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Karung guni man gets solo art show

Karung guni man is a self-taught artist who paints in the morning before going out to sell second-hand goods

ART STUDIO: (Above) Mr Tan in his 'studio', which is one of the rooms in a three-room Circuit Road flat he shares with his brother.
ART STUDIO: (Above) Mr Tan with his first 'proper painting' that he tried to submit for a competition in 1976.

He collects second-hand items and hawks them at a stall in Sungei Road's Thieves' Market for a living.

Yet his shirt, dotted with colourful paint specks, hints at another side to him.

Mr Tan Chong Bin, 63, is both a rag-and-bone man and a self-taught artist.

His string of artwork - from sketches of cartoons and people to abstract paintings - tell the story of how he has journeyed through life, which he spent mostly trying to earn enough money through peddling wares to get by.

This "tinge of sadness" in Mr Tan's paintings is why Artcommume Gallery founder Ho Sou Ping decided to exhibit his works. 

Mr Tan, who said he was drawn to American painter Jackson Pollock's style, won a Highly Commended award in last year's UOB Painting of the Year competition.


The 63-year-old juggles two jobs and his days are full.

In the morning, he works at his paintings in his studio, one of the rooms in a three-room Circuit Road flat he shares with his fourth younger brother in his 50s.

By 1pm, he is out of the flat, making his rounds to collect unwanted household items before heading to Sungei Road, where he shares a stall with an acquaintance.

DAY JOB: Mr Tan Chong Bin collects second-hand items and sells them at Sungei Road's Thieves' Market for a living. PHOTO: ARTCOMMUNE GALLERY

He sells second-hand items as well as watches and clocks with hand-painted faces, which go for about $30.

His day ends at about 8pm, when he reaches home. He used to continue painting at night, but has stopped in recent years due to his failing eyesight.

His schedule is flexible, depending on how much time he chooses to devote to his craft.

"Of course I'm tired, walking around so much. Every day, I have to fret over whether I have enough to eat. I don't feel the fatigue only when I know I have earned enough to cover my meals for the next day.

"What to do? I can take only one step at a time," said the rag-and-bone man.

He declined to comment on how much he earns monthly on average.

He became interested in art when he learnt to draw cartoons in school, when he was eight.

Four years later, he moved on to portraits, something he observed from an artist at Thieves' Market at that time.

"I was there because I used to have relatives living in the vicinity. I learnt a thing or two by watching an artist sketch from a photograph," he said, speaking in Mandarin.

"When I got home, I started sketching from my father's photographs. He praised my work," Mr Tan, who is single, told The New Paper on Monday.

The "draft" that Mr Tan Chong Bin did in the dark for his 152cm x 122cm submission for UOB Painting of the Year competition last year. Titled Ever Changing of Artworks, it won him the Highly Commended Award in the established artists category. TNP PHOTOS: CHOO CHWEE HUA

By then, the oldest of seven siblings had already stopped schooling.

He spent the next few years peddling his wares at different pasar malams, until he was arrested in 1975 for not enlisting for national service.

It landed him in jail for six months.

After he was released, Mr Tan, then 23, found himself wondering: How do I walk on the right path from here?

In between odd jobs and collecting and re-selling second-hand goods, he found time to express his thoughts in the form of a simple painting on a wooden board.


It showed seven stars in different colours, signifying the different experiences in life. The sun and moon mean day and night, while the birds in flight signify an ongoing search for a direction in life.

But his first "proper painting" did not make the cut for a competition in 1976.

"The three judges were very polite. One of them pointed out that there was no background in my work," he said.

"Now, when I look back at this painting, I realised, buay sai (cannot make it in Hokkien) leh," he added with a laugh.

Eager to improve his craft, Mr Tan started poring over art books and catalogues that he found at the Thieves' Market.

He went for as many exhibitions as he could, including those for children.

He also played around with different painting materials, even using coffee at one point.

