The diligent students and their bio – Nicholas Hong

Nicholas Hong

Nicholas Hong, first dabbled with Chinese ink painting while being a volunteer at the Chinese ink painting classes held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Dialogue in the Dark in 2014. He was able to exhibit his first painting at SG50: Art and Diversity Exhibition at The Gallery@The Arts House together with the visually impaired artists in 2015. This started his journey of self-discovery through Chinese ink painting under the guidance of social artist 紀濱麗 (Ms. Chi Pin Lay).

Nicholas believed that the creation of a masterpiece often starts with having a mental image of the composition.

Nicholas enjoys using a minimalistic approach to compose perceptible shades and adds the ‘feel’ of animation to his characters on rice paper. Nicholas hopes to add a refreshing twist to traditional Chinese ink painting through his compositions.

Instagram: ah_nickydesign


The diligent students and their bio – Toh Szu Hui

Toh Szu Hui (Former intern at Dialogue in the Dark)

Hi, I am Szu Hui, one of the students in the Chinese Ink Painting class taught by Pin Lay.

I got to know Pin Lay when I was previously an intern in Dialogue in the Dark and I have also participated in learning and helping the Visually Impaired Guides during their Chinese Ink Painting classes at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. The classes were conducted to help them in their skill enhancement program. I started learning Chinese Calligraphy from my father when I was around 8 years old and I started being interested in painting since then.

The learning journey with Pin Lay was enriching and fulfilling. With her encouragement and guidance, I am always eager to explore different compositions to express my thoughts and ideas.

The French artist Edgar Degas once said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Different people relate art differently. I hope to create and bring art to life that is versatile and evoke beautiful memories and feelings. This is the reason why I find art so special.



Instagram: sht0h

Facebook: Sh Toh

WeChat: Sh Toh


The diligent students and their bio – Mr Wesley Seah (Visually Impaired)

Mr Wesley Seah (Visually impaired)
I am visually impaired since 2002. Life has been unfruitful until 2009. Since 2009, I started working as a guide with Dialogue in the Dark Singapore. In spite of my limited vision, I begin my journey on Chinese ink painting in 2015. I realised that I could express myself and share my thoughts through paintings. I would like to showcase my paintings and hopefully this will encourage the other visually impaired to try out new things and changed the mindset of the visually impaired and the sighted.


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Chinese Ink Painting Class

Mar 19 marks the beginning of two new classes to teach Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. By the grace of God and the kindness of man, I was able to have an inclusive classroom where the young, the older and the visually impaired can all learn in 1 classroom.

Here are some snapshots of the class in progress at a local bakery, East Manhattan near Beauty World MRT every Sat afternoon and also at my studio (aka Gallery@OURF), every Thursday evening.


Seeing in a different light – hearing colours

President Tony Tan signing 1000 people Pine Tree
千人松 signing by President Tony Tan – Life Art 40th Anniversary

It was an unplanned encounter with a concerned parent last Saturday. No, I was not meeting her in the capacity of a teacher. It was not in a school setting.

Instead, we were having refreshments after the Opening Night of the 40th Anniversary Art Exibition by Life Art Society. It was a small cosy event. Nothing spectacular compared to last Sat’s Gala Dinner where we witnessed Dr Tony Tan signing the 千人松 or 1000 Pine Tree picture as the Guest-of-Honour.

Yet, it is in the simple and unglamorous occasion that sometimes the best conversations take place. The cosy event presents an opportunity for me to share with her some of my insights as an educator. To help assure her that the things she is doing are on the right path.We were chatting over a simple plate of Char Bee Hoon. In a humble building, @Lam Ann Association, in upmarket area of River Valley Road in Singapore. The exhibition was a simple and sincere effort by all volunteers and supported by people who are interested in Chinese Ink.

I was introduced to her by a friend, a fellow amateur artist and a friend of hers. There we were, talking about the concerns she has as a parent of a Sec 1 boy. She was anxious about whether she was doing the right thing as a stay-at-home mum.

– if her boy is rather quiet and compliant, should she be worried?

– if he fails in his social studies, what should she do?

– he seems laid back, how can she motivate him?

– should she caned him more? should she cane at all?

