Experiencing Thainess

A Thai Welcome. Mythical creatures at the Wat Phra Kaew Temple Grounds.

“Travelling:  It leaves you speechless, then it turns you into a storyteller.”– Ibn Battuta

Finally, I ran out of sensible things to say except maybe to tell you about the series of crazy and unbelievable events that led me to this place and made me love it.  Bangkok was one of the last cities I planned to visit.  I have always loved the city and architecture which is quite evident in the subject matter of my photographs.  I honestly was never fond of shopping, night markets, night life, and the beaches which I have always associated with Thailand (or even Bangkok).  Did not really like ocean cruise holidays or water sports either (most of my friends live on land ). 🙂  A colleague however did a good job of documenting her last visit to Bangkok (her birthday) and with her interesting photos of the food and a convincing story of satisfaction, I was sold.

So I found this attractive deal at a hotel booking site.  Now because I was used to paying hotels when I actually get there, I was immature enough to assume that this one will allow me to do the same.  After clicking the “Book Now” button, I realized that I just paid the hotel in full.  Immediately, I lost a few hundred bucks.  So after that, you can just imagine how I really struggled just to make it to the end of the month.  Needless to say, this journey to Bangkok has officially started.

Then there was this APEC summit in Manila (my hometown).  I am not used to travelling alone and have always promised my wife and my daughter that whenever I get a chance, I will meet them in some part of the world and we’ll explore that place together.  But because of this summit, most flights coming out of Manila for that week have been either cancelled or rescheduled to give way to incoming APEC delegates (I didn’t see that coming).  So that meant my wife and daughter will not be able to meet me in Bangkok.  With the hotel booked, my air ticket already paid, and no more time for adjustments, I had to journey on my own.

Arriving at the hotel in Bangkok, I was told that I was given a free upgrade.  The small room I booked for three persons was upgraded to an entire flat.  The hotel was really kind enough to do that; having thought that I will be bringing my family along with me (Now I know why they call Bangkok “The City of Angels”). 🙂 So I had the entire flat for myself.  I actually slept in every room of the flat for each night of my 3-day stay there just to make use of the large space.  Honestly, I don’t know of anybody silly enough to do just that.

Bangkok Jam. Capturing rush hour traffic at Bangkok CBD.

Now, I was wrong about Bangkok. Dead wrong.  The city itself was a big surprise.  It seems like anything is possible here. Bangkok is a dizzying and dazzling array of contrasts, extremes and superlatives:  Speedy skytrains gliding past slow moving traffic; megamalls competing with shophouses for tourists and customers; sweltering tourist spots alongside refreshing sidewalk restaurants; and ultra modern high-rise buildings perched above ubiquitous traditional Thai temples.  And of course, modern shopping centers versus the weekend market and bazaar (the highlight for most tourists).  My hotel was even situated near a quiet urban park; a respite from the buzz of the busy urban hub.  In busy Bangkok, a place like this seems like an aberration.  Not to forget the food that tops off the tourist experience.

Bangkok Modern. High-rise office towers at the Chong Nonsi BTS Station in Bangkok.

I only had three days to spend in Bangkok (thanks to that silly hotel booking site) so i decided to visit only the major tourist spots: Wat Traimit, Wat Phra Kaew, The Grand Palace and Wat Pho.  This is the essence of a Bangkok visit.  A must-see.  From where I come from, you can’t come to Singapore without planning to visit Merlion Park. 🙂

I came in at around noon so I decided to spend the rest of the day at Chinatown and visit Wat Traimit.  Wat Traimit is the temple of the Golden Buddha.  I read somewhere that there are lots of gold in Chinatown, but it will not be enough to recreate this jaw-dropping, giant, solid gold statue which weighs around 6 tons and with a current value of approximately US$250 million.  Time is gold, so take the time to appreciate this impressive gold statue sculpted in the beautiful Sukhothai style.   The Golden Buddha is seated at the 4th floor of Phra Maha Mondop, the compound’s beautiful marble structure.  The best way to reach Wat Traimit is to take the Metro to Hua Lamphong station (exit 1).  From there, go by foot.  You might need to ask some locals for directions as the temple is not in a conspicuous location.

