Tuesday, 30 November 2010

First Home Studio Pics

I spent my birthday rushing down to Profoto to check out my faulty light and buying other studio lighting equipment.

The strobe fired the first time, then it stopped working altogether. I concluded that it was faulty. The cracked protective cap of the strobe increased my suspicion that the light was spoilt.

I brought it down to the office at Bishan. After that, I bought a zoom reflector from the office after the technician showed me how the zoom reflector worked. It can help to zoom the light in on the subject or spread the light out from the subject. I bought the older and cheaper model as it was the type that I always saw on brochures. I bought it mainly to cover the strobe light up when using a reflective umbrella. I feel that the light tube may be too bright or glaring for the naked eyes.

After that, I went down to Cathay Photo at Peninsula to buy my sync terminal adaptor, attachment ring and softbox. It was a good thing I googled for alternatives to Pocket Wizard or Phottix Atlas. These radio transmitters would have cost me anything from $300 to $500. For those who are unaware, radio transmitters are devices to synchronise the camera with the strobes so that they fire or flash as the shutter is pressed. Although the strobes came with the sync (synchronisation) cable, I was horrified to realise that my camera did not have a sync cable slot! It did not occur to me that a DSLR would not have it. I had to get something else to sync my camera with the strobes.

There is an alternative called Infrared Red transmitter. However, that would also cost $50 and is not as effective as the radio transmitters. I did not want to spend a $50 on an IR first, then subsequently spend another $300 on a radio transmitter.

I googled hard on the internet for my problem. In the end, I came across a webpage where someone had exactly the same problem with the same camera. I saw the adaptor being mentioned and called Nikon. Unfortunately, the sales guy asked me to go buy a radio transmitter. But fortunately, I searched for the adaptor on Nikon page and found it. I thought really hard on where could possible sell it and 'Cathay' came to mind. That was how I arrived there. I bought the softbox that I was eyeing all the time together.

I got the lights up and running finally. And I also realised that the problem of the light not firing was actually because of the multi-purpose plug that appeared to have a faulty plug.

Only using the softbox on the camera's left

Only using the reflective umbrella on the camera's right
A photo-enthusiast shared with me that a reflective umbrella will allow you to reflect only about 65% of the light back onto the subject.

Using both softbox and umbrella

I bought the backdrop cloth in Malaysia for the short trip I went on. It cost just RM34 (S$13.60) for a 4m x 1.5m.
But I quickly realised why studios use paper backdrops most of the time: cloth creases at the slightest shift.

Monday, 29 November 2010

My studio lights, finally

I bought the strobes!

Profoto Compact 300.

The proprietor was one of the few dealers for Profoto. I had called him a couple of months ago about the lights, but he did not provide me with the correct information. He said that the kit only consisted of the lights and lightstands. Other distributors who were selling it at a higher price included a pair of umbrellas.

I had to think very hard about whether I should buy the kit with the umbrella, or save a couple of hundred bucks for the softboxes.

It took me about two months to finally decide that I could go without the umbrellas. When I called him again at 5.30pm, he listed the items in the kit, and they were exactly what other dealers would have!

I immediately told him I wanted it and got my sister to drive me all the way down to Outram to pick up the set.

The two lights

A strobe with a zoom reflector (the dome-shape disc) and reflective umbrella

Softbox and attachment ring

I almost died fixing the softbox

To insert the metal sticks into the attachment ring, you need to force them in. I didn't know you need to have the make of a bodybuilder or weight-lifter before you can be a studio photographer.

The interior of the softbox

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Decision time again

I woke up at 4.30am today to a Jetstar dream.

I dreamt that my family and I were in a Jetstar plane, setting off to a place not mentioned in the dream. We were at the pre-ascending stage and we were all suffering from the jitters of the hold-tight-sit-tight syndrome. And the dream was just about that: preparing for the moment when the plane was ascending.

Perhaps it has to do with my search on the net for a nice trip, although I keep telling others I am not going anywhere.

I don't particularly enjoy travelling. I am not like some people who are absolutely passionate about travelling. It's more of the desire to have a break from the stifling working environment. Unlike most people, we don't get to snag cheap travel deals during the non-peak seasons. We can only travel during the peak seasons ie. school holidays. Other than that, we can forget about going anywhere when December ends, and we are locked in this small island of Singapore for at least another six months.

