2

I Left Advertising but it’s Embedded in Me

This whole week has been an emotional roller coaster ride for me personally. I did a lot more reflections since my last post, one that I’ve never revealed to anyone but ended up in the cyberspace one fine morning.

That whole revelation about how I treat myself like someone with autistic was not something I had in mind before this. I only realised it when I wrote it here and then more things made sense for me. It’s probably the most accurate description I could tell other people who has to deal with me in the future, like I’m wearing a warning label. 

The thing is, my mind would process logic and facts easily. Emotions cannot be proven, or rather has too many variables to play with and it only makes it too complicated to conclude. This is why Science of Deduction is my favourite go-to method. But this also means I need to spend significant time reading.

And usually, people who thinks logically will eliminate emotions altogether. Often, they are perceive as emotion-less for this reason. I however, function on a different spectrum. While my mind prefers to work with facts and logic, I have very high empathy. That means, I can easily understanding emotions if I put myself in other people’s shoes. The only setback is that, I can’t prove with facts unless it’s been tested already. Because whatever I say would be limited to my own observations and experience

Mind_Heart

This is me figuring out the bridge.



 

My biggest problem for the longest time is to bridge these two and up until two days ago, I’ve been functioning on separate entities.

Jessie tagged me on Brain Picking’s post about Drawing Autism which made me connect more dots about my childhood tendencies. Like a lightbulb, I had my “Aha!” moment lighted brightly. Not that I’m certain about my self-diagnosed but it gave me some form of clarity I’ve been searching all my life. I’m still on that path where there are infinity dots left to figure out but this week really untangled one of my life’s biggest mystery ever.

Which then answers a lot about why I found so much difficulty working in the advertising industry dog years ago. At the time, when I quit the industry, I accepted that I wasn’t fit for the environment, wasn’t as creative as the agency and industry demands and overall, just not awesome. I accepted that as an Art Director, I suck and I’m ok with that because I use my design background to beautify not to manipulate. 

In countries where branding is a strong market, there is such role as Art Director specifically for design and I was convinced, if I were to come back, that would be the role that fits me best. 

Advertising is a dog eat dog world. You have to love it, have passion for it to not only survive when climbing up the ladder but be the best of the best. Because at the end of the day, it’s a small world where everyone knows everyone and words will spread if you’re good or otherwise. 

I started off way at the bottom, from scratch as a DTP Artist in SpencerAzizul Advertising and worked my way up for half a decade. I had some of the best mentors I could ever asked for. Erman being one of the most influential people always sat me down and talked about things that ignite his passion and also which direction I should take. Today, (I feel) he is one of the more prominent minds in the industry and I have no doubt that the Creative Director role is in his pocket sometime soon. Calvin’s another guy who always have this crazy ideas that feels like it’s so out of reach but very possible. Since I was an intern, a small potato – he would go to my table and get me to collaborate with him. I never really understood why because there were so many other talented people in the office. 

“I like your stuff! I think it would be exciting to do this” Cal would say this often when I ask. So did Soon, previous ECD of ours. He used to tell me this a lot but as always, I just didn’t understand why.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I kept thinking everyone’s out of my league in this world. But I worked very hard to be part of this family, at one point I can instantly name the typefaces used (Erman’s very particular about spacing, kerning and typography). I can still name them today but it might take a wee bit more time. 

Then, there’s always the “what’s next?” questions popping up here and there. Slowly this family of 3 years started to disintegrate for better offers and careers. And it slowly made me question where I should be. Naturally, the next step from being a Graphic Designer, especially in Malaysia is to be an Art Director. It’s common sense. There’s no two ways about it when it comes to making a mark for yourself.  

Like his idol Sagmeister, Erman creates typography using anything and everything. I love his instagram feed @ermanbasiron

Like his idol Sagmeister, Erman creates typography using anything and everything. I love his instagram feed @ermanbasiron

Y&R was probably a reality check. Despite spending more than 2 years there, I never really found myself in it. Not because the agency wasn’t good. I just didn’t know how I can be myself in this world. I would dread the word advertising, like a nightmare I had to wake up everyday because it was dissecting one job brief after another, changing campaigns as per client’s request bla bla bla..

When Sasha and Sathi came on board, that feeling sort of pushed aside. I felt like I could do this again with them around even though part of me still couldn’t grasp this responsibility as an AD. We would brainstorm day in day out, trying to be different but still included in the many guidelines given. It wasn’t an ordeal I thoroughly enjoyed but because I had a kick ass copywriter who I could connect with and a funny group head, I immersed myself in this black ocean. 

