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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.

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Hey Cherating, Love is a Balancing Act.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. – Albert Einstein

Royal Botanical Gardens

When I was in Melbourne last June, Nuds and I were walking at the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was the perfect place I wanted to end this trip of mine, one I followed his suggestion without any question. As we were walking aimlessly, there was a question he asked me which still rings in my ear today.

“Do you think you’ll migrate out of Malaysia?”

Given our history, growing up together, this question has been in everyone’s mind for years, in fact decades. Five years ago or even before that, I would have answered yes in a heart beat. Without thinking at all, I knew that would be my answer. No freaking doubt.

But as decades go by, I took a minute to digest. I know whatever answer I give, he’s one to never judge me. Who knows me inside and out.

“Maybe when I’ve got nothing else to give to Malaysia, I will.”

He gave me that boyish smile of his, like he knew what my answer was.

Melbourne Park

Then, last Wednesday when I got the chance to go on a firefly tour in Cherating, Pahang.. what I’ve prepped myself up for two decades turned it’s table with one humble man.

While sitting in a small room listening to this exuberant person, I was convinced he’s heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Or at the very least, must have studied with a Japanese. Everything about him, the way he speak, his body language and intonation, everything just reminded me of how a (passionate) Japanese would act. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s been learning with a firefly expert from Japan, Prof Ohba Nobuyoshi the past four years.

I’ve not been in a room with someone as animated of a character like him, this firefly whisperer by the name of Mohd Hafiz. He sure puts a smile on my face that night, just seeing him explaining about his love for non-syncronised fireflies just lifts my spirit that much higher.

Here’s a video I managed to capture, and at the right time too. Do ignore the last few seconds. Sorry about that.

I’ve always relate back the experience being around fireflies as a magical experience, the closest feeling to what Disney tends to gravitate to. This time around, with Hafiz around, that experience just got elevated 35364 times more!

It’s in the way he waves his wand red torch light that he’s able to speak with fireflies, requesting for them to go where he wants them to go. Who would’ve thought that there’s such study about firefly communication. Each flicker, wave means something. Ah, it just felt like I was in a different world – one we Malaysians are blessed by this fragile spirits yet we never knew much about.

Apparently, this particular firefly “language” he speaks is only meant for the non-synchronised fireflies – fireflies that are able to live in any mangrove trees (which are deem as the tougher breed) and they don’t flicker in the same rhythm. The ones we’re used to in Kuala Selangor are syncronised fireflies (Photinus Carolinus)- they huddle together in one group and in one specific tree. For obvious reason, they all flash at the same time, same beat. How did he know this? He experimented it and came to this very conclusion.

Pretty neat research isn’t it?

On top of that, he’s recognised by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) which is an important status I might add.

So, what’s so awesome about this experience that you’ll need to go to Cherating, to be more specific – Hafiz’s? The thing is, only Hafiz gets to command for the fireflies to come to him, and they’ll flicker all around you. He’s capable of getting these little ones fly to where you are and be surrounded by them. Other similar tours just point to the firefly at the tree. That’s the special part.

Because the mangrove area is only seven kilometers, we took a boat which could fit in about eight people. That’s probably the only thing that I wish we could do better. Although, one boat can cost up to RM30,000; too big of an amount to spend right now. Honestly, despite Hafiz mentioning that Cherating’s mangrove area is a small one .. just being out there in the dark in the boat for seven kilometers per way is one I felt so happy about. In Kuala Selangor, you’ll prolly get a kilometer north and south but that’s about it. This one, it really felt like we were on a mission. One helluva adventure I might add.

Unfortunately, my trusty TG820 is incapable of taking any photos of the fireflies. I accepted that fact and captured those moments in my mind instead. You’ll just have to go there to know what I’m talking about.

Hafiz Cherating Firefly

You know how animals have wicked instinct about Mother Nature and what’s to come? Hafiz told a story about how he was in a boat with a passenger who wanted to check out these fireflies and his magic powers. When they were in the mangrove area, he tried calling out the fireflies but they refused to come to him. I wish I could demonstrate to you the way Hafiz narrates his story. It’s so fascinating. Anyway, so they (the fireflies) told him it’s going to rain heavily in a few minutes (when fireflies are hiding under the leaves and didn’t want to come out, it means they are shielding themselves from rain) but his passenger didn’t believe him, said the sky is clear, there’s no rain. Hafiz was adamant, if they were going to be out there in the dark any longer, it will be a big problem. So he turned around. Lo and behold, rain poured heavily the next minute just as they were nearing the jetty.

