All posts in 2024
  • Surabaya by Ojek

    My oldest friend in the world lives in Surabaya, Indonesia. I try to see her as much as possible. Now that I live ten thousand miles away, it's a little harder, but if I'm back in Singapore I try to head that way: it's easy and cheap to get there from Singapore.

    Surabaya will always have a soft spot in my heart. Not only is it home to my favorite Indonesian cuisines (East Javanese and Madura food are the best), it's also a chill little city. I know enough people and I've spent so much time there, I have a bucket list of things to do every time I go. Instead of going to Surabaya five times a year like I used to, back when I lived in this part of the world, I'll be lucky to get there five times in this decade. Which makes me sad.

    So I made the most of my trip in September. When my friend was at work, I traipsed around the city the only way I know how: at the back of a motorbike taxi, called an ojek.

    I wanted to get to a wet market just before my flight to Singapore. I had noodles to eat, and spices to bring back with me. I also managed to buy a few blocks of deliciously fresh tempeh that Indonesian friends in Singapore said was some of the best tempeh they'd ever had. Because Surabaya has the best food!

    Here are some photos from the back of a bike, and from a market.

    a scan of a black and white photo of traffic in surabaya from the back of a motorbike, pillion. in front, several motorbikes and their passengers stopped at traffic

    If you've lived in Indonesia like I have, the first word you'll learn is 'macet': traffic jam.

    a scan of a black and white photo of street signs in surabaya

    Street signs.

    a scan of a black and white photo of a door and skylight windows from inside a wet market. it says Pintu D, which is Indonesian for Door D

    'Pak sy sdh sampe Pintu Day ya. bpk di mn?' ("I'm at the pickup point, door D. Where are you?" Text messages to ojek drivers)

    a scan of a black and white photo of the interior of a wet market in indonesia, showing many shops with indonesian signs

    Wet markets have such a delicious mix of fresh foods and cooked foods.

    a scan of a black and white photo of a person's feet, hovering near where there are noodles and soup being prepared on a tray

    The halal food in Indonesia is delicious of course, but the not-halal food in Indonesian cities with a large Chinese community like Surabaya, Medan, etc is also top tier. I went there to get me some noodles from Mie Cong Sim.

    a scan of a black and white photo of dozens of motorbikes parked on the street

    Banyak motor dimana-mana.

    (Photos on Nikon FE, Kodak 5222)

  • Chasing the Light

    As a person from the literal equator, I struggle a lot with winter. Not the cold, since it's not really that cold here in northern California, but with the increasingly shorter days. The best way I can describe it is that I feel as though my brain, happiness, and overall health is powered by the sun. The sun is my battery. The less of it there is, the worse I feel. Every year, without fail.

    Going out for a run or walk daily has been the only thing that's worked to help me feel okay consistently. Even when it's grey and gloomy and rainy (the extent of winter here in San Francisco, but already way too awful for me), I try to go out for a run. I carry a tiny Olympus XA2 in my pocket and I take photos of the things that I see.

    I see many beautiful things, because San Francisco is beautiful, and being outside in the beauty restores me.

    a scan of a color photo of the golden gate bridge on a sunny day

    Sunny, windy days.

    a scan of a color photo of fort mason in san francisco with a farmers market and a view of the bridge in the background

    Market days at Fort Mason.

    a scan of a color photo of a cyclist biking through fort mason in san francisco with a fluorescent jacket. in the background, the golden gate bridge is slightly obscured

    Overcast but still lovely days.

    (All photos taken on an Olympus XA2, Fuji Superia 400, self-developed at home with Bellini C-41 kit and scanned on Plustek 8200i)

  • Learning, Seeing, Hearing

    I've been keeping a 'creative notebook' for the better part of the year. I was trying to learn many things at once, and wanted to help make sense of it.

    Here are some things I wrote in my creative notebook about the three main things I worked on this year in my practice: taking photos, playing alto sax, and learning darkroom as well as inkjet printing.

    a scan of a color photo of a colorful bridge in the Castro in San Francisco in a cropped square format

    Bridge at Dolores Park, San Francisco. (Leica M3, Kodak 250D).

    Learning film photography

    What I set out to learn about film photography:

    • shoot ten thousand photos in 2023 on color, black and white and slides. (I got to 7000, and did a lot of color and black and white, but only a few slides). I wanted to do this as I had not been taking photos on film for more than a decade. I figured the more photos I took, the more I would learn.
    • learn to load film from 100ft bulk rolls (done: I load black and white, as well as slide film and motion picture film regularly)
    • learn to load film in film dev tank (done: the hardest thing to do was not be so impatient. That led to many kinks and crimping in the film, early on)
    • learn to develop black and white, C-41 (color) and ECN-2 (motion picture film) (done: I don't enjoy the ECN-2, but can easily do the rest)
    • how to scan 35mm and medium format film using a Fuji Frontier as well as home scanners (done: it's a regular part of my creative workflow now)

    What I learned about film photography

    1. Things that seem intimidating are quickly learned, once you try
    2. Some things feel complex and overwhelming if you try to intellectualize things in your brain. Getting motivated to just do it is more important than thinking about how to do them perfectly or expertly
    3. Mistakes happen, and we can learn from them but mistakes that arise from being careless (for example, if I try to develop 5 rolls of film at once but I'm exhausted before I begin, I am likely to make cascading mistakes) can be avoided by being mindful of my current state
    4. Get rested before trying new things, especially if it is a difficult thing or something I have 'failed' at previously
    5. Don't forget to have fun

    Learning to play jazz

    a scan of a black and white photo of Charles Unger, a saxophone jazz player in San Francisco, playing a horn

    Charles Unger of the Charles Unger Experience trying out my Yamaha alto sax. (Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Kodak T-Max 400, Perceptol 1:2).

    What I set out to do with music:

    • learn to improvise to play jazz standards
    • spend more time practicing my alto sax every week
    • be able to easily play the high E, F and G

    I think I got to do all of that, and have greatly improved my improv skills but I still need to work on it.

    What I learned about music

    1. My classical music grounding has given me many skills: I can play almost anything written, I can still sightread extremely well, I can play 'in time' easily
    2. However, I need to keep working on improvisation so it feels less like a mystery, and more like second nature
    3. To do this, I need to keep practicing
    4. Go back to basics: work on all scales and chords
    5. Practice all the jazz standards
    6. Spend as much time out there with working musicians as I can: I notice that if I do, even if I'm just messing around, I pick up new skills exponentially, as if by osmosis
    7. Things that are hard on my own at home: playing the high F on the alto sax, comes almost instantly when I'm in a music studio environment with other musicians and just 'fiddling'
    8. Same as with photography, don't intellectualize too much: trust yourself to reach a note or be able to find the right ones, and just do it

    Learning to print (darkroom and inkjet)

    a scan of a black and white photo of a bride coming out of San Francisco City Hall

    Bride at San Francisco City Hall. (Yashica Mat 124G, Kodak T-Max 400, Rodinal 1:50)

    What I set out to do with printing:

    • learn how to print photos using different types of paper on an Epson SureColor P7570
    • print inkjet color and black and white photos
    • learn how to print black and white photos in a darkroom
    • learn how to print color photos in a darkroom

    I got to do all that! And really love this more than I thought I would.

    What I learned about printing:

    1. Don't get nervous about not knowing or remembering all the things
    2. The more darkroom time I get, the more naturally it will come to me
    3. I've already exceeded my own expectations by being able to actually produce an image (for both black and white, and color): doing something almost entirely in the dark is less anxiety-inducing than when I started
    4. Practice as much as you can
  • Slide Film Tourism

    A few firsts:

    • I went to a super touristy part of San Francisco for the first time
    • I shot slide film for the first time
    • I saw a very old friend from my Dubai days, for the first time in a decade
    a scan of a color slide photo of a tourist atraction in san francisco. it has children sitting on a vertical amusement park ride.

    Ticket to ride.

    a scan of a color slide photo of a tourist atraction in san francisco. many people are standing in line for the carousel ride


    a scan of a color slide photo of some boats at fishermans wharf in san francisco


    I probably won't go there for another ten years. Other than wanting to spend time with my friend, a place like Fisherman's Wharf simply accelerates my social and Covid-19 anxiety. I also don't like the shops and food there, but I know it's not for me.

  • Bukit Merah Days

    When I'm back in Singapore it can be easy to fall into old habits: sleeping in till late, staying out late, doing all of those things I used to do. On my recent trips, I'm trying to remind myself that I've been away for so long my parents aren't getting younger. My parents' daily routine starts with: picking a different hawker centre every morning to eat at. I try to join them, if I can wake up (they leave extremely early).

    Bukit Merah View is one of my mum's favourites. It's relatively low key and quiet, but has some heavy hitters. More importantly, there's a wanton noodle stall there run by one of our distant relatives (my mother's cousin..?). It's very simple, but always tasty. It was even recommended in Michelin Bib.

    The nice thing about a hawker centre is that it's usually attached to a wet and dry market. After a leisurely breakfast I was able to wander over to the other side to pick up some essentials: like the Feng He Yuan first extract dark soy sauce. None of the dark soy sauces I get in the US compare, and it is absolutely essential for some of the traditional Hokkien and Teochew dishes that I try to cook abroad.

    While I don't relish waking up at 6 in the morning when I'm on vacation, food, and family is worth it: and in this part of the world, food and family is one and the same.

    A scan of a medium format square color photo of an older Chinese lady wearing a face mask and tending a store in a market in Singapore

    Purveyor of soy sauces, chilli pastes and dried goods in Bukit Merah View market.

    A scan of a medium format square color photo of an older Chinese lady wearing a face mask standing at a stall in Singapore looking at dried goods to purchase

    Carrying a retro TLR camera around my neck was fun. Many older people in Singapore looked at it, wide-eyed, and told me that they used to love their Seagull or Yashica cameras too.

    A scan of a medium format square color photo of two older Chinese people eating noodles with chopsticks

    Breakfast with my parents.

    4. A scan of a medium format square color photo of a wanton noodle stall in Singapore that says Yong Chun wanton noodles

    My distant relatives' simple, but very good, wanton noodles. If you're expecting KL style lardy savory wanton noodles, you will be disappointed: this is a basic Cantonese Singaporean style plain wanton noodles with bouncy noodles and good, basic ingredients.

    A scan of a medium format square color photo of a wet market in Singapore with tall buildings behind it

    View of the wet market in Singapore with tall public housing behind it.

    (All photos taken on Yashica Mat 124G, Portra 400, self-dev in Bellini C-41 kit, scanned on Fuji Frontier)

  • Chinatown Comforts

    I find myself spending more and more time in SF and Oakland Chinatowns. I love Chinese bakeries, so those are obviously the best places for me to get my fix. In SF Chinatown, check out Yummy Bakery and Stockton Bakery. In Oakland Chinatown I am partial to Napoleon Super Bakery. In all of those spots, pork floss bun, butter cream bun, hot dog bun, egg tarts: those are all classics. At Yummy Bakery definitely try the 'egg white tart', Japanese cheesecake and pineapple (bolo) bun. There are no pineapples in pineapple bun.

    When I see old Chinese people staring at food in windows, I'm assured that that, too, is in my future. I mean I already stare at food in windows, especially in Chinatown, but I am looking forward to many more years of doing that.

    a scan of a color photo showing a Chinese man holding up a piece of cloth over the exterior of a building

    A walk around Chinatown.

    a scan of a color photo showing an old Chinese man looking into the window of a Chinese restaurant version 1

    Abundant delicious foods.

    a scan of a color photo showing an old Chinese man looking into the window of a Chinese restaurant version 2

    Chinese delis look like this. This is a great spot, by the way. The chicken wings by the pound are great value.

    (All photos taken on Leica M3, Minolta 40mm f/2 M-Rokkor, Fuji Superia 400, self-dev in Bellini C-41 kit, scanned on Plustek 8200i)

  • Tanglin Halt Memories

    This neighbourhood is meaningful to me. I spent a lot of time here as a child, running about after church, going to eat all of the food, visiting people, going to get charcoal (from the back of a lorry here) and fresh coconuts (grated at the back of a little market here).

    I think my child's consciousness of the outside world was first formed here. I first became aware of the world in Tanglin Halt. There were Indonesian women who would take the ferry from Batam to sell food items from the market here, and I remember talking to them and wanting to know more about their food cultures, their language, and how I could take the ferry too (and I would often make the journey in the other direction, when I grew up).

    Now that it's all been set aside for redevelopment, I feel a little sad. Some bits of it remain. But I know that when I return next, it's all going to be different, or gone. Such is life in Singapore.

    I lost too much money to these machines, as a child.

    2. A scan of a color photo of a public housing estate with uniform windows in singapore

    Public housing apartments in Singapore's Tanglin Halt estate.

    a scan of a color photo of a pastel salmon pink, yellow and blue feature on the side of a building in a public housing project in Singapore

    Going, going, gone.

    A scan of a color photo of an abandoned public housing neighborhood in Singapore with pastel colors and a dome

    All going to be gone.

    A scan of a color photo of a roti prata seller in Singapore

    The old school prata man remains.

    All photos taken on Yashica Mat 124G, Portra 400, dev and scan by Whampoa Colour Centre.

  • Interview Waiver Experience for H1-B1 Visa

    I've learned a few new things since I last posted about how other Singaporeans can apply for, and receive, the H1-B1 visa.

    In renewing my visa in Singapore this September, I opted for the new-ish interview waiver process (available since 2021).

    Although I have never had a rejection, going to the US embassy is always a stressful time. You see so many people (usually non-Singaporeans) getting their work or school dreams dashed at the window. You can hear everything. The high stress, high security: I would very much like to never go there again.

    The interview waiver process was made available to me at the last step of the visa application, in the USTravelDocs portal. When scheduling step 6, USTravelDocs will ask you a bunch of questions to determine if you are eligible for the interview waiver.

    The main thing to note is that only Singaporeans and permanent residents are likely to be eligible. While the main applicant for H1-B1 has to be a Singapore citizen, if your dependents (spouse or children) are not Singapore citizens, then they will not qualify for the interview waiver. Definitely allow more time for an embassy interview if that's the case.

    I was nervous about whether or not to do this, so I consulted a Singaporean immigration attorney in California. Junwen was able to give me very specific advice that I found helpful. Check out his blog here. I highly recommend booking an appointment with Junwen (send him a message on LinkedIn) or use this contact form to email him if you have any specific questions (paid consultation).

    He advised that I should use the Chinatown document drop-off point at Bstone Travel, instead of the Changi location. This is because his clients had some challenges with the Changi location recently, which led to delays.

    He also informed me that the interview waiver process can take anywhere between 4 and 11 days.

    Document collection and drop-off point

    Because I find the USTravelDocs so ridiculously difficult to navigate, I am pasting this information here for anyone who needs it.

    Check that the information is still accurate before you rely on it though, I may not be updating this page with new information.

    Photo of a sign that says Aramex Chinatown dropoff times

    • Aramex at Chinatown, located at Bstone Travel, People's Park Centre, 101 Upper Cross Street, #B1-31, Singapore 058357
    • Opening hours: 10am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday
    • Closed on Singapore public holidays and weekends
    • US Embassy contact number: +65 3158 5400
    • Aramex contact number: +65 6543 0300

    The email you will receive about dropping off and collecting your passport / visa says they open at 11am, but they actually open at 10am. At least, they did, as of September 2023.

    Interview waiver timeline

    • I dropped off my documents (passport, signed LCA, interview waiver confirmation code generated by USTravelDocs, and passport photo) in Chinatown on a Tuesday afternoon around noon.
    • I checked the visa status tracker every day and did not see any change until Thursday, when it changed to Approved
    • On Friday, the status changed to Issued
    • On late Friday night, I received a text message saying that the passport will be available for collection soon
    • As all the document collection points are closed on weekends, I didn't hear anything else until Monday
    • On Monday morning, I got an email that my passport had been sent to the pickup point (the same place I dropped off my passport)
    • On Monday morning, I joined the line at 10am (although Google Maps, and the email you get, says it only opens at 11am), and got my passport in 15 minutes (there was a line)

    Excluding the document pickup and drop-off days, it took 3 working days in all. Maybe dropping off on Monday first thing in the morning would have been faster, but I wasn't in a hurry.

    It wound up being almost the same as going to the embassy in the past: if I went on a Tuesday, I would have received my passport on a Monday morning anyway.

    So I got to do that, but skipped the anxiety and stress at the embassy. Highly recommended. Just make sure you have ample time in your travel plans.

  • Little Myanmar, Singapore

    If the Burmese population in Singapore were a city in Myanmar, it'd be one of the top 10 cities.

    We have many Burmese grocers, restaurants services in Peninsula Plaza and Peninsula Shopping Centre, conveniently located across the street from each other.

    Here's what it looks like.

    1. A scan of a color photo of a Burmese grocer in Singapore


    2. A scan of a color photo of a Burmese food menu at a restaurant, written entirely in Burmese


    3. A scan of a color photo of a few worship items at a Burmese grocer in Singapore


    4. A scan of a color photo of a Burmese tea shop in Singapore. The signboard says Ye Yint

    Tea shop.

