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Confluence & The Monsoon Masterclass Journey

When I decided to work with Tourism Selangor for the last 3 years, the one thought that became my compass was to make people change their perspective about traveling in Selangor. Somewhat of an ambitious task but with every effort, failed or otherwise was always about that. About wanting to make this state (a backyard for a majority of the urban folks especially) fun and cool.

Knowing that I was not going to continue my contract with the company, I had to make sure that I need to do one last thing I’ve been telling myself since I was at OBSCURA. To turn Selangor into a photography hub as much as Vig has turned Penang into one. Didn’t know how or when. It was just something that I planted in my head while working on #TSBreakAway which had a lot of influenced from OBSCURA itself.

Then a door opened. No, it was merely a key presented on my table by my then-boss Fazly, along the lines about having a budget to do something good before we both leave the company. That’s when I immediately called Vig and hoped that he would jump on the wagon.

That call turned out to be what we now know it as The Monsoon Masterclass program.

There are two parts to this superb program – 5 days photography masterclass workshop with James Whitlow Delano and Monsoon Artist in Residence (Monsoon AIR) with Ian Teh. I really wanted to join the workshop but fate had other plans and so I lived vicariously through seven students’ documentary-styled photography work. Which then turned into a 2 weeks exhibition at The Boulevard, Publika from March 23 – April 6, 2014.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think much about some of the work exhibited but when you read their summaries, you start to develop a storyline in your mind and analyse closely what each photograph is saying from the photographer’s point of view. You create this conversation in your head with the photos; questions like who are you, where is this or how is it possible starts to build up one after another. The next thing you know, you get absorbed into their realm. There are seven different subjects, all of which were documented around Selangor. Some of the stories can knock your socks off, that much I can tell you.

Monsoon Masterclass 01

I couldn’t have thought of anyone better to tell Irene‘s The Afterlife Architect story than Vig

K.G Monsoon Masterclass 03

K.G Krishnan walked us through his story about the Street Sisters in Klang

Hanif Maidin Monsoon Masterclass 02

Hanif Maidin‘s Tanda Mati gives a bigger impact when it’s printed

There are two entities I would go all out for an event they do and know I’ll come back inspired. One is from Kakiseni and another is Vig.

Having followed @monsoonair on instagram and facebook religiously (in other words, stalking) and heard stories from Vig about Ian Teh’s assignment for this program, I couldn’t wait to see the outcome.

Ian Teh spent three weeks in a span of two months exploring Selangor’s coastline with Hanif helping him to do the research and Nadia as his partner in crime, driving from one end of the state to another. I knew bits and pieces of it, of what’s happening, where he is going and all that jazz but if I know Selangor the way I do, she always knows how to surprise us. She just does and she did.

Ian Teh_Confluence Exhibition

Confluence is a sum of what is happening to our country in a wider perspective. It’s almost akin to Ian Teh’s love letter written to her people. Much like how I would conclude my journey with the state, I couldn’t have thought of a better word to describe it than one that he had said the first time when I asked him how did the assignment made him feel.

“It’s bittersweet.”

That’s all it takes and needs to sum it up really.

Ian Teh_Confluence 01

Ian Teh_Confluence 02

Of course, I also know that he knows a lot more about Selangor in that 3 weeks he was diligently documenting the coastline compared to the rest of the nation combined. It is only when you put yourself out there that you would know the nitty gritty side of this enchanting yet bleeding state of ours. Almost to a point that makes you want to do something to give back.

Ian Teh_Confluence 08

Oh yeah, might I add that Ian Teh is a Malaysian born (shout out to PJ peeps!) British photographer. And like everyone else, we have our own preconceived ideas about a certain place..until we actually get to know the real deal.

During the launch of his book Confluence at Publika last Saturday (his exhibition with the same name is also in Publika until April 6, 2014), I didn’t expect him to be such a jovial storyteller. Of course, I say this because, I’ve only know him through his work since OBSCURA and never had the guts to go up to him and say hello when I realised he was sitting a table next to mine at a local mamak spot in Hartamas prior to his Monsoon AIR assignment. Only a week before this launch had I manage to actually talk to him and ask some questions that were in my head for a while. Heck, my first photo of him was of his shoes when I was introduced by Vig. Being the typical doofus that I am, I was too shy and starstruck.

Ian Teh_Confluence 03

There’s this sense of humour you get that’s very British too. Making fun of yourself in a dry manner sorta way.

Anyway, it was interesting that we were gathered in front, all prepared to absorb knowledge as he narrated his journey when I suddenly felt like we were in a reading class of some sort. We were all very close to him, sitting in a semi circle. Listening intently to Cikgu Teh, Veronica chirped.

Ian Teh_Confluence 04

You see that black book he’s holding? Yeah that’s one fine piece of..sweet yummy book if it’s ever edible. It was so impeccably made to a point that the cover designed by Azeem Idzham is probably the coolest interpretation of Selangor’s map I’ve ever seen and the way Shafiq Halim designed the layout of the book, you know there were a lot of thoughts going through when each page is flipped. Tash Aw, Prof Khoo Kay Kim and Eddin Khoo enveloped their thoughts for the essays in this book.

