Silence is Golden

Awakenings. Sunrise at Club Med in Bintan, Indonesia.

This write-up should have been posted more than a month ago.  I actually forgot I have these photos from our recent Club Med Bintan retreat; and I was only reminded of having them when I was looking at my passport while on queue at the renewal section of the embassy a few days ago.  I have to admit that long holidays are always short.  Even much shorter for a weekend company retreat like this one.  And because they are short, there is always the chance of bringing home only a few photos; which you easily forget.

So I post them here.  I am not getting a commission for promoting this place in this post by the way. 🙂  It is just not fair not to share these few images.  Some other people contemplating on coming here could still use a little more of these images to get a sense of the beauty of this place.  The colours in the photos here are real and without much processing or editing.

Club Med Bintan (Bintan)

Cool for the Summer. Beautiful morning at the pool deck of Club Med in Bintan.

This is our third company retreat in Indonesia (the first two we had in Batam and Bali).  The first time they announced this Bintan trip, I have to admit I was ecstatic; even excited about the prospect of experiencing another airplane ride.  Then I realized we were in Singapore, and our destination is not like Bali.  Bintan is just 30 minutes away and can be reached by ferry or boat.  Silly of me actually. 🙂 So, do I still consider this 30-minute boat ride as travel?

This post is relatively short compared to my previous ones.  And I apologize for not writing more about the beauty of this place and about the things that we did while we were here.  Maybe I ran out of words to say or just simply uninspired.  At the moment, I am okay with that.  If there is one thing I learn again from this trip and this unexpected dry spell, it’s that Silence is Golden (and Speech is Silvern).  Do you remember your dear friends who talked lengthily when all you needed from them at that moment is the comfort of their presence and silence?  I don’t have the gift of gab but I do write occasionally.  But even that I can overdo sometimes; and the first people to tell me that I write long emails and letters are people who love writing long emails themselves.  Experts cancel each other out. 🙂

Club Med Bintan (Bintan)

Passion Walk: The main building of Club Med in Bintan, Indonesia.

There are moments when writing is spontaneous and a narrative is clear.  Sometimes, you have to wait for inspiration to come.  And other times, words are not needed to get your message across.  That last one I began to appreciate just recently through the posts and works of others; and only the real photographers are able to move me just like that.  In meditation (and in prayer) listening is as important as talking (or chanting).  It is in that moment of silence when you have nothing more to say (and your mind is clear of all clutter) will you hear that soft, gentle and clear voice.  And the message there will be profound.  Honestly, we all could use more of that right now.  ‘Nuff said. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

The Seoul I Love

Mapo-Gu (Seoul)

Morning Calm.  A view of the Mapo gu area in Seoul from my hotel room.

You know what?  It’s a good thing we will have our company retreat next week.  It will give me enough time to shake off this overwhelming feeling I had from my last trip.  I just came back from Seoul and obviously still in a daze; my body already here but my mind still back there in the cold.  I usually only spend a week or so in a certain place so I could use my other leave days to visit other cities and see as much places as I can.  But this is the first time I wished I had stayed longer in one city.  It is also the first time I heard myself wishing for time to stop (obviously dreading the work waiting for me back in the office).  It seems that I am the only one who has not seen Seoul yet.  At one time and for some reason, I passed off an opportunity in the office for a free winter travel to this place.  I regretted that one.  So I made it a point that I get to visit Seoul this year.  With all these recent frenzy for Korean drama, this Seoul trip is all the more significant. 🙂

And I was not disappointed.  It was not really the best time to visit this place though.  We did miss the spring blossoms (since my daughter had to wait for the school year to end before we could get here) but the weather was the most pleasant with the air still cold and chilly despite the sky being bright and sunny (the closing of spring and the beginning of summer) which made this trip one of the most memorable.  This is one of those places that lightning gets to strike only once.  But unlike lightning however, tourists make it a point to hit this place at least twice in their lifetime.  How can you blame them?  Seoul is one of the most beautiful and tourist-friendly places on the planet (at least in the region I have visited).  It is a shopping haven for travelers (you ask the ladies) and a food mecca for the adventurous.  The locals are the most friendly; going the extra mile to make the tourist experience memorable and speaking the most sweet-sounding of all languages (even though I didn’t understand).  I apologize for that.  Maybe we listened to too many Korean songs and watched too much Korean drama while we were there 🙂 .  It is a very lovely and picturesque place with old neighborhoods preserved and nestled within a modern and bustling metropolis; with different seasons providing new perspectives on every familiar scene.  Despite the ravages and destruction of war, Seoul has come a long way to emerging as one of the world’s 21st century cities.  This is one model city enjoying a comeback that should not be missed.

Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)

Old and New.  The beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village with the modern Seoul city in the background.

You have to believe me.  The photos in this post don’t do justice to the ultimate bliss of actually being here.  I originally wanted to do several posts about this trip with each post corresponding to each day I spent here; but then decided not to.  As much as I wanted to relive the experience, I also did not want the memory to linger any longer than it should.  It is one of those “I-wanted-to-stay-but-I-had-to-leave” situations you sometimes find yourself in.  Again, too much of that Korean drama  🙂 .  Besides, I also messed up my itinerary for my personal photowalk and committed the grievous sin of seeing most of the places I planned to shoot but actually forgetting to shoot some of them.  It is because the place is so beautifully distracting and the local food so sweetly unnerving.  All those preparations and plans to photograph the place with a fresh pair of eyes and from new angles all went down the drain.  I just simply didn’t care about doing original photography but just immersed myself in the moment.  I don’t even remember ever complaining about long walks and large crowds.  It was a welcoming change from previous tropical ramblings.

What am I talking about anyway?  Okay, I’ll spare you the Korean drama.  This is one place you definitely have to see.  But don’t take my word for it.  You just have to be here.  I am trying to make sense and order out of a disorganized bunch of random photos from my distracted photowalk and trying to write the names of places and their descriptions as I remember them.  So I share them here:  my must-see places in Seoul (the Seoul I love); not in the order of their importance but in the order I found them worthy to be salvaged from my camera’s memory card 🙂 .  Enjoy the images and stay inspired.

Gyeongbokgung Palace: Gyeongbokgung is the largest of Seoul’s four main palaces and perhaps the most recognizable of all the city’s attractions.  It has served as the principal residence for Korean royalties.  Much of the palace’s structures were destroyed during the 20th century Japanese colonial rule.  What you see now are mostly accurate recent reconstructions.  Take time to walk through the palace grounds beyond the Throne Hall to admire two beautiful floating pavilions:  Gyeonghoeru and Hyangwonjeong.

Gyeongbokgung Palace (Seoul)

Geunjeongjeon.  The Imperial Throne Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (Seoul)

The highly-prized Gyeonghoeru Pavilion on an artificial island inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.

Hyangwwonjeong or “The Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance” on an artificial island inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace Grounds.

Ehwa Womans University:  This is one impressive and imaginative piece of contemporary architecture I have seen during my stay here.  A sloping causeway dives six stories below ground level to the main entrance of this facility and is flanked on both sides by glass and steel fenestration.  The causeway is terminated at the opposite end by a flight of stone steps leading back to the Gothic style campus buildings at the ground level.

Ehwa Womans University (Seoul)

Ehwa Womans University is one of the most beautiful and unique works of architecture at the heart of Seoul City.

Ehwa Womans University (Seoul)

The six-story high stone steps leading to the campus grounds of Ehwa Womans University.

Seoul City Hall:  The recently redeveloped Seoul City Hall embodies the modern interpretation of traditional Korean architecture.  The curved top of the new glass and steel building resembles the roof of old palaces and temples.  Underneath its shade is the beautiful stone-cladded old City Hall building.

Seoul City Hall

The modern and respectable Seoul City Hall at the blue hour.

Deoksugung Palace:  Also called “The Palace of Virtuous Longevity”, Deoksugung is one of several main palaces built during the Joseon dynasty.  It is the only palace ground that is open until late evening so you could admire the buildings when they are illuminated.  The highlight of this attraction is the unusual mix of traditional Korean and Western Neoclassical buildings within a single palace ground.

Deoksugung Palace (Seoul)

Junghwajeon.  The throne hall of Deoksugung Palace.

Seokjojeon (Seoul)

Seokjojeon.  One of the Western Neoclassical buildings inside the Deoksugung Palace grounds.

