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!


State of Independence

Botanical Gardens 006

One tends to get a little wistful when writing the last post of the year. Yes, I’ve made some mistakes. Some wrong choices. Some cock-ups. I’ve learned from them and put them in the past behind me. I’ve also taken some calculated risks. Nothing ventured nothing gained. I like to think I’ve become a kinder person and more compassionate towards my fellow humans. I’ve made some new friends, but I haven’t forgotten the old. However, I’ve become so much more grounded since my last trip to the States. I love traveling by myself, even more so to the US, where I spent four years of my life. There’s just so much to see in this huge country and I’m so fortunate to have made some great friendships with some Americans—thanks to Facebook and instant messaging I can always rely on any of them to carry me through my difficult times. And now I have a beautiful sister in Hackensack, New Jersey (you know who you are, heh)

My aspirations are to do more traveling in 2013. Saint Augustine of Hippo is quoted as saying, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I’ve always hankered to visit Italy—I think Italian is the most romantic language in the world, even more so than French. I’d go wild with my photography in such a picturesque country (and let’s not forget about the food). Doing the cities—Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, etc. Wow, that would be a dream trip. However, I’m also leaning towards the West coast of the USA, thanks to a friend in San Francisco (probably the most romantic city in the States). A road trip along Highway 101 from San Francisco to Seattle, Washington via Portland, Oregon (approximately 800 miles) would be another dream. Perhaps I need to get some larger capacity memory cards for my cameras, LOL.

Meanwhile I’m very comfortable in my solitude. I dislike crowds and tend to favor quieter places. I’ve become more introverted as life goes on, but there’s nothing wrong about that. Of course I’d be lying if I say that sometimes I do feel some pangs of loneliness, not waking up with someone on the other side of the bed, not being able to hold hands with someone I care about. I have questioned myself about looking for a soul mate, but the essence of searching is…there is no search (yup, a Zen aphorism there). Gonna do more reading too, and not forgetting my occasional glass of wine in the evenings.

Here’s to a great year ahead.


Wherever you go, there you are

Ah, the loneliness of the long-distance traveller? Not at all. Going on a solo trip halfway across the world recently has been a thrill ride, especially on my return. Thanks to hurricane Sandy my original flight from Dayton, Ohio was canceled and—through a series of fortuitous events (the Universe must be siding with me) I managed to get back to Penang in one piece, with my baggage intact, even after going through a change of planes four times: Dayton – Chicago – Los Angeles – Hong Kong – Penang. Spending almost 23 hours in the air (not to mention a long 10-hour layover in LAX) is not something I want to be doing often, but surprisingly I went through it pretty much unscathed.

I love traveling by myself. Somehow I find it empowering, this state of independence I feel when I’m walking fast through terminals, trying to catch a connecting flight. And since we’re talking about airports—Hong Kong and Dallas Fort-Worth score high in my books because of their efficient inter-terminal rail links. Los Angeles doesn’t need one since its eight terminals are clustered together. The only thing I disliked were the TSA checks—I always seem to forget to take off my belt, which then triggers the alarm in the metal detectors.

There has been time for me to ponder about where my life’s going during these long-haul flights. I am happy, really. There are ups and downs in each of our lives, we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but that’s the fun part, isn’t it. This uncertainty which compels me to enjoy the moment, the present. Because that’s all each of us will ever have.

I’d really like to travel again in the near future.


Thank you, God!

Yesterday saw me completely overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness. I tried hard to shake it off, I really did. But no, it was a downer. However, I had to work at the hotel, so off I went, and started tinkling on the piano as usual. I played quite a few Christmas tunes, the ones I like best are the more somber ones like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Halfway through my set, a Caucasian couple walked past and the wife paused by my side and said something along these lines: “I wish you didn’t play so much Christmas music, I’m a long way from home and I’m feeling homesick.”

I replied, “Are your from the States?” She said yes, she and her husband live in Arizona. I was starting to perk up, so I said “You’re not from Tucson, are you?” And my goodness, she said “YES!” I stopped playing in mid-song and jumped up. We talked for about 15 minutes and it was like the good Lord had sent this couple to cheer me up. Thank you, Marg and Steve, for being so kind and warm to me. We talked about my college days in Tucson, and it was like revisiting with old friends. We laughed, and we hugged…awww! I haven’t had any hugs lately and it was so good to receive one!