In 2006, he "met" one of his biggest inspirations: renowned American painter Jackson Pollock, the leading force behind the abstract expressionist movement.

He had come across the painter in an art catalogue and was especially drawn to Pollock's brush strokes and "drip-painting" style.

That year, he joined a painting competition again, only to be disappointed.

When yet another opportunity swung by in the form of UOB's Painting of the Year competition last year, then 62-year-old fretted - excited but still fearful of rejection.

"I was demoralised, but when I looked at the calendar, I realised years have flown by without me realising.

"I'm already in my 60s now. I should hurry (and achieve something), I thought. Otherwise, I'll have no more time left," he joked.

In order to have a "breakthrough" from his previous works, Mr Tan began painting in pitch darkness, then left it under his bed to dry.

"The next day, when I took it out from my bed again... Eh, buay pai (Hokkien for not bad) leh! The texture from the paint is good too," he said gleefully.

That draft became the inspiration for his 152cm by 122cm submission piece, which he completed in a month.

Titled "Ever Changing of Artworks", it earned him the Highly Commended Award in the established artists category in the competition.

It is a good start for the late bloomer, but Mr Tan has bigger dreams: He hopes to be better known in the art fraternity through his works.

"Give me two years," he said with a smile.

I'm already in my 60s now. I should hurry (and achieve something), I thought. Otherwise, I'll have no more time left.

- Mr Tan Chong Bin

She has to keep her grades up

Local TV host Quan Yifeng sets ground rules after teen daughter scores China TV drama role

FAMILY SUPPORT: Eleanor Lee has scored a role in a new Chinese TV drama, Tribes And Empires.

She's only 16, but is already going places.

Local TV host Quan Yifeng's daughter Eleanor Lee has just scored a role in a new Chinese TV drama, Tribes And Empires.

She will play the younger version of lead actress Karlina Zhang and will appear in the first eight episodes of the 50-episode series.

Since Eleanor starred in an Apple commercial in February, she has been offered roles in movies and TV dramas, said her godfather, local celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee.

She recently returned from a three-day shoot in Spain for an ice cream commercial.

But Lee said he and Quan had to reject all four acting offers as the filming schedules would interrupt Eleanor's studies.

He told The New Paper: "Eleanor's mum and I are very strict with her. We finally agreed to let her act in Tribes And Empires because the filming would not interfere with her studies. We told her that if she wants to continue acting, she has to keep her grades up.

"For me, that means that she should get all As and is only allowed to score two Bs. Eleanor said that she would try her best."

The teenager used to score Cs for Chinese until two years ago, when she began to mix more with her schoolmates from China at the international school that she attends here.

Nowadays, Lee said she scores A for Chinese, which would stand her in good stead when she flies to Hengdian in December to film Tribes And Empires.

So what is her weakest subject? Mathematics.

Lee joked: "Eleanor is just like her mum, both of them are bad at Maths. They don't know how to 'count' money well.

"The money that Eleanor earns from these jobs is in safe hands with the management team that has been hired to look out for her interests.

"She will also have people I trust follow her when she goes overseas for filming."

Eleanor told Shin Min Daily News that she is looking forward to Tribes And Empires.

This is because her straight-talking character "who dares to anger (others) in order to express her opinion", reminds her of herself.


Of the acting classes that she has taken up, she said: "Crying scenes worry me the most.

"My teacher said that I was too good at controlling myself. So I had to learn to relax myself. Only then could I cry."

Eleanor is signed to Beijing Shen Yi Entertainment, which manages China artistes like Li Sheng, Wan Qian and Gao Ziqi.

Quan told Shin Min Daily News that she was initially worried about her daughter following in her footsteps, career-wise.

"My daughter is only 16 and I thought she would find acting very awkward. She's not a child actress, she's also not mature."

But Quan is convinced that her daughter's future is well-handled.

"Her management company feels she is very likeable.

"I am happy they have made great efforts to make sure Eleanor's studies have not been disrupted."

