I can see your house from here

Here are a set of photos of the neighborhood in Milpitas, where I stayed. Yes, the skies are very blue—enhanced with my polarizer but other than that I don’t and never post-process my pictures.



(Below) Here’s the front of David’s house. I enhanced the skies with a Tiffen GND (Graduated Neutral Density) filter.



(Above) Peter D. Gill park is just a short walk away. Plenty of open space here…I like it. And as you can see from the picture below this is a quiet residential neighborhood, clean, and the roads are so wide!



The Golden Gate Bridge

Before I go on, let me list out all my Canon gear so that I won’t have to do it again for subsequent posts:

Canon EOS 6D, 24-105mm f/4L, 17-40mm f/4L, Speedlite 600EX-RT, Oben AC-1310 tripod. Borrowed from David: Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro and 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS.


The next day after my arrival, David and I decided to set out to capture San Francisco’s most iconic landmark—the Golden Gate Bridge. Construction of this monumental landmark started in 1933 and it opened in 1937. The total length of the bridge is 8,980 feet (2,737 meters), while the longest span is 4,200 feet (1,280 meters). The bridge is popular with pedestrians and bicyclists; there are walkways on either side of the six traffic lanes. The photo above was taken at one of the tourist stops in the Marin Headlands. The view is looking towards San Francisco in the background. The picture below of the city was shot using a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L with a 1.4x Extender.



(Above) I used the same lens to capture this tight shot of rush hour on the bridge. We then drove further up to get a better viewpoint, like the photo below. The evening sun illuminates the bridge and really makes it golden.



(Above) It was then a matter of waiting for the sun to set and the bridge to illuminate. We were fortunate that this was a very clear evening, with an absence of fog. As a bonus, we had a full moon rising. I love the pinkish and purplish hues as evening sets in.

(Below) Taken at around 7:30 PM. Using a slow shutter speed I was able to illuminate the trails of traffic on the bridge.



And finally we have the moon casting a glowing reflection on the bay with the bridge in the foreground. At this time the wind was howling and I was chilled to the bone even with my jacket on. We called it a day, packed our gear and headed for the long drive home. We were tired but I knew I had some good shots in the bag!


Wondrous Stories


“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ~ Saint Augustine of Hippo

There’s something very compelling and rewarding that I find about travel. Perhaps it helps us to see the world in a different light, even though many things are similar. We all have our favorite destinations, and mine is the USA. You can’t fault me because I lived and studied there a long time ago. The fact remains, though, that I love America and its people—I find Americans to be friendly, charming, curious, open, and welcoming. And sometimes I believe that it has to do with the power of luck and timing—for this current trip I had my first meet-up with David (a Facebook friend I’ve known for 2 years plus). We both share a passion for photography and Canon cameras, so that set the stage for a very exciting trip and meet. So many good (and unexpected) things presented themselves during this wonderful trip that I’ll probably have to write a couple of shorter blog posts instead of rambling on here. My destination, as you can see from the photo above, was San Francisco—a city I had visited two or three times in the past, and haven’t been back to for almost 15 years (told you I was excited).

Of course, things have changed in this city that I call the Paris of America…I had my first pleasant experience when I went through Immigration and Customs. Naturally, there was a long line and that’s the last thing you need after a tiring 12-hour flight, but I cleared both without a hitch. The Customs officer was so friendly and polite. He looked at my passport, said “Oh, you’re from Malaysia—Selamat Datang!” What a great way to start a vacation, right in the airport itself. After getting my bags I stepped out of the Arrivals hall into the cool and sunny spirit of California, and before long David arrived to pick me up in his Honda.

More coming in the next post!


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 8)

Editor’s Note: I’ve become extremely exasperated with myself because try as I might, I can’t seem to find the remainder of my photographs taken during my American vacations. I did succeed in finding two, so I’m including them in this post.

I’ve developed a love-hate affair with airports, over the course of my years abroad. On the one hand, they are the saddest places on Earth when you have to say goodbye to loved ones. On the other hand, they can be the happiest places when you see someone you love waving at you in the Arrivals area. I’ve been in a lot of airports—Singapore’s Changi, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci, Athens’ Hellinikon, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam’s Schiphol, London’s Heathrow, Tokyo’s Narita, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, and of course, San Francisco. This last one was pure déjà vu for me, because the following year (December 1983) I arrived in this city again.

