INTERVIEW WITH “HOW FAR DO LEAVES FALL?” DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER CHOW – FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER!

First Published here on an educational website: http://www.icubed.us/node/1917 and http://www.icubed.us/node/1924 

An old piece from 2009 about “How Far Do Leaves Fall?”, a documentary about the British-Chinese / British Born Chinese diaspora which is one of the smallest overseas Chinese communities. 

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From One Generation to Another!

What is it like to be a son or daughter of first generation migrants far from the land of your ancestors?

Would you feel more comfortable in the country of your birth or your supposed country of origin?

From China to Malaysia to England, the Chinese have spanned across the globe and made their mark. What traditions and beliefs are passed down? How hard is it to communicate across generations?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kWyDCbD3TY – Trailer

The documentary “How far do leaves fall?” by Director Rose Kelly and Co-Director / Editor Christopher Chow delves deep into the topics of immigration, culture and identity. Even though the film features the British Chinese community in the United Kingdom, the theme of finding a true sense of belonging is universal to one and all.

The documentary features the oral histories of the older UK Chinese generations and their stories of moving from Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and the hardships they encountered as they sought to establish themselves in their new homes. The interviews were carried out by the younger British Chinese generations for whom China is a far away distant land. For many, the UK is the only home they truly know. Via the interview process, the elder and younger generations come to have a sense of empathy and a greater respect is forged.

One main topic raised is immigration; which is a hot contentious issue sometimes viewed negatively but legal migration has many advantages:

– A greater supply of unskilled workers
– A younger workforce
– Skilled workers in understaffed sectors

Via the piece, viewers will learn about:

– Chinese and British history.
– Life in the UK as an immigrant.
– The Overseas Chinese Diasporas and their stories of hardship and triumph all around the world.
– Oral History – The verbal process of passing history down from generation to generation.

“How Far Do Leaves Fall” is an interesting look at immigration, culture and the concept of home. As millions move around the world to make a living, the core message of a sense of belonging and identity will resonate with many.

The documentary “How Far Do Leaves Fall?” examines the lives of young second generation British Chinese in the United Kingdom. On the surface, the piece discusses immigration but delves deeper into the importance of culture and identity. Though featuring the British Chinese community, its themes of a sense of belonging and discovering your roots are universal to all.

Interview

We had the chance to interview one of the co-directors, Hong Kong born Christopher Chow. A one-time psychology student whom turned to films, Christopher is currently freelancing in London, Christopher has worked for various productions, ranging from corporate films, music videos, feature film (Dream On Films), and TV programmes (National Geographic Channel, TVBS-E). Here, he discusses existentialism, Steven Spielberg and randomly waking up one day to pursue his film making dreams!

Christopher Chow – CC
Interviewer- Chris Lau

How did the documentary “How far do Leaves fall?” originate?

CC: The film was part of a wider oral history project by the London based charity CMHA, and it was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (UK).

The project began with two aims: first is to document the experiences and feelings of the Chinese whom migrated to UK many years ago, and how they and their British-born children feel about integrating into the British society. The second aim is encourage young volunteers to participate in the production of all aspects of the oral history project.

How well was the documentary received? How did young people react?

CC: The young people showed a lot of interest in both the issues raised in the documentary, and some were keen to get involved in volunteering for the next oral history project. A lot of them had the similar feelings as the young interviewees featured in the film, and they felt they could really relate to them.

They thought that their parents didn’t understand them and they found it hard to juggle their tradition Chinese family views, and integrating and blending into the everyday British culture.

The piece analyses culture and identity; how important are these concepts for young people?

CC: Everybody goes through a period of identity crisis one way or another, and it might come at different ages. Many young British Chinese want to blend in more within their British schools and friends, so they reject their traditional Chinese family lifestyle and values, which is totally understandable, because it’s tough enough to be a teenager already, and on top they have to deal with their additional cultural identity crisis.

As the young people grow up and mature, they are much more comfortable with who they are, and they stop rejecting their Chinese background, and some begin to appreciate the beauty of their heritage. Many interviewees in the film mentioned they are now (in their 20s & 30s) making much more of an effort to catch up with the lost years of disassociating with their heritage. They now see their distant families more often, and make more effort when it comes to Chinese festivals.

Do you feel more Chinese or more British? Does it really matter?

