Monday, December 28, 2009

Bacardi Special

2 measures Bacardi rum
3/4 measure gin
1 measure lemon/lime juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
1/2 teaspoon castor sugar

Shake. (Some say shake all except rum, then add rum and shake again.)

Hardly a better way to end my last end-of-semester holidays.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Double take on Art

In a world of anything-goes art, one might imagine an exhibition featuring these works:



* * *

This morning, I returned to where it all began, this time with Tim, Fit and Zilah.

Merry Christmas!

I don't know if it was a phase in time, or if it was a phase in just my life, but somewhere in the past (and in fact a little even now), there are/were those who would eschew the traditional 'Merry Christmas' for 'Blessed Christmas'.

Perhaps the word 'merry' was too much associated with the froth of commercialised Christmas, or else with the mad drunkenness that characterises the manner in which some celebrate the occasion.

'Blessed', on the other hand, carries with it connotations of divine presence, of the action of God. At the very least, something that is blessed has to be good as well. Hence the idea that a 'blessed' Christmas is perhaps more meaningful than a 'merry' one.

I don't know if such a point of view can be substantially defended, but this year, I feel exceptionally comfortable greeting others with a 'Merry Christmas!' and a lot less so with 'Blessed Christmas!'

Maybe it's because merriment sounds like joy overflowing, if we do not perpetuate its unfortunate association with drunkenness. And maybe also, merriment is a far more concrete emotion or state-of-being than 'blessedness'. For in a world where joy seems scarce these days, I can only imagine that Merriment either sounds like the echo of the greatest news ever heard, or else the most ridiculous story told by a drunkard.

And we are not all drunkards, certainly.

In the words of Uncle Scrooge's nephew, Fred; "Merry Christmas, Uncle! And a Happy New Year!"

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Finally, someone has done the Freeman-as-Mandela movie. Back in Form Six I used to wonder why no one ever did a movie on Nelson Mandela, starring Morgan Freeman. Mel and I agreed that Freeman would make a great Mandela.

Turns out many people also thought the same, but no one got down to making the movie. Now Clint Eastwood has beaten everyone else to it, and I can't wait to see it, if and when Invictus hits Malaysian shores.

* * *

William Ernest Henley, 1875

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

* * *

Invictus trailer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bob Dylan ages backwards!

A roll of Ilford HP5 film (incidentally one of my favourite black-and-white films) developed recently yielded images of Bob Dylan 31 years younger!

This photograph was shot by Mark Estabrook in 1978. The photographer stumbled upon a roll of undeveloped film while moving house recently, and after consulting Ilford Photo's technical team, proceeded to develop it.

Read the full story here.

I doubt anything we shoot today on SD and CF cards will be readable in the year 2040 (31 years hence), and yet this photo of Dylan looks as if it were shot yesterday, literally!

This is taking into account that the film wasn't stored in a refrigerator since 1978, but in some corner in the photographer's home, subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

As Estabrook says, "Try that with a hard drive."

The return of film is imminent. In the words of a legendary intergalactic villain, "It is futile to resist."
After my first paper (Ecology of Seaweeds and Seagrasses) on 5 November, I headed to the PWTC to check out the seafood fair and, if I remember correctly, biotechnology conference (upon Prof Phang's recommendation).

Later, I found myself in Petaling Street, seeking crickets for my then 'pet' centipede. I learnt then that Ashaari was nearby, and since we were to meet that evening, it was decided that I should head over to Mercy Malaysia's headquarters in Bangunan Dayabumi.

This is a bit of what I saw along the way.

View across the Klang River.

Dayabumi: take one.

Dayabumi: take two.

Dayabumi: take three.

Dayabumi: take four.

Part of the KL skyline.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

October began with cameras and planes.

The U.S. Embassy saw my photographs in The Star ('Passages and Windows'; Star Two, 24 Sept) and invited me to be a guest photographer at the USAF Thunderbirds' flight over KLCC on 1 October.

