We met @malcolmleeee for the first time maybe more than half a decade ago, when his Peranakan restaurant Candlenut was still at Dorsett. I remember being very moved by his struggles, his humility and his convictions as a Christian boss trying to build a different culture amidst the highly challenging F&B industry in Singapore.
We had just started Studio Asobi then, and although we weren't leading a team of potters, we took note of what this younger but much more capable and experienced business owner said. About making time and space to enjoy the relationships we have been blessed with, even while we work hard. About extending this same generosity to those who serve us and work for us, even if society dictates that "customer is king".
These vessels that we crafted for his new restaurant @pangiumsg have really been a joy to make, partly because we just love making pottery, but mostly because we are working with a friend who shares our convictions about life and love. We hope these vessels will spark joy for every guest that savours a meal lovingly crafted by Malcolm's Pangium team!...
Pound, press, pulverize
Rich plumes of powder and spice
Till the guests arrive
When I was thinking of the name for this bowl, "Mortar" was the first to come to mind of course, because that's precisely the inspiration behind its form. Commissioned by our dear friends from @pangiumsg , this bowl celebrates the countless hours of life spent in peranakan kitchens all over Southeast Asia - skilful and patient hands chopping, grinding, slicing and stirring, the rich aroma of native herbs and spices filling the warm tropical air - as delicious fusion cuisines are crafted for the enjoyment of family and friends.
But then I hesitated, because "mortar" has another meaning, something a lot more unfriendly and destructive but probably more familiar to most readers today as we witness the horrors of these senseless wars around the world.
In fact, come to think of it, it's really quite an interesting and complex word! If you didn't know, "Mortar" is also that sturdy mixture of water, sand and cement used to join bricks so that they can rise up into beautiful buildings for people to live, love and play in.
Just one word, describing something that is strong and hard, but representing objects that are worlds apart in their nature and their uses. To build up, to destroy, to release, to fuse.
And so in the end I decided to name it Mortar, because well, that's what it is. A strong word for a strong and ancient vessel, one that is gradually disappearing from our collective consciousness because we are all cooking less, eating together less, savouring life less. What did we lose when we exchanged the slow, repetitive grinding of pestle on mortar for the quick, repetitive scrolling of our thumbs across a glowing screen? And is that which was lost worth reclaiming?
P.S. The last picture, I just had to include it because it's such a satisfying feeling when everything FITS JUST NICE....
The presence of this single tiny pinprick hole in the cup decides whether or not it survives the firing process. Quite amazing isn't it?
This is one of our "trade secret" double-walled cups, which I made on a whim during our last Potter's House Spiritual Retreat using some leftover clay on the wheel. We don't often have time to make our own things, so I really appreciated this opportunity!
Anyway, as anyone who has made an enclosed ceramic vessel would know, this hole is extremely necessary especially if the vessel is not uniformly spherical. That's because as hot air expands inside the vessel during firing, the vessel can easily explode along any areas of high pressure, or areas of weakness in the vessel wall. But with this little hole, hot air can slowly escape, leaving the vessel intact, functional and beautiful.
If my life were a double-walled clay vessel getting fired (haha who came up with such a silly analogy!), where might my areas of asymmetry and high pressure be? Where might my lines of weakness be? Where might that little pinprick be, where hot air can slowly dissipate without causing any major explosion?...
MADE FOR US
Life has chiselled
These notches into our hearts
So we fit just right
This pair of matching bowls was crafted for our good friend Ray and his fiancee Jazlyn, as they prepare for a beautiful adventure ahead of them.
Ever since we got to know Ray as his small group leaders in church, he has been a wonderful brother to us, supporting us in our role, treating the group to meals out of his own pocket, and just being an open book about his life, his hopes, and his challenges.
Amidst the deep valleys we had to navigate through when we left this community, he was one of the few we could confide in and find empathy and encouragement, despite him being a decade younger than us. And so it really filled us with joy when we learnt he was FINALLY in a relationship (because the world was missing out), and even more so when we met his lovely partner Jazlyn, such a sweet, warm, and compassionate young lady and just the person we prayed he would one day meet!
These two bowls are our little blessing to both of you, a reminder that God has formed each of you as a special and unique vessel - beautiful and whole on your own, even more wonderful together! All those little differences that you will undoubtedly discover along the way, may they only serve to make you love, respect, and admire each other more and more!...
