Tuesday, May 27, 2008


11.09 a.m. yesterday. Bathroom wall above the hand towel.

(Is it just me, or do mosquitoes like hanging out in bathrooms at around 11.00 a.m.?)

As I said in the earlier mosquito post, I'd smack the life out of black-and-whites after shooting them. I kept my word.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mel made me do this ;-)

*** Rules ***

1. Write your own 6-word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog; include a visual illustration if you'd like.
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post and to the original post if possible.
4. Tag at least 5 more blogs with links.
5. Leave a comment on those tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Right so here goes:

1. I am because Jesus Christ is.
2. Done. Picture above.
3. Mel.
4. Denise, Kaun, Li-Shia, SooT, (Wong) Jia Hui. Links on sidebar.
5. Done.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SimianD vs. The Star's movie reviewers

I thought I could delay the writing of this brief piece, but today's Star Weekender was the last straw. I have a score to settle with three of The Star's movie reviewers, and I will take them on one at a time.

Note that these are my own opinions, nothing more and nothing less.

* * * * *

Number One: S. Indramalar

Last Friday (16 May), the day after its release, The Star ran a review on Prince Caspian by S. Indramalar, who said the movie would have been better off without its overtly religious overtones.

I couldn't agree less. C.S. Lewis meant for his Chronicles to be a religious allegory, or at least a series of children's books which took both children and the discussion of religious themes seriously. To strip it of its religious themes in keeping with the times is sheer stupidity.

Oddly enough, the masses and the media lament religion, yet at the same time wonder why society is apparently becoming more corrupt. As Lewis himself wrote in The Abolition of Man;

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

* * * * *

Number Two: Mumtaj Begum

Yesterday, these words were printed in Star Two;

Again, it is very hard going beyond that insipid Prince Caspian (sorry, Ben Barnes) who from time to time throws these half-longing looks at the haughty Susan (seriously, is that necessary?)...

Now I don't claim to fully understand what Mumtaj meant by necessity, but if the limerance between Caspian and Susan is here in question, I think it was actually quite a clever move on the part of the movie's writers.

Such a relationship is not at all hinted at in the original book by C.S. Lewis, but in the final book, The Last Battle, Susan is described as having forsook all she had learnt in Narnia to chase after the pleasures of the world. Whatever one may have to say about the way in which it was done, I believe the idea of Susan having 'one foot in the water, and one foot in the sand' is a promising foundation on which to build the developments in the later books.

* * * * *

Number Three: Hari Azizan

In today's Weekender, Hari Azizan ended her review thus;

For me, the real interesting point is the tacit romantic attraction between Caspian and Queen Susan--not because of the relief it provides from the same old boring war scenes but rather the interesting, albeit more politically correct, take it offers on Susan's coming of age.

C.S. Lewis has long been criticised for the sexist way he handled Susan's puberty and the discovery of her 'sexuality' in the Narnia books. (She is described as being obsessed with her looks and boys' attention, making her unacceptable for Narnia in the ending of the series).

(To her credit, Hari's review has more substance than Indramalar's and Mumtaj's, and demonstrates a little more familiarity with Lewis's work.)

I watched Prince Caspian yesterday, and I must say that it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. Already The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fell short of my expectations (as a movie, strictly speaking); Caspian was worse. Hari blames it on the obsession with battle scenes, and I couldn't agree more.

In the book, Lewis spends a long time allowing the drama to unfold via the telling of Caspian's story by the dwarf Trumpkin, and the battle only occurs in a small part at the end. While I'm not a book purist and while I also understand that drama in literature cannot always be translated to the same effect onscreen, I don't think the (added) siege of King Miraz's castle in the movie was warranted. It looked like a rehash of the battle scenes in Wardrobe.

(Also, I was quite disappointed with two things in particular: the fact that Aslan gets remarkably little screen time despite a strong presence in the Caspian book, and that no mention was made of Caspian's original tutor, a female dwarf-Telmarine. I especially enjoyed the part in the book when Aslan overturns the house in which she is bedridden and brings her to Caspian.)

But I digress.

I think Hari's accusation of Lewis as being sexist is baseless. And even if he could be considered 'sexist' in some ways (by not letting girls fight in battle), it is not the kind of sexism we know today. The trouble begins when one reads this book written in the fifties through the eyes of society some fifty years later.

At any rate the Chronicles of Narnia can hardly be considered sexist because in every story, girls and boys are featured in equal prominence, from The Magician's Nephew through The Horse and His Boy to The Last Battle itself. In fact in most (if not all) of the books, the female protagonists are frequently portrayed as the wiser of the two sexes.

