Archive for June, 2012

Bali-Komodo Dive and Surf and Recharge

This trip wasn’t even under my radar until I met Jim (whom we knew through my last lembeh trip) for lunch a week ago. I told him I wanted to go on a dive trip this week but have not booked anything yet because layang layang was full, gorontalo was off season. So it was down to Cebu and raja ampat (which cost quite a bomb). Then he mentioned Komodo and I vaguely remembered rave reviews from divers I’ve met on trips previously. The only dates I was available was on the black manta, which took us out on a 5 day liveaboard around the island of Komodo. I was offered a deal to share the bunk with another diver, which greatly reduced the cost of the trip. That’s actually one of the main reasons for picking this over a land based trip to Cebu. Within 3 days, I was on my flight to bali which I stayed for a night before taking another flight to labuan Bajo.

Labuan Bajo is a sleepy fishing village that is not touristy at all. Instead of taking a day tour to the waterfalls and caves, i opted for a self exploratory trip down the town and the village. By dusk, i was lying beside the pool enjoying the first of many awesome Komodo sunset. The next day, a taxi took me to black manta’s rendezvous point from golo hilltop resort. After a short boat transfer, i was onboard the pretty impressive mv black manta. It was way bigger and better than my expectations. From the dive deck all the way to the cabin, everything was very well thought out. My first impression was, this boat was ‘designed by divers, for divers’. Thanks to its steel hull, its incredibly stable too.

Cedric, the trip director, gave us a very detailed briefing before we set off to our very first dive site. Check out dive #1, we jumped in and landed on a turtle (it was a few meters below) and the first critter we saw, two lembeh sea dragons! A very good way begin the trip even though I didn’t fire a single shot because I brought an empty housing for the check dive. Overall the dives were pretty good with a mix of macro and pelagics. The marine life is very healthy with alot of reef fishes and corals on every dive. The more memorable dives were in crystal rock, castle rock, manta alley, pink beach (night dive) and shotgun.

Before we began our trip, I asked Cedric what was there to see at Castle Rock and Crystal Rock (both being the first two real dives of the trip). He said, crystal rock is like heaven with beautiful corals and colorful reef fishes. Castle Rock on the other hand, is like hell, where all the feeding action was. However, Crystal rock was memorable for the wrong reasons as we got caught in massive current after missing a narrow sweet spot upon entry. There were times you know you can swim really hard against the current and there were times where you know you don’t event stand a chance fighting. This was one of them and our first taste of the notorious currents in Komodo. We were battered so badly and eventually seeked refuge at a small plateau looking at reef fishes instead of the supposedly pelagic actions. That said, one of the groups managed to get to the end of the rock and had a visual feast on some shark action.

From our lesson learned at crystal rock, we handled castle Rock alot better. With a quick negative entry, we were able to get to where the action was. White tip sharks patrol the reef outcrop with plenty of marine life. It was definitely an eye feast. The reef hook was deployed and it worked really well under those conditions, freeing up my hands for the camera. After the dive, I told Cedric, I very much prefer hell:D Shotgun was supposed to sort of a drift dive through a rocky formation, unfortunately or fortunately, the currents were not really strong on that dive. But the rocky formations were really pretty. It felt like we were swimming through some underwater castle and expecting to hit the “shotgun” spot anytime. I’m sure Cedric’s awesome pre-dive briefing has got something to do with it.

Our first step into Komodo island was on pink beach. On that small sandy stretch of sand, one could see a pinkish hue under the late afternoon sun. Thanks to the small pink particles that were washed from the sea. The night dive at pink beach was spectacular. It’s a white sand muck dive site with extremely rich marine life. Among usual shrimps and crabs, we also found juvenile hairy frog fishes as well as some variation of the hairy shrimp.

I’m not sure if they deliberately put manta alley on the last day. If they did, the mantas must’ve heard their prayers. Sea was calm with manageable currents (by Komodo’s standards). The manta’s were out to party with no lesser than 12-15 of them. Some were really huge with wing spans easily exceeding 6m. I propped myself against a bare rocky outcrop and watched them circle right in front of me, sometimes coming within touching distances. As we explored the Site, mantas tend to appear from nowhere, sometimes slowing down to check us out. Manta alley impressed us enough to warrant another dive on the same site. It was as amazing as the first. Can’t ask for more for the final dive of the trip. There were manta sightings at almost every depth that we were on.

Finally, we wrapped up the trip with a visit to the Komodo national park where we did some trekking and ‘dragon hunting ‘. They were shy on this day as we only saw 2 of them. we saw more wooden ones than real ones at the souvenir shop. Did our final night at the Harbour of labuan Bajo and we reluctantly accepted the fact that this trip had came to an end. For me, this trip opened up new opportunities for further adventures around this region.