Some people isn’t cut out to be something. And that’s ok.

It was a mantra I kept playing in my head because while everyone was rushing to get their scams executed before submitting for awards, I ran away from that mentality. But you see, when you’re in an international agency, (winning) awards is part of that dream and the more great ideas approved for submission, people acknowledge that you’re great. I don’t understand that need nor do I have a hunger for it. 

Yet, in the midst of all of that confusion, I was always attracted to the digital world. I just didn’t know what to do with it. I often go blank and poor Sasha had to help polish me with ideas so that we can just do something for the team. Everyday, I feel more helpless than the day before.

I sent in my first resignation to Sathi but he talked me out of it (much like how it was in my previous agency). I gave it another chance and a year later, that throb kept beating harder. By this time, I felt so detached from advertising like it was a foreign language I could never learn to understand. I felt very sad to leave a team who shaped me but I also felt relieved because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by holding this title I felt was undeserved.

I went back to basic, to where it all started – design. Only this time, it was freelancing. I did a month or so stint as a freelance Art Director a couple months after I left for a smaller agency because I needed the money but as soon as I woke up into that world again, I began to feel resentment.

“Wasn’t this why I left my job in the first place?” kept ringing in my head. Conscience has a brutal honest voice. That’s my conscience. 

Once that job ended, I felt free again. Lesson learned that whenever I do anything for money, all these negative emotions will be infested in me and for that, it became my compass. The greatest reminder in my professional life.

Then I got to collaborate and work with a state tourism agency. I wrote many things about this chapter in my life here but the moment Fazly gave me veto power to handle the social media, I found my purpose. I didn’t understand what it was, no one knew what to do with it or had any idea for that matter. 2011 was when social media grew very fast in the local waves. I did a lot of reading, countless of hours researching, understanding and mind mapping this unknown world until we came up with ways to change the way tourism industry function in the cyber world.

Despite the (many many many) setbacks in that 3 years I invested to this work, the results were far more than any of us could’ve expected. Especially when it started from nothing. We did something with our hands, eyes, mouth and feet tied. While the visual might seem exaggerating, that was exactly how we felt. But courage, passion, tenacity and motivation to do better and have bigger purpose than what is given, we became better people. 

I merged my knowledge from the ad world. What I know and experienced, I put my entire mind, heart and soul combined with other great souls to achieve what we came to change. It wasn’t easy and it will never be easy but the fact that I found my purpose, obstacles are just hoops we have to jump, run, crawl or push over to overcome.

Coming to Hyper Island was the best back up plan I made. Despite knowing that I would give the same amount of heart being a psychologist, this is something bigger. Design, branding, marketing, art direction and copy will always be my core knowledge no matter what I do but perhaps I finally know why I had a hard time back then was because..

I needed time to read and research about a subject before I can contribute any ideas or find solutions to. I didn’t give myself time for that and that’s why my performance was below par. I kept chasing to be as good as other people but I will never be like most people – I can’t just come up with great ideas without fully understanding what the problems, clients, subjects and possibilities are. I compute differently and way more complex. I need to form a clear understanding before I can jump to the next level.

I asked myself last night with this knowledge at hand, would I make a better Art Director if I was given a second chance? Perhaps. But it also depends on the agency’s culture. 

Maybe service design agency would suit better. 

in the end, no matter where we go, I think this ad sums up everything well and also a reminder why we should be doing what we love more. There’s no perfect world but we can change the way we perceive things. I may have left advertising but it’s apparent that advertising didn’t ditch me, no matter the years that went by.

A very smart classified as for Saatchi & Saatchi done by it's CD, Sathi. (a/l means son of in Malaysia)

A brilliant classified ad for Saatchi & Saatchi Malaysia written by it’s CD, Sathi. (a/l means son of in Malaysia)

4

Combustion and Autistic Tendencies.

This is my dog Rolly. 5 years ago she got lost as a puppy and ended up at my porch one morning. I think she's my kindred spirit. As odd as it may sound.

This is my dog Rolly. 5 years ago she got lost as a puppy and ended up at my porch one morning. I think she’s my kindred spirit. As odd as it may sound.

Sometimes, I feel like I can relate to the way people with autism operates. The brain functions differently and it’s difficult to explain the way it processes information not because stupid or slow but because the brainwave embedded (in my head) is a lot more complex than many people. Therefore information can be interpreted infinity times more. It’s not something that can (ever) be changed genetically.

I can only communicate that I need time and deeper reading to understand. What may seem simple or complex is only a perception by an individual.