They said I could bring a friend along, so I asked Doulos.

From the exclusive vantage point of the Traders Hotel, with U.S. Air Force personnel, other officials, and photographers from the European Pressphoto Agency, Bernama, Utusan, Sin Chew and SIPA Press. One other amateur, Rakesh Agrawal, however, failed to show up.

Downstairs in the lobby, Halim Berbar of SIPA Press looked at our cameras and said, "Manual cameras? You must be crazy!"

The Air Force guy carried a Pentax manual SLR; surprise of surprises, for Doulos and I thought we were the only jokers carrying manual cameras up onto the roof!

I overheard him telling another person about his camera, "I've had it for 35 years. These things last forever."

View of KLCC from the rooftop of the Traders Hotel.

We waited quite a while, and unfortunately only two planes took off in the end. They didn't fly as close as we had expected, so none of us managed to get the dramatic shots we'd envisioned.

However, I quite liked the sense of mood and place captured in this one. You can actually see the people in the Twin Towers' skybridge.

As a gesture of compensation, the Embassy invited us to the private practice session at the Subang Air Base the next day, ahead of the air show on the 3rd.

Thunderbirds lined up on the tarmac.

Spot the odd-one-out!

Thunderbirds in flight.

Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds pulling off a stunt.

On that day I learnt a very important lesson. Audrey, once again I'm sorry; may it be the first and last time.

* * *

These are real cameras. So what's the difference between the mighty FM2 and the entry-level Cosina-made FM10?

The FM2 has:

1. A higher maximum shutter speed of 1/4000, vs 1/2000.
2. A higher flash-sync speed of 1/250, vs 1/125.
3. A metal body, vs polycarbonate.
4. Aperture direct readout, which enables the aperture and shutter speed settings to be viewed in the viewfinder.

On 30 September, I accompanied Xiao Lee to purchase her new camera, the Canon Powershot SX120 IS.

This model is arguably the best buy below RM1000 for a camera that has a 10x superzoom, great image stabilisation system and manual control. The only weaknesses is that it doesn't have a very wide angle (35mm, vs the 24mm and 28mm cameras that are all the rage today), is a little bulky and doesn't have quite a robust body.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


It was a beautiful morning.

The truth about debate.

(English Finals, Royal Intervarsity Debating Championship 2009.)

Faking it.

(Rehearsal for the Closing Ceremony.)

Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, the Regent and Crown Prince of Perak, and gang.

We began our foray into debates as team-mates, with Dinesh, Kishan and later, Zer Ken.

And now Danial has made it to the finish line (as far as national debating is concerned) as victor and champion. Congrats!

It was a beautiful evening.

Dinner at Dunkin Donuts, home of the country's largest 'doughnut'.

* * *

It's been a great day!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Onward, Christian Soldiers!

Like a mighty army moves the church of God
brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
but the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail.

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King,
this through countless ages men and angels sing.

-- Lines from the hymn, 'Onward, Christian Soldiers';
words by Sabine Baring-Gould, music by Arthur S. Sullivan

We sang this hymn in church today.

There are those who think that the Christian language has become too entangled in metaphors of war, e.g. 'conquering the world for Christ' and 'crusades'. I would agree that, in an increasingly pacifistic world, Christians can afford to widen their vocabulary.

But at the same time, I don't think we can run away from war metaphor. The fact that the book of Revelation speaks of wars at the end of time makes it quite clear that until the new heaven and new earth come, wars will not cease. Great pieces of literature like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia eloquently suggest how righteous men and women ought to live in a world where war is nature.

With reference to the stanzas quoted above, we Christians would do well to be united as an army is united; to fight the Enemy and not the enemies we make of each other. We would do well, as Pastor Vincent pointed out, to remember that we are on the offensive; the Gates of Hades will not prevail. It is not a picture of us defending our posts against an invading Hell, but of a Hell retreating and falling apart when Christians march.