Cheonggyecheon Stream:  This famous stream of the Joseon era was once covered by an elevated highway that was built after the Korean War.  In 2003, the highway was removed as part of an urban renewal project to restore the stream to its present state.  The stream is 11 km. long running through downtown Seoul and passing under 22 bridges with several attractions along its entire length.

A River Runs Through The City. Cheonggyecheon Stream provides a soothing contrast to the surrounding urban jungle.

Namsan Hill:  Namsan Hill is Seoul’s geographical center and is topped by N Seoul Tower, its iconic observatory.  The cable car ride to the base of the tower is impressive enough; but the view of the city from the top of the hill is breathtaking.  Counter the cold weather with a cup of coffee and churros from one of the restaurants at the base of the tower. 🙂

Namsan Hill (Seoul)

Breathe Again.  A view of Seoul city from the base of N Seoul Tower above Namsan Hill.

Namsan Hill (Seoul)

Love Locks.  Beautiful and assorted locks adorn the railings at the base of N Seoul Tower above Namsan Hill.

Bukchon Hanok Village:  Walking through the alleys of this village feels like going back to the time of Korean kings, dynasties, and royal subjects.  Bukchon is a cluster of traditional Korean houses (or hanoks) nestled between two main palaces at the heart of an urban city.  Some of the houses were recently converted to small coffee shops, restaurants, and homestays for tourists who want to be near major local attractions.

Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)

Time Passages.  A view of one of the picturesque alleys of Bukchon Hanok Village.

Some Sevit and Banpo Rainbow Bridge:  Some Sevit is a cluster of contemporary flower-themed buildings set on a man-made island off Han River.  The buildings house restaurants and a number of multi-purpose spaces.  Come during the blue hour to admire the buildings when illuminated by color-changing LED lights.  Next to the buildings is Banpo Rainbow Bridge (the world’s longest bridge fountain).  At night, colored lights illuminate the fountain as it sends up jets of water into the air with synchronized music.

Some Sevit (Seoul)

Some Gavit.  The convention and corporate events venue of the Some Sevit community.

Some Sevit (Seoul)

Some Chavit.  The dining and restaurant venue of the Some Sevit cluster.

Banpo Rainbow Bridge (Seoul)

Banpo Rainbow Bridge with the lights and water show at night.

National Museum of Korea:  The simple but impressive exterior doesn’t divulge much of the diversity of exhibits found in its interior.  The stories and cultural treasures within its walls are topics that require a separate discussion.  The lush garden and beautiful park outside the museum provide a calm and soothing contrast to the rigid and stately character of the buidling.

Lush landscape softens the hard-edged and imposing but beautiful National Museum of Korea building.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

 

Malacca: My Take

Christ Church Melaka (Malacca)

Christ Church Melaka in the early hours of the morning.

Even the hard-working aspiring writers find themselves struggling for words sometimes.  I was almost tempted to simply post these recent photos and let the images speak for themselves.  Besides, a picture paints a thousand words, right?  Yeah right.  But a part of me also believes that a thousand words paint a beautiful picture.  If you love writing, use it to make up for a lousy photography (which I have already done so many times 🙂 ).  This is a blog anyway so try to make use of what you’re paying for.  Use it or lose it.  Constantly moving or travelling does not always get you somewhere.  So we stop for a while and write about our most recent travels to help us articulate and reflect on the things that we have learned from them.  And what is a more perfect time to reflect and to remember than during the last Easter weekend?

For those staying in Singapore, Malacca is a favorite destination for long weekends and public holidays.  Much has already been written about this beautiful place which makes it difficult for me to write about something new and to find fresh inspiration.  So what can I write about?  How about food as a topic?  Nope.  Not that one.  Admittedly, I am a bit of a food junkie myself, but a really lousy food photographer. 🙂   By the way, the food here is really great and one that you should experience (the Malacca coffee is superb).  How about “Things to do in Malacca”?  Not that one either.  Too lazy to do those things; whatever activities those might be.  Top Family Attractions?  I travelled solo this time (surprisingly, and sadly).  So I guess that leaves me with “Top  Places to See in Malacca” to write about.  Nothing out of  the ordinary but something I really like; where I could put my photography into use.  But even that one was a bit frustrating.  The problem with major tourist spots is that they have been shot to death.  You find a beautiful place (and there are lots of it in Malacca) and shoot it from an apparently unique angle; only to find the same angle later already posted in the net by other photographers (ain’t the internet grand?).  So in the end, all I have is a set of beautiful postcards which are very special only because they were created by me personally.  So the photographs in this article do not really speak truthfully about its title.  Talk about originality.  So the only value of this post now is what you could learn from it.  Use this post as your travel guide; your visual companion to Malaccan architecture; or your encouragement to do better, creative, or original photography. 🙂

Malacca Street Art (Malacca)

Malacca Street Art along Malacca River.