    5. A scan of a color photo of people standing around at the Burmese grocer in Singapore


    If you'd like to try Burmese food, my favorite restaurant at the moment is Mandalay Style, in the basement of Peninsula Plaza (try the fried chickpea tofu, tea leaf salad, tofu salad and Shan noodles).

  • My Little India

    Of all of the neighbourhoods in Singapore, I've probably spent the most time in Little India. Not only was I born in a hospital on its edges, I also lived and studied near here for several years. Every trip abroad had to start with a visit to Little India, for foreign currency, electrical adapters, or extra supplies at Mustafa Centre.

    1. A scan of a color photo of three glasses on a table top in front of blue and tan walls

    Filter coffee.

    2. A scan of a color photo of coconuts sitting on a counter at a restaurant


    3. A scan of onions and potatoes being displayed at a little India grocer with a blue tarp over it

    Aloo pyaz.

    4. A scan of a color photo of colourful windows (painted green on wood and brown) with purple and green and bright green or yellow colors around it


    5. A scan of a color photo of two men in little India sitting at the back of a restaurant. An alley opens up into them, and the foreground wall is painted with geometric clay color and shapes, indicating it is part of a Hindu temple next door


    All photos taken on Nikon FE, 50mm, Kodak ProImage, dev and scan by Triple D Minilab, Singapore.

  • Five Frames Chinatown

    With motion picture film.

    There's a touristy bit of Chinatown Singapore (Smith Street-ish) and a less touristy part. Often, they're just side by side and you need to know which doors to duck into, or which alleys to turn off into, to see the less tourist bits.

    Since I grew up here, I think I have a pretty good handle on things. There are the little barely marked doors past my favorite food stalls. Go through a door and turn left, and you'll get to a large wholesaler of Korean toiletries. Take a certain overhead bridge, and you'll get to another part of Chinatown that will soon turn into the bars and restaurants of Clarke Quay.

    1. A scan of a color photo of two women making buns inside a food market


    2. A scan of a color photo of the Pearl’s Hill side of Chinatown. There is an old man walking along the street. Photo is taken overhead.

    People's Park.

    People's Park Centre


    A scan of a color photo of many wigs in a store.


    A scan of a color photo of an old lady cycling on the street in Chinatown


    All photos taken on Nikon FE, 50mm f1.8 lens, Kodak Vision 3 500T, dev and scan by Whampoa Colour Centre, Singapore.

  • Merantau Cino

    Photo of a window in a restaurant in East Java Indonesia with sunlight streaming in

    Tretes, Indonesia (link to some photos I took)

    1. I have been struggling with my feelings on and about immigration.
    2. Some time in mid 2023, a woman at a bus stop in San Francisco pointed a blow torch flame at me and threatened, I'm going to burn you, because you're Chinese!
    3. Number 1 is possibly related to number 2.
    4. A theme I keep coming back to: why does it feel like this?
    5. The feelings: neither here nor there, a deep sense of longing for 'home', uncertain what 'home' really means, feeling like I'm in two or three places at once, feeling stuck, feeling like I don't know where I fit, feeling like I am two people at once.
    6. That the 'home' I return to, I no longer fully fit into. I left five years ago, and in that time: obviously, it's moved on without me. I no longer know how to exist here in Singapore. I don't have any routines, I don't have places to go, things to do. I'm no different from a tourist. Just that I'm a tourist who knows a lot of details about this country, and who has an intimate knowledge about its food and its politics.
    7. That the 'home' I now exist in: where I have work, family, contemporary friends, hobbies, a home, feels on some days like it's real and solid, and on other days that idea of solidity is completely unraveled, especially when things like number 2 happen.
    8. I've spent the past week in Singapore and Indonesia. It's been splendid to be around friends, food, the weather, environment and culture that I know and love.
    9. A big part of why I suffer from number 1 is that I feel completely estranged from the Southeast Asian bits of my life when I am in California. I can probably fix that by going to do things like, I don't know, play gamelan or learn Balinese dance in Berkeley (both activities that are very popular and established, led by East Bay Indonesians).
    10. Living in the heart of the imperial superpower, I do not hear, see, learn about anything about the outside world outside the US at any time. TVs don't play world news, they play sports: sports that only Americans play. Online discussions tend to veer towards only domestic politics. I feel like I'm at the heart of the world, and totally cut off from it, at the same time.
    11. I've fought it for a while, but I feel the semblance of a nascent Asian American identity forming. Ever since I learned about the Hyphenated Americans discussion, I've been far more open to the idea that without the hyphen, I can be both Asian and American (without necessarily needing citizenship).
    12. As number 11 strengthens and solidifies, number 1 also waxes and wanes. Some days, I am convinced that coming to California was the best idea I ever had. On other days, I cry myself to bed missing tropical weather, my family back in Asia, immigration stability (not having immigration challenges at all), and maybe a romanticized idea of what Singapore means to me.
    13. The past week in Indonesia was transformational. Not only did I get to wake up the part of my brain that had been dormant for a long time, the one that speaks, understands, and exists in Bahasa Indonesia as well as Bahasa Gaul, I also got to reconnect with my friend of 25 years.
    14. Beyond the food, which was amazing (East Java has my favorite Indonesian cuisine and dishes), it also sent me down a rabbit hole of listening to Indonesian music and reading in Indonesian.
    15. I was reading something today that referenced the idea of merantau cino.
    16. I know about merantau: it's the Minang rite of passage where men leave their homes in Sumatra to pursue careers and experiences outside their village. There was even a martial arts movie made about this.
    17. In merantau, the idea is that you leave and then you return to your home.
    18. However, in merantau cino, you leave your home and you never return. Not permanently, anyway.
    19. The term is based on the idea that the southern Chinese diaspora left China, many of them never returning.
    20. Therefore, a person who does merantau cino is doing a rite of passage, embarking on a migration story, where it's unlikely that they will return to their original homes.
    21. I'm not sure whether I am a perantau cino or a merantau cino yet (difference explained here; article in Indonesian), but I'll be damned if this hasn't been a more relevant and insightful observation about my personal immigration journey than anything I have read about in English, in an American context.
    22. When I get 'home' to San Francisco next week, a couple of milestones will happen; things that will set us up for a different phase in our lives there.
    23. I will probably always see myself as someone split down the middle.
    24. Two lives: one here, one there.
    25. But at least I know now that there's a name for it. And maybe it feels a little less lonely, since merantau cino was exactly what my grandfather did, as a teenager.
  • Mei Ling Street

    Between 2013 and 2018, I lived near the Mei Ling Street estate. I felt like if I was a housing estate, I would be Mei Ling Street. It's old and crumbly, but it's also got fantastic third wave coffee, one of the best cheese shops in Asia, and a few of my favourite hawker stalls (Sin Kee, Shi Hui Yuan, Ah Pang Seafood, Hui Wei Lor Mee). It's quiet and sleepy, on the surface, but full of interesting stuff if you know where to look!

    a scan of a color photo of some yellow work shirts being hung from the side of a tall building

    Old apartments.

    a scan of a color photo of a few singapore flags on poles at a covered walkway


    a scan of a color photo of cut grass in a wheelbarrow at the ground floor of a building


    a scan of a color photo of danger, keep out sign in 4 languages

    Danger. In all languages.

    a scan of a color photo of chicken hanging from a hawker stall

    One of the national dishes. One of my favourite stalls.

    (All photos taken on Nikon FE, 50mm f1.8 pancake lens, Kodak Gold 200, dev and scan by Whampoa Colour Centre, Singapore)

  • Roadtrip to Tretes

    A memory I will always treasure: the opportunities I've had to visit Tretes. Going to Tretes always means going on a short road trip with my best friend of 25 years. I remember listening to her describe her home to me, when we met as teenagers in Singapore, and dreaming about going there with her one day.

    Indeed, we stayed friends, and I've visited. Many times. While I live ten thousand miles away now, Indonesia, especially East Java, will always have a special place in my heart.

    This past weekend, we managed to get up to Tretes again. The trip was remarkably the same as every other time. Consistently delightful food and company. I am going to miss this. And everyone.

    a scan of a color photo of a restaurant in Indonesia called Margo Rukun

    Absolutely delightful rawon, pecel and empal. Possibly one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

    2. a scan of a color photo of wooden tables inside a restaurant that is slightly dark, with sunlight streaming onto a table that has a tissue paper box

    Sunlight trickling into the restaurant we usually stop at.

    a scan of a color photo showing bags of krupuk (Indonesian crackers) hanging

    I don't know anyone who eats as much krupuk as I do. And it's the best in this part of the world.

    a scan of a color photo of rawon, an Indonesian beef soup, on a wooden table with tea

    Nasi rawon is my favorite dish in Indonesian cuisine. I can eat it a few times a day, every day. That I don't get (good versions of) it, or at all, abroad, is why I feel the need to really focus on my rawon time when I am in East Java.

    a scan of a color photo of a valley in East Java from the top of a building

    Check out the view. You can't hear it, but there was also beautiful traditional / classical Javanese music streaming out of a school or home in the valley below. Culturally, this part of the world just speaks to my soul.

    (All photos taken on Nikon FE, Kodak Gold 200, developed and scanned by Whampoa Colour Centre, Singapore)

  • Doors of Surabaya

    One of my oldest friends in the world lives in Surabaya. I love visiting her. Not only is the food one of my favorite cuisines (East Java food is my favorite Indonesian regional food, and it can be hard to get abroad), the city is also a place I enjoy photographing. Eat, shoot, eat, shoot. That's basically all I do there.

    This was my first time there with a film camera. I brought my trusty tiny Nikon FE with a 28mm f.28 lens, as well as a 50mm pancake f1.8 lens. That's really all I need on a vacation.

    I even got the film sent off and developed at a local lab in Surabaya, which I was happy with.

    a scan of a color photo showing a large old green door with metal handles


    a scan of a color photo showing an old pale blue door and dirty cement and metal bars


    a scan of a color photo showing a Chinese Indonesian noodle shop in old Surabaya with Chinese and Indonesian words. The door is green with yellow features


    a scan of a color photo showing a no parking sign written in the Indonesian language

    No parking.

    a scan of a color photo showing rainbow colored pillars outside a kindergarten in Indonesia


    I'm getting into the swing of things, shooting and developing film locally. Although I miss developing film since I'm so used to it, it's nice to see what services are available.

    (All photos taken on Nikon FE with either 28mm or 50mm lens. All photos are Kodak Gold 200, dev and scan by Impossible Lab Surabaya)

  • Bencoolen Street

    I lived in the Prinsep Street / Bencoolen neighbourhood in the early / mid 2000s. I've always enjoyed the vibrant street life. It is close to everything I love: Little India, Arab Street, Sim Lim Square, Sim Lim Tower, Burlington Square, and more. From early morning till late night, there's always something fun to do and see here.

    On my first full day back in Singapore today, I walked from Whampoa to Bencoolen then to Orchard Road. It felt like I got to see some of the same places and people (popped in to many of the film photography stores I used to frequent). As with everything else about this place, everything has changed. But Bencoolen Street is still the place of temples, synagogues, churches and street life that I remember it to be.

    I even got my film developed and scanned in 3 hours (shout out to Triple D Minilab)!

    a scan of a color photo showing a geometric office building juxtaposed against another one


    a scan of a color photo showing a man leaning against the side of a temple wall, and a truck on the right side of the photo

    Temples and trucks.

    a scan of a color photo showing a carving of a Hindu deity on the side of the Sri Krishnan temple


    a scan of a color photo showing devotees praying at a Hindu temple in Singapore


    a scan of a color photo showing the exterior of a Japanese-inspired coffee shop in Singapore called Kurasu

    Great coffee.

    a scan of a color photo showing little weird statues of cats, swans and rabbits in a car park in singapore

    Cats, swans, rabbits.

    a scan of a color photo showing the exterior of an intricate old building in singapore with green, pink and yellow colors


    a scan of a color photo showing two cartoonish green characters by the side of a long hallway

    Googly eyes.

    a scan of a color photo showing a historical green building


    a scan of a color photo showing a fedex van by the side of a historical green building

    Objectifs, a non-profit arts space dedicated to film and photography.

  • Alameda Americana

    It is only in my thirties that I have started to think this: growing up in a city-state where the 'capital of Singapore is Singapore' (from an Alfian Sa'at poem) is a unique experience not understood by many globally. That when nationalistic people in city-states say 'if you don't like it, leave', it's really about leaving your entire country behind. There is nowhere else to go.

    So the idea that one can simply leave your city and find another one, is a way of thinking that has not really properly entered my mind. I have no sense of how large a country, or even a county can be. Back home, whenever I wanted a change of scene, I had to leave the country.

    I spend some of my days in Alameda, a town accessible from San Francisco by ferry. Some people take the ferry to work. I've always found it quaint. It feels like the kind of small town America you might see on TV. I don't really see elements of this lifestyle (or urban setting) where I live in San Francisco. Some times, it's just nice to be able to be briefly away from what you know.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing people standing on a wooden boardwalk looking at birds

    Birding at Elsie Roemer bird sanctuary.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a beach hut on a beach in Alameda, California

    Don't be deceived: beaches in Northern California look gorgeous, but the water is much too cold!

    a scan of a black and white photo showing stone textures on pillars on a building


    a scan of a black and white photo showing an old school home with a car covered with a sheet outside, the sheet has a clear outline of a retro style car.

    Retro cars and homes.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing some blocky apartments lined with cars outside

    Shoreline apartments.

    Alameda has birds, food, coffee, and soon, good Singaporean food (at Mama Judy's), so I expect to be spending much more time there in the future.

    All photos taken with Nikonos V, on Kodak 5222 film, developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 5:45 min, and scanned on Plustek 8200i.

  • Little India, Singapore

    The last time I was home in Singapore, I did one of my favorite alone activities: I walked a lot, and ended up in Little India. I did a 7km walk starting at sunset, and wound up there just in time for all kinds of fun. Since Mustafa Centre is 24 hours, and my favorite naan shop (Usman, along Desker Road) is open till 3 or 4, I am never in much of a hurry.

    It was also mango season.

    a color photo of mangoes

    Mango season is my favorite season. And when that happens, I prefer to be in India or Singapore. (More on mangoes here)

    a color photo of some jasmine flowers for the temple

    The smell of jasmine flowers tells me there are devotees and a temple nearby. It also smells of home.

    a color photograph of a part of Mustafa Centre

    Mustafa Centre. How do I even describe how much I love it?

    a color photo of a sign that says cold craft Indian beer

    I would have loved this, if I was still into booze.

    a color photograph of a tailor on the street mending some clothes

    I've always loved this neighborhood the most because of all of the street life.

    (All photos taken on Ricoh GR III)

  • Birds at Sea

    Once or twice a year, I try to go on a boat ride with some birders. I started birding as a joke ("I'm getting old I need an old person hobby!") but found that I love it. I especially love pelagic birds (and also shore birds, but to a lesser extent). Something about the raw power of the ocean and the ocean life in and around and above it really inspires me. The first time I went, I saw a feeding frenzy up close: of whales hunting, pushing fish up to the surface, different types of birds diving in and out of the water. It was majestic.

    The Farallon Islands don't look too far from San Francisco on the map but it's many hours in treacherous waters. Many people throw up: for hours. I have never had motion sickness, so I was happy to tap on that life skill to try to take photos from the boat. It's hard when you're on a boat, harder when the waters are so incredibly choppy.

    Anyway, here are some photos I loved from the trip back in July.

    a color photo of sea lions lying on a buoy

    Sea lions on a buoy off Half Moon bay.

    a color photo of a tufted puffin in the ocean

    Tufted puffin bobbing about in the Pacific Ocean.

    a color photo of sea lions and birds in the ocean

    Active sea life in the Pacific Ocean.

    a color photo of some birds flying between rocks in the pacific ocean

    The pure power of the ocean and the life in it.

    a sea lion and its pup in the rocks

    Sea lion and pup in the rocks.

    a color photo of thousands of birds sitting on the rocks of the farallon islands

    Sheer and overwhelming number of birds on the rocks and the waters around.

    All photos taken with a Nikon D810 and 200-500mm lens.

  • Five Frames in Camp Mather with my Yashica 124G and Portra 160

    One of the more unique things about Bay Area life is that many Bay Area cities have their own 'cabin in the woods' programs in the summer. San Francisco has Camp Mather, Oakland has Feather River Camp, Berkeley has two camps at Tuolumne River and at Echo Lake, San Jose has one near Groveland.

    Camping in the Sierras is a tradition in this region. The camps all work similarly: the recs and parks departments of those cities manage and operate these camps, which are also excellent places for youths to work summer jobs as they get free board and an hourly rate comparable to working in a restaurant. For outdoorsy youths it certainly seems like a dream, and I wish I had such a thing open to me as a teen. The camps are open to residents and non-residents, though non-residents will tend to pay a little more. The cities also have subsidized programs for lower income residents, and may also run special weeks for the elderly, for families, or for disabled children.

