By: Adeline Wong, Inez Tan, Dominic Chua
Mr Lim Yao Xiang
Teacher, Physical Education (Year 5–6) and Water Polo Coach (A-Division Girls and B-Division Boys)
Most of us would recognise Mr Lim Yao Xiang as a PE teacher, coach, and national water polo player, but probably far fewer would know that he almost won CLEO magazine’s ‘Most Eligible Bachelor’ competition in 2009. Alas, although he had many supporters in the crowd, Mr Lim narrowly lost the title to model Vivian Dawson.
But Mr Lim prefers to talk about his two great passions—water polo and music, and how they culminated in the creation of his band, Swim Shadys. It all started in 2003, after he returned from the SEA Games with an Individual Bronze and a Team Gold medal for Fin Swimming.
‘I’ve been swimming for the last 20 years,’ he says. ‘When I came back from the SEA Games, my friends—some national swimmers whom I grew up together with—and I decided to get together at a music studio to jam for fun. After a few times, we recruited another friend who could play the drums. As we were all national athletes, we tried to get sponsorship from the Sports Council. One thing led to another, and on the eve of National Day, we had our first gig.’
Mr Lim was the lead guitarist for his band, which produced their first album The Deep End in 2004, with all proceeds going to Children-At-Risk Empowerment (CARE), and their second album Swim Shadys and Friends in 2009. ‘We went to more than ten schools to perform, and we also played on the radio and at public and private events,’ Mr Lim recalls. ‘Our primary aim then was to sell our albums to raise money for charity. But we also wanted to send a message to the students; to encourage them with the stories of our lives and the motivations that helped us get to where we wanted to be. I didn’t come from a family of swimmers, and my passion and motivation to persevere on came from learning more about myself during my training. I have always believed that when you push yourself hard enough, you will be able to live your dream.’
Mr Lim shares how he managed to balance his busy training schedule with his performances: ‘If you are passionate about something, you will naturally be motivated, and you will do whatever it takes to get it done well. People say that we sacrificed a lot our own time for the band, but if you’re doing something you are passionate about, it’s not a sacrifice at all.’
The Swim Shadys are currently inactive as all the members are currently busy with their full-time jobs. Mr Lim himself, in addition to his daytime teaching and coaching work, recently contributed to Team Singapore’s 25th gold medal in water polo at the 2013 SEA Games.
Although the band hasn’t performed in three years, Mr Lim still loves his music, and he has this piece of advice for us: ‘Don’t do things just because other people tell you to. You might end up finding everything a pain and the end result might not be as good as it could have been. I believe in finding something that you can love and devote yourself to. After that, everything else will fall into place.‘
Mr Chong Zhe Bin
Teacher, Physical Education (Year 1–4)
A man of the great outdoors, Mr Chong Zhe Bin always had a love for the nature he saw around him, but one day, a friend’s suggestion spurred his passion to greater depths. ‘He asked me to pick up diving, and after the first dive I was hooked!’ he recalls. ‘When I graduated from university, I decided to set aside some time for myself to travel around and do more diving. When I came across an opportunity to work on a beach resort, I told myself that this was too good to pass up!’
Mr Chong ended up working for two years as a scuba diving instructor at Bubbles Dive Resort, located on Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia, slightly north of the better-known Redang Islands. ‘The resort was relatively isolated and well away from the hustle and bustle of city life,’ he says. ‘Every day, I typically woke up before 7am to open and prepare the dive shop. After that, the rest of my day would depend on how many students or divers I had—it could range from teaching basic skills just off the beach to guiding experienced divers on a photography dive. Sometimes I did night dives as well.’
Amongst the many experiences accumulated over Mr Chong’s years of diving, one memory stands out—his first encounter with a whale shark. He shares, ‘Whale sharks can be sighted at many locations, but to see them at the Perhentian Island is akin to striking the lottery! The island is located along their migratory route and you need to be at the right place and time to catch them. I was diving with a 12m giant—these huge creatures move with incredible grace and beauty underwater.’
Mr Chong also spent a month during the monsoon season working on a live- aboard dive boat in the Komodo Islands, saying, ‘That was quite an interesting experience— the boat takes you out to sea for one to two weeks and you don’t set foot on land at all during that period. All your needs are met on the boat. And there are so many things to see— turtles, coral reefs, sharks, manta rays—such a rich diversity of marine wildlife in that area!’
So how did Mr Chong eventually become a Physical Education teacher in RI? ‘Well, I decided that my days of being a “professional beach bum” were coming to an end,’ he quips, ‘and when the opportunity to teach in RI presented itself, I thought, “Why not?” I’ve always worked with teens and young adults throughout my career anyway.’
