Surreal Scene In the Air

On a flight while on the way to Penang for a relative’s wedding, I looked out of the window and saw the above scene. It sure looks surreal – it looked like the sea or lake of some sort reflecting the clouds from above. There are also distant clouds which looked like either icebergs or snow mountains! But at such an altitude, I don’t think that horizontal line can be the horizon. Wonder what can it possibly be.

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Chin Hin Eating House Bites the Dust

Chin Hin Eating House at 75, Commonwealth Drive.

Nestled among four now-empty HDB blocks at 75, Commonwealth Drive is an old-school coffeeshop (known colloquially as kopitiam) called the Chin Bee Eating House. It’s one of the last few eating places that still retained that old, traditional look and feel. Everything from the stall placement to the interior layout, to the way the coffee/toast all evokes a sense of old-world charm seldom found in today’s newer kopitiams, let alone the new-fangled air-conditioned food courts.

Unfortunately, it will soon bite the dust and give way to new developments. I got alerted of their impending closure when a friend shared the information on Facebook. By that time, it’s less than a week to closure and I felt an immediate sense to photograph it for posterity. I had missed photographing the last days of the iconic pre-war Tong Ah Eating House at Keong Siak Street earlier, and sure don’t want to miss this as well.

Interestingly, I had stopped by this particular kopitiam for a pitstop while photographing the KTM railway from Buona Vista to Jalan Hang Jabat. but somehow did not take any photos. I guess most of us have the tendency to take things for granted until it’s gone or going to be gone.

So anyway, I decided to leave home earlier today and head over to Chin Hin Eating House for breakfast before going to work. Thankfully, being a stones throw from the Commonwealth MRT, it’s not that out of the way.

The signboard of Chin Hing Eating House.

A more modern-looking signboard inside the kopitiam. Yes, they do have a Facebook page. Do visit and “Like” them!

Customers enjoying a chat over a cup of coffee.

I ordered the traditional soft-boiled eggs, kaya toast and since the weather was kind of hot, a cup of iced milo.

Soft-boiled eggs – nicely done.

Kaya toast and iced milo. These are as good as, if not better, than Ya Kun’s!

A customer spends a quiet moment over coffee and papers. I wonder what’s going through his mind when he learnt that the place will be closed in a couple of days.

Two kinds of traditional paper calendars hang on the wall. The owner appears to be counting down the days to the closure on the bottom calendar.

At the top of the shelf where most of the food preparation is done lies several memorabilia. You see old soft drink bottles, an antique fan, even old cellular phones! I think they go well with the character of the place.

Memorabilia lies the top shelf.

A classic orange coin phone, seldom seen these days. I wonder if it’s still be being used.

The shelf holds all the utensils as well as serve as a place to prepare food like soft boiled eggs, toast, etc. It’s amazing what they can do with such a small space.

The proprietress cuts 2 slices of steamed bread.

Making coffee the traditional way.

I believe this blackboard is used to write down customer’s orders. These are probably regular customers to be able to have a column of their own!

Something that’s also seldom seen nowadays – used milk tins used to dabao (takeaway) hot drinks. This is from before recycling even became “cool”.

Used milk tins used to takeaway hot drinks.

Coffee socks

The stove keeps the coffee and hot water hot, and also toasts the bread. Not sure if this is charcoal-driven.

Chin Hin Eating House only has two food stalls, one selling laksa/yong tau foo and another selling wanton noodles. The apparent lack of food choices does not appear to be an issue for customers. Choice can be a bad thing sometimes, and hence we have the paradox of choice.

The yong tau foo store owner prepares a bowl of yong tau foo.

The wanton noodle seller hands over a bowl of wanton noodles to a customer.

The interior is a flurry of activity.

News of the closure brought many customers to the kopitiam, with many sitting outside having their breakfast, chit chatting or reading the papers.

And old couple enjoys their wanton noodles.

With the society advancing so quickly, it’s sad to see such nice old places going by the day. Very soon, such eating places will no longer exist, being replaced by expensive food courts which comparatively lousier food.

