Sunday, September 15, 2013

Malaysia at 50

Malaysia at 50, still a work-in-progress.

In gratitude for all that has been, in anticipation of all that yet may be—
Happy Malaysia Day!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


G.K. Ashan Ratnapala
4 Jan 1987 − 11 May 2013

Ashan with W.L. Siew and the cameraman, 2006.

Friday, February 15, 2013

d'NA Langkawi 2012

Last August, I travelled to Alor Setar and Langkawi with some of the d'NAers. Took the train with Yen to Alor Setar, where we met up with SooT, and then the ferry from Kuala Kedah to Langkawi. Mich and Tien flew from Singapore to Langkawi, meeting us on the island.

Haven't written a blog post like this in a long time—a fun chronicle of a trip, without too much poetry or philosophy.

* * *


First morning: 'church' in our old-fashioned d'NA way, with the Eucharist led by SooT.

The girls and their drinks, Old Town at this new mall along the Cenang stretch, somewhere across and down the road from the Underwater World. I can't remember the name of the mall, but it could well be Cenang Mall.

SooT and the rise of a rather disturbing table habit. After lunch we headed to Pantai Tanjung Rhu for the afternoon, in an attempt to catch what is said to be one of the most beautiful sunsets on the island.

 Yen sinking into the sand, Pantai Tanjung Rhu.

SooT, my shadow and the sea kayaks. An attempt to replicate one of my all-time favourite shots: 

 Ben, water and kayak on Pulau Rawa, off Mersing.

(Photographed in 2007 by Tien, whose shadow is also visible.)

Sunset through rose-tinted glasses. Idea by Yen.

That evening was the Olympic badminton final between Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan.

Lee Chong Wei on TV. 

The audience at a mamak on Pantai Cenang.

d'NAers watching over dinner at the Chinese restaurant next to the mamak. The chef at the restaurant was a China national, and the atmosphere in the kitchen seemed a bit more heated than usual!

The next day, we rode the cable car up to views of where the ocean and sky blurred into a gentle wash of blue.

And then SooT and I hiked up to the Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells—a series of seven rock pools) while the girls hung around at the Oriental Village.

Lotong (Silvered Langur) with child, on the road to the start of the trail.

Where one of two streams flows out into the wells.

View over the wells and the sea beyond.

There is a sheer drop over a killer waterfall at the end, with nothing but a wire barrier in between. So care should always be exercised when sliding between the wells.

That afternoon, we got back and spent the evening chilling with booze on the beach, enjoying the wind and the waves. And then it was dinner at Joe's Tavern, the establishment formerly known as 1812.

The PKV gang and I dropped by in December 2010, when the tavern had just reopened after a season of renovations. That night, Bolton won their EPL match, and the owner, Joe, a lifelong Bolton fan, served up a round of butterscotch shots for everyone.

I took some photos at that visit, and was very happy to pass them on to Joe. The night after the Chong Wei-Lin Dan match, I popped over to Joe's and surprised him with the photos. He was clearly delighted and said it made his day; it certainly made mine.

Joe, with the d'NAers.

He then brought us to visit the USSR Restaurant on Pantai Tengah, run by a Soviet Russian called Timur. We were rather full after dinner and so only had drinks (plus a cold soup dish), but I should very much like to visit again to try the food.


SooT at the USSR Restaurant.

Took some portraits with the Fuji on its maiden trip.

 Joe at his tavern.

SooT, climbing a tree.

Annette (in purple) at The English Tea Room.

We had brunch on our last day at this new establishment called The English Tea Room, directly across the road from the Underwater World. It is run by Annette, a Derbyshire woman. A most delightful person and place—with killer piped-in music, if oldies (Bee Gees!) is your thing.

* * *

I brought the Fuji GW690II medium format rangefinder along—a bulky camera by SLR standards, but lightweight for medium format.

With a 6x9-cm negative size, it only allows an extremely conservative eight frames per roll. Great for portraits, still lifes and some landscapes, but not so much for travel. Still, I wanted to try it out and put the quality of medium format to the test.

For these comparisons, I pit the Fuji (loaded with Kodak Ektar 100) against my Nikon P5000 compact camera.

Umbrellas and tables at the Yellow Café on Pantai Cenang at sunset. This is digital, and what the scene really looked like.

Umbrellas and tables at the Yellow Café, really really yellow on medium format.

The white balance setting on digital cameras either warms or cools everything; only in film can a warm colour (e.g., yellow) be warmed and a cool colour (e.g., blue) be cooled, simultaneously.

Sunset on Pantai Cenang as we saw it, digital orange against fading grey sky.

Sunset on Pantai Cenang as we felt it, magenta-yellow-orange on purple sea and cobalt sky.


 Leaves, green and orange against a blue sky.


Leaves, green and extra orange, with the blue somewhat washed out but the yellow glow of morning sun far more palpable.

Deck chair on a cloudy morning, colours as seen and remembered. (The haze is due to vapour on the lens—my fault.)

Deck chair again, colours crazy-fied by Kodak Ektar: deep yellow chair on grey sand, and pastel blue sky on turquoise sea. Some might argue that this is 'unnatural', but since when has photography been about producing exact facsimiles of what we see?

Black-and-white has an immortal presence in the art world, yet none of us sees the world in black-and-white. Photography has always been about capturing an emotion, expressing an idea or a feeling.

But still, in spite of all this, the best camera is the one you have with you—in the words of Chase Jarvis.

Pink clouds in sunset sky, the evening at Joe's.