While his life may not be as carefree as before, Mr Chong still maintains a balance between his teaching responsibilities and his passion: ‘I’m only able to go diving during the school holidays, so I make it a point to go at least once a year. I love diving—it’s a whole new world when you’re underwater, and it never fails to amaze me.’
Mr Patrick Wong
Teacher-Mentor, General Paper (Year 5–6)
‘You are my Ice Kacang
In this tropical heat
You are my favourite dessert
So inviting so sweet…’
You may have heard this funny and relatable song before, but did you know it was originally written and recorded in 1992 by In-A-Chord, a pioneer local a cappella group? Mr Patrick Wong was one of its first members, having been roped in for the group’s 1987 debut in front of a Shiseido counter in the Tangs department store. To produce the audition tape that landed them the gig, Mr Wong’s brother and his two friends recorded their singing onto a cassette, then played it and sang over the recording twice to create a rich, layered effect. They then handed the final product to the Tangs staff and asked: ‘How many people do you think we sound like?’
‘Ten guys,’ came the reply. The trio looked at each other. ‘Yes, there are ten of us!’
There was mad scramble to find seven more people after they sealed the deal, but when the ten of them finally met and sang together, something amazing happened. ‘I remember I had goosebumps; the harmony was so tight,’ recalls Mr Wong. ‘I thought: My goodness, this is really something quite unique.’
In the following years, In-A-Chord was crowned champion at the NUS Talentime, provided backing vocals for artistes like Ouyang Feifei, performed with Sandy Lam for her 1996 Singapore Indoor Stadium concert, and released two albums with Taiwanese label Forward Music. They have also inspired many other local singers to form their own a cappella groups.
In-A-Chord currently comprises Chua Kim Beng (RJC, 1985), Jason Ong, Mr Patrick Wong, Dominic Teo, Cecil Wilson, and Vaughan Tan (RJC, 1985). They reunited earlier this year after a long hiatus, and have just released their fourth album, Elements of Cool. In fact, they just performed to a full house at the Esplanade Recital Studio in May!
‘I think the overarching joy of doing this is that I can continue to sing with my very good friends, and we can still make music that people want to come and hear,’ Mr Wong says. ‘And in NUS, where we used to come onstage to all these screaming girls… that was quite a happy experience for us, too!’
Mr Wong’s students are encouraging about his singing, and many wished him good luck before the reunion concert. ‘I tell them I’m part of this pioneering group, but for them the notion of 1987 and tapes is very long ago. They were born in 1996; by that time our group was already about ten years old!’ he laughs. ‘When we started, there was no internet, and it was difficult for us to market ourselves. This year, we leveraged on Facebook to promote our concert, and the CDs are available online. So I think the place for young people to promote their music is there, and you just have to have the tenacity to last the distance. If you love it enough, it will drive you.’
Mr Steven Lim
Assistant Department Head, Sports Science and Research (Year 1–4)
Most people would quail at the thought of running anything more than the NAPFA-stipulated 2.4 kilometres. Not so Mr Steven Lim, who as part of the Gobi March, an annual seven-day self-supported footrace in the Gobi Desert, ran across the Taklamakan Desert (a term understood by locals to mean ‘the place of no return’) in 2008. Gobi March participants cover a distance of 250 km in six stages (which works out to approximately a marathon a day). On top of that, competitors have to carry along the food and equipment they require throughout the entire duration, amounting to an average load of 10 kg!
‘Given the chance, I would definitely do it again,’ says Mr Lim. ‘We were split up in different tents during the race, and it was wonderful to interact with the participants from different countries. Among the runners I got to know were Dean Karnazes, one of the world’s fastest ultramarathoners, an Italian doctor, British military personnel, and some super-garang elderly ladies.’
‘Most people think of the desert as an endless sea of sand dunes, but the parts of the Taklamakan which we ran through were very rocky—there were areas that were reddish-orange, and other spots where the rocks were primarily green. Also, we came upon villages where people were living at or near the subsistence line, as well as nomadic structures— small huts built out of mud—that were unoccupied.’
Running has been in Mr Lim’s blood since Primary 4, when one of the House teachers in Ama Keng Primary School picked him for a Sports Day event. He was a sprinter in junior college—curiously, it was a chance post-university encounter during a training run around Choa Chu Kang, in which someone approached him to represent his estate in the Inter-Constituency Games, that led to his involvement with long-distance running. He went on to join the MacRitchie Runners 25, one of the oldest running clubs in Singapore, and has been with the group since.
