[School of Hard Knocks] Letters to Dheena

Nesa writing a letter to her brother, Dheena, in RTC. Dheena has served more than half his sentence and will be out by mid 2017. Mel makes it a point to visit Dheena at least once a month, but the kids have fewer opportunities to do so because of various factors like school, transportation and money. A mamixum of three family members and/or authorized friends are allowed per RTC visit. Letter writing becomes a way for the siblings to keep in touch.

[Re/introspection] Letters from 1999

Letters from 1999. 

During his first imprisonment back in 1999, Kim sent several letters home to his sister. He asked after the family and also requested for his sister to write in on his behalf to plead for leniency. 


Below are some excerpts : 

“..are you still working? Put all my hongpao in my cupboard. Call father everyday give me three dollars and you put it on my cupboard with my hongbao. The one with mirror. Sis, write letters to the ministry of home affairs for mercy. Go and find MP and tell them about me and ask them to write letter to Ministry of home affair. When you write letter of find MP, tell them about parent divorce, family problem and this is my first time in prison. Tell them I already change and working outside. Tell them I feel regret, scare and I hope they give me a chance to change myself and turn over a new live. Tell them to give me go home early.” 

“I also read books in here. Borrow from library. I borrow five books title 《鹿鼎记》. One books four hundreds pages. All in chinese. I have noting to do but to read books. If not I will be very scare on here. A kind of feeling. The feeling is very scare and thinking of you, mother, father and all my friends. The more I think the more I scare. I will get mad soon with this kind of feeling. But I cant stop thinking. Nobody can help me from this feeling. Maybe this is the first time in prison. I just cant take it. Please help me. Save me. Find MP and ask for mercy. I BEG YOU…” 

“That day mother come and visit me. I know you outside cannot come in. You didn’t bring you IC as it still doing. You bring the paper right. The officer don’t let you in right. Don’t be upset. They are cruel. They will get their punishment. God will punish them. That day mother came and she cry. I felt like a knife stab in heart but I cannot cry. I must stand it.” 

“Last month I wrote a letter to Ministry of home affair saying I was beaten by CID and ask for a chance but the officer say cannot pass, which mean cannot send out. They say I should hire a lawyer or write to CID. I tell them cannot send, don’t send lah. Then they start to talk louder and told me to go out and don’t want to see me. Correct right, what lawyer, they think I got money. Got money also no use, the CID can just don’t admit. They are all the same, told me wait one hour at the officer and told me to get out, don’t want to see my face. They don’t know our feeling, feeling of getting out early, feeling of scare inside here. They only think I am trying to act.” 

“This few days very hot, at night go toilet also sweat. In here the food not bad, good to eat but less. No choice prison’s life is like this. Here every day, got fruit. Monday and Friday eat bean cube and meat. Tuesday and Thursday eat fish and chickens, the rest of the days eat noodle, kweoy taoy, and egg, peanut. Everyday also got vegetables. I drink a lot of water everyday at less 10 to 15 mug. To keep healthy, if not get sick easily. Exercise, very hard lah, asthma. Okey, I have to stop here, sorry about my handwriting and spelling mistake, ok? Take care of yourself and wish you a early Happy Birthday. Stay cute.”

[School of Hard Knocks] Girls and kittens.

So, the kids found three abandoned kittens at their lift landing a couple of days ago and decided to take them in. 

B : So what are you gonna do with the kittens? Giving away? 

Shivani looks at mummy and say : No, can we keep them, please? 

B : Then who is gonna pay for the cat food and all? You pay, lah. 

S : I will save my school money and buy food for them everyday. Don’t need a lot. But please, let me keep the kittens. 

The kittens are lucky to have found its way to you guys :)

[Always Loved, Forever Missed] Photo book on Papa

‘Always Loved, Forever Missed’ is a photo book comprising images from years before taken with my phone and compact camera, selected for its memory, the moment or a mood; new sets of images made specifically to remember the ‘then’ and the ‘now’; and interspersed with journal entries of my grieving and loss. 

I took quite a long time to put this book together because it was really emotionally draining to be looking through old photos and trying to make sense of this exercise I was putting myself through. It helped that I went ahead of myself by telling people that I was gonna be publishing a book about Dad, because then it created some pressure and momentum. But yes, I am finally done with it and happy to say that pre-orders are open, each copy is SGD 50. Not going to be pushing it out to any bookstores yet, but if you’re interested in getting one, I’ll be happy to deliver it to you. Happy Wednesday, all!

[Always Loved, Forever Missed] Photographs + memories

My father wasn’t a genius of a photographer, but it was always very important for him to be documenting us in the various events and stages of our lives. We’ve got 4 drawers full of 4R prints at home and a few hundred images in his laptop. After combing through thirty years of memories, I finally picked out 16 images, made by my father and some by me, to be hung up on our wall. All these couldn’t have been possible without Kimmy spending a large chunk of yesterday morning hammering in them nails and making sure it was well aligned.

[School of Hard Knocks] PSLE Results

Accompanied the twins to school today to collect their PSLE results. As I was sitting with bated breath in the school hall waiting for the students to be ushered to their classes for the results, I recalled my own results day some 10 years ago and the waves of disappointment I felt when I fell short of my expectations. No pressure from my parents or teachers, but I still remember feeling very down when I had to walk to the back of the hall to share my results with my folks. The same disappointment plagued me when I collected my O level results. Not cool when you’re in a school where single pointers were aplenty. I only got my act together when I went to junior college and finally enjoyed studying. I was quite the nerd. 