This time I was the guest of Karl and Anita, two German friends who had known my parents for a few years. When my parents told them that I was in Arizona over the Christmas period, they said that it would be cruel for someone to spend Christmas all alone, so I was invited to their home in Fremont, California, which again wasn’t far from the Bay Area. I remembered that Karl worked with Intel at the San Jose headquarters, and he showed up at the airport with his white Mercedes Benz! Karl undoubtedly, was a German through and through. They had a very nice house in Fremont, and I was shown to a guest room with all things, an electronic organ (see the picture below) Moreover, I spotted a typewriter (remember what that is?) on a desk. “Type a letter to your parents when you feel like it,” Karl said, jokingly.

Of course I played the organ too, and Karl and Anita were smiling, having some music flow through their house (both of them don’t play the organ, don’t ask me why) I did enjoy my vacation with them, as they did take me to various places in the Bay Area. I remember Carmel very vividly, because they had a famous mayor—Clint Eastwood. And secondly, the Pacific scenery especially at this time of the year, was breathtaking. I also managed to call up the Dyers and exchanged greetings with them.

However, this time I was hungry for more. Before I left Tucson, I had thoughts of visiting (wait for it) Hawaii! So this time I would be spending Christmas in San Francisco and the New Year in Honolulu. And guess what? My parents to the rescue again (hurray for parents!) They had a Malaysian friend called Bennett who had his own business in Honolulu. Again, Bennett was very kind and said yes, he would love to have me over. So just after Christmas, I said my goodbyes (here’s that airport love-hate thingy again) to Karl and Anita, and boarded my flight to Honolulu.

The instant I landed in Honolulu, I knew I was going to like this place. The weather was a balmy 75°F with moderate winds—just perfect! Bennett was at the arrivals area to pick me up. I was garlanded on arrival and it felt nice. We were shortly cruising down the Nimitz Highway to the city and Bennett’s apartment. In contrast to Karl’s place in Fremont, Bennett’s apartment was quite spartan, but comfortable. He’d stocked up his fridge with a ton of frozen TV dinners!

Of course Bennett took me around to see the sights, like Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach (very popular spot, always crowded), we even saw the Governor’s residence (which doubled as Police headquarters in the TV series Hawaii Five-O) We went swimming in Hanauma Bay, where the water was so clear and blue, and fish were swimming in and around us! We also went to the northern part of Oahu to see the Banzai Pipeline. I had never seen such huge waves in my life, ever! And no, I didn’t try surfing.

Anyway, the fun part was when Bennett had to go to the Big Island on business. He was so kind to give me free rein of his apartment and his trusty Toyota. All I had to do was grab a map of Honolulu (no GPS yet), put some gas in the tank, and off I went! Ah, that was the life! I was out exploring the city, the malls, etc. and loving it, although I was alone. When Bennett returned, we spent New Year’s Eve at a hotel, he had his own group of friends, and the atmosphere was one of fun.

However, it was now time to return to reality, and to Tucson. Again, I had to say a sad goodbye to Bennett and wonderful Hawaii. That’s why I still have a love-hate relationship with airports up till today.

That's me at the organ in Fremont. Don't ask about the doll.  At Karl's house in Fremont. Am I looking preppy or what?


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 7)

My thanks to my fellow dorm mate John “Scrawny” Morrison, for shouting out “IT’S THE WEEKEND!!” at the top of his lungs in the hallway every time Friday afternoon arrived.  Sometimes I would open my door and shout back, “Hey! It’s quiet hours!” jokingly. Weekends were nice, I still had assignments and studying to do, but at least there were no classes. Holiday breaks were enjoyable too, like one Thanksgiving break where I was invited to a meal by my good friends Leisa and Randy. I had never eaten so much turkey in my life.

