In 2003, a fledgling band called Casting Crowns released a song called 'Who Am I?'
In 2008, a few fledgling Christian undergraduates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, performed that song at a Christian Fellowship meeting.
At that time I recorded it at a low-definition setting on my camera, just for fun. But now, some 17 months later, looking back at the video really makes me think a lot about how time changes us.
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Who Am I? Sung by members of Persaudaraan Kristian Varsiti UM
Who am I? That the Lord of all the earth, Would care to know my name, Would care to feel my hurt.
Who am I? That the bright and morning star, Would choose to light the way, For my ever wandering heart.
Who am I? That the eyes that see my sin Would look on me with love And watch me rise again.
Who am I? That the voice that calmed the sea, Would call out through the rain, And calm the storm in me.
Not because of who I am, But because of what you've done. Not because of what I've done, But because of who you are.
I am a flower quickly fading, Here today and gone tomorrow, A wave tossed in the ocean, A vapor in the wind. Still you hear me when I'm calling, Lord, you catch me when I'm falling, And you've told me who I am. I am yours.
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I am a flower quickly fading, Here today and gone tomorrow.
Here's to the PKV seniors who have graduated over the years, those of you who were 'here today and gone tomorrow' in the short span of time we spend in a place called university.
Your effort and ministry were not in vain. Praise God.
I cannot remember how long ago it was since I had this much fun with the PKVians, but this year's Convo Celebration reminded me that I was once a very enthusiastic and energetic junior. It was nice to step into those shoes once again.
Throughout Convo, I realise I ate very little, yet I found incredible strength for the week (or for the weak, heheheh). It was as if over those few days I drew my strength from a source outside of food; almost as if I was fuelled almost entirely by the spirit of fun and celebration.
And then came the PKV Convo Dinner. Last year Kaun and I brought LEGO Duplo blocks. This year, George went for those pelita lights.
What did I bring? I brought the kerosene.
And as I thought about it, I recalled the song 'Kerosene' by Fallen Leaves, James Tan's band:
Now once again it's time to decide Who I need by my side
Kerosene Take care of me Kerosene Don't leave me be
I think the song is about God's light illuminating our way.
But I wasn't prepared for what happened after Convo Dinner. What started out as an attempt to photograph the tent George set up, morphed into a full-fledged photo shoot involving a fire, 'monk' robes, reflections in glass, light painting (perhaps an interpretation of this year's PKV theme!), and wanna-be heroes.
And for the first time in a very long while, I caught a glimpse of the Benjamin who'd gone missing, the Ben who may never come back.
This post is for George, Shannon, Hyma, Ruth, Chian Ming and Divya.
In 1975, Elton John wrote a song called 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' with Bernie Taupin. It was released on the album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
Listening to it the other night, it occurred to me that, in some ways I have yet to fully understand, my life was indeed saved that night. And so I have Captain Fantastic to thank for the song, and I have Captain Awesome and gang to thank for saving my life.
These are some of the most meaningful photos I have taken in a long while, at least to me, and I would like to share them with you. I will let them speak for themselves, narrated only by Bernie Taupin's lyrics.
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Someone Saved My Life Tonight with pictures by Benjamin Ong
When I think of those East End lights, muggy nights The curtains drawn in the little room downstairs
Prima Donna lord you really should have been there Sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair
And it's one more beer and I don't hear you anymore We've all gone crazy lately My friends out there rolling round the basement floor
And someone saved my life tonight sugar bear You almost had your hooks in me didn't you dear
You nearly had me roped and tied Altar-bound, hypnotized Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You're a butterfly And butterflies are free to fly Fly away, high away, bye bye
I never realised the passing hours of evening showers A slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams
I'm strangled by your haunted social scene Just a pawn out-played by a dominating queen
It's four o'clock in the morning Damn it listen to me good I'm sleeping with myself tonight Saved in time, thank God my music's still alive
And I would have walked head on into the deep end of the river Clinging to your stocks and bonds
Paying your H.P. demands forever They're coming in the morning with a truck to take me home
Someone saved my life tonight, someone saved my life tonight Someone saved my life tonight, someone saved my life tonight Someone saved my life tonight So save your strength and run the field you play alone
On 14 and 15 June a few d'NAers took to the sleepy town of Kuala Pilah for a bit of a retreat.
It was fun returning to Seremban (the interchange point between KL and Kuala Pilah) as it was where we all started out in December 2003. Terminal One is still there, and so are the bus station and KTM station. We had no idea the KTM station was so near the Terminal One bus station; there is now an underpass connecting the two.
In many ways the retreat was much more like our early d'NA reunions, rather than the d'NA trips of late. Less adventure and more quiet moments. And, and Alissa puts it, long walks to nowhere. Like along the paddy fields of Alor Star in late 2005, and by the coast of Malacca in early 2006.