So it can be frustrating to make people understand me and vice versa. That’s probably why dealing with autism people takes a lot of patience and I often treat myself to that level. That I need patience for myself and for others to let me get to that level where I can transmit thoughts and ideas in layman terms.

Above all, I’m glad that there are people who have do their best to work well with me despite this tendency I have and not just jump into conclusions and cut me off or out. More than anything, I feel blessed to know these people I call my friends who I feel more like a family yesterday when I broke down.

Everyday I think of ways to understand people better. That’s why I do a lot of writing and mind mapping when people talk too fast or too much. I need to digest all this information and not be overwhelmed by all the senses. Few people will at first take it personally that I seem to listen but I don’t pay attention because I’m jotting down on my notebook but this only happens when there’s too many things going on and I need to isolate all my senses and maximise it’s capabilities.

So by eliminating sight, I can hear better. By focusing on a blank piece of paper and the pen that will translate massive amount of information, my brains can focus on taking it apart and restructuring it again. It’s either that or I focus on music to recalibrate my thoughts. Photography works brilliant with this system because the eye focus on the composition and subject, background and foreground. The brain analyses the way the composition, subject, background and foreground merges together.

It’s the idea of being able to detach everything, breaking it down into smaller pieces and then piece the puzzle back again into a bigger picture that makes me feel more assured and accomplished. It’s taking apart and finding the core values, the source of the inspiration or issue before trying to find solution that makes it easier for me to understand how things work and feel more comfortable figuring it out.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if deep down I have some form of autism symptoms because I know I have to put in a lot more work to keep up with people and be at their level.

Or maybe many people in general prefer to talk instead of making space for their silent thoughts.

I’m still coping and finding ways to figure it out. More so for myself so that others won’t have as much difficulty understanding me than I do of myself. I can only imagine what it must feel like for other people to deal with me when at times I find it infuriating just because I am wired this way. I can only wish that there’s a computer that could translate my brainwave for me so that other people can understand the way I work but until someone comes up with it, all I can ask is be patient.

I will get there. I just function differently.

4

Play, Rewind, Pause: The HI5 Experience

Northern Quarter

It’s a rather new discovery this part of me I just got to know. Probably a little less than a year and having to move to Manchester just amplified that notion about me being an introvert. My tendencies have kept me questioning about myself more since I’ve moved here. Of the things that I am more comfortable with versus the things I should be doing.

It hasn’t occur to me what culture shock feels like until I removed myself from the environment I’ve built for a lifetime. It is then that I am able to see the other side of myself without trying too hard.

First week at Hyper Island made me feel like I have a mental disorder. Of course, I meant it in a good way.

I liken the first day as my bubble bursting in thin air the moment we were meant to mingle with other people in Hyper Island. As with every other first day, I know how I will be – awkward. I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat socially inept. Not on an extreme level but to a certain degree, I lean towards it.

For that, I played along where I could but then Hyper Island one-up their game by getting us all to do a personal presentation about the 3 events or people that had impacted us. Each of us, including HI managers and facilitators did it.

Hyper Island Crew 5_6

“It’s an equal level playground this new school of thought,” I told myself.

Everyone had something to say, something to ask, something to answer yet there I was shutting it all down as fast as I could. Well, I tried to and felt guilty thereafter and what an odd sensation to feel – a deep conscience telling me what I did was wrong and it carried on till the next day.

Hyper Island went on another level and kickstarted a Reflection Session after we “check-in”.

It’s funny that there were two running themes that went on prior to my departure and here I am diving head first into it and unearth the very core of my emotions based on these themes (self awareness and reflection).

Wait, what am I doing in Hyper Island you might ask? Masters in Digital Marketing Management is what I got myself into and what’s better – it’s a super accelerated course. Somehow, I have a knack for getting myself into madness no matter where I go.

Piccadilly Gardens

Hyper Island Crew 5_3

Hyper Island Way Week taught us all to be aware and reflect on our actions individually, small groups and eventually to the entire crew. Imagine how nerve-wrecking that experience had been on the second day itself (and will continue till the end of the program). It’s no wonder I needed 3 days to recover from all that “therapy” when we first started. Yeah, I excused myself from the after-class outings because I was emotionally and mentally exhausted from all that digging and thinking. It doesn’t help that I’m really loving the apartment I’m staying too.

Hyper Island Crew 5_2

Brilliant way to kickstart though. Brilliant indeed to break our walls on our very first week.

Even my past therapy sessions didn’t feel as intense as this.