Ever since I was threatened with the dooms day grade a couple of months ago, I have been trying to check out what else I can do if I ever lose my job.

I have been travelling to the other end of the island to conduct tuition classes once a week. I am actually quite doubtful that I would be able to cope with them when school reopens.

I keep asking myself if this is what I really want to do as an alternative to my current job.

Pros of teaching in a tuition centre:

1) Materials are provided.
Plus: Do not need to churn out lesson plans and worksheets

2) Delivery of teaching is lecture style
Plus: Do not need to put up dramas and shows to 'engage learners' or for lesson observation's sake

3) No lesson observation
Plus: No silly stress over a wayang session

4) No work review

5) No ranking

6) No admin duties


1) Pay is without CPF

2) Pay is unstable

If the day falls on a public holiday, the centre is closed and you don't get paid for lessons not conducted.

3) Pay is lower
It goes by payment for per class conducted. Tuition centres mostly start at 4pm and end at 10pm on weekdays and on weekends, start at 10am and end at 10pm. There are other teachers in the centre as well, so you won't get to monopolise the whole centre. Besides, you will be pooped by the time the 3rd session ends.

My current pay is not very high. If I am just receiving a monthly pay, then quitting the job and going on to become a permanent relief teacher is better. It's the bonuses that bump up the figure on the paycheck. Being a relief does not entitle you to any bonus. Without the bonuses, even the job's stability is not worth it. Like I said in one of my recent posts, it is not as stable as most people think.

I would like to try out group tuition on my own, but if I engage myself in all three: teaching in school, teaching at a tuition centre and conducting group tuition, I won't have time for Coco or Baby next year, not at least for the first half of the year. And next year is a crucial year for Coco. She is going on to Primary Five next year. The big Five. As a teacher, I feel that Primary Five is the 'make or break' year, because all of a sudden, the subject contents become very difficult. A huge jump from the cosy rosy P4.

Part of the reason I am seeking out alternative employment is to prepare myself for Coco's crucial years ie. P5 and 6. I want to spend more time with her to help her be consistent with doing and revising her work. Her results are not stellar and I feel that it is because she is not grounded with a consistent working schedule. She does work as and when she likes, and sometimes, when there is a need to. She spends more time relaxing than doing work. Her T-score calculated by the school, according to the cohort, is only 204. That is very worrying.

The secondary school Coco and I are eyeing requires an entry point of 250. She certainly needs to work much harder than what she has been doing. I know I won't be able to ensure that if I continue to work at the same rate that I am doing now.

If I wish to continue in my current employment, I will need to take no-pay leave for a year or so. That would mean that I can't do relief teaching and sole income will depend on what I can get from conducting classes at my private time.

If I want to do relief teaching in order to earn a decent monthly pay, I will need to resign from the job for good. That will mean no bonus for ever and ever.

Whatever decision I make, it will have impact on my income. I will need to weigh the pros and cons really carefully before taking the plunge.

My Mother's Birthday

My mother's birthday, my sister's birthday and mine are just apart from each other by 2 days. We celebrated our mother's birthday with a ten-course dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Yio Chu Kang Grassroots Club this year.

The birthday woman had just recovered from a bout of shingles and did not tell us about her self-imposed abstinence from food that were considered 'poisonous' in Chinese context. Among the ten types of food, she only had springrolls from the cold dish, fish, abalone, dessert and peach-like buns which symbolised longevity. We also went without a cake as she considered eggs as 'poisonous' as well.

The place

The food
Happy moment with her grandson
Happy family pic

For a restaurant, the food is certainly restaurant-like ie. better than your typical tzi-char stall.

They were not exceptionally fantastic, but good enough for me to enjoy them. The portion was good. I was full by the time the braised spareribs were served. In all, I skipped 3 dishes ie. spareribs, fish and peach buns because I was quite full.

It felt like a wedding dinner's dinner, and there was really a wedding held there. The couple booked only about ten tables and walk-in guests were allowed to dine in.

The service was good and prompt. The family picture was taken by an obliging waiter and he took the picture so much sharper than my colleague who had a DSLR himself.