    San Francisco's Camp Mather seems to be one of the most competitive ones to apply to. There's a lottery, and if you win it you get to go. On a whim, I applied to a lottery for a 3 person cabin and got it for late August. I went with my wife, and a friend.

    The cabin was a reasonable size, with only space for a double and a single bed and a chest of drawers. Mosquito nets all over the windows and doors. Clean bathrooms and toilets a short (1 min) walk way. The camp was very well set up, with good facilities. There was a swimming pool and a gorgeous lake. There are activities for adults and children every single day and evening. There are on-site naturalists who have daily morning and evening walks to nearby spots. We went on one such walk, and found it fun and helpful: they knew the trails that were not widely known, and they'd each had decades of experience in that particular spot of Stanislaus National Forest (where Camp Mather is located) and the parts of Yosemite National Park that are near.

    What you can expect: Hetch-Hetchy, the reservoir that provides water to San Francisco, is a short drive away and is gorgeous. Almost as gorgeous as parts of Yosemite National Park, but with far fewer tourists. Plan for a whole day in Yosemite Valley, which is easily accessible, if you haven't been. The kitchen can provide a packed lunch (various sandwiches and fruit) for your days out of camp. A coworker said 'Camp Mather is the only place where I can leave my children and have them entertained from morning to night, while I also get to do fun things on my own or with my spouse, and I just have my kids on a walkie-talkie and everyone has fun'.

    Indeed, that was the vibe of the whole place. On the evenings we were there, adult programs included 'wine and paint night in the barn' and 'walk to see the superbloom of a giant flower'. Oh, there are also tennis courts, and lots of ping pong tables. Food was also good, and it's nice to be in an outdoorsy environment without having to manage your food supply!

    Overall, I'm a fan.

    a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of the Yosemite peaks from tunnel view, showing the peaks in the background and some trees in the foreground

    View of the famous Yosemite peaks from Tunnel View.

    a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is a butterfly-like insect on a plant

    Going out to spend time in nature is just a wondrous gift.

    a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of a wooden cabin with the number 96 in the foreground, and trees in the background

    Our little cabin that was home for a few nights.

    a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of a bench set among some trees and cabins

    Every cabin has a bench like this in front of it. It's a good place to have a snack or just sit, as the cabin doesn't have much of a seating area.

    a scan of a color negative of a medium format photo. photo is of a waterfall in yosemite

    Yosemite in the summer is extremely crowded. If you only have a day you might only be able to see the car-accessible spots in and around Yosemite Valley. But it is still wonderful. This is a photo of Lower Yosemite Falls. Not pictured: the hundreds of people below it.

    All photos taken with Yashica Mat 124G, Kodak Portra 160, self-developed in Bellini C41 kit, and scanned on Fuji Frontier.

  • Applying for Singapore Visa for your Friend

    Citizens of some countries need a visa to enter Singapore. If you have friends or family that belong to those countries, you can do them a huge favor by applying as a local contact.

    As long as you are a Singapore citizen or Singapore PR with SingPass, or director of a Singapore-registered business, you can help your friend get a visa. Please make sure that you actually know this person!

    I only do this for people I know.

    It can save them a lot of time and money. Most of the time, I do this for my friends from India. It's much faster and it also costs less than them going to a visa agent.

    The following instructions are for Singapore citizens and PRs who have SingPass.

    1. Before you start, send this PDF form to the person you are applying for the visa for
    2. Ask them to write down the answers to all the questions in a document, and send it to you. Also ask them to attach a passport photo in the right format
    3. Visit this ICA page and click on "Apply for a an entry visa as a local contact (Individual Users)"
    4. Log in with SingPass
    5. Click on "Individual Visa Application" to apply for 1 person, or "Family Visa Application" to apply for more than 1 person (they must be married; children above the age of 21 must have their individual applications)
    6. Fill in the form according to the information your friend provided you. Be sure to get their birthday, passport issue date and passport number correct.
    7. Upload their passport photo
    8. Pay: you can pay with American Express Cards, PayNow, or eNets (internet banking).

    Save the application as a PDF. It will take 3 working days to receive a response, but in my experience it has been usually faster than that (next day has been the norm).

    You can look up the status of your visa application here.

    So far, I have applied for friends from many countries and I have not received a single rejection.

    More resources

    Please refer to ICA's own documents for screenshots and more explanation for each step. These are all PDF files:

  • How to get a H1-B1 Visa for Singaporeans

    An updated, updated guide to the H1-B1 visa process for Singaporeans.

    Singaporean citizens (and Chileans) are eligible for the H1-B1, a unique work visa of the US that was negotiated as part of a free trade agreement in 2004. There are 5400 visas set aside for Singaporeans, and 1400 for Chile. From what I know about the program, the 5400 number has never been fully utilized.

    Singaporeans who are interested in coming to work in the US should consider a H1-B1. The other main work visa program, H-1B, requires a lottery program and it is getting harder to find sponsorship for companies that want to sponsor foreigners. Many companies simply don't want to spend the money on the H-1B program when they don't know if you'll get it, or when you can start

    In this regard, Singaporeans have a bit of a leg up: only other countries like Canada and Australia have similar programs open to them, that are different / more straightforward from the standard H-1B.

    The H1-B1 program is so simplified and it is much, much cheaper than the H-1B program. I've been able to get a job, set up an appointment (at the US embassy in Singapore), get my visa within a couple of days, and go back to the US to start or resume a job.

    What are the positive aspects of the H1-B1 visa?

    Not many employers know about this possibility, so very often when you hear about 'no visa sponsorship' they usually mean 'no H-1B sponsorship'. Very often, if you reach out to them (especially through a personal connection) to say that you have access to a different type of visa that is much cheaper, more straightforward, easier and faster to get, and that you know how to get it, that can open some doors. In my experience, companies are still willing to interview or hear you out if you mention that; versus automatic rejections at times if you state that you need a new H-1B visa sponsorship.

    It's also very fast, cheap and easy to get. I have not heard of Singaporeans getting rejected for it (though I have heard of cases of some foreign-born Singaporeans getting additional scrutiny). It also appears to be easy to renew multiple times, as long as you have not filed for any green card or other paperwork that might make you ineligible for the H1-B1. For example, if you went to the US, found someone to marry, and then filed for a spousal visa, you probably don't qualify for the H1-B1 anymore.

    The speed, cheapness and ease of getting this visa is why it is my recommendation for any Singaporean who is coming to the US to work. Especially if you don't know if you actually want to make the move, simplifying the visa situation will make it easier.

    • Exceptions apply. If you work for a company that also has a US presence, consider getting the L-1 visa instead. This is especially true if you have a spouse. It is, at this point, not easy / possible for a spouse of a H1-B1 visa holder to work in the US (not without having filed for a green card and getting approval, which is a whole other thing). Whereas spouses of L-1 visa holders can apply for work authorization.

    What are the downsides of the H1-B1?

    For one, it is a non-immigrant visa, unlike a H-1B. If you have plans to apply for a green card, definitely try for a H-1B. However, many Singaporeans I know have also come first on the H1-B1, then tried for the H-1B lottery, then switched to it; if not, they can always get another H1-B1 visa.

    Secondly, it is valid for a shorter period of time. It is for 18 months. On arriving in the US, you get stamped in for just 12 months; you have to leave and return to the US to get the remainder of the 18 months.

    This was not a problem for me as I anticipated that I would want to go home to see my family, and country where I have deep and strong ties, every 12 months anyway.

    The short visa validity can cause some logistical issues. For example, I still don't have my drivers' license, partly out of my Singaporean apathy to car driving, partly because every time I get around to the DMV my visa is about to expire. It made no sense to get a driver's license that would expire in a few months (or weeks, last time I tried to get a driver's license), so I've just sort of kicked that can down the road. It doesn't really matter to me whether I can drive or not. It may, if you live elsewhere in the US with less public transit.

    Also, if you have a spouse who would like to work, it is not possible for them to work if you have a H1-B1. Consider a L-1 instead, or other visa type if this is important.

    How do I get a H1-B1 visa and work in the US?

    1. Make sure you are a Singaporean (or Chilean) citizen
    2. Apply for a job, get the job
    3. Get your immigration attorneys to file for a LCA with the Department of Labor. You must have this document certified by the Department of Labor and sent back to you and you must have this in person with you at the US embassy when you go for your appointment. In my experience this has taken around 7 business days to be certified
    4. While waiting for the LCA to be certified, start your DS-160 application. Some advice: expect to take a few days to complete the application. Write down the application number, and your security question. Get your passport photo ready as a digital file in a square format and make sure it is resized to under 240kb, and in jpg format (photo requirements here).
    5. Give yourself plenty of time to fill in the DS-160 form, especially if you are a first-timer. Save it constantly. You have 30 days to complete it. If you think you'll take more than 30 days, return to the application with the application number and security question, and save it or fill in more questions.
    6. Once you have completed the DS-160 form and submitted it, and have your LCA in hand, go to this page and select non-immigrant visa. If you have an immigrant visa, you probably know what you're doing and you can make your own choices from here. Click login, then new user. Create your account. This UStraveldocs account is what will let you schedule embassy appointments and decide how you get your visa delivered or picked up in the country you're applying in. The DS-160 form was a state department thing. You need to do both, but the USTraveldocs part is almost always the last step. And the first time I did it, I didn't know what to do or where to go after I submitted my DS-160!
    7. There are some quirks with this USTravelDocs step, so listen closely (and also seek out updated information as this process is likely to change more to meet local conditions, than the DS-160 or LCA process).
    8. Once you have logged in to US Travel Docs, click New Application / Schedule Appointment. It will prompt you to fill out your passport information. If you have a spouse or children with a H4 visa, you also add them here.
    9. Go through all the screens and fill in the information that only you know (your passport number, expiry date, visa type).
    10. This part is the most important. At some point in the application it will ask you for: Petitioner's Name, Receipt Number, Start Date and End Date. This is confusing and your US immigration attorney is likely to also not know what to do with this. From other posts written by others, I learned: these fields are kind of silly and no one knows what the right answers are / it doesn't really matter, but you have to fill in something anyway. Here's what's always worked for me.
    11. Petitioner's name: I put my employer, which is the City and County of San Francisco
    12. Start Date: I use the start date on my certified LCA
    13. End Date: I use the end date on my certified LCA
    14. Receipt Number: (This is different from receipt number elsewhere in this process. It is a dummy number. The only answer that works is this: ABC1234567890 (thanks to Ashley Lim for figuring this out)
    15. Finally, it will ask you how you want to collect / pick up / have your visa delivered. I always pick Chinatown, but I've been told by people at the US embassy that the fastest way to get your visa back is to select the Aramex at Changi South location, which is available as a 'paid dropoff/pickup'. This location is very far for me, so I almost never do this unless I have a very tight turnaround on my travel plans. I think it's something like a whole day faster than the Chinatown location. Otherwise, I prefer to do Chinatown as it's easier for me to go there, and also easier for me to get food afterwards. I am Singaporean, after all.
    16. On the last screen, you will be prompted to make payment. At the time of writing (September 2023) the options are: VFS Cash / Debit, or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). VFS is a global company that many embassies outsource their visa work to around the world. EFT means 'bank transfer', as many Singaporeans will be aware of. VFS Cash/ Debit means 'go to the VFS office in Anson Road and pay it at the counter', which is far less convenient than 'log in to DBS banking and make payment'. When you click on either option, you will get the amount to pay in SGD, and a receipt number.
    17. If you select EFT, save the page PDF and copy down the SGD amount AND the receipt number.
    18. Log in to your Singapore internet banking and set up a new payee. The payee name is VFS Singapore, the beneficiary bank is DBS, and the payee's account number is (and this is very important) YOUR RECEIPT NUMBER. Your receipt number functions as a virtual account number so they can match your payment to your application. If you don't have a Singapore bank account but are applying out of Singapore, you will probably have to go to VFS on Anson Road, or get a Singapore friend to do it for you.
    19. Once you have completed your payment, wait until 12pm the next business day in Singapore to return to the USTravelDocs page and add in the receipt number from the payment slip you got, to complete the process. If you try to do it any earlier, you won't be able to proceed. It will just say 'transaction not found'.

    Special note about H1-B1 visa for Singaporeans and their non-Singaporean or same-sex spouses

    While the H1-B1 visa is only for Singaporeans, your spouse and children don't have to be. This means that if you, like me, are queer and married, your marriage is recognized as long as you have a marriage certificate from a country that performs it.

    If you are a same-sex couple that is interested in moving to the US, feel free to email me at adrianna [at] and I can help answer any queer-specific questions you might have.

    Should I move to the US? There are guns and stuff!

    That's entirely a question for you to answer. As a queer Singaporean, I needed to go somewhere that would give me and my non-Singaporean wife a place to live. We looked everywhere, and the US (California in particular) was still the place that gave us the things that we needed. It also welcomed us with very open arms. We are thankful. But it's not for everyone, certainly.

    Anyway, the advice I always tell young Singaporeans is that you don't have to think about this move as a permanent one. You can always go home. Which is a luxury, I've learned, especially in speaking with immigrants from other countries here. The idea that I can return to a country that's my own, without much change to my physical standard of living, is a luxury. Whether or not I can be fully queer and married in Singapore is a whole other thing. For now, I am living the life, and enjoying every moment of it (even if I cry once a week about how much I miss Singapore).

  • How to add a Chinese dictionary to Calibre

    I am trying to read more Chinese books. My Mandarin school teachers are probably having the last laugh, but I am genuinely interested in some of the fiction in the Sinosphere these days. Unfortunately my school-time Mandarin class experience was so poor (old school, traditional, not fun or engaging) that I feel like I am starting from scratch.

    Thankfully, technology helps. I no longer have to peruse a large Chinese dictionary by looking up total number of key strokes (even though I'm glad I learned that skill). With a few things in place, I can quickly level up.

    I use Calibre for ebooks. It's pretty customizable.

    1. Get your Chinese ebooks wherever you get them, and add them to Calibre
    2. Click to open and read the Chinese ebook inside Calibre's ebook viewer
    3. Highlight some text and mouse over the symbol that looks like a little library
    4. A library / lookup window should show up on the right
    5. Click Add Source
    6. Add the following source: name, MDBG
    7. Add the following permalink:{word}

    Now, whenever you highlight a word or phrase, it should popup the Chinese dictionary result.

    Some example photos:

    Screenshot of Calibre and how to add a Chinese dictionary step 1

    Highlight text in the ebook to pop out the lookup / dictionary view on the right.

    Screenshot of Calibre and how to add a Chinese dictionary step 2

    Click add source, then paste the url{word} into the box.

    Screenshot of Calibre and how to add a Chinese dictionary step 3

    If all goes well, you should now see the definitions from the Chinese dictionary.

    Happy reading!

  • Making the Yamaha P-125 digital piano sound better

    Early pandemic, I decided to reconnect with a part of my life that was very important to me: music. I played music, specifically piano, clarinet, trumpet, and other orchestral instruments, for most of my life. Then I stopped. Startup brain worms got to me. I did nothing but work for many years.

    The best digital piano in my budget that available at the time was the Yamaha P-125. All I wanted was a piano that was white, had weighted keys, had 88 keys, and that I could use with headphones.

    I had a lot of fun with it, but the one problem I had was that I don't really like how it sounds.

    There's a particular range of keys (I think in E4 to G4) that sound, to my ears, a bit weird and digital. When I play them together they smoosh into each other and it is noticeable enough that I recoil, every single time.

    Instead of getting a new piano, I decided to try to tweak it somehow.

    Here's what I did.

    1. Get a printer cable and connect the P-125 from the back (near the power cord) to your computer's USB / USB adapter
    2. Install the USB-Midi Driver so that I can use the P-125 as a Midi keyboard on my Mac
    3. Install Pianoteq
    4. Get decent headphones, I have the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (you can get them used, for a third of list price, on audiophile forums or subreddits)

    The only thing slightly confusing about all this was how to activate the keyboard as a digital piano. Turns out, you need to press the metronome and rhythm key AS WELL AS the C5 key at the same time, in order to switch the audio output to the computer. You know that you've succeed at this when the piano says 'Off' in a slightly robotic voice. This means that the piano will now not output sound on the piano. You can now decide how to hear the music. On Pianoteq on my Mac, I either define the output as 'my nice speakers' if I want to hear the piano through my nice speakers; or 'digital piano' (then I plug in my headphones to the piano directly) if I want to listen through there. I use the headphones when I don't want to disturb my neighbors, like when I'm playing late at night.

    You'll know this is working (both on speakers and headphones) when you change the instrument on Pianoteq to something like 'vibraphone' and you can hear that the output.. sounds like a vibraphone. Personally, I really like the Steinway jazz and Grotian instruments. For those who have piano tuning interests, the pro version lets you tune each note. For someone like me who just wants to play a digital piano and have it sound better, the stage version is sufficient.

    Pianoteq is not cheap, but it is one of the best ones and it's what I like most.

    Next up, I'd like to learn Logic Pro and learn to arrange and record.

  • SF, Union Town?