It makes perfect sense yet it’s also capable of breaking your heart. There are only 300 copies of the black version and 100 limited ones for white which you can purchase online here. I highly recommend anyone who loves photography or books of any kind to add this to your collection. You know it’s made with lots of love. Maybe some blood, definitely sweat and tiny bit of tears were involved in the making of this beautiful piece, who knows?

Ian Teh_Confluence 06

But if you had to buy something, let it be Confluence. You won’t regret it.

Also, I managed to record some bits of his session. Wished I had recorded the whole thing! So much humility and honesty in the way he delivered his answers when we asked him some stuff.

This particular video was when someone asked him “Why did you name your book Confluence when you kept on repeating coastline instead?”

He knows his stuff yo.

And then I asked, “What is your best memory during this trip?” .. and you know his Malaysian side had to come out first when he confidently replied “Food!”

In the end, I do think the magic behind The Monsoon Masterclass and Monsoon AIR is something we should respect highly. I felt so proud knowing this finally happened the way it did. That all that hard work and frustrations resulted into this magnificent platform for all photographers and storytellers alike to grow. I only wish for this to continue to be the best it can be, changing one viewpoint a time.

Truthfully, it really couldn’t have happened without Vig, Ian, Nadia and everyone else in the team. They really pulled out a rabbit from the hat this round. They really did.

Watch out world!

Ian Teh, Vig & The Monsoon AIR

To sum up what The Monsoon Masterclass and Monsoon AIR meant to me is exactly the way I had posted on my instagram:

“The only time I had this surreal feeling (referring to the aerial shots of the coastline above) was when I watched my favourite movie from Dain Said entitled Bunohan, which was an Oscar nominated flick too. Coincidentally, both were documented during the monsoon season; only in different states of Malaysia. So my point is, there’s so many great bits in Malaysia by Malaysians..just that there’s too few to spread their magic around. Tash Aw said it well in Ian Teh’s book Confluence – we think we know who they are, we think we know their stories, but in fact, nothing is certain. It’s people like them that made me changed my mind about what I knew and what I want to do in long run.”

7

Peru: Lima Ruled by Conscience

Now that I’m settled with the time difference after 11 days of struggling since I came back, my brain has been buzzing about the things it wants to write about. It’s pretty vast considering I didn’t have anything to record it with or the strength to at the time but here I am. Also has a bit to do with reading Fienuts’ latest feature for Travel Spotlight: Gina Hashim a few minutes ago that pushed me to say something..so yeah, here I am typing away.

We’ll go with the flow, what these fingers would like to talk about. They rule this place, I’m just the medium.

So after climbing a mountain of work the past one week and waiting for clients to respond, I decided to finally go through the memory cards to see what photos I’ve actually taken during my three weeks trip to South America (and a bit of Dubai). Yeah, took me three weeks to get to this point and let’s not even start with unpacking my stuff. THAT bag still sits nicely at the corner of my room, staring at me profusely, “C’mon! Sort me out already!” I hear it scream at me.

Right, excuse the kooky side of me.

Where was I?

I was flipping through photos from Peru and a wave of sentimental emotions came crashing like I knew it would. I didn’t think after so many weeks I’d feel the same or maybe even more so now. It’s a strange feeling, wanting to capture as many photos for keepsake yet there I was in Peru (it all started in Lima) where I stumbled upon a dilemma that carried me through the rest of the journey.

I had imagined the kind of compositions I wanted when I landed at Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez, so many of them, I psyched myself to a point that when I head to Miraflores, I had the most conflicted feeling I’ve ever experienced during all my traveling days.

See, after going through Chemat’s Street Photography masterclass last year during Obscura Photography Festival in Penang, I constantly ask myself about what I photograph and if it has any story or significance to it. My trigger happy days has since died off and for the better too I guess.

Lima Panoramic View

Anyway, while I was looking at Lima from the window glass, this one particular question haunted me for the rest of the week.

“Do I have a need when taking photos of them? A reason that will benefit them or a story on their behalf?”

Each time when I answered no, I will put down my camera and just watch as time passes by. Ironically, I feel at peace with that decision. And you must think I’m out of my mind for letting such moments go so easily without a fight.

You’re right.

If I was you, I’d be like “Are you crazy?! All that beautiful epic moments you missed just because your conscience says otherwise? Geez, what a waste”. Well, I could say such thing I’m sure but when you’re there, seeing how they live, and the hard work they put in, how is your photo doing just to their lives? I feel like if I don’t have a story to tell about them from them, I don’t deserve stealing their moment. I felt like a trespasser. Weird right? I know but unless I got to know them personally, talking to them eye to eye and have some kind of connection, I feel that the least respect I can give them is allow them to continue living the way they’ve been doing it. Without me interfering.

That’s just me. For you, this might not even apply at all. And I can live with this new revelation about photography. I might walk away with (waaaaay) less photos of where I went but in the end, this is what that place is suppose to be. I’ll capture it with words, as best as I can.

These days I’ve dabbed into (something like) videos too. Maybe down the road I’ll pick up this trait again. It’s just that I don’t exactly have that much patience for rendering but we’ll never know until we try it (again).

The one thing I remember taking from my trip to Lima, Cusco and Puno is that it doesn’t matter what your background is. When you make the most of what you have and take on the opportunities you’re given, you can be where you want to be.

