Masters in memory
S'porean youngest in Southeast Asia to earn the title at his first World Memory Championships
He can memorise the exact order of one deck of 52 playing cards in just 100 seconds.
Give him an hour and Mr Joshua Koh can commit 1,088 decimal digits and 520 playing cards to memory.
With these, the 21-year-old became the youngest person in South-east Asia to earn the title of International Master of Memory (IMM) at last year's 24th World Memory Championships (WMC) in Chengdu, China.
It was Mr Koh's first memory competition.
"It felt quite surreal, because everything happened too quickly," Mr Koh told The New Paper, adding that the title was more meaningful because he had earned it on his 21st birthday.
The WMC is an international competition that tests competitors' abilities to memorise as much information as possible within a time limit.
The competition has been held annually since 1991 and comprises 10 events ranging from "Names and Faces" to "Speed Cards". Five Singaporeans took part in last year's WMC.
Mr Koh, a first-year computer science student at FTMSGlobal Academy, is one of only two Singaporeans to earn the IMM title. Mr Wellon Chou, 26, was also awarded the title last year after accumulating the required criteria in Chengdu and at 2014's WMC in Haikou.
"I felt very happy. I got to achieve it despite my bad health," said Mr Chou, who was initially discouraged after falling sick on the second day of last year's WMC. He runs a business offering memory training classes in Singapore.
Mr Koh's impressive memory feats are a far cry from his days in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where he dropped out in his second year after doing poorly in his exams.
He was introduced to memory techniques after his mother's friend steered him to memory classes in June last year.
"People do not expect me to be involved in memory sport, because they have the stereotype that this is something for brainy people," said Mr Koh said, adding that he is known among his peers more for his athletic abilities. "I feel the need to prove them wrong."
The benefits of memory training have been evident in other aspects of Mr Koh's life, especially when he returned to school this year.
For his first semester at FTMSGlobal, he achieved the highest grade for all three of his modules.
His ability to concentrate has also improved without him having to make a conscious effort.
He used to get distracted in class after half an hour, but he is now able to pay attention for the full two hours of a lecture without feeling tired.
Mr Chou has experienced such benefits as well, as he is now able to deliver speeches without the aid of a script.
It is no surprise that Mr Koh feels that memory techniques are a skill that everyone should learn.
He said: "Everyone is only worried about their physical health, but they don't really focus on keeping their brain healthy."
Likewise, Mr Chou cited mental health as one of his reasons for deciding to compete in the WMC.
He said: "Besides being physically fit, we can also be mentally fit. That's the concept I want to promote among Singaporeans."
People do not expect me to be involved in memory sport, because they have the stereotype that this is something for brainy people. I feel the need to prove them wrong.
- Mr Joshua Koh