09 December 2015

Koh Samed - A Sunrise Worth Waking Up For

Date of Exploration : 14 Nov 2015

I love watching sunrises. Because it always feels like the universe is giving us a beautiful gift to start the day. And one of the best places to receive this present is at...

An offshore island in the Gulf of Thailand three hours by car from Bangkok, Koh Samed (also spelt "Ko Samet") offers a front row seat to enjoy an abduction of senses by the theatrics of dawn.

Since a majority of hotel and resort developments are along the east-facing coast of the T-shaped island stretching from Ao Lukyon to the popular Sai Kaew Beach and Ao Vongduen to the more remote Ao Karang ("ao" means "beach" in Thai), catching the sunrise is as simple as heading on to any of the beaches. Some sea facing resorts along this coastal stretch even have the vantage view of the sunrise knocking at their doors.

I had originally planned to catch the sunrise at Ao Lukyon, which is about 20 minutes on foot from Lima Bella Resort located in the Sai Kaew area. But you know how it is with waking up early... it's a tug-of-war between the will to get up and the body's attachment to the bed. By the time my will won the fight, the sky had already taken off its cloak of stars and began putting on the colours for the day.

It was about 6:00am (Thai time) when I left my resort and I knew I wouldn't make it in time to catch the moment when the sun emerges from the horizon if I were to walk to Ao Lukyon. So I decided to go with my instinct and entered the grounds of Baan Supparod Resort, which was opposite the entrance of Lima Bella resort.

I had no idea where I was heading and half expected to be stopped by security holding a super rod (the resort is called "Supparod", get it? Haha. Okay, if you've been reading this blog, you know I'm prone to cheesy jokes with phonetics.). Thankfully, I was allowed in and after a short walk in the direction of the resort's reception, I was by the edge of a rocky coastline in time capture the day's first light!

Front row seats at Baan Supparod Resort's viewing deck to watch nature's colour show. I was happy to find some trees around to serve as foreground to shoot the sunrise.

It would've been perfect to have someone special to share the magic of a sunrise with... but I was watching it alone.

Glad that the tree in the previous photo actually has a companion to watch sunrises and weather storms with.

Ta-da... the sun has risen! I shall christen this pair the Lover Trees (情人树) of Koh Samed :o)

Framing nature with nature.

I see a face with a pointed chin, one eye opened and another closed, and a head of wild hair. Do you?

The sunrise was perfect that day without clouds obscuring the luminous yolk.

All in about 20 minutes, the sunrise was over and a new day of making a difference begins...

07 August 2015

Singapore - SG50 Golden Jubilee

Wherever I may roam
Singapore, you are home.

Here's wishing my beautiful nation, Happy 50th birthday! :o)

13 June 2015

Batam - Casio Nongsa Cycle 2015 with Casio EX-FR10

Date of Cycle : 9 - 10 May 2015

Putting medals to the pedals, the inaugural Casio Nongsa Cycle 2015 rolled off to a brisk start by attracting close to 200 cyclists from around the region to participate in this cycling event. Held in Batam (Riau, Indonesia), the event caters to both competitive racers as well as leisure cycling enthusiasts and spotlights the island's potential as a destination for long-distance pedalling.

Although my speed on the two-wheeler is about as fast as a sloth on its most active day, I decided to accept the invitation by Casio Singapore to take part in the race. Not to win, hell no, not with my 16km/h crawl compared to the 28km/h average speed of pro racers, but to explore the possibilities of going on weekend cycling vacays in Batam and test drive the Casio EX-FR10 action camera.

Trying my best to look the part of a pro racer. Pass or not? Heh heh...

The starting point was at Nongsa Ferry Terminal. Batam island consists of a number of key districts served by a couple of ferry terminals scattered across the island.

The Nongsa district, about an hour by car from the island's busy downtown area known as Batam Center, is a much quieter part of the island with a couple of high-end resorts located here. Nongsa is also where the best beaches on the island can be found.

Being an enthusiast of bicycle touring, I've been thinking of getting an action cam to record my cycling trips but found single-screened cams rather restrictive as I can't see what I'm filming.