She shared that she felt her report card and achievements are all tied to the way the boy turned out. Is she a good parent doing all she should at this time in his life? Should she be doing more? or less?

A friend and ex-colleague once sms me, “I always feel that becoming a parent is a very humbling experience. …suddenly you are not independent and self sufficient anymore. I count of my mum’s good health so that someone can take care of them…I hope their teachers at school teach them well etc”

It truly reflects the many many anxieties of parenting. Parenting is a journey and as in all journeys, we need many good partners to help us.

The partners can be the classmates of your child, the teachers, the good neighbours and of course, your immediate family. People who are concerned for the well-being of your child.

The sharing lasted a good half an hour or more. I believe there are no quick fixes. Instead, what was important was for her to know that what she is experiencing is normal and what she is doing is just fine. Sometimes, it is as simple as that. Anxiety weighs you down.

I ended by sharing with her that she can try praying. Praying to God. Sometimes our human wisdom do not allow us to see ahead. Men may pride ourselves in having so many achievements and coming so far. It is afterall the 21st Century. However, a small voice tells us…”We do not have all the answers. We are still vulnerable.”

Let me end off by sharing a wonderful and inspiring TED talk by this guy, ‘artist Neil Harbisson who was born completely color blind. These days, a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to faces and paintings.

Neil Harbisson’s “eyeborg” allows him to hear colors, even those beyond the range of sight.’ You can watch his video and sharing via (Source:

Indeed I have felt that my life has been so much more secure after experiencing God.
Useful links
Neil Harbisson – I listen to color

Encouraging the inventive spirit in your child

Belle's Clock
Belle’s Clock

It all started because my brother’s house needed a new clock. However, the clock was simple. It was “boring” in the words of my sis-in-law.
So she tasked my niece “to do something with the clock”. Very often we hear of parents, especially mothers telling the children what to do.
“Can you help me look after your younger brother?”
“Hurry up! We are late!”
“Aiyoo…Why did your school teacher call again?”
“You better study hard. Else no future. It is very competitive you know.”
“You better study hard. Don’t be lazy. This year is your PSLE.”
“You are so big already. Why can’t you keep your room clean?”
and so on…

So often, parents, especially mothers try to “nag” their children on to the right path. Parenting a child is never easy. There are countless bad habits a child can develop if left to his own devices. A parent’s role is to guide, correct and encourage the child.

In her book, Marilee G. Adams shared on how when “You change your questions, you change your life”. In the book she shares that ‘”Questioning” is a skill rarely taught in school, but doing it well – that is, asking the right questions of the right people – can radically transform attitudes, actions, and results. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life provides easy-to-learn tools that can make a significant and immediate difference in people’s business and personal lives. Written as an engaging fable, it inspires readers to take charge of their thinking in order to accomplish goals, improve relationships, advance careers, investigate new territories, and in general gain greater life satisfaction. This book explains how to “be your own coach,” outlines the author’s Question Thinking Model, and lists the top 12 questions for change. Real-world examples provide practical models for applying the principles in a variety of situations, while a Choice Map is a useful visual tool that demonstrates that everyone has a choice in every situation, even if it is not immediately apparent.’ (Source:

I agree to a large extent. Question Thinking is a useful communication tools that challenge our assumptions.  Are we in a Judger mode or Learner mode?

Basically it is important to question our assumptions. Stop the blame game when things go wrong. And take a step back to re-look at things again.More importantly the parent child relationship grows when the parent allows the child to “meddle” around. Like in this case, the clock. My niece is quite creative and good in art.

The result? A beautifully crafted and unique Ikea clock piece. When posted on Facebook, there were a couple of buyers. Of course, all these are the “fan” club of my niece.

Some points we can learn from this simple joyful event:
a) Turn a problem into an opportunity for your child to help you
b) Recognise the talents that your child have – what do they do well in? What do they particularly enjoy?
c) Encourage your child to try and innovate eg in this case, what is the worst case scenario? Probably an ugly clock 🙂
d) Share the small achievements of your child

When a child receives recognition that she is good in something, her confidence grows.
In my earlier post, I shared how crushed my niece was when she heard that she could not enter the School of the Arts.(SOTA) (Post: What’s your PSLE score?)
But who knows, she could be extremely talented in Art and turn out to be a superb designer or artist:)

Fruity Clock
Fruity Clock

And by the way, I shared this piece of fun news with a friend and here is the result of the work she did with her children.
Another beautifully decorated Ikea clock!