And on Susan's unfitness for Narnia, it was not because of her puberty or sexuality, but as Hari correctly pointed out, her obsession. I actually think it's one of the saddest moments in the entire series; sad becuase her siblings had to go on without her, and sad especially because it shows that even a Queen of Narnia can turn her back on it.

In the most direct Christian context, teenagers who turn away from God despite a Christian upbringing immediately come to mind. I think it was a warning Lewis wanted to hammer home to his readers, i.e. that the choice between God and the world is very real. What are the things we are obsessed with? Again it is NOT about puberty and sexuality and growing up; rather, it's about how we choose to grow. Peter, Edmund and Lucy also grew, but they chose not to forget Narnia.

The words of the Christ ring true: we cannot serve both God and money.

Mosquito Macro

Prior to Wednesday's meet-up with SooT, I saw a mosquito in my bathroom. Hurriedly I put together my 'macro kit' and made several close-up pictures. The mosquito was resting on the edge of a hand towel.

11.07 a.m. (First shot fired at 11.00 a.m.)

This was the last--and best--in a series of shots.

I did not proceed to kill it as it wasn't one of those nasty black-and-white banded specimens. (If it was, I'd probably still have shot it anyway... and only after placating my bloodthirsty lust for 'that perfect picture' would I have smacked the life out of it.)

Now what was surprising is that it was still in the same position when I returned in the afternoon!

4.16 p.m. (First re-spotted at 4.00 p.m.)

It flew off when I wiped my hands on the towel and landed on the mirror. I couldn't resist the prospect of shooting a mosquito 'double' so took a relatively quick shower (but no quicker than Kee Aun's showers) in order to return with my gear before it took off.

I've always said that I'd really want to ask God why He created mosquitoes. The only answer I can think of is that they feed frogs, lizards and other reptiles and amphibians... and maybe bats.

In light of Wednesday's experience, I'll have to concede that they're rather fascinating close-up subjects too!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Quo vadis, Photographer?

I think my photographic life is somehow divided into 'half-years' or, in university jargon, semesters. It appears that every six months or so, I think about what I've been doing photographically in the last six months, and where I ought/want to go in the next six months.

It's also during these 'times of reflection' that I think about what sort of gear I'd like to invest in next, and how best I can work towards my goal(s).

It began in Mersing last year, when I added the wonderful 50mm f/1.8 lens to my arsenal. Armed also with two waterproof disposable cameras, I immensely enjoyed the trip and discovered incredible new horizons in photography.

I also rediscovered my love for photo montages and presented two of my finest montages to Teeming and SooT as birthday gifts.

In a nutshell, the word was theme. For the first time ever, I'd embarked on a quest to shoot following a theme (in this case, Psalm 104), and the pictures turned out with a coherence I'd never known before. It was also on this trip that the award-winning 'bird on bare tree' was shot!

Some seven months later, I found myself in the hills of Cameron Highlands. This time, I wasn't too keen on taking photos; perhaps it was due to excessive shooting in Malacca with my Form Six classmates during the three days prior to Camerons.

I only took over control of my camera when I felt the scene was really too good to miss, or when I wanted to demonstrate certain techniques to Joan (who gave me no end of inspiration). I found that the (relatively) few pictures I took turned out much better than I'd expected.

Equipment-wise, by this time I'd acquired the SB-600 flash unit and the Gorillapod.

On this trip I rediscovered the meaning of the word angle and as a tribute and mark of appreciation to Joan, I presented her a montage of the best I'd done at Camerons for her birthday.

2008 began with a sort of 'photography fast'. I only carried my compact digital around, and even so I barely shot anything. I resumed my hobby on 25 January when we did the shoot for Entangled the Musical.

Turns out the break was much needed, and the shoot was at once invigorating and exhausting. It set the tone for much of the semester, including my approach for the shooting of the cast and the show itself.

Indirectly, it was also because of this that I found a great use for the Canon EOS 300 and explored the world of black-and-white film a little. I began to pay close attention to the interplay between light and emotion and started to appreciate the dramatic lighting (almost always either over- or under-exposed) of Anton Corbijn's U2 pictures.

With the lens coupling ring, I have been able to get really close to things lately, such as this dandelion seed on the stalk, awaiting a gust of wind. (The black corners are due to vignetting, which is what happens when you use a RM28 'budget solution' coupling ring instead of a RM2800 'proper' macro lens!)

The only copy of my recent dandelion portfolio is in the hands of a very special girl.

