Saturday, October 31, 2009


When black and white shall turn to grey
I wait to fall into the sea another day.

Awake from tearful afternoon naps,
Black eyed blues wondering if this was what you set out to do;
Waiting for the hours to pass,
The evening light throws long shadows against the glass
Of windows painted white and black.

Tea was lovely.
How many pots out of a bag of scented tea?
By three you're drinking water
With a scent of tea.

Seashells and bells, ringing with the echo of the sea:
A belle is a beauty
In shades of green, and white on grey,
With banana butterscotch danishes and scones on a tray,
In memories of the future and visions of the past,
Belle is a beauty.

It will not be done both ways; medium-well is never rare,
So let me go now if you dare to see dreams
Come true before the time is too well done
And the sun has set on the horizon.

Burning bridges with tea lights
With a toast of a glass of fire;
Walking on shards of glass, this is my pyre.
Fare thee well.

In seaweeds lined with barnacles,
In hatred and in love (for what I do not know)
They beckon me to go as far as the distant suns;
As high as the stars, as wide as the ocean.

I wait to drown,
My day is done.

* * *

Visited two new places yesterday, had fun with reflections at both.

Two photographs: four angles on The Bread Shop in Bukit Damansara.

Cristang at Avenue 8 in its own mirror.

* * *

Walk on by, walk on through
Walk till you run and don't look back

I've fallen in love with U2's song 'The Unforgettable Fire'.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A few of my favourite things...

I have been thinking of getting myself a wide-angle lens for the FM10. Not that the 50mm isn't doing a great job; I can make landscape photographs with it effortlessly, and as a matter of fact the black-and-white Pangkor sunset won me first place in a recent environmental photography competition.

No, the wide-angle is for the different perspective; for being able to get closer to the subject while maintaining the background in the frame, and for all those times I'm stuck in a small room or cannot reverse except to certain death.

So, just for fun, I fished out some of my favourite landscapes (place shots as opposed to people shots) to see what sort of focal lengths I used most frequently.

Jetty at Pulau Rawa, off Mersing; May 2007. Shot at 30mm on digital (35mm equivalent: 45mm).

On film this can be achieved with a 50mm lens; no need for wide-angle.

Ruins of St Paul's Hill, Malacca; Dec 2007. 32mm (48mm).

Again, on film this can be achieved with a 50mm lens.

Tomb on St Paul's Hill, Malacca; Dec 2007. 18mm (28mm).

This is what I mean by getting closer to the subject (roots) while keeping the background (ruins) in the frame.

Sky, Cameron Highlands; Dec 2007. 18mm (28mm).

I love this shot. I don't know why I did it, but I pointed the lens upwards and was amazed at the amount of sky I could fit into the frame, somewhat distorting the clouds and the tea fields below.

This, to me, is the point of shooting wide-angle in the first place.

Reading room in Kellie's Castle, Ipoh; Feb 2008. 18mm (28mm).

Another reason for using wide-angles; when the room isn't too large and you can't reverse any more.

Gua Tempurung, outskirts of Ipoh; Feb 2007. 18mm (28mm).

Again, when there's no space to reverse, and when you want to exaggerate perspective.

Old Town, Ipoh; Feb 2007. 28mm (48mm).

Another job for the 50mm; wide-angle unnecessary.

Looks like I tend to use (on digital) 18mm and 30mm thereabouts a lot. Translated into film, these are 28mm and a little wider than 50mm.

Which means a 28mm wide-angle would be just nice. It would serve as an excellent wide-angle on the film camera, and convert to a 42mm slightly-wider-than-normal lens on digital.

I'm also contemplating the 24mm lens, which would be even better for aesthetic purposes, and double as a very usable 35mm on digital. But...

28mm = RM910
24mm = RM1370

That's RM460 of difference, or RM100 per mm!

* * *

On another note, SooT told me today that he recently received a gift of Ilford Delta 100 black-and-white film from a fellow PhD student.

He, Doulos and I are now in pretty much the same boat: one man, one camera, one lens; infite possibilities!

Digital and quality zooms have made everything possible. But here we are, sort-of luddites rowing against the wave of technology...

To be limited by a single focal length.
To not have to worry about zoom; to unleash once again the zooming power of our legs.

To be limited by 36 exposures, between which ISO or colour type cannot be changed.
To not have to worry about colour settings or ISO; to be single-minded, simple-minded and focused.

To be limited by manual focus.
To be free to focus and not be at the mercy of a digital camera's autofocus systems.

