Finding your passion: Brand personalities featured in the second wave of Singapore Tourism Board's Passion Made Possible campaign tell their story

Finding your passion: Brand personalities featured in the second wave of Singapore Tourism Board's Passion Made Possible campaign tell their story

True calling

Text: Aravin Sandran

Image: Singapore Tourism Board

Life is all about this elusive P-word

It might be the most overused word in art and business. Yet, like a moth to a light bulb, we are drawn to it when we see it embodied in others. It can't be bought or sold, and like water through your fingers, it is not something that can be grasped easily. We travel miles around the world to discover it, but it lives deep in the core of our being. When we are finally at its shores, waves of emotion lapping at our feet, some of us take two steps back and avoid taking the plunge. Let's talk about passion. Who better to speak about this covetable conundrum than the brand personalities featured in the second wave of Singapore Tourism Board's Passion Made Possible campaign? Below, six of them tell their story in their own words.

Ruqxana Vasanwala, founder of Cookery Magic

There was an 'aha' moment with regards to starting cooking classes for visitors to Singapore. It was on a trip to Tokyo (about 22 years ago) to visit my Singaporean friend who was living there at that time. One morning, she suggested we go to a cooking class together. As a foodie, I enjoyed the experience of attending a cooking class in a real Japanese home so much, that I said to myself - "I would love to do what this lady is doing back in Singapore". 

Unfortunately, or should I say, fortunately, a little medical scare knocked on my head in 2001. Results from my regular medical check-up revealed a lump in my breast. Although it was benign, I had to undergo surgery to get it removed. This incident made me realise that life is too short. I had to live my life doing what I love and enjoy, and so, Cookery Magic was born.

"You can be your worst critic and that can really mess you up." Singapore may be small but if you take a closer look around, there are plenty of opportunities to be creative. Ultimately, you must love what you do. That is the key! If you can take something you enjoy and make it into a business that supports your lifestyle, then you have a winning formula. However, you do need the guts to try it out and know that you may fail. If you do fail, it is ok because you tried. But if you don't try, how would you know if it will work?

James Quan and Winnie Chan, founders of Bynd Artisan

When we started Bynd Artisan, it was about survival. We had a total of eight people then including a fresh graduate from NUS and five craftsmen who were between 50 to 71 years old. Even though we have been profitable since our first year, I have never thought about the money. It's about doing each and every job well, putting our best foot forward while enjoying every minute of the process.

With our background in business and manufacturing, we bring to the table not just a platform to showcase artistic work, but also the support system required to run it well. Every collaboration was fuelled by a deep desire to create something novel while making it successful and profitable for the artist. I look forward to the day when Singaporeans will appreciate our homegrown talents and perceive their work as better than those elsewhere - similarly to how the Japanese regards their own craftsmen and designers as the best.

"Stereotypical impressions that "artistic talents are always poor and hungry" fired our passion to collaborate with creatives to prove the notion wrong." 

I first read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends & Influence People" when I was in primary 5. I re-read it a few times later in life and found that there are many fine pointers which I practice diligently. The best advice I took away is "remember to smile". It's not just to appease people but also a constant reminder to oneself to stay happy and be positive. Another key lesson learned was how reverse mentoring is so important for us to remain relevant.  We have gained much learning from the younger millennials - our staff of young fresh graduates and also our teenage children aged 21 and 18.  They have kept us young at heart with fresh perspectives and authenticity.

Jahan Loh, artist

I felt that being an artist was my calling in life even though it is not a very common career path, especially in Singapore during the 1990s. After earning a scholarship from Singapore Press Holdings to study fine arts at LASALLE College of the Arts, I never looked back. Back then, the art scene was still underdeveloped. I took inspiration from the music and art that Zouk brought into Singapore's growing cultural scene. To expand my horizons, I moved to Taiwan and brought Singapore's contrasting cultural landscape with me. It is that duality of East-meets-West that I credit for giving me a unique artistic identity.

"When you hit rock bottom, you start to realise that the only direction you can move is up."