Rolf and Gonzalo inspired me to keep pushing to do what is best. The best thing you know in that moment for yourself and for the rest who can benefit from it. Their innate ability to constantly learn anything and everything under the sun makes me feel that there are still good in this world. I feel so humbled standing and sitting next to them, sometimes I feel a little shy too because while I was taking a nap in the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, Gonzalo took out his notebook and studied German over and over again.

Tourism is a big thing here in Peru. It’s the source of income for 65% of the nation and what’s even better to know is that their degree in Tourism includes archeology, history and geology. Of course it makes sense but it makes studying to get that paper so much more worth it. Tourism & Hospitality degree here is just the basic stuff. Not hardcore as the ones offered back in South America and the thing is, we should take a page from them. If we don’t know our history, culture and beliefs at the tip of our fingertips, how can we muster such knowledgable people in the tourism sector?

They take pride in what they do, so much blood, sweat and tears invested for their beloved country and it’s so good to feel their passion oozing out from them without speaking.

It’s these kind of people who empowers me to do what I do. They are the ones who fuels me to push through all the obstacles I could face in the future. Just thinking about how hard they work makes me want to work just as hard or harder. Not because I’m competitive but because that’s what required of us to do good things. We don’t sit and give excuses. If we want something good to happen, we make it happen. The rest, we’ll just have to let Him write the story.

For as long as you’ve done your best, the best you can possibly do, no one can take that away from you.

I was lucky to have a friend like Z who was in Peru a few years back for work and had filled me in about his adventure then. Didn’t think I’d ever go there but when I did, he texted me of the places I should check out. One of it was Cerro San Cristóbal. I asked Rolf, who is a German born, bred and lived in Peru, if this place was far from downtown Lima (where we were heading) and he had this priceless look on his face. The kind who didn’t expect the cows to sing sort of look.

Rolf in Streets of Lima

I wasn’t sure what this place is to begin with when I asked Rolf besides seeing a photo Z had taken. Didn’t even do any other read up about this particular trip of mine to South America. And I was warned not to go up on my own and if I do take the cab, make sure to request for the driver to wait at the peak. So as we were maneuvering around downtown Lima, passing by one of the oldest universities in the New World - National University of San Marcos, he pointed to me the cross on a mountain in the horizon.

“That’s San Cristobal. But we’ll have to wait till noon so that the fog clears up a little before we go up there.”

I found out from him that there are only 10 days in a year when Lima will be blessed with clear blue sky due to Lima’s topography which is a desert and surrounded by the Andes mountains (spectacular terrain I might add). So, the fog/haze is really due to the dust and after awhile you’ll get used to this condition, not like the kind I’m used to (still hate it) in Malaysia where haze is mainly made up of smoke.

San Cristobal Panoramic

The drive up is quite a challenge, through slums and narrow roads in between and by the cliff. I wonder if maybe walking up might be a better idea and while you’re going up, try and spot all 12 crosses along the way. It’s also the area you’re best not to explore after dawn, “Not even if you give me a million bucks!” said Rolf.

It’s definitely a stark contrast from the rest of the cities I’ve been too. We’ve been accustomed to think that when you hear the word city, it’s developed, urban and busy but in South America, the cities meant differently. Lima’s down town city is very…unkept. However, this is also due to the history when the military chased the rich families out of the area and turned it into some kind of “public toilet” for many decades after.

Also, if you ever asked someone to take photo of you, be prepared to have some spare coins for tips later. It’s kinda a norm. I mean more often than not that is.

So what’s good to be at the top of Cerro San Cristobal? It being Rolf’s wild card in case the other places he had in mind weren’t good enough, I’d say it’s the view, a 360 degrees of Lima and the Andes at your feet. You can spot the biggest graveyard, a bull fighting stadium, San Francisco Monastery and more! Something similar to Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro but minus the crowd. Peru is what you see is what you get kinda place. My kinda thing. Everywhere you go, you’re walking on ancient history. There’s always Inca this or Spanish that. Just something else. The people are wonderful. So gracious and sweet even if they don’t speak much English but you can get by with speaking broken Spanish. Until then, I didn’t think my rusty Italian would help me much but it did because it’s very similar in meanings.

I don’t know how or where this affectionate feeling for Peru developed, I just know it all started in Lima and grew on me for the rest of the time and I still have one more story about Lima before I get to Machu Picchu!

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1

A Stubborn Malaysian Wanted

I did this for an entirely different reason and part of me still wants to keep it hidden, unknown and well as private as the online world allows me to be. But alas, as with many things I do, this is one I wouldn’t mind being laughed at or made fun of.

Took me six hours to do a 40 seconds video for my application to Hyper Island which I honestly have no idea what the outcome would look like (all I did was arranging photos and videos I wanted and the rest just naturally took shape on it’s own).

I think in a lot of ways, it’s a nice recap of my entire 28 years into one. Of what I tried so hard to understand, adapt, run and submit but in that process of self discovery and what not, I went into all kinds of emotions – anger, disappointment, joy, sad. You can name any of it and it’s most certainly part of the journey somewhere.

Then there’s that feeling where I’ve made peace with the universe, myself and Him.

When all of these elements are aligned together, you get this sense of belonging without having the need to belong to anywhere. You just are. And so this is me.

