Tag Archives: malaysia 2014

Stories from the road: I feel like I’m cheating on digital cameras


I brought two cameras with me to Malaysia this trip. One is my recently-acquired Sony RX100 II, the other is my slightly older Bessa R2A film rangefinder. But for some reason, most of the time I’ve found myself taking the Bessa with me everywhere, and leaving the very capable RX100 at home.

I feel like I’m cheating on digital cameras.

It’s not like I hate digital photography, as I’ve said many times before. As any film photographer who’s ever been caught out with the wrong kind of film loaded in his camera will tell you, there are many benefits to user-selectable ISO, autofocus, and even being able to instantly see and review your picture immediately after you’ve taken it, all features you can find on even the simplest of digital cameras. Instead, the reason why I choose to use a film rangefinder over an advanced digital camera is a little less clear cut than just “because I’m an analog camera hipster” or “for the sake of it”.

While it’s true that the Bessa produces equal or better photos (on occasion) than the Sony, or that film has a certain unique quality about it that can’t be replicated by the super-clean files of digital, unless work happens in post (processing). Those are both true, and both are compelling reasons to shoot film over digital, but neither of them are the reason I choose to take photos with the Bessa when I can.

I was reading Craig Mod’s piece in The New Yorker, entitled Goodbye, Cameras. There, he us about how the iPhone is a compelling choice for many photographers, not only because it produces images that more or less equal many of today’s point and shoots, but also because it’s a powerful networked camera that lets us instantly share the images we’ve taken, along with whatever context we want (a witty tweet, a geotag, a — shudder — hashtag on Instagram):

Yet if the advent of digital photography compressed the core processes of the medium, smartphones further squish the full spectrum of photographic storytelling: capture, edit, collate, share, and respond. I saw more and shot more, and returned from the forest with a record of both the small details—light and texture and snippets of life—and the conversations that floated around them on my social networks.

He makes a good point. There’s something intrinsically advantageous about the notion of a networked lens, one that is capable of capturing not only a beautiful landscape or social situation, but also recording the thoughts and memories to go along with it. Not only that, but then being able to instantly share that with anyone in the world makes for a pretty desirable device, wouldn’t you say?

But as great as all that is, what use is a networked lens like the iPhone if there is no network? During my trip to Malaysia I didn’t have internet access for the majority of the time (by choice, not because it was physically not available), and I still took photos with my iPhone. I just wasn’t able to instantly share them with friends on various social networks. Why, then, would I choose to take most of the pictures I did with a film camera, instead of a very capable, much more advanced, digital one like the Sony?

The answer is twofold: one, I’m a dirty analog camera hipster, and two, I enjoy the experience of film photography, especially with a film rangefinder, more.

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Stories from the road: I’m (getting) old

Alternate title: Time, Part II

The last time I was with my cousins was a few years back. It was a simpler time then, when we’d stay up later than everyone else, because we were the oldest, and because we could. A few times before that, I’d sleep over at my cousin’s house, where we’d play Commander Keen or Rollercoaster Tycoon until the early hours of the morning. And as soon as we woke up, it was straight back to trading Pokémon in Gold and Silver. Did I mention it might have been a little while ago? Yeah, it was a little while ago.

This time around, there’s been a lot less tomfoolery and a lot more rest and relaxation. We’re all quite a bit older now, and that has meant cousins are working during the day, or studying all the way up until the Chinese New Year holiday. One cousin is a practicing dentist, another is studying to be a doctor, and another is doing law at Uni. Of all the cousins around my age, all of them are doing Uni or already out in the workforce, either in Australia or abroad.

There’s nothing quite like a family reunion to remind you of how old you actually are.

When my cousins and I were younger — in our late teens, or thereabouts — we took a lot of things for granted, as you tend to do when you’re that age. We lived vicariously, in the here and the now, as the future was always a few more years away. It meant we could do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to do it. Being in our late teens was pretty great, actually — as we were the eldest cousins, we were given a little freedom (unlike our early/pre-teen siblings), whilst still having very little responsibility, especially around Chinese New Year when all the adults, i.e. our parents, would do all the work. All we needed to do was watch cartoons, sleep in until midday, have random naps throughout the day, that kind of thing. Yeah, that was the good life.

But I was watching an episode of Phineas and Ferb on the Disney Channel when I realised that those glory days were more or less over. Now that we’re older, all of us have suddenly grown up as we’ve all started to think abut our own lives and the future we want, whether that involves education and a career, or perhaps even marriage and kids. Now, it’s our younger siblings’ turn to revel in their youth, despite the fact that many of them are on the verge of becoming adults themselves.

It’s the classic coming of age story. Boy enjoys his youth. Boy realises, somewhat too late, that his youth has now passed. Boy becomes an adult, whether he likes it or not.

It’s not just with my cousins, either, who I only see every few years; I’ve seen the same transition into adulthood happen with my friends, too.

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Stories from the road: Cultural Disconnect

When you get to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, one of the first things you notice about the place are the signs. You might see a sign saying “Tandas” and “toilet”, for example, with Malay on top and the English translation below. The positioning and ordering gives it away: you’re not in Kansas or any other predominantly English-speaking country any more. When you get to the immigration counter, it’s the same thing: “pasport asing” on top, “foreign passport” below.

The dual-language of everything at KLIA should actually come as no surprise, seeing as it is a pretty major aviation hub for many other international destinations. It’s often a stopover for travellers going to other Asian destinations; Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Japan, etc, or even to places in Europe. There’s few places you can’t get to from Kuala Lumpur by air, seeing as it’s very centrally located in the grand scheme of things.

When you think about it in terms of demographics, the signs with two languages on them make even more sense: Malaysia is incredibly ethnically diverse. Wikipedia says there are a boatload of Chinese people in Malaysia, so it must be true.

What’s interesting, though, is that as an Australian-born Chinese I feel as though there’s such a cultural divide, even though there really isn’t. Not including English, I’m fluent in one of the three languages (I’m OK in Mandarin and can get by in Cantonese, don’t even bother talking to me in Malay) and understand a further two dialects, so in terms of verbal communication I’m not doing too bad. But when it comes to all the day to day stuff that goes on, I’m just not used to it.

For example: like many Aussies, when I’m at home I usually have some kind of cereal for breakfast. Fruit Loops when my mum isn’t hounding me about how it’s just sugar and colouring, otherwise some other Kellog’s derivative. (But never Weet Bix.) That doesn’t happen in Malaysia. Instead, for breakfast you get a choice between noodles with pork, noodles with soup, or noodles with whatever leftovers we had from last night. The first few days I was over here I didn’t really eat much for breakfast, not because I wasn’t hungry, although that was a convenient excuse, but because I’m just not used to having that kind of “heavy” food first thing in the morning.

It’s not just the food, either. Maybe it’s just because I’m a little separated from any relatives in good ol’ Tassie, but family gatherings seem to be a big thing here. We usually go to Malaysia for Chinese New Year, of course, but also because it was my grandma’s 80th birthday. For that we’re booking out an entire restaurant — upwards of 20 tables of eight people each — which should give you an idea of how big these things can be. There’s nothing like that in Australia, the closest thing being maybe Greek/Italian family get-togethers, not that I’ve ever experienced one of those.

My point is, everything is so different in Malaysia compared to back home. Their keluar is our exit, their SDN BHD our PTY LTD, their dilarang merokok our no smoking. Street-facing stores are plentiful, sure, but the real retail experience lies in their indoor malls, which completely dwarf ours; multi-levelled, fully-air conditioned, takes-all-day-to-fully-explore behemoths which would be enough to make any Westfield run and hide in awe.

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