Sunday, December 23, 2012

Online Shopping and Merry Christmas!

A week ago, my wife decided to buy some Christmas gifts online.  So she went to a reputable online site with multiple sellers and ordered some stuff with express shipping.  She ordered from seller A and seller B.

Only after we paid, we realized that seller A was located in China while seller B was located in Singapore.  I went to the profile of seller A and found that some buyers did not receive their items even after two weeks!  Damn, we need the items to reach us before Christmas.  We started to panic a little, especially after seeing most of the questions buyers posted on seller A's profile went unanswered.

I quickly sent a bilingual email to seller A, in Chinese and in English because I concluded seller A might not be too conversant in English, hence the unanswered questions on his profile page.  True enough, he replied in Chinese saying that the items will be sent out on 17 Dec.  He subsequently gave me a tracking number and a site to track.  But when we clicked on the site, it says no information found.  So we emailed the seller again.  He told us that during holiday season the website might be overloaded and 'with luck(WTH?)' the parcel should be able to arrive before Christmas.  There is nothing much we could do except formulate a plan B if they do not arrive in time.

Seller B is located in Singapore so we are not too worried.  Worse come to worst, we will just drive over to the seller's house and pick up the stuff.  Then we received an email from seller B saying that items A, B are out of stock, asking us to choose something else.  All right then, we chose something else.  Then he replied that something else is out of stock as well.  Ok then we chose something else again.  We also fixed a delivery time on Sat evening time.  The day before, he emailed to say that one item I ordered is left with the last piece and is defective and asked me to choose another.  Ok fine, we chose item T.  Then on Sat, he emailed to say he cannot deliver this evening and asked if Sunday morning is possible. We agreed on a Sunday afternoon delivery.

When the items finally came, we saw that one item was missing.  It turned out to be item T.  I messaged him about it and he admitted that he forgot about it.  I will get a refund from him instead.

As for seller B, today (Christmas eve) I called speedpost about my parcel from China and confirmed that it is still in transit (somewhere over the poppy fields in Laos I presume) and will not reach Singapore in time for Christmas.  Hooray!!

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Actually I am glad I get to experience all these issues with online shopping as a buyer.  I did not get particularly angry at any point of time, except a sense of Deja Vu.  Those issues I mentioned are not new to me.   As an online seller myself, I am also guilty at some point of time of all the above or even more.  Now I can empathize fully when customers emailed me about not receiving their products, not able to track their product, missing items etc.

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So in 2013, we resolved to improve our communication with our online customers.  We will do whatever we can to alleviate their stress in ordering an item from a country hundred of miles away.

In addition to that, we have decided to move to a new webstore.  This webstore will enable us to have more exciting products, better shipping options, more promotions etc.  There will also be an option for domestic shipping so locals can buy their essentials without making a trip to town.  We will also be adding a few more interesting product lines.

Stay tuned, as 2013 promises to be an exciting year!

With that, we would like to thank all our customers for your support and we wish you a Merry Christmas!






Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pimping your Erhu!

A few days I got an enquiry from a customer who wanted an erhu with synthetic skin made from better wood than Rosewood.  We do sell synthetic skin erhus but we only have them in starter grade versions and in Rosewood.  

Well, the problem is the erhu makers don't like to 'waste' a good piece of wood on synthetic skin erhus hence most of them are made from Rosewoods.

So he asked if anything can be done to optimise the sound of his erhu.  Well, gave him my list of recommendations and he took it all up.  

Then I proceeded to help him set up his erhu with the new accessories that he bought, taking a video sample of each changes made along the way.  

Here's the erhu in its stock form.  I just adjusted the position of the bridge, damper and rosined the bow.   

video


The tone sounds a little bit thin and raspy, but overall it still sounds pretty decent.

1)  The first thing I did on the erhu, compliments from me, is to retie the qianjin.  The qianjin that was on the erhu feels rather soft, and the way it was tied was not my usual way of tying.  Hence I changed it to the type of qianjin that we sell from our shop and tied it my usual way.

video

It sounds less raspy immediately, and you can hear that the tone is more focused and tight.

2)  I changed the strings next.  I recommended him the Pirastro Red Dragon strings or the Fang Fang (blue) strings.  He opted for the Fang Fang strings.


video


Strings usually need a few days for it to run in.  This video was taken right after I put them on.  The sound should improve much more after playing them for a while.  However, you can still hear the difference in the tone.  It sounds louder and richer.  It also feels more responsive and the touch is more comfortable.

3) The third thing I changed is the bow.  I changed it to a Beijing bow by Lee Huai Gang(LHG).  Lee Huai Gang's bows are very popular among erhu instructors and performers in China.  Not only that, I used his newly purchased Pirastro Oliv rosin on his bow.  Pirastro Oliv rosin gives a good grab on the strings without sounding harsh.

video


The tone sounds cleaner and less harsh.

4)  The fourth thing to change is of course the bridge.  He opted for the best bridge that we have - 4300 year old erhu bridge.  It is rather pricey compared to the other bridges but no other bridge come close.

video


You can hear the marked increased volume of the instrument.  The resonance of the instrument has improved tremendously, though it sounds a bit more mellow now.

5)  I realized that the damper only fits loosely below the bridge, which is probably the reason for the openness and the little harshness in the tone.  So I took a bigger piece of damper and insert it below the bridge.


video

A bit of the edge in the tone has gone, but it sounds more polished and refined.  I kind of like the edge in the tone of the previous video actually.

Overall, I'm quite happy with the final tone of the erhu after all the changes.  You can click on the first video and hear the difference.  With continued playing, the tone, especially the high registers will definitely become even better.

Have fun with pimping your erhu too!

(Pimping means making something cool or better.  It is know also known as znging from where I come from.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where Do Broken Necks Go?

Throughout all my years of selling erhu to oversea customers, these are the photos that I dread to see most:


Ouch.


Ouch, ouch.


Ouch. ouch, ouch.


Ouch, ouch, ouch ouch.

Despite our best efforts to pack the head, sometimes the shipper had a bad day and starts to throw the packages around.  One poor customer in Japan had his erhu neck broken on his initial purchase.  He insisted on sending it back to us despite our best efforts to dissuade him.  But the replacement that we sent him was broken yet again!   

Its quite depressing to hear customers tell us things like, 'You sent me a broken instrument!', 'I'm very disappointed in your service and products!', 'This is the last time I am ordering from your company!'.  

The head is the most fragile part of the erhu.  A lot of people do not realize that the head is made up of 2 pieces of wood glued together and not carved out of 1 piece of wood.  You can clearly see that from the pictures below. Some makers bother to make the 2 pieces of wood closer in grain and color.  (Some obviously couldn't care less)  Hence it does break rather easily so you need to be extra careful with it.




Fortunately a broken head does not affect the sound of the erhu in anyway.  And it can be easily fixed by any respectable guitar or violin repairman.  We usually advise our customers to bring the broken to a repair shop to get it fixed.  It is always a better option than shipping the erhu back for a replacement as there are shipping costs and CITES application costs involved.  And the main thing is that there is a slight chance the neck will be broken again. 

The erhu will always look as good as new after repair and our customers are generally very happy with the end result.  Especially when we tell them to send us the bill and we will reimburse their repair costs.  I think we are the only company that does that. 

Just don't try your hand at gluing it with superglue first.  It's going to take the repairman thrice the effort to remove the superglue and patch up the holes if you did a botched job.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Homemade Erhu!

One of my erhu students made an erhu from materials collected from his kitchen.

Check this out:


The maker looked for some container that has the same size as an erhu resonator and found his coffee powder tin can.  He poured out all the contents and used it as the resonator.  He drilled holes on the back of the tin can.


For the neck he used some broomstick/mop handle and for the pegs he used something that looks like a pair of chopsticks.


The base plate is just a piece of wood stuck to the bottom.


The bow, strings, bridge, damper, adjustors are purchased from our shop.

I tried it and surprisingly the pegs work fine.  I was able to get it in tune without using the adjustors.

The bowing is quite smooth as well.

As for the sound, well it sounds like a normal erhu....with a mute on it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Direct School Admission (DSA)

It is the season for DSA again!

During this time of the year, we often receive such enquiries from parents: "My son / daughter is going for erhu/guzheng/zhongruan DSA audition next month.  Can your instructor teach him/her a song or two to prepare her for the DSA audition?"

"Yes of course!" we would say.

But the fact is, if the kid is only starting to prepare now, it is probably too little too late.

Most parents are not quite familar with what exactly is DSA or what it entails.  It is a useful scheme where your kid can get into secondary schools or junior colleges of your choice if she has a talent that the school needs.  Imagine getting a place in a secondary school of your choice even before you take your PSLE.  How cool is that?

However, it is something that needs planning and preparation at least a year in advance if you are seriously thinking of using route to the school of your choice.

So we have here compiled some information about what you should know about using DSA to get your child into the school of your choice via Chinese Orchestra (CO).

For simplicity sake, we will take the subject here as a primary school student (male) going to secondary school.

1. What is DSA?
DSA stands for Direct School Admission.  If your son can play a Chinese music instrument well, and a secondary school is in need of his talent, he can be admitted into that secondary school even if his results do not meet the entry point requirement of the school!

2. I should just get him to study hard right?
Yes of course.  However, studying hard does not necessarily guarantee good grades.  It is always good to have a backup plan.  Besides, learning a musical instrument is always good, as it ensures and provides an all rounded development for your son.

3. Does DSA apply to all secondary schools?
Not all schools offer DSA and not all schools that offer DSA has Chinese Orchestra.  

Based on our extensive research these are the schools that has a CO / Guzheng in their school and offers DSA.  You will need to confirm with them if they are offering DSA for CO though.

- Ahmad Ibrahim Sec Sch

8. When can I apply for DSA?

Application dates vary for different schools.  You should check the website of the school, call them or even visit them.  But generally it should be in the beginning of the year.  Auditions are usually held in July / August.  For more information regarding DSA timelines, visit here:

5. How is the DSA selection process like?
First, you submit your DSA application.  Second, the HOD of CCAs in the respective school will process the DSA applications and choose the best candidates for shortlisting.  Those selected will need to go through an audition.  If you are successful, you will be offered a place in the school.

6.  Can my son apply for DSA in a couple of schools?
Yes he can.  He can be offered a place in multiple schools.

7. Who decides whether my son makes the cut?
The CO instructors/ coaches will assess and give his recommendations to the teacher after the audition.

8. My son have been offered a place in a school through DSA.  But his PSLE results are excellent and I want to enroll him in another school without CO.  Can I do that?
No.  If he has already been accepted during the DSA posting exercise, he cannot participate in the centralised sec 1 posting exercise. 

4. My son did really badly for his PSLE.  His results will probably be very far off from the cut off point of his DSA school.  Does it mean that he will definitely not be accepted?
Well, if he fails to meet the cut off point but still scores higher than the minimum required for the course, he will probably he accepted.  However, if his results are really very very bad he can be rejected at the time of posting even though he has been offered.  However, there have been exceptions for exceptional talents. 

8. My son plays the dizi very well but hates CO.  Can he quit CO after he gets into the school?
No, he is stuck with CO for another 4 years.  If he really hates it to the core, you might want to reconsider this.

9. My son plays the dizi in his school's CO and the school got gold with honors in SYF.  He should be very good right?
Well, not necessarily.  SYF gold is a collective effort.  Your son needs to be rely on his own individual skill to get through the audition.  

10. So does it mean that if he is really good, he will definitely be offered a place or if he is an average player he will definitely not be considered?
Well, it depends also on who else is together with your son for the audition.  If your son is good and someone better comes along and they only need one more dizi player, then too bad.  If your son is average and the rest who came for audition are worse, well, lucky you.

It also depends on the school.  If a school has a very strong erhu section, the entry level will be higher.  If a school traditionally gets gold / gold with honors in SYF, they would definitely be more stringent in their selection of students.


11. What else do they look for besides skills?
There is only one reason for accepting a student but there are hundreds of other reasons to reject you.  Eg. Not being prepared (did not memorize scores), poor attitude (late), being arrogant etc.  So make sure you apply the same attitude as you would in a job interview.

12. So how long before the audition should I prepare my kid for the audition?
About 12-18 months before would be ideal.

13. Ok I want to prepare my son for next year's DSA.  What should I do?
You should find him a music instructor and take individual music lessons.  If you do not know of any, please feel free to contact us. We have a group of instructors who teaches in Chinese orchestra in schools.  They would be familiar with what is expected of in an orchestra.

In addition to that, we can also share with you what we know of the CO/Guzheng ensemble in the school you are interested in, to better access his chances .

We can be reached at tansungwah@gmail.com or 9754 3879.

Good luck!