    One of the more surprising things about living in San Francisco is that I'm now a part of a union. Never in my lifetime of working in tech did I imagine that would happen. However, now that I work in the public sector, union life is bustling. I'm very proud to be part of a union. I see its positive impacts everyday, from the pay rises I didn't have to personally bargain for, to the additional time off each year, and in a lot of little things as well.

    Learning about all of this also got me to learn about the unions that protect the working class in the Bay Area.

    So when I heard there was going to be a rally outside SF City Hall in support of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), I knew I had to go. San Francisco's media industry isn't as large as LA's, so our media workers make even less and have fewer protections. However, many Bay Area companies are responsible for the challenges we are now seeing. Decades of breathless tech solutionism and optimism with little concern for its ethical or real life consequences have led to the collapse of many industries, and people's livelihoods.

    Although I now own a full frame DSLR (for bird photography), I ran there instead with a Yashica Mat-124G TLR camera from 1970, and three rolls of Kodak T-Max 400 film. Later that night, I developed the film in Rodinal in my bathroom. While I'm interested in some applications of AI (it has been useful in automating some tasks, for example), I am less positive about the creative applications. I started to learn to develop film this year, warts and all, partly as a response for that. It calms me to have a physical copy of a film negative that I can hold.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a man holding a sign that says SAG-AFTRA on strike, with his side profile turned towards the camera. he is smiling

    Many people enthusiastically supporting the SAG-AFTRA strike.

    Plenty of slogans.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a woman holding a SAG-AFTRA on Strike placard, she has her side view of her face turned to the camera and she looks serious


    a scan of a black and white photo showing a gathering of people outside SF City Hall holding signs supporting the strike. In the background, half the photo has a scene of the field and Bill Graham auditorium building and a steam geyser with steam coming out of the road

    It was a good crowd.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a woman holding a handmade sign written on a piece of ruled paper that says A(cting) I(ndividuals) Against AI

    All kinds of signs!

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a placard that says PSL (a socialist party), injury to one is an injury to all next to a SAG-AFTRA sign

    All of our workplace rights today were won through similar collective actions in the past.

    Media workers really have a raw deal, and there is no doubt that we should be supporting their strike against the studios.

  • B Sides (Myanmar)

    Some time around 2012/2013, I spent most of my time in Myanmar. The country was opening up: Aung San Suu Kyi was out, reform was in the air, Burmese students and exiles were coming home. There was a true spirit of hope and optimism. I was no longer a photographer or writer at that time, but I had developed a set of skills from my time in that world. I had become the person that tech companies sent to 'figure stuff out in new markets'. It was also a lucrative and exciting gig while that lasted. I did that for a couple of years.

    My time being a 'fixer' for photographers and journalists around Southeast Asia also meant that I already knew people everywhere. I was not only okay with bureaucracy, I celebrated it. They just seemed like interesting puzzles to solve. Getting a photographer access to a person in a Bangladeshi village was more complex than getting a multinational company access to the top ten people they could hire, or finding them an office space in a booming market.

    a photo of two people in a Burmese restaurant, one wearing a hat and another wearing traditional Burmese attire and reading a newspaper

    Somewhere in Mandalay.

    a photo of the insides of a Burmese restaurant with blue pastel walls and wooden chairs and tables and a very old photo of Britney Spears on the wall

    Britney was everywhere.

    a photo of two senior Burmese Indian gentlemen sitting on very small chairs and talking to each other

    Being close to Bengal, Myanmar and Kolkata always had strong links. Rangoon and Calcutta were, in the heyday, the Paris and London of the British empire in the east. Many Burmese people have Indian ancestry, and Burmese-Tamil, Burmese-Gujarati, Burmese-Bengali cultures are totally a thing. You see that in the people, food, language and historical landmarks too.

    a photo of a menu item in Myanmar with fried food, and Burmese and English word that say TOTAL FRIED FOOD

    Fried total food. I love Burmese food.

    a photo of mohinga, a Burmese fish curry noodle soup usually eaten for breakfast

    My routine was to get in to Yangon on the early morning Jetstar flight from Singapore. I would land at Yangon airport, and head straight for Tin Tin Aye in Sanchaung for their famous mohinga. No one was allowed to schedule any meetings for me until I'd had mohinga.

    All photos: various iPhones through the years.

  • B Sides (India)

    When I think back to the life I led in my 20s, I will be forever grateful and amazed that I got to do the things that I did. How did I figure out how to travel around the world, eating, working, writing, taking photos? I don't think that life exists anymore. Not in the same way anyway. But I really milked it for what I could.

    Right out of college, I was a freelance travel and food writer. I wrote about different parts of Southeast Asia. I wrote about chefs. I was interested in history, food culture, people. I still am. But the ways in which I led that life (writing for magazines with "Geographic" in their name, getting advances and payouts from travel guidebooks, selling photos to newspapers), don't and won't exist anymore.

    So I continue to do those things, but with a day job.

    While I was out on the road, my phone photos were an important 'B Roll'. Today I am sharing a selection of those photos in one place, for the first time.

    a photo of two men in Chennai, India, in a restaurant showing some food from behind a counter

    Chennai was often my first port of call. Whenever I had work in India, I would fly first to Chennai. $100 one way from Singapore. Once there, I deeply explored the world of 'nonveg Tamil food', still one of my favorite cuisines anywhere. That love for Tamil Nadu country food was a love that nourished me and kept me happy. Brain masala, mutton sukka, deeply spiced seeraga samba biryanis. They also called this 'military food', and it was cuisine that was eaten in contrast to the totally vegetarian, 'cleaner' high caste food that I never developed a fondness for. Whenever in Chennai, I ate most at places like this.

    a photo of the insides of a restaurant in Chennai that says Sri Velu Military Hotel

    Sri Velu was one place that I frequented for this type of food.

    a photo of a man standing at a window of a Alibag vada pav restaurant in India

    Roadtrips across India were a big part of my life. I went on long rides with friends, and one frequent trip was the road trip from Mumbai to Alibag. Vada pavs were mandatory, of course. Till this day, I still dream about the perfect little potato patties, with the right amount of spice, in a squishy white bread.

    a photo of the outside of an old looking Goan seafood restaurant in Mumbai

    I spent most of my time in either Chennai or Mumbai. These are the two cities that, even today, if you were to drop me there and have me live there for months on end, I would be quite happy. My social circles and my favorite foods remain the same. Goan and all other coastal Konkani food is also a cuisine that I adore. In Mumbai, I frequently went to places like this, as well as to Gomantak or Malvani restaurants.

    a photo of a restaurant with tamil words that says Orosorru

    My happiest food memories are always whenever I get to get Tamil style biryanis. Orosorru in Chennai was a fave for a long time, but sadly they are no longer around.

  • Nearly Two Decades Ago

    One of the things I love about film photography is how it gives me a good sense of my exact feelings at precise moments in time. Depending on the film stock and camera I used, looking at old film photos takes me back in ways that I don't experience with other types of photos I have taken in the past.

    I know, for example, from the low light and lack of sharpness in these first few photos that I was just beginning to learn about film photography, and that I frequently used film stock that was not 'right' for the light conditions.

    a scan of a color photograph of a bus stop in Singapore around 2006

    I know from the photo of the bus stop that this is in 2004 exactly, because I have been taking a bus from this bus stop my entire life and can tell from the way the shelter and seats and ads are set up, that it was when I was heading to university. I also know that I was probably late (because no one is waiting here and it's way past rush hour, so I've definitely overslept, again.)

    a scan of a color photo of a woman sitting outside a mosque in singapore with lots of shoes behind her

    I can tell from this photo of a woman sitting outside a mosque in Little India, Singapore, that this was when I was experimenting with plastic, toy cameras. I came to this area very often for food, and often walked past this mosque.

    a scan of a color photo of grass and dark blue sky in a low lit photo, with buildings in the background

    I know from looking at this photo that it was in the early 00s. This wide open space no longer exists in Singapore. Every inch of open space now has several buildings on it. The tallest building in the background anchors me and lets me know exactly where I was when I took this photo: my cousins lived in that building.

    a scan of a color photo of a prison in Cambodia

    This photo was taken with my first 'real' camera, which was a Nikon F-601 SLR. I used it to take photos on my first 'real' trip abroad, where I traveled to Thailand and Cambodia overland (by bus and taxi and train and motorbike). As part of that trip, I saw some atrocities (Cambodia has a horrible recent history, as demonstrated by the window of Tuol Sleng prison here). I also some great beauty.

    a scan of a color photo of monks at Angkor Wat in Cambodia smiling at a structure

    Like the gorgeous architecture of the temples of Angkor.

    Increasingly, I started to have more and more nice cameras and film things. I also got to go on more trips.

    a scan of a black and white photo of a building in taiwan with ads for tuition centers

    Taiwan was a firm favorite. It was so close, and always so fun. I miss it.

    a scan of a black and white photo of a person

    I even have a photographic record of my unfortunate couple of years where I dressed only in hippie pants and sandals. Here, a self-portrait in Melaka, Malaysia.

    I feel so lucky to have been able to experience that part of the world and to have called it home, and that I always had my camera(s) with me.

  • Bulk Loading Film

    Like so many people who still shoot film, I am now mostly rolling my own. Bulk loading, once you have the equipment, is really easy. I mostly buy bulk rolls of film stock that I can't get off the shelf, so that's a lot of Kodak 5222, Ektachrome, and also motion picture film.

    You can get bulk rolls of many black and white film stocks easily; none for color, except for motion picture color film (I will write another post about how I learned to shoot and process this later on).

    All of this has to be done in the dark.

    At home, I use a dark changing bag. You really don't need a darkroom for most things unless you want to do prints.

    a photo of the front view of a film bulk loader with an arrow over the spindle

    I pop the back of the quick loader open, leaving the crank in. You won't be able to load the film unless you have this crank in. I learned the hard way.

    a photo of the back of a film loader, with a red arrow showing the direction in which to unwind and load the film

    Then, I remove the film from the packaging. If you buy bulk film, only do this in the dark. Shiny side up, I move the film into the recess very slightly, then use my left hand to tighten up the rest of the roll and make it fit in the back. The center of the bulk film roll sits on the spindle, like a roll of tape. Note that film will not advance past the recess unless you have the crank installed in the front.

    Shut the back of the loader, screw it tight.

    a photo of a film bulk loader showing the film coming out of the loader, with a red arrow showing the direction of the film cassette

    Take the loader out of the dark bag. You can use the bulk loader in daylight now. (It only needs to be in the dark when you are loading the bulk roll)

    Remove the film advancer crank. Remove the spool part of a reusable film cassette (I use Kalt, but you can also use these). Cut some adhesive tape, and wrap around the spool. The pointy end of the spool should point towards the back of the film loader.

    a photo of a film loader with a cassette in it and a red arrow pointing at where the spool should be pointed

    Pull out some film and stick the tape on the film to secure it. Grab the film cassette casing and gently slide it so that it encases the film and the spool. Note that this takes some practice: you essentially want to gently twist the film and spool to fit the slit of the casing. Sometimes this can be tough, but keep trying (gently). Screw in the cap to close the cassette.

    Use the small film winder knob (next to crank) to move the spool into the bulk loader so it sits securely. Close the cover.

    Set the counter to 0. Insert the crank. Holding the loader in one hand (I like to tilt it backwards with my left hand), turn the crank until it reaches the arrow. You want to add 4 or 5 extra frames from 36 (or however many frames of film you want per roll). Remove the crank. Open the cover. Use a pair of scissors to cut the film, pulling out enough to make a film leader.


    You can get around 18 rolls per 100 ft roll, which brings the cost of Ilford HP5 down to $6.67. Retail price for that film is $9.49, so you can save almost $3 per roll of film. If you're shooting 20 rolls of film in a month like I sometimes do, you save $60.

    I have one Bobinquick loader that always has black and white film, and I've got another Watson type loader that has some other film, usually color motion picture film or bulk slide film. I get these from a friend who orders in bulk from Kodak in 400ft, then respools into 100 ft and sends me a few; so that can be even cheaper than buying 100ft rolls directly from a photography retailer.

    Hope this helps! In case you prefer manuals, I've also got scans:

  • Kampong Glam, Singapore

    When I was growing up in Singapore I loved going to Kampong Glam, the Arab quarter.

    The British colonials divided the country's ethnic population into different sections, keeping the best and most central downtown location for themselves and for their buildings. Everybody else had to cram into their own ethnic 'ghettos' with varying degrees of sanitation, cleanliness and facilities.

    The Arab population in Singapore largely came from the Yemeni city of Hadramaut as traders. Soon, they married the local population, and formed their own plural Southeast Asian Arab identities, but you can still see their hallmarks in the food, architecture, languages.

    As a teenager and young adult I loved spending time in this neighborhood. It was a lot less sterile than the nice, clean parts of town that we loved to show off to the world. It had a soul. It still does, but these days its success (Haji Lane was recently named one of the most interesting districts in the world to visit) means it's changed a fair bit. I still enjoy meeting friends at the unnamed sarabat tea stall, I still have a bunch of fave spots that remain, thankfully, relatively unchanged.

    a color photograph showing a large mosque with an ornate dome. in the background, some tall concrete buildings.

    Faith and fortune: a view of Sultan Mosque in Singapore's old Arab quarter. In the background, the eccentric Park View Square building that is also home to Atlas bar, one of the best gin bars in the world (and also where Thandie Newton and Vincent Cassel had a scene in Westworld Season 3). SE Asia has a significant Arab population, descendants of traders from Hadramaut in Yemen, esp. in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia.

    a color photo showing a narrow alleyway between two historic short buildings leading towards a tall and modern hotel in the background

    I'm interested in the contrast of eras, architecture, vibes. Also in how quickly all of this came up: just a decade ago I would be in this alley and I could have sworn that tall building, a hotel, did not exist at all, even as an idea.

    a black and white photo showing a contrast of architecture between old and new

    More contrasts. In the foreground, some old shophouse buildings in the Arab quarter. In the background some modern buildings including I.M. Pei's Gateway building in the back left.

    (All photos taken on Ricoh GR III with RNI presets applied.)

  • Motion Picture Film, Mistakes, Fun

    Like so many film photographers outraged by the cost of color film these days, I've thrown myself headlong into the world of shooting stills on motion picture film. Kodak Vision 3 films can be purchased in bulk, spooled into lengths that bulk rollers can use, and then self-rolled into canisters at your own leisure. Instead of the $12-18 per roll abomination of standard color films, you can get motion picture film for $10 a roll if you buy them pre-rolled online, and $5-8 per roll if you do it yourself.

    The huge caveat if that you can't just send this film to any film lab. They have a layer of black carbon on the film, known as 'remjet', that requires special handling. While I previously bought and sent my motion picture film to a specialist, I decided that I wanted to learn how to do it myself.

    There's very scant information about how to shoot and develop motion picture film. The best information I've found has been this Reddit thread, other comparison threads, and some historical information on Photrio. Like I do in most things, I dove head first into it and made a ton of mistakes. But now I know.

    I know, for example, not to use a stiff sponge to remove the remjet at the end. I know now that baking soda alone is not sufficient; borax is better. My darkroom (i.e. my bathroom) is now full of photo chemicals. I have all kinds of bottles and funnels. I'm truly getting into my mess around and find out era, and it's super fun. I discovered I have as much of a passion for the ins and outs of photo developing, scanning and printing as I do for taking photos and telling stories. It's been the important balm for my soul: the art and science of doing something that engages my heart, eyes, hands and soul.

    This was from the first roll of Kodak Vision 3 250D that I developed. I used baking soda only in this roll to remove the remjet. Then, I used a stiff sponge to remove the remaining remjet at the end and.. that ended up scratching the negatives. But I'm learning to appreciate that mistakes happen and it's fine and maybe even cool, since it imparts a strong sense of physicality to the digital realm: if you were to look for this negative a hundred years from now, it will still have these scratches. It will be unmistakably something that happened from my own hand, rather than rendered by stable diffusion.

    So I will keep shooting motion picture film and keep developing them.

    a scan of a color photograph that shows a poster that says I Love You California with a bear on it, in a bookstore in San Francisco

    I love you too, California, San Francisco, and Green Apple books.

    a scan of a color photograph that shows a night time scene of a couple looking through the windows of a donut shop

    Bob's donuts. A landmark of San Francisco.

    a scan of a color photograph that shows colorful donuts through a glass window

    Donuts donuts donuts.

    a scan of a color photograph that shows a spoof of a mona lisa image at an art gallery. the mona lisa here is wearing modern clothing. the film negative has scratches across the entire frame

    Mona Lisa, modernism, and scratches across the negative.

    (All photos taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II with Kodak Vision 3 250D film, self-dev in ECN-2 chemistry and scanned on Plustek 8200i)

  • What Pride Means to Me

    Screenshot of a photo of Adrianna and Sabrena a queer couple With my wife Sabrena in the Paris metro in 2022

    1993: I am 8 years old. I am a scared little autistic girl who felt in my bones that there was something strange about me. Was it my obsessive, hyper-fixation on the things that interested me? My intense feelings? Or that I felt I had to lie every time the other girls shared the lists of 'boys they liked'? I often felt like a child who had so much to say, but no words at all. The words that people used with very young female children did not feel right. 'What boy do you like?' 'What kind of man do you think you'll marry?' 'When you grow up and have a family...'

