Monday, May 31, 2010

Comin' Home 2

I am actually pretty excited now at the thought of going home. The more I think about it the more I become convinced that this move would be for the better good personally as well as professionally. I can also tell that the Singapore office seriously needs it's mojo back. It doesn't hurt that my new T&C are quite agreeable too considering the circumstances.

So much to look forward to. 2 weeks in Alaska and then the move home. However there seems to be two conflicting versions on when I am actually expected back. My future boss tells me that there is no real rush but the MD and HR director says to return after I complete my trip to Alaska. I think it best to heed the instructions of the MD. After all why stay here longer then necessary?

I am disappointed though that I would not be able to travel this region as I wanted to.... Shiraz, Petra, Jerusalem etc. But on the up side, being in Singapore would place me that much closer to places like Bali, Manado, Lembeh and even Ambon to indulge in my main love of scuba diving and underwater photography.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mobbed in Angkor - It all started with an Apple (and a melted Snickers bar)

The one thing that seems to be common in Siem Reap these days are the street touts. They basically consist of very young children of around 7 to 12 years and they can be very persistent as they surround you and break into their chorus of "You buy one for one dollar, ten for one dollar, very nice you see, one two three four five six seven eight nine ten, you buy ten for one dollar, you give your wife you give your girlfriend"...well you get the idea.

As Heisham and I emerged from Preah Khan (I think), we like every other tourist there would naturally be surrounded by these touts and the only reprieve we could look forward to would be to get into our waiting car and drive off. But no, it was not to be. Our driver Sok Pee had decided to play good samaritan to a fellow driver in getting said driver's car jump started... so all Heisham and I could do was sit it out in the car and the kiddie street touts seeing how we weren't going anywhere surrounded the car and began their chorus with renewed vigour! One big mistake we did before getting into the car was giving away our goodies, an apple in Heisham's case and a melted Snicker's bar in mine. I mean hey it wouldnt hurt we'd be far far away before the kids let on to their mates on their good fortune but as mentioned it was not to be.

Our driver Sok Pee at right..

In other words, we became sitting ducks. Some other kids learnt that some goon tourist were giving away their goodies and all wanted in on the action. So hence the chorus surrounding us in the car changed to something like "Apple! Give me Apple! Apple Give me Apple! Apple! Apple!"

Being Mobbed while taking refuge in the car.

At this point I wanted to throttle Sok Pee by the neck. Gosh who would have thought that these kids would be so enthused by a simple apple and it then hit me how underpriviledge these kids must be. After a while I started to feel bad that these kids were still giving it their best shot at getting a sale or an apple out of us and decided to come out of the car to try and chat with them. I found that chatting with them and asking about their lives breaks away their persistent tout personae to reveal them for what they really are - kids with hopes and aspirations like kids everywhere. I think one wanted to be a teacher and like most other kids there, they get pulled in to help out with sales after their schooling in the mornings. Gosh it made me wish I had a sack of apples with me then (Probably not wise as we'd really be swamped then). However before I got the chance to get melancholy about this, the kids sensing that chat time was over launched into their chorus of "You buy one for one dollar, you buy ten for one dollar...etc" all over again. They just don't give up do they? Thankfully by this time, Sok Pee sensibly agreed that said driver's car was a lost cause and we got out of there.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Comin' Home

It seems that our time in Dubai is coming to an end. I am to be posted back to Singapore and can expect to be gone by mid July. Obviously I have mixed feelings about this. I will dearly miss the life style I was able to live whilst in Dubai, the peace and quiet of the apartment, the wonderful view (as above), having a set of wheels, the large amounts of personal space, and friends particularly Kamar and Shireen.
However I am looking forward to a few things like being able to catch up regularly again with Heisham and Beaver, easy access to better dive sites, film developing lab down the street, better access to good food, and joking around in the office.
I think I will do well in Singapore.... I feel like a coiled spring here. I try to learn as much as I can but hardly have the chance to pratice what I learn. I can only hope that what I've learned so far will put me in good stead there.
I guess we all knew this day will come sooner or later...we just didnt expect it to be sooner.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One more month..