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

The problem with major tourist spots are the tourists. 🙂 There must have been fifty busloads of tourists that day at Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace.  If you love photography (or selfie), it may take a while to get a clean shot of anything; one with less tourists in your photos.  But here, I guess it’s impossible even on a weekday.  So by actually being there, you just added to the problem. 🙂 The magnificent architecture and the grandeur of the temples and palace however were enough to hold my attenton and to forget the heat and the crowd.  The level of architectural detailing was unbelievable and the colors so vibrant that they make for wonderful photos.  I have a handful of Thai colleagues back in the office and now I am not surprised why they are so creative and have such keen attention to details.  My two cents: Arrive early on a weekday and beat a lesser crowd.  Don’t miss the Emerald Buddha and wear pants or long skirts while within the premises.  Bring lots of drinking water.  The best way to reach Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace is to take the ferry ride along the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok’s Central Ferry Station to Pier No.9.

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Among all the attractions, I’ve read Wat Pho perhaps holds the most notches in its belt.  It is the oldest and largest Wat in Bangkok.  It has the largest (or longest) and only Reclining Buddha.  It has the biggest collection of gilded buddhas (gold plated buddhas in the lotus position) and the most number of stupas and smaller temples within its temple grounds.  And if I may add, it is the only tourist spot that provided free bottled water for visitors. 🙂 But it actually felt it has lesser tourists compared to nearby Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace.  But it should never be missed.  My other two cents:  Don’t miss the Reclining Buddha and take the time to ramble through the minor structures beyond the inner walls of the temple grounds.  Like most major tourist spots, Wat Pho can be reached by taking a ferry ride along the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok’s Central Ferry Station to Pier No. 8.

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Surprisingly, I found extra time in my hands.  So I decided to spend my last night (a Friday) in one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars (a photographer should always take home at least one aerial photo of each new city). 🙂 There is never a shortage of rooftop bars in Bangkok.  With hundreds of hotels in the city competing for tourists, the quality of most rooftop bars can only get better.  I decided to try Cielo Skybar.  It’s not on the top of the list but the food here is great and reasonably priced; with lesser people even on a Friday.  The seats are widely spaced allowing for other people to stand in between and view the city below.  The sunset view is magnificent and unobstructed with the Chao Phraya River beyond bathed in golden light.  But since the bar is located in a somewhat suburban district, it has less of the iconic Bangkok high-rise buildings that would make for a wonderful twilight photo.  But if you’re into food, sunset, and a relaxed atmosphere, this is the right place.

Head Rush. Bangkok sunset viewed from Cielo Skybar.

Three days are not enough for a Bangkok visit.  Most of the people I know who have been here have always expressed intentions of coming back.  And they did.  When asked why, they just couldn’t explain.  There’s always that “something” that puts Bangkok at the top of their list. I think it’s called Thainess (or Thai-ness, if there is ever such a word).  It’s a word that just came up when I was sharing the experience later with the colleague I mentioned earlier.  It’s a common feeling shared and experienced by those who have been to this place before.  Maybe it’s shopping, the food, night life, the best bargain, or simply the warm hospitality of the locals.  For me, maybe it’s the architecture, the city, or simply the strange foreign beauty of a place that is ever looking forward and that says anything here is possible.  Whatever it is you’re looking for, Bangkok will always add its own twist and flavor to the experience; customizing and making it more personal and memorable.  That I don’t know how to explain either.  Besides, the events leading to this Bangkok experience were also unbelievable and unexplainable.  Crazy and silly got me here in the first place.  And with that, I dare not think anymore. 🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!

 

I will be adding more photos from this Bangkok trip here in this link.

 

Advertisements

A New Orient

Quiet After The Storm. Sunrise at the Shanghai Pudong District.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”– Anonymous

This fascination with the east has been going on for quite some time now.  Well obviously, I grew up in this neighbourhood.  And if you are here, you are spot on.  Now is the perfect time to be living, thriving, and breathing in this part of the world.

So why Shanghai?  Because Shanghai is positively electric.  It is a testament to China’s aspirations and a centerpiece of its status as an emerging global economy.  A place rich in tradition and dreams for the future.  It is a fascinating mix of traditional buildings, colonial architecture, and futuristic skyscrapers most of which have no precedent.  Shopping, dining, sightseeing, museum, or bar-hopping; Shanghai has all that and more.  Not so surprised why so many people want to come here.  I read somewhere that people in Shanghai are smart.  To this a local cleverly replied: “Not really.  But only smart people come to Shanghai”.  So I guess that’s why I’m here. 🙂

Old and New. Historic buildings along the Bund Strip in Shanghai, China.

I have a thousand and one photos from this recent Shanghai trip which I plan to share and write about in a next post.  Sorry about that.  So what I wrote up there was sort of a false introduction.  I have this problem.  Everytime I want to write about something, some flow of random thoughts come to mind and I end up writing about something else.  It does bother me at times but I couldn’t discount it either.  Just wanted to share it here and get it off my system.  So bear with me for a while.  This could get a little sappy.