Malacca is perhaps Malaysia’s most historical state.  It was here where European colonial forces first made contact with Malaysia, which eventually shaped and formed the country’s current political, cultural, and economic system.  The Portuguese, Dutch, and the British all made their marks here (with varying forms of responses from the locals); their strong influences basically evident in what remains of their public buildings, museums, churches, forts, and town squares.  Its rich and colorful (and complicated) history has created a feel and flavor that is uniquely Malacca today.  It is a seamless blend of cultures so to speak; with strong local traditions standing alongside modern lifestyles that will leave you in a swirl and in awe.  Malacca is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The major tourist spots can get really crowded (duh); obviously like all tourist spots we know.  So most of my photos here were taken either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when most of the crowds haven’t arrived yet or has already thinned out.  In between these times, tourists (who all look the same, and dress the same) come in by the busload every minute.  If you don’t mind having them in your photos, then shoot away anyway. 🙂

Needless to say, my bias has always been towards the architecture of a place.  This (alongside with the food which I enjoyed very much when the crowd at the tourist spots was at its thickest) is my best way to learn and appreciate a city’s history and culture.  I have featured below some of these wonderful works of architecture and picturesque places in Malacca.  My take (sort of). 🙂

A’Famosa Fort:  A’Famosa is perhaps Malacca’s most famous sighseeing spot.  It was built in 1511 to house the Portuguese administration and as an outpost in Malacca, which was an important link to the Spice Route in China during thr 16th Century.  It has changed hands from the Portuguese to the Dutch and finally to the British who ordered the destruction of the Fort.  Fortunately, Sir Stamford Raffles (founder of Singapore) visited Malacca in 1810; and because of his love for history, stopped the destruction of the Fort.  What remains to this day is the lone gate (Porta de Santiago) that stands at the foot of St. Paul’s hill.

A'Famosa Fort (Malacca)

The ruins of A’Famosa Fort at the foot of Bukit St. Paul.

Christ Church Melaka:  Christ Church is the most recognizable of the Malacca structures with its brick red exterior and large white cross.  It was built in 1753 by the Dutch to commemorate a century of occupation and to address the need for another place of worship other than St. Paul’s Church.  It has changed hands from the Dutch to the British who turned it from a Protestant church to an Anglican one.  The church sits squarely infront Dutch Square along Jalan Gereja.

Christ Church Melaka (Malacca)

Christ Church Melaka. The centerpiece of Dutch Square.

St. Paul’s Church Ruins:  The beautiful ruins of St. Paul’s Church stand on top of St. Paul’s Hill which can be reached via a long flight of stairs from the lone gate of A’Famosa at the bottom of the hill.  The original structure was built by a Portuguese captain as a sign of gratitude to the Blessed Virgin Mary for saving his life during a storm at sea.  The ruins is now famous for its breathtaking views of Malacca City below it.

St. Paul's Church (Malacca)

St. Paul’s Church at the top of Bukit St. Paul.

St. Paul's Church (Malacca)

The beautiful and eerie ruins of St. Paul’s Church.

Malacca River:  Malacca River was once called the “Venice of the East”.   Now it is famous for the river cruise that takes tourists past several riverside establishments, bridges, Malay villages and settlements.  It is considered the birthplace of Malacca because it was here where the Sumatran prince Parameswara established the Malaccan sultanate.

Malacca River View (Malacca)

Malacca River at Twilight.

Malacca River View (Malacca)

A view along Malacca River at night.

Casa del Rio (Malacca)

Casa del Rio Hotel along Malacca River.

Masjid Terapung Selat:  This mosque is situated on the man-made island of Pulau Melaka facing the Straits of Malacca.  It is perhaps the only Middle Eastern-inspired structure I have seen during my stay there, and a much more recent building compared to the ones mentioned earlier.  Tourists come here for the magnificent view of the mosque against the sunset.