I wouldn't say the adventures of the last few weeks yielded new discoveries or anything; the trip to the Butterfly Farm was more like target practice and 'revision', a reminder that I tend to shoot in somewhat unconventional ways. Uniqueness isn't always good (in the sense that sometimes you're the only one liking your photos), but the trip served as a reminder that such is the way I am, so I'd better learn to live with it, work with it and make the best of it.

And I've also learnt that, for all the wonders it unveils, the world of close-up photography isn't really for me; or rather, I'm not quite ready for it yet. I still love my environmental portraits (i.e. shooting subjects in context of their surroundings) and sweeping long exposures.

I think the word I'm learning (and not just in terms of photography) this season is patience. Learning to wait on, and trust in, God. That is why, when we go to Chini next weekend, I shall challenge myself to something I've never done on a trip before. It's a secret for now; will tell more once I return! (Don't worry, I'm not planning to leave my camera at home...)

Environmental portraits and sweeping long exposures. I think I'm quite certain of the gear I'll be investing in next...

* * * * *

Edit (7.15 p.m., 20 May 2008):

While walking to Li-Shia's house on her birthday, a thought came to me: I think I can best be described as a 'long shot' photographer. Three reasons:

1) I'm panjang.

2) It's a long shot to success in photography.

3) There's this trend today called 'snapshot' photography. Because cameras are becoming so ubiquitous (they're in handphones!) these days, it is not uncommon to see a person whip out his/her phone for a quick shot. With the advent of High ISO and Vibration Reduction technologies, handheld photography is now a breeze.

The masses have forgotten the tripod and 'slow' photography. The art of sitting down to photography as an artist sits down to a canvas, or a writer to a stack of paper, is nearly extinct. However, that is not to say photos today are thoughtlessly created: some brilliant minds function at MacBook Pro speed; mine just happens to be a bit of a 486 in comparison.

All in all, I'm quite a slow person (d'NAers especially are familiar with my pace at the dining table). Thus I find my tripod an invaluable piece of equipment (to compensate for this weakness of mine) on my photo trips. There you have it--I'm a 'long shot', not a 'quick shot'. ;-)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Double Twenty-Firsts

To make things a little different for my birthday this time around, I suggested that Ben and I exchange places in blogging. I was to blog from his point-of-view in his style, while he would blog from my point-of-view in my style. His first reaction to that was a most contorted face with the longest "Whaat?" I think he's ever said!

Unfortunately, if you read my entry here, I wasn't really Ben in all the ways that Ben is Ben. Am I confusing you yet? Yes Dot is known to confuse people. Dot is me. Nevermind.

I ended up writing from his point-of-view, but doing it mostly in my style of writing. So Ben said he'd do the same: write from my point-of-view, but in his style.

Let the post begin! (hahahahaha... am I in the mood for Olympics too early?)

* * * * *

So yes, as 'Ben' wrote, it was the third time we celebrated my birthday. This whole blog idea reminds me of Steven Curtis Chapman's 'Your Side of the World' (from the album All About Love) which Ben once lent me.

How does it look from your side
How does it look from where you are
How does it look from your side
From your side of the world

(Shouldn't there be a question mark at the end? But since the lyrics booklet has no question mark, who am I to add to the work of such a genius?)

And then the whole thing about him walking to my house (once again) from the LRT Station. Reminds me of another song, 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' by the Proclaimers, which SCC covered. A really fun song.

But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked 1,000 miles
To fall down at your door

Thank God, Ben did NOT fall down at my door!

So he gave me the gifts he'd prepared, as well as Joanna's crystal ball snowman. Only now do I realise we forgot to take a picture of the presents (something we've been doing the last two years).

I really liked the card/portfolio he made. It was a series of dandelion close-ups he made, with reflections on us based on the particular aspects of dandelions portrayed in each picture. (This is one of the things I can never quite understand about him, how he can draw deep reflections and thoughts from all these simple things.)

Then there was the music. I played him the songs I wrote for Hope KK, and he introduced me to U2's 'All I Want Is You'. It's been a long time since I touched my piano at home!

And then there was lunch.

Ben with chopsticks and a Western dish. So typical of him. (Just to assure all of you, he did not eat the entire dish with the chopsticks!)

Dot and the prawns. It was quite hilarious how the second prawn came out of the bowl with the first because I'd somehow put my chopsticks through the curve of its tail abdomen.

Today is Sunday, 18 May 2008. Ben and I celebrate 21 months today!

Ben says it's what we keep now that determines how much we have in the future. No it's not some kind of selfish, 'I want everything' lifestyle, cos he was referring to photographs. ;-)

It's like how one of the greatest challenges is to stick with your friends through the years; to aim first for ten years, then twenty... and then I suppose after that it's hard to fall apart.

