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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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I needed a good topic to begin my blog and what could be better than to tell about the literary session with famous Indian author Anita Desai that I attended on 23rd August 2008, at the National Library.

All of us may not have started as writers as she did. She wrote everyday even when very young and was named writer by her family members. After marriage and even with four kids all she needed was a pen and paper to create a story for a novel out of the ordinary world around her. Wow, and a few of her novels were nominated for Booker prize.

What an inspiration for all aspiring and budding writers.

How do I know what I think until I see what I say?
E. M. Forster

Hello Capt. Manzur, Mohan, Cecilia, and Lata. How do you like this blog?

Au and I thought it would be a great idea for us to start a blog together. This is only the beginning, and the possibilities are countless… so let your imaginations go…

On the left side bar you can have your name added to the CONTRIBUTORS list. Anyone who clicks on your name will see all your postings.

You will also see LINKS where you can put your own website if you have one.

You can put up your CV, publicise your books, articles, interests… so people can find out about you.

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