CC: I came over to study in the UK when I was only 11. Maybe because of all the TV and films I have watched about the UK, I didn’t feel foreign at all, apart from the fact that I didn’t speak much English, but it was the slower pace lifestyle and the cooler climate, which suited me very well.

On the other hand, I studied in an English boarding school, and I didn’t feel like I totally fitted in. I tried my best, but I guess the British just always saw me as a foreigner. But then majority of the times, things came very naturally to me, and I wouldn’t even think that I wasn’t British.

Personally, I don’t think it matters so much whether you believe you are Chinese or British, because that is a difference between nationalities, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It is very normal to generalize a race or a nation of people, but we should focus more on ourselves as individuals.

Did you ever question your identity growing up?

CC: Yes I did question my identity, but it was more existential rather than cultural. I guess I don’t really see people differently wherever they come from or the shade of their skin tones.

I think there are similar types of people in all continents, and so I just see people as people. Just like when I was in school, I didn’t really see myself as Chinese, not that I was intentionally rejecting it, and nor have I ever felt totally British.

I questioned more along the line, why am I here? Or does it even matter that I’m here? It was these questions that kept me occupied during my shift from adolescence to adulthood.

Did you always want to be a film director? Has it always been a passion?

CC: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist or policeman then when I got older I wanted to become a teacher. I guess I have always been very good at comforting and motivating people, so I thought I could be a good teacher.

I loved watching movies. My parents were always busy, so they rarely went to the cinema with me. I spent many hours of my childhood and adolescence watching movies on TV, VHS, and LD. When I talked to some of my fellow filmmakers, often they are surprised at how well I remember the story lines in older movies, where they would only remember a few memorable scenes and how the characters looked!

So, movies have always been my passion, but it just never occurred to me that I would be making them. Only until I was in university studying psychology; one night I just woke up, with no prior related dreams, I decided to become a script writer. Then my friend suggested to me to take a film making course, and see where it takes me, and that was it. I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker.

What steps did you take to achieve your dream?

CC: I guess I have always known what I wanted to do, right from the day when I told my mum that I wanted to study in the UK by myself, and I was 10 then. I like to follow my instinct and my passion in doing particular subjects. One thing for sure is that the path I have been taking has always (unconsciously) steered me towards understanding human emotions, which is where my passion lies.

So I went to London and studied film making for a year, and since then I have been busy working, constantly networking and planning future projects. The key is to keep yourself busy and continue to motivate yourself, and cross your fingers that all these effort will one day come to fruition.

Do you have any advice for budding film makers? Just how glamorous is the industry?

CC: The industry isn’t glamorous at all. The only glamorous bit is the red carpets and the major film festivals. Usually it’s very down to earth, but there are a lot of egos flying around all the time, which is very hard to stand sometimes. Unfortunately, this industry does attract this type of people. Sometimes I do wonder if I am too selfless to be a filmmaker, and my other selfless friends agree with me.

My advice would be, if you have the passion to make films, to tell stories, and to connect with another human being, then just go for it. I think it doesn’t matter whether your passion is in film making or pottery making. You only live once, so why not.

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Ping Loong – Asia’s Rising Music Star

Ping Loong

By Christopher KL Lau

Article first published here http://www.beijing-visitor.com/china-city-guides/hong-kong/hong-kong-culture/ping-loong

Ping Loong is a multi-talented renaissance man who is slowly emerging as one of the Asia Pacific’s newest and hottest creative musical talents. Loong is a British-born and Asia based musician beginning to make great waves in the indie music scene.

By trade, Ping Loong is a singer-songwriter, a versatile keyboardist and  traveller whom enjoys exploring the complexities of a mixed up world one song at a time. He keenly observes the roller-coaster of life and all its ups and downs and transfers his feelings and emotions to his lyrics. His music is both poignant and with an acoustic sound combining the ’emotional punch of Damien Rice and the lyrical sensitivities of Dylan’.

Ping Loong.

Ping Loong.

Loong’s music connects and challenges across cultures and is universal in its message of love, struggles, hope, friendship and community.  A philosophy teacher-turned singer-songwriter, Loong was a distinction graduate from the prestigious London Music School and started his musical journey performing for audiences across Asia.

With his family rooted in Singaporean and British culture, his music pieces together questions about identity, community and growing up as a product of Eastern and Western cultures. Ping Loong has called Hong Kong home for many years and now splits his time between Asia and the United Kingdom. His many musical influences include Damien Rice, Bon Jovi, Jason Mraz, Coldplay, Indigo Girls, Jars of Clay, Caedmon’s Call, Don McLean, Corrinne May, Eva Cassidy and Jon Gomm.