When something is broken, what do you do with it? When you feel broken, what can you do?
Sometimes all it takes is that little lack of attention at a precise moment, for something to slip and break.
Just like how it happened to this beloved piece - one of my early works when I was still learning pottery. I liked how it felt in my hands, I liked the contrast of colours, I liked the slight oriental flavour of the rim. But one day it just broke.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. How beautiful, how redemptive.
That the brokenness can be redeemed with beauty; that out of the broken pieces, a fresh life can emerge, stronger than before. That the brokeness cannot be helped but be noticed by others, but it no longer bears a coat of shame or guilt.
This piece has been sitting on my shelf for some years now, and today it has gone to a new home:)
A new friend who came for our recent spirtual retreat is going through a challenge with her health and this vessel caught her eye. Having gone through trials beyond her health, she resonated with the broken vessel. Asking for a price, I was reluctant to quote anything as it had sentimental value to me. However, after a night of thinking, I felt it right to give it as a gift to her instead. A broken vessel that can encourage her more than it does for me; a vessel with a new purpose in life.
If anyone is feeling sad over the broken pieces of your dreams, of your hurts, I hope you can find the healing you need. It is possible. Each day brings new mercies and hope and when we let go and open our hands, perhaps we will receive more than we expected instead.
Sending you all love!! ❤️❤️❤️ Enjoy the long weekend folks!
Ever since we changed industries from building homes to crafting clay vessels, we have been blessed so abundantly by those around us. Our family who supported and provided for us; brothers and sisters in Christ who encouraged and prayed for us; guests and customers who appreciated our work; and friends, old and new, who walked and laughed with us through this joyful and sometimes nerve-wrecking journey which we are still just beginning.
These two sets of vessels are lovingly and skilfully made by Singaporean potters whom we have had the great pleasure of knowing - the first by @minjuandjeff , the second by @omelettrees.studio . We received these beautiful gifts when we visited Minju and Jeff, and when more recently Nigel and Sarah visited us in our studio. What's funny (and rather embarrassing) is that although we vaguely remember this lovely tradition of potters blessing one another with their creations, it somehow never occured to us to gift them ours! And you know with pottery, you can't just whip up something the night before haha.
Why are we like this? I think part of the reason (aside from absent-mindedness and poor time management) is that even after all these years of doing pottery, we haven't really fully embraced the idea that this is who we are. Like, Potters. I mean it's even on our business card but somehow it still hasn't really permeated into our sense of identity. And I suspect it never will, even after we start remembering to make beautiful clay gifts for our potter friends!
Anyways, we just want to say a big thank you to everyone who has blessed us with your love and presence - we treasure all of it deeply, just like we treasure these lovely, precious cups....
Every new day brings with it a huge buffet of choices we can make in our lives. Among them is the choice of whether to do the same thing again, or to try something new. Both can be equally valid and life-giving, but this picture represents one of those days where we decided to try something new, and got immensely rewarded by it!
What you see here is a simple tea set for a family of 5, minus the 公道杯 ("fairness cup") which I forgot to include in the photo. They are our new friends from our new church, and the first group we've hosted at home for a pottery session.
Teapots are one of the most complex vessels to make, because not only do they have 5 different parts to attach (body, handle, spout, lid, lid handle), they have to be formed and matched precisely enough to ensure a smooth pour. Even now, we are still experimenting and learning about this challenging vessel! So when we teach, teapots are usually made only by students who have spent many weeks with us, and even then, usually stretches two sessions to complete.
But when our friends suggested making a tea set, it just sounded so nice - one family, sharing a family of vessels that they made with their own hands. So even though it sounded like quite a daunting project, we thought, let's just see how it goes! And so we plunged in, and after a lovely afternoon full of teamwork between parents and their little children, a beautiful tea set of seven vessels appeared, in time to welcome their new child!
Through this cosy little afternoon, we have blessed these new friends with a lovely gift, and they have in turn blessed us with an opportunity to sit back and watch them take humble lumps of clay into their inexperienced fingers, pressing and shaping and carving them into something so beautiful....
These are a small collection of photos taken by over the past two years in our exploration of Toa Payoh, a mature town full of wonderful sights and sounds. From towering residential skyscrapers with bird's eye views across Singapore, to narrow and squalid corridors of densely populated rental flats. From imposing dinosaur sculptures to the piercing gazes of community cats roaming their territories. From the comforting ambience of gourmet cafes to the quiet desperation of elderly, isolated and helpless residents struggling to survive each new day.