Masjid Terapung Selat at Sunset.

Malacca is usually a day trip destination for most tourists visiting Kuala Lumpur.  From Kuala Lumpur, take a bus to Malacca where you will alight at the Melaka Sentral Bus Terminal off Jalan Tun Razak.  From there, a taxi can take you to town where all the major tourist attractions are located.   Most parts of the town can be explored by foot as the major attractions are near each other.

So there you go; my take on this beautiful and quaint city.  I hope I have kept you inspired in this adventure of exploration.  Enjoy the images as much as I do.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

 

Putrajaya Architecture Ramble

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Putra Mosque at twilight. Putra Mosque is the principal mosque of Putrajaya.

This is another one of those times when you get to choose last-minute holiday destinations.  We took one week off in the office to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year.  At the back of my head, I was hoping that our company would send us to somewhere really cold or even exotic to spend the one-week holiday (like what our company usually do).  Well, that didn’t happen this year.  The announcement came in a bit late so most of us had to scramble and decide whether to go back to our respective hometowns or go somewhere else.  The plane ticket to my hometown (Manila) could get a little pricey this time of year, so I just decided to go to nearby Malaysia.  It seems that Malaysia for me is the default destination for long weekends and short road trips; for obvious reasons.  From Singapore where I am staying, it is only a few minutes or hours away depending on your destination.  Architecture, food, historical sites, beaches, nature, or theme parks; Malaysia has all that and more.  You choose.

So why Putrajaya?  Well for one thing, it was a day-trip destination that I wasn’t able to see the last time I was in Kuala Lumpur.  It actually rained that day last year I planned to visit the place.  But of course, my main reason for coming back to Malaysia now is Putrajaya’s architectural wonders.  A Malaysian colleague told me that you could actually tour and photograph the place and its notable landmarks in a day.  I know he’s right.  That’s why they call it a day trip (do I really have to say that?).  It is much like hitting Macau while you are in Hong Kong; or Abu Dhabi while in Dubai.  So why spend the entire week and book a hotel in such a small place? 🙂

Well, you have to understand photographers.  Photographers are weird.  The best colored landscape and architectural photos have to be taken only at certain times of the day (mostly at dusk or even sunrise) when light is low (and its quality is at its best) and when building lights are on which add drama to the scene.  So if you’re planning to shoot a number of locations or buildings, you’ll be needing a couple of sunrise or sunsets.  All sorts of silly stuff like that.  And you can’t post a photo right away.  A bit of image editing needs to be done to remove blemishes caused by a dirty camera sensor and to correct distortions resulting from a cheap lens and camera (which is definitely my case here).  Only then can you post an image.  But who cares anyway?  Only a photographer will understand.  Nobody could have cared less about the story or technicalities behind a photograph; or all the trouble you went through waking up early before sunrise or staying out late at night just to capture an image.  In a selfie generation, this is not your idea of creating a travel photo.  Well for me, the best way to ruin a travel photo is to include yourself in the picture.  Forgive me on that one.  I am too camera shy and not that photogenic (#bitter, #resentful). 🙂

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Seri Wawasan Bridge. One of the most beautiful bridges in Malaysia using the latest cable-stayed technology.

Kidding aside, these places are too good to be just day-trip destinations that you could stamp on your passports to be used as bragging rights.  Much is to be appreciated and learned from the stories of these places and how they came about.  Just a few quick facts about Putrajaya:  Putrajaya is Malaysia’s “Intelligent Garden City” and its Federal Administrative Center.  A vision of establishing this new Federal Government Administrative Center to replace Kuala Lumpur came about in the early 1970s.  The relocation was to help decongest Kuala Lumpur and to ensure that KL can develop and focus on being Malaysia’s principal business and financial district.  A 4,900+ hectare palm oil plantation in Selangor’s southern Prang Besar estate was later earmarked and called Putrajaya (in honor of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj).  The main feature of the city is the responsible integration of man-made elements with the natural environment; a city that integrates technology, culture, and nature.  Manicured parks, greeneries, and bodies of water create natural separations between the business and residential sections of the city.

The highlight of the trip for me of course would be the city’s architectural wonders which feature Malay and Arabic influences; and which form part of Malaysia’s National Heritage.  These are evident in the city’s several mosques, bridges, and public buildings some of which I have featured below.

