than five minutes later, I might even forget that I've taken it. (By) sketching something, you're forced to sit down and take in the details and you'll definitely remember a lot more," he said.

All this is done in his free time, Mr Teoh said, adding that he does not do commissioned work outside of his day job.

"When I draw, I want it to be for something I like. So if it's chosen for display after I've done it, it's fine. I just don't want to be bound by having to draw something to meet expectations," he said.

The artworks are on display till Nov 30.

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