Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Freedom of time

"Sometimes it's in making time that you are free." - Shannon Wong.

Most profound statement I've heard in some time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts around Easter

There is a poignant scene in the movie Invictus, in which Matt Damon's character, Springboks captain François Pienaar, stares meditatively out a hotel window the night before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.

His girlfriend walks up to him and asks if he's thinking about the match.

He replies, "Oh, tomorrow's match is taken care of, one way or another. I was thinking about how you spend thirty years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put you in."

Those who are awed, and rightfully so, by Nelson Mandela, should also consider Jesus Christ.

I was thinking of the Communion liturgy which reads, "Jesus Christ, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread..."

And when I think about it, I cannot help noticing the incongruity of that word: betrayed. To be betrayed, I would think, implies being compromised, being backstabbed. But Jesus, being all-knowing, could not have been backstabbed, could he?

The very fact that he dipped the bread and gave it to Judas indicated who was truly in charge of the situation.

So Jesus Christ, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread and gave it to his disciples. Jesus Christ waited for his enemies and accusers and traitors to come, that he might forgive them. He endured the cross that the gates of Hell might not prevail.

In the movie, Mandela says, "Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon."

Let us remember this as we approach Easter.

* * *

Early this year, in January, I saw this in front of the college bathroom:

It has been ages since I saw an earwig scuttling across the floor. We used to have many of them at home back when I was younger. Maybe it was because of the nice patch of grass we had in the garden; when we had most of the garden tiled, there were fewer insects at home.

I shall make sure my house has a generous garden next time.

As I think about all this, I ask myself; is it possible to start again, to try again, to see everything through the eyes of a child?

* * *

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will (AT)rejoice in the God of my salvation.

--Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NASB)

Dear Hyma, get well soon!

* * *

George is in love...

With photography!

Well, maybe not quite in over his head yet, but he was tinkering with my D50 after the PKV production An Easter Thingy concluded on Thursday night, and fell in love immediately with the 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Supper at Devi's Corner in Bangsar mainly revolved around the camera. Photos that follow are by George unless noted otherwise.

Alan, with a characteristic look on his face.

Tea: make of it what you will.

Julian's hair on fire.

He and George staged the shot which arguably became the highlight of the night.

I like how the orange out-of-focus points of light in the background match Rachael's T-shirt.

And subtly, in the background--maybe it's just me--the equally out-of-focus pole looks like a cross.

Desktop wallpaper, by George.

I think I can never look at a zebra crossing and not think of Abbey Road.

This is my take on it, in the heart of Telawiville.

Emily Chow, soprano extraordinaire. George finally nailed it after a night of trying.

Emily, if you ever read this, let me tell you that you look good in photos. Don't be so shy!

* * *

The next day, George, Adrian, Chian Ming and I headed to Kampong Attap for their legendary nasi kandar. It was a great way to end an unforgettable week.

All following pictures by George.

Preparation of rice.

Waiting for rice.

Chian Ming.

Adrian and the leaves.

Artistically, George is still a Sharpies man more than anything else, but who knows?


Friday, March 19, 2010


I find the words of the prophet Isaiah ringing, even as we draw nearer to Easter.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"

And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

He said, "Go and tell this people:

'Be ever hearing, but never understanding.'

'Be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

"Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."

He who has ears, let him hear.

* * *

First picture taken at the ISB, the morning I realised my Bible was missing.

Second picture taken near the Damansara Utama food centre, after supper a few days before Kaun's campaign.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Table space;
Not quite enough
We wait in vain.

Stable pace;
A diamond in the rough
Dancing in the rain.

Beat places;
So you think you're tough?
Think again.

Pastel beca;
For all the things you love
Have rent your heart in twain.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Love is


Thursday, March 11, 2010

An evening with the dandelions

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow

~ Casting Crowns, 'Who Am I'

Dandelions are in full bloom across campus, it seems. Andrew says it's because of the clement weather.

Prior to Plant Diseases lab on Tuesday, I'd parked my car right in front of a dandelion plant growing beside a drain near the Zoo Museum. I decided to return after lab to shoot it.

Some of the results look as if they're waiting to climb up on one of my walls (real walls, not the Facebook imitations), nested securely in frames.

I like how the fragile dandelion stands out against the dark, coarsely-textured wall.

A square, close-up crop of the first image.

Dandelion flowers. They are practically clumps of naked seeds with fine hairs at one end, waiting to be dispersed by the wind.

I was pleasantly surprised to spot other forms of life on the little plant, such as this spider.

There was also a caterpillar on the dandelion.

Dandelion buds. I like the pseudo-soft focus effect.

The photographer in action.

As I drove up past the Zoo Museum that evening, I met Dr Sase, and over the one hour of shooting I crossed paths with Prof Sofian's Chen and Weng, Pn Yati, and Dr Azidah.

There were also several pesky mosquitoes, but photographers on a subject (like dogs on a scent) are usually oblivious to such distractions.

