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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.”

2

A Medieval Fairy Tale Affair

While writing for MySelangorStory for the past week like a train determined to send it’s passengers from one destination to another, I felt a certain surge of aware. I was in the zone, relieving the journey I was in and rather than feeling the stress going up to my head; I was enjoying writing instead. I could say I work best under pressure, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that I was writing about my traveling experiences. It didn’t feel like a chore. If anything, it was like a therapy in it’s own remarkable way.

That was also why I started Wanderlust Theories earlier. To recapture the sights, sounds and touch of my journey.

MSS was like the force to continue my passion and a reminder of what I love the most.

So today, I decided to write about Ludlow, Shropshire, England. I had a few places to write about, somehow Ludlow piqued my interest to start this early morning with.

I remember having a cuppa with a cousin who’s been living in London for most part of his life and when I told him about my trip to Ludlow during my Euro backpacking trip, he had this big question mark on his face; one I saw coming long time ago.
“Of all places? LUDLOW?!” was all he said.
See the thing is, I’m an easy traveler. Because I live to travel, you throw me anywhere in the world; I’m sure I’ll bound to find something outstanding about it. That’s how much I love traveling. I won’t deny I have a romantic idea about traveling – meeting new people, learning new cultures and going out of the box but that is because that’s what I have been experiencing, what I have been implementing in all my traveling. 
Therefore, I held Ludlow like I held the bull’s horns. I went and I had the time of my life.
Since I stayed in Tooting, London for a few days with a friend before heading over to the rest of Europe, I found out a very old friend is living nearby. Well 3 hours nearby. Puan Khalijah, or I’m more familiar with calling her as Puan K but told me to address her as Khalijah or her novelist name Iris Ixora, is a family friend since I was in diapers and was my tutor for 6 years before she went to UK to pursue her masters. I never heard anything from her after that. 
Five years later, I got to know she was in Ludlow and so happened to be free while I was figuring out what else does UK has to offer. 
At that point, I was bored of London (possibly because it reminded me too much of Kuala Lumpur). I needed to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city.
Called her up, bought the next ticket at Waterloo Station to Birmingham and Shrewsbury and off to Ludlow! There’s a detailed travel route to get to Ludlow here. Check it out!
To be honest, when I heard the name Ludlow, I wondered what it was about. Never heard, read or seen this place before and that was enough to convince me to go. What’s a curious cat to do when it’s curious? Investigate!
Meeting Khalijah (she requested me to call her by her name but after knowing her for so long, it’s not a habit that’s easy to be chucked away) at Ludlow Station around 4 in the afternoon, we walked to the city(a medieval one) within minutes and the entire surrounding was a 180degrees opposite of what my stay in London was. I would say it was the perfect anecdote during that time.
Ludlow is a medieval area where the buildings remained the way it was 500 years ago. The sad news was that, I had missed out on it’s 500th year celebration the day before; much like how I missed the GLBT festival in London that happened the day before I had arrived. I guess lady luck wasn’t on my side then. Would’ve made an even bigger impression to my backpacking experience with those events.
There was this weird craving I had throughout the journey. I wanted to drink soup so badly. Good homemade yummy chicken broth with fresh herbs and vegetables (most importantly celery). Just thinking about it is enough to make me drool. Slurp.
So when she asked me what I wanted her to make for dinner, I instantly requested for soup. A whole big pot of super duper yummy soup! She was surprised at first as she expected me to say along the lines of Malaysian food but the only thing I crave while I was there were soup and pasta. No idea why.
A good thing too that I could go without rice while I’m away.
We stopped at the nearest Tesco on the way back and it was pretty neat because the layout in Ludlow did felt medieval; quaint and original the way it has been. Thank god I didn’t have a trolly bag to drag on the cobble stones as it would’ve made the journey difficult. I even managed to post some postcards to some of my friends along the way too 🙂