We took our time in enjoying the food and company of one another. In fact, we arrived at the restaurant earlier than the wedding couple, but left later than they.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Happy News

I thought I should share this with you.

Get this: I didn't get a D grade!

I only knew it on Thursday morning when I was back in school, not knowing that there was a change in schedule and I was not needed.

I decided to get over with the suspense once and for all, and marched into the Second Boss' office to ask,"Did I get a D this year?"

She looked stunned for a moment, shook her head, and said,"No."

She then explained why I did not get it.

The 'teaching-a-child-to-lie' incident was the reason why the panel of Heads and Bosses wanted to give me a D.

They felt that it had 'impacted the school value of integrity' and that 'it was VERY serious'.

Then they 'investigated' the matter by checking out my work in the department with my English Head (I later realised that she was there at the first session of ranking, before she was hit with stroke) and falling back on my track record.

My English Head had given the feedback that I was highly reflective in my work and gave deep thoughts to the resources I built up. I had helped a child enter into the Semi Finals of a storytelling competition last year and that showed that I was a very tenacious teacher. The students we have do not have any edge over their peers from other schools - in fact, most of the time, they are from disadvantaged or poor families - and it 'must have taken a very patient and tenacious person' to train up a child good enough to even get into the Semi Finals.

Some other colleagues were surveyed on the person that I was like. And the panel took into consideration the kind of behaviour I had exhibited all these years and juxtaposed it against the incident to see if they were consistent with each other: was it me to teach a child to lie?

The Second Boss felt that I had always been a very quiet and reflective worker who did not 'do things with a lot of fanfare', so they decided to give me the benefit of doubt, as the only 'evidence' was that bitch's word against mine.

She asked me to take this as a lesson learnt: that I need to build rapport with the kids so that they would defend me if something like this happens again.

She said that there were people with their own 'private agenda' and agreed that the incident could have happened because the kids could have been led to claim that I taught them to lie, but if I had good rapport with them, they probably would not say things that were not in my interest.

She said that I have to articulate my intention each time I do something as kids would not know that I am doing something for their good, especially if it is something they do not like.

A lot of learning points from this incident indeed, apart from what my Second Boss had given insight on:

1) I learnt from a colleague that my Second Boss does not 'click' with the bitch. I honestly felt that that could have helped me.

2) Some kind souls had spoken up for me. The Second Boss said that someone had asked her,"Are you saying that we ought to be lenient towards the children from now on? (as opposed to my hard way of clamping down on the boy who refused to give me the letter of absence, which led to the incident)" I see that as justifying my action for me.

My sup is not someone who is seen competent at work, and the Bosses do not take her word for it, as opposed to the bitch's. She would have helped me, but her strength alone would not have been enough to stand against the odds.

And of course, the people who gave good feedback about the work I did.

3) Politics - whether you want to climb the ladder or not, it will still come to you.

4) Teaching is not an iron rice bowl.

My Second Boss told me that it was after a very long debate that the panel decided not to give me the D.

I was hoping to find out who the kind souls who had helped me were, so I asked a colleague whom I thought was sitting in the panel who had judged me if she knew anything about the matter.

She told me that she knew nothing of it, but she was aware that the bitch was like that. I asked why I was targeted since I had no wish of climbing the ladder. She said that I was not targeted, but it was just convenient for the bitch to do me in as we were dealing with the same children. She agreed that it was just a small matter, blown out of proportion.

I told her about the incident in which the bitch did not tell me about a child's reason for absence from the exams, and she agreed that ordinary teachers would have got into hot soup if we did the same thing as what the bitch did, but she could get away with it unscathed because she had risen to where she was.

Now you, as well as I, finally know teachers do not have an iron rice bowl. True, getting a D does not mean that you are out of the job, but to most teachers, getting it means that you have a bad record, blacklisted, like a criminal who has a record. You don't get your performance bonus which translates to a loss of quite a few thousand dollars. You lose your wage increment. Your promotion is halted for 3 years.

Not that I am interested in the promotion. Getting promoted only means more work with less than two hundred dollars' increment. I just did not want to lose my bonus and get a bad record on the job.

