Asian Festival of Children’s Content

SCB afcc logo

I last attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, an annual event organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) to celebrate and promote the creation and appreciation of children’s books and other media, in 2011. The festival is in late-May and I have, in years past, been in the U.S. during that time.

But this year, I’ll be there! The festival includes The Writers and Illustrators Conference (more below), the Media Summit (sessions and workshops on multi-platform storytelling, pitching, interactive narratives and digital marketing), the Preschool and Primary Teachers Congress (sessions and workshops to help educators develop and impart early literacy skills in the classroom), and the Parents Forum (sessions and workshops for parents, teachers, and other related professionals on nurturing early learning and bilingualism at home).

The Writers and Illustrators Conference is the festival’s highlight, IMO, and gathers writers, illustrators, and publishing industry professionals to share, network, and celebrate. This year, I will be moderating conversations with two very talented artists:

May 26, 4:45pm – 6:00pm
A Touch of Local Content in a Story
Speaker: Evi Shelvia
A cup, a cloth, a carton. How can an illustrator include local content into the environment, expressions, gestures, and other elements of a story? Evi shares some of her experiences as an illustrator.

May 28, 10:30am – 11:30am
Class Clowns: Using Humour to Enrich Children’s Creativity
Speaker: Oliver Phommavanh
Children love to laugh so inject some humour in their learning lives! Teach children how to write, perform jokes and use humour in their stories and conversations.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the festival has evolved in the past half decade.

Find registration information here. A Festival Pass is SG$500.00, which is a lot more expensive than I remember it being!

Wander Journals

11264985_1685118445041658_7070373031217667107_nI recently stumbled upon Wander Journals, “a guide for inspired destinations in Southeast Asia.” The site, its founders write, features “a curated selection of cafes, shops, hotels, restaurants and points of interest.” They add, “We are a group of friends who share the same passion for traveling and we created this site in the hopes of sharing our thoughts with fellow travelers who value depth and beauty in their journeys. Our site aims to show our readers that sophisticated impressions need not mean expensive charges. We provide a discerning view of our favorite places in each area through our city guides. It is our aim to enable our readers to experience the best a city has to offer.”

While some of Wander Journals’ travel photography is rather predictable, several photo-essays are quite inspired, including “Discovering Bike Trails and Joy,” on bicycles and Singapore, by Jean Paolo Ty.

Wander Journals invites submissions, but pays only in kind words and “exposure.” Still, it’s a beautiful platform on which to showcase one’s travel writing/photography.

Follow Wander Journals on Facebook and Instagram.

Please Don’t Call My Child a Third Culture Kid at Wall Street Journal Expat

I’m over at the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat blog, a hub for expatriates and global nomads with stories about expat living (housing, education, healthcare), expat jobs, and managing finances abroad, with my reflections on the term “third culture kid.”

An excerpt:

On her preschool’s international day, my four-year-old daughter wears a colorful cotton kurta—a long, South Asian tunic—and waves the Stars and Stripes. My American partner and I moved to Singapore for his job in 2010; our child is a South-Asian-American “Third Culture Kid” born and growing up in Southeast Asia.

I bristle at this label—TCK—to describe her. In the book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Amongst Worlds,” sociologist David Pollock defines a TCK as “a person who has spent a significant part of his developmental years outside the parents’ culture(s).” A TCK may incorporate elements from each culture, but he also feels the closest sense of belonging with others like him, he writes.

I grew up outside my parents’ culture. They migrated to the U.S. from India in the early 1970s and I was born in New York City at the end that of that decade. However, they, and I, were plain ol’ “immigrants,” first- and second-generation respectively. While, of course, migrants who plan on repatriating are usually called “expats,” and those who consider their move permanent are usually called “immigrants,” it is undeniable that these various words within the language of migration carry various connotations of race, place and class.

Continue reading “Please Don’t Call My Child a Third Culture Kid.”