Perhaps we can modify Ikea’s tagline to : You don’t have to be rich to be inventive 🙂

Useful links:

What’s your PSLE score? 

Change your questions, change your life – by Marilee G. Adams

The 5th Discipline: Peter Senge

Unschooling – Is that part of our 21st century toolkit?

Joy and Jeremy at Arcade
Joy and Jeremy at Arcade Game

Have you heard of the phrase “Unschool“?  I stumbled across this term when researching on “asking questions, learning” which I typed in my search box. Dr Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College in his blogpost on Psychology Today, defined “unschooling” as follows:

“Defined most simply, unschooling is not schooling. Unschoolers do not send their children to school and they do not do at home the kinds of things that are done at school. More specifically, they do not establish a curriculum for their children, they do not require their children to do particular assignments for the purpose of education, and they do not test their children to measure progress. Instead, they allow their children freedom to pursue their own interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to follow those interests. They also, in various ways, provide an environmental context and environmental support for the child’s learning. Life and learning do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in the context of a cultural environment, and unschooling parents help define and bring the child into contact with that environment.

All in all, unschoolers have a view of education that is 180 degrees different from that of our standard system of schooling. They believe that education is something that children (and people of all ages) do for themselves, not something done to them, and they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places.”

It is believed that 10% of homeschoolers are unschoolers in USA. Which translates to 150,000 students and more.

I supposed unschool takes the concept of homeschool one step further. For homeschooling, there is a prescribed syllabus and you teach your child according to what the syllabus prescribes. There is a network for homeschoolers and you can purchase the syllabus online.

Unschooling is based on the premise that every child is curious and talented in some ways. The parents help to shape their learning. I like the sentence that “they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places“.

So is there a place for unschooling a child in Singapore? We have founders like the founders of Kampung Temasek who are trying a new way of learning. We have homeschool organisations who provide families a systematic way to ensure their child gets a validated curriculum for their education.We have parents who chose homeschool to inculcate certain values in their children.

But there again, do parents need to homeschool or unschool their children to teach them values? Is there value in a formal school education?

Recently I have the privilege to host an ex-colleague and her two children in Singapore. Her boy(P3) and girl (P5) studies in Hong Kong(HK) Singapore International School, a school based in HK and uses the Singapore syllabus. They were here on for Easter vacation.

Here’s what I observe when I was “babysitting” her two children while she was having her much deserved break and facial. Jeremy(the boy) and Joy(the girl) were given ten dollars each to spend.

I was a bit worried. I am not sure if we should go to the new JCube to do ice skating or walk around IMM where my friend was having her facial. IMM seems like an adult place and what is there to see and do at IMM? kiddy rides? Popular? But we had been at Popular just yesterday to buy some assessment books.

Well, I just asked the kids what they want to do and they told me so innocently, “Aiyah….we cannot ice-skate as you dunno know to. Never mind lah, Auntie Pin Lay, we just walk around IMM.” What a logical answer 🙂

So we were at IMM. Walking aimlessly.

Surprise no 1. The first stop was at Mini Toons. They wanted to buy some sweets. But what was surprising to me was that they chose to buy so little that it cannot even make up the minimum quantity of sweets. It was only 30g compared to 100g requirement for the least amount they need to buy! We did buy the min 100g in the end but they both did not finish the sweets. I think they only ate about 50g or less:)

Surprise no 2. The second stop was at an Arcade place. Jeremy did not want to spend his money at all. In fact he was upset that Joy bought tokens to play together. He was annoyed and said “But you never ask me if I wanted to play!” He was not interested to play in the games as he wanted to keep his $10 intact. Joy, being the sharing and caring big sister, got him interested. She shared how great it will be if they play together. He still refused, not convinced. However, towards the end of the session, they were playing well together. It was a simple game of hitting the belly of an ugly looking frog. It was such a good kiddie game that with their combined skills they scored well and the tickets start rolling. Soon J and J were so motivated to get more tickets that they played the same game 5 times! The end result – they managed to win some nice prizes to share with their mum:)

Surprise no 3. My friend was not done with her facial yet. We walked over to take a drink at Ah Mei, a local food joint. I told them, “Hey time for a little iPad need $$. Just use my iPad while I take my fix of tea halial and chwee kueh.” Imagine my pleasant surprise where Joy took out her remaining $2 and waved at the auntie to use her $2 to pay. Well, $2 was not enough to pay. I started to take out my wallet to pay.

