Calligraphy school brushes off its minimum age gap

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Senior Citizen Calligraphy University Centre, despite its name, is opening its doors to the young.

Increasing interest in the art has prompted the school to remove its minimum age cap of 40 from next year, principal Tan Siah Kwee said at its annual graduation ceremony on Saturday.

"With this move, we hope to welcome more students," said the famed calligrapher, who acknowledged that the centre had to previously turn away people who were too young.

Mr Tan, who also heads the Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore, plans to hire more staff to run the centre, which now has 24 teachers. This is a far cry from nine years ago, when he believed the centre would last at most five years because of limited demand.

The school's latest cohort of nine brings its total number of graduates to 87 since it was set up in 2005. Aged from 43 to 70, they come from diverse professions - from teachers to engineers. Another three graduated from the honours programme this year.

They received their certificates from Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, during the ceremony at the school in Waterloo Street.

Mr Wong said the school has gone beyond merely popularising the art form and cultivating a pool of amateur calligraphers. It has also helped to raise professional standards, said the Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information.

It costs $2,400 a year for the three-year part-time course.

Learning the traditional art is harder than it looks, said new graduate Canny Lau, 48. It took her a few months to learn how to hold the brush properly, said the wholesaler and retailer of lighting products. "Your hands cannot tremble the slightest bit, or the words will turn out crooked."

Still, the art helps to soothe the mind, said honours graduate Siau Sun King. The 65-year-old, who is an executive director of a construction and engineering firm, said: "You have to force yourself to adopt a calm mindset. If you are distracted, you cannot write well."

Learning continues even after the course, said chairman of the graduating class Chen Zehua, 58.

Like many of his classmates, the China-born statistics professor at the National University of Singapore took up calligraphy as a form of recreation.

"We have just entered a mountain full of treasure," he said in Mandarin. "There are countless jewels waiting to be discovered."

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