I’ve adopted a new philosophy a few months back, one I’m only certain that I’m ready to commit when the time calls for it. If I have to go anywhere, anytime to help a country, a place, a nation or a community, I would pick Malaysia. I know it’s fcked up. That’s all the more reason why I choose Malaysia.

Weird? I think so too.

There’s this epidemic going on here, more so now than before – it’s called brain drain. It’s when all the good brains choose to move out and away from Malaysia and do superb things elsewhere. I understand why they do it, not so much because that’s what they want to do. It’s more about what they need to do and that’s to feed their soul to be better. So of course, it’s no brainer to not accept an offer other people are giving everywhere but Malaysia. Because really, why not?

But then, what will become of Malaysia when all the good people move away?

“So what? Tried and nothing happened”. “It’s not like I didn’t do my part, Malaysia is just not ready.”

True. Although, it’s not Malaysia that’s not ready or does not want to embrace it’s awesomeness, it’s the parasites that’s been occupying her heart. Disabling her to be the potential everyone has been talking about for ions. If anything, she’s pretty much screaming her lung out – my take on landslides, floods and haze.

It is kinda scary to think about it if you have to leave this country to incapable hands. When that happens (or has been happening), it becomes a responsibility for each and everyone to help this country to get rid of the nonsense that has been infesting for donkey years. It is sad to know that so many choose to ignore or be blasé about the future. Seriously, it’s as much as your future as it is mine yet all you think about is only the here and now. Not tomorrow or next month. Just right now.

I know, it takes too much effort. Too much emotions and time to do it. But if you’re not gonna right the wrong for yourself, no one else should be doing it for you.

Understandably, I wouldn’t want to live here anymore, don’t want to waste any more of my brain cells to help yet in the past 3 years, I’ve got to know so many people who make a difference and are constantly finding ways to do so because it’s what they love to do. It’s inbred in them. They feed upon the idea of being able to do something good. That alone shows the kind of spirit you’ll need to have when you live in Malaysia.

You need to have thick skin when facing rejections, cold heart when so many atrocities are thrown at you and be as stubborn as a mule to get your vision across. From what I’ve experienced and seen, people will bring you down until you break and if you have a strong will, you will rise far better than anyone will ever expect you to be.

So that’s Malaysia in a nutshell for those who wants to make a difference. It’s not a joke, those who champion campaigns for the betterment of Malaysia are heroes in their own rights. Even if they did shatter, they’ll comeback even more motivated and determined.

No one likes drastic changes, but it’s only drastic when you leave it to desperate hour.

Am I ready for that kind of thing? I’ll go with the flow.

In the meantime, I hope more people will fight to do the good stuff in Malaysia because God knows, we freaking need it!

And I am truly grateful to be surrounded by incredible spirits to help me be a fraction of who they become.

Switzerland

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

5

Relocating My Malaysian Identity: A European Dig

London Graffiti

I should have known better.

Yeah that’s what has been chiming in my head the past few days when this certain realisation hit me. A year later after it happened no less too for that matter. Ah, God works in mysterious ways indeed.

While I was moving around Europe, I stumbled upon an interesting pattern. One I love repeating the story to others but never actually connecting the dots. It all started when I was in Shephard’s Bush, London. We were walking back from Jamie’s Italian for an early dinner (you’re best at reserving a table in advance) and I came across a Ukrainian who pointed out about my cheeks which had red streaks due to the dry weather and issues with blood vessels. While on normal terms, I wouldn’t be so open to trying new things, for some reason I just felt like I should. I knew Dead Sea and Himalayan Salt are very good for sensitive skin but never got around to use any.

His name was Mario. I remember because of my favourite childhood video game. Upon knowing I’m a Malaysian, he instantly spoke to me in Bahasa Malaysia. Delightfully at that. In my head, I was amused, speechless and dumbfounded because..well I’m thousands of miles away from Malaysia and here I am having conversation with a stranger who has never been to Malaysia in Malay.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has good PR skills. Which is partially true too.

But then again, given how London is, someone’s bound to pick up Malay as a language because this city is filled with them anyway. It kinda sorta made sense to me .. I guess. Still, of all languages in the world, I had to get to know people who speak it. The main reason why Mario learned to speak Malay is because many of his clients are from Malaysia. It made the connection easier for him and in many ways, I admire his courage to learn something new and willing to improve himself.

Again, of all languages. I can understand if it were French, Italian, Mandarin or Spanish but I’ve not met anyone who isn’t living in Malaysia willingly learn Bahasa Malaysia as their third, fourth .. language.

London Millennium Footbridge

A while later, as we were making our way across The Millennium Bridge to the Big Ben, someone asked me if I could take a picture of him with the background. Once I did it and we exchanged a few words, one more person spoke to me in Malay when “from Malaysia” came out of my mouth. This time, he was from Lithuania (I think). It was a short conversation, a brisk one but it got me thinking, what are the odds that I get to meet these people? ME of all people.

Let’s back track a little here in case you have no clue why I’m making a big deal out of this. For decades, I’m known to be that kid who has no affinity with Malaysia. Heck, the first place I felt like I belonged somewhere was Jakarta on my first visit (and then subsequently Haarlem and Roma). I’m also that kid who had planned to migrate to Italy and make a life there. The idea was to make my way to RUFA.