It's a month more 'til Alaska. To some extent I feel guilty at going off on leave again after having just returned from a long one (even if half of it was on no pay). But an opportunity to see Alaska is just too good to pass up. However despite any excited anticipations we may have, we do have to mentally prepare ourselves for a few things. Like for example,

1. We cannot expect a comfy hotel room and bed after a very long flight.
2. There will be a lack of privacy on the RV.
3. We will all have to share a bathroom/toilet.
4. We will have to eat meals prepared in the RV's kitchen.
5. We will be on the road often.
6. We may not even feel comfortable on the RV.
7. We may not even get along with Bill's friends or daughter.

Just the same we intend to make the best of every situation. It's not everyday one gets to go to Alaska!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Scuba Diver Australasia Photo Competition

Back in mid April, I finally got around to submitting some of my photos for an underwater photography competition with Scuba Diver Australasia. Half the challenge was actually learning how to tag metadata to a photo and copyrighting it. I think it would be too much to expect my photos to get anywhere within the competition but hey, if one of them gets published as part of a collection of of submitted entries, then it'll be good enough for me! If one gets nominated for an honourable mention then I'll be over the friggin' moon.

Results will be out in July so we shall see what happens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alaska in June?

So my mom's wedding will be in June in Alaska and my brothers are going. There is really nothing major stopping me from going... the 32 hour travel time there is really off putting and the travel time back may even be a whoppin' 43 hours! And there are a total of two layovers involved each way.
But a chance to photograph Alaska is just too good an opportunity to pass up and can only add to my "portfolio".

I have already decided what cameras and lenses to bring.

1. Nikon D700
2. Nikkor 14-42mm f2.8
3. Nikkor 70-200 mm f2.8
4. Nikkor 60mm f2.8 Macro.
5. Leica M8
6. Nokton 35mm f1.2
7. Color Skopar 21mm f4
8. Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f2.8

Heck I can even look forward to renting a car there.

Shooting Underwater

One thing that is pretty evident from looking at underwater photos is how easy it must all seem. I must admit that if creative intent was not an issue, all one has to do was just ensure one's camera and strobes are set up correctly and then fire away.

However there are always a few difficulties encountered when shooting underwater that are easily forgotten when reviewing the best of one's photos in the comfort of one's home.
I mention the "best" because for every one decent photo taken, there are probably five out of focus, disjointed, crap looking ones that accompanies it.
Some of the difficulties I personally have encountered are as follows,
1. Strobes not strong enough (Diffusers left on)
2. Auto Focusing cannot lock on even with bright focus light especially when shooting at a 105mm focal length.
3. Subject keeps moving.
4. Underwater camera rig getting heavier and heavier causing arm to ache.

Take these cute little Hippocampus Denise Pygmy Seahorses for example. I was shooting with a 105mm macro lens, had both strobes on and had a huge focus light on. I guess because the subject itself is ridiculously small, the auto focus function of the lens had a heck of a time locking on to the subject, and in this case I wanted the eyes to be the tack sharp. The seahorse kept moving which didn't help and at this point I will stress the importance of a really good dive guide who understands your needs enough to do what is necessary without going so far as to traumatising or injuring any marine organism for the sake of getting the shot.
And all this while my rig kept getting heavier and heavier and my arm muscles felt close to breaking point!
Hence after careful review of what transpired, I realised that for the really small stuff, one really needs to go manual on the focusing. Secondly having buoyant strobe arms are an absolute must.
These are lessons I hope to build upon as I plan for next year's trip to Bali and Lembeh.
As for the subject itself, I was thrilled to have been able to photography these guys and if diving physiological concerns were not an issue, I could have stayed on for hours.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blogger Font styles - all seven.