Long live photography!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

National Service... in JPEG!

Mum's friend needed some photos of National Service, so I finally did what I said I'd do over two years ago but never got down to doing: I had 11 rolls of NS film scanned. Couldn't find the other two rolls.

The results surprised me: these are low-resolution (about 3 megapixels) scans of negative film, but the sharpness, highlight control and colour rendition is pretty good! Mind you, these were not shot on an SLR or rangefinder, but on a Ricoh compact with a fixed aperture, fixed shutter, fixed focal length (35mm), automatic flash and automatic date imprint.

At the rapelling/abseiling site.

Time-out after some evening activity; it might have been drill practice.

That's me on the flying fox, with Cikgu Zack, an ex-commando, flying backwards in front of me.

One of my favourites. I think it was shot by the guy we called Badang (but I will have to check my NS diaries to be certain).

Digital would have failed miserably. Shutter lag would have resulted in the missing of the moment, while the film camera just fires when its shutter is pressed.

Also, having a real viewfinder (even one that is not through-the-lens) helps the photographer follow movement much more accurately than through an LCD screen.

Morning walk/march from the barracks to the padang kawad.

The early morning mist was lovely; we were surrounded by quite a lot of forest.

Victorians at Kem Pinggiran Pelangi, Muadzam Shah, Pahang.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A different vantage point

I am tired; it's been a tiring day. But there are a few thoughts that I think I ought to write down lest they lose their urgency.

* * *

This morning, I shot the Chinese Cultural Club (CCC) of my college for the third (and most likely last) time. I'd put on my bandanna for the shoot; Andrew and How both agreed that I should do something different, this being the last. But before getting out of the car, I removed the bandanna, deciding instead that I would show up as myself.

Little did I know that indeed I would end up doing something different. I climbed a tree and got bitten by a few kerengga in an attempt to shoot from a fresh angle at the overphotographed UM crest across Dewan Tunku Canselor (DTC).

(Many thanks to Pak Koon, Jun Lee and co. for bringing the two chairs on which I'd at first planned to mount the Gorillapod, as my tripod is with Xiao Lee. And thanks upon thanks to Andrew, Amos, Jimmy, Jee Haw, Jun Lee, Pak Koon and Ri Chian for literally supporting me throughout the challenging shoot!)

(Nikon D50 with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens)

Doing something different can be as simple as taking a group photo... from behind the group.

While almost everyone else walked back to college, I drove. And I realised what it is about walking that I like so much: I like taking in the world around me, feeling the wind and the sun, taking in the sights and sounds and smells all around.

Maybe that is why I don't mind the slow pace (and low 'efficiency') of walking.

Ghosts have all the time in the world, another pleasure of long-distance aimlessness - travelling at half speed on slow trains and procrastinating.

~ from
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux

How true of local trains! And perhaps precisely why I like them so much.

* * *

(Photo from here)

When I got back today, Mum showed me a flyer she picked up from Bangsar Shopping Centre. Apparently Uncle Hui is still there, and now he even his own lot! (Prior to this he operated from a small 'studio' in Kidsport BSC.)

And now he even has a blog! Click

This is the man who, nearly ten years ago, started teaching watercolour technique to a 12-year-old who knew nothing about painting. That boy is still learning, and discovering more and more each day just how much those formative years continue to shape his artistic style and vision.

I really must pay Uncle Hui a visit one of these days.

* * *

While in Elensha's car, driving into IKEA, I flipped through the June '09 issue of August Man (which I assume belongs to her sister).

There was a small caption which pronounced, among other things;

The digital revolution has made it possible for anyone to take good pics. Better cameras to come can only mean a greater levelling of the field.

And then I remembered something I was thinking earlier in the day, after editing some of the photos from the morning's shoot. Yes, digital has levelled the field; it has also levelled images.

On the one hand, it is truly difficult to screw up with digital. I can pull a lot of detail out of seemingly underexposed images. Yet it also seems that digital has brought the standard down; we are far too easily satisfied. Or perhaps our concept and idea of photography has been redefined by digital photography.

When we returned from Putrajaya last Sunday, Thary said something that got me thinking; "Digital photographs all look the same." I don't exactly know what he meant by that, but I think it has something to do with the character of digital photographs. In some ways, it is easier to say of digital photos than of film ones, "Once you've seen one, you've seen them all."

(Ilford Delta 100)

Film, I feel, was designed for outstanding performance within narrow ranges. Slide film like Fujichrome Velvia (ISO 50) and Provia (ISO 100) are quite impractical to shoot with small-aperture lenses.