Casio EX-FR10 comes with a camera that can be detached from its viewing screen so that I can mount the screen on the bicycle handle and see the footages I'm shooting and make adjustments. The screen also serves as a touchscreen control panel to turn the camera on or off and choose shooting modes such as single photo, video, or time-lapse video. This camera also makes taking selfies easier as I can frame the shot by looking at the detached screen and using it to take a shot remotely. My only grouse is that the screen's luminance is rather low under natural lighting conditions and hard to see.

Getting ready to roll off... this is the only moment I managed to capture the racers behind me because as soon as the starter horn sounded, they zoomed past me and disappeared in the blink of an eye!

But not all who took part in Casio Nongsa Cycle are professional racers. There are other leisure cyclists like me who are in it for the exercise and thrill of a self-powered road trip.

This vehicular bridge straddling an estuary below is found near Nongsa Ferry Terminal and the most scenic stretch of my ride. Scenery-wise, there's not much to see as the 12km cycling route at Nongsa follows a loop from the ferry terminal that passes by a couple of small villages and private resorts.

Compared to the choked roads in Batam Centre, Nongsa's lighter traffic and well-paved roads make for a safer and less stressful cycling experience.

Taking a shot with Casio EX-FR10 with the detached screen and control panel. Recording the journey is definitely much more flexible with this action cam as I can change between photo mode, video mode or shooting time-lapse easily.

This insane upslope gave my eyeballs a heart attack! The toughest section of the entire 12km cycling route is this 1km long steep climb at 70 degrees elevation that seriously burns the thighs and aches the lungs. The tougher the challenge, the greater that sense of achievement in overcoming it. So yeah, I felt great reaching the top!

Then came the realisation that I have to climb this slope 4 more times as I 've signed up for the 60km ride. The route goes in a circle and each loop is 12km so I have to complete 5 rounds to clock 60km. Imagine those who registered for the 120km full marathon! After the initial shock of encountering this monster, it became rather monotonous to climb it but it sure fired up the adrenalin.

After an exhausting 4 hours, I completed my first bike-a-thon challenge! I may be smiling but my ass felt like it was on fire. I guess that's how buns of steel are forged right? LOL.
As this is my first marathon cycling event, I have no basis to gauge the logistics of Casio Nongsa Cycle but I think it was pretty well organised. Hopefully the event will gain traction to feature annually on the region's sporting calendar.

A 2D1N Nongsa Cycle early bird package cost about S$350 per pax (twin share) and includes ferry transfers from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Nongsa Ferry Terminal, bicycle handling, land transfers, hotel stay, race pack, jersey, medal, and celebratory dinner.

Outside of the Nongsa Cycle event, you can bring your own bikes over from Singapore onboard the ferry to Nongsa for a cycling trip. A bicycle handling fee of S$10 is levied.

The less populated Nongsa district is suitable for an easy cycling weekend getaway to explore the tranquil side of Batam away from the downtown hustle and bustle. But we still got our shopping and massages done after the race by hopping on the free shuttle bus provided by Batam View Resort Hotel (where we stayed) to Batam Center's Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall.

If you are a seasoned cyclist, you can consider arriving at Nongsa, cycle from Nongsa to Batam Center (approx. 28km according to Google map), stay a night and return to Singapore via Batam Center Ferry Terminal. There aren't that many arterial roads on the island so I think way-finding should be pretty straightforward although sign posts may be lacking. Perhaps I'll try this route one day. Or if you've done it, please share the experience and tips with me :)

This being my first attempt at a competitive cycling event, I was more focused on catching up with the pros, which I failed miserably, than taking more shots and videos with Casio EX-FR10. Below is a video shot by my fellow cyclist Danny for a preview of the action camera's performance as well as scenery along the 12km Nongsa cycling route. Hopefully it'll inspire you to bring your wheels overseas with wonderful memories to keep...

This post has been made possible by Casio Singapore.

08 June 2015

Singapore - The Projector Cinema : Silver Screens from a Golden Era

Date of Exploration : 9 Apr 2015

Lights, Camera, Retrospection!

It's showtime for the last remaining "old face" of Singapore's cinematic history through The Projector, an independent movie house that has resurrected the defunct Golden Cinema into a hipster-approved entertainment joint.

With over 230 state-of-the-art cinemas from 8 movie theatre operators on our tiny red dot, we are spoilt for choices of convenience and comfort to escape into a celluloid world. But for a truly unique movie-going experience, The Projector is the place to be. Watching a show here feels like walking onto a life-size movie set of a 1970s cinema!

