Detective Note

Vol.024-Coffee Break with Mr. Mende


Wearing many hats -writing, singing, tea ceremony, diving, skiing, golf etc all besides being a busy lighting designer

Interviewer:Gaurav Jain


Gaurav:How do you do it? Do you know of other designers who have similar diverse interests? What inspires you to keep yourself so engaged?

Mende: I am a workaholic – I like to do so many activities or hobbies because I need to check myself. By that I mean, I am always keeping myself in check that is this the right way, or is there any other way? It is a kind of introspection….
When I sing traditional Japanese songs, it’s a completely different Mr. Mende. I see myself from a different perspective, I lose myself in what I do. Or when I ski, its very joyful for me. The 2-3 days of skiing are very immersive, I try to forget myself, my profession. But when I return from my ski trips, I return back to my world with more clarity – with different points of view.
I suggest that a designer has to be interested in many different experiences.

Gaurav: did these interests/hobbies develop early? Even before becoming a lighting designer?

Mende: These interests did not start very young. Some of these I started after I became a lighting designer. I started skiing at the age of 50. I started diving at the age of 64.

Gaurav: Do you give your 100% to these hobbies?

Mende: Yes, very much so. For Tea ceremony for example, I like to give my full concentration at that moment. Even in golf, I switch off everything else. But some people, are always checking emails, or phone while playing golf.

Gaurav: Very interesting, unfortunately for me, I do not have such active interests. I hope that after today’s talk, I will get inspiration to take up such hobbies. I used to paint, but I hardly do that anymore after coming to Singapore. I do like to read, but that’s not enough.
I think that you are a very curious person, and you never think that you are too old to try something new out. You started diving at the age of 64…

Mende: Curiosity is the source of my energy.

Gaurav: When did you start singing?

Mende: I started singing 25 years ago when I was still working in Yamagiwa. I used to play trumpet when I was in middle school. I was always interested in music. But I changed a little bit my attitude towards art and started showing more interest in art in high school. But I enjoying singing and completely lose myself in the 1 hour singing session. I am very good at switching off myself and on back again…

Gaurav: Some of your hobbies like tea ceremony, singing have a protocol, a manner, a very strong tradition. Is this feeling of a strong tradition something that has always interested you? I believe you have a lot of respect for tradition. Even though modern architectural lighting design is very different from a traditional design approach.

Mende: Yes, I think every traditional manner like this shows us the right way, a reasonable way of thinking. Even like yoga, I would say takes a very long time to perfect and learn the right way. So we should try to learn the natural and traditional approach. Even if we have to imitate and we find its very difficult, we should try to do it. I try to imitate my singing teacher’s voice, even if its very difficult. And I keep trying again and again to imitate her, and suddenly I find myself in a position where I believe I have achieved something. Likewise for the Tea Ceremony, I am not good at remembering all the details and steps diligently. But still, practicing regularly led me naturally to remember all the moves. Do you have anything in Indian traditions like this?

Gaurav: Well, unlike Japanese culture, Indian traditional culture is not so strict in its manners. But there are exceptions like traditional indian dance, the Kathakali (which we saw in Kerala). They say it takes 25 years of practice to master the muscle movements of the face, and to master the eye movement too.

Gaurav: I had also heard many years back that you encourage us lighting designers to have a ‘flow’ like a skilled craftsman. I found that idea very beautiful.

Mende: Yes, one has to question what the flow of a lighting designer. A lighting designer has to have a high level of sensitivity – that is very important. We have to feel deeper than perhaps many people, otherwise we cannot create perfect work. Then we can remark “ Oh, it’s a nice atmosphere, this place”. I always try to think about the right answer answered through my senses.

Gaurav: Yes, we have to be more sensitive. And I think that while you may say that you totally switch off when you are say skiing, it is your sensitivity that is still working. Perhaps more than an ordinary person’s. For example, when you dive, you may appreciate the light more than an ordinary person.