While I did not take as many images as I thought I would, I think it’s not a bad thing. Slowing down allows me to think and if the subject does not present a good opportunity for me to get a good picture, I pass. Maybe it has something to do with age.

Some lessons learned over the trip.

– pack as light as you can. It’s not everyday that you can convince airport staff that 16kg carry ons are OK for small domestic planes.

– buy equipments earlier so you can zhng them nicely before getting into the water. It’s not funny when you can’t find a place to hook up your accessories on your new bcd.

– maybe lighter fins and strobes will be helpful if I intend to do such trips more often.

As for surfing in Bali.  I’m too old for nothing, I just need more practice than the younger folks, which means, more trips:) I took up surfing lessons at the Billabong Surf School over my 3 day stop in Bali. It’s great detox time away from home and office. I spent most my time in the hotel room, trying to catch up with news and whatever ‘air time ‘ lost in Komodo. The rest of the time were either spent walking by the beach during sunset or sleeping.

Here are some of the land images from this trip. You can find the underwater images here.

3’s a family and someone’s fuming:D

The pyramids of Kuta

Click to see more (image intensive) Read more…

Kheng Tiong and Melissa

I promised to put up a wedding post before the end of yesterday. Sorry I was a little late after cleaning up all that drool when checking out the Sony Vaio Z2 (2012). It’s about time I replace my 4 year old laptop. This one seems to fit well if I want to edit on the go. Yes it cost a bomb, but if it’s going to last me for 3-4 years, I figured it’ll be well worth it. Any idea which bank is easier to rob?:D

Once in a while, we get some retro vintage themed weddings which are not too over the top. For me, it’s the first time I sat in these vintage Volkswagon vans and it’s alot more stable and spacious than I expected. Thanks to the volks folks at Volkswedding for maintaining these iconic mobiles.

Here are some images for the wedding. Scroll all the way down a link to the slideshow:)


I was told these were hand made my one of the bridesmaids. Very nicely done.

Alot going through their minds, definitely.

That piece of sunshine that came it at the right place, right time.

面包车. Really looks like 面包.

Groomsmen getting “changed”.

I love that eye contact.

She said “I have ang pow too!” to the bridesmaids, who got theirs during the gatecrashing games.

The couple leaving the bride’s house. I like how she was looking back and him looking at her. Somehow meaningful to me.

See, VW.

Not usually interested to take photos of kids crying, but this one is an exception:D

I was actually looking at the almost flat tyre… then everything else fell into place.

Love the symmetry and color combination.

That’s what tilt shifts are for.

Sometimes, blur can be good:)

I love confetti! And I’m damn good at firing one too. That’s why I was assigned to be the “confetti party” during the last wedding as a guest and it hit the spotlights:D

The quiet moments.

And the tender ones:)

Not an Apple fan, but thanks for ‘helping’ when I ran out of ideas. It was a perfect fit for the rings.

Click here to see the slideshow.

Komodo in depth

In Komodo, we dive. Not as many images, but you get the idea. I will be back again. And before you think that you came to the wrong blog, I promise I’ll post a wedding before the end of the week:D Possibly tonight.

The massive schools of fishes. While I wasn’t able to get good angles on them this time round, I think this trip showed me the potential on what kind of shots I could get.

White tip shark patroling the reef amid the insane currents. I had my reef hook deployed. Many thanks to my dive guide, Anto.

Turtles. They are a common sighting at some sites. One came behind my head so closely it gave me a shock.

One of the very few macros I attempted this trip. The amount of macro life in Komodo is pretty amazing. It is up against the best like Lembeh, although Lembeh probably have easier shooting conditions without the currents and the black sand. That said, night dives at pink beach was really really good.

Soles come in pairs:D

Pretty corals all around.

A diver exploring the feather star (not!). Lucky to have the diver at the right place at the right time.

Through this trip, I’m beginning to love corals more and more.

Manta Alley! The mantas rule this place.

There were like 8-10 of them circling the alley, with more on different depths. There’s a chance that you run into one wherever you are.

Getting real close to actions at times. They were so fun to hang around with.

They will come in circles, sometimes coming in really close, and turning away at the last minute.

The Black Manta.

I saw this during my safety stop. It had a fishing line stuck in it’s mouth. I was told by the guide later that it has been like that since he first dived in Komodo a year ago. They tried to help, but never really got close enough.

Feeding frenzy.

This looks like a fighter bomber with twin guns on the nose.