    None of that ever felt right. I didn't have the words. Instead, I said things like 'I will never marry!' Which made people laugh. Of course you will, they said, you will meet a nice boy and you will marry him. 'I don't like boys!' That made people laugh even more. No one believes what children have to say unless they fit a script. I didn't have any of the right scripts.

    I did not know any queer people; the only time I ever heard about gay folks or trans folks was on the media, in a derogatory manner. I was about to use the Internet for the first time, and that would change my (whole) life. The first thing I do when I go on the Internet is to look up whether or not women lived together abroad. I find a lot of information about not telling anyone in the military that you are queer. I go on IRC and message a stranger and ask, 'how does it work?'

    I don't feel guilty in church the next day. I just feel like I know the biggest secret of the universe, like there's a name for people like me, other than pervert. But I worry about the logistics. How will I find a wife? I imagined I would have to fall off the face of the universe and disappear forever to even do that.

    I spend the next six years at school writing stories about stowing away, disappearing off the face of the universe, sneaking off to start a new life as someone else.

    2003: I am 18 years old. I have dated both boys and girls. Sometimes, at the same time. I give myself an arbitrary deadline. I want to decide at the end of high school which I prefer. I know that 'bi' exists and that's what I thought I was, but it didn't feel like me. I decide I want to start university with.. certainty. All I know is that boys are straightforward and easy, and girls are not. I know deep down I never choose the easy, because that rarely interests me, and I know I am at the fork in the road where nothing is going to be easy from now on.

    2013: I am 28 years old. I have a 4 year old dog, Cookie. We live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My first long term girlfriend got her for me, or with me, I'm not sure. 'If we ever break up you're going to have to take her,' she says. I have just been diagnosed with a terrible autoimmune disease, and she has to drive me and Cookie 350 kilometers to take me home. I've had to move home after years of 'gallivanting' all around the world, as my family would say, and I am learning to be at home and be at peace for the first time. I am out. I am going to live in Singapore for the first time as an out queer adult and single person. I am alternately sick and alternately learning how to be single again. I am sicker than I think. I go out with a different woman every week and I feel like I can be more openly queer at home than I ever imagined, but I also feel an impending doom: I was tired.

    Tired of running the race with a potato sack tied to my foot. Tired, generally. I do the unthinkable: I move out of my parents' home within months of getting back. You're not supposed to do that until you marry (a man). "You don't want to be here when I am dating all these women, do you?" I imagine myself saying. I think I say something to that effect, but dialed back. I am always dialed back at home. I can be 'a gay', but I should be proper. I can be 'a lesbian', but I should be successful. As long as I am successful, people are fine with me being queer and autistic. But it should always be in that order. I am reckless with the hearts of the women who apparently love me in this time, because I don't feel like I deserve to be loved.

    2023: I am 38 years old. I now live in San Francisco with my wife, Sabrena. Our dog Cookie is 14 years old. Mila, the large tortoiseshell cat we adopted when we got here, is 17. I have the queerest, most autistic life I can imagine, here. Three days into Pride month, I've already met and spent time with mostly queer people. They have lives, careers, families. Like me, they also came here from somewhere else to live their queerest, and sometimes most autistic, lives. From Montana. From Sarawak. From Singapore. From Taiwan. From China. For many people like us, California is a refuge. I have been here for five years now. It makes me sad that a country where neither of us have citizenship recognized our marriage, and gave us the ability to exist, survive and thrive, in spite of our sexuality, when our own countries tell us we are broken. And I am proud that our state gives us the opportunity to live our lives, as our most queer, most autistic selves.

    But when I brush up against elements of my old life, I am annoyed. I don't believe I should wait for gay men to have their rights first and then advocate for other's. I don't believe trans people should wait their turn in line to stop being discriminated against, especially in this time of trans genocide. I don't find it acceptable to have government officer shout that my marriage is not recognized in Singapore, when just last year I helped to review a form for another government that said Person A and Person B instead of "Husband" and "Wife". Friends from home say I am now too loud, too American, too... different. It's probably true. I no longer have it in me to allow another person, institution, organization or government to pretend that I should not exist. I don't have it in me to be okay with not having any rights anymore, either.

    We're here and we're queer, we're also very autistic (which is related) and we are very tired. I am very glad, however, that I did not have to disappear off the face of the universe to find a wife. Take that, 1993.

  • Savoring Hijabi Butch Blues

    Finished reading: Savor by Fatima Ali 📚 and Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H 📚

    Two queer Pakistani memoirs in a row:

    • Fatima Ali, a former Top Chef contestant who by had a promising career in food media before suddenly receiving a diagnosis for sarcoma. Co-written by Tarajia Morrell
    • Lamya H, a religious, Pakistani butch who grew up in Saudi Arabia, navigating faith and love in New York City

    Both books are very different. I liked the unapologetic, authentic insights into their lives. Both present aspects of faith and family with intimacy and tenderness.

    Fatima Ali's book in particular struck a cord with me: my wife and I have been deep into memoirs and articles that discuss death and grief (Sabrena is currently learning about grief in her college psychology program). What started as a an attempt to document her legacy and bucket list items before she passed turned into one where her condition worsened so much she couldn't travel. Instead, we got a beautiful book about her life told from her and her mother's perspective, that very much left you with a strong sense of who she was. She seemed to have been the sort of person I would have loved as a friend. I wish I followed her career more closely.

    Lamya H's book gives us a sense into how confusing and difficult it must have been to be a queer person in Saudi Arabia, especially so as a brown person there in their very classist society. She talks about friendships (or attempts at friendships) with Arab girls, growing up in a girls' school environment there and winning a scholarship to study in the US. Personally, I am usually skeptical / afraid of any ex-Muslim narratives that play to American bigotry; I was relieved to find that Lamya H deftly paints a portrait of who she is as a person and what she believes in, without needing to play off either side. Instead, she manages to weave her story about her life, country of birth, the place she grew up, where she lives now, her sexuality, her faith and family into an impressive, cohesive whole. I am thankful she published such an important book.

  • Five Frames with Nikonos V

    To me, the best thing about living in the Bay Area is the easy access to all kinds of nature, by bike and by other means of transportation. You can put your bicycle on nearly every form of public transit (except Muni street car): all buses, almost all trains, and also by ferry. This makes bike-powered weekend trips a lot easier. Our hills are treacherous, and our beer is decent: sometimes you want to skip a hill or roll down one. Put your bike on a ferry, bus, train.

    Recently, I did one such trip with a friend where we boarded a ferry to Larkspur and then a train to Petaluma. While I find it easier to just cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and get in the miles, on days where I want longer rides, I'm thankful to these multi-modal options on easier days when I just want to take it slow but still be further from home, on a bike.

    I also recently came into the possession of a Nikonos V. The seller was very apologetic that its meter wasn't working, and that its O-rings needed work before it can be a truly amphibious camera again: but I was not, for I managed to own a Nikonos V for $50 instead of $500. Although it looks like a toy camera, it is one of the most ergonomic and user friendly cameras I have ever used. It puts a modern GoPro to shame. You can even scuba dive with it (after getting the O-rings serviced).

    As someone who enjoys manual metering, I am not afraid of film cameras without batteries and meters. The camera is perfect on land as well as in water. I quite like the heft of it: I think it will be my standard biking and camping camera. I have no worries at all about rolling into a pile of dirt, or falling into water. The 35mm f2.5 lens it came with is also very capable.

    A scan of a color photograph of two women looking at San Francisco ferry building as a ferry pulls away from the harbor

    View of San Francisco from the ferry.

    A scan of a color photograph of a man on a ferry, wearing a yellow jacket looking at Alcatraz in the distance

    A person looking at Alcatraz from the ferry.

    A scan of a color photograph of a group of people boating near the Bay Bridge

    People on a boat near the Bay Bridge.

    A scan of a color photograph of a ferry causing large waves in the water. View from the deck

    On the Larkspur ferry, the bike holding area is on the deck, which makes it fun and easy to look at the view while also being able to keep an eye on your bike.

    A scan of a color photograph of a group of Falungong activists protesting China at the Ferry Building in San Francisco

    There was a large Falungong rally at the Ferry Building in San Francisco on that day. The Nikonos IV is a capable land documentary camera as well as underwater camera, too.

    All photos taken with Nikonos V, 35mm f2.5 lens, Fuji Superia 400, self-developed in Cinestill C41 kit, and scanned on Plustek 8200i.

  • Ugly / Beautiful

    Last Friday, I had the unfortunate honor of experiencing (yet another) race-related incident in San Francisco. A mentally unwell person pointed a kitchen blow torch at me, with the flame out, and threatened to 'burn me' because I was an 'ugly Chinese ho'. I laughed it off, but I guess she was serious, and then she started pointing that thing at my dog and also calling her an ugly Chinese ho (???). Thankfully, I was able to leave as my bus arrived quickly.

    I took the day off to decompress. This situation came hot on the heels of some conversations that my wife and I have been having: what is home? Where is it? What does it mean for us to build a home together? I decided to take a long walk through San Francisco. I needed to remember why I came here, and why this city is still, despite its many, many warts, a home I see us living in for the long haul.

    I got coffee, met friends and family for dim sum, pet many dogs. I looked at the bay; I breathed in and out. While the city's beauty cannot make up for some of the ugliness that one experiences as a result of bigotry, I am reminded of how, on balance, I have had a largely good time here; I have experienced a lot of love and support, especially at moments like these; and I have the space to participate in activism to push back precisely on this sort of thing.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a coffee menu at a San Francisco cafe

    Delicious coffee at Home.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing two cartoon characters at a playground hugging and holding a Hula Hoop

    Playgrounds for the children in my neighborhood.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a vintage sign in English and Chinese characters mentioning audio video repair services

    Vintage signs in Chinatown.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a large dog trying to sit on his owner at a street side cafe

    Saw many gorgeous dogs on a gorgeous day.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a neon sign that says You're Already One Of Us

    And many relevant signs.

    At the end of the day, I come back to my maybe slightly nihilistic view that there are no good countries. My wife experiences everyday racism in Singapore, that felt like it was worsening towards the end of her decade there; that, plus the fact that my home country doesn't recognize our marriage, are among the many reasons we don't live there anymore. A country where we are both outsiders, where we have the ability to participate fully in the building of a society that we want to be a part of, feels, at this point, like where we want to be in spite of the other BS that it comes with.

    All photos taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Kentmere 400, self dev in Rodinal 1:50 and scanned on Plustek 8200i

  • Wives and Lives

    Some thoughts on being a gaysian immigrant to California

    A scan of a black and white photograph of some Chinese calligraphy writing on a wall in a Chinese restaurant in Oakland, California

    Two weeks ago, I helped to plan and organize a Lunar New Year dinner for 120 queer and trans Asian people. It's a tradition that has been around for as long as I've been alive: the annual APIQWTC Banquet.

    Despite its mouthful of a name (much easier if you read it as API CUTESY Banquet), it was an event that left me feeling extremely raw and emotional at the end of it.

    I could not identify why exactly.

    Could it be that these events—large format Chinese dinners I've only experienced in the context of societal rejection—were usually events I hated, events that were milestones I can never have because I was gay in a country that had not fully accepted it? I was never going to have the large Chinese wedding dinner. Even if I think those are horrible, it would have been nice to have known that was open to me.

    Or they'd be a celebration of some kind of matriarch or patriarch, the sort of thing where your same sex or trans partner was often excluded from, unless things were Very Serious and they had already graduated into the Don't Ask, Don't Tell territory. At some point, people get old and it becomes possible to welcome same sex partners into these events: when you're old enough that you're thoroughly de-sexualized, is my guess.

    But there's more, beyond mere social acceptance and the idea that it's possible to have a good time, I keep coming around to the thought: if I had been to such an event, if I had known these people, when I was a teenager struggling with my feelings and my identity, my life would have been different. Visibility in the media is important, and I already didn't really have that back then; but visibility in the form of knowing that it's possible to grow old, screw up, fall in love, get divorced, have children, or not, organize community events and be an advocate, or not, all of that would have been powerful visual indicators to me that it's possible to have any kind of life. That you're going to have a life at all.

    Instead, growing up mainly among an older generation that was largely forced into the closet—and I do have strong memories of going to gay bars for the first time as a teenager that had just come of age, and seeing police raids rounding up gay men for 'vice', more than once—where the only people I knew to be gay or queer for sure were the advocates who were willing to put themselves out there to fight for our rights, document our stories, to tell our homophobic society that we exist. Those people served a purpose and they fought bravely. But I did not always want to be an activist. Even though eventually, I guess I sort of did.

    By simply refusing to pretend to be straight, at some point I found myself thrust into a position of hypervisiblity in the queer community in Singapore. I did not want to be that person. I simply wanted to write about the heartbreak I had endured as a teenager: I was just the queer equivalent of a teenager anywhere Live-Journaling her heartbreak. But by not changing the pronouns of the person who had apparently broken my heart, I became, I suppose, a queer activist.

    I did not know any queer couples or families until I was well into my early 20s. Other than the women I dated, and let's be frank, we were a mess, with no template or model or idea of what any of this was going to become. Information about queer people came into Singapore like a trickle: there were the gender studies books at Borders bookstore, the 'are they or aren't they' gay-guessing games of trying to figure out which celebrities were queer women (hint: it was mostly Angelina Jolie, at that time), I didn't really know what it meant to be queer. And I think I was already an extremely well-connected teenager for my time. (For a time, I ran a queer DVD lending library; I'd distribute movies and documentaries to other queer teens in my high school and elsewhere.)

    I did not know what it meant to be a queer adult.

    I had no idea what it meant to be in a committed relationship. Or what it meant to not be in one. I didn't know what my life was going to be. It was all a big blank, other than 'I guess I will have to go live overseas some day'. Even though Singapore has, anecdotally, a fairly large queer population, information about queerness is still suppressed by the state. We are still not allowed to see, for example, a reality TV show of a gay couple having their house revamped. It would be against the rules: you simply can't portray queer people in a non-negative manner.

    So when I found myself surrounded by a hundred dancing Asian queer aunties, and a few other peers and younger people, I was mad.

    I was mad to not have been exposed to the idea that I too, can some day be a dancing Chinese auntie in my 60s, prancing about on stage singing Teresa Teng songs at a karaoke in Oakland. I was mad that I never got to see people like M and her partner, an older interracial East- and South Asian couple, like Sabrena and I: with their children babbling about in several languages, the way it might look for us if we decided to have children some day.

    Most of all, I was mad to know that this life wasn't possible for me back home. Not by a long stretch. I hardly knew many queer people in my mid 20s, and I definitely did not know that hundreds of queer people above the age of 60 existed. Nor did I have the chance to meet them in a multi-generational setting, the way I did here.

    At the event, I met many people who were also immigrants from Southeast Asia like me. The first decade was hard, they said. They had to figure out how to exist in the US, and it was also at a time when the US didn't even have the laws it now does for same sex marriage. Many of them wouldn't have been able to move here or stay on here even if they had American spouses: not until Edith Windsor did us all a favor and defeated the Defense of Marriage Act, and enabled same sex marriage and other rights at the federal level.

    In that regard, I have it a touch easier. I came here for a high paid tech job, I came here when California is already one of the easiest places to live in the world for a queer person, and I was able to bring my spouse with me. But some days are harder than others. Like many of these aunties, I am dealing with my first decade blues: does it ever get better? Why did I give up my life of privileges and comforts in Singapore for.. America? Unlike many other immigrants, I did not come here for economic or material improvements. I came here for far more abstract things, like 'my rights', but also for very concrete things like, 'my wife and I need a third country that recognizes our marriage so that we can actually live together somewhere, anywhere.'

    A scan of a photo that says SAMBAL: Singapore and Malaysian Bisexuals and Lesbians

    A few months ago, I saw this image again: it was an image of Singaporean and Malaysian queer elders in what is clearly San Francisco, in 1993. I reached out to a few of them in the photo to ask: what was your life like? What did you struggle with? What's your life like now? Many of them said the same thing: the first couple of years are very, very hard. Some days you wonder if you will ever truly feel at home here. But, they said, we now have wives and lives, and that's more than we could have expected of our lives in Singapore and Malaysia.

    Wives and lives. I have that too, but I also have had far less time than them in California. I still have one foot in the door; I am still not totally removed from existing in a space where I've had to hide myself, and my life. Even the most hyper-visible ways of being queer back home are just standard, everyday ways here.

    One of them said, my wife is organizing this banquet, why don't you get involved? And so I did. I still don't have the answers, but I think I am starting to have the inkling of an idea.

    I think it looks like dancing on stage at a Chinese restaurant singing a Teresa Teng song. I think it could be carrying an infant babbling in three languages. I think it might be nice to have the ability to work with younger Asian queer immigrants 25 years from now, who will hopefully have an easier time than all of us did. I think it could be fun. I think I have a life ahead of me of queer joy that I can celebrate.