A Tapestry of Sacred Music 2016

Oh, we had a divine time this weekend at The Esplanade’s current performing arts festival, A Tapestry of Sacred Music! I saw two ticketed performances, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal and Voices from the Land of Fire: Mughals and Ashiq from Azerbaijan by Alim and Fargana Qasimov, and my family joined me for three free performances, Kirtan: Devotion of the Sikhs by Gurmat Sangeet Academy, Turkish Sufi Music by Şimdi Ensemble, and Qasidah: Islamic Devotional Poetry by Madeehul Mustafa.



Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal‘s music sits between the Subcontinent’s Hindustani classical (Khyal, Dhrupad, and Thumri) and rich folk traditions. While their viral YouTube hits, recorded at Pakistan’s Coke Studio, have catapulted them to ce-web-rity status and introduced the timbre of their voices to a new generation, the brothers trace their roots to the Qawwal-Bachcha gharana, or house of music, which was established in the 12th Century in Delhi by one of South Asia’s most renowned poets, Hazrat Amir Khusrau.

On Friday, the ensemble sang in multiple languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Farsi, among others, and their soulful singing was accompanied by a chorus, clapping hypnotically, and a group of percussionists playing the dholak and tabla. Both Ayaz and Muhammad engaged listeners by explaining the layered nuances of Sufi poetry (but only in Urdu, which I can understand much of, thankfully).

Towards the end of the concert, the audience became an essential part of performance as we, collectively, engaged in a dialogue with the musicians to shape and uplift the performance—repeating couplets or melodic patterns and taking the performance in and unexpected directions, for example.

Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal was the best concert I’ve seen in Singapore since 2011 when I attended Dhrupad: The Dagar Legacy by Ustad Hussain Sayeeduddin Dagar with Nafeesuddin and Aneesuddin Dagar. My only lament was that the performance seemed truncated due to time constraints imposed by the venue. Outside such a formal performance space, a concert like this would continue for hours and hours until the musicians retired from exhaustion. Along the way, the music would reach ecstatic heights. And while Friday’s performance had moments of transcendence, wherein I forgot where I was, I wanted more!


sikh-kirtans-singing-to-the-divine-01I’ve witnessed the Sikh tradition of kirtan, or Gurmat Sangeet, having grown up in and out of gurudwaras my entire life. (Sindhi Hindus, like my family, have established unconventional practices and heritage in the context of their diaspora.) Kirtan pairs call-and-response chanting with musical accompaniment; its devotional lyrics and a gentle, rhythmic ebb and flow help devotees center their thoughts to meditate with a clear mind and establish a connection with the Supreme Being. Gurmat Sangeet Academy’s performance included its ensemble’s youngest performers. I was bowled over by a gifted singer, no older than six- or seven-years-old, who commanded the stage with her talent and presence. 

Co-founded by singer and composer Bora Uymaz, one of the most prolific figures of the faith in Turkey, and harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu, Şimdi Ensemble focuses on the Sufi tradition in Anatolia. Their repertoire consists of taqsims (melodic musical improvisations), ghazals (Sufi love songs), and kasides (odes), compositions both from the traditional repertoire as well as music composed by its band members. On Saturday, Uymaz and Pancaroğlu were accompanied by Mehmet Yalgin on kemence, a pear-shaped bowed instrument. Uymaz had a strong and unforgettable voice, and I appreciated listening to a musical genre that I was unfamiliar with.

madeehul_mustafaI’ve never seen the Esplanade’s Concourse so full of music-lovers as it was for Saturday’s performance of Qasidah: Islamic Devotional Poetry by Madeehul Mustafa. Qasidah traces its roots to pre-Islamic Arabia and remains the oldest and most revered forms of poetry in the Islamic world. The poem has a single elaborate meter and every line is a couplet; each poem typically runs more than 50 to 100 verses. Madeehul Mustafa is a Singapore-based nine piece group founded in 2005 when its members met as students in Damascus, Syria. Their sung poetry, with verses taken from original long-form qasidahs, was accompanied with frame drums (daff/rebana) and lutes (gambus). I now know why Madeehul Mustafa has such a following; their performance was excellent.