The last day of operation of Chin Hin Eating House is on 28 February 2014. That’s just two days more, so if you can, go there and visit them, order something eat and soak in the atmosphere of a place that’ll soon be history. Do also visit their Facebook page and share your memories.

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My friend David recently shared this blog post on my Facebook timeline. It features Adam Magyar‘s mesmerising slow motion footage of commuters at the platform of Tokyo’s Shinjuku station (the busiest in the world) as the train rolls in. Filmed at high speed, it captures a slice of the commuters’ expression as the train moves past them. In Magyar’s words,

“An endless row of living sculptures brought together by the same subway line, the same direction, the same intention of taking the train to get caught and carried away by the urban flow. All their motions slowed down, they are graceful and stainless, holding their breath waiting for their train to pull into the station.”

I have a Nikon 1 V1 camera which is capable of shooting at 400 or 1,200fps so I decided to try it out. I decided to go for 400fps as the 1,200fps results in a very low resolution video. As it is, the 400fps is already rather low res at only 640×240, so I do not want to sacrifice video resolution for frame rate.

When I first tried this out on my way to work, there aren’t many people on the platform as it’s Chinese New Year leave and everyone’s probably on leave. I decided to try again on the new Downtown Line while on my way to a family dinner.

I positioned myself right at the front of the train and set the camera up with the 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 CX, ISO 1,600. As soon as I caught sight of the platform, I hit record. The Nikon 1 V1 only records 5s of realtime in the 400fps mode, resulting in a 1 min of slow motion footage. Like Adam’s excellent work, the instantaneous expressions of the commuters appear to be frozen in time as the train passes. These expressions were usually missed by the casual observer but is now clearly visible.

As far as capturing the commuters go, I think I’ve somewhat succeeded. However, the presence of the platform screen doors meant that the video is interrupted every now and then. The fluorescent-lit platform also caused flicker to appear in the resulting video. So, I am going to try this out again on a station which is above ground in the day to see what happens. It might also be interesting to shoot into the train from the platform and capture the commuters within, so I’ll give that a try as well.

Watch this space.

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River Hongbao 2014

The God of Fortune watches over the River Hongbao 2014 event at the Marina Bay Floating Platform.

The River Hongbao is a yearly carnival held at the Marina Bay Floating Platform during the Chinese New Year. It usually features performances and huge lanterns as well as the very popular God of Fortune statue which showers the crowd with gold confetti at regular intervals at night.

This year, the God of Fortune has shifted from the floating platform to the front of the grandstand, overlooking the event venue and the Marina Bay Sands and skyline in the background.

The event opened 2 days before Chinese New Year with a short fireworks show at Marina Bay.

Fireworks light up the sky at Marina Bay to the official opening of the River Hongbao 2014.

A couple of days after I posted the above shot on Flickr, it was picked up by the Flickr Editorial Team for their Lunar New Year 2014 gallery. That sure is an auspicious start for my Chinese New Year.

The highlight of the event has always been the God of Fortune statue which showers the crowd with gold confetti. The crowd, some armed with inverted umbrellas would gather in anticipation right in front of the statue in order to pick them up for good luck.

A man cheers as the confetti is released from the God of Fortune statue.

A very happy woman collecting the confetti on her inverted umbrella.

The large lanterns are also popular.

A horse lantern, signifying the year of the horse.

A woman takes a selfie in front of a wall full of flower lanterns.

A close up of the flower lanterns.

An archer on the back of a horse.

While trying to compose the above shot, I noticed a spotlight in the frame. Remembering the legend of Hou Yi, I framed it such that the spotlight is near the end of the arrow. But since this is at night, he can now be thought of as shooting the “moon”.

Lanterns behind the gate.

The River Hongbao 2014 will be held until 8 Feb 2014 at The Float @ Marina Bay.

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Bélem Tower at Sunset

Bélem Tower at Sunset. Shot on an iPhone 5 and unprocessed.

A nice sunset was forming as I made my way towards the Bélem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal after shooting the Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho Monument. Ever since I got the iPhone 4, I always like to take a shot on the iPhone in addition to taking a few on my “real” camera, a Nikon D7000. By doing so, I also get the advantage of recording the location of the photos I take by referencing the GPS data from the iPhone shots. It also allows me to post the photo to the various social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram once I have an internet connection.