We've known each other three years, been together in the 'slightly more than friend' way nearly two. There are so many more to go! I wonder, will we one day be able to sing SCC's 'I Will Be Here'?

Just as sure as seasons were made for change
Our lifetimes were made for these years
So I, I will be here

Life, truly, is made of sweet stuff... and the sweetness of life is meant to be shared with the ones sweetest in our hearts! =)

Happy 21st month-eversary, mi amor! And thanks for celebrating my 21st with me!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Remembering the Teachers

So today is Teachers' Day in Malaysia.

This year, I'll be doing something different. Following a conversation with two friends at a mamak in town a few days ago, my mind has been overflowing with ideas which seem to be seeking expression on paper.

I'll be setting myself to an extended essay on the subject of our discussion.

And I'm dedicating it to all the teachers who have by their perseverance and unwavering commitment to the growth of the student as a person forged me into who I am today.

I don't know how long it'll take, but when it's done I'll be sure to make it known!

Tagged by Denise

I can't remember the last tag I did. But here goes!

8 Things I'm Passionate About
-U2's music
-Trips to relatively unexplored places
-Sirap bandung

8 Things I Say Too Often
-That's interesting
(Can't think la. I'm not very conscious of the many things I say too often.)

8 Books I've Read Recently (read, but not necessarily finished)
-Rainforest by Thomas Marent
-Butterflies and Moths by David Carter
-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
-The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
-The Scriptures, the Cross and the Power of God by N.T. Wright
-The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer
-This Sacred Earth; essay collection edited by Richard Gottlieb
-Literature, Philosophy and Short Stories; collection of C.S. Lewis's essays edited by Lesley Walmsley

8 Songs I Could Listen To Over and Over Again
-'With or Without You' by U2
-'Surprise' by Jars of Clay
-'I Will Be Here' by Steven Curtis Chapman
-'Walk On' by U2
-'If I Had to Die for Someone' by Petra
-'Faith Enough' by Jars of Clay
-'Mungkin Nanti' by Peterpan
-'In the Light' by dcTalk

8 Things I've Learnt in the Past Year
-It is easy to fool people into thinking you're something/someone you're not
-Tripod photography is fun, albeit tedious
-I need to read more
-Writing must be constantly practised if one is to maintain his/her flair for it
-How to play several more guitar chords
-Midnight supper outings are some of the highlights of university life
-In sending the 70 disciples out in pairs, Jesus was doing something we would be wise to follow
-Maintaining a long-distance relationship is very difficult, but not impossible!

8 People to Tag
-Christine (Peh)
-(Wong) Jia Hui
-Rachel Choong

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Spirit and Motherhood

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

--Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

* * * * *

Sunday was quite remarkable. It was Mothers' Day and Pentecost.

Until Kenneth mentioned it in his closing prayer at last Friday's CU meeting, I did not realise Sunday was Pentecost.

So I found myself looking for a portion of Scripture to read on Sunday (or was it Saturday?) morning. Sprit, mother, spirit, mother... Mary and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit!

Incidentally Pastor Irene also referred to that account in her sermon on Sunday. I don't suppose there are many accounts in the Bible where motherhood and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit intersect so very powerfully.

I found myself thinking of Mum who's been through so much all her life. The health problems despite which she still managed to raise my siblings and me. How God has truly been merciful and gracious to her.

The angel Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would make the birth of Jesus Christ possible; I believe that promise stretches to every baby conceived. I do not know--and I never will--what it's like to be a mother. To think of all a mother goes through to bring forth a new life into the world, I'd be pretty freaked out if I found out I was going to be pregnant.

And yet nothing is imposssible with God, the angel says.

I think that's what Pentecost is about; Christians all over the world and through the centuries have debated the meaning and circumstances surrounding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Doctrinally, this has brought about two very strong denominations in today's Christian world; the Pentecostals and Charismatics.

But at the heart of it I believe Pentecost is about how the Spirit of God makes possible the life of God in ordinary human beings. It is perhaps what Paul meant when he wrote, "Therefore we have this treasure in jars of clay, that none may ocnfuse our 'power' for God's." [paraphrase mine]

Pentecost and Mothers' Day. It is a good time to remember the promise given to the arguably the most famous mother of all. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ came into our world as a human being. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ's work may yet be done through our weak bodies.

"On earth as it is in heaven."


Thank you, Lord, for Mum. Thank you so very much.