Doing well in any field is not an easy task. It takes hard work, overcoming fear and having faith in oneself to push one further towards that destination. When you are pursuing a dream, it is important to filter out all negativity. When I became a full-time artist, I didn't have any income for 13 months. I have learnt that passion is a driving force while hard work and determination is the vehicle which will drive you towards success. Listen to your inner voice, and work towards that goal by taking the first step which may be an entirely different path.

Kyra Poh, indoor skydiver

Since young I always wanted to have the superpower to fly, so my dream was to be an astronaut. When I flew for the first time, I fell in love with indoor skydiving and knew that it was my passion.

I knew that if I wanted to excel in the sport, I needed to put in a lot of hard work, so I train five days a week at iFly. I was fortunate that my family has supported me since Day 1 and that iFly is sponsoring me as an ambassador. The agreement with my parents is, I will focus on juggling flying and doing really well in school (so that I can't be told not to fly - indoor skydiving isn't recognised as a sport) while my parents will focus on everything else such as getting me sponsorships, which are so hard to come by in Singapore.

"I tell myself that I can be a fool trying, but I would be a bigger fool living a life of regret." 

Many people are scared to do something that makes them uncomfortable as they fear being embarrassed. To find your passion you should push your boundaries and try new things even if you are afraid of failure. My advice would be to wake up each day asking, "is today going to be like every day before?" If it is, then this is the day to do something different. If you don't feel happy doing something, then clearly there's passion missing. I hope that by flying, I'll be able to show that dreams do come true.

Wee Li Lin, filmmaker

My "Aha" moment came twofold. The first moment was when I was 20 years old. I took some of my first filmmaking classes in the US, and had a knowing realisation that filmmaking combined all my interests — photography, painting and creative writing. We were filming on 35 or 16mm and editing on the Steenbeck — very old school, incredibly tactile and organic! The second moment came when I was 22 and back in Singapore after graduation. I wrote my first proper short "Norman On the Air" over Christmas that year. I didn't have as many friends as I had been in the US for a few years. It was a tad lonely, but I got this deep satisfaction as I sat alone in the study for several days working on this little script. Again, I had that knowing realisation and feeling inside for this character, this journey and this story.

"All I wanted to do (and still do) is keep exploring my voice."

Over the years, I would not have been able to pursue my passion for film without the incredible support of my parents and husband. During my twenties, I met my then-boyfriend (now husband), Charles. He was in art school in the UK, so working and making my own indie shorts and trying to keep a long-distance relationship afloat (with no Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype) was a real challenge! I owe them everything and hope to make good on their "investments" one day! I also owe much to organisations like the Singapore Film Commission (SFC), Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) who have given me funding, scholarships and grants to pursue my film endeavours and studies. I'm also lucky to have a handful of good friends whose friendship is not based on anything other than loving each other, no matter where we are in our lives. In a big city like Singapore and in the film industry where the lure of status and power can be a dysfunctional force on relationships and oneself, it's important to stay grounded and true. 

Jacky Lee, filmmaker

I was 16 and I didn't do well in my 'O' Levels, so I ended up in Temasek Polytechnic School of Design. The course I was in then was called Interactive Media Design. We learnt animation, web design and video production. Subconsciously, I fell in love with the art of filmmaking.

Like most creatives in Singapore, I had doubts about making enough money from doing something I'm passionate about. I do not think that I have found a solution to that. What I have done is to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and then ask myself why I am doing what I am doing. Take for example, this year alone, I have worked with the Info-communications Media Development Authority for a web series and recently with the Singapore Tourism Board for their Passion Made Possible campaign. For both projects, I took a step back and asked myself what is it that I truly want to take away from these projects.

"The system is not perfect, but no system is."

For the web series, it was a personal challenge to see if I could do it because it was a format that I have never attempted before. For the project with the Singapore Tourism Board, it is a chance to do something for the city I call home. If you want this place to change for the better, then do something about it instead of just complaining. Money is obviously important so that I can lead the lifestyle I want to lead but at the end of the day, if it is money that you are after then maybe pursuing the arts is not for you.