It also has a lot to do with how easy I feel to just be me and engage with strangers along the streets in Europe.

Of course, that didn’t happen but that feeling of being an outcast still throb in my heart but slower as of late.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of bumping into foreigners who has never been to Malaysia speaking Malay although the joy they show when speaking the language made me feel like we in Malaysia might miss something, that spark that makes it special. Or maybe it’s just me. I could somewhat relate to that feeling when I get to speak (rusty) Italian with people but I never viewed (what is supposedly) my Mother Tongue as part of that euphoric experience. We tend to take things we have for granted right? So that was me with my birthplace. I suppose, no matter where I go, I can’t escape from my root. No matter how badly I wanted.

Which reminded me of one time when I was in Jakarta, at my favourite music shop in Plaza Salina. While going through the cds I plan to bring back (ended up with a dozen), two Indonesian kids were at the counter asking for Siti Nurhaliza’s albums. At that moment, I was like “Of all times and places!”. To those who doesn’t know, Siti Nurhazila is one of Malaysian’s biggest artists, especially in the late 90′s and 00′s.

So you see, God has a wicked sense of humour when it comes to things I try very hard to remove myself from.

Coloured Shadow

Then, while we were waiting for Guilia, my childhood pen pal who I was very lucky to meet for the first time a day before she moved to London, we dropped by Hard Rock Cafe Roma to kill time. There were some demonstration happening down the street so we thought, might as well take cover till it settles down for a bit.

As I was about to pay for my t-shirt at the counter, I greeted him the typical way any Italians would.

“Ciao! Di dove sei?” he asked while giving me this unsure look. Got me wondering if I had pronounced something wrongly (chances are I might given how long I’ve not put it to practice).

“Io sono di Malaysia..” I was a little bit hesitant to say since I wasn’t sure if he would know where it is. Oh how wrong I was.

“Oh! Malaysia! Kamu apa khabar?” All bouncy and happy in perfect Malay intonation mind you. Trying to wreck my brain deciphering his accent, as I would think it’s sorta normal if it has some Indonesian influence but nada. Zilch.

For the longest seconds ever, I didn’t manage to answer him. At all. Suddenly my brain just shut down and turn into mush. Of course, the fact that he looks like an Italian version of James McAvoy didn’t help make me feel any better.

I was awestruck by the fact that he’s cute (hello James MacAvoy long lost twin!) AND speaks perfect Malay which made me look more like a fool. Blergh. Way to go Dian!

“Hello?” Reality finally hit me, blankly staring at him while he titled his head, giving me this adorable look like he didn’t believe I’m a Malaysian. Yeah, what a dweeb I am right?

“…..err khabar baik..”

He was so not buying it. He said it himself. “Are you sure you’re from Malaysia? How come it took you a while to answer?” smarty-pants wearing the lopsided smirk didn’t make this surreal conversation any easier for me.

I couldn’t tell him that I was lost for words because of him. So I said what came to mind,

“Been away from Malaysia for a quite a bit”.

Yeah right, it was only four weeks since I left. We both broke out in laughter soon after and continued talking about our different cultures, what got him to learn my language and his with me. It was like looking at your reflection, just a different version of you.

That I found him very cute when he was counting numbers in Malay made my day even more endearing. Ah Italians, they just know how to charm you without even trying. Totally forgot to take a photo of him was something I regret a little bit. Just a little.

So what was Francesco’s reason? Bahasa Malaysia/Malay is the easiest to learn because it’s similar to speaking in Italian, you spell the way you pronounce it. I never really thought of it that way until then. Never really got myself to see it from another perspective about my country, the language that I never think too highly of. That’s also probably something many of us don’t get to see too, not because we don’t want to but perhaps too jaded by the current affairs and the on goings of Malaysia to see the beauty that lies behind being a Malaysian.

Rome Train

I find it strange, so strange that the past few entries has been about me finding my identity in Malaysia. Finding my place and voice in the country I’ve lived all my life. And maybe that’s a good thing, that things are happening the way it is because I always believed that in order to appreciate something you have, you have to learn to see it for what it is and what you can do to make it better.

So about me wanting to remove myself as far away from Malaysia is slowly diminishing (for now) because I feel like I have a task to do here, a purpose He’s given me, even if I can only make one person’s life a difference in Malaysia, that would be enough for me.

I’m still going to travel wherever I want to but I use that to see how I can contribute back to this place that needs a lot of like-minded people to hang on. Hang on to any good faith you can find deep inside and do our best to be the change we yearn to see.

Got this off The Single Woman

And in this case, being crazy might just be the antidote to our conundrum.

6

#TSBreakAway Featurette: The History Dream

This year has been a big revelation for me. Where Australia’s trip last winter made me realised that I’ve come full circle with myself, two weeks ago, my trip to Kuala Kubu Bharu cemented my reason for being here. In Malaysia.

While for many, it’s either about not having a choice or tied down to family and such.. for me it’s none of that. I could at anytime leave this country and had planned that way since I was a kid. I desperately wanted to get out since young because I’ve never felt like I belonged here yet here I am. Where my friends thought I’d be the first to leave and never return, it hasn’t been the case.

Till today, I remember the one thing my mum said when I was in Leeds, chilling at Nix’s house a year ago.