Arial - I am great
Courier - I am great
Georgia - I am great
Lucida Grande - I am great
Times - I am great
Trebuchet - I am great
Verdanas - I am great

I wonder how many font styles does wordpress have?

A test session on Blogger.. see how I can be a little more creative with my photo displacement

Monday, April 12, 2010

Orangutan Crab

One interesting critter commonly found in Bunaken or Lembeh is the Orangutan Crab (Achaeus japonicus) probably named so because it has red hair covering it's body like the jungle primate. I never really had much interest in this crab until my last trip in Lembeh when I came across this crab and doing what appears to be picking stuff off it's hairy filaments and eating them...much like picking one's nose and..... oh nevermind.

So I guess here's how it feeds. It uses it's hind legs to secure itself to some sponge or tunicate in the current.

It lets passing debri or stuff get caught in it's red hairy filaments....

It proceeds to pick the stuff out..

and more picking...

Then it feeds on it...yum yum!

For a clearer view of it's red hairy strands here's a shot of it on some sponge coral.

I guess this one wasn't hungry.

An Outlet for my Mind..

I think I understand now why I blog more frequently when I'm in the office. It is the only outlet for my mind.
Back in Singapore there were a number of ways I could seek an outlet. The frequent bouts of good natured jesting in the office certainly was one. Or I could go downstairs for coffee. Lunch times were definitely a great outlet as there were many places to go to within walking distance. And most of all, it was still home.
Over here it's different. Having your boss sit right behind you doesn't help. No large variety of lunch time venues within walking distance and no fun jovial office to joke with. It is mostly all seriousness and when the jokes do come around, it's on another level that I am unaccustomed to.

So hence, I blog.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Photo taking in Angkor and Beng Mealea

When we started off to Siem Reap, I had in mind what I wanted to achieve. I felt that on my last trip, I was content on photographing the ruins and it's beautiful carvings which I guess is a natural thing to do. This time around however, I wanted to photograph the life around the ruins. The people for whom the ruins mean a religious calling, a means of livelihood or simply just a place to play. These are some of what I got...

Most of the above were shot on Fujichrome Velvia 100 with the exception of the guy playing the musical instrument which I believe was done on Kodak Ektachrome E100VS. As you can tell I like high saturation colour slides. Film just has a certain character and quality about it that digital just cannot replicate which will see me along with a lot of other film afficianos using this medium for a long time to come.

God bless film...

Return to Siem Reap

On the 10th of March, Heisham and I went to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor ruins it being a second trip for me. Siem Reap is just the place for taking pictures if you're into travel and photography and I was glad to have a good friend along for the trip.

Angkor Wat at dawn.

Angkor Wat with Heisham in the distance.

However the main purpose for my wanting to visit Siem Reap a second time around was to visit Beng Melea which is a little farther out from Siem Reap in the opposite direction of Angkor Wat. It was a short trip with a full Thursday spent visiting the Angkor ruins and the good part of Friday morning visiting Beng Melea which was about an hour's drive out of Siem Reap.

As I wanted to be a hero, I decided to travel light this time and shoot entirely on film and on two camera bodies mainly a Leica M6 and MP (I left the Lomo LC-A out at the last minute). Everything went into a Think Tank waist pouch and voila! Travel Photography made light and easy.....somewhat. And I must say I found it such a liberating experience unlike the first time I was here with cumbersome slingbag with DSLR and heavy tripod in tow! The waist pouch camera bag concept is just revolutionary as all that weight is transfered to your hips allowing one to traipse gaily over fallen rocks and boulders without much effort like so..

Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea was simply breathtaking. It was a damn good thing we got there early before the tour groups arrived because being there alone, amidst the forested ruins, one can't help but feel a sense of awe and adventure.

The toppled entrance to Beng Mealea.

Unlike the rest of the Angkor ruins which are now mostly well kept and manicured, Beng Mealea has been left to the jungle and it's growth has been allowed free rein. This may not be a bad thing as not only does it add to the "lost quiet jungle ruin" atmosphere but it more importantly provides protection and shade from the sun!

