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1Shut up…and just observe. No interviews. Just observe. What do you see? How does it sound? Is it sweet? Is it foul? Is it smooth? Is it moving? Boring?

We are endowed with five basic senses – smell, sight, taste, hear, and touch. These senses, which we use to carry out our daily mundane routines, are writers’ bestfriends, too. If we use them more consciously, we see more action, more life, more movement, more voices in the things, faces, and places that we daily look at and find no expression at all.

“Honing Your Observation Skills” (HYOS) is one of the activities I have enjoyed in my Feature Writing subject when I studied Journalism at the University of San Jose-Recoletos (Cebu City, Philippines) few years ago. Thanks to my mentor Maylaine T. Cerna who introduced this to my class.

It was fun to have my fellow writers here at Writers Coffee Lounge do the same activity. We stationed ourselves in our chosen places (home, kopi tiam, etc) to do this exercise. Below are some of our outputs for the first HYOS activity shared to the group last 15 May 2009. We decided to do this again and for the second round, we will focus on observing a character, a person.

7th Floor
by Aurelia L. Castro

Kopi tiam
By Angeline Koh

Coffee shop complaint
By Cecilia Mahendran

(Honing your observations skills assignment by Aurelia L. Castro.)

Buildings that look like boxes. Columns and rows of tinted glass windows that stare like lifeless eyes. A slow movement of vehicles coming in and out the parking lot. A few people passing by and a cat or two strolling around the well-swept path – these are the usual sights from my window at the 7th floor in my flat.

The 15-storey home buildings before me look so still. They seem to have stood there for years. Their walls’ weak and fainting colours of yellow, pink, and maroon tell me they are old and have lost their smell long time ago. Their gray-white coloured air-conditioning units are like uniform badges attached to their chests.

It’s quiet and slow, boring and almost deserted in the daytime. Cars and motorcycles are neatly parked, some almost kissing each other, on their numbered spots. Even the clothes hung on some of the windows look tame and calm. The trees are orderly arranged as well. Their leaves gently flip with the occasional soft blow of wind.

The sight of the sky takes only about a quarter from the whole screen view in my window. Yet it’s the one that seems to command life to this rather nostalgic and perhaps unappreciated place. It creates movement as it breaks from darkness to gray in the morning, to orange when it’s shone by the sun, to blue, till it turns slowly back to gray, then to darkness again. At six in the evening, it is still bright and dominant.

As the sky begins to cool down and welcome the stars and moon at night (which are usually overshadowed and unseen because of the city’s bright light), the lamp posts at the parking area start to light up. The darker the sky goes, the more light comes out from everywhere – cars, buildings, and streetlights. The windows that were like lifeless eyes finally blink and smile at night.

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(Honing your observations skills assignment by Cecilia Mahendran.)

It was about eleven o’clock when my daughter and I reached Bedok Food Court. Only a few stalls were open. Consequently, and also because it was still too early for lunch, only a few tables were occupied. The whole food court seemed to be shrouded by a shadow except for the middle, where the sun shone through.

My eight-year-old daughter wanted to eat carrot cake. I scanned the whole line of signboards for the one advertising carrot cake.

“Sorry, no carrot cake,” I told her pointing to the stall’s silver shutter that was still drawn down.

She reluctantly settled for minced meat noodles, which was also what I had chosen. I paid the stallholder after telling him my order and my table number.

Back at my seat, as we were waiting for the food, I noticed a blue poster glued onto our table. I noticed also that there was a blue poster on every table in the food court. The same blue posters, bigger in size, could also be seen on almost all the pillars as well. I took a closer look at the poster on my table and saw that it was a campaign to get customers to return their empty bowls and glasses to the collection stations after their meals. I looked all around to see where this collection station was. Not being very observant by nature, I could not at first spot any. It was after I mentally told myself, “Good, we can just leave our bowls here,” that I noticed the first mobile shelf tucked discreetly behind a pillar. Then I noticed another, then another. Almost all the pillars had one – a metal casing, taller than a tall man, with groves along the insides that enabled food trays to be slotted in.

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For her exemplary learning journey, Angeline Koh, our fellow writer here in the Writers Coffee Lounge was awarded last night as one of the 16 winners for the Lifelong Learner Awards 2008 at Meritus Mandarin Hotel jointly organised by MediaCorp Pte Ltd, Singapore Workforce Development Agency, NTUC, and SPRING Singapore.

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(Angeline Koh, currently on overseas trip, was represented by her nominator Shirley Leong (third from right).)

The Lifelong Learner Awards, now on its seventh year, recognises individuals and companies who “persevere in upgrading their skills and taking on new challenges to stay relevant at work…who proactively put in place a culture of lifelong learning at the workplace…”

Angeline Koh, one of the writer contributors of Chicken Soup for the Singapore Soul, and author of the book How the Moken Sea Gypsies got their Book published in 2007 was nominated by a friend Shirley Leong, who took notice of Angeline’s pursuit to learn and motivate others as well.

Congratulations, Angel! We are proud of you!

Here’s a short article about Angel on Today newspaper (19 Nov 2008):

1Growing up, Angeline was so playful that she neglected her studies. She coasted through secondary school before enrolling in a vocational institute to study advertising art after her O levels. Six months later, she was asked to leave. Discouraged by the expulsion, Angeline felt that she was a failure.

To add to her misery, her thyroid condition worsened. But that period served as a wakeup call to Angeline, and she not only discovered her creative talents, but also her calling at a Christian organisation that specialises in people development, The Navigators Singapore.

During that time, she took up various courses to upgrade her skills, including a diploma in mass communication which she completed in 2002. Her hard work has paid off and today, she is the organisation’s communications director.

Of her journey to success, Angeline said: “I believe that one should never stop learning and that is how I got to where I am today.”

Asia Through My Eyes – What does Asia mean to you? A regional travel writing competition in conjunction with the Singapore Sun Festival.

Writers are called to write about “your insights into life in Asia in the 21st century – its culture, people, landscapes and atmosphereThis year, your entry will need to begin with “As far as the eye can see……”

http://www.singaporesunfestival.com/competition.php