In this case, after taking a couple of shots on my iPhone and being happy with the results, I proceeded to shoot the same scene on my D7000 and AF-S 12-24mm lens. I took a few shots, briefly checked the LCD for exposure and moved on. I didn’t zoom in as I didn’t think that the camera would have trouble capturing that scene in focus with a shutter speed of something like 1/60.

To my dismay, when I finally checked the whole series of shots back in the hotel on my Macbook Air which I have brought along, they were all out of focus. In fact, I couldn’t find the point where the camera had focussed on. Strangely, shots before and after that were perfectly fine. So it must have been some random fluke.

So, the only good shot of that scene is the one on my iPhone. It’s a little noisy of course, but it’s better than nothing. A real camera does not necessarily produce a better photo than a smartphone camera. Sometimes, the simpler device may just get you the shot that you wanted.

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Sound of Ikebana – Four Seasons

The end scene from Naoko Tosa’s Sound of Ikebana: Four Seasons projected onto the facade of the ArtScience Museum.

Sound of Ikebana: Four Seasons is a series of four videos that capture the vibration of kaleidoscopic paint caused by sound waves. It’s created by renowned Japanese media artist Naoko Tosa from 12 Oct 2013 to 13 Jan 2014 and debuted at the ArtScience Museum on 16 Jan 2014.

I found out about this from a photographer friend, Geng Hui‘s tweet as a well as a photo posted on another friend’s Facebook. It reminds me of the the “Garden of Light” installation during the i Light Marina Bay 2012, in that both are video projections onto the facade of the ArtScience Museum.

The difference is that, being a smaller scale installation, not as many loudspeakers were installed compared to i Light, the accompanying music isn’t that audible from the Helix Bridge where I was shooting from. Both video and music were also not as fast-paced as Garden of Light.

Sound of Ikebana: Four Seasons will be shown from 16 Jan 2014 to 19 Jan 2014 at 8:25pm and 10:25pm.

Sound of Ikebana: Four Seasons

Sound of Ikebana: Four Seasons

Sound of Ikebana: Four Seasons

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Flying Into the Sunset

A crescent moon rises during sunset at the Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho Monument at Lisbon, Portugal.

On a recent holiday to Spain and Portugal last year, my tour group arrived at the Belém Tower park at sunset after a city tour. I caught sight of the Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho Monument and a crescent moon which has just risen.

I decided to capture the plane of the monument seemingly flying into the nice sunset, with the moon just above. You can also just about see the silhouette of the Belém Tower on the right, just behind the trees. The shadows were lifted slightly to bring up some details to the monument. I did have to resist the urge to digitally remove that photographer with a tripod on the right of the photo though.

The monument was built in memory of Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral, both aviators, who were the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean by air. The flight left Lisbon on 24 Mar 1922 and arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 6 June 1922.

You can read more about the flight and the near disaster that both of them faced here.

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Year 2013 – Year In Photos

Time really flies this year. Before we know it, 2013 is all but gone and 2014 is hours away. I am posting this as I have always done, recalling my favourite photographic moments of the year.

In March, I was elated when I was informed that one of my photos of the Supertrees at the Gardens by the Bay was selected to be exhibited at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2013 held in Austin, Texas.

Supertrees and Marina Bay Sands

More good things came after that. In June, the Supermoon descended upon us again. After failing at my first attempt last year, I decided to give it another go. I was successful this time round, and responding to a National Geographic call for photos in their YourShot Community, I submitted a couple of my shots, thinking nothing much of them. Flickr also had a similar call for photos and I submitted to them as well.

The Supermoon at the tip of the Marina Bay Sands Skypark.

The Supermoon rises above the Marina Bay Sands Skypark.

A few days later, Flickr selected my photo for their blog post about the Supermoon. Before my excitement died down, I found that I was featured on National Geographic’s Supermoon selection as well! That collection also featured excellent shots submitted by other readers. I was even more surprised when National Geographic actually paid US$100 for using the photo!