That’s probably when his passenger knew how special Hafiz is. He should, I hope.

I know what you’re thinking (or maybe not), where’s that heartbreaking part I’ve been talking about?

When we got off the jetty after an hour of awesomeness, I was determined to have a chat with the firefly whisperer. I don’t know what aura he has but it’s very alluring. It’s even more exciting to know that he also does other activities if you’re a nature person. The mangrove cruise we got to experience the morning after is another must do. I’m not a fan of reptiles or amphibians but just being here with them made me feel at peace for a short while. That I was doing my best pushing the thoughts about not taking action in taking care of our environment, ’tis too shall pass.

Sigh.

I can’t tell you how amazing I felt being out there with nature. It just felt so right, so wonderful..I swear my heart could’ve exploded with glee.

But..everything just went downhill from here on, the moment I hear his stories. Albeit they are not bad just for someone like him, I wish I could do something, help making something better for him.

Hafiz Cherating Firefly

So this magician, this whisperer we got to know for mere hours is actually from Myanmar. He ran to Kuantan in the 1980s when Myanmar had a major political conflict. At first he and his friend went to Thailand but found it difficult to learn Thai to survive so they decided to extend their journey to Kuantan where they worked in a local restaurant for 20 odd years. It’s from there that he learned Bahasa Malaysia.

Don’t be fooled easily, Hafiz is as bright as they come – B.A. in History from Rangoon University and a degree in Civil Engineering from Singapore. And after 25 years of settling here in Kuantan, it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t get a Malaysian Citizenship despite all his effort in keeping our eco system balanced. To know that he couldn’t go to a firefly symposium in America next year because of his refugee status just shattered my heart. It’s not that he hasn’t tried to appeal, it sounded like he has may times but things just falls apart along the way.

The thing is, he discovered his love for fireflies purely by accident. It was when he decided to take the boat out for a run along the river that he realised his hidden talent. That’s when he made a point to study about fireflies and make his place as part of a research center (well somewhat). He even held a dialogue with other firefly experts from around the world at his little corner of the world, discussing about everything and anything revolving around fireflies. Right now they are researching on a particular chemical from the fireflies.

Can you imagine the kind of mind-blowing, earth changing things that could happen if he is being supported by the right channel? The fact that he’s not even Malaysian to begin with and fights for our eco system is something I just cannot swallow. Purely because, here is someone who’s never seen fireflies, chose to be in Malaysia because of the incident back home yet we who inherit all the wealth and peace take our environment for granted.

The things is, it’s not just fireflies he’s fighting for. This man here even went to the sea and saved a lost Tapir. A friend of his called him up one day, telling him about this Tapir in the sea. Hafiz knew Tapir cannot survive in water and so, he took his boat to the sea, threw the rope like a cowboy and brought the Tapir back to the land. Blessed his pure soul, it’s people like him that makes me want to fight the good fight in Malaysia. There are still so many souls out there doing what he does, fighting for our future but are neglected just the same.

Hafiz Cherating Firefly 2

From what I gather, people all over recognised him for what he does and loves but we don’t recognised him as one of us. Yet you get stories like Bangladeshis who come to Malaysia with an identity card (IC) in hand. It just doesn’t make sense, not by a mile. Makes me so angry that I want to help but don’t know how. Politic world is not one you want to get your hands dirty but if no one cleans it up, what we have today is history tomorrow.

On top of that, he only charge RM25 per head for the tour. For something this amazing with someone with heart of a champion, I wouldn’t mind paying RM40 because at least I know that extra money will go into his research. It’s times like this I wonder to God, why would he put these brilliant spirits in this situations. I dunno. I’ll pray better things will come for all the hard work he’s put into. The fact that he goes out with his team three times a week to clean the river is beyond admirable. It’s no wonder the mangrove is spotless.

You know you have so much respect for yourself when everything you do, you do it with respect.

