Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Retro Or Just Plain Old-Fashioned

Walking down Haji lane is quite a surreal experience. It is almost like being transported back in time to a different era; time seems to slow down, the colours fade, the road is narrow and there are old bicycles slanted against the walls. The fashion and furniture within the shops are like a pretty girl's beguiling smile. They beckon you to come closer. It is a romantic place. I don't go there as often as I would like. I should. And since it is so close to school, there is all the more reason to visit.

Racism isn't as cool as the psychedelic prints on this vintage chair
I always admired the taste of the shopkeepers. They seem to be able to bring in things that are retro but yet fashionable. It's not as easy as you might think. For example, a pair of spectacles from the 80s might be retro, but a handphone from the same time is just plain old-fashioned. But it is not just gadgets or fashion that go through this retro vs. old-fashioned scrutiny. Sometimes I feel that people's mentalities need to go through some sort of checklist.

For example, with regards to a certain racially-insensitive twitter user. It seems to me that her mentality was similar to a certain period in the 1960's. Not cool. Just old-fashioned. In fact, this whole hypercritical attitude of bigotry is entirely outdated. 

I just saw a post from a classmate on facebook. She was ranting about someone who was looking down at those who studied at private universities. Although I don't know the context of the criticism, I do know how it feels to feel second class. I used to feel that way when most of my friends went to Junior College after their O' Levels, while I went to Temasek Polytechnic. We are coming into the teenage years of the new millennium where discrimination should no longer exist. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should all agree on everything, I'm saying that it takes maturity to get along with someone who lives, thinks, or looks different. Maybe it is time we grew up.

But more importantly, I don't let it affect me anymore. There are people whose opinion I value and respect; they are the voices I let in and listen to. The others don't matter. Because the ones who have to beat others down to feel good about themselves deserve neither my ear nor my heart.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Teacher, Li Cheng

I left my job at Christian Outreach to the Handicapped in August 2011. I had worked for slightly over three years in a Christian charity organisation for people with intellectual disabilities.

Now now, I know what you're thinking, "Is it THAT kind of charity?"

I've been asked this many times before. After NKF, after Ren Ci, and now, after the City Harvest debacle.

So I guess you can say, I'm hurt.

I'm hurt because much of what they say is true.

I'm hurt because much of what they say is not.

It should come as no surprise, such opinions and viewpoints towards religion, charities and money have always existed. And yet, the ferocity of it always leaves me voiceless.

But no, it is not THAT kind of charity. We are the kind that has an annual expenditure of just over $1 million. And we struggle to raise funds to meet that expenditure. And when we do, we wipe the sweat off our brow and breathe thanks to God.

But I digress.

She calls me her teacher.
Today, one of the clients attending the day activity sent me a friend request on Facebook. Right after I accepted her request, I saw a post on her wall.

It said "My Teacher Daryl Goh".

You know, in life, there are moments so overwhelming and warm that you just have to stop what you're doing, centre yourself and say, "this is so precious."

Like watching dance. Like listening to music. The stuff that stirs your soul. This was one of those moments.

I would like to clarify. My job at Christian Outreach to the Handicapped was more like an events and volunteer coordinator. I was not her teacher. I would see her at the Toa Payoh Centre whenever there were volunteer events. Most of the time, I was based at the administrative office in Tampines.

Li Cheng, 35, has been with COH since 1990. She is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy messes with the body's nervous system, mixing up the signals for clenched and relaxed, making it hard to control her movements.

She is largely wheelchair bound, but I've learnt that she is strong enough to take steps on her own during her physiotherapy sessions. Her condition makes it difficult for her to speak, but I've learnt that she is able to communicate using a board with everyday words printed on it.

When COH was shooting their corporate film, I learnt that she is a bit of an actress and able to portray different emotions on cue.

When she communicates with new volunteers who find it hard to understand her, I learnt that she has tons of patience in pointing out the words on her board repeatedly until someone gets it. And then she's all smiles.

I've learnt that she has a wicked sense of humour, laughing whenever she overhears a funny story, or when she sees someone being clumsy.