Obviously, being the biggest chocolate fan in the world, the first thing I went to check out was..the chocolate aisle. Lo and behold how cheap these yummy goodness were! I was contemplating of buying everything there (Wait till I go to Belgium..that’s another story) but managed to hold myself back. The only thing I bought was probably car magazines.
So off we went to her flat. This was yet another godsend place I tell ya! Since her flat is on the first floor, the smell from the chocolate shop below us was just too tempting not to try. Heck, that particular shop even make it’s own ice cream!
Sigh.
It’s like a devil’s place this one. I freaking swear it was. Every time I enter and exit the flat, it’s all I smell. -____-
Her house was a different case altogether. See, I’ve known her since forever and to be able to meet her here, now in a different perspective was quite a shift for me so to speak. I was 21 and in a way, we’re more friends now than just a teacher-student relationship therefore the things we talked about were relatively more matured? Then again I’ve always had a different relationship with her.
As you can see, a BIG bowl of Cadbury roses were laid on the table for me to see (and eat) and next to it were big bowls of strawberries and cherries. Up to that point, I’ve never been to a place with that many chocolates and berries waiting for people to eat! Such a brilliant idea!
Then I found out, she did it because she remembered those were my favourite. Aww, I was on cloud 9 that very moment. Couldn’t stopped myself from smiling ear to ear and .. munching those delicious tidbits.
You can imagine what a big dork I was 😉
To enter this spectacular home was like entering a castle. A bathroom with jacuzzi and LCD screen? What?! I’ve never been pampered with something this luxurious. We finally catch up with her new life after she left Malaysia for UK. Things are definitely looking up for her since 🙂 She deserves all the good things that’s coming her way. With a new family by her side, I think it’s more than she had prayed for 🙂 Oh wait, publishing her own novels too.
I’m very much happy to see her this way.
While she was cooking the soup I was craving for (this reminds me of my younger days when she used to cook for fun with her other daughters at her old place back in KL), I wandered around the place, asking a lot of questions about Ludlow and how she was able to pick this place among other places.
So we started chatting about how she and her husband, Jeremy was charmed by Ludlow and when they went to visit the showroom(which is this very house), it simply took their breath away and he gifted her this flat as a present. I had gathered that they live in many places around the globe. 
I finished the pot of soup in the end. Heh.
Ludlow being a very quaint city, I expected nothing less. We walked during the late afternoon and I got to see where her first book took place. There was this cottage house down the river and she pointed out how Ludlow has been an inspiration for her to write her book. She’s an accomplished Malay writer indeed and I’m happy her dreams are finally coming true, one by one. So it was a nice personal tour this one.
Then she told Jeremy about our presence in their house and he was excited to meet us. He flew all the way from Düsseldorf the night after and came together with his son, Ben who was on the other side of England. I didn’t expect such a warm welcome from her entire family and loved every moment of it too. I had a long (albeit funny) debate with Jeremy about needing visa to go around EU that night when the rest were having fun laughing at us by the fireplace. Cozy and charming, this is my seventh heaven.
During the day, the first view I get in the morning from the window was the square.
With the crystal blue sky to start my day, I couldn’t imagine being in a bad mood while being here. Personally, Ludlow is like a page taken out from a fairy tale book. Really. The hill overlooking us and the panoramic view were divine. Made me want to roll myself over with a herd of sheep. 
It was that captivating.
Yup, I’m a sucker for a place like this. A place for me to escape.
We walked further and went to the other side of the river, where they had boats to go around but when we were there it was closed. We ended up throwing rocks and decide who could throw the furthest. Obviously I lost.  Yet another way to release myself; things I could only imagined, actually came true.
Sometimes it feels good to have some places that never change with time. A place like Ludlow. Around the world, we have cities with tallest buildings, making it feel like concrete jungle. To have something like this, mother nature in all her glory was truly a breath of fresh air. I always imagined myself walking in the woods having to grow up with Mark Twain and Hans Christensen; this was a gift I will never forget even today as I write this again. It’s as if it had only happened yesterday. 

So beautiful. So untouched. So calm. It’s just so Ludlow.