In those days photography was about fine-grain film (for clarity and definition) and bright lenses (for ease of composition and versatility in various lighting conditions). There was also of course, coarse-grain film (especially black-and-whites), which imparted an artistic sketch/canvas-like texture. These days, photography is about small-aperture (dim) lenses compensated for with anti-shake functions and relatively clean high ISOs.

But as anyone who has shot slide film will know, there is something about nailing a shot that gives such immense satisfaction no digital experience can provide.

* * *

Mum shared with me just now the story of a pastor, trained as a medical doctor, who witnessed the healing power of God in his ministry.

On one occasion, he was treating an elderly woman who was suffering from diabetes (among other things). One night, with the members of the family standing around the woman, her daughter told the doctor that her mother was having nightmares, from which she would awake in fits of violence.

So the daughter asked the doctor if there was any cure for this. And the doctor answered, prayer. The daughter then said, alright, pray. The doctor, not knowing what he'd gotten himself into, walked over to the woman and prayed for her. The family was Chinese-speaking, but the doctor himself knew little Chinese. In addition to praying in tongues, he prayed in broken Chinese.

When he finished, the daughter asked, is that all? He said, yes. She asked him to return the next day. He returned to his car, trembling; he did not know what he would do if he returned the next day and there was no improvement. But he prayed, and he returned the next day.

(You know how the story ends.)

He returned, and lo and behold, the family reported that the night before, the woman did not awake to fits of violence. Eventually the whole family became Christians, and at the woman's funeral the doctor managed to preach to all the residents in the area, for the family wanted everyone to know they were Christians.

As I heard this account, I remembered Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Mincaye and the missionaries of Operation Auca. I remembered the early disciples of Jesus Christ.

Where did the power of their ministry come from? I think it came from the fact that they were more afraid than we would like to think; afraid enough that God's courage could truly indwell them. Doubtful enough to trust a God who is more often mysterious than lucid.

As I think about them, I want to make my life count. I want to make every moment count. I thought about Michael Jackson and Barack Obama. It seems many are surprised by Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize win; How commented that Michael Jackson is probably more deserving, having done in the way of peace and international relations what countless generations of politicians have tried in vain to do.

I know God is waiting for me to get up, leave my nets by the water's edge, climb out of the boat and follow Him.

Monday, October 12, 2009

BLC Mooncake Festival... and the RAW difference

It's not every day that a church hosts a Mooncake Festival celebration service. And especially since it would also be the last service at BLC's premises in Bangsar before the renovation, I decided I would be there, having missed the last Sunday service the weekend before.

No lengthy reflections on the festival, or the service, or anything. Just pictures this time around.

It was a night of sandiwara, in front of a simple wooden cross with lightbulbs hanging from it. (Think Fragments!)

The audience. Almost as if they were congregated around a fire in the middle of the woods.

Come to think of it, we really can get lost even in urban jungles, no? There are no tigers to maul us or rivers to drown us, but it's so easy to lose one's soul; to lose, not our path on the trail, but our direction in life.

So it really was something to gather around a fire in the middle of the jungle.

Reverend Naomi serving tea with stories.

Wan Ching at the titbits table.

I think Jesus knew the Chinese would read the Bible someday. That's why he said;

"I have come that you may have life, and life to the fu."

Final group photo at The Father's House.

(Thanks, Doulos, for the Manfrotto!)

I think of all the things I will miss, I will miss the trademark BLC cross the most.

Esther was there that night, too.

Shooting the altar with filtered light; a burst of red light on top, and blue below.

You can do this with Photoshop, but it's so much easier (not to mention more fun) playing with the light itself!

I will miss the cross window too. It was at this cross that I had a photo of myself and Sivin taken, shortly before I left for National Service.

It remains, for me, a commissioning cross of sorts, for there has been no day when BLC's theme verse, "As the Father has sent Me, I send you," rang truer.

So on Mooncake night, I set the camera for a 30-second exposure, ran outside like there was no tomorrow, and fired multiple bursts of light from my flash unit through the window.

Farewell, The Father's House, for now.

We will see you again!

* * *

Anyway, on another note, Doulos and I have been talking about JPG vs RAW file formats recently. He told me he usually shoots RAW, and I told him I'd given up on RAW ages ago, mainly because of the inconvenience of storing large files on my puny hard drive.

On that night, I shot a few RAW+JPG pictures and, looking at them in the computer, there is a difference.