Waves upon the sand.

Perhaps film would've looked even grander, but I could run faster with my compact P5000, and being there to catch the moment was the most important thing. So while Joe's fish and chips were frying on the griddle, there I was on the land's edge, soaking in our second, and last, Langkawi sunset.

* * *

I have heard it said, "If it's worth shooting, it's worth shooting on film."

But I love digital compacts for their stealth and ease-of-use; they're light and fun to bring around. Digital is great for candids because you never know which shot will be 'the one', but then life is not all comprised of candid moments, hence the argument for film. Plus, a manual film camera doesn’t die on you, but digital chargers and spare batteries can be a bother.

Ultimately I love film for the simplicity of workflow, and how it allows you to concentrate on enjoying the moment and not being preoccupied with the results. And in the end, the 'limit' of available frames (36 per roll of 35mm film vs the hundreds afforded by a memory card) is a good thing: who needs so many shots anyway?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sung at BLC last Sunday

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name.

Matt Redman, 'Blessed Be Your Name'

(Oh, if we only knew the weight of the words we utter.)

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Mind's Eye

One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for himself.

To take photographs is to hold one's breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.

To take photographs means to recognise—simultaneously and within a fraction of a second—both the fact itself and the rigorous organisation of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis.

As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's originality. It is a way of life.

Anarchy is an ethic.

Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but a medium that consists in controlling the spirit in order to attain harmony and, through compassion, to offer it to others.

~ Henri Cartier-Bresson, 'The Mind's Eye'

Sunday, December 16, 2012

d'NA at 10

This year's d'NA (d'Nous Academy at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia) was the 10th since it started in 2003.

I found myself on familiar ground, once again. The playground where I spent most of my devotion/quiet time is more or less the same, except that a huge Bauhinia now towers over the monkey bars!

The Bauhinia wasn't there in the past.

Bauhinia flower.

It is a legume, and its seeds are carried in pods, just like peas.

Bee at work.

Fallen leaves.

* * *


We settle, we sedimentise,
Committing the stories of our everyday—
The pulse of our lives—
To the layered rock of history,
The neatly-pressed strata of yesterday.

Which is all well if our living years
Commence in museum halls,
If we never yearn to move beyond first gear
And hang ourselves in frames upon our walls.

We are taught that the nomad's way—
The pertanian pindah—is mundur,
That the way forward is to stop and stay
Put. To allow entropy to run its course
And achieve its lowest energy goals;
But followed to its end it is maximum disorder
And the disintegration of our souls.

Cold steel on warm skin
Where does the rushing river go?
Spirit restless within; stagnant, or pregnant,
Our blood will flow.
And not as blood in centrifuge,
Slowly spun and spinning, warmed—
For our refuge is the rushing storm,
The roaring sea;
Like bees on Bauhinia
Alighting on heart-shaped leaves,
We are itinerant (let it be so)
Tapak kuda, strewn upon the grass below,
Tapak unta, saddle up and go.

We embark in earth-coloured wedding dresses
Muddy and murky, as sordid as our sin-stained hearts,
Till He establishes our hearts blameless
In holiness presentable to stand upright;
Till the good work yields a hundredfold
We shall be as soil to seed, to nourish growth,
As candle flame, to flicker, to guide
Our stumbling feet through this brief night.

(Written on the monkey bars.)

* * *

Martin Luther, 2003.

SooT, Alissa, Tien, Ben, Isaac, Michael: since 2003.
Shern Ren, Kim Cheng, Grace: since 2004.

(Photo by Esmond.)

d'NA 2012: 10 years and counting!

(Photo by Sue Min.)

Now this (monkey bar photo) is a tradition. For everything else, "Michael is right." ;-)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Broken Bread

In bread we bring you Lord, our body's labour
In wine we offer you our spirit's grief. 
We do not ask you, Lord, who is my neighbor? 
But stand united now, in one belief. 
For we have gladly heard your Word, your holy Word 
And now in answer, Lord, our gifts we bring. 
Our selfish hearts make true, our failing faith renew, 
Our lives belongs to you, our Lord and King. 

The bread we offer you is blessed and broken, 
And it becomes for us our spirit's food. 
Over the cup we bring, your Word is spoken; 
Make it your gift to us, your healing blood. 
Take all that daily toil, plant in our heart's poor soil, 
Take all we start and spoil, each hopeful dream. 
The chances we have missed, the graces we resist, 
Lord, in thy Eucharist, take and redeem. 

'In Bread We Bring You Lord' by Kevin Nichols 

So I've been invited to a wedding this Saturday. One of the very few I've been personally invited to, albeit only after finding out and congratulating the bride! Apparently many invites these days go through Facebook, and since I'm not there I effectively don't exist. Such is our world today.

But I've told a few people lately how, over the years, I've been invited to far more birthday parties and funerals than weddings. This December, I thought I might be able to chalk some points up on the wedding side, but then the first funeral came—it just had to—and now, the second. God must have a morbid sense of humour.

We sang that hymn above at the first funeral, and I was very moved by it.

As I was thinking about the funeral, I told V on Monday (after I'd been invited to it) that in funerals, we are stripped of our pretensions. We can, and must, be honest. No one talks about clothes or dresses ("Wah, you look so pretty!"); there's a lot less silly small talk; estranged ex-spouses reappear; we are forced to take a long, hard look at ourselves; and families are reunited, albeit against their will.

I, for one, owe my extended family's reunion to my grandmother's death five years ago. Sometimes it takes death to teach us to live.