We entered a mansion of a famous poet (I think) and as usual, it’s not Dian if I didn’t trip and fall. I did and I captured this in that brief moment. An accidental shot it was and it is still one of my most favourite shot of all time.


My other favourite things to do is picking up fresh flowers without a care in the world. It’s so cheap, I’d buy flowers everyday! Unlike in KL, buying flowers is like a luxury. The fact that I could pick up any freshly squeezed fruit juice was another thing I love. You could drink it and know it’s 100% natural juice. No doubt about it. The aroma of fresh pastries running across the pathway charmed me even more. There was this lady who made one of the nicest fruitcake I’ve ever tasted with homemade marmalade jam. Oh boy.

To top it off, there was this part of the hill which overlooks the entire area that Jeremy loves so much, he usually makes a point to walk into the woods and up the hill to this particular spot.


It was also by the river further down the hill where I caught this photo of this boy before he jumped around to throw rocks (apparently it’s everyone’s favourite past-time?)


Yeah I had a lot of fun getting to know this new old friend of mine.

By the time moon and stars came up to shine, the entire place turned silent. Everyone’s getting some good quality family time indoors. So did we with indian food to fill our tummies. That was the first time I was introduced to Chicken Vindaloo. Something the Brits love I think? Outside, it was so quiet you could hear the sound of a pin falling to the ground. Infact, I could lie on the road and pretend to be the only human in the world and don’t have to worry about getting hit by a truck. It’s a peaceful deadly night.
The stars! Oh what remarkable creation God has made of you!
There were too many stars, I didn’t even bother to count (obviously I could count stars with my fingers here). It was beyond anything I have ever witnessed before as I observed Ben capturing the night with his camera patiently while the rest took in the view like it was the best thing they’ve ever seen.

Later, we chilled by the fireplace, another experience into my book. There’s no need for television or computer to be entertained if I have a family like them. Like any good storytellers, they shared many amazing stories, painting a picture of who they were/are. Warm and cozy does not even fit them any close. 

Oh, there’s this brown leather chair by the window I fell in love with, which I got to know later is Jeremy’s favourite go to chair. 

The people in Ludlow are an awesome bunch. I could go up to any random person and smile. Say Hello. Ask random questions. They treat you like any other local and it easily made my day everyday I was there.



At this point, the bell ringing from the church behind the flat has become my morning call. And as much as the duck feathered duvet were a calling to bed, I couldn’t spend any longer knowing it was my last day in Ludlow. I woke up, got out of the room and realised no one was awake. I took the house key laid on the counter and made my way out to the market square outside. It looked festive, like they were celebrating life everyday with music, laughter and smiles.

I was as happy as clam walking down each stall, looking through at the things they were selling. Old records, food, clothes, books, more food.. and then I remembered it being my last day, I had to get something for the awesome family who had welcomed me to their home. Then I saw this really joyous lady preparing her table and I inhaled the best thing in the world – double chocolate fudge brownie cake.
Jackpot!



I bought some for everyone of course 🙂 Guilty as charged. I couldn’t help but talked to the great bake too. She was very friendly and happy when I greeted her. It took her since 4 in the morning to prepare this delicious sin. And was more than happy to share it with others. With gold in my hand, I spotted a drawing of a black kitten which reminded me a lot of Khalijah’s cat she adored so much. It was done in charcoal if I’m not mistaken. With one artwork on one hand and brownie another, I could say that I was the happiest person on earth. 

Then I received a text about breakfast being served.

Went up and presented my gifts to them 🙂 It’s the least I could do really.

So that was my little fairy tale story that will forever be plastered in my mind. A place I’ll make a point to visit again (not to mentioned a little magical chocolate factory situated nearby in Birmingham :P). It was a great trip, despite it being a last minute one. A trip I needed to shake myself up.

Ludlow, thank you for having me around.
4

Hello World.

Everything in life has a beginning and an end. We’ll start with the beginning (and just enjoy the ride while the end comes; whenever it wants)..which will be Kuala Lumpur, my birthplace.