Putra Mosque:  Putra Mosque (or Masjid Putra) is perhaps for me the architectural centerpiece of Putrajaya.  The mosque is distinguished by its pink dome and rose-tinted granite exterior.  The mosque can accommodate 15,000 worshipers at any one time and also houses function rooms and learning facilities.

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Putra Mosque at the Golden Hour.

Seri Wawasan Bridge:  Seri Wawasan is one of the most beautiful bridges in Malaysia built with the latest cable-stayed technology.  The bridge is enhanced and illuminated at night by the changing colors of the street lights below it.

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Web of Lights. Seri Wawasan Bridge at night.

Seri Gemilang Bridge:  This bridge serves as the main entry route to the city core.  The bridge focuses on very fine Islamic motifs and detailing which emphasize Malaysia’s Muslim faith and culture.  The bridge also leads to Putrajaya International Convention Center (PICC) which is located at the southern part of the city.

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Seri Gemilang Bridge with Putrajaya International Convention Center (PICC) at the background.

Masjid Tuanku:  Masjid Tuanku or “The Iron Mosque” is Putrajaya’s second principal mosque.  Slightly larger in floor area than Putra Mosque, it can accommodate 20,000 worshipers and caters mostly to the government workers from the nearby city center and residents from nearby precincts.

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Masjid Tuanku (The Iron Mosque) at the blue hour.

Perbadanan Putrajaya:  Also called Putrajaya Corporation, it is the local body that administrates the Federal Authority of Putrajaya.  Framed within the arch of the building is Istana Kehakiman (or The Federal Court) which is the highest court and final appellate court of Malaysia.

The beautiful Perbadanan Putrajaya at Night

The best way to get to Putrajaya is to take the KLIA Transit train from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and alight at Putrajaya / Cyberjaya Station.  From the bus interchange at the station, buses can take you to the different routes within the residential, commercial, and government precincts of the city.  The bus routes could get a little complicated for a tourist.  So for the most part, I took a taxi (available 24 hours) to get to the locations I plan to shoot.  Cost is reasonable since the hotel is just near my planned shooting locations.

So there you go.  My first photo walk for the year and happy to have made use of the time given to us; and even happier to start the year doing the things we love the most and care passionately about.  I am currently looking at traveling outside the region which might take a while to happen because of some logistical concerns.  Meanwhile, enjoy the images as much as I do as well as the New Year.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

 

A Year in Postcards

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Postcard Merlion. Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort with Merlion Park in Singapore, the city where I am currently based.

I could have called this post “A Year in Review” or “My 2015 Travels” but I thought it would be a cliche.  We always do this year-end post or write-up where we cross out a few items in our travel bucket list (or any bucket list for that matter) and admittedly, this post is in some ways no different.  But it’s a little bit more than that.  As I was writing the draft for this post, I breathed a prayer of thanks to my Maker for helping me get past a year of office work marked by an organizational mayhem caused by some internal special elite force who obviously refused to work for the common good.  We are happy that we were able to neutralize that group and have put them all in the past. Peace has been restored and now we are back to doing the things that we are supposed to do, and that is (as a colleague puts it) “to work hard, to play hard, and to travel harder”. 🙂

Looking back at my calendar, I noticed that I did spend a large amount of time travelling.  I realized that in part, these sporadic wanderings somehow helped to put a lot of things in my life and work in perspective and has enabled me to better understand my peers who come from all sorts of backgrounds and temperaments.  Funny thing though is that I only started travelling recently (just this year actually).  These however are not extravagant travels but are rather short trips within the region and to neighboring countries.  Travelling is never cheap (even the ones done on a budget). 🙂  And if you’re like me travelling with a family, you understand how challenging it is both financially and logistically.

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LuminoCity. Lights exhibition at the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resorts in Marina Bay, Singapore.