On days when she looks visibly sad, I learnt that it doesn't change the way she treats others, beaming a smile whenever she is greeted.

I've learnt that her disability doesn't affect her generosity; she shares the treats she has.

I've learnt that a smile works in every situation.

I've learnt so much from the way she approaches life; her gratitude, her attitude, and her beautiful spirit.

So actually, Li Cheng is my teacher. And even now, using Facebook, she is teaching me that sometimes, we just have to focus on the moments.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

City Of Lies

I'm seated at the peak. The wind serenades the silence. The skyline could be a photograph if not for the blinking lights. The city's towers look like middle fingers pointed to the heavens.

The offices lit with people dreading to leave because they know they must return -- dreading to stay because the hours burn into their eyeballs, yet lining their wallets and padding their egos.

They worship: every desk; an altar. Every flickering screen; a sacrificial flame. The clock counts down to its death, like incense burning, they both make for watery eyes.

Then we aged into mere reflections of true religion, paying tribute to temples of the night. We still sing amidst our failures, while the rhythm of lies are drummed into our subconscious.

You are loved, but barely. Expect to be treated unfairly. Grow old and weak, but pray you do not get sick. And if you do fall ill, it must be God's will. 

I think of you, your name like a whisper the wind teases to iron out the ceases of my crumpled soul. Gentle breezes bring me back to a simple love, when the heart reached out for another, and that was all that mattered.

It was different then; our voices pure, our vision unwavering, our dreams untainted, precious and raw.

- Daryl Goh

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wicked Aura Waiting to Explode

By Daryl Goh

The boys from percussion band Wicked Aura are poised to blow audiences away with their new album, Beginning the End. The percussion specialists talk about what’s ahead right after an intense performance at music-lovers haunt BluJaz Café.

The grenade: a symbol of the explosive sounds of Wicked Aura. Source: Daryl Goh

Wicked Aura’s frontman says the band had humble beginnings just like any other group of aspiring musicians.

Idham Budiman says they were just percussion enthusiasts busking along Orchard Road, wanting to share their passion and talent with the world.

But unlike the average four or five-piece band, this line-up has 12 members and many more instruments.

Ten years on, it’s grown in numbers and experience. Along with the drums, they have now added the electric guitar and bass, electronica, as well as vocals.

They now boast a body of work that includes engagements for corporate events, two albums, and even television appearances.

Their most recent collaboration was a television commercial with telecommunications company Starhub and the Lions XII for regional football draw, the Malaysia Cup 2012.

But their best feature has to be their live performances and Budiman isn’t shy about that fact: “Our music will always draw a reaction from the audience. We’re awesome live!”

His assurance borders on arrogance, but fits his rockstar image. Some might say it’s almost necessary as he leads the ensemble onstage.

As they step on stage, confidence in the band is high, amidst joking and laughter. How do they keep so calm before a physically-draining performance?

Budiman explains: “Some smoking and drinking. After that, a little bit of prayer before hitting the stage.”

“At the end of the day it's about having a lot of fun onstage and feeding off the crowd,” he says matter-of-factly.

Wicked Aura’s audiences are quite a spectacle as well. Amidst the rampant rhythms and flurry of dancing, one cannot help but notice that a large percentage of the audience is female.

This adds to the already sensual nature of the music as the audience sashays to the music. There are no complaints from the band as they continue to flaunt their percussive aptitude.

The response of the crowd matches the intensity and volume of the band as they perform songs from the first album. The air is thick and humid but with perspiration dripping down their faces, the boys of Wicked Aura push through with aplomb.

Budi and his boys perform a new song from their upcoming album, Beginning The End. Filmed LIVE at BluJaz Café.

There is a tense moment when Budiman introduces the song, Evolution Revolution, from the new album.

The audience is relatively quiet due to its unfamiliarity, but not for long. Wicked Aura does what they do best when they draw the crowd in with the anthemic roars of “Revolution!” (lyrics)

The next album, with the working title of Beginning The End is slated for release later this year. The style of music has evolved from the first album. Yazzit, the band’s bassist, reveals that it’s a much heavier album – gone are the instrumental percussion tracks.