“So decided to move there?” she asked or something to that effect.

In that moment, part of me wanted to say yes but I didn’t and I knew if I did, she’d support my decision. That was the plan, has always been the plan.

And like the saying my English teacher once told me, man proposes, God disposes. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

That is until this trip.

It was a spur of a moment, one day sometime three weeks ago I suggested to Anis to head up to KKB to meet the uncle she had wrote about in her blog for #TSBreakAway and see what he thought about it. Then I mentioned it to Nigel who wanted to tag along. The week later, she told me they will be going on Friday. I was with Ashraf who was the resident mentor and videographer for this project we’re involved and casually asked if he wanted to go up too, see if there’s anything we could add into the #TSBreakAway footages.

KKB Group Profile

So at 6AM all of us (three #TSBreakAway Zombies and one Xplorer) were up and made our way to KL Sentral train station. This would be my first time going to KKB by train and apparently it was a first for the guys too. From here, we had to switch train in Rawang after an hour and then head to KKB in 30 minutes.

The train ride was very scenic and by the time we were in Rawang, the train we took was empty. So hey, we were like kids taking over the carriage like our own, talking about the 80′s and 90′s like it was yesterday while snapping photos and recording the view in between.

If I had to take a trip to anywhere, this fun bunch would rank at the top of my list.

Serendah

KKB Train

We had no plans when we got to KKB, just another random day exploring an old historical town and meet this charming uncle Anis interviewed. We didn’t expect that our trip would be something mind blowing, to a point that it was literally breaking us away from the norm. So as we were tracking down the route Anis took for #TSBreakAway solo assignment back to the tailor shop, she told us she was intrigued by this old barber shop (roughly about 40 years old) on the same street from where the uncle was working but didn’t check it out then because it was busy with people.

So I had this “brilliant” idea to get the guys to give us a reason to drop by and help Anis get her story. What I didn’t expect was for them to go along with the plan. I kinda sorta challenged Ashraf to cut his hair and get a shave since it looked like he needed a fresh look. Nigel too but only Ashraf agreed to do it. I did however got Nigel to do the old school shaving tho!

KKB Barber Shop Ashraf

KKB Barber Shop Nigel

KKB Barber Shop Nigel 2

Once the guys were done with their “spa” session, we continued on our next journey like kids going from one candy shop to another. I like how in this town, no one looked at you like you don’t belong here. They just continue doing their thing (at a slower but peaceful pace) and treat us like we’re part of them. Despite the uncle didn’t remember Anis initially, he entertained us with his stories of yore. Made ourselves comfortable in his 50 over years old shop, watching as he cut the wool for his customer and even managed to teach Nigel a bit of Pinyin. Who knew they both shared the same surname? Of course, he wasn’t spared from being lectured too for not able to read Mandarin. Haha! It’s like watching father scolding his son for a mishap. Ah KKB.. you sure know how to charm us.

In case you’re looking for this particular uncle to do your pants or suits, just ask anyone in KKB for “The Shirtless Uncle” and they all know who you are referring to :)

KKB Tailor

You know how when you got the ball rolling with one story, you went and dig deeper? Yeah, this was exactly the case. We moved from one shop to another just looking for something, anything. Then Nigel read about this other uncle who has an old watch shop which coincidentally was just around the corner from where we were. I mean, c’mon, while you’re here you might as well do what’s in your bucket list. But when we arrived, we didn’t expect that it would set the course of our adventure after this.

KKB Watchmaker

You know how when you go to a shop in a city, they’d be breathing your neck or for some reason, it makes you feel like you either have to buy something or get out of the shop quick? This was neither the case. We hung out at his place, admiring the many beautiful black and white photos of him and his shop which was taken by other photographers in the past. We talked about his background and what he love to do. Then, I heard a dog barking at the back and his wife was so sweet to show me her pet. Feisty looking little poodle. Cute tho. But feisty, bouncing away while barking at me and I was told this little one bites. So yeah, I just leaned my back on the wall adjacent to the dog. Later, she told me about two other cats who are friendly with the dog and brought them out for me to play with. Yeah, we pretty much made ourselves very comfortable.

A spirit I have not known existed in KL or Selangor. That ease I love and strive for is in this old town after all.

Anyway, after all that shop talk we’ve made, the owner of the watch shop decided to bring us to check out his daughter’s cafe, a few doors away from his. Too bad we already had our lunch (one where I was scampering around looking for a clean toilet and an aunty from a kopitiam across the street was accommodating and got me to use hers without any expectation. She even wave and greeted me when I passed by her shop again later that day). Seriously, no one here forces anyone or expects anybody to get anything from them.

When we were at the cafe looking around at the 80′s local music posters and antique memorabilia scattered all over, his daughter went up to Anis and took out her phone to show a photo she took of a namecard she thought would be useful to us.

“I think all of you should check out the small photography gallery. You’ll like it! But I don’t know if it’s open today but you can call this guy.”

KKB Cafe

This must be the gallery Anis mentioned earlier in the day which I’ve never heard of despite visiting KKB a few times in the past. There’s only one place that sounds like this which also housed many other art related items but given how everything are, it’s no surprise that the gallery is not open. Well it is, you just have to call a few days in advance. I guess we’ll have to make another trip back and get inside the gallery. Seriously, it’s almost unheard of to know that art takes place in towns like these here. If there are, no one’s spreading the word. Which is sad.