Lock, stock and barrel is how The Projector has restored the theatre halls of the former Golden Cinema. As new developments and re-developments have brought on urban amnesia, there are not many places like The Projector left in Singapore to frolic with nostalgia.
Getting to The Projector

Housed within the front annexe building of Golden Mile Tower (not to be confused with Golden Mile Complex next to it), you can get here...

By Bus - Hop on bus numbers 100, 961 or 980 headed in the direction of Beach Road.

By MRT (the nearest MRT stations are Nicoll Highway and Lavender)

1) From Nicoll Highway MRT Station (Circle Line), walk towards The Concourse building. Golden Mile Tower is across the street next to The Concourse along Beach Road. Walking time is approximately 5 minutes.

2) From Lavender MRT Station (East-West Line), take the exit of the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA). Walk towards the North Beach Road HDB housing estate across the river and cut through the HDB flats in the direction of Beach Road. Cross an overhead bridge near Golden Mile Hawker Centre to Golden Mile Tower. Walking time is approximately 8 minutes.

Top Left : Bridge-way leading from Nicoll Highway MRT Station at Republic Avenue to The Concourse. Top Right : Snapshot of Golden Mile Tower from the bridge-way. Bottom Right : Golden Mile Tower is across a side street from The Concourse and next to St John Headquarters along Beach Road. Bottom Right : View of Golden Mile Tower from ground level.

Designed by pioneer architect Goh Hock Guan and completed in 1975, Golden Mile Tower is fashioned after the béton-brut French architectural style popular between the 1950s to the 1970s. Béton-brut means "raw concrete" and this genre of design concept is known as Brutalist Architecture.  
Golden Mile Tower counts its heydays as being home to Golden Cinema, which was the biggest cinema in Singapore and Malaysia during the yester-years with a seating capacity of 1,500. It screened mostly Chinese movies until the 1990s when the theatre was split to showcase Hindi and Tamil films.

Today, Golden Cinema comprises The Projector that showcases Indie films on level 5 and the original Golden Cinema that continues to screen Hindi/Tamil movies on level 3.

Rewind to Yesterday

The Projector is conceived through a collaboration between Pocket Projects, a creative development consultancy and management company, and FARM, a cross disciplinary design practice, architecture atelier, and community-centered arts organization. More than just preserving a piece of Singapore's history, the creators hope that The Projector will serve as a creative platform for the local arts scene as well as an alternative to mainstream cinema.

Movies screened here have been carefully curated by film consultancy firm Luna Films, who widens the entertainment choice by bringing in Indie movies and controversial titles worldwide that otherwise won't make it to conventional local cinemas.

Lift foyer on ground level of Golden Mile Tower. To get to The Projector, take either lift to level 5.

I thought the logo simulating a projection is very apt and creative.

A roof of old movie posters makes the lift feel like a time machine of sorts. But if you really want that extra old-world feel...

... take the retro-classic spiral staircase that's opposite the lifts. It's pretty captivating to look up the swirls from the bottom of the stairs.

Feels like I'm winding my way through the intestine of time with the helical climb up.

Though simple and plain, the stairwell is one of the last places in Singapore to admire the beauty of a logarithmic spiral. I would suggest taking the lift up and then going down by the stairs.

As the lift door opens or coming atop the stairway, you will be greeted by the entrance hall of The Projector where modernist furnishings try not to interfere with the period ambience.

Box office is a small counter at a corner. Full-price tickets cost about S$13 and you can check for shows that are screening at The Projector website. The cool thing about The Projector is that you can swig a beer (S$10) while enjoying a movie! I washed my tongue with Dream Machine (S$10). I wondered what kind of machine made the dream a wet one...

Tidbits are on sale and the low tech way of displaying show posters brought back lost memories.

This door knob looks like it survived the 70s to this day.

Before we have more font faces than there are words, a simple directory found along the stairway replicated font types used in the yester years. Meanwhile, a comic artist injected modern funk on the wall outside The Projector's cinematic halls.

With all those shades on, it seems odd that the characters are queuing up to watch a movie. I'm all for updating an old space with contemporary pizzazz but this feels a tad 勉强 (trying too hard). Golden Cinema should be allowed to bask in the allure of its age.