And that’s not all. Just before the close of the year, National Geographic did a round up of the most shared news stories of 2013, and my Supermoon shot was at #2. That’s indeed a great news to end 2013.

2013 also saw my first and successful attempt at capturing lightning, something I’ve not tried before. I hope to have more opportunities to shoot lightning (safely of course) in future.

Lightning strikes over Tampines in Singapore.

Queenstown Cinema and Bowling Alley went under the wrecking ball in July 2013. Thankfully, I’ve taken a few shots of it in 2010, before news of its impending demise. Unfortunately, unlike Capitol Theatre, I didn’t have as many shots.

Queensway Cinema, with a now-empty billboard

The Singapore Night Festival returns again in August this year and I covered it again. I felt it wasn’t as interesting as the previous festival though.

Starlight Academy: Redux at the Singapore Night Festival 2013

The festival ended on a high note, with magician-duo JC Sum and “Magic Babe” Ning being suspended 75ft in the air, strapped with not one but TWO straitjackets on a burning rope.

“Magic Babe” Ning frees herself from the first strait jacket at the closing show of the Singapore Night Festival 2013

One of my favourite YouTube musicians, The Piano Guys came to Singapore for a one-night only concert in September. I attended the concert with a few friends, and was very surprised that photography and videography is actually allowed. This cannot be said for many other performances, which usually have ridiculous no-photo rules.

The Piano Guys receive a standing ovation from the 4,000+ audience at Star Theatre.

Lithuanian accordionist Martynas Levickis also came to Singapore to perform in the most unlikely of places – Zouk – more known as a dance club in Singapore than a classical performance venue.

Martynas performing on a platform in front of the stage.

Still on the musical front, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express rolls into Singapore and I was privileged to be invited to the media event, where I managed to take some photos. This would otherwise be impossible during a regular performance.

Mykal Rand as Electra in “AC/DC”in Starlight Express

Finally, I visited Portugal and Spain earlier this month and will be gradually posting the pictures here. Do watch out for them. Meanwhile, here’s to a great 2014!

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Starlight Express Rolls into Singapore

Mykal Rand as Electra in “AC/DC”

One of the longest-running and most unique musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express opened on 13 Nov 2013 at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Thanks to my friend Janice, I had the opportunity to attend the special media event as well as the evening’s show.

The musical tells the story of a toy trains, portrayed by 28 actors on roller skates, coming to life inside the mind of a young boy in his dream. The characters race to be the fastest engine in the world, while competing for the affections of the glamorous coaches which they must team up with.

Rusty (played by Kristoffer Harding) sings “Starlight Express”

Actor Kristoffer Harding who plays “Rusty” in the musical likens Starlight Express story to that of Cinderella “spun on its head”, with Rusty being Cinderella, Electra and Greaseball being the wicked stepsisters, Poppa as the fairy godmother and Pearl as the prince charming.

Right Place, Right Time

The music side of things covers several genres from blues to pop, rock, soul and hip-hop, and each character is described by it’s own genre. For example, the old steam trains sing rock and roll/blues, the electric trains sing modern electro-pop, and Rusty and Pearl sings a love ballad for each other.

The original production involved tracks which let the performers race around the audience. However, this would be impractical for tours such as this. So the production here utilised modern 3D video technology to show the race scenes as a 3D video.

The Coaches – Ashley, Pearl, Dinah and Buffy

Another interesting thing I found out during the event is that the actors mostly did not know how to skate before joining the company. They were trained for 2-3 months at a skate school after they were selected after the auditions.

Stunt skater Matt King performs a backflip on his rollerskates during the media event.

During the media event, the company performed 3 scenes from the musical – AC/DC, Starlight Express and Right Place, Right Time. This was the only time that I got to shoot the performance as photography during the actual performance is disallowed. However, I soon discovered that I can’t really enjoy it if I have to keep watching it through the viewfinder. This being a large scale production involving actors skating around, there are lots of things going on and it’s hard to follow what’s going on through a view finder. I am glad I got to watch the entire musical in the evening without shooting.