“No, no, Auntie Pin lay, you keep your money!” Both of them said almost simultaneously. Jeremy started to fish for his ununsed $10 to rush to pay for me. I wished you were there to see the amused look of the auntie serving us at the counter. So my $5.10 refreshment of tea plus chwee kueh were totally paid for by them. Not a small amount considering that it is 51% of Jeremy’s pocket money!

I later told my friend that she has really brought up her children well. “Baby-sitting” for her was a real joy 🙂

So to what extent should the the parent’s involvement in their children’s education be? Do you think “unschooling” is a good option for your child? If not, why not? Or should it be part of the suite that is available for Singapore parents to choose from? What type of support do you think you will need? What type of skills? How do you teach values to your children so that even when you are absent they will bring happiness to others and joy to their “baby sitters”.

Your view?

Useful links:

What is unschooling?

Learning without schooling

Hong Kong Singapore International School

Can we create a “Blame-Less” culture in schools?

School then and now
School then and now

I was sent this picture by a friend recently. I ask myself – “Does it really capture what school is like nowadays?” 

Today the culture of who to point a finger to seems to start young. The BLAME culture.

If a child does badly in school:

– Hey why doesn’t the school give remedial? Why doesn’t…….

Do the teachers understand what my child is going through?

– The poor child is too tired

– My child is hungry lah…cannot concentrate…

– Let me talk to the teacher….

– I want to see the Principal…..

The finger starts pointing…

The Talent Code
The Talent Code

In the book, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, he talks about how greatness isn’t born but grown. He researched the world for talent hotbeds – and he wrote about three factors that make the formula for success: deep practice, ignition and master coaching. Deep practice simply means lots of practice. Pure diligence. Learning from your mistakes.

During my student days, it was a shame to fail your subject. I remember tuition was rare and it was a real disgrace to fail your tests. Additional Maths was a challenge to many students. Some of my friends failed and they started taking tuition. Those who passed were relieved that we do not have to waste money on tuition. Many of us do not come from rich families and having tuition was a luxury few could afford.

When I first failed my English test, my dad gave me a huge whack on my thigh with a cane. There was no cry of child abuse then. Even though the caning caused my skin to crack and blood trickled. It was a good 4-5cm long on my little thigh then. And I was only in Sec 1 then. It brought me lots of pain – physically and embarrassment too. But it also made me determined not to fail my English again.

In an exclusive interview with Readers’ Digest (Feb 2012) issue, Michelle Obama shared this on Success: “You have to practise success. Success doesn’t just show up. If you aren’t practising success today, you won’t wake up in 20 years and be successful because you won’t have developed the habits of success, which are small things like finishing what you start, putting a lot of effort into what you do, being on time, treating people well.”

I like that.

Finishing what you start. Do you start new things all the time but find it difficult to finish them?

Putting in a lot of effort into what you do. Due diligence counts. Passion alone is not enough.

Being on time. Do you value others’ time? 

Treating people well. Irrespective of their job, their status in society, their race, their family background.

On why her children made their beds and even help set the table – “We have to prepare them(her children) for life beyond the White House, and that means chores, responsiblities, treating people with dignity and respect and being mindful of elders and polite and kind to others….these are values we want them to have when they are old and grey…..we cannot take a break from all those values that we believe in. No we have to maintain those values, even here.” (Source: Readers’ Digest Feb 2012)

What’s the culture you are creating for your children? Is it “Blame-Less” or “Blame-MORE!”

Is your child growing up to be a creeper who constantly need scaffolding or an oak tree where others can lean on?

Useful link:

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle