By Joyce Er (15A01A), Wilson Chan (15A01C) and Celine Liu (15A01E)
It takes a special kind of person to maintain all the technology facilities on a campus as large as RI’s while running the lights and sounds at various school concerts and events. “It’s not easy,” shares Mr Philip Lim of the Estate (AV) department as he reclines in an office chair in the Estate office room. When we ask how work gets done in his department, his responses are measured and thorough. From the sound of it, his compact team has it down to a science. “There are seven of us in total, including the RI Y1-4 side. Replacing the projectors takes four years, it’s what we call the cyclical process of maintenance. This June we’re replacing the projectors on levels 2–4. In December we’ll change those on levels 5 to 7. Next June we’ll replace those in block J and the rest of the blocks, and so on…by the time all the projectors have been replaced, it’ll have been a four year cycle and we start all over again.”
Factor in the equipment that occasionally gets damaged and needs replacing, as well as the multiple student-organised concerts and briefings held, and it’s not hard to see that Mr Lim’s is a tough job. “It’s very much a team effort,” he says, laughing as we ask, horrified, how they handle it all. “If you do it alone you’ll either go mad or give up.”
He also expresses his gratitude for the student AV unit: “They’re a huge help to us because we can’t be in two places at one time…If it’s an all student event, we like them to take the lead as well, I don’t think anyone likes to be barked at. Every year during recruitment, we wonder if there’ll be anyone who wants to join the student unit, because it’s a backstage thing without much recognition. But so far every year there are students who join. We work well together – they’re very enthusiastic.” Together, they work to plan the programmes for school concerts such as CultuR Shock! based on both lights and stagehanding requirements, factoring in the segments for which props need to be moved and curtains need to close. “Prep is half the battle, no matter how good the show,” Mr Lim asserts.
Prior to Raffles, Mr Lim worked at SPH, and in the events industry, where he was involved in the production of high-profile shows like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for him to spend a lot of time away from home, and as we ask about his former career, he remembers literally staying in the Kallang theatre for two months, as well as staying at Laguna in Bintan at one point during the Lexus Cup. “We worked with the crew from an Australian company called the Useful Company, and the London crew before that, and we got to trade tips and take them shopping on the weekends,” he muses. Then and now, the best part of his job remains the same. “It’s the achievement of a show done well, when things work and nothing screws up. Now we get compliments from Mr Mag and Mrs Lim (former principal of RI). Sometimes the students write us a card, and that’s a nice gesture.”
Nowadays, he knocks off at around 4pm, and leads a more leisurely pace of life. The main reason why he came to work at Raffles was in fact so he could spend more time with his family. (“Working all those shows, the missus got angry.”) When asked, the father of two sons says he doesn’t have any hobbies – “Just the kids. A lot of effort and time is invested in the kids.” Together with his wife, who is part of the British Airways cabin crew, they ‘try to make sure that besides school, they have recreation as well’, and take them for swimming and taekwondo classes, as well as to the park on the weekends. “We’re just your average middle class family,” he says modestly.
It seems he has the rest of his life all figured out, and when we ask him – somewhat tentatively – if he sees himself moving on, his answer is immediate: “I don’t, because I’m happy here. I love the people I work with: the lab, the library, ITU (IT Unit). Everybody is very nice. If you work outside, people get very mean, but here everyone works as a team.” Besides the people, his favourite place in Raffles is the library. “I don’t get to go there much, but I get to service the projectors sometimes. It’s just the stateliness of that place. It just feels damn shiok (Malay exclamation of satisfaction) lah,” he enthuses.
To end off the interview, we asked him to describe himself in three words. The first word comes immediately, self-deprecatingly – “Anal.” He tells us he asked his team that same question just recently, and recounts his colleagues’ response: “ ‘It’s just your style, don’t take it personally…but you’re kanchiong (Cantonese term for someone who is high-strung).’ I told them, “The only reason why I’m damn kanchiong is because you all are relaxed!” he says, laughing. As for the other two words, he says, “I try and be fair, and I respect everyone’s contribution.”
For someone who is comfortable with working unnoticed behind the scenes, he leaves a deep impression on our minds – that of a person simultaneously driven and humble, passionate and pragmatic, affable and straight-talking. If you ever get the chance to work with him and his Estate (AV) crew, do drop him a thank-you note; if you see him in the corridors, do stop and say hello.
This is the last of our Appreciation Week articles for 2014, brought to you by Raffles Press and The Humanz Initiative (THI). We really appreciate your support for this initiative, and we hope that you will go beyond just this week to show your gratitude for the non-teaching members of staff who deserve a lot of thanks for the work that they do.