Mykal Rand (Electra), Leanne Garretty (Pearl) and Kristoffer Harding (Rusty) pose for a photo

The musical was enjoyable to watch, and the lighting design was fantastic. It’s also unusual to see a musical where everyone is skating around, this was really unique not only during its time, but even now. The only complaint I had was that the sound mixing was less than optimal. In the louder musical numbers, the music often drowned out the actors’ singing, making it hard to follow the lyrics.

The cast of Starlight Express

Starlight Express will be performed at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands until 24 Nov 2013. Yes, it’s a rather short run, so do catch it now. You can get tickets from or

Many thanks to Janice as well as Amanda Osborne from Base Entertainment for the opportunity to attend the press event and the actual performance.

For more Starlight Express photos, you can visit my Flickr set.

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Lithuanian Accordionist Martynas Levickis In Yellow Lounge Singapore

Martynas performing on a platform in front of the stage

Usually when people think of classical music, they think of performers in tuxedos in a concert hall performing “boring” music of dead musicians. Established seven years ago in the Berlin club scene, Yellow Lounge attempts to change this by breaking all the rules in the classical music rule book, and bringing classical music into the trendy clubs across the world. And this is what Yellow Lounge Singapore did on Friday, 18 Oct 2013.

Organised by Universal Music Singapore, this Yellow Lounge event was held at Zouk and features 23-year old Lithuanian Accordionist Martynas Levickis who has recently released an epynomous album in the UK. Universal Music Singapore made this a free event – you just have to get an invite via their “Yellow Lounge” Facebook page and I decided to see what it’s all about. I am not a clubber myself, but I’d like to see what a classical performance in a club setting is like.

Arriving a Zouk Singapore for only the second time in my life (the first being to shoot a friend’s dance performance a decade ago), I was surprised they were playing classical music over their sound system, something most people will not expect.

It started a bit late, but Martynas eventually appeared on stage with his accordion, playing Johannes Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 5. He then walked down the stage and up a little platform in front, to a thrilled audience around him.

Martynas performing on a platform in front of the stage.

Lithuanian accordionist Martynas enthrals the audience at the Yellow Lounge event in Zouk, Singapore.

The rest of the performance has him playing several other well-known classical pieces such as the Harbenera from Bizet’s opera, “Carmen”. He has also mashed it up with a tango piece, La Cumparsita by Uruguayan musician Gerardo Matos Rodriguez. On stage accompanying him is Singaporean Guitarist Ivan Lim. Unfortunately, the guitarist only plays an accompanying role in the performances. It’s have been much more interesting to have them play a duet, possibly even with an electric guitar. That’d surely spice things up quite a bit.

Guitarist Ivan Lim and Accordionist Martynas Levickis

Martynas on stage.

Martynas also played tango pieces such as Por Una Cabeza by Carlos Gardel. The piece was featured in several movies, notably in Scent of a Woman.

The first set of the performance ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, from his Piano Sonata No. 11. It’s quite interesting to see Martynas play the repetitive parts with by vibrating the accordion, and in so doing, his head and curly hair as well.

During the intermission, DJ Haihm mixes recordings of Martynas’s pieces with dance/club tracks (sorry, I can’t tell). Martynas soon returns to the stage with his second set, performing pieces like Astor Piazolla’s Libertango and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air” from his Orchestral Suite No. 3, better known as the “Air on G String”.

Martynas’s passion in playing is palpable in his performances, and you can see how deeply absorbed he can get in it.

Martynas deeply absorbed in his performance.

Alas, good things always have to come to an end, and soon it was time for his last piece. After addressing the audience, he played Lady Gaga’s Telephone, a song that most people would be familiar with. It’s amazing what he can do with his accordion, effortlessly playing all the various genres of music.

Martynas speaking to the audience

Martynas playing his last piece, the song “Telephone” by Lady Gaga.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the concert and was also glad that photography isn’t banned. I also liked the fact that, being in a more casual/open environment, I was able to shoot with a small camera + prime lens (Nikon V1 + 18.5mm f/1.8).

Thanks to Universal Music Singapore/Yellow Lounge for the excellent concert. I had a blast.

Hope to see more of such events in the future.

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