Let’s just say it’s Wanderlust Theories introduction to the world.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia and it’s people are normally referred to as KLites. Tall buildings, food, shopping malls, haze, more glorious food, colourful culture, a lot of holidays and summer 24/7 pretty much sums up KL to it’s core. Oh, not to forget it’s traffic jam as well. But that’s another story altogether.

                                                        This was taken from the Observation Deck in Menara KL.

I used to think that KL is only most beautiful during the night or very early in the morning; for the obvious reason until recently, I rediscovered this city in a different perspective and it is a lot more fun/warm too. See, the thing about living in a city is that, the real face is covered with concrete all over causing the true life experience of what made it the way it is now left unknown to many people, even KLites themselves.

To me what makes a place appealing would be the raw emotions of it’s people. With the hustle and bustle of the city, one rarely get to experience it aside from it being just another city. Ok, Tokyo probably can get away with this. Never been there before, but one day some day soon I will.

So back to KL.

I’ll write about what KL is in general for now and delve into my new discoveries later on in new entries.

KLCC pretty much put us in the map, aside from the Sepang International Circuit for Formula 1. For the longest time, when you ask any westerner if they know where Malaysia is, they wouldn’t know, unless you say a neighbour to Singapore. It’s quite frustrating because Malaysia has so much to offer but was hidden from the world. Now though, it’s a different case.

I must admit, KL has a lot of energy. It caters to everyone with all kinds of interest. If you’re the running type of person, there are various hills you can go to – Tabur, Broga or Gasing Hill; heck, while you’re at it, might as well run up the stairs at Batu Caves. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Get your body work out with ATV or Paintball in the jungle. Hey, nothing beats being one with Mother Nature right?

Zorbing will turn your life upside down, literally. A tad crazy but it’s a once in a lifetime thing being in a washing machine-like enviroment. Of course those who suffers from claustrophobia are not advised to do it.   

The KL I grew up with is very humid during the first half of the year. What with global warming, boy, you’ll probably want to sleep in the freezer. For someone who does not like the air condition system, I sure as heck is tempted to install one in the room but once May-June comes, hello rain! Open your windows, welcome the cool breeze into your space and it’s just as chilly. I am amazed with women like them who doesn’t seem bothered with the heat.

As of late, we’ve been getting many more Koreans and Arabs coming over to KL either for holiday or to stay. Considering the conversion rate to Ringgit Malaysia(RM), KL is pretty cheap to shop, eat & stay. It’s no surprise the Arab/Korean restaurants are booming here; unfortunately the authentic good Korean restaurants (mostly in Korean Street, Ampang) are non-halal.

With so many races living together here, it’s no wonder our most popular question in everyday life is “What to eat ah today?” and most frequent answer to this would be “Anythinglah”. I mean of course we can’t think straight when it comes to food; God, look at the choices we have here! Let me assure you that, good ‘ole Malaysian food is best served in small stalls by the street or drains. There’s just something about it that makes the food extra delicious. You can spend as little as RM2 for Roti Canai and Teh Tarik or spend a bit more for noodles, rice or our local Burger Ramly. Let’s not even talk about the desserts!

If I can say one thing that we are rich in, it’s most definitely food. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, you’ll be guaranteed for a gastronomical experience anywhere in the city.

We’ve got some nice places to hangout during the night too. Whether you’re the clubbing type of person, lounge or just want to go out for the heck of it; KL’s got it all! From Zouk to No Black Tie to ehem..

people who constantly serving us day and night, the mamak stalls!

What would we do without those hardworking fellas making and serving our food when we crave for something to munch at 2AM? I can’t imagine a life without them. No wait, I could – something like London. That’s not even a compliment.

Yes, they are our unsung heroes.

Seriously. Food is KL and KL is food. There’s no other way about it.

You know what? KL is alright. It’s not mad. Albeit the crime issues are terrifying but it’s not so bad after all (also because of the new discoveries).

I didn’t think it would be this hard to write up a place like KL but how wrong was I?

Phewh. I can now stop looping Maroon 5’s Misery.

I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure
– Paulo Coelho