What I need to emphasize here is that some of us are just late bloomers, we discover our potential so much later. Ban ban kor kor did two extra years in primary school, made a lot of poor decisions in life and spent a lot more years in prison before eventually straightening out his life and graduating with an Hons. degree in a good school. Life is too short to cry over lousy PSLE results. The real defeat is when you choose to give up and shortchange yourself. Chin up, and try again next year, thangachi.

[Always Loved, Forever Missed] Prints and books

Preparing them prints to go up on the wall at home; a mini exhibition to accompany the book launch next month. I can’t tell you enough how exciting it is to be in charge of the process - from making your own prints at home and nailing and hanging the frames up, right down to designing the book and signing off the sheets at press check. It’s addictive once you get started. For real!! I already have two more book dummies in mind that I am looking forward to crafting. 

Big thanks to Kay Chin and Edwin Koo who gave me lots of advice in getting the right printer at the start and for also influencing me into this self-publication track. It’s been very empowering.  

Coming back one circle

Meet my new friend, Adek. Okay, maybe not so new. 

The world works in strange ways and I am amazed at how serendipitously things unfold. 3 years ago when I was photographing at Lim Chu Kang jetty, there was this Malay family I would bump into once in awhile. A few friendly conversations later, they invited me to attend their son/grandson’s birthday (cum circumcision) party. I was slightly taken aback at their open hearts and minds for inviting an almost total stranger to a family function. So, I went anyway, and got lost for 45 minutes before I managed to find the function hall in the most ulu of places, 117A Ho Ching Road. I brought a couple of prints for them from our time together in Lim Chu Kang jetty, and also made a few photos during the birthday party. 

I traveled a lot more in 2013 and 2014 and made fewer trips to the jetty; they didn’t go there as often as well. I didn’t think we would meet again. But early this year, Mr Kim brought me for a few walks around his estate and at one point I was like ‘waitttt a minute, it kind of feels like I’ve been here before’. Yup, it was 117A, and I saw the whole motley crew of them again. And! One of their family member was Kimmy’s ex-cellmate. The stars have aligned. 

So anyway, I went on my first photo walk around Taman Jurong yesterday and Adek and I became friends (again). He was very excited to be photographed, and to photograph. I don’t think he knows quite well what it means to be flashing his middle finger so brazenly though.

[School of Hard Knocks] Tonight on Toggle

A lot has been happening in the household - her diagnosis of diabetes, her son’s impending incarceration, kids growing up and their usual teenager problems. 

Some people might wonder, “if she cannot even fix her own life, her own family, why does she bother about others?”. But such is the heart of Mel, that she keeps giving and giving even if she’s left with nothing. Time and again, we’ve been confronted with unhealthy relationships, betrayal and get taken for granted, but somehow she finds it in her heart to forgive. 

Tonight, we all sit at 318 for group dinner and to watch Unbroken together. Unbroken is a 13 half-hour docudrama series based on the lives of selected individuals. Tonight’s episode is on Mel and it starts at 10pm on Channel 5. It was filmed late last year, and I think it will be a mix bag of feelings for us - listening to Mel narrate her very tragic story during her growing up years and also laughing at the kids’ acting (they were roped in to act some parts!).

Reflections on GE2015

In GE 2011, I was of age to cast my virgin vote. I would say that I was relatively apathetic to politics — the real life issues on the ground mattered to me more than the mudslinging and much hyped-about Opposition rallies. I went for two rallies, and that was it. I casted my vote, and the Opposition in my constituency won five seats in Parliament. 

Fast forward four years later, when rumours of an imminent GE 2015 came about, I actually found myself interested in being in the thick of the action, experiencing and learning about this jubilee elections with my camera in tow. What had changed? Probably that photography became an extension of my being, and documenting the elections through my own lenses naturally became more appealing than reading the news through mainstream and social media channels. 

It was in trying to be as representative as possible – covering walkabouts, press conferences and rallies from both the Incumbent and the Opposition – that I realized how uncomfortable politics made me felt. 

I started questioning myself a lot more than usual. “Should I release this photograph of him looking so vulnerable? Will it hurt his party’s chances?” If I were a news photographer, and had to file photographs according to the newspaper’s agenda, that would have obliterated the problem I had when it came to selection of images. But in this case, photographing GE2015 was a means for me to make sense of the situation for myself. Politics is personal, and at the end of the day, I had to remember that I am first and foremost a citizen, journalist second; I had to guard my own personal inclinations. 

Also, that some politicians were a lot more media-saavy and really knew how to milk the media for its worth, it made me cringe. Cringe at how powerless I became behind the camera, unable to stop them from their performance. 

Can I find it in me to carry on photographing events like that? I’m not entirely convinced yet. Maybe I just need a break from the drama. Or perhaps I am just more comfortable photographing the hum-drum of everyday life and stories that are more real and raw.

In Edwin Koo’s words, “Politics, [afterall], is theatrical”. 

On Invisible Photographer Asia article on Singapore Photography, Pragmatism and the Political Landscape.

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