Loong has performed in venues as diverse as the Peninsula Hotel, the famous Water Rats bar in London (where Oasis made their debut), and even a lepers’ colony in India. After returning to the UK in 2011, he swiftly became a headline act on the London scene and launched his debut single, ‘Houses Not Homes’, to critical acclaim and radio airplay.

Loong followed this up in late 2012 with an acoustic EP, ‘The Fairlop Sessions’, music from which has been featured on Chinese TV to an audience of millions. He returns to Asia in 2013 with a series of showcase gigs featuring songs from his latest EP, ‘Finding My Sound’. Self described as a ‘sojourner trying to make sense of a mixed up world one song at a time’, Loong believes in the power of music to change people and communities in positive ways. Ping Loong may have taken the huge risk to become a musician but now is slowly climbing to the top and creating some stunningly beautiful melodies on the way there.

Ping Loong.

Ping Loong.

Interview

In an exclusive interview, with thanks to Banana Writers!

Can you tell us how you started as a musician?

Music has always been a part of my life from when I was young though for a big time it was something I did when I had a bit of spare time but alas I didn’t have the space in my life to focus on it. Earlier in life I pursued a very stable career as a teacher, trying to get teenage boys to discuss questions which didn’t have answers in a Philosophy classroom. One day, I was encouraging the class about following your dreams and what was on your heart when one of the students asked me whether I was living out my dream. I found it hard to answer. Was I really being authentic to what I taught in the classroom? I realized there were some things I had to live out and didn’t want to be 60 and live with regrets, and besides, it would be a good story to tell my kids whatever happened. So long story short, quit my job, moved to London, went back for a stint in music school, started writing songs, producing, gigging, meeting all sorts of people. Most of all, learnt lots, grew a great deal, met some great friends along the way and moved a step closer to finding my sound.

Being a musician is not the kind of career that many Asian parents support. Did your family support you?

I was thankful that I had a sister who studied law but pursued a career as a free-lance actress, so she sort of ‘paved the way’ with my parents and fought the battles which needed to be fought before me. I think my parents of course worried about a life in the world of the arts and there is still the traditional Asian view where security and financial stability in a safe job is much valued, especially for a guy. It took time for them to accept the life I have chosen or start to understand what this life entails (that I work at night, meet different people all the time but also might have times I need complete isolation and ‘creative time’ for example).

On the whole though, I think they realize more and more how much I love and am passionate about what I do and have become a lot more supportive. When they get a chance they come to my gigs and have being very much become a part of the Loong music journey.

You are a rare breed of musician that writes their own songs. Do you have a special process when writing your songs?

Usually a song starts with an inspirational idea, it could be some theme or lyric line or melody which comes into my head, sometimes while walking down the street, sometimes even in the shower (where all good songs start to be sung). If differs between songwriters but I normally start with the lyrics and while I am writing these the melody and harmony develop alongside. I might try singing the lyrics with keyboard and guitar and try out different chords to harmonize the song. In the back of my mind is an idea of how I might picture a song’s arrangement and what instruments I might hope to use. As a song evolves and grows, how the song ends up might be quite different from how it started, even one new instrument can completely change the texture of a song. On one of my songs ‘Meant to Be’, I introduced a cello sound to the mix of the songs and this string sound led to the song ending up with quite a different feel to it. Sometimes I could be stuck on the right line to complete a song. There are songs I start and ‘go into storage’ unfinished, and maybe it’s only years later that they are completed with a stroke of inspiration.

Are your songs based on real life experiences?

I’m one of those song-writers who often get’s inspiration from the external world around me, be it on my travels, people I meet or the situations they go through. For example, one of the songs I wrote, Block 3, was based on the real stories I met of people I encountered in Singapore who struggled and lived in these one room flats in a deprived neighborhood. Songs are indeed about real life, though often a song stems from a personal experience or event, hopefully they are shared common experiences and emotions which people can relate with. A song of mine which strikes a chord with many audiences is Ambiguous Friends, which was birthed from a particular complicated relationship and the struggle and fear to let go of someone you know you should.  There is always the hope that a connection can be made with people’s own lives and a chord struck in the heart somewhere.

You’ve performed in Asia as well as the UK. How do the audiences differ?