* * * * *

(Photograph taken at The Apartment, Suria KLCC. Mothers' Day dinner.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008


"Cameras, film and memory cards should be carried onto the plane as hand luggage. Even if your clothes don't make it, at least you can still take photos."

--Richard I'Anson, Lonely Planet photographer; quote from Lonely Planet's Travel Photography

* * * * *

I've posted a few extreme close-ups here lately.

The experiment was a simple one. I purchased a lens coupling ring for RM28 from Keat Camera in Pudu. This is a simple technique to achieve insane magnifications (up to about four times life-size; macro lenses used on their own allow life-size reproductions) at an extremely low cost.

A large aperture lens (usually a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8) is reversed on a telephoto lens in the range of 135mm to 200mm. The magnification is calculated by dividing the longer focal length by the shorter.

Generally the results of my tests were very good, although depth of field is something one must be prepared to sacrifice with this technique.

However, vignetting (darkening at the edges) was apparent as I reduced the zoom distance from 200mm on my 55-200mm lens.

The method allows extreme close-ups such as this of a butterfly's compound eyes.

* * * * *

Lupus is an auto-immune disease in which a person's antibodies attack his/her own cells. Any organ can be affected; skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain and so on. If not properly treated, it can be fatal.

More information on the Persatuan SLE Malaysia (Malaysian SLE Association) website here:


To commemorate World Lupus Day (today), Persatuan SLE Malaysia and Shutterasia organised a photography competition themed 'Anything Butterfly'. (One of the tell-tale symptoms of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks.)

Had I submitted any of the following two pictures, I might've won anything from 3rd Prize to one of the 15 Consolation Prizes with a fair bit of certainty. Winning photographs are on display on the first floor, Oval, 1 Utama till 18 May.

But I didn't. And I'll explain why later in this entry.

* * * * *

Entry was by a minimum donation of RM10 to the association. Every RM10 donated entitles the photographer to submit one entry. I asked Dad to contribute RM30 so I could send three pictures, but he gave RM60 since he felt it was for a good cause anyway.

Photos had to be taken between 1 and 7 May (competition rules) so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine the butterfly outing with the visit to the Coliseum Café with Ai Wei. Chatting online with Valerie one day, I remembered we were supposed to go shooting to give her a feel of her 'new' SLR, so I invited her. Then she invited Kee Aun.

So it came to pass that the four of us spent some three hours from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. at the KL Butterfly Farm next to the Lake Gardens on Tuesday, 6 May.

Of the many pictures taken, I selected 25 and submitted them to the scrutiny of a fistful of friends and my parents, and what follows are the six I chose in the end along with some of the interesting comments given for each.

Unidentified Nymphalid on twig.

Denise; "This looks very much like a painting. I like the simplicity, not much interference from the background, with just the butterfly and the branch."

Mum; "Looks like the cover of a Biology textbook."

Rajah Brooke resting on cage.

Denise; "Is there a story to this one?..."

Ai Wei; "I like it for the fact that it is not resting on a natural surface."

Rajah Brooke face-to-face with Ai Wei.

SooT; "I think this is unique shot, and it's as if the butterfly's gonna crawl into her eyes."

Denise; "...I think it allows your friend Ai Wei's presence to be there but still having the focus on the butterfly."

Rajah Brooke on Ai Wei.

Ai Wei; "I like the angle and the way the eye was on the butterfly."

Birdwings mating.

Valerie; "This is the clearest of the mating butterflies."

Alissa; "...I'm quite grossed out by the mating butterflies."

Large Tree Nymph on fern. (This was a big hit.)

SooT; "I just love the colours. Turquoise rocks!"

Valerie; "I find this very interesting, the butterfly, the pose, the lighting makes it look translucent. And the butterfly demands the attention..."

Denise; "One of my favourites... Just cause I've never seen a butterfly like this one before, and I like the background colour together with the leaf. They somehow gel very well..."

Alissa; "... majestic."

* * * * *

The Coliseum hasn't changed; it's like time has been frozen within its four walls.

We learnt that the Special Orange Juice is not a jumbo-sized orange juice, but two oranges in a wine goblet; twice the strength as Valerie discovered. Turns out Ai Wei has quite a taste for sour stuff!

Ai Wei's Fish Concalaise was easily the best dish on our table (in my opinion).

Kee Aun found the Tequila Sunrise quite a force to be reckoned with, though the swizzle stick was a little out of place! Pictured here are also the thick slices of bread the Coliseum is famed for.

* * * * *

Looking back, I realise this is only the second time ever I'd gone butterfly shooting. The first was about a year ago, at the end of the road at home; the pictures were posted on this blog. This outing was considerably more successful as I've learnt over time to pay more attention to detail and watch out for technical flaws.