    I can be anyone I want to be. I did not always know that.

    (Photo taken on a Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, shot on Kodak 5222 film, self-developed in Rodinal 1+50 at ISO 800, and scanned on Plustek 8200i. For more film photography shenanigans, check out my film photo blog)

  • Medium Format, Developed Medium Well

    I'm not actually a very handy person. It's amazing that I am able to load film at all in a change bag, into a reel, into a tank, and then get pictures out of it. Anyway, this was the first ever medium format color film that I developed myself at home: clearly, I put too little chemistry. I still like the pictures, and I like that I'm now able to post stuff like this instead of being a perfectionist.

    Part of the reason I shoot film and develop it myself is really to learn, and you don't learn without making mistakes.

    Anyway, some photos from Drag Up, Fight Back rally: all photos shot on Fuji GW690II, some kind of Portra (400?), developed in Cinestill C41 kit, and scanned on an Imacon Flextight 848 scanner.

    a scan of a color photo showing showing a person wearing an amazing costume with a very dramatic hair set a scan of a color photo showing people marching together at a trans rally a scan of a color photo of a person holding a sign that says Drag it out in the open a scan of a color photo of a person holding a sign about an anti trans law that a Republican in California is trying to pass a scan of a color photo of a sign that says Ban Hate Not Drag Queens
  • Saying Goodbye to Fuji Superia 400

    Fuji Superia 400 has been my stock color film for a long time. I have 10 rolls left, and when that's gone it doesn't look like I'll be able to find it easily anymore. It was my favorite 'buy it at a drugstore' film, but now that I can't buy it easily, I don't think I will put in the effort to source it. For color, I will probably switch to Ektar and Kodak Vision 3 250D or 500T. Or some combination of all of that.

    Until then, some photos celebrating Fuji Superia 400.

    a scan of a color photo of a night time view of a San Francisco night life area with the neon lights of a Hawaiian bar saying Mauna Loa

    I like Fuji's colors with neon lights, especially reds. (Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, handheld)

    a scan of a color photo of the door of Atelier Crenn, a Michelin starred restaurant in San Francisco

    A friend came to town and invited me to an epic dinner. (Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, handheld)

    a scan of a color photo of sashimi and ube bread on the table with Japanese mat and placements

    The next day, I had a delicious tasting menu at Ox + Tiger, a Filipino-Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. (Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, handheld)

    a scan of a color photo of the San Francisco skyline with a boat in the bottom right of the photo

    View of the San Francisco skyline from Yerba Buena island. (Rollei QZ 35T)

    a scan of a color photo of grass and sea and sky

    The greens and blues of San Francisco bay. (Rollei QZ 35T)

  • Tenderloin Tessie

    Almost 50 years ago, a drag queen named Tessie started feeding the homeless in the Tenderloin and so many decades later the tradition continues. I was grateful to be able to volunteer this past Easter at one of the Tenderloin Tessie events.

    Every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, the organization puts out a massive event feeding hot food to anyone who needs it. Not everyone who came was homeless, all who wanted a hot meal were welcome. Many immigrant families also came and I think, the opportunity to feed your entire family good food and have fun entertainment is always welcome, regardless of your financial situation.

    I was very impressed with the values that the organizers imparted to the volunteers. Treat everyone with respect, seat them at the table, provide table service, make sure that people have what they need and that they go home with things that will help.

    a scan of a color photograph showing a sign on a tree that says Line This Way

    The line started on the street, on Geary and Franklin.

    a scan of a color photograph showing a sign that says Free Haircuts

    There were also free haircuts to be had.

    a scan of a color photograph showing  a volunteer managing some tables with free clothing

    There was also free clothing, very neatly organized by gender and size.

    a scan of a color photograph showing some tables and chairs in an indoor church setting

    The venue was wonderful and light-filled.

    a scan of a color photograph showing many gift bags on a table

    We also handed out gift bags with some essential items.

    It's a wonderful initiative. I'm going to keep going back to volunteer when I can.

    All photos taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II with Fuji Superia 400, self developed with Cinestill C41 kit. Scanned with Plustek 8200i and Negative Lab Pro.

  • Drag Up, Fight Back

    I had a drag-filled weekend that was full of trans joy. For that, I am grateful.

    On Saturday, I went to the Drag Up, Fight Back march for drag and trans rights. Unless you've been living under a rock, trans people are under attack all over the world including in many parts of the US. California is not immune. It would be silly complacency to assume that because we are in San Francisco, things are going to be fine. In fact, a Republican in Riverside, CA, has just sponsored AB 1314 which would require educators to inform parents if their kids are trans. I hope I don't have to tell you how harmful that will be to trans people, and how that's just the start of more anti-trans legislation wrapped up in the supposed just-asking-questions 'concern' of 'children'. If they truly cared about the children, they would support an environment where all children, including queer and trans children, don't have to live in fear, where they can be who they are without being used as a political prop.

    So we march.

    a scan of a black and white photo of a person wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and having a Pentax film camera around their neck

    I met a few other film photography enthusiasts!

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a person being interviewed, holding a sign that says Being Born Naked is a DRAG, a quote from Rupal

    Lots of people were being interviewed by all sorts of journalists.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a sign being held up that says stop the joy destroyers

    Stop the joy destroyers, indeed!

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a person holding a sign that says Smash the Cistem

    Cistem of a down.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a few smiling people attending the drag and trans rally

    So much joy. Especially compared to the lone, sad, and hateful anti-trans protestor across the street who nobody could hear or care about. He had a Repent or Perish sign! Very stylish. But not as stylish as these folks on the right side of the protest.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing someone holding a sign that says Drag is Joy

    Drag IS Joy.

    All photos taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Kodak 5222 film, developed in Rodinal 1:50 and scanned on Plustek 8200i

  • Protests and Parades

    One of the interesting things about living near City Hall is I never know what I'm going to walk into. Some days it's a protest about the declining state of trans rights in this country. Or one by the Burmese or Iranian communities to try to raise awareness of the issues at home.

    Other days it's an Irish festival that somehow has large representation from law enforcement. (For more information about the impact of the Irish in San Francisco law enforcement, read Season of the Witch.) I had my black and white film camera out, but I also had a roll of Kodak Vision 3 500T film in my rangefinder camera that I got processed and scanned much later.

    I was interested in the parade and curious to know how it would proceed in the rain; though like many other observers, I kept a distance from it. I come from a country where protest isn't allowed (except in a very specific park with strict rules requiring pre-approval), so I am always going to be photographing and gawking at any protests, and parades (which also require pre-approval where I come from), I think, even if I might not agree with all of them.

    Tomorrow, I'm going to go to a rally for trans rights. It's cool that I can just stroll over to show my support for things like that.

    a scan of a color photograph of a homeless person walking by a large contingent of police in San Francisco who are attending St Patricks Day festivities

    The entire street was closed.

    a scan of a color photograph of two cops holding flags. one american and one irish

    San Francisco is the hub of the Irish diaspora in the West Coast. The police force has also been a favored profession for that community.

    a scan of a color photograph of a red classic car with the grand marshall of the parade in it

    Classic cars are my thing.

    a scan of a color photograph of an old lady walking through a park looking at people who are playing with their dogs in a dog park

    Rainy days are here again.

    a scan of a color photograph of a multi-color playground in San Francisco

    I really like the colors on the motion picture film. This photo would not be as interesting on regular color film!

    All photos taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, with Kodak Vision 3 500T, processed and scanned by Eureka Film Lab.

  • Embracing mistakes

    I have a problem: I tend to be a perfectionist. Sometimes, when something doesn't turn out well I get so annoyed that I don't touch it again forever. Or for a long time. (Recently, I learned that people with autism and ADHD like me have severe 'rejection sensitivity'). Being mindful of this, I'm trying to actively embrace mistakes.

    So when I pulled out my film and found many 'spots' on my photos I decided to embrace that mistake, too. I had left a small amount of Photoflo in a container that I also used to stir my Ilfosol film developer. After developing, I noticed that my solution was bubbly. For some reason the detergent bubbles only showed up on one reel of film and not the other. In fact, it lent an interesting visual effect to some of the photos.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a Mexican restaurant called Donaji and its front door. There are a bunch of bubble patterns on the right side of the image

    Dinner the other day.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a few lamps at a restaurant with a woven pattern, in front of a TV showing NBA basketball

    Surprised at how well Kodak 5222 performs in low light indoors.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing showing a lady cooking pupusa on a flat grill

    I've been delighted to see more street food vendors in the Mission these days, especially on Friday nights outside very busy nightlife spots. From this lady I also had a delicious, freshly made pupusa with pork, beans and cheese. She was shaping the masa to order when you ordered one. Or twelve.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a few pupusas being cooked on a flat grill

    I think I can eat four of them at once.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a Volkswagen van carrying tourists on a hippie tour of SF near the Civic Center area

    More bubbles. Thankfully, they only impacted less than 20% of the photos.

    All film shot on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, on Kodak 5222 film, developed in Ilfosol 1:9 for 7:45 min, scanned on Plustek 8200i.

  • The Cool Blues of San Francisco

    Recently, I had an opportunity to purchase a few rolls of Kodak Vision 3 500T Film (5219). I was warned that it would be almost too 'cool', that it had tones of blue in most photos unless I used a warming filter, or fixed it in post.

    While my style of color photography tends to be vibrant and warm (Portra and Ektar are favorite film stocks), I wanted to try something new.

    I went out shooting photos of San Francisco at dusk, and also in the midst of our poor weather (on the days when it rained ceaselessly). I think that if you know its quirks, you can get a lot out of it. I really like this look and am excited to try other motion picture film stock (I have a 50ft roll of Vision 250D film I'm going to bulk roll myself).

    Shooting motion picture film is an interesting premise for a film stills photographer: you can buy it in bulk! It's affordable! And has very interesting look and film somewhat reminiscent of many of the movies we know and love (500T was used to shoot parts of Euphoria, among other TV shows and movies). The main downside is that regular labs don't process motion picture film. It has a black layer of 'remjet' at the back that can lead to damage of commercial labs' equipment. What you want to do is look for someone who does ECN-2 developing (there are several), or do it yourself with an ECN-2 kit.

    Also, it never fails to amuse me that people think San Francisco is a really modern-looking big city: to me, it's a small town trapped in time, where buildings and entire neighborhoods (except the downtown area) look more or less the same as it did when hippies were running around naked in these areas.

    a scan of a color photograph of a set of colorful garage doors in San Francisco with shades of brown red and light blue. Looks very retro. A sign says No Parking at any time

    No parking at any time.

    a scan of a color photograph of  a church in San Francisco that is painted blue set against a blue sky at dusk with pink hue and white clouds

    A church in blue and pink and cloud.

    a scan of a color photograph of  the stairs and front doors of a Victorian house in San Francisco that is mostly blue. A few numbers say 881 and 883

    Victorians in this neighborhood seem to like blue and white a lot.

    a scan of a color photograph of  the stairs and front doors of a yellow purple and blue Victorian house in San Francisco that has a purple lion on the stoop near its columns

    And purple.

    a scan of a color photograph of a neighborhood in Cole Valley San Francisco where the Victorian houses are mostly blue and there is a retro white car parked on the street

    Retro blues.

    a scan of a color photograph of a pink and blue Victorian building on a street in San Francisco with two cars parked in front of it, and a yellow building next to it

    Pink and yellow.

    All photos taken on Minolta Hi-Matic, Kodak Vision 3 500T film, developed and scanned by Eureka Film Lab.

  • One Night in the Mission

    I used to be a creature of the night, but no longer. I used to be out all the time, but rarely now. Partly, it's that San Francisco is so chilly at night, but also that it's pretty dead at night compared to the much bigger cities I've lived in. I don't quite enjoy walking around, cold, in areas where there just sijmply isn't that much going on at all. For my wife's birthday, we went out to dinner in the Mission and I also brought my Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II. It's fast becoming one of the cameras I use the most: its f1.7 lens, combined with the small form factor and weight, makes it easy for me to pop it into my jacket pocket. It works really well indoors at night, too, with black and white film (and a steady hand.. or an elbow firmly on a table or chair or door, which is my style. I dislike tripods).

    Here are some shots on Kentmere 400, pushed to 800 in Ilfosol 3 (1:9). I really like the combination of this film and this camera, and my self dev setup at home these days. Scanned on Noritsu LS-600.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing an outdoor garden dining space with space heaters

    The outdoor space at Blue Plate is quite lovely. So is the key lime pie there.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing the neon symbols that are the sign of a bar in the Outer Mission

    I love neon signs. I also love that I was professionally involved in getting these 'parklets' up early pandemic: my team at helped get a joint permitting process out quickly to help businesses move their business outdoors.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing the retro sign of the Mission cinema

    Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a few people ordering tacos from a street taco vendor

    Street tacos are the best tacos. There was a lot of light from one side from the street lamps, but I quite enjoy the effect it casts on the photo.

    I am starting to feel more confident about bulk-rolling black and white film and developing it at home. Other than the cost savings, it's the immediacy that I love: I can roll a 24 exposure cassette in black and white, shoot it in an hour, and come back and process it immediately and see it shortly after through a scanner or light table.

  • Lower Polk, SF

    Join me on a walk around Lower Polk, a neighborhood directly adjacent to mine. I spend a lot of time here because it has the grocery stores and other shops that I go to the most. I rarely need to take a bus or car anywhere else because I get everything in the Tenderloin and Lower Polk, as well as in and around Nob Hill.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a bus stop with a sign, laid off and trying to keep the kids from realizing that mommy and daddy haven't eaten in a while. behind, a gig worker zooms past on an ebike, and in the far background, the salesforce tower looms large

    A sign of the times.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing some film development chemicals on a shelf in a photography store, brands include Ilford and Kodak

    I feel lucky to be able to walk to a world class film photography store, Glass Key Photo. They have everything I need, and more.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing artwork featuring Harvey Milk the former gay politician of San Francisco who was assassinated a few decades ago. It sits in the window of a barber shop

    RIP, Harvey Milk. Thanks for everything you have done for this city.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a neon sign that reads Cocktails in the window of a divey bar

    Hi-Lo has great drinks. Back when I still imbibed. These days, I just like the neon signs of these bars.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a bunch of rubber ducks on a table inside a glass jar sitting on a window

    Count the rubber duckies.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a mosque in San Francisco with the name Masjid Al Tawheed

    Sutter St is home to a mosque frequented by the Yemeni community in the area.

    a scan of a black and white photo showing a stone statue of a man outside an Irish bar in San Francisco

    This part of San Francisco has a strong link to Frank Norris, the anti-Semitic author. A bar in Lower Polk is named after one of his novels, McTeague.

    All photos taken on Leica M3, 50mm Summilux, bulkrolled Kentmere Pan 400. Self developed in Ilfosol 3 (1+9) for 7 minutes, and scanned with Plustek 8200i.

  • Scenes from a Lifetime Ago

    In 2007, I moved to the United Arab Emirates for my first full time job out of college. I was working at a publisher that specialized in trade magazines. I worked mainly on travel titles, as a deputy editor and also staff photographer. It was a pretty good life (tax-free, high salaries, lots of adventure).

    It was not a long term place for me to be in because, well, I'm queer. My long term partner at the time lived in London: it was reasonably easy to go see her, and we also fancied meeting 'in the middle' (Istanbul was a fave).

    It was an incredibly lonely time. While I met some lovely people, Dubai and I didn't quite get along. I had some wonderful memories of the people and places I got to see, and it was a launch pad for me to go to all of the other places in that region that I adore. I got to see places like Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, pretty much because they were there, and I could get there for a hundred bucks or less (Middle Eastern budget airlines were my best friends).

    It was a weird time. When I got there, Dubai (and many global economies) were booming. A few months later, once we got into 2008, it became a ghost town in some parts. Some of those countries I visited regularly soon plunged into civil war and other turmoil. I hope that I can visit Syria and Yemen again one day in better times. It's awful what's happened to those societies and countries. Truly the most remarkable countries I've been to in so many ways.

    I had a reasonably charmed life as a privileged Dubai expat with a powerful passport who got to travel anywhere on the weekends (which were Friday and Saturday!). It was just as easy to get to Europe as it was to get to South Asia, and also to the countries in the region, and I rode that wave for the whole time I was there. Outside of my day job as a staff photographer, I was also writing and taking photos for an assortment of travel magazines and newspapers in India, Singapore, Thailand and the Middle East. When the financial crisis came all of that work dried up, which is also partly why I stopped working in the field.