Having checked into Desa Inn (great place to stay if you're in Kuala Pilah), we popped over to the Hai Nam restaurant for lunch. My chicken chop was unlike anything I'd ever tasted; the chop itself is wrapped in an egg batter, somewhere in between nasi pattaya and wat tan hor.
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On the afternoon of day one, we paid a visit to the old royal state capital of Sri Menanti. More information here.
I shot black-and-white there, trying out Ilford's HP5 Plus film. It was a tremendous success, and I fell in love with the film the moment I saw the negative on the light table; the tonal range is quite impressive!
Here's an idea: when shooting in uninspiring light (especially in the afternoon), shoot in black-and-white. It does well for old stuff and that 'classic' look, and I thought it would capture the spirit of the Sri Menanti palace well.
We found a bat under the awning of the first floor.
Looking at the garden, out the balcony on the third floor.
Yen at the balcony door. We played around with tones on the computer.
(I think Ilford films generally have a bluish cast; the original is the rightmost picture.)
Royal bed. We went through some gymnastics to remove the 'do not sit' sign for this picture.
An ancient photocopy machine beneath the building adjoining the main palace.
Alissa and the jackfruit tree. I've never seen the fruit touch the ground.
A view of the Minangkabau-style palace from the garden.
David. Joan. Alissa. Yen. Teeming. My take on the Abbey Road concept.
The little island in the park outside the palace grounds. The 'Christmas' lights dangle from the tree as though they were the branches of a willow.
Even the bus stop is Minangkabau-inspired.
We saw sheep along the way.
Back in Kuala Pilah, we had dinner at the pasar malam before taking a walk around town. Apart from the pasar malam, the rest of the town was practically dead.
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Kuala Pilah is a very colourful (and clean) town. So I decided to use Fuji's Velvia 50, widely considered the most saturated slide film. It was my first attempt at Velvia 50, though I'd shot Velvia 100F last year in Penang.
I was out just after sunrise and returned to Desa Inn just as the others were waking. Wanted the morning light and didn't want my photography to interrupt the group's morning activities.
It's still Parti Keadilan Nasional here, it seems; officially it is now Parti Keadilan Rakyat. And colour-wise there is a stunning resemblance to a certain other party.
White window on blue wall.
White wall. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a clean white wall in Kuala Lumpur?
Lots of swifts in town.
They actually heed such signboards in Kuala Pilah. Just look at the street!
Blue window on pink-ish wall.
1927. The year my late kung kung was born.
Bike with umbrella. One of the back alleys in Kuala Pilah.
Do not urinate.
Even the UMNO building in town is Minangkabau-inspired.
Three generations of British Petroleum logos, from the early BP (background), to the BP of the recent past (foreground), and the present-day BHP.
Stained glass windows... in the bathrooms at Desa Inn!
We had lunch on day two at a coffee shop on the outskirts of the main town area. Can't remember what it was called, but it had the word 'Garden' somewhere in its name. We found this 'suicide duck' there.
Group photo, taken opposite the main entrance of Desa Inn.
One of the many jump shots that kept us busy for 45 minutes after we checked out. After a photo-free morning, we went berserk in our final moments at Kuala Pilah.
I like how Yen captions the jumps here, from left: long jump, straight As jump, kung fu kick, diving jump, flying fox. Teeming couldn't jump due to her leg injury.
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When Melody saw the photos from the trip, she said my pictures tend to evoke certain emotions, or that there is some emotion to my pictures; something to that effect.
I can't recall, but I think she said that while looking at that picture of the bicycle with the colourful umbrella.
All in all, it was a good trip. The sharing and prayer session we had at night really brought us back to those old d'NA reu days. It was a time of taking stock of what had been going on in our lives, and looking ahead at some of the things we saw lying before us.
And I don't suppose there was a better place to do all of that than in a small town where, for all the development going on in the regions surrounding it, time seems to have stood still.
My first art exhibition, and now this. It has been a good year so far, artistically.
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A knife; to slit wrists, or to cut card? Rope; to be a line of death, or to hold a montage together? Wire; for suicide, or for sculpting? Formalin; an elixir to the underworld, or a reagent for scientific research?
All we have are tools. But whether we fashion death or life out of them is another story.
Perhaps the gift of words is something I have yet to truly master. For I know that, although my words can win competitions, my words can, and have, injured many over the years.
May God have mercy. May those whom I've injured and hurt and crushed someday be able to forgive me.
I want to thank David for inspiring me with that brush.
I want to thank Ai Wei for walking into that room with me, to write the essay. Seems it went well; we both got more than what we'd ever expected!