Noah’s Ark in Hong Kong (Monochrome Version)

We’re still at Noah’s Ark.

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Though this time, in contrast to my previous post, I figure I’ll go the monochrome high contrast way just to see the difference.

Did I mention there was a beach next to Noah’s Ark?

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So we have a couple posing for wedding photographs, quite oblivious to the sun-bather who is enjoying the view.

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The humor is gone from the photograph… instead it’s a kind of existential commentary on human aspiration…

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A reflection on the ups and downs of everyday life…

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For some reason the same photograph in high contrast monochrome looks grittier …

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There’s plenty to keep the kids busy. Educational too.

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The Last Supper.

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The Last Supper, with the kids in front and gallery guide behind.

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The giraffe looks overextended.

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Park attendants sorting things out.

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From behind a popcorn and bbq stand.

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The village house is still beautiful.

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Time to relax.

Thanks for reading!


Noah’s Ark in Hong Kong

I am a creature of habit, of the Homer-Simpson-couch-potato-beer-belly-belching variety.

So when my wife announced we’re spending a night in Noah’s Ark, part of me wanted to resist, though curiosity (plus the fact that I’ve basically [and wisely!] outsourced my recreational and social life to my better half) took over.

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It’s a theme park mostly for children (I have 2!) with parents attached.

It’s located in Ma Wan, an island cum residential estate with a policy of banning entry to private vehicles.

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We did a night’s stay literally on the third floor of Noah’s Ark, and got bumped up to a eight-bedded suite.

Sadly, though, you can’t find a bar in Noah’s Ark…

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It’s a rather postmodern experience, as it’s a biblical-themed park and complex concocted out of secular/capitalist/entertainment motivations by the Sun Hung Kai property conglomerate. It requires a bit of roller-coaster thinking.

As a Christian of the church-going, serious-bible-study-home-group-acoustic-guitar-worship variety cum literature-professor-and-poet-who-has-read-his-Derrida type of person, I was rather intrigued.

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So was my street photographer persona, who wisely decided to rely on a Canon G11 to do the job of taking family snapshots as well as street photography.

Yes, there’re still people out there proudly carrying their G11’s, evidence of the longevity of what is now a classic camera. (I’ve seen G9’s, 10’s and 11’s for sale at vintage camera shops.) I know someone who still carries a G9.

Back to the main story.

The above was in an educational exhibit room for kids teaching them about geology. I do like the religious motif with the light shining down and the person in front whose head is bowed in devotion…

Free souvenir photos! Check out the psychedelic set-up, to remind us of God’s cosmological creations, I’m sure.

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There were various events, including this 35-minute tour of religious exhibits and replicas.

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This guy playing Moses jumped right into our midst.

He spent the next 20 minutes telling us of the Ten Commandments and of how Hong Kong has strayed somewhat from the biblical plot.

It was amusing to see Moses code-switching between Cantonese and English. (Note to self: I must remember to tell my Applied English Linguistics colleagues of this.)

As a Christian of the church-going, serious-bible-study-home-group-acoustic-guitar-worship variety cum literature-professor-and-poet-who-has-read-his-Derrida type of person, I was rather intrigued.

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Someone has put serious effort into reproducing replicas of the tabernacle as well as the Dead Sea scrolls.

There were authentic illustrated Victorian bibles plus various other stuff on display. This really appeals to the literature nerd in me.

We were told the exhibits were rotated regularly.

Check out the life-sized 3D replica of the Last Supper.

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The animals coming out of the Ark after the Flood.

As a Christian of the church-going, serious-bible-study-home-group-acoustic-guitar-worship variety cum literature-professor-who-has-read-his-Derrida type of person, I was seriously intrigued.

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After the end of 40 days and nights of flooding and another 150 days for the waters to subside, a giraffe sniffs the air tentatively, with the Tsing Ma bridge in the background.

Very postmodern.

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Very postmodern white tigers emerging from their stay in Noah’s Ark, set against the Tsing Ma bridge …

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I felt a need to get out of the theme park after a while.

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Though in honesty, there’s no getting out of the giant theme park known as Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, I do appreciate honest-to-goodness aesthetics. Someone has done a bit of landscaping for this village house nearby.

Thanks for reading!

A 20-minute Walk

My university is sprawled on the side of a hill, and my office is at its second-highest point.

A few brave souls walk up the hill to work every morning.

Me, I take the shuttle bus up in the morning and walk down the hill in the evening.

It takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on the state of my tummy.

That’s my workout …

That’s the Pavilion of Harmony at New Asia College, at one side of the topmost plateau.

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It all looks very Chinese …

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The above views are taken with my Canonet QL17 GIII, loaded with Kodak  Color Plus 200.

The ones below are with my Minolta AF-C, with Kodak Portra 400.

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I’ve been doing this commute every work day for the past 7 years, walking down the hill.

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For the first time, I looked at the hillside.

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These are shadows of bamboo on the hillside.

Followed by some fish (koi?) pond thing with a picturesque arrangement of a pale-green rubber hose…

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And the Chinese-looking bridge…

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A Chinese-looking bench I’ve never seen anyone sit on …

A mini-waterfall…

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There’s that picturesque almost-identical rubber hose again…

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A suitcase advertising a few film screenings at the foot of the hill…

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And then the road…

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The Metropolis and Mental Life

The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life. (“The Metropolis and Mental Life” p. 409)

All quotations here are taken from Georg Simmel (from The Sociology of George Simmel, translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, The Free Press, 1950), whose writings I dip into once in a while because it’s still so potent as a commentary on how modern city life affects the way we think and feel. We don’t see these effects, just as a fish fails to see the water it swims in.