Honestly, I wanted to go as far and as high as I could.  They call Shanghai “The Paris of the East”.  I really wanted to go as far as Paris but at the moment, this is as close as I could get to being there. 🙂  So here I am on Day 5 of this trip (my last night here) standing on top of the Shanghai World Financial Center as high as I could get at 474 meters with the office 2,363 miles behind me.  I am looking through misty glass windows towards a horizon that seems to stretch on forever; oblivious of the maddening crowd of smartphone-wielding tourists around me trying to get photos and the usual selfies.  I am looking at the city below but with part of my mind somehow still back there with the work that I love very much and a heart disappointed by a few personal plans that didn’t turn out the way I expected.

You know what?  We all get tired, drained, stressed, disappointed, and confused (distracted) sometimes.  It’s the design fault of human nature.  Constantly running does not always get you somewhere.  Activity does not necessarily mean achievement.  One philosopher said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  So we stop and drop everything.  We take a few steps back and try to see where we are in the grand scheme of things.  A few weeks back, I heard a senior mentor say that standing too close to the tree makes you lose sight of the forest.  He was right.  Recently, I was doing exactly just that.  So I was snapped out of this selfish daze.

So that is why I am here.

One Last Look. Shanghai viewed from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

  1. Maybe that’s why I love the Orient (the East).  The Orient is a descriptive word which means appearing or rising especially from below the horizon.  Like the morning or orient sun.  It is a promise of something better and a chance to make up for opportunities lost.  The verb form of the word means to re-align or to position oneself towards a proper direction.  Put simply, to focus on the path that is more important.  Much like the way you use a compass when you get lost somewhere.  I love the way that sounds.
  2. That’s why I love architecture.  It helps me think in three dimensions.  In my line of work, we call it perspective.  On this side of heaven, we only see things in two dimensions.  The perspective is the master architect’s way of communicating to laymen and mere mortals the meaning of two-dimensional drawings.  It helps us understand context and where things are in the masterplan of everything.  Nothing exists in a vacuum.  The tree mentioned above needs to co-exist with the other trees in the forest.  All things work together for the good.  We call it the big picture.
  3. That’s why I love high places like this.  It helps me experience and appreciate the perspective mentioned above.  It is also comforting to know that there is someone up there who is really in control and who sees my life (our lives) from this point of view.  Someone who sees every beginning and ending from a higher vantage point.  I like the illustration of the tapestry.  You  don’t get to appreciate a tapestry when you are still working on it from the underside.  Only when the workings on the underside are done can you only look at it from the top and understand its real beauty.  It’s pretty much like that.

Fly by Night. After-hours at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

So while waiting for the daylight to fade and the city lights below to turn on,  I noticed my reflection on the glass before me.  I suddenly remember a conversation I read somewhere a few years back.  I could almost hear the reflection speaking to me with the words from that dialogue:  “Hey brother.  I miss you already.  Snap out of the daze and get back on track.  Life is short and architecture is too long.  There’s still a lot of things to do.  And one more thing:  take care of yourself because if you drop dead, I will kill you.” 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!

 

I will be adding more photos from this Shanghai trip here in this link.

 

 

A Toy Story

IMG_0285

Enter My Dreams. The gateway to Legoland Malaysia. Surprisingly, the place was not as crowded as I had expected.

This day trip to Legoland Malaysia just happened without much planning.  To be honest, it was a result of simply having nowhere else to go.  Legoland Malaysia is just a 1-hour bus ride from Singapore (where I am currently based) so it’s funny and embarrassing to admit that it was one place that I had yet to visit.  I finally got my chance during a public holiday.  The holiday fell on a Friday and I suspect some office colleagues already planned their long weekend somewhere really nice.  And here I am.  Stuck.  I needed to go somewhere too.  Somewhere.  Anywhere actually.

IMG_0532_v2

Legoland Hotel. Stay close to the action by checking in at this hotel located just across the park. The interior of this hotel is a theme park in itself.

But honestly, maybe at the back of my mind I already had a reason for visiting this place.  I wanted to go back to how I started; on how I became an architect in the first place.  When I started this blog, I was hoping to share about photography and the places that I will be able to visit; with perhaps a detailed account of what I will do and eat during each day of the trip in those places.  It’s what most bloggers do :-).  And believe me, I wanted to do the same.  But then, I realized you might as well buy a travel guide.  The accounts about the places (and the food) will be more convincing.