But, on the upside, it taught me to make improvement every single day. Just one thing at a time. It was what I had got myself to do the last 6 years on a personal level. This time, it’s on professional AND personal level. Oh boy.

I knew everyday that I’m thankful for this diversion He got me to do. What was known as my back up plan is now my primary plan and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I know now that, I had to be here right now at this moment because I’m ready on all level. It might tear me apart and stitch up together but I will not be able to appreciate the greatness that HI delivers if I wasn’t where I am today.

Yeah, this is where I’m suppose to be and I better make sure to do the best I can.

Two weeks ago, Max, our program manager asked us to write a letter to ourselves and sealed it in an envelope. I suspect it’s for time capsule but anyways, one of the things I wrote to myself was about making a deal with the introvert side of me. I may take any one weekday off to recharge and any one weekend for the same reason but the rest, I need to make effort to join the crew for whatever they intend to do, as long as I’m ok with it. Everyday since then, I do my best to push myself from falling back to my comfort zone. To others it may seem almost insignificant but an effort is still an effort.

Hyper Island Crew 5_4

Hyper Island Crew 5_5

I’ve enjoyed my time so far. I really have. The people are fantastic. Crew 5 (that’s what we’re called) are from all sorts of background and countries. It’s amazing to know how other people from other parts of the world think and feel. In such a short time, they have shaped me to be a better person one way or another. Truly an amazing chapter in my life even if I don’t even know what’s ahead of me for the rest of the year but with open mind comes with an open heart.

It’s refreshing to not know what other people’s religions are or races for that matter. Malaysia has been so accustomed to pigeon-hole humans into different sectors and lifestyles – they are either Chinese, Indians, Malay or others who believe in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or none of the above. That itself sort of become our crutch in the real world. Everything has to fit into some kind of stereotype and it’s in HI that I learned none of these really mattered.

None whatsoever. Zilch. Nada.

Hyper Island Crew 5

Everyone respected each other. If you happened to say something insensitive, you can be sure that feedback will be given from the horse’s mouth. We’re wired that way in what I would call the Hyper Culture. It makes us more productive, effective and human in so many ways.

We have this space to make mistakes, forgive ourselves and other people for it and make it better. What has been playing on my mind is, now that we’ve created a whole different bubble for ourselves, by the time we get back to real world, that bubble is going to burst and I look forward to see how we can apply all these methods and culture to other people.

To summarise our program, it’s about cultivating some form of leadership qualities in all of us and take ownership of the consequences we are about to cause. I hope you don’t think we’re going do things quietly without any impact..because we will.

Last week was the start of the incredible journey of masters with real clients and mentors from all kinds of industry. I don’t know how to feel but naturally, I’ll give all I have to be better as solo and team player.

 

Image
0

Back Against The Wall

Under Construction

At this point in time,
the road is unseen,
unwritten and unimagined;
Yet here I am standing,
heart and soul exposed
with everything to lose.

I want to answer,
I want to say,
Most definitely to scream
“It will be okay”
but I never convey
Never reach for that day.

Honestly, I am too afraid
Don’t know what to do
With this grenade,
ticking away minute after minute
“Just throw it to me”,
whispered a voice I never foresee.

How can this be?
So far from any possibility.
I see that charming smile,
the one that’s capable
of undoing everything
I try very hard protecting.

It’s always gonna be like this,
One moment I think I’m done
And then I’m hitting home run.
Someone tell me what’s going on,
‘Cuz at this rate, I’m so far gone
I don’t know what I should hold on.

“What about the adventure you speak of?”
Oh, how I long for those days my love!
He took my hands and shove all insecurities,
Writing our story with so much purity
“I’ve always been here, only a lot less gutsy”
“Welcome home”, I hand out his old key.

 

I wrote Under Construction a month ago but had pushed it aside because I didn’t think it had any place here, or in my point of view, I don’t know how it could fit in this little world.

I don’t know any other way to write but to tell it from the way I feel deep down. I think because I felt that my back is against the wall more times than I like it to be, whether on my own doing or otherwise..it’s been a struggle to push back.

So I stay put for a bit. Praying for the calmness to arrive after chaos.

To be frank, I don’t know how to move forward from here. Maybe once I get this phase over and done with, I’ll get that release I’ve been longing for. Excuse my incapability in writing something important right now. There’s a time when the need needs to be met before crossing over to the greener pasture. This is that.

When I face a wall, poetry and art manage to depict my emotions. There is no better way to describe the feelings I’ve been going through than Pablo Suarez’s Exclusion masterpiece which was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Pablo Suarez Exclusion Argentina

 

0

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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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.