I am Quek Keng Hwang, better known as Keng amongst my English-speaking friends, and jing Huan to my Mandarin speaking associates. I am an accredited Chinese Calligraphy instructress with the People's Association of Singapore and a member of the Hong Kong Association of Calligraphy and Painting. I have conducted a course on Chinese Calligraphy in English at Braddell Heights Community Centre and held private lessons in my previous studio.
I want to share with you, especially the English educated, my personal experience on learning and writing Chinese calligraphy.
From the age of 5, I stayed with my paternal aunties family who were Nonyas and English speaking. I completed my primary education at Raymond and St Margarets Primary Schools and secondary education at St Margarets Secondary School. My knowledge of the Chinese language was non-existent as my aunties family was Teochew and English speaking but entirely disdained all things from China and particularly the language. I almost thought that my motherland was England. In the 60s, the English speaking students were also not very friendly towards the Chinese students and I was among the group who thought speaking Chinese was an embarrassment.
I discovered the beauty of Chinese calligraphy in Hong Kong where my family was expatriated. One day on my way to the Chinese consul to apply for my visa to visit China, I chanced upon a Chinese calligraphy exhibition. I was amazed by the beautiful black brush strokes and the many varied forms of Chinese characters. I approached the calligrapher for lessons. He was rather skeptical of my sincerity to learn as I did not know the language. He, Mr. Chou Chang Hu, is an excellent teacher and calligrapher. In spite of my poor command of Mandarin and the Cantonese dialect, I managed to learn Chinese calligraphy with the help of four dictionaries. I practiced diligently. Of course, there were times of frustrations but all dissipated when my teacher praised me for my good progress. Into my 3rd year of writing the forms, he coached me to produce my first calligraphy work which consisted of 56 characters, each character of 7.5 cm. square. That piece of work, which was a scroll of poem written in the regular form and measured 60 cm x 190 cm hung up, was entered in the calligraphy students competition in Mei Xian, China and I was awarded the silver prize. It is my masterpiece. I was asked by Mr. Chou to join his calligraphy society and was extremely elated. Years later when my family returned to Singapore, I continued to attend calligraphy classes and produced other works with merit but my masterpiece is still my fondest.
My Mandarin has since improved.
Chinese calligraphy has not only awakened me to my culture, it allows me to cultivate a healthy lifestyle; I am more focused and calm. My posture has since improved. I always feel happy after each session of writing. I feel enriched and educated. It gives me a wonderful sense of well-being. This is my 12th year of Chinese calligraphy and I wish to have many more happy years of writing this beautiful art form.
You do not have to know Mandarin to learn Chinese calligraphy. Write Chinese calligraphy and learn Mandarin the cool and skillful way.
Quek Keng Hwang
(Guo Jing Huan)