The Beng Mealea experience was simply a beautiful and breathtaking one, that is until the noisy Chinese tourist horde arrived with their shrieks and howls. It all then went downhill from there..

Nevetheless we got the hell outta there...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Last Night at Home

So this it. The last night at home. I guess I had a pretty darn good time at home. Who can complain with over a month spent at home with the first 3 weeks doing what one loves, mainly scuba diving and traveling. I've also managed to get my hands on some much longed for camera bodies such as a Leica MP and while not exactly an M9, an M8. I've had my fair doses of Mos Burger, Thai Express, Sushi Tei, Mee Rebus, Mee Siam and Nasi Padang. I've took in my fill of Orchard Road, took on more of our excellent public transportation and carried out my filial duties to my father while Aileen was back home for her own vacation.
I picked Aileen up this evening from the budget terminal. Although I was glad to see her I could see her sadness at having to leave her children (age 6 and 4) behind and not see them again for the next 2 years.
Anyways Aileen was sweet enough to buy us stuff from the Philippines. She got Norman and me Bermudas and she even knew what size to get us!
After having had to play maid to my father for the last 2 weeks, I have developed a healthy respect for what she has to go through. I am glad though that she has her sister and friends here to come back to so it won't be all that bad. Just like how I always looked forward to going back to Dubai because of my mates.
However this time around, it will not be the same anymore. sigh.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kasawari Lembeh Part VI - The Resort

What can I say about the Kasawari Lembeh resort that hasn't already been said over and over? The only thing I can do now is just rave about it in my own words.

This was our accommodation, villa number 5 nestled among lush well kept greenery. They were kind enough to let me use the same villa again on my second trip 2 weeks after the first.

First off the bits I could really live without. Wonky internet connection, nil mobile phone reception in the villa and frequent power outages. But I don't really see this as too much of a hassle as the main idea is that you are supposed to be out there diving for most of the day.
The bits I like- the main room and bathroom was nice and spacious. And I really mean nice and spacious! Short stays here just do not do it justice.

However it is their camera room that really takes the cake. Nice and spacious with individual workstations with two multipin power sockets for charging batteries and stuff. With the huge group the "Night Safari" experienced, it was still pretty roomy and no one really got into each other's way.

However on my second stay, another diver and myself were the ONLY ones to use the camera room. And I could hardly even see the guy's stuff giving me the impression that I was the only user of the room.

Each workstation had a small laminated numbered card with a clip that you attach to your housing so that when the staff return your kit to the camera room (after rinsing in freshwater) they will return your kit ato your workstation according to it's number. Neat eh?

The infinity pool for you to spend your surface intervals at. Oh the green is not algae but the colour of the tiles. I checked.

The view of the inviting water as you walk out onto the jetty to the dive boat.

Add in great company and there you have it... :)

Kasawari Lembeh Part V - Young 'Uns

While at Lembeh for the "Night Safari" event I had hoped to see acts of predation being carried out among it's critter denizens and even better, capture it on camera. While I did see a long arm octopus reach for and grab some small fish for it's snack, I did not see anything else "exciting" unlike Eugene's fantastic picture of an octopus feeding on a wrasse or Tony Wu's typical Lizardfish having a meal shot.
However I did see a great number of juveniles hanging around which must surely be a good thing for they are the "future".

This baby frogfish is so tiny than it's smaller than a pea! I was really lucky in spotting this one. I was poking around a ball of old fishing net at Jahir when I noticed this minuscule movement of something that resembled a micro mini frogfish. True enough it was a micro mini frogfish! I only managed to get two shots of it before it disappeared back among the bottom debris for which Lembeh is so fabulously famous for.

This juvenile scorpionfish tried "yawning" in a vain attempt to get me to scoot off. It didn't work of course.
This juvenile flamboyant cuttlefish was just the cutest thing ever. It trotted along the seabird on two tentacles to a sort of cadence. It was so darn cute that if one could, one would cuddle it.