I think there is a definitely a very strong creative culture in the UK (London at least) and a tradition of performers playing original music with the odd cover being thrown into your set. Going out to listen to Live Music on a night out is quite common for people as opposed to going out for a drink and as it happens there is live music in the background where you chat and drink. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a number of places where there is total silence when you play and people are really attentive to the lyrics and emotions of the song. In Asia, people seem to expect you to play covers while they drink and chat over beers and then only after you have ‘won over’ an audience then you might be able to share a song you have written. It is much harder to find venues where the total focus are the songs and the music, but hopefully things are opening up. Yet, I think everywhere in the world, a good performance and a sense of humour go down well.

What challenges have you faced by being an East Asian musician in London?

Being a musician full stop in London can be challenging, while there are many opportunities, there are many talented people from all over world who have come here to make their fortunes and are really hungry to do so. There are many people too who are out to ‘exploit’ musicians and artists in the name of helping ‘promote artists’ or helping you out. The image of the starving artist sleeping on their friends couches while trying to make ends meet is not entirely untrue. I think people sometimes are surprised seeing an Asian singer-songwriter on the scene who fronts a band and performs his own music…not just plays an erhu or is a classical virtuoso which is the common image of a musician from Asia. Yet I like to see the look of pleasant surprise sometimes when I take to the stage and break into song. I once had a guy come up to me after a show and say, ”I didn’t know people from your part of the world could perform like that’. Was he expecting me to break out into Shaolin Arts Master I wonder?

How does the structure of writing songs differ from writing a short story or an article?

I think in writing songs you are always writing with the music or musical arrangements at the back of your mind. So when you write lyrics, even though they might be poetic or have a story-like quality to it, ultimately they have to be sung out and the ‘sing-ability’ factor is a big thing. Also, you are repeating lines and choruses which you hope to be memorable so your ideas often come back to the one main idea of the song.

What advice would you give to someone who is passionate about writing their own songs?

Just get started, there are so many songs waiting to be written, from our experiences, from our emotions, from people we know or things we even read in the newspaper. Good songs often take time to be crafted, melodies refined and lyrics edited, but it’s worth it and it’s a wonderful way of expressing yourself. Practically, it’s good to also know the basics of playing the guitar or the piano. Learn a few basic chords, you’ll be surprised how many songs are just based on 3 chords! And once you’ve written your song, don’t be afraid to share it and getting feedback too.

Thank you!

Ping Loong.

‘Loong’s album ‘Finding My Sound’ is released on iTunes, do check out his music too at 

Facebook – www.facebook.com/Loongmusic,

Soundcloud – www.soundcloud.com/Loongmusic

– See more at: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/china-city-guides/hong-kong/hong-kong-culture/ping-loong#sthash.5lTtfpz4.dpuf

An Alternative Education in Singapore – City College and “O” School

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Kenny Low is a dreamer and social innovator. Kenny also happens to be the principal of the ground breaking education organizations: City College and O School. Here, students on the fringes of society are given another chance to find themselves, gain confidence and reach their potential! Yes, Kenny and his fellow teachers are not afraid to stand on school desks a la Mr. Keating to inspire students to be the best they can be! For all his efforts, he won the Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007.

Kenny Low spent six years in youth services, four of them volunteering at a local community …..Read the interview here……

http://www.icubed.us/node/2111

AN ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION! CITY COLLEGE AND O SCHOOL SINGAPORE! 

Kenny Low is a dreamer and social innovator. Kenny also happens to be the principal of the ground breaking education organizations: City College and O School. Here, students on the fringes of society are given another chance to find themselves, gain confidence and reach their potential! Yes, Kenny and his fellow teachers are not afraid to stand on school desks a la Mr. Keating to inspire students to be the best they can be! For all his efforts, he won the Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007. 

Kenny Low spent six years in youth services, four of them volunteering at a local community services agency and another two years coordinating their tuition services arm before setting up City College. It was from his work experiences with youths that he felt the need to fundamentally overhaul certain parts of the educational system. He believed that students should not be limited in their educational options and chances to follow their dreams due to missed opportunities in mainstream schools. In this exclusive interview, iCUBED.us catches up with Kenny as he discusses ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, trendy teachers and of course, education… 

Kenny Low – Principal and Founder of City College and O School 
iCUBED.us interviewer – Chris KL Lau


How were City College and O School founded? Was it hard to get both projects off the ground?