One of our life coaches taught us the lesson of the empty cup.  It’s a reminder to be teachable; on not to think so much of yourself as someone who has already arrived; and not to underestimate the power of a small person or place to teach or remind you of something important.  That happened to me here.  So, may I request that you indulge me once more in sharing my gleanings on this recent road trip and I promise next time, I will write about what most bloggers write in their blogs :-).  Thank you very much.

IMG_0288

Color My World. The LEGO-inspired detailing of the Legoland Hotel facade.

Nearly everyone I know who grew up in my generation had their affair with the LEGO.  There were other toys before that but most did not offer much of a breakthrough compared with the creativity and imagination inspired by the LEGO.  I loved drawing when I was a kid and our bedroom walls were proof of that passion.  I know my parents had no problem repainting them regularly.  I had the drawings and the building blocks of the LEGO to work and to build with.  Growing up, I believe I enjoyed the high feeling created by the smell of freshly poured concrete and the way things were put together.  Everything fell into the right places.  I knew I had to build.  I wanted to be an architect.  And so an architect I became.  So now needless to say, I found this Legoland trip right up my alley.

The Big Shop. The place for the ultimate LEGO fan.

At the facade level, the place looks just like your usual theme park designed only for children.  And like most theme parks I know, the place could be really hot and sweltering (sadly though, it actually rained most of the afternoon).  Unless you’re a LEGO fan, have children, or just plain curious; I am not sure you’ll think of coming here almost all by yourself.  But what awaits inside is something that can thrill people of all ages.  Honestly, for a moment I was a child again (I was trying my best not to make it sound like second childhood).

The park has several attractions (namely:  The Beginning, Lego City, Miniland, Land of Adventure, Imagination, Star Wars, Lego Kingdom, Lego Technic, and Water Park).  Depending on who you are with, your interest and your bias; you could spend an entire day in just any two or three of the attractions.  I tried some of the rides (the “adult-friendly” ones) if only to make use of the RM235 I paid to get to this park :-).  The last time I took a crazy ride was with my daughter when she was 12 years old.  I was a little younger back then and I was happy having created that memory for her.  Nowadays, I would have none of it :-).

IMG_0309

Water Fun. Take the plunge at the Dinosaur Island.

IMG_0318

Imagination. This is the place for the true LEGO fan where families can build and play with the LEGO bricks.

IMG_0417

LEGO Academy. This area is also home to Mindstorms, where you can build and program LEGO robots.

Not surprisingly, what caught my attention was Miniland:  a miniature showcase of some of the iconic buildings of Malaysia and Southeast Asia.  LEGO released its architecture series a few years ago and featured some classic American buildings as part of its collection.  But to see some of the Asian buildings in a LEGO rendition and in a very impressive scale was a real treat.  I have seen some of the actual buildings so I couldn’t help but look closely at the miniatures.  The level of accuracy and detailing was absolutely incredible!  Back in our time, models were made using wooden blocks or cardboard to show clients the massing and placement of buildings.  Those however did not include details as we know them now.  Much of what’s to be expected was left to the actual completed structure.

A LEGO version of the Singapore Marina Bay Waterfront buildings with the Merlion Park in the foreground.

A LEGO rendition of the Putra Mosque, the centerpiece of Putrajaya in Malaysia.

The Taj Mahal in miniature. The level of detailing is incredible.

But you know what surprised me the most at the end of this visit?  It’s actually the kids and the families working together on the LEGO.  I don’t know where I’ve been lately but honestly, I haven’t seen that for quite a while.  I grew up in a time without computers.  It wasn’t always the best of times but it somehow taught me the ever-increasing value of face-to-face conversations, collaboration and high-touch, tactile activities;  especially in these times when our kids have more facebook friends and high-tech gadgets.  It makes us want to consider carefully the balance of the types of toys we give to our kids.  Maybe it’s the reason themed places like this still thrive.  People still do recognize its significance after all.

Star Wars Museum. The latest addition to the Legoland experience. The museum features miniature versions of the Star Wars landscape as well as a new indoor visual experience.

My daughter also grew up without a computer.  I didn’t decide on that.  I just couldn’t afford it back then :-).  The only good that came out of it was that she learned how to draw and to work with her hands (yes, she also knows how to draw.  I even tried to sell her the idea of taking up architecture, but in vain).  Thanks to the upcoming movie installment of the Star Wars saga, the LEGO is back again with its Star Wars characters collectibles; and it’s a funny and creative way to get my daughter interested in the LEGO (of all things, she bought a Darth Vader key-chain / LED light to start with).  Now, whether or not this interest will lead her to the path of her lifework is another story.  Until then, I wait :-).