I'd like to thank Ai Wei, Valerie and Kee Aun for accompanying me on my hunt, for enduring the typically gruelling Ben shoots and for their invaluable feedback. I'd also like to thank SooT, Denise and Alissa for their feedback and, at times, extremely thought-provoking comments. But more on that in a moment.

Above all I'd like to thank Dad for sponsoring the bulk of the endeavour, i.e. the RM60 needed to enter six photos and, if I don't repay him, the RM70 spent on the Butterflies and Moths handbook.

Along with the RM34 I paid for the group's admission (RM8 per student, RM1 per camera; Kee Aun paid for his camera) and the RM28 for the coupling ring, nearly RM200 was spent on this project. Was it wasted? I don't think so, and that's not just because I can still use the handbook for my ecology work in the semesters to come!

I've been spending the last few days thinking about my photography (these reflective, introspective moments have occurred quite frequently in the past few months), and something Alissa said when commenting on my pictures really struck a chord.

She said she chose some of my pictures because of their uniqueness and because they "say something more than 'Here I am, a pretty butterfly perching on a flower.'"

What I noticed about the top three winners today was that they're all pictures of butterflies on flowers. Not that it is wrong to shoot butterflies on flowers, but I think I shot this time around with the intention of avoiding that cliché.

Also, I attempted to make use of backlighting in the late-morning sun, so that the translucent quality of the wings would be brought out (most apparent in the picture of the Large Tree Nymph). I wanted to offer a fresh perspective to butterflies; incidentally the mating Birdwings and the Nymph were perched on ferns, and I really like ferns!

I realised while having lunch with Mum and Dad at Jack's Place today that the emotional connection a photographer has to a photograph greatly influences the chances of that photograph being selected; it doesn't always work to the photographer's advantage in competitions.

But above all, I think my pictures might've been a little too unusual for the judges. The competition's theme was 'Anything Butterfly', and there were some unusual submissions featuring 'butterflies' made with shadows, a butterfly-shaped nose-ring and a picture of a butterfly painted on a child's face. But none of the natural butterfly pictures were unusual; I think my pictures bridged both worlds by offering real butterflies in not-so-common settings.

Denise might be right after all. (I'm still coming to terms with the whole dinosaur thing!)

Or as Valerie said, "In other words, you're weird!"

Another other thing I discovered is that I enjoy on-location shooting. I think if ever I were to become a professional photographer, one of the last things I'd ever acquire would be a studio. Even in shooting portraits, I like doing it in a place with which the subject has some affinity.

Maybe that is why a lot of my photos seek to portray a sense of place; a sense of the interaction between the subject and its environment.

Take the following picture, for example. It didn't make it to the final six, although if I could've submitted seven, it would've been the seventh.

Denise loved the striped leafy background, and I think if the butterflies were just a little sharper, it would be an excellent picture for any wall of mine.

The general trend with macro photography is to produce 'clean' backgrounds with only the subject in focus, so as to reduce the amount of distraction. I think I disagree. True, backgrounds often clutter close-ups, but when photographers get the backgrounds right, the close-up is much more enhanced, in my opinion.

But that's the challenge; it's not easy to produce close-ups in which subject and background are in harmony.

I don't really know if there's any one main lesson I learnt from this experience, but I think I've come a step closer to proving the following:

Backgrounds don't always have to go in close-up photography. Yes, they can be a simple turquoise wash or 'watercolour', but they can also be a canopy of leaves.

Butterflies don't always have to be shot from above/behind, and they don't always have to be shot with flash.

Butterflies don't always have to be photographed perched on flowers, as if that's all they ever do.

Photography is fun, and you don't necessarily need a macro lens; all these pictures were taken on a 55-200mm zoom lens.

I'm still learning, and loving every step of the way!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Anxiety and Hope

I wonder if I puzzle Jean sometimes. The way I tell her I'm from the future; the way I always tell her that simplicity is the key to understanding; the way I keep stressing the Biology is not about memory but understanding and connecting just a handful of basic key ideas.

I suppose, after over four years with me, she's gotten used to it.

On Wednesday--and it is a Wednesday I'll probably remember because my sore throat got worse after three hours of nearly non-stop talking--I think at some point I was trying to show her that humour works.

So I said, "Facts come and go, but jokes last forever."

I don't know how true that statement is, but I suppose I'll keep it in my quote bank somewhere!