Although they include more elements of the rock and metal genre, it’s sounding more listenable and mainstream. There are also the amalgamations of different styles that we have come to expect.

“As a songwriter and lyricist, I’m pretty happy with the stuff I wrote for this album,” brags Budiman. Undoubtedly, the fans of Wicked Aura seem to think so as well.

Undoubtedly, the fans of Wicked Aura seem to think so as well. From the ballistic beats of Bhangra, to fast and flamboyant funk, Wicked Aura continues to amaze audiences with its music.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Weekend Rockstar

By Daryl Goh

Musicians Jon Chan and Brian Lim share about the effects of arts events like Mosaic and Baybeats on local music. Jon Chan gives a live acoustic performance of Plainsunset's 'The River Song'.

Audio Interview with Jon Chan & Brian Lim

Stepping onto the train on the weekend, one cannot help but notice the number of kids shouldering guitar bags, heading to practices or performances. It seems that they are not just carrying musical instruments but fantasies of fame as well.

Audiences in Singapore have been enjoying more big-name music acts over the last few years. The most recent being the Mosaic Music Festival, a ten-day event held earlier this month. One wonders if exposure to these musical influences could be causing these dreams to take root.

Jon Chan, lead singer of local punk band, Plainsunset, attributes it to the birth of the Esplanade and the multitude of arts festivals that are held throughout the year. Jon can be considered a veteran in the local music industry. He has been entertaining local and international audiences with his band and as a solo act for 17 years.

“Who wouldn’t want to be on a stage like that?” Jon asks rhetorically. He numbers off the various gigs, competitions and platforms that bands now have to showcase their talent.

“You’ve got the crowd, you’ve got the right equipment and one of the best stages you can possibly get outdoors.” Jon is of course referring to Baybeats, an annual, alternative music festival organised by the Esplanade. This event has been on going since 2002 and is now recognised as one of the top alternative music platforms in Asia. It will be held on 29 June – 1 July 2012.  Jon now sits on its panel of judges, auditioning fresh young bands that want a taste of rock stardom.

Brian Lim, a semi-professional jazz singer, agrees that there are more opportunities now, but adds another perspective, “Those that can make it are those that can stand out from the crowd. It is almost impossible to make a living being a musician.”

Brian is not alone in his sentiment. It is a well-known fact that many performing musicians have day jobs or supplement their income by giving music lessons. Jon exemplifies this lifestyle; he is also a fine arts lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Becoming a professional musician in Singapore remains an impractical notion due to several factors: Singaporeans still have the mentality that foreign music is better and do not bother with local music. Local bands are perceived to only be imitating and sounding like their western counterparts.

Our multiracial and multilingual culture also works against the local musician. Jon explains that in United States of America, English is the dominant language whereas Singapore’s population is divided in to four main languages and musicians are unable to obtain a critical mass of supporters.

Jon speculates that it will be at least another five years before musicians are able to garner enough support to be self-sustaining. Till then, they will just have to find other ways to keep their dreams alive.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Slept My Way Into The New Day

Your eyes?
They shine like Christmas colours on the perfect Christmas tree.
Like selfless gems I could hardly afford,
held up, setting the light free.
Like a clock-face glowing in a dark room, telling us there's more time.
So with a murmur we let it sleep.
And so in sleep, we creep our way into the new day,
and in dreams, we'll keep my share of heartache at bay.
We'll stay far from the edges of our bed,
far from trust, broken; from breath, taken away.
I am the reason you love and the reason you delay.
yet the chains that hold us,
across the petals of our skin they stay.
Here, we are a nation of the single tear,
the notion of the downward trail,
unflinching in the face of fear,
Oh, you know we are far from frail.
I am not afraid of solitude,
of leaving you, or the loneliness that ensues.
I know my lips will find a way to your fingertips
they feel every crease, every slippery tease,
And as you lease the space in my chest
I pray: Oh please, by grace, say yes.

- Daryl Goh