See you in my next post.  Cheers!

 

Click here to browse through the photo gallery of this day trip.

(Note:  Legoland Malaysia is Malaysia’s first international theme park that opened in Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia on September 15, 2012.  Located at 7 Jalan Legoland, Bandar Medini 79250 Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia.)

The Best Things in Life are Free

IMG_0202

Mercure Hotel Legian. This hotel is just a year old and is one of so many nice hotels where you could stay in Bali.

Our company went overseas a few weeks ago to do our annual team building.  This time around, we did it in Bali.

A few days before the trip, a colleague came to me and said he did some internet searching on “things to do in Bali for free”.  One item included in the “free” list was “sunset”.  So I thought, okay that’s nice.  Honestly, I can’t remember a time I paid money to see a beautiful sunset (Can you imagine yourself walking around wearing a metered face mask that will charge you for every bit of air that you breathe, much like the electricity and water that you use?).  I did however spend a bit on camera gear so I could capture beautiful sunsets.  On one occasion, I was forced to use the MasterCard feature of my ATM card (which I don’t usually do) so I could climb the top of KL Tower and see Kuala Lumpur at twilight.  But since the company is paying for this Bali event, I thought the list must be correct 🙂

And guess what?  I ended up shooting only sunsets.  That’s the problem you see.  Did I not mention back there that this is supposed to be a photo and travel blog and that we should take as much photos as we can?  My lame excuse for this is that it was a company event and there was only a small window for us to do our own thing.  It’s a beautiful place where you can do lots of things other than the free stuff.  But if you’re not into water sports and shopping (like me), you’re at a disadvantage.  Lessons learned?  Plan your own trip around the things you want to do.  But if you’re in a travel package, do as much as you can.

Children of The Light. Kuta Beach at Sunset.

But honestly, the free sunset was not bad.  In fact, the quality of the light was amazing.  The image above was taken at Kuta Beach during a bit of free and easy time.  A Bali photo contest was going on as part of the event, so everybody went scrambling to do their own take of this scene.  I was not allowed to join because I was asked to judge the contest based on my limited experience 🙂

The last activity was dinner at Jimbaran Beach (sorry I had to skip all the team-building and sports stuff).  We were too late to catch the setting sun for which this beach is famous for.  I knew I had to make the most of what will be left.  The sun already went below the horizon when we arrived but it left a beautiful underlighting of red, pink, and orange colors in the slightly overcast sky.  The water has receded a little and allowed the wet sand to reflect the sky colors above it.

IMG_0211

Edge of Tomorrow. Jimbaran Beach at twilight.

After taking all these photos, I realized that maybe the best things in life are indeed free.  We were told that if we really wanted to see the real Bali, we had to go out of our way; outside the already commercialized Bali that we were in.  That I plan to do in my own time.  But by then, it will not be free anymore 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers.

 

(Equipment: Canon EOS650D | EFS 18-55mm | Manfrotto MK293A4-A0RC2 | Manfotto spirit level | Photoshop CC )

 

 

My Favorite Photography and Travel Quotes

Above Altitude. The beautiful city of Singapore at night; the city where I am currently based.

Hi there.  Needless to say, this will be my first post.  I already said quite a mouthful about myself in the About page.  So while I am developing the contents of this website, allow me to share my favorite photography and travel quotes.

Photography

  • “Life is like a camera.  Just focus on what’s important and capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out, just take another shot.”–Unknown
  • “All photographs are accurate.  None of them is the truth.”–Richard Avedon  (A reminder not to overdo post-processing of my photos.)
  • “The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong.  It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” –Susan Meiselas  (My excuse for travel.)
  • “Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” — Marc Riboud  (Do something you love so you won’t need motivation.)

And my favorite (from my daughter).  She must have read this somewhere;

  • “You’re not a photographer.  You’re just a guy with an expensive camera.” (My reason for studying and maximizing the camera’s potential.) 🙂

Travel

  • “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”–Anonymous
  • “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”–Saint Augustine (One of my bosses has read the entire book!)
  • “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”–Dalai Lama (Good suggestion!)
  • “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”– James Michener (Sometimes, we need to be lost in a new place to find ourselves.)
  • “When overseas, you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you’re visiting”–Clint Borgen (A love and big dreams for your own country is important.)

Okay.  Enough of the talk.  Let’s start taking some pictures 🙂

See you in my next post.