* * *

Tech details:

D50 digital SLR
105mm f/2.5 AI-s manual focus lens
+4 close-up filter
SB-600 flash unit
Cheap plastic tripod
Phottix Tetra remote flash system

Gorillapod and P5000 digital camera for the last shot

Because I used a manual lens, the D50 could not register any information except shutter speed, which typically ranged between 1/250 sec and 1/500 sec, with a few at 1/125 sec. The 1/500 sec maximum flash-sync speed is one of the reasons why the D50 is superior to the D3, and in fact why Nikon is superior to Canon.

I generally used apertures between f/5.6 and f/11, with perhaps a few at f/16; a combination of flash and fast shutter speeds accentuated the short depth-of-field, and also produced the black background in some of the pictures.

All the shots were manually focused, partly because I used a manual lens, but also because it is normal to focus macro shots manually.

If you look too closely, there's some chromatic aberration (rainbow effect because of imperfect lens glass), but then again: pictures are more than mere pixels, and... nobody ever stares that close.

* * *

p.s. I just noticed this morning that the sun is brilliant at 8.00 a.m. in college. Must get to work on that sometime.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


One year ago, I took my newly 'acquired' Nikon FM10 on a test drive on a shores of Cape Rachado, Port Dickson.

It was my first time using a fully manual camera, and I didn't have batteries for the meter then. I had to rely on the estimates suggested on the box of the six-year expired Kodak Elitechrome slide film I shot that day.

The results were near-abysmal, probably reflecting the bad conditions in which the film was stored over the years. However, upon conversion to black-and-white, I discovered a set of photographs boasting a range of tones hitherto unknown, and found that it wasn't quite that difficult to focus manually after all. To crown it off, every shot was perfectly exposed, and mind you, this was sans meter:

(Come to think of it actually, the slide photographs look as if they were cross-processed.)

One year ago, it was exactly what I needed to rejuvenate the rather jaded photographer within. The rest, as far as film and that FM10 is concerned, is history.

* * *

Late last month, Mich lent me her Holga. I'd wanted to see how far I could go with it.

There was no better time and place, I thought, than this year's Invertebrate Biology field trip on 28 Feb, to test the camera. And so I returned to Cape Rachado, this time with my juniors. On the trip, I was part tourist, part helper for (the now) Dr Wong Wey Lim, and part ISB support staff.

Ecology girls: Audrey, Meng Li and Joanne.

I photographed this on the Seaweed and Ecophysiology of Marine Organisms field trip to the same place last year. Am including it in this entry as I think it fits the overall mood.

(This particular photograph, however, was not taken at the Blue Lagoon bay of Cape Rachado itself, but on a stretch of shoreline in an adjacent bay.)

Back to the Holga...

Pneumatophores (breathing roots) of the Avicennia or Sonneratia mangrove trees.

Barnacles on a rock.

The legendary Pak Haji demostrates the method of chiselling open rocks to find molluscs hiding within.

This sand sculpture looks very much like a barnacle with its fanlike cirri (legs) sweeping the water for food!

* * *

It was also Chap Goh Meh (the Chinese equivalent of 'Valentine's Day'), and on my way back from buying a spare torch battery and some distilled water from Jaya One, I saw one of the most beautiful moons I'd ever seen. It was full, large and orange, and hung low over KFC as I descended the flyover leading back to campus.

Somewhat exhausted from the field trip, and night frogging ahead notwithstanding, I decided there would be scarcely a better way to finish the last frame on the roll of Fuji Pro 400H film.

I grabbed my tripod and rushed to the Varsity Lake, hoping that the view across the lake at night would be as splendid as it often is. I made a 20-second-long (thereabouts) exposure, but, due to an unreasonable (in retrospect) fear that the exposure failed, I reset the camera on the tripod and exposed it a further five to eight seconds.

As a result, the final image is actually a 'double image' of sorts, with the objects and lights somewhat out of alignment.

Nonetheless, "it was (you may say) satisfactory."

* * *

It was a decent set of 12 photos, on the whole. While I was generally satisfied with the service provided by YS Photo (SS2), I don't think the RM15 I paid for scanning to JPEG was entirely worth it. They did not remove the dust on the surface of the negatives before scanning, and now I have digital files with white strands of hairlike dust on them.

At least dust on negatives can be removed, and the pictures scanned again. Dust on digital sensors spell certain doom. Even when the dust is 'removed' using Photoshop, the area below the dust is lost forever; cloning may work for flat areas like sky, but what if the dust happened to fall on a portion of text, or a person's eye?

Digital is convenient and its potential is nearly limitless, but for photographs that really matter, film has always been the way to go. The Holga uses medium-format film, which is nearly as large as some digital cameras; imagine the kind of detail that can be captured on a 'sensor' (in digi-speak) that large!

Thanks, Mich!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Two Thirds

Walking down the hill,
It was as I remembered
You descending the stairs,
Sitting at the gazebo
Till the night ran out of time.