'Join our happy throng' reminded me of how we are an army whose weapon is the joy of the Lord. In this manner were the walls of Jericho and the armies attacking Jehoshaphat defeated.

Soldiers are taught discipline and loyalty, courage and honour. The Church would do well to remember this.

* * *

I arrived just in time for Communion. Among those serving today was Angeline, who is training to become a pastor.

Charisse Tay is the leader of a newly planted College Zone cell hosted by Cindy Koh. I remember when Charisse was a primary schoolgirl in VBS (Vacation Bible School) back when I was a helper.

It is encouraging to see these people still faithfully serving, standing their posts as soldiers of Christ Jesus.

On another note, it occurred to me that the Senior Pastor of my very Pentecostal church has one Catholic trait: he is single! Perhaps this is one of the subtle reasons why I remain drawn to Catholicism.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Perfect Sunset

People moving all the time inside a perfectly straight line
Don't you wanna curve away

It's such, it's such a perfect day
It's such a perfect day

Now the sky could be blue, I don't mind
Without you its a waste of time

Could be blue, I don't mind
Without you it's a waste of time

The sky could be blue, could be gray
Without you I'm just miles away

The sky could be blue, I don't mind
Without you it's a waste of time

* * *

Words from 'Strawberry Swing' by Coldplay

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Between theirs and mine

I'd always dreamt of a shot from this angle. This girl made it possible.

(Click picture for larger view.)

I was also 'official photographer' for Adrian.

Last look out of a familiar place...

... and up into the sky!

Aunty Victoria, Adrian and Abel.

(It's not easy to get parents to jump. You rock, Aunty!)

In spite of extreme exhaustion on Saturday evening (after Friday night's Convo Dinner and post-dinner adventures, Saturday morning's shoot for Adrian and family, and Saturday afternoon's Science Convo), I found strength for some dinner.

It happened that at some point the conversation turned to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, and we talked about how he enjoys a near-godlike status there.

Then Pik Tze asked, "What else can you do besides being God?"

I cannot remember why she said that, or what the reply was, but I think it was along the lines of, "You're 'God'; what else could you possibly want?"

More pictures from the PKV Convo here.

* * *

Early in the morning on the day of Yen's Convo, I SMS-ed this to her.

Some things in life are hard to fathom, like shooting a zebra on colour film, or a sunset on black-and-white. To think that our university experiences can be rolled up in a scroll. All the fuss over robes, regalia and revelry. Crazy convo. But hey, might as well ride the wave than drown beneath it.

I think it was born half of inspiration, and half of late-night delirium. At that time, I was still struggling with rising to the occasion for Convo, knowing that I was both looking forward to, and dreading, it. The salvation that would manifest itself on the night of Convo Dinner had not yet arrived, and I had yet to fulfill my unspoken promise to an old friend.

Now eight months remain till mine. This time will pass sooner than I can imagine.

Thoughts long after CC Trip 09

I prepared this montage from my set of CC Trip photos. This year, I chose to bring only the P5000 compact digital camera, and shot considerably few photos.

It was fun watching Annabelle and Alan have fun with their SLRs; reminded me of my first year. I think three photographic highlights of the trip were the long exposures and light painting, shooting at the beach beneath overcast skies and light rain, and the engineering of the 'riskily shot' group photo.

As I mentioned on Annabelle's blog, it was truly by God's grace that I was able to join the trip, as it was initially planned on a weekend that would have clashed with a field trip.

It was truly meaningful to be with the juniors once again, after many months of erratic absences. Reminded me so very much of Adrian.

Read Belle's post here for more.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts after a Camp and a Shoot

Prophet's Call

Come meet me beneath the frangipani tree,
A stone's throw from the altar, where
On rattan mats the prophets sat
And listened to me there.

The sun has risen but the earth is wet;
Pools of water have yet to dry.
It is now afternoon, and very soon
His Spirit will pass on those lying on tile, concrete or grass.

You are not alone, for I am with you,
Whether in fearsome halls of stone
Or moss-covered hills, dripping in dew
In the dry land between there and here.

