And It's a Beautiful Day

By Kelley Cheng, 10 April 2024

I remember when I first watched Fargo in the 90s, I really liked the movie, for its humour and quirk unusual in a kidnapping-murder plot. The protagonist Marge is a perpetually-hungry (for food) pregnant cop who nonchalantly solved the serial-murder-kidnapping case in the sleepy snowy town of Fargo. And in that same nonchalance, the ending saw Marge arresting the serial murderer - who had killed 5 people by then - and as she was driving the apprehended criminal, she looked into the back mirror and asked him, “And for what? For a little bit of money? There’s more to life than a little money, you know? And here you are, and it’s a beautiful day.”

The next (ending) scene showed Marge lying in bed with her loafer husband, talking about the mundane “success” of his mallard photograph being published on a 3-cent-stamp, as they declared their love to each other, nonchalantly. It wasn’t much “more” of a life but they were boringly blissful.

Every morning I listened to the atrocities of the ongoing wars of Russia-Ukraine war and Israel-Hamas war on Channel News Asia, and it reminds me how fortunate we are to be here in Singapore, and how grateful I am for whatever I have, despite my perpetual grumpiness about the never-ending rising prices in our small city. Every minute as someone in the wars is suffering and dying, there are fortunate people in peaceful parts of the world trying to make more money, buying more things, trying to scam people, make a silly video of Tik Tok or frivolously wasting their lives away. And all for what? For the more enlightened, they know already that more things and more money do not equate to more happiness, and acquiring too much material things at some point will become meaningless and boring. This is no wonder when Marie Kondo published The life-changing Magic of Tidying up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing in 2014, it was a runaway success because the world was (still is) in a state of over-consumption and over-production - and we are just waiting for someone to slap us in the face a few times for swiping Shopee and Lazada in search of instant gratification. Nirvana can only be achieved by getting rid of things. Marie Kondo, however, did make a lot of money with her best-selling book telling people the obvious. I wonder what she did with all that money.

It didn’t come as a surprise that this life-changing minimalism “trend” is championed by someone from Japan, the country of Zen sensibility, with a common culture that believes in simplicity, a philosophy that emphasises present-moment awareness and zazen (sitting meditation). Life is short and in the end we will all be ash and dust, hence ensuring a constant state of present-moment happiness seems to make sense.

And this happiness can be achievable for everyone who lives a life of contentment, whether you are rich or poor. Everyday, the highlight of my day is coming home and having a simple dinner with my partner as we watch something on Netflix, Amazon, Apple, or HBO, perhaps a little "over-consumption" there on streaming platforms, but that is probably my biggest indulgence in life. The highlight of my week is taking a walk with my partner to one of our usual breakfast haunts and usually followed by shopping for our weekly supplies at the neighbourhood supermarket. There is something strangely comforting about routines. I am a sucker for simple predictable happiness. So please never throw me a surprise birthday party, I’m not sure if it is the surprise or the party, but it will make me nervous. This is likely a result of coming from a family who avoids celebrating birthdays. My superstitious paranoid mother said that you should not remind death of your age.

The other night as I was rewatching Fargo on Amazon, and as the movie came to the end scene of the loafer husband talking about his 3-cent stamp achievement, my partner said, nonchalantly, “I won’t mind at all too if one day you decided not to work, I will be happy to support you, as long as I can.” That was a surprise that surprised me as I didn’t feel too nervous about it and actually it was bliss. There is more to life than a little bit of money, you know? There is love and the little things.

Chinese Violet

By Kelley Cheng, 16 October 2021

In the 2nd series of interviews for Studio SML, we spoke at length with Larry Peh and Nathan Yong, who shared with us their trials and tribulations in the early days of starting out. The stories they shared are funny, heart-wrenching, but most of all, honest and real. To be a successful designer is not something that happens overnight and more often than not, the journey is not an easy one. Besides having to go through the same hardships as any startups - worrying about paying rentals, paying staff, paying bills - designers also have to be creative amidst the stress of running a business and be versatile enough to do marketing and have enough emotional quotient to maintain client relationships. It really is a lot to deal with if you are young and inexperienced. You might be lucky and meet someone who could help you, or find yourself a good partner to carry the burden together; or you might be damn suay (means unlucky in the Hokkien dialect) and meet mercenary and heartless people who would do anything to take advantage of you and cheat you of your money, time, or talent.

The business of design is not an easy one, and the ones who succeed are the often the ones who are determined enough - have the grit and strength to overcome many challenges and sufferings, have the patience and humility to learn, and most of all, have a dream to live for. One thing for sure - you do have to pay your dues.

Many people go through a lifetime of hard work simply because they want to enjoy a comfortable retirement or a better life at the end of it all. In work, you get a sense of achievement through honing your craft and you feel rewarded when you are able to help someone, be it a client or for a social cause; in life, you find your joy and love in friendships, family and people around you, and this is perhaps what they called Work-Life balance. Work is tough, building a business is tough, do not expect fireworks everyday, there will only be quiet moments of satisfaction, that perhaps come from a personal pursuit of perfection.

Everyday you go to work, everyday you are like a creeper scaling the wall, one millimetre, one centimetre - you hardly notice it but you are scaling higher very slowly everyday if you are committed to the task, professionally or spiritually.

Everyday, you come back from a tired day of work, you deserve to rest and if you can just do a little bit of things that make you happy - be it doodling, eating something nice, a walk in the park, watching a nice movie on Netflix or simply relaxing to some music - learn to appreciate these little moments because this is happiness at its simplest and purest form. So you must remember to enjoy the little things in life because maybe that is all that matters.

The Chinese Violet is called 夜来香 in Chinese, and it translates as "Fragrance by Night". A little bit of fragrance at night is what the Chinese Violet work so hard for everyday. And that, perhaps, is bliss.


By Kelley Cheng, 1 September 2021

1\ Sage is a perennial, drought-resistant herb mainly used for healing purposes. It grows best when there is abundant sunshine. Aside from Sage’s healing purposes, it has many other uses such as purification because of its antimicrobial agents that fight harmful bacteria.

2\ Sage is a person distinguished for wisdom, such as a profound philosopher. Sage can also be a mature or venerable person of sound judgment.

It was the beginning of 2020. I just wrapped up my 20th anniversary exhibition at the National Design Centre when we started to get news about a strange contagious virus spreading in Wuhan. There was not any notion of fear in me still as I thought that it will not travel so far to our little island.

By February, this virus has escalated into a global pandemic and it has even been given an official name by then - Covid-19. In April, Singapore was badly hit as well and the government declared an emergency lockdown for 2 months, and we were all to stay home, work from home and do everything at home. It could have been really nice to stay and work at home for 2 months but the downside is that many of our works were stopped or put on hold overnight.

Homebound and suddenly with much spare time on hand, I started to think about what could be a dream project for me at this point of my life. And that was when the idea of Studio SML was birthed. I hope that the stories in Studio SML can inspire and be a source of reflection for our design community, to provide respite and recharge for the creative mind during this time of the pandemic. Produced in a time of adversity, much like the spirit of most designers - who often thrive despite hardships - Studio SML embodies the same spirit of Sage, the herb.

Studio SML is conceptualised to be a progressive project. It hopes to archive and document the journeys and stories of Singapore designers - young and old - creating a comprehensive volume of Singapore design history that can be accessed by current and future generation of students, designers and everyone who loves design and wants to have an understanding of what goes on behind the creation of design. In that light, Studio SML takes on the role of a vessel that shares knowledge and teachings, much like a Sage, the wise one.