    Still, I got to see so much and do so much, all at the age of 22.

    a digital photograph of a time lapse scene of Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai with lots of construction and lights

    I lived and worked in one of the newer parts of Dubai near Media City that were still under active construction. It was a weird time. There was no train then, and sometimes literally no roads to cycle on. In hindsight, I should have lived in the old city, which I much preferred for culture and food and people. That part of Dubai was, at that time, very alienating if you were not the right type of expat.

    a digital photograph of a night sky in a desert

    I tagged along on a camping trip to Oman one weekend with a bunch of architects. It was beautiful, but I don't know if I'll recommend peeing in the desert for women (it steams your butt).

    a digital photograph of a few camels in the desert

    I LOVE CAMELS. Always have, always will.

    a digital black and white photograph of some South Asian workers waiting to board a bus in Dubai

    Dubai, like Singapore, is a cleaned city: cleaned by other people. Also built by other people. The reliance of these city states on foreign labor, especially from South Asia, and the propensity to severely mistreat them with poor labor practices and living conditions, is appalling. Being there opened my eyes to similar practices back home in Singapore and Malaysia. Later, I would work in migrant worker advocacy in those countries.

    I am glad I did what I did at the time, but that's probably not a life choice I would make again. In my 30s, I am less accepting of living in environments where I cannot be openly gay, or be able to advocate politically in that space. However, that experience showed me a slice of the world that I deeply love, and also helped to imbue a certain amount of cultural understanding about some of the challenges in that region. When you know a place beyond the politics, and have met, dined with, and lived with the people, it's hard to see them as just passive figures in newspaper reports.

    All photos taken on Canon 350D. Or 50D? One of those.

  • Three in the Tenderloin

    Look up any travel information for San Francisco and 'helpful' people will tell you: avoid the Tenderloin! It's not safe! There's lots of.. stuff we don't like!

    Well, I live there. By choice. I won't downplay the issues we face here: the living conditions on the streets are dire. They are maybe comparable to some other places in the world when you think of 'squalor'. It's not befitting of one of the richest cities, in one of the richest countries, in the world. But the squalor is there for a reason (historical and other neglect). There are few effective ways to 'improve' it (short of building more housing and providing more services), and certainly few that I personally support. I do not want to put more people behind bars simply for being so poor they no longer have a home. At the same time, many Tenderloin-dislikers have disingenuous reasons for singling out this neighborhood. We have different politics. Beyond politics, a fundamental disagreement about how we should treat people without homes.

    Personally, I enjoy this neighborhood's diversity and density. I have never lived somewhere less dense; the TL was literally the only place in the city that felt like home (in terms of taller buildings, and no of people). I don't do well in the suburbs. I struggle mentally and emotionally with the suburbs. I am happy being among people. And buildings. And great food.

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a person crossing a street in front of UC Law in San Francisco Civic Center

    Sun set in the Civic Center area of San Francisco

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a hotel neon sign in Civic Center San Francisco

    This part of the city is full of historical hotels like these. Some of these are now student housing, others are homeless support housing. Others are still rented out by the day. The conditions are not always acceptable.

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a person walking down a street in downtown San Francisco, there are streaks of light around the film negative scan

    I have never lived too far from transit. So being in this neighborhood is great because I can go anywhere by transit, if I am not biking. Light streaks and dust on negatives on this frame, but I quite like the character it imparts.

    I have not always been confident about taking film photos at night. But in rolling my own bulk film (Kentmere Pan 400) and developing and scanning at home, I feel a little more confident about it since it costs less, and I can see the results faster. These photos were taken with a Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, with Kentmere 400, developed in D76 1:1 for 14 minutes, and scanned on a Noritsu LS-600.

  • Taking the train during the rain

    While my primary mode of transportation in San Francisco is my bike, I do find myself enjoying the varied modes of transit here as well. They are especially useful during the rain: it has been pouring, for days at a time, during the 'atmospheric rivers' that we are currently facing in California.

    When that happens, I don't love being on my bike. Not only are roads slick, but drivers are also worse than they usually are (and they are usually awful).

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a train arriving in a tunnel in Muni Metro Civic Center station San Francisco

    The train I take the most is the N.

    There are so many transit systems and agencies here that it took me a while to learn all of them. I wish someone had told me at the start, when I was a tourist, that the 'tram' is a 'train' (trains were only subways to me) or a 'streetcar', and that they all have letters; whereas Muni local buses have numbers, like 38, 49, 5.

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a train station signs and lights from inside a train

    View of an underground station from inside the N.

    a scan of a black and white photograph of woman holding an umbrella standing at Duboce Park waiting for a train in the rain

    These days, I most frequently take the N to get to the Harvey Milk Photo Center.

    The Harvey Milk Photo Center is a darkroom and photo center run by the city of San Francisco. It is also one of the largest darkrooms in the west coast of the United States. The darkroom has something like 30 different enlargers; they also have a cool set up where you can go in, as a member, to enlarge and develop prints, and they take care of the chemicals and wash for you. I took a few lessons there this past month, and love going there to learn and to spend time with like-minded photography enthusiasts.

    Since this roll of film was also developed and scanned on my own, I feel like I have made some large leaps where film skills are concerned: going to HPMC has been a large part of that journey.

    All photos taken on Olympus XA2, Tri-X 400, developed in D76 1:1, scanned with a Noritsu LS-600 and edited for dust and contrast.

  • My favorite place in San Francisco

    I love running or biking towards the Golden Gate Bridge. I come here far more than I go to Golden Gate Park (which many of my friends prefer). They're both the same distance, but I come here more because as an island girl I need to see the ocean. (Also, I don't have to go uphill too much)

    Recently, I caught Covid-19 after three and a half years of avoiding it. Once I felt better, I had to come here again: I grabbed my medium format camera and some Portra and headed to Crissy Fields / Presidio.

    Depending on my mood, and how much time I have, I either stop right at the marina and head back, or I do the whole stretch to Fort Point (under the bridge) and back. Or, I might take a detour into the Presidio if I want to do a trail run, or visit friends who live there.

    Sometimes I take the 22 from here and head to Japantown to get groceries. Or I head back to Van Ness and take the 49 BRT, which I love. (So much faster along upper Van Ness these days, with the rapid bus lanes)

    I never get bored of this place, rain or shine.

    a scan of a medium format film photograph of some boats on the water at Fort Mason

    Boats in the marina.

    a scan of a medium format film photograph of Fort Mason and some boats from behind some plants

    Fort Mason from behind some plants.

    a scan of a medium format film photograph of sunset over golden gate bridge with a kite in the middle of the frame

    Sunset over Golden Gate Bridge, tiny kite in the sky.

    All photos taken on Fuji GW690II, probably Portra 800, and processed by Robert over at Brooktree.

  • St Patrick's Day in San Francisco

    Some photos from the first roll of film I developed and scanned myself.

    I have been wanting to learn how to dev and scan for many years now. The sheer number of items and chemicals to procure left me dizzy, and I never did. I'm lucky to be near the city-run community darkroom and photo center, Harvey Milk Photo Center. For a reasonable price ($193 for 6 months, you can have unlimited access to the developing chemicals, equipment, and darkroom and digital lab.

    While walking to a black and white film development class, I came upon the St Patrick's Day parade that the mayor of Cork and the mayor of San Francisco took part in. I took some photos, and less than an hour later (including transportation to the darkroom, and learning how to load film into reels for developing.. challenging for a person like me with dexterity issues), I was able to see how the photos turned out, on a light table.

    It took some more time to scan. I am still figuring out my dev and scan workflow, and will keep trying different things until I find something I feel I can stick with.

    a scan of a black and white photograph of the mayor of cork, ireland, in a car in San Francisco's St Patrick's Day parade

    The mayor of Cork, Ireland, was visiting San Francisco and took part in the 2023 St Patrick's Day parade.

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a group of people participating in the St Patrick's Day parade in San Francisco

    Many people participated, in spite of the weather (the 10th or 11th atmospheric river event in San Francisco!)

    a scan of a black and white photograph of a bus that says Galway Association of San Francisco with people in it, and a person walking alongside the bus with a poncho

    Rain or shine.

    All photos taken on Olympus XA2 and Tri-X 400, developed in Kodak D76 1:1 for 9 min 45 seconds, and scanned on Nikon LS-40.

  • A Singapore Story

    I have been away from 'home' full time for almost five years now. Even though I've lived in other countries in the past, I never stopped seeing Singapore as 'home'. 'Home' was where my family, childhood home, friends, food, favorite places, and memories were. I was afloat, in that I was quite literally all over the world, but I was rooted. Every once in a while I floated my way 'home'.

    This time it's different. I've built a home elsewhere, in San Francisco, with my wife. We have a life here. We have two senior pets, who we love very much. Our home, in the literal sense, is a comfortable apartment in the center of San Francisco. It is perhaps one of the first 'homes' my wife has had, but I am feeling.. no, struggling, with the idea that I never quite got to say goodbye to my 'home'.

    For Singaporeans abroad, it usually means home in a literal sense shifts from under your feet. Our little island city state country where the capital of Singapore is Singapore moves on and on without you. Buildings change. Entire neighborhoods emerge. Two new train lines appear, like mushrooms after the rains. You needn't even have been gone for very long. It just happens. That's how it is. (I've examined this many, many times in the past, with no conclusion.)

    The neighborhood I ran around in as a child, after Sunday school, and as an adult, as I lived there, is now gone. Most of it, anyway. They moved most people out of Tanglin Halt, the neighborhood that was home to Singapore's first high rise public housing apartments, to build even taller ones. Even today, you can get into a cab and tell the driver (of any ethnicity) that you want to go to zap lau (ten floors, in Hokkien) and they know exactly where to take you. To Tanglin Halt, the site of Singapore's very first ten story tall public housing buildings.

    a color photograph of an old neighborhood in Singapore with people walking past food sellers in a low rise building

    Tanglin Halt food stalls I have been eating at since I was a child.

    a color photograph of shuttered shops on the ground floor of a deserted building

    My favorite old school Chinese bakery with the best donuts and Hai Lam bread is gone.

    a color photograph of a Singapore subway train station above ground, with tropical plants in the foreground

    A friend of mine lived in a newer building in Tanglin Halt. On the 25th floor. We went to that house in May. When we visited again in October, he had moved down the street to another neighborhood with even taller buildings. He now lives on the 40th floor.

    This is the neighborhood I lived in since I was born. While I was away, my parents moved to the 25th floor of brand new public housing apartments 7 minutes away, right next to the train station. It was their wish to be close to a mall and a train station in their old age so they don't feel too isolated as they get older. In October, I said bye to the home and the neighborhood knowing I will probably rarely go there again. Which is a weird thought, since it was all I'd known as 'home'.

    a color photograph of some tropical plants in the foreground and red and white colored apartments in the background

    I noticed things I never did when I actually lived there. Like all of the plants in front of my 'block'.

    a color photograph of a view from a window that looks into tall buildings. a metal piece that looks strange is attached to a window.

    The view from my mum's old kitchen. The metal stuff sticking out of the kitchen window is a laundry pole holder. We put our clothes on bamboo sticks, then stick the stick into the laundry pole holder, and air dry clothes that way. The traditional way. Nicer than a dryer.

    My apartment overlooked a bad mall. But it was where I went to spend all my money at the arcade (Time Crisis 2, I still resent you); meet dates, grab food, shop for groceries. It was my bad mall. I don't think I will miss it. But it will be weird to not longer have it in my life.

    a color photograph of a view of a Singapore mall next to a canal and tall buildings around it

    Farewell, West Coast Plaza.

    I am frequently traipsing around in the green bits of Singapore. There's quite a lot of it, actually. Many of the 'wilder' bits I used to walk around in for fun, now have names and signs and sometimes, buildings. Like the Green Corridor. I liked the tropical forest. I even lived in one for a while.

    a color photograph of some green trees and blue skies in Singapore

    Some trees near Queensway. View from the road. I lived in an old house deep inside, which could be accessed via a shortcut through this bit of green. They're building on it now.

    a color photograph of a queer couple in wedding clothes walking along a bridge that is in a forest in Singapore

    I like the trees so much, I even had my wedding photos taken there. These were the former railway tracks to Malaysia.

    In the end, I'm just but a small cog in the wheel that is Singapore, that keeps turning. My memories and my life there fade every year. It's the same, but different (for me). When we took that photo in our wedding whites at the train tracks in Bukit Timah, we were about to move to the United States. I guess intellectually I knew what was going to happen. But emotionally? I was never ready. Maybe I still am not.

    All photos taken on Ricoh GR III

  • A Walk Around a Wet Market in Taiping, Malaysia

    Wet markets have a bad reputation, because of the 'rona, but their name really just comes from being the opposite of a 'dry market' (like a market that sells pots and pans and such). They are very common in many parts of Asia and don't have wildlife. For many of us, a wet market is our first port of call to make the delicious foods from our part of the world.

    These photos are from a wet market in Taiping, Perak, my wife's hometown. We visited with my mother-in-law and her sister, who were preparing a large family feast for the first reunion in the Taiping home in a very, very long time.

    a digital photograph of a market in Malaysia with lots of eggs


    a digital photograph of a market in Malaysia with lots of salted fish

    Salted fish

    a digital photograph of a market in Malaysia

    Essential items

    a digital photograph of a market in Malaysia with a menu for all kinds of noodles and items


    a digital photograph of a few people's feet as they stand near some flowers and other types of local aromatics used in Malaysian cooking


    a digital photograph of a large wok full of chillies and stink beans being cooked into a sambal


    I can still taste that sambal. What passes for sambal in the United States (Huy Fong sambal oelek!!) makes me so, so sad.

    Lately, I've been thinking about how growing up in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (and spending lots of time in Thailand, Indonesia, India) really spoiled me where food is concerned.

    The food ways I am used to: buying fresh food. On a daily basis. At wet markets. Learning to cook traditional foods from skilled older people from different cultures.

    All of those things are vastly different from a convenience-first food culture where I now live in the United States. Even though California, and San Francisco in particular, has a reputation for being farm to table, and for having good quality food, I do find myself feeling, quite often, like I never knew how good I had it until I left Southeast Asia. California is good, for food: my part of the world is better. That's how I feel, anyway. Being able to wake up in any of those countries and grabbing one of many hot breakfasts. Being able to eat hot, savory, spicy food all day, everyday, including at 3 or 5 in the morning. Being spoiled silly, really, by aunties of all types. Being surrounded by people who want to feed you all day, every single day.

    Taiping, Perak in Malaysia is one of my favorite little towns. It has beautiful weather and scenery, an interesting history, and some of the best food I've had anywhere. I dreamed of the simple bowls of noodle soups I've had there (Restoran Kakak!!!), for years, until I went back again in 2022 to visit my wife's family. You've not had noodles until you've had the kway teow tng at Restoran Kakak. It takes skill, and really 'giving a damn' to make food like that. I think Taiping (and Perak as a whole) has a higher density of people who 'give a damn (about making food in a very specific way)'. And that's just normal, there.

  • Touching Grass

    I was always a big city person. I liked nature, but not excessively. Now that I'm almost 5 years into being a Californian, that's starting to change. I don't just like the outdoors, I love it. I survived (and thrived) at a five day backcountry Yosemite backpacking trip with no toilets or showers. I scaled Half Dome. I go bikecamping a few times a year.

    a scan of a medium format photograph of some tents and bicycles in the woods

    Shot on Fuji GW690II on Portra 800, developed and scanned by Underdog Film Lab

    That's one of the joys of living in Northern California, and in being in San Francisco specifically. I can bike to the Golden Gate Bridge in 20 minutes or so, and cross it in the same time (I don't bike very fast). Across the bridge, I can go west to the Marin Headlands or straight into the small towns of Sausalito, Mill Valley, or as far as San Rafael or San Anselmo where I have some favorite spots for food and snacks; and in some areas, set up camp if I want.

    I'm thankful to have the opportunity to experience this, and to have found a bunch of folks who will come experience all of this with me.

  • Review: How Daido Moriyama Takes Photographs

    Finished reading: Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs by Takeshi Nakamoto 📚

    Daido Moriyama is one of the photographers I admire the most. His work (black and white street photography) is an influence on the kind of work I am trying to do in my photography; and his shooting style most resonates with me. He is known to mostly shoot with compact cameras, especially the Ricoh GR series.

    This photography book is unique in that it isn’t just a book of his published photos centered around a theme. Sometimes, I get quite bored of those types of books: Western photographers who go to India, for example, and shoot hundred page photo books that feel vaguely exploitative and white-gazey, are an example of the types of photography I very much dislike.

    Since I know Asia, and Asian cities quite well, I have a finely tuned nose for that sort of thing. I don’t find Asia exotic because, well, I am from there. So I tend to look to the Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi photographers I admire whose body of work situates them within places they work in, where, they have frankly far more interesting things to say. (Dayanita Singh’s photography, for example, does not need to rely on that pop and shock of India’s color or festivals or ‘weirdness’ to make a point: her long term work embedded in local communities tell me so much more about the place than, “India is so strange and exotic!”)

    So it is with Daido Moriyama. There’s no mistaking a Daido Moriyama photograph for someone else’s. No matter where he’s shooting, whether it’s Japan or Argentina. If there is a photographer whose ‘personal vision and style’ I want to learn most, it is his.

    This book is written by his collaborator, a Japanese author and photographer who shadowed Moriyama on several trips, all the while asking: what advice do you have? What are you thinking? What message are you trying to make?