So why this sudden passion for travelling?  Well for one thing, I needed an excuse (an expensive excuse) for learning and practicing photography. 🙂  In the past, I also passed off a lot of opportunities in the office for free travel.  And lastly, I got this big scare from a fitness consultant a few years ago (which is perhaps my real and silly reason for this travel frenzy).  The consultant took a quick BMI check and told me I have a somewhat high level of fat in my system (which is quite surprising considering my thin body frame) and that I might even get a massive heart attack by age 45.  I was not sure if he was just trying to make me sign up for a gym program.  Anyway, I didn’t buy into the program but I did freak out a bit after that.  I did give it a thought and made a few lifestyle changes over the following months.  Alongside those changes is a list of the places I wanted to visit (kinda like a 1001-places-to-see-before-you-die sort of stuff).  So I told my family that from then on, we will meet regularly in some distant foreign lands and we’ll explore those places together. 🙂

I am still doing the things that I love very much and care passionately about; but now with more of the things I really don’t like to do but I needed to do (e.g. exercise, strength training); and eating less of the food I love and more of the ones I really didn’t care about before (e.g. greens).  Nowadays, the only time I eat with reckless abandon is when I am travelling. 🙂  When eating in another country, you should have a mantra.  I have one (something I learned from my church apprentice).  “Counting the memories and not the calories” is a reminder of why we eat and travel and why nothing that you eat in any foreign land will have any bad, real-life impact on your health and body. 🙂  Kidding aside, eating is my excuse and the best way for me to learn and to experience another country’s culture.

So here you go.  My postcards from 2015 (the very cliche I was trying to avoid).  Sorry for this.  I didn’t mean to brag or boast about these modest travels.  I just turned 45 three months ago and still feeling quite grateful (and obviously still alive at the time of this writing) for each day I receive past that 45-year mark. 🙂  I am currently looking at travelling outside the region.  It may take a while for this to happen as it will require a more challenging planning strategy.  Meantime, enjoy the images as much as I do and I hope I kept you inspired and always grateful.

1) Visiting Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbor (Hong Kong: Fabruary 2015):  Didn’t have much time to take so many photos but tried my best not to miss these spots.  I have seen this view of Hong Kong so many times that it was almost a cliche.  But seeing it personally gives one a different kind of high.  Taking photos at night in Victoria Peak was a challenge with children either knocking the camera tripod or extending their arms into the camera’s frame.  Not to forget the crowd behind me pushing each other to capture a photo.

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City of Embers.  Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong at night.

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Blurring the Lines.  Night view from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.

2) Anniversary with the missus in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia: April 2015):  Kuala Lumpur is just an hour away by plane from Singapore.  So it would be a sin to miss the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.  As an architect, I made sure I didn’t miss this one as well as other places of interest.

Atmospheria. Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur skyline at the blue hour.

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Unbroken.  Petronas Towers viewed from a somewhat awkward angle.

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Dataran Merdeka.  The historic Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

3) Team Building in Bali (Indonesia: May 2015):  I think our company did well the previous year so we had this weekend in Bali.  It was not the best part of Bali but it was a great opportunity to connect and re-establish relationships with our colleagues.

Children of The Light. Kuta Beach at Sunset.

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Edge of Tomorrow.  Twilight at Jimbaran Beach in Bali, Indonesia.

4) Road trip to Legoland Malaysia (Malaysia: July 2015):  I found myself stuck during a public holiday so I decided to take this last minute road trip.  The decision was perfect as the journey ended with me being reminded of why I became an architect in the first place.

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Legoland Hotel. The LEGO-inspired hotel located just across the park entrance.

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Imagination. The home for the true LEGO fan where children and adults alike can play with the LEGO bricks.

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

5) Photowalk at the Bund and Pudong Districts in Shanghai (China: September 2015):  I quite enjoyed this one despite the long-haul flight.  The weather was pleasant with the air starting to get cooler (the beginning of autumn) and the skies a perfect blue.  There’s no need for me to saturate the sky colors in the post-editing of the photos.  Not to forget the amazing architectural wonders in this area.

Historic Buildings along the Bund Strip in Shanghai, China.

Storm brewing above the Shanghai Pudong CBD.

Shanghai viewed from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

6) Visit to Bangkok (Thailand: November 2015):  It was quite sad I didn’t have my family to join me in this trip.  Nevertheless, Bangkok surprised me with its unique flavor and twist to every experience possible.  Not to forget the food that you could enjoy just almost anywhere in the city.

Tourist Duty. Temple structures inside the Wat Phra Kaew grounds in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

Wonderful sunset viewed from Cielo Skybar in Bangkok, Thailand.

Enjoy the holidays!!

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.