I was prepared to submit my letter of resignation if given the grade, that's why I approached my Second Boss to ask about the outcome. Our rice bowl is as fragile as, if not more fragile than, anybody else's. It can be shattered just because someone lies about your conduct. No matter how consistent you have been in your work, or how you have demonstrated your character to be like all this while, doubts can be cast on your character at the snap of a finger, at a word, literally.

I must admit: I will never get used to all this. I will never be able to take these in my stride. I used to think that I can, and I will, with age. But deep within me, I know I will never be able to. I will still lose sleep over politics, I will still get agitated at false accusations. I will still get worked up over politics.

The first thing I did when I knew I didn't get the lousy grade, I smsed all my friends and sisters whom I have confided about the matter in. They were all relieved and happy for me.

And I know, whoever reads this, will also be happy for me.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Hairy thoughts

My hairdresser recommended some hairstyles to me for my consideration.

I have always wanted to cut my hair short, especially as I age. I always believe that women's hair should get shorter as they get older. Long hair is for young girls. I know some people dismiss it as nonsense - "Long hair is for everybody!" Never mind that.

He said my face shape suits various styles and showed me pictures of what he would do for me if I had left my hair in his hand:

... ...

These models look so young. Can I possibly pass the hair off? Looks high maintenance too, in terms of time.

I think I still need to give some thought to it ... ...

Between Coco and Me

I was trying to create space for my dream home studio.

I deliberated on how to shift the whole living room set-up onto the platform, and Coco was trying to give me some advice.

Me: The TV console is too long for the platform.

Coco: You can move the TV console here (using her hands to draw out the imaginary placement of TV console along the windows).

Ma: Oh ... but I also like the curtains flowing in the wind. If I put the console there, then I will lose the look of the curtains in the wind.

Coco: ... Ma, are you crazy?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

We love Swensen's (despite their non-stellar service)

I have a confession: we go to Swensen's quite often.

I know it's sinful. While others suffer and die of starvation, and my colleague struggles with her livelihood, we splurge on dinners that cost an average of $70 every other, if not every, week.

But we (Coco and I) really love their Salmon and mushroom baked rice. Oh, and ice-cream - for me. Do you know how many years I have suppressed my love for ice-cream for the sake of not tempting my asthmatic daughter? Do you know how mountaineous a challenge that is for someone who loves confectionaries and ice-creams?

One day, I decided that, like Metro Man (in MegaMind), I don't want to be a superhero mummy anymore. I have a choice: I want to eat ice-cream, even if it happens right in front of my dearie's eyes.

Okay, over with the drama.

These are what we typically eat at Swensen's:

Cream of mushroom
Chicken baked rice

Salmon and mushroom baked rice - Coco's never-fail-to order

Rodeo wings
I don't fancy fries, but they become irresistible when Swensen's pairs them up with barbeque sauce and salad cream. A combination of sweet and subtly sour taste. Nice!

Her favourite activity, at Swensen's

My all-time favourite flavour: chocolate malt

Dragon Boating Experience

Coco's school organised a dragon-boating activity for the primary fours in September this year. I followed them as a parent volunteer to make Coco happy. She was always saying how all her classmates' mothers had been a parent volunteer, except me.

The place
The boats

The instructor teaching them how to put on the life jacket and how to hold the oar

The kids were asked what names they wanted for their boats, using the alphabetical representation of their classes. Coco's cheeky classmates said,"Hopeless!" and "Help!!!"
An array of life jackets and oars, in the hot sun

A parent-volunteer was apparently highly experienced. She brought along sun block for the kids to apply. *Impressed*

The glorious weather

"Put your oar on the grey part (of the boat). Step on the yellow part (the seat)."

Setting sail

"Start rowing now!"

There was a dragon-boat race. I'm glad the kids didn't take the who-won-who-lost too seriously.

The girls dipping their feet into the cool water

Home-coming, tired and wet

Posing for the camera despite her tiredness
The long queue at the shower
"The next one is us."
The first time she entered a male cubicle without any complaint

So much for an "express shower"!

The objective of this activity is to promote team-building amongst the children. The school probably feels that children at this age tend to become individualistic or reluctant to work in groups, especially when the gifted programme is implemented at this level. It sees a need to humble the gifted children at the social level so that they would not become social inepts or elitist. At the same time, by intermingling children of different abilities for non-academic activities, it gives them a chance to interact with one another.