At the start of Circuit Breaker in 2020, we came together with a small group of church friends to volunteer with Meals on Wheels, delivering meals by hand to residents suffering from food insecurity - unable to provide a regular source of food for themselves due to poverty, disability or frailty. Our small group has since grown to a platoon of 30+ volunteers from all walks of life, united by a desire to bless those facing greater challenges than us.
While this situation has existed for a long time before we even started volunteering, the Covid pandemic has exacerbated the manpower issues faced by NGOs like Meals on Wheels, as corporate volunteer numbers plunged in 2020 due to legitimate concerns about health and safety. But sadly, even as Singapore starts to open up again, the volunteer shortage seems to be getting worse.
Our group is able to thrive and grow over these few years because of the compassion of our fellow volunteers, but also because we believe in creating a comfortable environment for volunteering. Our team is blessed by folks who have volunteered just once in 2 years, and folks who volunteer up to 3 times a week. Everyone is valued, with no pressure to serve on a regular basis. Instead, we all cheerfully sign up for whichever slots we are able to, and trust that it all works out in the end. And it does. We share photos, tips, and prayers, and find ourselves getting healthier and more contented with each little hike across Toa Payoh, each simple meal delivered.
If you would like to join or support this simple but meaningful work, DM us and we would love to tell you more!...
On the right is an unprocessed lump of recycled clay, and on the left is the same recycled clay nicely wedged with the Japanese technique of spiral wedging, or kikuneri (chrysanthem wedging). Not only is this a really beautiful way to accomplish a mundane task, it is also very effective - systematically cycling clay particles through the clay body, creating a very consistent mix while expelling air pockets hidden in the clay.
Without this process, the clay cannot be properly formed on the wheel, and even if a form is created, it will not fire well.
There have been several seasons in my life where, looking back, I realize that God has just been working His way through my entire being, forcing me to face and overcome my flaws and sins, even if it wasn't accompanied by any visible progress in my life. Sometimes these periods can just feel so painful and grinding, having to confront myself over and over again. Like those painful break-ups I had to go through before finding the right partner for the rest of my life. Like the trauma of drawn out family conflicts, be they in my physical or spiritual families.
Looking back, I certainly witness and appreciate the growth that God has given me through these "wedging" experiences in my life. But I wonder, can I not also appreciate the beauty of God's work in me, even as I go through these trials and tribulations in the future?...
Soaked, scrubbed, smashed open
My heart's poison-laced armour
Never did faze you
Not many people recognize these, and neither did we for most of our lives until some good friends introduced them to us. They are the hard and cyanide-laced shells of the buah keluak nut, whose tender and delicious flesh is only accessible after a long and tedious period of cleansing, followed by some skillfully executed hammering to crack open their tough exteriors.
These few weeks, as we witness another type of shells raining down horrifically onto innocent and precious lives, I am just astounded by what humans are capable of. On one hand, we pour our creativity, skills and perseverance into making beautiful works of music, art, literature, cuisines, architecture, medicine. On the other hand, we create lies, poisons, tanks and bombs to kill, steal and destroy. Of all the living things on this planet, we are the most intelligent, powerful, and deadly.
What about me? What am I going to do with the gifts (and the time) that have been bestowed upon my life?...
We haven't had an update on our works for quite a while, because almost everything is currently in a "work-in-progress" stage, and for people of our skill level, "work-in-progress" still means that just about anything can go wrong!
But here's one we just completed - a tea set inscribed with the words 舍得, which I realized doesn't actually have a very satisfactory translation in English. It roughly means "to be willing to part with", but it gets more interesting when you take the words apart. "舍" means "to give, or give up", while "得" means "to receive". So this word originated from the principle that one has to give in order to receive, but it has gradually evolved to mean just simply being willing to give.
I wonder if there's anyone who simply gives willingly without desiring to receive. I don't actually think such a person exists. We all have needs and desires, even the meekest person. Some of us don't give out of self-protection, because we don't feel like our desires are being adequately met, or that we would be repaid, and so we live with a constant feeling of being impoverished. Some of us give while quietly expecting something in return, either directly from the recipient or from God, and grow resentful because people and circumstances often disappoint. Some of us give while believing that we are not worthy of receiving, and so become more and more drained with time. Some of us give while believing others are incapable of reciprocating, and so end up building up a sense of pride while unwittingly demeaning the very people we want to bless.