There are 2 cinematic halls at The Projector - the Red Room (pictured here) and the Green Room.

I immediately felt a rush of familiarity when I saw these folding cinema chairs. I could almost see my 9-year-old self sitting in one of them. Back then, there were no 3D screens, neither the 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound, nor the DTS audio system.

While the seats have been upholstered for comfort, the hand rails and floorings remained as they are originally. The Red Room is generally reserved for private event bookings.

Why sit back and relax when you can lean back and enjoy the show on these beanies? Cool idea... yes?

The Green Room is where most of the public movie screenings take places.

The cinematic halls may be vintage but the entertainment is state-of-the-art. We caught The Birdman in the Green Room and although the seats weren't as comfortable, the movie somehow felt closer without the heavily cushioned seatings of today's cinemas.

There are many things we can find easily in Singapore, but the opportunity to immerse in authentic sentimentality is like searching for a needle in the haystack. While catching a movie in the old cinema of The Projector is an unusual experience, the novelty worn out pretty quickly for me. So would I come back again?

Yes. Borrowing a phrase from Terminator, "I would be back". But not for the antiqued charm. I'll come back again because of the air of casualness that comes with going back to basics. And also because I can drink beer while watching a movie!

The Projector

Address : 6001 Beach Rd, Golden Mile Tower, #05-00, Singapore 199589
Website : theprojector.sg

08 May 2015

Malacca Through the Lens of Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500

Date of Exploration : 25 Apr 2015

I visited Malacca in 2010 and captured the trip with a DSLR (read about it here). Five years later, I'm back to the historic city and documenting the sights with the nifty Casio Exilim EX-ZR35000 compact camera.

When I posted on Facebook that I'm photographing Malacca with a compact camera, an acquaintance asked why I "downgraded" and called me a "traitor". Harsh words. But I don't see it as a downgrade in imaging equipment, I see it as an upgrade in convenience. And with a powerful compact cam like the EX-ZR3500 that comes with various in-camera filters and creative imaging modes, photography becomes an opportunity to play and experiment for all occasions while I'm enjoying a vacation!

Our trip to Malacca was organised by the good folks at Casio to test-drive the EX-ZR3500. The camera comes in 4 colours - White, Beige, Pink, and Yellow (retailing at S$579).

I chose a white loan set because white will reflect light into a subject's eyes or when taking a selfie to make the eyes brighten up.

[A Plastic Surgeon in My Palm] I'm 40 but the in-camera Make-Up mode made me look like I would be asked to show my identity card if I tried to buy beer! Haha. The Make-Up mode intelligently differentiates skin from eyebrows and hair to create a more natural smoothening effect rather than a blanket blurring of facial features.

EX-ZR3500 also comes with a 180-degrees flip screen that makes framing a good selfie shot that much easier. And the wide angle lens captures more of the surrounding without the need for a selfie stick. Selfie-ing with the camera is addictive

[Gateway to History & Gluttony] After an almost 4 hours coach ride from Singapore, we finally arrived in Malacca and began our photographic exploration at Jonker Walk, the city's antique street and mecca for local gastronomic delights.

[Sticky Brown Orgasm] It's almost a ritual whenever I visit Malacca that I must have a bowl of Cendol at the shop, Jonker 88. Look at that thick gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup caramelising the hump of shaved ice! My drool reached the floor. The laksa at the same shop is apparently quite good too.

[Eye Candy] My pupils put on weight just by looking at this rich and delicious dessert! Shot with Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 Macro Mode.

[A Moment to Frame Time] Took this shot standing quite a distance away from the window as I wanted the old lady to be within the white grille yet not having too much loose space around her. If I brought my camera too close, the framed hole will become too big and cause excess space around the subject. So I stood further away and zoomed in.

Without a DSLR, this shot was quite a challenge to shoot and due to the low lighting within the house, the photo will be very grainy if shot with a mobile phone especially with a substantial zooming in to the subject. So I was pretty impressed with the result I got from Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 that managed to capture depth-of-field like a DSLR by blurring the window grille and curtain, and maintain a generally smooth image despite the darkened interior.