“I tried passing this knowledge to my brother-in-law, everything I know but in the end if you don’t have the heart, it just doesn’t work.” Mohd Hafiz bin Abdul Majid said when asked if he trains other people.

Cherating Mangrove

When I go back to Nuddin’s question and I think of heroes like Hafiz, I feel like I have a responsibility to do here. At least for now, until Malaysia couldn’t tolerate me anymore. If all the good ones go away from their nest, who’s going to defend? And therein lies so many questions in my mind, uncertainties, dreams and hopes.

I guess as a dwarf, I can only take it one day at a time and hopefully a little piece of what I do in life makes Mother Nature feel a little bit better. Also for the rest of us who depend on her to be healthy.

Side Note: Anis wrote an awesome piece about Hafiz for News Straits Times yesterday. You should definitely read The Magic of Hafiz and The Fireflies. And if you wish to check out other activities in Cherating by Hafiz, check out his blog and facebook fanpage Hafiz’s Cherating Activities.

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Obscura 2013: Finding Familiarity in Art with Chemat

Treat everything we do like it’s a form of art.

I was watching Masterchef Australia Season 4 which Heston Blumenthal was part of the Mega Invention Test. Dude’s most known for his insane creation by merging two unthinkable ingredients together.

Masterchef Australia Season 4 Episode 49 Heston Blumenthal

Photo Credit: Corner Cafe

Anyway, while watching the episode and when he said something along the lines of being in a creative space and under pressure to create something is what’s most exciting – and that thought brought me back to Chemat‘s Street Photography Masterclass workshop during Obscura 2013 last June.

That was exactly how I would’ve explained the intensity throughout my trip then. I’ve spoken highly of this 10 days program and was so inspired that I’m hoping a project I’m working on would see the light of day and have some sense of belonging as it did with Obscura.

Many asked me what it was like during the 3 days workshop in Georgetown, Penang. I only have this to say,

Mind Blowing

I don’t know how else I could have word it out so excuse my french.

I hear whispers, words of terror that Chemat is one to be feared. And yours truly has every right to be afraid too, I mean this is one of the legends in Malaysia we’re talking about.

“Well, worst case is, he won’t like what you do and make you do it again” a friend said.

Right. Like that’s any comfort to my anxious mind.

But it turns out, he’s a lion to his students in MMU. Outside of it all, he’s really a humble man who’s willing to impart knowledge on you. So much wasted brain cells on feeling scared, I learned to relax as we go along during his briefing.

There were about 13 of us. Maximum was 10 but I can see why so many were so eager to register for his session. We were made of from different parts of the world – Washington, Dakar, Germany, Bali, Singapore..basically everywhere around the world. I went into this session alone but end up anything but that.

Obscura Chemat Group Photo

The weirdest part during Chemat’s briefing on Day 1 was that, I was the only one busy live tweeting while the rest make mental notes as he walk us through what makes a street photography, history, etiquettes and more. The things he shared with us were so valuable, I think everyone would get something out of it .. therefore I retreat to the medium I’m more familiar with. I might’ve spammed my followers with bits and pieces of Che Mat’s wise word, hopefully someone find it useful.

China House Obscura Chemat

Before this, I never thought street photography to have such depth. All this while, I’ve been accustomed to just snapping as I go along – he made us stop, think and find meaning in each frame. He made us throw our bad habits; we had to unlearn to relearn this new approach. Street is always about the moment we capture and it still is, just that the technique and mentality has been turned 270 degrees.

Obscura Tweets

After his briefing, we went out together as a group with Chemat. First part of the day was the theory section. The second part is the practice. I was still intimidated and unsure but slowly I found reassurance with myself. Partly because I was still figuring out my new camera. Talk about throwing myself into the sharks.

We were brought to spots Chemat tend to do his shoots, taught us how to be approachable, respect strangers and just simply be. Stick around next to the legend and you’ll pick up details like composing before snapping, waiting and anticipating for a moment to happen and think about the subject before shooting. It’s these nuances that made him great, these nuances that he wants more people to apply into their habit.

Obscura Festival Chemat Street

See, there are a few points Chemat had mentioned which I find most profound. One of which was that – even if you went out and do your usual street photography, it’s ok to come home with nothing (good). So long as you keep doing it, eventually you’ll get something. In today’s world, people want quick fix and instant results. Which isn’t how life works as a whole but people are still adamant to make it happen that way. Having him stressing out the importance of letting go of expectations, you find more patience in everything you do. It’s that secret power you harness what makes your photos tell a deeper story, a better one than before and hopefully one that resonates with other people who view it too.