To a large extent, I like what the school is doing. I feel that it is able to cater to the needs of the children at various levels, not just academically. It thinks about the children largely, compared to many other schools where the Heads are more preoccupied with their own glories.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Blossoms of her talent

Coco learns floral arrangements in school as part of her Art enrichment lessons.

From August to September, she would bring back a beautiful arrangement of flowers every other week.

This is her first-ever attempt at floral arrangement which her teacher and I were impressed with:
Her second, using, white, pink and red gerberas:

Her third, using carnations:
I love how the leaves are folded together to form a shape

And I love these too! Just when you think you've seen all kinds of flowers under the sun, something new pop up in your eyes. I don't even have a name for these cotton-ball-like flowers. They are so cute and pure. I thought the way one of the stems is stuck through the huge leaf is unusual too.

I am very impressed that Coco seems to enjoy floral arrangement. I first came into contact with such an activity at Secondary 2, and I did not like it. Our Home Economics teacher did not give any instruction on how to do it. I simply plonked the whole bunch of pink carnations on the green sponge which was in the vase, without covering the green sponge using the foliage. Coco, on the other hand, seems to have flair for visual arts. At the very least, she knew the green sponge had to be covered up.

Each time, I'll leave these flower arrangements on the dining table for at least a week before I dispose of them. More than just flowers, I know these are the heartfelt works of my little one.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Poverty, Thy Name is Evil

A colleague shared her life story with me yesterday:

- she earns a meagre take-home pay of $1,300
- she is a single mother of two young girls
- she is going through her second divorce
- the First Boss refuses to endorse her placement of being a permanent staff
- her second husband was abusive and is serving his term in jail
- she does not have family support

As she was sharing, feelings of embarrassment and ashamedness gushed up within me - for constantly feeling sorry for myself, when I am in a much better situation than she anytime.

She has always been bubbly in school. If you're none the wiser, you wouldn't have guessed the sorry state that she is in.

I always thought that I am strong for all the meekness and weakness that I am. Friends told me that I am strong. But as I talked to my colleague, I felt that my issues were nothing next to hers.

Living from hand to mouth

Sometimes she comes to school with only some coins in her wallet. In a good month, she can save a good $200 with what she earns. At other times, she is left with just $40 - $50 to last till the end of the month.

She does not even have enough to pay the yearly staff fund in our school. She tried to talk to the colleague in charge of collecting the fund and for some reason, it ended up as "She does not want to pay." What the!!!

When the treasurer colleague finally got the message and communicated it properly to the Head in charge, the Head said,"If everyone claims that he or she got problem and refuses to pay, then everybody also don't have to pay already." Educators are patient and compassionate? My foot!

She has to support both her daughters. She needs to buy the milk powder and diapers for the baby.

You can never feel the impact of the expenditure on a baby until you are a parent yourself. If you go to the supermarket and check out the prices of milk powder and diapers, you'd think it's no big deal. "Only $28 per tin what," you scoff. "And babies don't have to drink top grade milk. Just get the cheapest possible will do."

But when you are a parent, you will naturally want the best for your child. It's totally natural for a parent to be kiasu - to want nothing but the best for their children.

You can settle for less, but not horribly less.

And a tin of milk powder does not last forever. It runs out every one or two weeks, depending on the consumption rate of the baby.

The same goes for diapers. For a pack of 50, a baby uses 7 to 8 diapers per day. How many days can one pack last?

And these two items are just the extremely basics of a baby's needs.

A colleague who wanted a baby badly tried to estimate the cost of having a child. She said,"Every month, you just need to spend a few hundred dollars on raising a child."

Then how about the invisible expenses like that $2.50 drink taken by your child when you eat out, the party dress, the cake, the food and the present you need to invest in on her birthday?

I signed Coco up for a piano lesson. The purchase of a piano ($8, 600) is just the beginning. There is the monthly payment of the piano-learning fee ($128), the bi-yearly tuning of the piano ($60), the servicing of the piano ($100), the piano books ($infinity), the metronome (the 'tick-tock' meter for timing your beats) ($60), the piano exams (approx. $120 each) even the cover for the piano ($100).