How do we then give healthily, with joy, gratitude and peace? I don't have all the answers, because I do struggle too. But I think it begins with remembering (and savoring) just how much I have received, and knowing how much I will continue to receive. And the more I am able to give with joy, the more I am able to allow others the joy of giving to me.
Hence this word is carved "得舍", which is correct in the older Chinese script that reads right to left. And which, when read left to right, becomes a profound reminder to me that I give because I first received, and in unimaginable abundance!...
DANCER IN A BLUE DRESS
Twirling in the wind
Tumbling in an endless sea
Between your fingers
This vessel was co-created with a guest at our Potter's House spiritual retreat, where we spent half a day moulding clay in our hands while experiencing how we too are moulded by our creator. It started off as a normal vase, and its complex and dynamic curves were actually formed from just a split second on the wheel. Does it look like a accident? Or does it look like an advanced pottery technique?
It's hard to tell just by looking, but if you've worked on the wheel before, you would probably know that it could be either! And in this case, it's actually a bit of both.
How then do we look at ourselves? Our bodies, our emotions, our personalities? Am I an accident, a random permutation of circumstances beyond my control? Or am I, with all my apparent flaws and weaknesses, a beautiful and beloved and painstakingly sculpted masterpiece of God? Needless to say, there's really no way to know for sure while we are alive on this Earth. But we will nevertheless go through our lives with our own unique set of beliefs about who we are and why we are like this, and these beliefs will greatly shape all the decisions we make in life.
5 years ago, we were adopted by two cats, DouDou and DeeDoo, who have really taught us so much about life. Here's DeeDoo nonchalantly drinking from one of our guests' cups during today's pottery workshop, because everything in our house belongs to them. We often have to warn our guests not to drink from their own cups again after leaving the coffee table, because there's a high chance our cats have also tasted their water!
When I see them looking so confident, assured and relaxed, it often makes me think of my own insecurities and anxieties. Why am I so worried about my future, when it says in the Bible that He who clothes the birds of the air and flowers of the field with such splendour will surely take care of us, His children? Why is it so hard for me to seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that all I need will be supplied by my Creator?
I don't deserve any of the resources and relationships that I have been blessed with. And neither can I bring these with me when my life is over. So like DeeDoo, may I learn to give myself permission to enjoy what is before me, to slow down, and to let the future worry about itself, for the present is a gift from God....
Have you ever had such thoughts before? I sure have. Postponing or procrastinating what you desire to embark on, because there are too many other problems and concerns to get over first.
And then, somehow new problems and concerns pop up. Just as certain as the sun that rises and sets, there isn't a single day where you feel like - finally! A clear day where I can finally embark on that journey!
Perhaps like Frodo, that start of the journey wasn't decided by you. It was thrust upon you and you just gotta do your best and make it up as you go along.
Or perhaps, one day you have looked back with regret that you have missed the chances to do something.
My (Huiwen) mum is in hospital for a new stroke and it is the third time since 2020, when the COVID pandemic changed the world.
Yet, life has to go on. With hope and optimism and the asking of strength and wisdom from God to "laugh at the days to come" (Proverbs 31:25).
Even if the pandemic is still going on, even when wars are raging, even when things are not going the way you wish (like my mum's situation and our website that has also been inexplicably experiencing intermittent server down issues), we have been given this day to live. This day and breath of life that perhaps wasn't given to someone else you know.
This opportunity to be free people who have the ability to act and choose. This opportunity to not squander our days away. To still nurture and raise our children in the most joy filled and peaceful way possible. To still extend care towards others. To still count our blessings. To consider the lilies of the field and smell the flowers.
May each of us who are struggling find the dose of strength we need! One step at a time and before you know it, you would have covered more distance than you realized. 加油！！！...
This character, "遊", has come to represent a huge part of how we aspire to be, both in our family life and our work as Studio Asobi.
For those of you who are curious about the name of of our studio - Asobi is a Japanese word that means "play". The kanji character of Asobi is "遊", which in our native Chinese language means a kind of relaxed and playful journey. The kind that in my mind has no rigid itinerary and no overly burdensome luggage, just a joyful spirit and preferably some good company.