This whole place calls out for a revival. THE perfect town to have art residency. Which got my head buzzing and throbbing, I wish I could manifest those emotions into papers. Slowly eventually I will. Some kind of community project all four of us made a pact to work on. I hope.

KKB Kedai Runcit

That burning sensation was only secured even more when we met Aunty Sim Ling Ling who threw us off with her generosity. Initially, we didn’t know what we stumbled upon since the owner of the shop went to KL for acupuncture. Then we roamed inside the shop looking at the things hung from the ceiling. You’ll find anything and everything here, it’s amazing. So she slowly emerged behind the counter making conversations with us and we being the cheeky kids, asked her all the old school items we could think of when we were kids. Excitedly, she said yes to all of it and even ran inside to grab it.

Where could you find “Buku Tiga Lima” that still costs 20 cents or pencil with rubber tip would still be 10 cents?

All of a sudden, we all had an idea to buy something from her as a souvenir to commemorate this surprising adventure of ours. Aunty Ling Ling was so jovial entertaining us with the things in the shop and also her tuxedo cat named Baby.

From one thing led to another, I don’t know what got me agreeing when she said “Let’s have coffee?” and walked really fast to the kopitiam next to her shop. In my head, I thought she said, maybe when we come again, we’ll have coffee with her. I didn’t expect to have coffee there and then.

We all ordered our drinks and the moment she found out that I’ve been looking for this particular Kaya Puff KKB is notorious for, she immediately got up and went to the shop.

Ashraf, Anis and I looked at Nigel, who was on the phone at that time.

“Psst..Nigel, we have a situation. Need to intervene..Psst…”

KKB Kaya Puff

By the time Nigel got off the phone, she came back with a box of Kaya Puff all ready for your mouth to salivate. *slap head*

And that she’s got this smile you just cannot not smile back at her. Cannot not accept her gifts. Cannot not accept her friendship. Just can’t.

Of course, I’m saying that in a good way. She even told us about the aunty who makes the kaya for the pastry shop..who happens to be doing it right that moment in that very kopitiam we were in.

KKB Kaya

BEHOLD! She was so efficient, she pre-ordered a tub of homemade kaya and delivered to our table each. Like what is this? Am I really in Malaysia?! By this time, we were all shaking our heads, didn’t know how to repay her kindness with and that she refused our money when we wanted to pay for it made us feel even more unsure. Appreciative of her kindness but also didn’t want her to think we’re taking advantage.

“No, no. I’m not petty over these things. I just want to share.” She told us.

At this moment, only then I know the real meaning of Malaysian Hospitality (MH). If we wanted to dig any story from KKB, this is the deepest KKB allows us. The heart, the bulb, the inspiration. You cannot go any deeper than this. No way.

So, as usual, you know we had to check out how this kaya was made and it takes 7 hours to make a big pot by one old lady and sells it around the town. When I asked if she wanted to sell it out of KKB, she said no. Dang it! Looks like I’ll have to come back here and replenish my stock.

KKB Kaya 2

Looking back, it’s true, KKB is mainly populated by the elderly folks who prefer the quiet and slow paced life. Which reminded me a lot of my late grandma who till she was bedridden, insisted she needs to work, to get the mind working. And that’s exactly what each of them are doing here..that and also because none of their kids wanted to take over their business because the bigger cities offer so much more. Hard working people makes me want to work harder.

Part of me was sad by this fact but another part of me can kinda sorta relate to their kids because it’s been years since my dad been pestering to take over his business but I refused because really, what he’s doing and what I need to do is on totally opposite spectrum. But I still feel sad for them because when they are no more around, what will become of KKB? This town can’t possibly die out of natural death! Over my dead body.

So enter that buzzing brain of mine which Ashraf, Nigel and Anis added more fuel. We just need a plan to execute this thing. I’m sure combining our nutty brains together, we’ll be able to do something but yeah, as of right now, I’m letting the pot simmer for a bit. I still have other paperworks to complete. Gah!

Oh yeah, so how did we end our session with Aunty Ling Ling?

Sneakily, she already paid for our drinks beforehand. Oh Aunty Ling Ling, you really blew us away with your sweet charm. Sigh.

KKB Group Photo

To end this unforgettable trip we did, I found this draft poem I wrote while I was in the train in Sydney a few months back. One I think describes KKB profoundly to me.

A return trip is in order!

Ticket to the Unknown

It ain’t so bad,
This train to no where,
Worst case would be to arrive
To a place you’ll write your story
For the rest to read and navigate.

There’s a moment in our lives,
When the ticket you bought
May not be the place you thought;
You’ll arrive in peace and harmony
But then, peace is anywhere no?

Such is the life this dwarf leads
For those hunters may not see
The beauty therein lies
in front of thee.
Oh what a waste when it flee.

So where will you go,
What will you see?
Just take a trip
Wherever it may be
and just hold on tight for this journey.

Sidenote: Nigel took some superb black and white photos from this outing. I think this is by far he best work, you gotta check it out here!

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twenty one pilots: Holding On To You

If there’s something I’m well known for is to constantly take hold of the direction I’m heading. Often times, it’s not always the way you and I see it but most of the time, it’s always how He wants it.

