I have many interests, but pottery isn’t one of them. So of course, my team had to put me up to a pottery workshop. On a blind date.
If it matters, they were inspired by that iconic pottery scene in Ghost. You know, the one with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze? Where they go from caressing the clay to each other?
For the date, Karen (CLEO’s Associate Editor) set me up with a friend of a friend. Yea, it was that kinda dynamics. And it was how I got in touch with Jun Zhong, who’s currently studying music at King’s College London but is back on holiday.
A week before the date, Jun Zhong suggested that we do lunch before the four-hour workshop to get to know each other better. I agreed. He then informed me that he’d be uncontactable over the next few days because he’d be leaving for a diving trip. How thoughtful is this guy? I was impressed.
I was running late (there’s lots of things to be done at the office, OK) and my date told me he was waiting at Din Tai Fung. I like decisive men, so I very much appreciated that he chose the venue without us having to do a whole where-to-eat dance. Besides, you really can’t go wrong with DTF (the restaurant, not “down to f**k”).
During lunch, we discussed our travels, living abroad and music. I told Jun Zhong that when I tried learning an instrument some 14 years ago, my teacher fell asleep. Say what you will, but that also means I wasn’t so bad that he had trouble sleeping. Anyhow, I also learnt that my date has a passion for cooking. Men who can cook are pretty sexy.
We then took a taxi to Center Pottery, which is tucked away in a jungle at Lorong Tawas. If that sounds foreign to you, it’s the industrial area of Jurong. It’s so ulu that the taxi uncle jokingly asked if we were going to rob him.
Our arrival was welcomed by Joan Huang, founder of the center and our instructor for the class. She was previously a medical doctor in the psychiatry field but left to start this social enterprise under the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise’s LeapForGood programme. In addition to running the centre and its various events, she also holds workshops for people suffering from mental health issues.
The workshop started with a tour around the centre, and we got to enter one of Singapore’s last two dragon kilns (long and thin chambers where the pottery wares are fired). It’s no longer in use but was nonetheless a sight to behold.
Joan then explained why the centre is located in the jungle. Although local potters usually import their clay, sometimes, for upcoming shows, they want to use homegrown stuff—so they simply wander into the vegetation and dig.
Following a full demonstation, we got started on the first step of pottery making: wedging. It involves kneading your clay in a particular manner so that it’ll be more pliable and free from air pockets. If you do it right, it’ll look like a ram’s head.
Jun Zhong nailed it from the get-go, but I struggled. I just couldn’t get the motion right, so ashamedly, I was terrible with my hands during my date. Check out my clay on the left, and Jun Zhong’s on the right (which BTW is exactly how it’s supposed to look like).
With a bit of help, I managed to get it good enough for the potter’s wheel, and next came centering the clay. Centering keeps the clay uniform in consistency, with no large portions sticking out. It’s essential that the clay is centred before it’s moulded.
Surprisingly, I was far better at centering than I was wedging, and soon Joan told me to start moulding my piece. My date was having a bit of trouble with his, but there was nothing a bit more time couldn’t solve.
However, I couldn’t figure out when to push, pull or pinch the clay—and I had to be careful not to drill my fingers too far down the centre lest the base gets too thin. So to say I wasn’t struggling would be an understatement. Also, if you didn’t know (I didn’t), there’s no saving clay. It’s not like plasticine where you can mesh pieces together to make up for a screw-up. And I sure didn’t want to start all over again and have to wedge a second time.
To help with some inspiration on the type of ware I could make, Joan pointed me to a chart with different kinds of bowls and cups. To be honest, they all looked the same to me, but I guess I just don’t have an eye for these things.
Anyhow, what I had in mind wasn’t exactly what I created in the end, so I suppose even when you think it, you don’t always achieve it. Besides, it wasn’t so much what I wanted it to be as it was making sure my clay wasn’t going to collapse, so as long as it took shape, it was the shape I wanted.
After tethering between pushing and pulling without messing up, I ended up with a bowl-cup. Jun Zhong got a similar shape, and this was after both of us got a lot of hand-holding (literally) by Joan and her assistant. But I suppose we were just glad to have even made our first pottery ware. So glad that we both decided to have a second go at it.
I had hoped to make a proper bowl the second time around, but let’s just say my bowl-cup became the more useful ware of the two. I spent a long time trying to save my “bowl” but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Jun Zhong and I were busy focusing on our crafts, and since most potters there were quietly doing their thing, we were happy to follow suit. It was a good thing that we lunched together prior as it allowed us to sit in comfortable silence.
He later said that he found the session therapeutic and mentioned that he might even pick it up as a hobby some time. While I can’t say the same for myself, it was pretty cool experiencing the pottery process first-hand. You know what they say: try everything once. And I’m glad to have ticked that off my list.
The gentleman he is, Jun Zhong helped me with cleaning up when he was done with his table. I really appreciated the gesture, and more so the fact that he didn’t act blur.
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you’re bound to get clay on your face, and we both found ourselves washing our face repeatedly cos the grime doesn’t ever get completely removed. But hey, no biggie, in fact it’s quite cute getting a lil dirty on a date (and I mean this in the most innocent way). Just shows you’re not all prim and proper, otherwise known as boring.
So would I recommend a pottery workshop for a first date? Yes, actually—I think it helps give a good sense of the type of person he is (and the type you are). You can generally tell if they’re patient, composed or a bit OCD. And if they will be helpful in spite of their fatigue. Better you know now than later, right?
And if you’re dying to see our creations, here they are. They’re nothing to shout about but they can hold water… so clearly they’re quite useful.
Jun Zhong says…
“Pottery was really hard. Like seriously hard. The instructors made it look so easy, but when we got down to it, it took two whole hours to create something that barely resembled a bowl or cup. It was like taming a wild beast, with all the pushing and pulling; one needs strong hands and a focused mind to mould the clay into the desired form.
All in all, I think I learned more than I expected, and it was a cool experience for both myself and Adora. Especially after we got to hear a little more about the beneficiaries that frequent the studio and how pottery could be beneficial for mental health. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet someone new, and to begin learning a new skill. Perhaps in the future when time permits, I may be motivated to take pottery up as a serious hobby!”