After all, if a photo is unable to bring out the emotions it speaks, it’s only just a photo. A two dimensional one.

Then there’s the wisest statement I’ve heard in a long time – he also stressed out the importance of one particular street photography rule. Never ever take photos of beggars ( and visually impaired musicians) on the street. That is not street photography by any means. If anything, you’re exploiting their unfortunate lives for your own benefit. Unless you’re doing a story about them, understanding who they are and intend to make your story help them in a positive way, then don’t ever. Taking advantage of others who couldn’t do anything about their situation without purpose is just insensitive.

That’s his rule of thumb. Something we all can apply into our daily life. Think before we share, speak or do something. If we’re doing it just because we want to be part of something (without deeper purpose), there is no point in doing it. Do something with purpose. Do something good.

And it’s always good to have principles to hold on to. At the very least, when you go off track, you can look back and ground yourself to what/who/where you truly are. You’ll pick up these tricks along the way as you discover yourself. Be constantly curious and adaptable.

What did I learn at the end of the trip? What I thought my strengths were was otherwise not the case and I found out that I’ve got a knack for graphic things. I’m more drawn to those and having him pointed it out to me when we were reviewing our pieces really shed so much light into what street photography is all about. So that 2/3 of the day images I took were not hitting the mark now that I had a new direction. So off I went waking up 6am and walked to the other side of Penang, waited and anticipated for moments.

I sat for more than an hour outside Komtar. No one was around at that time, one could just cross the road easily. I went to this place the day before, but didn’t get the shot I wanted. Given that I only had until 9am to get my shit together, I look for something..anything really and found a possibility.

And sometimes..the good stuff happens through accidents.

That was exactly the case with this particular photo I took as part of the concept. The 5th photo that made into the presentation list. Wasn’t part of the plan but it became THE plan. I was trying to capture the uncle at the shop lot but then, a pack of dogs decided to photo-bombed.

Yep, this was the result of that. The one I didn’t expect to snap but I did. In that moment, I finally understood what Chemat has been talking about. Waiting for that moment, composing the subject and just be patient. Everything he said throughout his talk wrapped into one image.

Obscura Street Photography Chemat

So y’know, it helps to go with the flow when it comes to things that’s beyond your control. You’re more relaxed, open-minded and accepting of things. I like this.

When it was time for our final group review before slideshow that evening, I was as nervous as a noob can be. What more being among the most talented bunch of cool people in this class..geez, I’m like somewhere at the bottom. However, that’s not the point of joining this session..I brought back so much more, in fact it helped boost my confidence just a little bit more. We all know what a mess I can be when it comes to the public, having people actually sit and anticipating for our work was every bit a nerve wrecking experience for me. One that was projected to an empty wall at the temple opposite China House with people lying down on the grass and more on the bench, oi, some experience that was! To be honest, so many times I felt like getting out of the place, not wanting for people to see what I shot the past one day. Shout out to Anis for the moral support 🙂

Having a good collection of photos, street photography for that matter is no easy task. It’s something that’s almost out of your control – whatever the result of your photos may be. But patience.. that’s all it takes to build up something good.

As for Chemat, you students are lucky to have him as your lecturer. As strict as he is..it will carry with you to the end. Don’t bother hoping for someone who’s more delicate with you, you bunch of lucky folks.

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TED Prize: JR

I know it’s a Saturday but I thought of this video off an on, I don’t know why. There’s so much goodness in JR’s words, works and thoughts.

If you’re ever in Paris and spotted paper graffitis (these days it’s cut-out shapes of drawings) on the wall, along the alleys – this was how it all started. Many moon years ago. It’s kinda like an signature, the other side to that Parisien romantic dream many people associate the City of Lights.

Anyway, I’d love for you to spend some time and watch this video, how much impact something so simple yet became a functional design that could save lives (or make lives better).

I always believe that while we can’t change the world, we can make a difference, at least to one person. We might not know about it but that’s what the magic is all about.

Perhaps you too might be inspired to leave a mark in the future?