KL
: City College was founded in 2002, during then the school was known as City Harvest Education Centre. The idea of the school came from hearing students complain about sub-quality classes provided by for-profit private schools in Singapore. Upon research, we found that most students from private schools fare terribly in the state examinations. 

The solution was simple. Enter the private education market and position ourselves as an outlier and a catalyst for change. Provide quality classes, make them affordable, and exert market pressure on the rest of the players. 

O School was founded in 2006. The performing arts sector was ‘broken’. Arts were perceived to be unsustainable; dance/talent schools build businesses with short-term profits as core rather than develop talents to ensure long-term competitive advantages. As a result, talents could not develop, businesses could not scale. 

Our solution was again to be the outlier in the industry. Build a dance school with the purpose of providing employment and development opportunities to talented youths. Within five years, O School became one of the most influential and largest street dance schools in Singapore. Profits from O School are donated to City College as study grants. 

We created a for-youths-by-youths business model. 

City College is well known for taking in students with less than perfect academic and attendance records. How well do these students adjust to their new environments? 

KL: We believe that people are creatures of habit. In order to expect new behaviors, there has to be ‘shock’ factors. Thus, students initially would often have a culture shock at our school, subsequently we see them adapt to the new culture and new habits and behaviors will follow. 

How do students get ‘selected’? Or are you seen as a last resort? 

KL: In City College, we only take in students who want to be helped and students whom we are confident to help. It doesn’t really matter to us if we are the first choice or the last choice. What matters is that the student made a choice to come to us. 

The Singapore education system is often criticized for being too rigid. Does City College / O School offer an alternative form of teaching which can be incorporated by others? 

KL: The Singapore education system has actually developed quite substantially over the years. There are now schools with different specialization (Schools for the Arts, Sports School etc) to create opportunities for youths with different gifts and talents. Many graduates had described pedagogical methods in City College to be very different. We believe that the key to success is not a single method or style of teaching but an attitude to know that there’s always a better way to communicate values and knowledge.

Do you think both City College and O school have made any significant impact on Singaporean society?

KL
: Through the seven years of existence, the performance of students from private schools had improved by more than 10 percent. Business practices at private schools had become more student centered and value based. Inspiring stories of City College graduates had been published in the local media for the past 5 years. O School raised a quarter of a million dollars for City College in the past 3 years. It is the dream of young dancers now to be talent spotted by O School and O School will feature at the coming Youth Olympics in Singapore.

What keeps the students from reverting to their old ways? What happens if a student still does not keep to the straight and narrow?

KL: A vision. When a person doesn’t have a vision for the future, he or she will revert to the habits of the past. What if a student does not keep to the straight and narrow? Well, life will then be the teacher.

iCUBED.us: City College is well known for hiring ‘Trendy’ teachers? What type of criteria do you have when selecting them? Can they really make Quantum physics fun?

KL: 3 criteria: Love young people, excellent communication skills and subject mastery! If ‘Titanic’ can become a love story then Quantum physics can be fun, it all depends on the script writer and the director.

How do the teachers inspire the students to reach their potential? Is it just one large scene from the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ everyday?!

KL: I stood on the table a few times, haven’t asked the students to tear up a textbook yet. Students model after what they see and experience. To inspire them, the teachers must first see and believe in the potential of the students.

iCUBED.us: O School promotes dance as a form of self expression and creativity. Do youths simply need an outlet to express themselves? 

KL: Isolation is a punishment. That’s why we lock people up in cells when they commit crimes. We can survive on food, water and shelter … but we will not live a life. I need an outlet to express myself, don’t you?

Do you have any truly amazing success stories? Please share some examples of students who have completed changed their life around.

KL: Each story is amazing in its own right. For some, scoring an A is a miracle, for others, passing is already a gift. Of course, we like dramatic stories and we’ll let you indulge with one!

Ms Grace Heng came to us 5 years back but was emotionally not ready for the heavy coursework involved. She dropped out after 2 months. After that she struggled with depression, self-mutilation and challenges with a broken family. In 2009, she came back to finish what she started in City College. At 23 years old, she could be one of the oldest students here but she did not let age deter her and worked hard at her studies. Her consistent effort paid off as she recently scored 4 distinctions, became the top student and moved on to fulfill her dream of being a childhood educator. She is the star; we are simply the cheerleaders!

Thank you!