Consider this picture of Esther:

This is a 100% crop from the original JPG file:

And this is a 100% crop from the original RAW file:

Notice that the RAW is a lot noisier, but the JPG's apparent smoothness is actually a loss of detail, plus a lot of digital smudging over.

Noise aside, the RAW image is more pleasant and 'real'.

But RAW presents a host of problems, one of which is compatibility. I could not open Doulos's Nikon D60 RAW files on Capture NX because they require updated firmware. And updates are a hassle, not to mention updates are different from brand to brand of camera (e.g. Nikon vs Canon), and brand to brand of software (e.g. Photoshop vs Capture)

The other troublesome thing about RAW is that it takes quite some time sitting in front of the computer to get all the edits right. Maybe some graphic designers and computer geeks like that, but people like myself would rather spend that time doing somthing more productive, like actually taking photos or travelling or writing.

Above all, none of us really makes prints larger than 8R or 11R, so the weaknesses of JPG don't really show. If you really want poster-size prints with fantastic definition, shoot film!

Consider this photograph of Sivin and our German guests.

It was shot on Ilford XP2 Super, which is a chromogenic black-and-white film, which means it can be processed using the normal C-41 process used for the good old print film readily available over the counter at any photo shop.

Forget the firmware-requiring Photoshop, chromogenic films can be processed at any 'photo shop' (except those uber-digital ones in shopping malls). Talk about ultimate compatibility!

The white spots were due to the mistakes by the guy processing my film; this is why photographers usually develop their own black-and-whites. But the 'mistakes' actually seem to add to the festive mood: they look a bit like confetti to me. ;-)

With digital, it's much harder to screw up in style!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Keep the fire burning

"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him."

~ Jesus of Nazareth

* * *

This entry is for Ruth, Wani, Poven, Norman, Hanim, Adam, Shahid and the brothers and sisters at 8th.

May there always be light for the path as you journey through University.

It is for the members of Operation Resurrection.

The Light is coming!

This entry is for Timothy, Fitrah, Zilah, Bee San and Amos.

Thanks for keeping my fire burning.

It is for Xin Min, Annabelle, Elensha, Pak Koon, Ri Chian, Juin, Louise, Ah Chai and the great extended family at 3rd, and for Khairul Anwar who has moved to 8th.

Thanks for the most meaningful semester in College thus far... and it's not over yet!

* * *

"Though the lamps are different, the light is the same."

~ Rabindranath Tagore, quoted at the end of Yasmin Ahmad's Gubra.

Face to Face
From Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

Day after day, O lord of my life,
Shall I stand before thee face to face.
With folded hands, O lord of all worlds,
Shall I stand before thee face to face.

Under thy great sky in solitude and silence,
With humble heart shall I stand before thee face to face.

In this laborious world of thine, tumultuous with toil
And with struggle, among hurrying crowds
Shall I stand before thee face to face.

And when my work shall be done in this world,
O King of kings, alone and speechless
Shall I stand before thee face to face.

* * *

At BLC's first service at the Luther Centre on 4 October, David Pritchard likened God to an adult playing peek-a-boo with a child. Like Aslan playing hide-and-seek.

Be always prepared, for you know not when He will come.

Keep our fire burning till You come again, like a thief in the night.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

When the World Wants a Slice of You

For Ruth.

Sixo'clock in the morning
Another day is dawning
And the world wants a slice of you.

With eager eyesit prowls around
On quiet feet. It makes no sound
Until it catches you unawares
And secures your defeat.

In this world it's free for all--
Just be careful not to slip and fall
When balancing too much on your plate.
It isn't destiny, it isn't fate--you'll be surprised
How much difference our choices make.

Split the cake, but be sure
There's enough for all to eat;
The lure of desire tempered by
The stress of demands you'll have to meet
Should help you gauge how much of cake
You really have, and how much of it
You will have left (if at all).

The roads diverge; there will be some paths
You cannot tread.
(This, I know you dread,
For the people that you meet
Like a thousand rising suns
Make you want to lift your feet,
And in enthrallment dance.

True, man was made to conquer
That his boundaries may know no end,
But the furthest frontier
Was in fact the first, though we tend
To forget, and hide upon the shelf
The hardest adversary, that is, the self.

Red holidays, green terms and amber junctions--
Feats worthy of honourable mention;
To balance committee and national convention
And dance on one leg in a floodlit hall
With eyes waiting for the rise or fall
And hands juggling four basketballs.