Alim Qasimov is one of the foremost mugham (one of the many folk musical compositions from Azerbaijan) singers in Azerbaijan. According to The New York Times, “Alim Qasimov is simply one of the greatest singers alive, with a searing spontaneity that conjures passion and devotion, contemplation and incantation.”

And while his vocal skills were certainly on display this evening, his performance, overall, was rather perfunctory, IMO. His ensemble of young accompanists—on the tar (a long-necked plucked lute), kamancha (a stringed bowed instrument), balaban (double-reed wind instrument), and drums—didn’t have a chance to showcase their skills during this 80-minute performance. Still Qasimov received a standing ovation and returned to the stage to perform a short encore.

Lastly, the concert was advertised to feature his daughter, Fargana, but she was unable to perform due to health reasons. I wonder how different this performance would have been had she been healthy enough to sing!

The Hive Singapore [UPDATED]


Earlier today, I swung by The Hive Singapore, a brand new co-working space located on Hong Kong Street, for “Try Out Tuesday,” wherein non-members can work at the space for free from 8AM to 8PM.

The Hive was founded in Hong Kong by Constant Tedder and now has five locations in that city, including MakerHive, a space for makers and designers, and The Hive Studios, a space for photographers, and in Bangkok, as well as locations soon opening in the Philippines and China (or so I was told by The Hive’s staff).

The Hive Singapore is huge; it occupies four floors of three combined shophouses and is much larger than any of the other co-working spaces that I’ve visited (Woolf Works, Trehaus, Work Lor). It is a beautiful, light-filled space with functional furniture and a hipster techie vibe in a great location (near an MRT and walking distance to the CBD). The Hive Singapore also has a lot more offices and meeting rooms than I’ve seen in smaller co-working spaces; these are likely to attract small businesses looking for space, rather than independent freelancers (like me).

Its membership costs are competitive, IMO. At The Hive Singapore, hotdesk and rooftop cafe access for five full or ten half days per month (12 hours per day) is SG$120 and ten full or 20 half days per month is SG$260. Full time, dedicated, and office memberships are also available, but were of less interest to me, so I didn’t note the prices! The Hive Singapore members can also visit/work from any of the company’s other locations in Asia.

UPDATE: The Hive Singapore offer full-time writers special reduced rates, up to 20% off various memberships in exchange for mentions of the Hive on social media platforms, etc. Let them know which membership plan that you’re most keen on!

Chasing Flowers by Yanyun Chen

2014-09-25-18-42-01 2014-12-31-18-31-06 2015-drawing_flowers_03

I’ve been a fan of visual artist Yanyun Chen’s work since we met several years ago. Then, she introduced me to Delere Press, a boutique print-on-demand publisher of art books, where she is founding editor. Since, I’ve been following her explorations with charcoal on paper: “How far can one go with a line, a stroke, a shape, a light, a shadow, an area, a turn, a form, a subject, an object, a trace, a place, a space, an empty whiteness where the paper takes its stance and refuses to leave, refuses to stay?” she asks her viewers.

Her latest exhibition, Chasing Flowers, which opens tonight at NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House, is a series of drawings investigating light and atmosphere through floral still-life. Her images were created in tribute to memento mori paintings and the vanitas still-life tradition, however, her flowers are drawn without colour and not from photographs, but while bearing witness to their withering. “Still-life drawings that are no longer still, but in the midst of dying,” she says.

Her images are both haunting and inviting. Tonight’s opening will also feature a dialogue with the artist. Go check it out!

(Credits: From top to bottom: Flowers I (2014), Nitram Charcoal on Fabriano Roma paper; Dorian Gray (2015), from a site specific installation at The Mill; Flowers III (2014), Nitram Charcoal on Fabriano Roma paper. All images via Yanyun Chen Drawings.)


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