* * * * *

Visited the Christian Union (CU) at my alma mater, the Victoria Institution, with Kenneth today. With so many Victorians going abroad, Kenneth and I can probably be considered to be in a minority of sorts: those in local public universities.

It was encouraging to see how Jeremiah and Edwin have grown into leaders in their own right; to see seniors like Bryan and Sean, and juniors like Alvin, Joel and Calvin. The CU is alive and well, and I thank God for His faithfulness over these many years.

Kenneth taught me something a long time ago: when the time comes, let go. Even if it seems as if the transition won't be smooth, let go. That is what he did. I don't suppose I was discouraged that he rarely came for CU meetings when I was a committee member myself, because I understood his position. But there are times I regret not doing the same when it came my time.

It was fun supporting Jon Mah, Weng Ken and the rest in my Lower Six year, and I think in our time the CU recorded its highest ever population of sixth formers. But as a result also, there was a decline in the number of juniors. I suppose, only now in retrospect do I realise that leaving the CU was, in fact, the more difficult path.

It was the path Kenneth chose. (As a matter of fact, he has time and again chosen the less-trodden path, even now, choosing the Young Disciples of Jesus over the PKV.)

Recently we talked about it, in the days leading to Entangled the Musical. He told me not to dwell upon it, that what is done is done. And he was right. I think, as much as I regret some of my actions, I need to remind myself that the CU is over and above all things God's CU, not mine nor Wai Hung's nor Wilson's nor Chien Yih's nor Jon's nor Kenneth's nor Marcus's nor Alvin's.

And then like Brother Lawrence, I ought to give myself no more trouble over the matter.

Today Jeremiah shared from Luke 1:37; "For nothing is impossible with God."

It is what the angel Gabriel told Mary when she asked how it was possible for her to conceive, since she was a virgin.

Prior to that, he demonstrated a little rope trick (which will be performed during the Scouts' Night Games):

The symbolism was a little too familiar, given the circumstances that brought Kenneth and me together recently. (PKVians, you know what I mean!)

* * * * *

Over a late lunch of mushroom seaweed-flavoured Super cup noodles with an egg and a piece of sardine, I read Frederick Buechner's essay, 'Love'.

In it he expounds on the Israelite Shema, the Great Commandment which was given to the Israelites while they wandered in the desert wilderness;

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

--Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (RSV)

It is from this essay that the words Philip Yancey quoted in Disappointment with God come;

To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness--especially in the wilderness--you shall love him.

But it was near the end of the essay that I came across something which totally changes the way I see the Shema.

The final secret, I think, is this: that the words "You shall love the Lord your God" become in the end less a command than a promise.

In the sense of 'We shall return someday' or 'I shall be going tomorrow'.

Buechner was writing about how the command is a difficult one, but that it is also all-possible because there is a promise in it: the promise that we shall one day be able to do the impossible act of loving our God even as we shall be able to do the impossible act of loving our enemies. For it is easy to love those like us, and none are quite so far removed from us than our enemies and God.

In a day that began with anxiety (my first thoughts this morning were the word 'anxiety' and the words of Philippians 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:7), this note of hope is truly a blessing.

What I was anxious about, I wrote on a piece of paper which now sits on my desk. I have prayed for the peace that passeth all understanding, and God has been gracious.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Celebrating Kaun

May 5, 1987: Lee Soo Tian
May 5, 1987: Teoh Tee Ming
May 13, 1987: Chan Li-Shia

May 5, 1987: Tan Kee Aun

In the spirit of indulging the self of another, this entry is dedicated to the one and only...


* * * * *

We stormed the burnt-down Experimental Theatre in UM. Officials may bar us, but no metal wall will!

Labourers have no airs and will often engage you in constructive conversation; high-ranking officials with less clout than they think they have seldom--if ever--will.

It's a truly amazing place. Chambers below the stage, space for an orchestra pit, stalls and a gallery which seem to have been abducted from Istana Budaya...

The big question is: why is UM taking so long to rebuild it?

The next day, we went to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) to watch a play in which Ai Wei's friend Dickson was performing. It was called Day I Met the Prince and was an adaptation of the classic, The Little Prince.

This is a shot of the final scene.

It was an excellent performance theatre-wise, with very clever usage especially of props (transforming building block-like structures that became everything from an aeroplane to flower beds) and costumes (each character has a certain garment which is worn in different ways to suit the particular scene).

Towards the end, in a scene with the roses, they even sprayed rose perfume into the air of the tiny Stor Teater in which the performance was staged.