It is time for the curtain call
Will it rhyme a little, or not at all?

* * *

Begun, 30 Sept, 6.00 a.m., McD's Section 14.
Completed, 3 October, 10.45 a.m., on the road to Sungkai.

With some editing prior to posting.

(Trivia: the second-last stanza, although with explicit reference to another person, is perhaps the truest stanza describing implicitly a lot of what I'm going through.)

September Stopover

The title for this entry came on the bus to Sungkai yesterday. And when I looked through the photos, the phrase 'catching up' suggested itself immediately.


4th Sept: Miss Shanti turned 47! She treated me and Ruth to lunch at Canteen opposite Central Market. Lovely place, and a lovely figure on the bill. ;-)

(Michelle likes this picture.)

4th: Lydia shares the same birthday as Miss Shanti. Ruth and I got back in time for the post-PKV 'celebration'.

Everyone wants a piece of Lydia!

5th: Rebecca Choy's birthday was celebrated by the Boys' Brigade of the First Baptist Church. It was great catching up with Alicia after these couple of years since I bumped into her in my first semester.

Buka puasa

9th: My classmates and I stormed Hartz Chicken Buffet in Sunway Pyramid. It was a very special night, and among other things I learnt not to eat too much jelly and drink too much water at once.

Great company, good food, and a one-of-a-kind quote on the wall. What more could one ask for?

10th: The staff at Sahur's Café work very hard. The place doesn't close during buka puasa as many other places in UM do; instead, the staff take a break at 8-something to break fast, and I think they rotate. But they are always nearby in case an order comes along.

15th: Dinner with the Vice Chancellor and student leaders of the University.

Old friends and new

8th: Soo Tian, Lydia and Doulos. Long live film!

(This, and Miss Shanti's picture above, were shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 with a Nikon FM10 and 50mm f1.8 lens. Soo Tian's Zenit 19 should be arriving soon, and Doulos has entered the fray with an FM2.)

15th: Finally, I meet the famous Andrew Loh. And I haven't seen Esther in ages!

18th: The return to Mapley (Selera Jaya 223), featuring Kaun, Hyma, Ruth C and George.

22nd: Visited Ida in Kajang with Thary, after the discussion with Di Kor Tune. It was a very nice way to spend three hours of an evening, although our conversation reeked of ecological tones all the way through!

More here.

23rd: Chili's with Miss Shanti, Sui-Jon, Danial and Amy, and Aunty Agnes and Uncle Peter. Jon Siao failed to turn up and thus owes us all a round of drinks.

It was really something, catching up not just with each other but also with the old hangout, Bangsar Shopping Centre, in its new incarnation. Now if only I can find photos of the old Concierge area!

Speaking of new incarnations, I came across Austin Chase (the café) at The Gardens recently. We used to have many debate discussions at the BSC outlet, and then at some point in closed down.

On another note, shortly before dinner I picked up Paul Theroux's book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star from Times. For what it's worth, I still think Times stocks a great collection of thought-provoking books; what it lacks in volume it makes up for in substance. Anyway, I can't recall where I'd come across Paul Theroux before, but the book's premise generated enough interest for me to fork out RM50+.

A couple of decades ago, he journeyed from Europe all over Asia and told the story in The Great Railway Bazaar. Recently, he undertook that same journey again and writes about the changes in this new book.

Along the way

7th: Thary and I were very fascinated by this polychaete worm we found amidst the seaweed we brought back from the Cape Rachado field trip. We spent quite a bit of time during practical class chasing it under the microscope before bringing it over to Dr Sase for some discussion.

27th: Outing with Tim.

I'm impressed by IKEA, and how they make the customer responsible for a lot of things, including clearing the plates, cups and cutlery after using them at the café. Three words come to mind: ownership, responsibility, sustainability.

And then there's us Malaysians and the 'someone else will do it' mentality.

* * *

A thought: ecologists vs. conservationists.

The latter are crazy, calling for total protection. 100 million years from now, man-made plantations will be fossilised treasures.

So why bother saving the world? It survived the giant meteorite and the Ice Age, to name a few. If history teaches us anything, the planet will survive the Human Age also.

Of course, we won't lah.

(By the way, strictly speaking I am NOT an ecologist; my interests lie in conservation, not merely management.)

* * *

Sept 29, upon entering room SB.4 for the first Ecophysiology of Marine Organisms class with Prof Phang...

Ben: I'm allergic to mothballs.

Thary: (pause) Come in, sit awhile, make yourself comfortable.