Alone against the lashing wind
You tear me down the middle,
Staring out the window
While I stand here below.

The dinner bell is rung
But I am running late;
The cell phone caller has hung
Up. Dinner can wait.

It's a ball of dancing flowers,
A banquet as much as you can eat--
Stuck somewhere between showers
Of emotion and cold feet.

Divided between hiding in a desert
And drifting down the town river
(If I could be anywhere but here),
Between speech beneath the stars
And silence amongst them.

(Because no sound is heard in space.)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

One side of a TIME magazine envelope

I am not deluded, I am not confused as far as my passions are concerned. How I came to sound so enthusiastic this morning, I have no idea. I am no green activist -- I do not think I have the perseverance to campaign for the things these people do.

Perhaps I am unrealistic, for realistically, how do I find a place where I can develop and pursue my passions free of distractions?

And then there is love. Can I love one who does not share the same beliefs as I do? If indeed we are all destined for the earth, and if our purpose of living is to make this world a better place, are there not many who share this vision? How much more different is the rest of humanity from the fractured souls that constitute the 'church of God'?

But one problem complicates it all: the fine line drawn between talent and calling, or from one to the other. What if one's calling and talents tend in different directions?

We are creatures made of heart and reason; but love and logic are not always in agreement. It may be reasonable to argue that a less desirable path be taken for the greater good of another, like when a mother gives up her job for her children. But what if there are no such variables?

If the individual must decide (all other things being equal) whether to heed what sounds like a calling, or whether to pursue the innermost, truest desires of the heart, what shall the decision be?

"Solitaire's the only game in town
And every road that takes him takes him down."

Is life a stalemate, a deadlock from which there is no escape? Is it foolishness to love one who may never love in return? Is it meaningless for a kite to fly in the breeze, even if it's actually going nowhere?

I want to believe that God does not provide talent that it may atrophy, nor that He allows love to prompt and then request it be denied.

I want to believe in God. I want to believe God.

Help me to believe.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Eight Hundred

This is probably the last photograph I took of my pocket NASB Bible, at the Nipah Bay Villa in Pangkor.

On the morning of 24 January, as I was packing my bag for the trip to Pulau Ketam, I could not find my Bible. I could not recall where I'd last seen it, and over the days that followed I could not locate it either in college or at home.

It is, as far as my search is concerned, lost.

Those of you who have seen that Bible know just how special it is, and how much it meant to me. I acquired it near Christmas 2001, spotting it on a shelf in the Section 14 Glad Sounds, back when it was in Cold Storage.

Over the years, it brought me through practically everything. From SUFES camps to National Service, from being a daily part of my school bag to accompanying me on field trips. It was so small that I almost never travelled anywhere without it.

This was also the Bible that went to all those d'NA reunions and trips across the country.

What made me extremely sad about losing the Bible, however, was the fact that in the few days and weeks preceding its disappearance, my quiet time was terribly out of joint. Losing the Bible was almost as if God were saying, "If you don't read it, you will lose it."

One of those throwing pearls to swine analogies.

Earlier today, I picked up a new Bible from SUFES. A pocket ESV (English Standard Version), because it is not a common translation, firstly, and also because it is quite small and even has a concordance.

I also picked up a copy of the March/April 2010 edition of Every Day with Jesus, the devotional guide that used to be written by Selwyn Hughes until his death in 2006. It still draws upon material from his writings and lectures. I haven't used a devotional guide in ages, and I think my Bible reading is in want of some structure.

I am determined this time not to allow God's Word to sit on my shelf and collect dust.

Maybe because it's Lent. And maybe because Lent is a time to try again.

* * *

Excerpt from T.S. Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday'

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

* * *

Today is also Mrs Chang's 53rd birthday.

When it comes to trying again, I will never forget those later years with her. I started learning the piano when I was five, and stopped for a while when I was ten. Apparently it was because of a particular scale I hated.

Two years later, in the middle of Standard Six, I resumed piano lessons with her. At that time I'd decided not to take the graded exams, but just learn for the fun of it. Eventually, when I was 14 I sat my first exam in five years.

It was in 2003, when I was 16, that everything changed. I paid my first visit to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) with Ming-Shien (also a former student of Mrs Chang's) and my mother. From then on I was a frequent presence at MPO concerts, and they inspired, to no end, a teenager who barely knew what he was doing with the piano.

I learned to appreciate music and the history of its development, developing a taste for Baroque and Modern music alike, and a disdain for the Classical school (I think the wigs had something to do with it). The next three years were an intense time of translating all that input into my writing and playing, and I capped my music studies with a Merit in Grade 8 Practical (ABRSM) and a Distinction in Grade 8 Theory (Trinity).

But it really wasn't about those grades. What I value most about the 14 years I spent, on and off, with Mrs Chang is the fact that, for one, I gained an invaluable friend in her; and acquired an appreciation of music and its endless riches.

So it's really never too late to learn, never too late to try again.

* * *

(This is the 800th post.)