Apart from the one-off payment for the piano and monthly piano lessons, the rest are invisible expenses that eat into your pay without you tangibly realising it, until you really need to pay up.

I always thought that I have it rough, that although I am married, I am much like a single mother. But compared to my colleague, I have so many blessings to count for:

- my take-home pay is much more than hers
- I have family support
- I have the stability of a permanent job, no matter how f-up it is

She worries about the bread-and-butter issue, and here am I, worrying about which high-end enrichment classes Coco should attend. I feel like I have forgotten about the more important things in life.

She is easily contented. She is happy with a slightly-more-than-two-k pay, an offer made to her by her friend who runs a student care centre.

I can attribute her easily-contented self to her race. I can say that she does not have much choice since she only has an A level cert. The fact is, I could have been her, in a Chinese version. If not for the family support that I had, I could not have gone on to further my studies beyond an A level.


She no longer believes in the yellow ribbon programme. The husband was a criminal before they married. He turned abusive after the marriage. She went to work with a bruise on her eye. He is now in jail again. She said,"To hell with the yellow ribbon programme! I hope these people die in prison, rot in prison!"

I can't help but feel that we are so alike.

We are the girls who give a second chance. Yet, does life give us a second chance? Perhaps, in some ways, it does. Yet, we can never regain our youth and our trust in men again.

What matters more to a woman than her youth?

At work

She faces a lot of unhappiness at work. Compared to her, I have chosen to be ignorant or ignoring of others' underlying messages.

She constantly feels that others dislike her or look down on her. That's the danger of sharing your personal life with colleagues. The fact is, most people feel holier-than-thou when you reveal the skeletons in your life, even if it is not your own doing that lands you where you are.

She shared tangible, real circumstances where she experienced colleagues refusing to respond to her when she needed help. Perhaps she had expressed the need for help in a manner that others did not take pleasure in. Other colleagues' displeasure with her seeking of help could be so blatant that they shared what she needed by talking to each other right in front of her instead of facing her.

In some cases, I thought she had been a tad too sensitive though. She felt offended that when she tried to sit on a chair at a staff meeting, another colleague put her arms over the chair in a bid to 'protect' it and said,"No no no! So-and-so is going to sit here!" and turned round to seek approval from others in the clique,"Huh? Right?" I tried to assure her that it is the same everywhere, although it does appear that the people in this place are more 'clique-kish'.

Her beau

There is a saving grace though.

She has a beau who has refused to marry anyone else ever since her first marriage.

For women who have gone through two marriages, we are more practical now: I asked her if the man contributed to the household expenses, whether he did household chores. She was happy that he was close to the kids.

One thing is for sure: both of us feel that cohabitation is not a bad idea, contrary to its counter-religious nature.

I used to adopt the holier-than-thou stance against cohabitation. I thought it irresponsible and immature, and that it is just a duress for legalistic fornication.

Now I realised that nothing is more immature than going into a marriage not knowing what to expect. And you truly won't know what to expect until you really live with a man.

My thoughts

Apart from feeling fortunate and grateful, I am not fit to say anything less than that. I always knew that family support is important, but my colleague's situation made me realise that family support is the ultimate support when all is lost.

As I was chatting with her and listening to her sharing, what I face in my life - all seem so small.

It also brought me back to the book 《小狗钱钱》in which the author states that poverty is the root of evil. It is poverty that traps a person in a lowly situation and causes her to be unable to rise above the circumstances. It is poverty that causes a person to lose her dignity, her pride. It is poverty that compels one to accept humiliation and insults. It is poverty. Not riches.

Poverty is indeed a curse. That's how wise Pastor Kong is. He knew from a young age that it was a curse and it cannot be from above.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A Rudimentary Experience

Riding on the encouragement of at least three persons, today I post the pictures using the newly acquired backdrop system with confidence.

They do have room for lots of improvement where studio photography is concerned, but considering that these are done using just the backdrop and an off-camera flash alone, the laymen find the pictures pleasing to their eyes.

The two rolls of paper backdrop
Setting the first one up

The shots:

Most of the shots are taken using my kit lens so they appear dark. I am still on the lookout for good and relatively affordable strobes. I am sure they will do wonders to the pictures I am going to take.