‘Running has given me a great deal of mental strength,’ he reflects. ‘Sometimes, if I have a task that I’m dragging my feet about, I just have to dig a little deeper and I can find the discipline to push myself through it. It’s something that’s become in-built over the years. What I tell myself is—if you start something, you have to finish it.’ It’s a discipline that’s reflected in how much running has become part of Mr Lim’s life—on average, he runs between 10 to 21 km every evening, sometimes at a stadium, and at other times along park connectors, at MacRitchie Reservoir or at East Coast Park.
This September, Mr Lim will be representing the Singapore Masters Association (SMA), an affiliation of the Singapore Athletics Association (SAA), in the Asia Masters Athletics Championships in Kitakami, Japan, where he’ll be competing in the 800m and 1500m races. He hopes to gain some valuable competitive experience, as the next edition in 2016 will be held in Singapore. We certainly wish him the best for his upcoming meet and hope he’ll do all of us proud!
Mr Eugene Lee
Teacher, Physical Education (Year 1–4)
Mr Eugene Francesco Lee has always had a passion for film and radio. The Year Head and mentor of Rafflesians currently in Year 2 often entertains his students with his impressions of popular movie characters like Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and William Wallace from Braveheart, while their parents might remember the snazzy videos he produces for his talks and presentations. Hence, it comes as no surprise to learn that Mr Lee had previously worked in the media industry.
A film production graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Mr Lee specialised in post-production and once interned at MTV Asia Singapore. ‘As part of the internship, I made three promotional spots for this “one-hit wonder” artiste,’ recalls Mr Lee. ‘I almost gave my colleague from the Arts Department a massive headache because I wanted the singer to appear in front of a blue screen, so I could insert chalk-like effects behind him!’
Interestingly, Mr Lee was also an extra in a drama series by acclaimed Singaporean director Eric Khoo: ‘I was a waiter; my hand was featured on film.’
Following his graduation from the Media and Communications course at the University of Melbourne, Mr Lee landed a job as a radio producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Southbank Melbourne.
‘I produced segments for a news variety programme called “In the Loop”; it was awesome!’ he says. ‘I had to comb the entire Asia Pacific Region—including places like Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea—for newsworthy articles. I would find the people involved in the news, and ask them to go live on the programme via telephone. I also had to find music from the Asia Pacific region—as local as possible—and I would line up the music for the programme too.’ In the course of his work, Mr Lee also got to meet many creative and special individuals from all walks of life.
Although the job of a broadcaster seems more fast-paced and exciting, Mr Lee eventually found his calling in teaching. There is never a dull moment in the life of a PE teacher, Year Head and teacher-in-charge of the squash team—the PE department organises many events every year, and Mr Lee gains much happiness and satisfaction through working with students from different cohorts.
To Rafflesians who are interested in pursuing a career in the media industry, he has this to say: ‘Be very sure about it, because you’ll be in for the long haul and you will eat, live and sleep film or radio. The road can be long and tiring, and the long hours and overnight shoots demand a lot of attention and focus. As the market is quite saturated, be prepared to network and grab any opportunity that comes along! Perseverance is the key!’
Mr Caleb Liu
Teacher-Mentor, General Paper (Year 5–6)
Don’t scoff at quiz shows—they may well help to fund your university education! At least that’s how it worked out for Mr Caleb Liu, a Knowledge Skills tutor, who has taken part in a slew of televised game shows, including Cash Cab Asia, University Challenge and Mastermind (UK). Mr Liu also holds the distinction of being the youngest person to appear on the Singapore edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with his winnings used to partially fund his studies at Oxford university.
‘I’ve always loved random knowledge and information from a young age,’ shares Mr Liu. ‘My parents, seeing this interest, bought me the entire set of the 1988 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia (those were the days before Wikipedia and the Internet) when I was six and I used to spend hours flipping through the pages. I had an annoying habit of quizzing any adult I could find about pet topics of interest which included, at that age, US Presidents, countries of the world and dinosaurs.’