Fall semester ‘81 was drawing to a close, and everyone was looking forward to the Christmas break. Now I faced another dilemma. The dorms would be closed over the holiday period, and of course it wasn’t viable to return home to Malaysia again. I shrugged, and faced the possibility that I would have to find alternative housing somewhere else. However, as luck would have it, I met another fellow dorm mate by the name of Richard Dyer earlier on during the Spring semester. Other people called him Rich, but he always preferred Rick, so I called him that. We struck up a friendship, and we used to have dinners together, as well as going to the Gallagher Theater for movies, stuff like that. It was nice to have some company, and pretty soon we became room mates. I don’t exactly remember how it came to pass, but I did confide in him about the possibility that I’d have to seek alternative accommodation during the Christmas period.

I guess he had been talking to his parents on the phone, and one fine day prior to the Christmas vacation he asked me, “Phil, how would you like to spend the holidays with me and my family?” Wow! Of course I was thrilled, but I said I hoped I wouldn’t be imposing on them. Rick replied, “Of course not.” So it was a done deal. Rick’s hometown was in Danville, California—not too far from San Francisco. We booked our flight tickets on United, and I was very excited—imagine, this would be my first visit to San Francisco! A different environment, with a different climate, and not forgetting of course, this would be a vacation. To top things off, Rick’s parents would be picking us up from the airport and taking us directly to Davies Symphony Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra—awesome!

Well, as things turned out, we experienced the famous San Francisco fog first-hand—the captain of the United Airlines 747 announced that due to extremely foggy conditions in the Bay Area, we would have to be in a holding position above the city. What a bummer, we’d be late for the concert! We eventually touched down about 45 minutes behind schedule, it was a frustrating wait for our baggage, and Rick’s father was anxiously looking out for us. We said our hellos, and then zoomed off to Davies Symphony Hall. Arrived there, and had to wait for a suitable break before we could enter. This was a beautiful hall indeed (DSH opened in September 1980; it underwent another major renovation in the Summer of 1992) Never mind, at least I got to experience the Hallelujah Chorus first-hand, standing up, of course.

It was pretty late when the concert ended. Rick and I were both tired, don’t remember seeing anything much on the drive to Danville—I was practically asleep. Rick’s mom was on hand to greet us when we arrived, a room had been prepared for me, and I was so tired I fell asleep straight away.

Suffice to say that the rest of the vacation was fantastic—Rick’s family treated me like one of their own and took me to all the well-known spots in San Francisco. Places like the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown (the largest in the world, it seems), Japantown, Nob Hill, Coit Tower, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Ghirardelli Square (wonderful chocolate!). I had a first taste of the tram system and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was smooth and efficient. The weather was cold and foggy, this was a nice change from Tucson. We went by car sometimes, at other times we just took BART into the city. I love San Francisco, it has a charm of its own.

And the food—in a word, awesome! Whether we were eating out or at home, there was an overabundance of food. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a picky eater, thank God. It was a real breakfast almost every day, with cereal, fruits, bacon, sausages, generous amounts of coffee—man this was the life! Since the Dyers had a spinet piano, I’d be tinkling on it whenever, and that made them smile. Rick was the eldest, he had two sisters, Suzanne and Sally, and a brother Bill, who was the youngest. They showed me around the neighborhood, and the family car was affectionately called Moby. I drove Moby for a bit too.

I also remember going to Stockton to visit Grandma and Grandpa (we stayed there for a day or two) and again, I was treated like one of the family. Rick’s grandpa was a farmer and so he showed me his land (tractors, buildings, and all) and what do you know, I had my first taste of actually handling a rifle and shotgun (I didn’t mention this to my parents). They had to occasionally get rid of birds like crows that liked to pick on the crops. That was the only time I had ever fired a weapon in my life!

I also cooked chicken curry for the family. I tried to make it as mild as I could, but still everyone had running noses after consuming it. Oh well. The run-up to Christmas was wonderful too, as I took part in buying Christmas presents for the whole family. It was a fantastic time and one that I’ll remember as long as I live. If any of the Dyers are reading this, I love you all!

Pretty soon it was time to head back to Arizona—Rick and I left with heavy hearts, but you need to say goodbye before you can say hello again. The whole family came to the airport, we hugged and kissed each other (I think I almost cried) Our flight was boarding, and before I knew it, we took off for Tucson. Back to the salt mines!

Me and Rick in our dorm room Here I am with Rick's parents, in their home

L-R: Suzanne, Rick, Me, Bill, and Sally Golden Gate Park I love San Francisco!