Beneath a train of strange white clouds, do not fear.
Today you are born of spirit and water;
Though torn in two, I will be with you
Whichever way the journey tends
To lead you to My promised land.

* * *

I wrote it at half past twelve, on the second day of PKV's T.H.E. Camp. It was at the end of our post-session short reflection. I allude to many things that were present at that particular moment, whether heard, seen or felt.

At the end of camp, Kim Cheng reminded me of how I first learnt silence; there was this camp called d'NA which I joined years ago, she said. She reminded me that silence and solitude are disciplines which do not come easy to us.

I think I have, over the years, forgotten some of these lessons. I used to enjoy solitude and seek silence out, but as time passed I became more sociable and company-seeking. As I prepare to enter into my final undergraduate semester, I want to reclaim some of this; I do not want to become a recluse, but I want to set aside time when I can be alone.

Perhaps I am not ready to pray yet, but I want to at least remember once again what it was like to be unencumbered by the distractions of the world.

* * *

Yet it is not (it seems to me) by Painting that Photography touches art, but by Theatre.

-- Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New set of links added

I've added a new set of links entitled 'Aperture' to the column on the right of this page. These are some photographers and photography resources I find myself coming back to time and again. They're worth a look if you're interested in photography.

Abhijit Nandi was last year's Chartered Institute of Water and Environment Management (CIWEM) Photographer of the Year. His pictures are exceptionally evocative of the culture of his homeland, India, in all its colour and ruggedness.

Andy Rouse, arguably the UK's greatest wildlife photographer. One of his most recent grand success was a portfolio on the Emperor Penguins.

Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer. I'd say his greatest feat was climbing all those mountains, lugging his large-format camera and tripod (no lightweight carbon-fibre stuff in those days) along.

Eric Chan, Taiwan-trained Malaysian photographer. One of the few people around with a real grasp of traditional black-and-white technique, and provides developing, printing and film supply services. Based in Bukit Jalil.

Eric Peris, legendary Malaysian art photographer. His seemingly simple and disarming photographs are full of nuances that effortlessly bring places and scenes to life.

Frans Lanting, wildlife photographer. With work frequently published in National Geographic, There is probably nearly nothing he hasn't shot.

Galen Rowell, landscape photographer. He went the opposite way from Ansel Adams, picking the lightest equipment so he could undertake long, nearly impossible hikes and trail runs.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the legendary photojournalist who popularised candid photography and the concept of the 'decisive moment'.

Ken Rockwell, landscape photographer and equipment reviewer. Very comprehensive website with lots of information on both digital and film photography.

Shashinki, online store founded and run by Malaysian Koh Kho King. While prices may be a little higher than in stores, this is a great place to get rare pieces of equipment and good second-hand bargains. Excellent service.

Simon Norfolk, landscape photographer. I'm not particularly familiar with his work and style, but his Maya portfolio, shot for National Geographic, sets quite a standard for evocative architectural photography.

Thomas Marent, wildlife photographer. His book 'Rainforest' is about as good as it can possibly get in terms of wildlife. It reignited my love for the natural environment, and whenever I feel like quitting Ecology, reading it is extremely therapeutic.

Victor Chin, Eric Peris's good friend and long-time collaborator on many projects. Like Peris, he initially trained as a painter/artist, and this comes across very much in his photography. Frequently photographs the disabled, offering a unique and inspiring window on their very busy and productive world.

Yousuf Karsh, legendary portraitist. Has photographed the who's who of the 20th Century, including Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Fidel Castro, Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein. It is said that "those who dream of immortality call for Karsh of Ottawa." I don't know if he's photographed Adolf Hitler, though.

Track Talk

(Train interior by Chris Guillebeau)

"Sir, one question," said the clerk at my hotel in Baku, whom I'd recruited to write Baku-Tbilisi, one-way, second class for me in the local language of Azeri. "Why do you want to take the train? It's not very nice."