[Brief Encounter] As I've visited Jonker Street / Walk before, I decided to venture off to the side alleys and parallel streets around that area to get under the skin of this historic precinct. But I didn't expect to get that under the skin. LOL.
[Paper Thin Temper] She's known as the Queen of Newspapers at Jonker and her temper is very fiery. Kena scolded for taking this shot.

[Yesterday Once More] If this photo is in monochrome, it could very well look like a vintage shot with the old man cycling past the historic Kampung Kling Mosque. Completed in 1748, the mosque is located along Jalan Tukang Emas (Goldsmith Street), which is parallel to Jonker Street. Shot with Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 Action Freeze Mode.

[House of Styles] Had wanted to enter the mosque during my previous trip to Malacca but it was closed. Thankfully it was open this time and I had a chance to be befuddled by the conglomerate of decorative influences that adorn the interior of this mosque. The exterior roof of the mosque is reminiscent of Hindu puras while Chinese motifs and European tile works and finishings filled the insides. This mosque is the most un-mosque I've seen and it's pretty cool.

[Un-mosque Mosque] A Victorian fountain in the washing courtyard of Kampung Kling Mosque. Shot with Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 HDR Mode.

[Happy Uncle] A little walk from Kampung Kling Mosque, I came across a really old shop selling liquors. This grandpa was sitting in the shop hovering over his account books. The scene has such an authentic blast-to-the-past flavour that I started to take some photos of him at work while trying to block my presence behind some of his shop's merchandise.

But he looked up from his books at one point and discovered me sniping his photos. I thought he would scold me but he didn't. So I bought a bottle of drinking water from him and showed him his photos and we started to chat. He is such a jovial and happy soul! In the photo, he's pointing to his shop's original signage that has been around for more than 60 years!

[The Gula in the Melaka] 82yo Mr Tan is the second generation owner of the family-run business from his father who came from China. It used to be a provision shop but due to competition, the family decided to focus on selling liquors and alcoholic brews from Malaysian distilleries.

When I asked for a photo to be taken with him, he immediately struck such a natural and happy pose! It was really a great pleasure meeting him.

[Time Isn't a Debt] Mr Tan gladly showed me how he has done his accounts over all the years with his abacus. Many senior citizens treat getting old as a debt to be repaid to time but Mr Tan's cheerfulness and sprightly demeanour keep him young.

[Thy Will Be Done] Statue of Father Francis Xavier in front of St Paul's Church ruins. If you think something has happened that damaged the statue's right hand, well, there's more to the story...

Arriving in Malacca in 1545, the holyman is credited with spreading the gospel in Asia. He died in Malacca and was buried at the church temporarily but when his body was exhumed to be transported to Goa, they found that his body hasn't decayed! So the Pope asked for proof and one of Father Francis Xavier's hand was cut off. Legend has it that fresh blood flowed when his hand was severed. Father Francis Xavier was canonised in 1622 and this statue was installed in his memory in the 1980s but his hand went missing shortly. Perhaps his hand is still busy doing the work of God.

[Survivor] A lone seedling that grew where no other plants would grow. Saw this on a window frame of the St Paul's Church ruins and admired how the small tree broke through the hard stone and flourished. Shot with Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 Black and White Mode.

[A Different Perspective] Christ Church is possibly the most photographed icon of Malacca and here's a new way to shoot it... with Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500's Crystal Ball Mode! This mode is pretty fun to play with and the resulting images can have surprising results.

[Selfie So Easy] Did I mention taking selfies with the Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 is addictive? :o)

Considered the cradle of Peranakan heritage, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Malacca is ever a treasure trove of historical finds and exquisite Nyonya cuisine. Having spent a weekend using the Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 for street photography, I find the camera to be versatile and a good performer under various shooting conditions.

What's more, the camera comes with Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity so I can easily sync the photos I've shot to my phone and share them to my Facebook and Instagram. My only grouse is that the camera takes quite some time to process images when shooting with specialty modes but it's not a big bother for its stellar performance in most areas.

Although photos in this post have been processed with Photoshop to manage brightness, contrast and sharpness like I do for all photos I posted on this blog no matter what I shoot with, I find that adjustments to the Casio Exilim EX-ZR3500 are minimal. This is definitely a good companion for a holiday and a relief from carrying heavy DSLRs or stocking up on bricks of power banks to feed a hungry phone cam.

This post has been made possible by Casio Singapore.
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