It was an interest that Mr Liu took with him into his teens and beyond. While in junior college, he was part of the school team that won the NTU Annette Aw Current Affairs Quiz, and placed 3rd in the NUS Chancellor’s Challege Quiz. He notes there are more quizzing opportunities for students now, particularly with SPH introducing the Big Quiz competition two years ago. ‘Coaching the RI team to victory in both years the Big Quiz was held definitely counts as one of my proudest quizzing moments’. Mr Liu currently gets his quizzing fix, as he puts it, as a member of a regular pub quiz team that takes part in quizzes at various venues around Singapore. He is also the unofficial captain of a Singapore quiz team that takes part in the South-East Asia Quizzing Championships, an annual tournament against countries in the region. Singapore is looking to defending their title they won on home soil in the Philippines in November this year. According to him, ‘the Philippines will be really tough to beat. They are a country that is obsessed with quizzing—a stark contrast to how it is here in Singapore!’
When asked what it takes to be a good quizzer, having a good memory was, surprisingly, not a key requirement although it helps. According to him, the most important thing is to have a deep-rooted and insatiable curiosity about the world. ‘The best quizzers are generalists—they can draw on knowledge from a wide range of areas such as literature, science, and sports, mainly because they tend to find anything and everything interesting. In fact, I think I have a terrible memory!’
He is also quick to demolish another stereotype that quizzers are very smart—a label which he always found puzzling. ‘Being able to answer trivia questions doesn’t make you very intelligent; it just means you know a lot of random, often useless, information,’ he demurs, ‘real smarts comes from being able to reason in complex and highly abstract ways—think Albert Einstein’. Does that mean he isn’t an Einstein then? ‘No, definitely not!’ he says, laughing, ‘but I could probably tell you five random things about him!’
Mr Francis Chong
Teacher-Mentor, Physics (Year 5–6)
Sometimes, it takes a healthy dose of sibling rivalry to unlock a person’s artistic talent. In Mr Francis Chong’s case, it was seeing his older brother David’s achievements that helped push him along further. Mr Chong’s early doodles were of his favourite childhood TV characters—Ultraman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dragonball Z. He was always inspired and challenged by his brother to constantly push himself further. From an incredibly realistic human portrait that David did when Mr Chong was in JC 1, and then a leap into digital art with the Wacom laptop and the iPad, and more recently, to the sharing of their art on social media platforms like Facebook, it’s been his older brother that has helped broaden Mr Chong’s sense of artistic possibility. He tells us, ‘My brother tends to be the starter—I’m often the one following in wide-eyed wonder. I see his great artwork, and I’m happy for him, and then I challenge myself to achieve the same standard.’
The two brothers owe a fair bit of artistic talent to their mum. Mr Chong recalls how, when he first started drawing, he was especially inspired by one of her pencil-shading pieces of life-like fishes, swimming in an aquarium. While they were still living in Queenstown, Mdm Chong was featured in the Chinese newspapers for a gorgeous dragon mural that she had executed on their living room wall.
‘Teaching in RI was a big turning point for me,’ shares Mr Chong. ‘I was issued a Wacom Penabled laptop, and this gave me the opportunity to draw using a stylus. I found this immensely liberating.’ Computer drawing had been really tough for him prior to this, because, as a left-hander who uses the mouse with his right-hand, Mr Chong couldn’t draw much on the computer beyond very basic designs.
‘I remember the first thing that I drew with that tablet was a camera body and lens. I was ecstatic with the degree of photorealism that I was able to achieve by combining layers. My first thought was—“I can do it!”.’
Mr Chong has put his artistic talent in the service of his Physics lessons, his students and the school—his super-powered gryphons illustrate concepts like electro-magnetic induction and gravity, while he makes it a point to do a portrait of each student in his civics classes. You can also glimpse his images of Griffles on Gryphon Vision (RI’s TV-messaging system) ever so often, usually nearing major public festivities.
More recently, Mr Chong has moved on to using the iPad to draw and has been sharing his art on various Facebook groups. ‘Drawing can be a very lonely hobby— you’re holed up for long hours by yourself when you’re working on something (in Mr Chong’s case, the longest he’s ever spent on an artwork was 36 hours on an illustration of War Machine from the movie Iron Man). The groups represent, for me, a great community where I can receive feedback and encouragement about what I’m doing.’
Encouragement also came along in a big way for Mr Chong and his brother when their works were selected for the first Mobile Art Exhibition organized by the Mobile Art Academy held last July in Palo Alto, California. Mr Chong’s piece, of Iron Man lounging on a couch, was one of 50 winning pieces selected from around a global pool of entries.
‘Drawing has been a special way for me to encounter the world and to grow through those encounters—from getting past the first few strokes of a new piece to observing something closely to pick out salient details; from proving to myself that I can achieve what I set my mind to, to embracing the diverse ways of seeing the world that other artists present—this is what my art means to me.’
Find more of Mr Chong’s artwork on his Facebook page.