Why take the train? Good question. First, I knew it would be a highly authentic way to get around the Caucasus, and also a good counterpoint to the world of Star Alliance flights that brought me from Portland to Baku, via Denver and Frankfurt. Second, I like overland travel, so why not go all-out? Fifteen hours can't be that bad, and the unpredictability and raw element of train travel adds an edginess that I haven't had recently.

--Chris Guillebeau, on taking the train from Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Read more here.

* * *

On another note, what comes to your mind when you see the phrase 'colon pee'?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Disney is back!

Finally! Signs that the great master of animation and storytelling is back from stasis.

I grew up on Disney movies, classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Lion King, to name a few.

Then in recent years Disney faded into near oblivion, kept afloat by its association with Pixar and summer blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Watching the trailers of these movies, I think Disney may be in for a very good year ahead. And it looks like they're doing what they've always done best: putting creative, fresh spins on old classics.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future and Forrest Gump) continues to use the lukewarmly received performance capture technology to turn living actors into 3D characters.

But cinematographically it looks triumphant. And I've heard that it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic; that's good since I love Dickens's story!

Long-time collaborator Alan Silvestri returns to provide the music; if Forrest Gump is anything to go by, the soundtrack should be just as good, if not better, than the movie itself.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, in a movie directed by... who else but Tim Burton? (I won't be surprised if Danny Elfman is back as the music composer for this film.)

Disney is promoting this as a 3D movie, just as it is doing for A Christmas Carol. But at least both stories have a reasonable claim to artistic licence in the design department; Dickens and Lewis Carroll created these characters to be larger than life and beyond normal imagination. Disney is simply fleshing them out, just as it has done superbly with everything from Cinderella's pumpkin to the interpretations of classical masterpieces in Fantasia.

Any one of the names in Alice in Wonderland would be reason enough to watch it when it comes out. But the most interesting part of the story is perhaps one Lewis Carroll did not foresee, but would probably accept as a very logical follow-up: 19-year-old Alice returns to Wonderland.

I say he would probably accept it because, although Alice was written for a little girl, Carroll's masterpiece appealed, and continues to appeal, to much older 'children' as well. As C.S. Lewis once said, a good children's story is one you never outgrow.

It's great to see a sequel with a smart idea for a change; let's hope the movie lives up to the hype!

Along the lines of characters ageing, Andy is now about to enter college. This is the moment everyone was talking about in Toy Story 2, when Andy would be too old to play with his toys.

So what happens next? I must admit I was a little alarmed when I heard there would be a sequel to Toy Story 2. Disney-Pixar have never resurrected any of their characters except these toys, and common wisdom dictates that a movie should not have too many sequels (think Sylvester Stallone's Rocky) lest they be the undoing of a great work.

However, I remain hopeful. Toy Story redefined a lot of things, and did it remarkably well; Toy Story 2 performed exceptionally well for a sequel. On top of that, the people in Pixar have proven themselves time and again, and I don't think there's any reason to doubt their judgement here.

3D remains, in my opinion, very much a marketing gimmick, very much like Face Detection technology in cameras, but so long as they continue to release 'plain' 2D versions, I wouldn't be too worried.

At any rate, these movies exude a certain freshness that's been missing from animation in a very long time, and I shall indeed look forward to watching them.

Of IKEA, Sisters and Frogs

Exams ended today for me. Went for a late lunch with Fit, Zilah and Ruth. The rains are torrential these days.

IKEA dinner, as promised, with Mandy, Louise, Moon, Elensha and her sister Eleanor.

A linguist, and ecologist, and the things you can do with cutlery.

Au revoir, Louise.

899 in Cantonese sounds like, 'prosper sufficiently'. May it be a most blessed trip, a blast of a birthday and a wonderful Christmas over there!

A frog in the Rimba Ilmu pond. Brings back memories of last semester; one of the greatest challenges in my course so far, and one of those things that really set the tone for everything from then on.

When you come back, Loo, we will all go for a walk in Rimba Ilmu ya!