Madam Maria D'Souza loved Mandarin as her mother tongue language in primary school so much that she neglected her other schoolwork.
Her parents then switched her to Malay at Primary 3. But the Singa- porean Indian, now in her 50s, was always keen to rekindle her love of the language.
About seven years ago, she decided to sign up for private Chinese classes at Ikoma Language School.
For five years, she went for weekly two-hour classes where she learnt to speak, read and write Chinese. She is able to converse in simple Mandarin and recognise simple Chinese characters.
A desire to delve deeper into "the writing part" led her to sign up for Chinese calligraphy at the Singapore Calligraphy Centre last year. She is the only non-Chinese in class and she looks forward to the classes every week.
The retired bank executive says: "It was very difficult and challenging at first. You have to hold the brush in a certain way and write with the tip.
"You have to be careful how you lift the brush and press it down because that would determine how good your strokes are."
But she enjoys the entire process. "I love making the strokes. It gives me a sense of calm."
Her calligraphy teacher Phang Weng Kiong says she is hardworking and has made "good progress" in the space of a year.
Her classmates have been "very helpful", too, and would explain the meaning of words that she does not recognise.
She used to practise calligraphy every day at home for about an hour, but now she practises thrice a week as she is more comfortable with the brush.
Her husband and two adult children are supportive, as they are of her other hobbies, which include painting in the Western style. She took up a part-time Western art course for five years.
She hopes to take up Chinese brush painting "when my calligraphy is more up to standard".
"Chinese ink is a medium I have never tried before. Chinese brush painting also uses different techniques from Western painting."