Can this really be what life is about? A wise man once said, and sang, "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through." How do I best pass through this world that is not my home? The beauty of our world and of the human spirit is that there are a million ways to complete this fleeting adventure. We've wandered into a path that involves holding the ground in our hands and creating beauty from it, but that's just one small sliver of our journey. Whatever external form it takes, we hope it will be one where every experience is a precious discovery, where every person we meet is a treasured fellow pilgrim, and every moment, whether joyful or sorrowful, is worth going through and growing through.
These seals are new - only the second time we've made new ones since we started learning pottery. They all carry that same word, "遊". And every time we press these seals into the vessels we make, we tell ourselves, this too is what we shall make of our lives....
Finally, the last batch of firing for this round of Apartment coffee cups! It's a special batch for us cos they were glazed while sitting on the floor in the middle of covid isolation. Don't worry though, viruses are destroyed at temperatures way below 1222degC!
We know quite a few of you have been enquiring about our cups, having missed the very brief shop opening we posted in early Jan. The next time we do this, we will make sure to give some advanced notice so you won't miss it!
But thank you all so much for loving our lovingly made creations, and for all the photos we received of your cups being used. Please use them! That's what we made them for - to hold drinks, to soothe throats, to share a moment of warmth (or refreshing coolness) with someone you love. They get sad when left on a shelf, so don't leave them on a shelf!
We are going to be embarking on some new projects for a few months, so it will be some time before our next shop update. But these cups will surely be back, so stay tuned!...
So this post was supposed to be like, "oh I've got covid but I'm still working so hard in my isolation room." But then I realized, this is but one kind of work. The visible, tangible kind. The kind that produces quick, beautiful results. The kind the brings in money.
There's also another kind of work. The invisible, intangible un-instagrammable kind. The kind that nurtures but seldom produces short term results. The kind that cannot be transacted for cash. The reading-the-same-storybook-over-and-over-again kind. The wiping-away-tears kind. The slowly-putting-food-in-mouth kind. The cleaning-the-dishes-and-mopping-the-whole-house-before-finally-taking-a-shower kind. The trawling-the-internet-for-good-reading-materials kind. The making-sure-everyone-washes-their-hands-so-nobody-gets-covid kind.
The noble-character kind.
Thank you for being way more than I could imagine when I married you. Happy Valentine's Day, from this corner of the house! I will come out soon!...
These pretty shades of pink emerged from confines of our kiln just as one half of Studio Asobi had to enter into the confines of Covid isolation.
The impact to us has been quite great. Several workshops having to be cancelled at short notice, work unable to proceed because our son can't go to school or grandparents' house (since we are close contacts), and the other half of Studio Asobi utterly exhausted from having to manage everything at home. Life is more or less on hold until this "kiln" finishes its firing, and that's only if we manage to contain the virus from spreading within our home.
But we choose to give thanks, for these pretty glaze test results that will soon be used on our new project; for family and friends who are loving us greatly and praying for us during this time; for our beautiful and funny child; for vaccines; for the doctor and brother in Christ who is rendering help from just a phonecall away; for customers who are kindly and patiently waiting for our hands to get dirty again.
God's mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness!...
1. The overwhelming response for our Apartment Coffee cups (here's a little gathering of our small 90ml ones waiting to travel to their new homes). For a couple who 10 years ago would never have imagined starting a home pottery studio together, this is really such a precious blessing. Thank you all so much!
2. The customer who ordered two pink cups that fired white because who knows what happened with our new batch of raw materials? Each of our vessels is lovingly made by our own hands and when our glazes inexplicably decide to head off in their own mysterious direction, it is really quite painful for us! Thank you for your grace in still accepting these two cups even though they weren't what you expected! They are still beautiful in our eyes and we hope you will enjoy them too!
3. The old friend, now newest major client, who decided on their own accord to pay us the entire project sum before we even started making. It's hardly standard industry practice, and it's not even our practice or requirement at all because we are a small studio and we don't have 100% control over how our vessels turn out. But what this quiet gesture says to us is "we trust you", and "we're in this together". It really means a lot for a tiny business like ours - at the mercy of this relentless Covid situation.
4. Our parents, who have no compelling reason to support their children leaving aside their stable careers to veer off on this strange and uncertain path (just like pink glazes that suddenly decide not to be pink anymore), but quietly support us anyway because we are their children. Thank you for suspending your doubts and helping us craft a journey that is meaningful and absolutely joyful for us!
May our hearts always be filled with thanksgiving!...