The following shots while not taken during the "Night Safari" event are also of juveniles.

Juvenile Frogfish at Jahir.

Juvenile Lionfish at Pante Parigi.

Ah...God bless the juveniles...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Life at Home after the travellin' is over...

So there you have it...both Lembeh Straits dive trips and Siem Reap trip over and done with. And I so recall that euphoria just before the "Night Safari" event at still having a week of diving to go, a photography trip to Angkor and a final trip back to Lembeh to look forward to. On the bright side I still have about 2 more weeks left to go before I head back to Dubai, which is the average time anyway I'd spent at home on leave. On the other hand, the next 2 weeks ain't exactly vacation time for me. Now I do not want to go into detail here as I do not want to be seen as clamoring for pity or good praises but I am beginning to realise that to do what I do now at home will require 3 things.

1. No expectations of thanks or reward.
2. The carrying out of tasks without grudge or complaints.
3. The putting aside of pride and scrounging up of every common sense I can muster.

However whenever I feel myself faltering in these areas I just recall that wonderful feeling of jumping into that cool Lembeh water and descending to a black sandy oasis full of photographic anticipation and excitement....

I guess I've had my fun...and now it's time to "pay".

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kasawari Lembeh Part IV

This last Lembeh trip was centered around night diving hence the name "Night Safari" and was supposedly organised between Tony Wu, Fins Online and Scubacam. However with due respect to the former two, I saw no real involvement from them except for the publicity they provided and when the event finally arrived I found the whole thing so "clique'ish" with the known personalities sticking to their own with a groupie or two thrown in.
In a funny sort of way I did warn myself that my own expectations may not be met on this trip and I guess in a way, my foreboding was all not for naught. However.. I am indeed glad to have met folks whose company I enjoyed tremendously and ended up having a bitchin' that the fishing boat with lights that did jack shit for us, sharing whiskey and talking crap until the whiskey ran out so the trip was not a total loss on the relationship front. Well I guess we can't have everything in life and it's all about managing one's expectations.
However I for one am GLAD to be going back to Kasawari Lembeh this Wednesday for a another quick trip before I pack up my dive kit for good until next year. I have decided to put off diving in the UAE for good. With Heisham gone it just seems pointless to drive 2 hours to the east coast for mediocre diving and then have to lug everything back to Singapore all over again if I plan another trip to Lembeh next year. Nosiree all my dive gear and U/W photography kit will be left at home this time. As such this week's dive trip will be my last for a very long while so I intend to make every full use of it.

Kasawari Lembeh Part III

I will make no secret that I am a fan of Tony Wu's underwater photography so I consider myself lucky to have come across this opportunity to obtain a similar shot of his from his book "Silent Symphony" (with William Tan) of a porcelain crab residing in the anus of a sea cucumber!

Oh how I love to regale to anyone who would listen how I managed to obtain such a shot! The time and patience required staring at the wrong end of a sand gobbler observing the pulsating opening and closing of it's anal opening awaiting the right moment for the little crab to show itself... :)

I call this series "I have Crabs"

Kasawari Lembeh part II

The week in Kasawari Lembeh passed fast and we got to meet some very fun people. Apart from Sanah, there was also David of Scubacam, Heok Hui, Eugene, Colin and Kamarul and we had a barrel of laughs especially when it came taking the piss out of David.
Although I did not get to capture on camera the sort of critter behaviour I was hoping to capture ie: mating, hunting, I did managed to get some pretty cool shots of fish lying in wait for dinner to swim by.

I call this series "Hello..Nice to Eat You"

"Hello...Nice to Eat You" because I imagine a small little fishy ambling along the dark bottom of the substrate in search of food only to come across a pair of eyes shining in the dark looking intently at it and in a split second dash...nothing but darkness as the little fishy contemplates it's new role as nutrient giving food to it's sinister lie in wait predator. Burp.