A relatively long break from work

Holidays have never been more enjoyable with my new toy. After owning it for more than a month, I’m loving it more and more. It’s definitely a big change from the way a DSLR operates, but I love it. From the weight, the size right down to the image quality. With Lightroom’s latest support for it’s raw files, it makes the whole process of photography from shooting to post processing even sweeter. There are some minor quirks with the camera, but the pros outweigh the cons. I hope Fuji will fix them with some firmware updates in the future. For now, it’s my favorite travel and walkabout camera. In fact, some of the previous posts were shot with the X-Pro 1, including some of those shot during the By Elections. Falling in love with photography all over again.

Sunset at Kuta beach, Bali – Taken with Fujifilm X-Pro 1


We were lucky. Had an out of world experience with the “spaceships”.

Manta rays at Manta Alley. Komodo.

26th May – The results and celebrations

Here’s the final installment for the Hougang BE2012. During the past 2 rallies, I thought it’s not too bad to be a photojournalist, until I went through this. It was ridiculously crazy. It’s just crazy to even try to get a shot at some point in time. Suddenly, jostling with uncle bobs during weddings seem like peanuts. It was a great experience though, totally love the atmosphere, especially at the Worker’s Party’s den. Here are some images from that evening. I think I have more, but I’ll look into them when I have time… backlogs are piling up!

At the PAP headquarters in Hougang. Scores of activists watching the live telecast of the By Election and cheering everytime Desmond Choo is on TV.

DPM Teo arriving at the PAP headquarters. He went on to speak to the activists briefly before leaving. I left about the same time to cover the WP’s side at a coffeeshop a few blocks away while the other TOC photographer covered the PAP side.

Something’s on TV… doesn’t look like positive news.

Whatever the outcome, we are all Singaporeans. OK?

A signed hammer!!

The folks at the coffeeshop going crazy everytime Png Eng Huat or anything related to WP comes on TV.

And the opposite reaction whenever Desmond Choo came on TV.

The crowd’s reaction when Mr Png Eng Huat was announced to have won the By Election.

Emotions ran high for some of WP’s most faithful supporters.

And we had a little tap dancing on the table too.

As with all happy occasions, three toasts of yum seng were proposed for the victory.

WP supporters began to move towards the road in anticipation for Mr Png Eng Huat to arrive.

While waiting, the folks cheered on every other car that passed by, especially police cars, buses and any other car with a WP flag or umbrella stuck out of their windows. It was party atmosphere for sure.



The crowd.

Like me, they waited along the road for the WP folks to arrive. But we were wrong, they came in from the carpark at the back to the coffeeshop.

All of sudden, everyone rushed towards the coffeeshop. Even the police couldn’t stop people from crossing the roads. This was as close as I could get to them. It was SERIOUSLY crazy!

I had to anticipate where they were heading and waited there. Good thing there was a little traffic jam at the carpark exit and that gave me a small time frame to try to get a shot through the human chain surrounding the car.

26th May 2012 Voting Day and the case of the missing toilet

Polling day! I was assigned to cover one of the polling stations in Hougang Central. When I arrived, there were quite a number of people from the press around the blocks facing the polling stations, but nobody was shooting. Soon, I realized that the polling agents were prohibiting any form of photography/videography at the polling stations, meaning that we can’t even point our cameras in that direction. Not wanting to be hauled up for questioning, I loitered around the neighbourhood and somehow got into a conversation with some of the residents at the Elderly corner.  They are really nice people, funny at some point.

Voters of  Hougang go to the polls. Everyone.

A voter fresh from the polling station.

I couldn’t get a shot of the polling station at Hougang Central because the authorities refused to let us point our camera anywhere near it. So I loitered around the area and had a chat with some happy voters. Many of them have been staying in Hougang for ages.

Mr Png Eng Huat from Worker’s Party leaving the polling station after a brief inspection. Guess who’s at the back? Felix!! I shot his ROM afew years back and he called me when he saw me snooping around the polling station, trying to get a shot of Mr Png.

Back at the PAP HQ, Mr Desmond Choo talking to supporter before leaving for the polling stations in the rain.

The “Elderly Corner” under Block 831. After spending some time talking to the folks who finished voting, they asked me which news agency I was from, which I replied I was helping out a web publication. Then he asked if I could help him ask why their requests for toilets at Block 831’s elderly corner are not approved over so many years. He pointed out that this corner was put in place in 2002 (see date above TV) and their MP told them that their requests have repeatedly been denied.  Yet, the block right opposite the road, Block 513 has a toilet. The difference was that Block 513 was under Aljunied GRC back then when the toilets were built. I can’t help but feel sorry for them. While the place doesn’t look like it has had a makeover, it was pretty well maintained, but without a toilet, an elderly corner is like a house without a roof. I can imagine the kind of inconvenience when you desperately need to answer the calls of nature while having a chat with friends.

Now that the polls are over, I hope both parties work together and give the elderly residents at Block 831 a decent toilet. It’s not that hard to have it approved, or is it?

The tale of two constituencies (pre-GE11).