Eleanor is just like her mum (Quan Yifeng), both of them are bad at Maths. They don't know how to 'count' money well.

- Local celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee, joking about Eleanor's worst subject in school

Study: S'poreans think mental illness is sign of personal weakness

IMH study shows that Singaporeans misunderstand mental illnesses, with almost half believing that mental illness is a sign of personal weakness

Help: Miss Chan Lishan believes she would have got early treatment had she and those around her been more aware of mental illness. ST FILE PHOTO

She struggled with schizophrenia in 2008.

Miss Chan Lishan, 32, was not aware of her mental disorder then - not even when she trespassed into the Orange Valley Nursing Home in Thomson and was arrested.

She went there believing that it was a convent and becoming a nun was the key to her survival.

The former philosophy research scholar at the National University of Singapore told The New Paper: "I believe that if my family, my friends and I had been more aware of schizophrenia, then I would have got early treatment.

"Unless you know of, lived with or worked with someone with mental illness, you wouldn't be able to feel empathy and understand that it is not a weakness but a medical issue."

After pleas from family and friends, she finally agreed to see a psychiatrist who convinced her she had a problem and needed medication.

Miss Chan's story is not unique.

The Institute of Mental Health's (IMH) recent literacy study found that it is a common perception here that those with mental illness can get better "if they want to".

Nine in 10 of the 3,000 people surveyed believed so, with half of them saying it is "a sign of personal weakness".

The researchers said that such stigmas may result in sufferers avoiding getting a diagnosis.

But problems such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and even alcohol abuse often have a biological basis and can be treated medically.

The year-long study, which involved residents aged between 18 and 65, was to find out how much Singaporeans knew about mental illness. Apart from how they viewed the mental disorders, participants were asked if they could identify the five common mental illnesses.

Recognition was the highest for dementia with six in 10 being able to tell the signs of the disease.

Recognition was poorest for schizophrenia - only 11.5 per cent of the participants could tell the signs and symptoms.


Adjunct Assistant Professor Mythily Subramaniam, deputy director of IMH's research division and co-investigator of the study, said the later people with mental illnesses start treatment, the longer they would take to respond to it.

When asked where someone with a mental illness should seek help and what kind of intervention would be most effective, "friends and family" was the most common response for alcohol abuse, depressionand schizophrenia.

Seeking help from a doctor or general practitioner was most common for dementia and OCD.

Professor Chong Siow Ann, vice-chairman on the medical board (research) at IMH, said the study provided a good baseline for looking at mental health in Singapore.

"It helps us to better understand why there is a treatment gap for mental illnesses and how to target campaigns to raise awareness on these issues," he added.

Homemade bomb kills elderly couple

BOOBY-TRAPPED: The elderly rubber tappers were on their way to a food stall when their motorbike exploded, killing them instantly. PHOTO: NSTP
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Man gets seven years' jail, cane, for sexually assaulting Taiwanese tourist

Man who sexually assaulted Taiwanese tourist and tried to rape her gets seven years' jail, six strokes. Judge says:

LURED: Ng Jun Xian (above) attacked the victim in a room in Hotel 81 at Lavender Street.
LURED: Ng Jun Xian (above) attacked the victim in a room in Hotel 81 at Lavender Street.

The Taiwanese woman was here to visit a boyfriend and got to know Ng Jun Xian at a nightclub.

After exchanging numbers, he asked her out for drinks one night in November last year.

When she was tired and asked to go back to her hostel, the 21-year-old took her to a hotel instead, promising that she could rest there.

In a brazen attack, Ng sexually assaulted the 23-year-old woman and even tried to rape her, physically assaulting her when she tried to fight back.

During his sentencing on Wednesday, Community Court Judge Mathew Joseph had strong words for Ng, calling him ''devious'' before sentencing him to seven years' and two weeks' jail and six strokes of the cane.

Read the full report in our print edition on Oct 8.

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So much 'emotion' in his paintings

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