(The group picture above wasn't planned; I was taking a picture of Dickson, Ai Wei, Kee Aun and Jon when the rest of the crew decided to crash the photo session. :-P)

Eng Foo (in red) drove Ai Wei, Kee Aun, Jon Chu and me there. It was raining and we had to do some climbing to get from the main DBP building to the Stor Teater.

I didn't know Eng Foo was Meng Zhen's brother and that he did his Form Six in the VI. When he introduced himself as 'Wah' (their surname), I subconsciously felt something was somewhat amiss, as if there were something more to this character. Then he said his sister is in 3rd College.

The world really is small.

Given our usual bouts of mad inspiration (and the fact that we'd turned Ai Wei's trips to the toilet into high-security covert operations), this group picture seems rather insipid by our standards.

Carl's Jr at Mid Valley on the birthday itself. This is half the group.

This is the other half. I am represented by my Grilled Chicken Salad and Super Star with Cheese. Suit Lin will never forget that day.

Jane and I worked on the placard beneath the pokok tanjung in my college, after I recorded U2's 'One' and 'With or Without You' with How and Yi Wooi in my room.

Some 50+ motorists honked, including three motorcycles! Some of the memorable ones were the Malay man in the red Viva on the way back from Mid Valley, the pillion rider who shouted "Happy Birthday!", the uncle in the Estima near the Taman Bahagia LRT station, the yuppie in the Kancil on our way to (or was it from) The Curve, and the uncle who gave us a sustained honk on the way out of The Curve.

To all who honked, here's a big THANK YOU FOR MAKING OUR DAY!

* * * * *

You know how movies often end with cliffhangers or open-ended conclusions to make way for sequels? This is one such photograph.

It is Kee Aun, but his face is not visible. Just as well, because this particular adventure wasn't about his face; for that matter, it wasn't about him or any of us.

Up next: an RM28 close-up photography technique, an adventure with colourful winged creatures and a journey through one of the oldest parts of KL.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

April 21, 2008

It is now 11.08 p.m. I should've been asleep eight minutes ago. Will make this a quick one.

* * * * *

April 21, 2008. We should've been free at 4.00 p.m. But all first year Science and Engineering students will remember the circumstances which had us detained till 5.10 p.m.

At least I arrived in time to catch the waning moments of the festivities at KLCC.

Mich was late too, but her friend Shaun (who is home-schooled) managed to see it off at Dataran Merdeka. We had 'dinner' at The Lawn by Marmalade.

We did crazy things in the KLCC playground.

Some people aren't always taller than the Petronas Twin Towers. ;-)

One of those experimental pictures with long exposure and an unusual flash angle.

The wading pool is one of the most exciting features of the KLCC Park in the day (as Amos, Chee Seong, Evans, Jee Haw and Yean Khinn would testify), and it appears to be no different at night.

Finally took the train back to university. I think this shot says a lot about how I felt in general.

* * * * *

On another note, consider the following pictures.

This is how close the Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 lens will get you. It focuses about as near as 90 cm throughout its zoom range.

This is how close I got last night with a little (non-digital) trickery. It's a technique most photographers (especially those from the days before sophisticated macro lenses were invented) may be familiar with.

Coming soon...

* * * * *

I've updated Akouo. Read my latest post here:


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Remembering Extemp and the SRK

The ISKL Southeast Asian Forensics this year was a truly memorable event. They no longer call it the Forensics; it is now known as the SEA Tournament, but I think we will always know it as the Forensics.

I had Syed Muhsin take this picture because I wanted to have the VI's three Extemporaneous (Extemp) Speaking medallists onstage, with the 'audience' in the background. I wanted to remember the place we all three stood when we delivered our winning speeches.

Jeremiah took the Silver this year to bring the VI's Extemp adventure full-circle; in 2006, Jon took the Bronze while I secured the Gold.

It's really quite mind-blowing, considering very few dared venture into the rather difficult world of Extemp over the years. God has been gracious, and I am also very thankful to the other Extempers who have journeyed with us, especially Alex Yap, Kishan, Fang Hai and Wan Dzarif.

We couldn't have done it without your constant encouragement and perseverance.

* * * * *

One year of life in the University of Malaya (UM) has passed. I've immensely enjoyed college life (in 3rd College a.k.a. Tuanku Kurshiah College), though it would seem that I don't really spend that much time in college (compared to my fellow collegemates).

I've especially fond memories of working in the Photography Unit of the Sidang Redaksi Kurshiah (SRK; Kurshiah Editorial Board), doing everything from capturing various façades of college to shooting formal mug shots of the college staff.

From left: Airil Iswan (our head), Tan Kai Lee and Nordin Jusoh.

Photo taken by Shafiee, Director of the SRK.