So what do you do? What do I do?

Take the ride and make it our own.

I think if there’s anything that I can take from all the trips I’ve made – whether on my own or with strangers, it would probably be that just being there, observing, be part of life, His creations, our doings..it’s probably the most alive thing I would ever experience in my existence.

I don’t exactly have a bucket list of places I want to go. I just go. It doesn’t have to be places no one else has been or the number one I have to be. In that moment, where time and space meets, I take it. I make it a part of my chapter, my life..just simply my own thing.

So right after #TSBreakAway ended, I’ve been bombarded with “What’s next?”. Like do I have to know what to answer? I’ve only just started breathing. Ask me next month maybe?

But that’s the thing with me and I don’t know what everyone might think..I don’t plan out in detail but I do somehow know where I should end up in. How I’m getting there, that part I leave it to the Guy Upstairs to write for me. I am after all his character to play with.

I know that if I’m lost, I’ll find my way back. I go back to basic, to where I know best.

This song, twenty one pilot’s Holding On To You best describes how I feel the whole year. Last year, I might struggle finding sanity, this year it’s finding my faith where faith may seem to disappear.

#TSBreakAway is a sum of that, of my miseries, my frustrations, my joy and my passion for the things I do and love, for the wants and needs and for what I want to change. I’m thankful that many share the same vision as I am in making it happen, to an extend, giving me their hand to lift me up when I’m in darkness and for all that has happened, that madness I put myself into, I only have them to thank for.

I don’t know what I can do best. I don’t know if I’ll be doing the next big thing or if I can come up with anything. I do know that when it’s something so dear to me is at the brink of extinction, I become protective..yet powerless at the sight of seeing it dying.

A lot like our earth really. That urge to hurl at the sight of a balding Earth is unbearable.

Still, I do wonder why He created me. I probably annoy more people than I can count but at the end of the day, if you do what you know is best – everyone else can talk about you, of what they know about you and it doesn’t exactly matter. It could be good, it could be bad. Just keep doing what matters to you. What makes you feel better being alive. The rest will be taken care of eventually.

I think I know where this post is heading or why I ended up writing it (my fingers, it’s all their doings really). That I’ve grown up since young being called with all sorts of names, some hurt me more than others but today, knowing why I do what I do, and do it well with the help of others – it doesn’t kill me anymore. It doesn’t kill me to think that “You know what, you can’t please everyone. You can’t make everyone like you”.

That, they can believe whatever version of you and that’s ok.

Sasha gave me possibly the book that changed my life at 25 and this was part of what I’ve been carrying myself with,

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

So yeah, I’ve accepted that I am weird and it’s no easy task to fit in in a society that thrives in normalcy or whatever it means. I am ok being on my own. Ok that I only have friends I can count with my fingers who knows me. If you’re not part of that, I am fine by it too.

Just that, I’ve had too many complications in the past, where it blinded me too many times so as of late, I’m only invested in what is worth my mind and soul.

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Leaving the Field

Leaving the Field

Been away every two weeks the past 3 months and it’s kinda wearing me out again. Travelling does that to you sometimes and that’s ok. It just means that you’ll have to be more attentive about what your body needs than what you want out of something.

A familiar territory I’ve been threading way too often this year.

I was looking at the photos from my memory card and this just stood out from one of my many solo wanderings in Melbourne two weeks ago.

I like being invisible, it’s kinda like a comfort zone mode for me. Walking makes me feel therapeutic especially when my mind is tangled in a million knots.

That’s also probably why i feel like I’m “trapped” while I’m in KL, then whenever I do feel like I need to take a walk, I can’t. It’s just not safe. Kids don’t go out and play anymore, which makes us lose that bit of humanity deep down. It’s sad and no one’s doing anything about it..at least not yet.

You know, I could rant about the epidemic that is Malaysia forever but I shall not.

Too much sadness in Danywhere, I’m turning it into a downer.

While I was walking along Flinder’s Lane looking at the graffiti, I met a few artists working on their tagging. I thought it was pretty cool that they were unfazed by my presence despite my worry they’d be kicking me out from their territory. So while I was watching them painting, I realised that these alleys are actually dump area but due to the amount of spay painting these people have been doing, the foul smell were non-existent and replaced by aerosol. It’s interesting tho, to see how they’ve (indirectly in the beginning) converted an alley no one would go to one of the number one spot people want to check out.

Of course, there’s always the never ending debate about vandalism vs art when it comes to graffiti but when you make a space, a public gallery to encourage their creativity to flow and send out a message from their mind, it could easily be a positive outcome. Eventually, it becomes a tourist attraction.

Yes, as much as underground despise the idea of selling-out, as long as your message is sent out, I don’t see anything wrong with it. Just a bit of ego is being compromised but otherwise, I think it’s a good source of inspiration for others.

See that’s the thing about art. You just never know who you’ll be touching and making a change. Just the fact that you’re about to reach out to just one person makes what you do go to the next level. And that will not happen until the day you decide to put yourself out there.

So, in the end it all goes back to the very core – why are you doing what you are doing?

When you’re able to identify that part, your ego will step back and motivation takes over.

It’s just too bad that I wasn’t able to see Banksy’s work in Melbourne. Shall talk about that next time.