Mende: Yes, this might be true. I may feel more. I always try to be more sensitive. Diving in water is completely different perceptual experience. I enjoy this. I want to say ‘Wow’!!

Gaurav: Can you describe your recent diving experience?

Mende: Yes, I got a license to dive! The first 2 days were in shallow water, testing and practicing. After 2 days, we went to the ocean. Usually the problem with scuba diving is that most people are scared to breathe in the water. Not for me. I am not scared at all. I just try to breathe naturally and follow the instruction of the diving instructor. I trust the equipment. So the teacher said “ you are the best student I had in the last 10 years”. He said that I listened to his advice and followed instructions sincerely and honestly. So I passed the exam and he took me to a difficult part of the sea as a reward. I was very honored to go there. I was very happy to have this license. I saw many different landscapes, very different light and shadow. I can adapt very well to the different environments, I was not under any discomfort. Because of my strong interest to see, to learn something new. In the sea, different from air, I had to exercise control over my natural ability to move in the water, but I was fine.

Gaurav: Anything new you want to pick up?

Mende: Other hobbies…well, actually its not a hobby but I would like to travel more. Most of my travels are for business trips. I need more freedom for my travels. I need more time to go everywhere, and without a strict purpose. I meet many people, but all with a purpose. What is the agenda? What is the conclusion. But freedom of travel and meeting people without an agenda is something that I need to do. I want to be more free to do so. Perhaps after I am 70!

Gaurav: You mentioned that while playing golf, you can understand the character of the person you are playing with. Can you describe?

Mende: (Laughs), That’s true. I do understand the character of the player. Some people do not care about the company of the person they are playing with. When some make a mistake, it can be very interesting. Somebody will try to think carefully about their mistake and try not to repeat it. For some, they may not really care and enjoy the game. Some people try to fudge their score – I know, you hit 8, but you say 6. While some can make 5, but they can be honest in confessing 7, because they hit it incorrectly. But its ok, golf is a special game.

Gaurav: does it disappoint you to see that many of us do not have such a rich and varied experiences..we lead a very ordinary and perhaps boring routine. You are more busy than us but still you take out time for all these hobbies..

Mende: No, I don’t. Each person has their own life, their own way of thinking. I don’t like to impose my way of living life upon anyone else. But if they are progressive to do more, I do encourage. Take your example, nearing 40 is a good time to improve in a different way – not just your daily task. Other hobbles, besides only lighting design. Why don’t you start learning ‘tea ceremony’? (laughs)

Gaurav: Do you have any stress in spite of being so busy? Does it keep you awake at night?

Mende: Do you? And how do you get rid of your stress?

Gaurav: I do have stress. When I finish my work and go back home to my daughter, I forget my stress. Being with my family. Sometimes, when I am with friends, socializing, that too helps. But with 3 offices and so many responsibilities, I have never seen you stressed.

Mende: I do agree, I am hardly stressed. I do have tension, sometimes before a presentation as it may be challenging. But rarely do I have stress as we know of it.
I do sleep well, everywhere. Even in the flight. Sometimes I stay away at night but that is only if I have a creative idea. I have a very positive attitude towards this – no stress at all. I do have some disappointment when a staff member decides to leave, and I do feel sad. But these things happen but I get over it. These are not big matters. I may not always not win the game, but I like to think that I am a clever man. I don’t fear for my death and am in peace. What about you?

Gaurav: I think too much, I am a victim of the analysis paralysis paradox. I think speaking to you and hearing all this today, inspires me to take the jump without thinking too much about it.

Gaurav: Coming towards the end of our talk, I would summarize by saying that I find a common thread in our discussion – curiosity. Curiosity drives us to try new things and always enjoy new experiences. Speaking to you helps me to understand all of this.

Mende: That’s true. Yes, I do like to discuss this more, but I wish my English was better.

Gaurav: But your English makes you very transparent, as you don’t use words to hide. You are very approachable.

Mende: Its nice to talk to you like this. Its also a good timing too! I hope that you will also try to pick up something new and enjoy yourself.