Unfortunately Marg and Steve will be flying to Singapore tomorrow and they’re doing some touring in Asia before they head home to Tucson next month. I’ll be keeping in touch, Marg. That’s a promise. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to both of you. God bless!

Life Music

The best years of my life (episode 1)

No doubt about it, the best years of my life were the years I spent abroad, first in the UK, and then in the States. I’ll talk about the UK segment here and reserve the American one for later.

The year was 1978. I was 17, I’d just passed my MCE (Malaysian Certificate Examination, a very important exam for 11th Graders) and was accepted by the West London Institute of Higher Education to do my A-levels in England. The fact that a cousin was studying there provided me with some solace, and I also had two other cousins living within the London area. So that passed off as great news for me—no more daily naggings from my parents, hello independence—yay!

January 1978 found me on board a Singapore Airlines flight en route to London. God, this was exciting! This would be my first time being so far away from home. My parents made sure I had warm clothing; they told me to be prepared for the cold winter weather but you know teenagers, they just shrug it off. Until we landed at Heathrow Airport—my, even the interior of the airport was cold. And when I stepped outside—whoosh! The British winter greeted me with strong winds and some snow. It was daytime but the skies were gloomy, very forlorn in comparison to the sunny Malaysian skies.

My cousin was at the airport to meet me. She had made some advanced accommodation arrangements for me near the college, but I couldn’t move in yet because the room was still occupied. So I stayed in Reading, Berkshire with a friend first. It was good, a time to acclimatize myself with the new environment and weather. A few days passed, and the landlady informed my cousin that the room was ready. It was actually a bedsit (i.e. a room with cooking facilities), the landlady (Mrs. Dunbar, I still remember her name) laid down some ground rules like no loud music after 9 PM, no overnight guests, etc. and then I settled in.

Boy, this was so different from the luxuries I had taken for granted at home! It wasn’t a very big room, but it was comfortable. There was a single bed with a work table beside it. I even had a rocking chair. There was a big cupboard to store my stuff, a lunch table and an electric cooker. I could store frozen food in my landlady’s freezer downstairs and my laundry would have to be done in a launderette. I could use her phone only for local calls (2 pence a call) and please remember, there was no such thing as the Internet, email, instant messaging, whatsoever in those days!

Man, there was like a 1001 things I had to do for myself! I had to open a bank account, I had to know where the post office was, I had to cook for myself, etc. And I had to rely on public transport—the bus, the tube (London Underground subway) and the train system (British Rail, at that time) Did I feel homesick yet? You bet. And every winter’s day would be the same—short daylight hours, with what seemed to be perpetual rain, snow or sleet with strong winds. I was freezing my arse out (of course I never admitted it)

My cousins were very helpful in this respect. One loaned me a small radio (so that at least it wasn’t so deathly quiet in my room), another took me out in his small car for my first meal at, of all places, McDonald’s! At this moment in time I didn’t even know about this burger joint (none existed in Malaysia yet) but I took to the food like a hungry savage! A Big Mac, an apple pie, and a thick strawberry milk shake was like Nirvana for this starving teenager. My own cooking started out abysmally—I actually survived on bread, biscuits, cookies—stuff that I bought at the local supermarkets. My weight must have plummeted. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I had no choice but to learn how to cook. As time went on, I improved, thanks to a rice cooker I procured at home—us Chinese folk probably couldn’t survive without rice. With my stomach now being given more edible food, my spirits returned.

Then it was off to school, and what a difference compared to home! There were students (mostly English) of my age, going around, attending their classes and hanging out; there was music everywhere because I had enrolled in a two-year Foundation Course for Music. At first, I was very shy. Aside from my cousin (who was a year ahead of me) I didn’t know anybody. Fortunately, my English was good. I still remember one day when I was having lunch all by myself in the cafeteria and this one girl, Sarah, came over and asked me very politely whether I wanted to join her group of friends. Gradually I started making new friends, and it snowballed from there.

This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll continue in the next one.