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Modern mind has become more and more calculating. The calculative exactness of practical life which the money economy has brought about corresponds to the ideal of natural science: to transform the world into an arithmetic problem, to fix every part of the world by mathematical formulas. Only money economy has filled the days of so many people with weighing, calculating, with numerical determinations, with a reduction of qualitative values to quantitative ones. (“The Metropolis and Mental Life” p.412)

I guess the vulgar word for me is “positivism” – the idea that it is possible to come up with consistent and reliable formulas to how life works. Formulas are re-assuring, such as “be a banker/lawyer/accountant/doctor, because these jobs translate into big numbers, and these big numbers mean success”.

Of course, there are many successful bankers/lawyers/accountants/doctors who lead meaningful lives and who enjoy their jobs. I’m only arguing against the confusion between quality and quantity. Quality cannot be easily quantified. Sometimes we play this soundtrack too readily.

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Here in buildings and educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering technology, in the formations of community life, and in the visible institutions of the state, is offered such an overwhelming fullness of crystallized and impersonalized spirit that the personality, so to speak, cannot maintain itself under its impact. On the one hand, life is made infinitely easy for the personality in that stimulations, interests, uses of time and consciousness are offered to it from all sides. They carry the person as if in a stream, and one needs hardly to swim for oneself. On the other hand, however, life is composed more and more of these impersonal contents and offerings which tend to displace the genuine personal colorations and incomparabilities. This results in the individual’s summoning the utmost in uniqueness and particularization, in order to preserve his most personal core. He has to exaggerate this personal element in order to remain audible even to himself.  (“The Metropolis and Mental Life” p. 422)

I’ve always found the above passage to be rather depressing. The modern concern with the uniqueness of our personality emerges out of an anxiety. Now that everything is for sale, we’re compelled to be “unique”, “autonomous” and “individual” so as to differentiate ourselves from other cogs in the giant capitalist machine. “Look at me I’m so unique and interesting,” I tell myself and others, knowing that there are tens of thousands of people around me (and many with blogs like this) saying precisely the same thing.

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We are surrounded by things we buy with numbers. And these things, whether tangible or intangible, which we buy and sell, turn us into who we are.

Is it possible to walk away from such a situation?

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Contax TVS

In a previous post on the snapshot aesthetic, I mentioned zone focusing with Olympus XA2 and auto-focusing with Minolta AF-C.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, behold my Contax TVS. It has an aperture priority mode and a program mode. There’s auto-focus (which you could override with a dial).

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This allows me to be more stealthy, and the motorized whirring is not too loud.

I consider the Contax TVS series to be the baby brother of the Contax T1/2/3 series of which T2 is much celebrated, or the Contax G series of cameras.

It has the Vario Sonnar lens which allows for zooming, for days when I’m too lazy to zoom with my feet.

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This lady popped out and I responded quickly enough…

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“Oops, what’s this?” I thought as I was looking at the negative.

The panoramic mode was activated without me knowing.

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Oh oh …

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The panoramic mode is basically a cropping of the frame by the camera, and the panels were unhinged.

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I felt there was an intuitive bond between me and the Contax TVS… was I imagining things?

It’s built like a tank, and I could take myself seriously when I’m holding it… I was so looking forward to serious days…

After a moment of reflection and in that rare moment of sanity, I returned the camera to the store.

There were 2 Nikon 35Ti‘s beckoning, and a Fuji “sardine can” Tiara as well.

It was then that I had a Prufrockian moment:

Do I dare disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

I waved goodbye (in my mind only) to those cameras.

The person at the store kept my number, noted my mournful expression, and 3 days later, I was told there’s another Contax TVS in the store, this one with the original strap, manual (in Japanese), case and lens cap.

I took it out for a spin.

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The panoramic mode here was fully intended. This was the only panoramic shot I took. I don’t expect to use it much. It’s a bit tacky I think…

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Happy happy joy joy.

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All is fine – I tilted the camera and shook it this way and that to see if the panoramic mode would kick in.

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I zoomed in and out and it’s fine.

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Zooming in … and it’s still ok.

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Yup, we have a winner here.

The Force is strong with this one…

O happy day!

Stories and Things

We can’t help but tell stories.

There’s a story to be told here about directions, linearity and tension.

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And here about the value we give to things.

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Here, we see possibilities…

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And here, we read.

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Is this an image of ourselves, caught living in our own fish tanks?

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Is this where we go in the end?

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Or is there someone upstairs, waiting for us?

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The Snapshot Aesthetic

I’ve been using Olympus XA2 for quite some time now and have been mulling over how zone focusing allows me to compose more quickly.

I happened to come across the lesser-known Minolta AF-C and yes, it’s auto-focus.

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Load it with Kodak UltraMax 400 and it’s pure joy if you’re pursuing a snapshot aesthetic.

You could focus really quickly and the saturated colours would work for those with a taste for lomography.

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The word “snapshot” hints of amateurism, and I suppose it goes against the conventional rules of professional photography concerning proper framing and lighting, etc.

There’s a scholarly article here on how the snapshot aesthetic is being used to persuade in advertising photography.

You could say that commercial photographers have appropriated the style of the amateurs.

The entire style (and persona) of Terry Richardson, right down to his use of non-professional cameras, is based on this approach.

On the other hand, it also has also allowed the work of folks like Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand to be taken seriously by the establishment.

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Me, I like the reds and greens.

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I suppose there’s something covert about street photography in that it is aligned with the transgressions of street art.

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It’s true that I tend to take photographs of people in candid moments.

When I’m in the zone, I’ve become quite adept at reading body language and tracking eye movements…

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Though sometimes, non-humans are fascinating too.

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So are serendipitous arrangements of objects that “make sense” and cohere.

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I’m making a point to look for “found exhibitions”.

After all, the entire world is an exhibition if you know how to look.