    And all Moriyama says is:

    • Just go out and shoot
    • Shoot as much as you can (he believes in having quantity as a way to get quality photos)
    • He walks up and down a street both ways and he takes about a roll of film per direction
    • He thinks there is value in observing the mundane
    • Some basic tips, like ‘if you shoot a body of water against the light, the contrast is quite nice especially in black and white’ but he refuses to believe there are any specific tips that are applicable to all
    • He cares about doing the work more than talking about the technique or gear

    The book also says that he teaches sometimes, and many of his students are trying to break into fashion or avant garde photography. For those students, he advises that the work is the same as that of someone trying to do photojournalism or documentary photography. Go out and shoot mundane things. Find a building, take a hundred photos of it. Learning to see beauty in the mundane is the most important skill one can develop.

    Each part of the book is based in a certain location. So when he goes to Ginza, for example, there is a photo of the contact sheet that he shot. It was actually nice to see that a master has a ton of duds, too. Not that he ever pretended otherwise: but it was still assuring to know that Daido Moriyama isn’t getting 36 book or exhibition worthy photos out of every roll of 36.

    Lastly, he advises that the most important thing to do when you take a photograph is that you must have a desire to make that photograph. Not necessarily to tell a story or make a point (in fact, he says that arriving somewhere and having a pre-conceived idea of the location or community’s politics or social message is not a good way to take photos, that he prefers to just witness). But that you must feel that you have to take that photo.

    Moriyama also has a lot of things to say about film vs digital. He’s gone digital now, and there’s no going back! Having used both the Ricoh GR film and digital cameras, and also being agnostic to the film vs digital debates (currently, I am shooting more film to learn the darkroom arts specifically, but if I were to go back to working again as a photographer, it would probably make more sense to be digital-first, especially given film costs these days), I think he’s right. The Ricoh GR digital cameras are extremely capable, and they are my favorite film cameras. I do miss the contrasty T-Max grain and quality of his earlier work, but artists are allowed to evolve their vision and tools, and experiment. I appreciate this non-dogmatic quality about Moriyama.

    I would highly recommend this book even if you don’t love this type of street photography. It’s a good way to get an insight into how a great photographer works and thinks, beyond gear talk and such. The world has too much of the latter; but books like these are what I appreciate much, much more.

  • Borders Real and Imagined

    a color photo of the border of Chinatown San Francisco and the Financial District with Chinese shops in the foreground and TransAmerica pyramid in the background, a Muni bus at the bus stop at an intersection, people standing around or crossing the street

    San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the oldest ones in the United States. Chinese people, mostly from the "Sze Yap" region of Toishan and surrounding areas, came to northern California almost two centuries ago. They were boxed in in certain areas, within cities and regions, both in the city and outside it.

    Great acts of discrimination and violence happened to them. In nearby Antioch, Chinese residents were prohibited from walking on the streets after sundown. This led to the development of secret tunnels that brought them to and from work. I recently learned about the town of Locke, just outside Sacramento, formerly known as the last rural Chinese town. People fled there to flee the racial violence in Sacramento and San Francisco.

    As a much more privileged ethnic Chinese immigrant to this country who came with far more money, a better passport, I have it a lot easier, of course.

    But that doesn't mean I don't feel the occasional challenges of living here at a time of increased anti-Asian hate. I've had far less of a problem living in California than in parts of Europe, Australia, but there are some among of us who never miss a moment to let others know that they are not welcome.

    In the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid, Chinatown stands with its lower rise buildings from an earlier time. The Financial District to one side, the Italian community of North Beach to another. Borders real and imagined are continually defined here. Some decades ago, a minority within a minority resided on the edges of Chinatown and the Financial District, not far from here.

    Manilatown was in Chinatown, San Francisco, until one day it was no more. It was the site of a fierce battle between those who wanted to build high rise buildings, and those who wanted to keep a home for the 'Manong Generation', the Filipino men who came here, were discriminated in many ways (they were not allowed to bring their families), who then aged out. It was said that they were not welcome outside the borders of Manilatown, for a long time. So this was literally a refuge and a home away from home for them.

    I'm reminded that borders are defined not only in maps, but also in minds. Walking away from Chinatown and into the Financial District, when I see signs for 'French Laundry', I'm also reminded of how, not too long ago, that was thinly veiled code for 'no Asians', but now it's just one of the most famous restaurants in the world. California is weird like that. Everyone tells you you are welcome, until you're not, but until then you're free to build your community, until you're not. For what it's worth, it's now home.

  • A Sense of Home

    a color photograph of the insides of a Vietnamese Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, with Chinese words on the banner

    Rollei QZ 35T, Ektar 100, developed and scanned by Underdog Film Lab in Oakland.

    I talk about this sometimes: for various reasons, my cultural identity as a Teochew / Chaoshan / Diojiu / Chiu Chow person is important to me. Speaking the language regularly is important to me. Being able to eat this food is important to me.

    I am now 8000 miles from home but I am anchored by this Vietnamese Teochew noodle house near me. People speak to me in this language on the streets. My dog has a Teochew name. I speak it with my neighbors. On days when I am extremely homesick, I come here and order what I always ate with my grandparents, almost ten thousand kilometres away: dua kway teow tah, mai tau geh, keh ark tui.

    (干捞大粿条 / 不要豆芽 / 加鸭腿 / wide rice noodles, soup on the side, no bean sprouts, add a braised duck leg)

    The roasted chilli oil (not sriracha), and the soup on the side, makes it especially close to some early childhood memories.

    I was especially close to my paternal grandparents, and they were my link to that culture. I felt especially thankful that I got to form these ties with them, the land they came from, and the language they spoke, in ways that many of my peers did not. By the time I was in kindergarten, I realized I was one of the few people of my generation who were able to communicate fluently with them in their first language. The political and education system in Singapore had sought to destroy all ties to non-Mandarin Chinese languages around the time I was growing up. They were largely successful: today, I speak more Teochew on the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco, and even more of it in Bangkok, or in Paris, than I do in Singapore (I don't know more than five people under the age of 50 who speak it well, other than my relatives).

    Even as I mourn language loss in one home, I have also cultivated strong links with the community that mostly comprises Vietnamese and Cambodian Teochew people who have moved to the West Coast of the United States. I am thankful to Mr Hua, who reminds me of my late grandfather in his movements and his speech, and in his family members Nancy, Randi, Amy and others who keep these traditions alive so that somehow someone from somewhere else is able to feel like I can live in this country because I am not all alone here.

  • Fisheye at Pak Ou Caves

    a scan of a color photograph shot with a fish eye lens showing the river and boats outside a buddhist cave in Laos in Southeast Asia

    I had the good sense to have brought a toy camera then, since I was concerned about my nicer cameras falling into the river. No such concern for my own physical safety... Holga fisheye, probably.

    When I was in my early 20s I thought it would be a super swell, super safe idea to get on the 'fast boat to Laos'. I met T, a very old friend who was by then living in Australia, in Bangkok. He wanted me to plan an adventure that would reflect the kind of fun things I get up to, something he might never be able to plan or do on his own. And he wanted me to take him with me.

    So I put us on a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Khong, near the border with Laos. We were going to take the fast boat. The slow boat was too slow (two days! I was in a hurry all the time back then. For what? Who knows!), so we would take the fast boat. Only five hours if we take this boat, I said.

    T thought it was exciting too. We got on the fast boat from Huay Xai, threw our bags into the back, and we were given a life jacket and crash helmet each. Other backpackers who wisely got on the slow boat looked mildly concerned for us. I had not a concern in the world. I was young. And dumb!

    I fell asleep on the boat the entire time. T, however, looked quite sick. I got off the boat refreshed and in no worry at all. The next day, we went to look at some caves.

  • Seventeen Years Later

    I'm thankful to my photography hobby, which has been a part of my life in some way or form for the last 20 years.

    I thought it might be interesting to locate photos that would locate me at different parts of my life, in many places, so that I could see, at a glance, what a journey it's been.

    In many ways, my photography journey is indistinguishable from my journey through the world. I never went anywhere without a camera.

    Koh Chang, Thailand, 2005

    First year of college

    a woman standing in a tropical island taking a photograph of the trees and sandy path

    My first camera was a Nikon F-601. I brought it with me to Koh Chang, a beautiful island in northeast Thailand.

    This was the first overseas trip I went on by myself (with a former partner). We were in our first year of college. It took a fair amount of convincing (and saving) to make this trip happen. I planned an ambitious trip that got us to Koh Chang for a brief respite before we went north into Cambodia by land.

    I don't think I was interested in being a backpacker as such, but I felt very drawn to immersing myself deeply in the countries around me. I had a sense that this type of travel would open up many opportunities for me: but I didn't know what. It didn't make financial or any other sense then.

    All I knew was that I did not want to be sucked in to the corporate rat race in my home country, and that if I followed my nose for adventure, maybe things would make sense later.

    Bangkok, Thailand

    All through college

    a person photographing a buddha at a thai temple

    I kept returning to Thailand. Often with friends, sometimes alone. It was my place of peace and happiness. I had a friend who let me stay with him in Bangkok (RIP Dave! I will always be grateful that we became friends the time and the way that we did). It was also a hub: eventually I started taking on assignments for magazines and newspapers, and being located in Thailand (during my college summer vacation) was perfect. I could get on a $80 flight to India, or take a bus or motorbike to Cambodia, or go meet someone and work with them in Vietnam relatively easily.

    Singapore, mid early 2000s

    a person taking a photo in the mirror in an old fashioned changing room

    When I was home (I actually had full time college to complete, though it often did not feel like it), I sought out exciting things to do. Growing up, I often heard people say 'Singapore is boring' or 'there's nothing to do here' (even from people who were from there), but I refused to believe that was true.

    I certainly got up to a lot of mischief. Some of it good, some not. In any case, this sort of exploration fueled my curiosity. In this period, I actually wound up writing travel and food guides to Singapore at a variety of places, some online, some in hard copy: which was an exciting way to make money to fund other onward adventures. I also wound up eating at every corner of the country because of that, and I certainly have no complaints.

    My university wanted me to do an internship at a bank, and I balked. I fought to have this work be recognized as an internship. Eventually, I won. But it was hard fought.

    Melaka, Malaysia

    Last year of college

    a black and white photograph of a person taking a photo of themselves in the mirror in Melaka, Malaysia

    In my last year of college, I fell in love with a woman who lived 250 miles north of me. We met sometimes in the middle. I knew my life was about to change: big time. I guess this photo was a tentative record of that moment. Shortly after, we moved even further away. She moved 8000 kilometres west, and I also moved halfway there. Years later, we would finally live in the same country, the one originally pictured here. We had such an adventurous life together. I got to see a lot of the world with her, and I got to do many things in this period of my life. We started companies, we made software, we made food, we had a dog. A dog that's still very much a part of my life today.

    San Francisco, United States

    Present day

    a color photograph of a queer couple taking a photo in a mirror with a film camera in San Francisco in a gala-like setting with formal attire

    I never thought I would move to America. It wasn't my dream, the way it was for so many people. But life brought us here. Specifically, my marriage brought me here. We needed a place to live that was going to be more... amenable to our lives.

    I think we've built a good life for ourselves. It'll be five years soon. Five years of being married to Sabrena, my wonderful wife, and five years of living here together. I now speak in Fahrenheit, much to her horror. She keeps tabs of all the ways in which I am 'turning American'. "You speak way too loudly, and just yesterday you scared me when you told me the boiling point of water was 212."

    I am sorry.

    We're part of a community. We go to things. We learn things together. We explore our environment. We fuss over Cookie, our 14 year old dog, and Mila, our 16 year old cat. We trace the ways in which our lives have changed, the ways in which we have, inevitably, become, well, American. It's a bittersweet story.

    But we are here now. And if you were to tell 20 year old me in the very first photograph that this is going to be my life in the future? I'd be very thankful for the adventures, and be looking forward to this one.

  • A color photograph of a Chinese restaurant with Chinese text on the windows, and an Asian couple walking in front of it

    Photo taken on Rollei QZ 35T, Ektar 100, developed and scanned by Underdog Film Lab.

    For whatever reason, I've been going to Chinatown in San Francisco more often. I don't particularly love the restaurants there (a few faves, but that's it), but it is convenient to go there when I want to pick up certain groceries.

    When I want the Malaysian instant coffee I desperately miss (Chek Hup brand from Ipoh), the only place I've seen in the city that carries it consistently is Sun Kau Shing Co. (The older people who work there speak Chiu Chow / Teochew, if that's also what you speak, like me.)

    Nearly all of the snacks I grew up eating, and more, at Pang Kee Bargain Market.

    The freshest tofu at Wo Chong (look at the glass cabinet by the counter, not in the fridge.. get literally anything there).

    The best deal on hotpot supplies (everything from hotpot soup base to the best quality beef and lamb, homemade fish paste, all the sausages and tofus and noodles you need, even the hotpot) at Gold Coin Trading.

    When my mother was visiting, she also loved Mow Lee Shing Kee, a local SF Chinatown lap mei business that has been preserving meats the traditional way for the last 150 years. I never had this quality of Chinese meats until I came to California: many people have been doing it in old school ways for the last 100 to 200 years, whereas I've only had very commercially made Chinese meats in modern Asia. (SoCal has a few really good stores, too.) Try their duck liver sausage. If you've had lap cheung in the past and not liked it (Chinese sausages), I guarantee that the ones from here are.. different. The difference between a Chinese sausage from here and one made in a factory, is an even wider delta than say, an artisanal Italian sausage and an American factory made sausage. I am a big fan of this place.

  • I Now Have an Attention Span

    Various things in the last few years have alerted me to the terrifying fact: I don't think I had an attention span at all until, well, now.

    That I was able to graduate from college, get married, hold down jobs... privilege, and opportunity.

    Most of the time, I was told that I was that way because I was simply careless, lacked attention to detail, and that was just who I was.

    Deep down, I disagreed, but I did not have any other data points that would show that all of those terms were incorrect.

    My first inkling that something might be wrong was when I found myself utterly insomniac and unable to sleep for months at a a time. That was about a decade ago. The feeling I most remember was, "It feels like I have a million ants under the skin of my body!" But no one believed me. That was probably the precursor to a lifelong struggle with thyroid diseases, that was to come.

    Then, I realized that I probably haven't ever had a good night's sleep. Every photograph of me as a baby has my mouth open, as if gasping for breath. I took it to an experienced doctor in the US, who told me I most definitely have had sleep apnea since I was an infant, and that if we were to do a sleep test today he would be surprised if I wasn't in the high moderate or extreme range. He was correct.

    Eventually, I got both issues looked at, and mostly sorted. (These things don't fully go away, but can be managed.)

    Putting aside the issues of not being heard or believed as a young woman in medical system (something that all minorities face, all over the world), I'm pretty pissed. How was I allowed to live through most of my life in such suboptimal conditions?

    Why is it that people were happy to just say 'oh, that person has the attention span of a gnat', but nobody asked why?

    It seriously impeded my way of life. It got in the way of living, doing, existing. I could not remember anything. I could not wake up for important tests, meetings, interviews. I could not even reliably put a piece of paper in a folder, keep it there, and remember that I had ever done it.

    These days, they call it 'executive dysfunction'. But that's a nice term for 'it's your fault until you find a name for it and figure out how to fix it, and get mad that it could have been a reasonably easy fix'.

    Oh, I also have ADHD. But I'm not sure which came first. Am I unable to focus on things because I didn't sleep properly for years, had a severely wonky thyroid gland, or is it a bit of everything? I may never know.

    What I'm finding out is that it's wild, what I can do with an attention span!

    I can file my taxes well ahead of the deadline, and receive my refund before anyone else!

    I can pay rent well ahead of time!

    I can figure out what I want to do and actually do it!

    I'm relearning CSS and JavaScript right now, because I feel like I did not have enough of an attention span or focus back when I first learned it. It's also useful because so much has changed since—like CSS is actually fun now!—that I don't mind.

    I'm learning that I am able to sustain a creative pursuit on the side. I have spent a gargantuan amount of effort consolidating my hard drives from Singapore and Malaysia and the US and everywhere in between that, for the first time I believe I have all the writing, photography, video files, that I ever created, in one place. And actually be able to find them. This was not something I was remotely capable of doing at any point in the past. If something was not immediately before me, it did not exist. I have written entire books that I have forgotten I have ever written!

    I can even shoot, develop and scan film on a regular basis, something I was never able to do! (I could not even remember what film I used, or where anything was, until now.)

    I think most of the people in my early life were happy to buy into the myth that I was a bumbling, forgetful creative person, or to ascribe some kind of pathological shortcoming or disability to me, but the truth was simply that I was a person who needed help, and didn't know that I did.

    As it turns out, being autistic and being not at all in tune with your body or with what's normal or expected, not knowing how to ask for help, has health and other vital implications! If I could do it all over again, I would have learned to pay more attention to my body, and learned to apply my autistic superpowers to all facts of life: by digging deep into why something was, rather than simply accepting that "that's just the way I am".

  • Fill Your Life with Music (And Fairies)

    a scan of a color photograph showing a beautiful woman dressed as a fairy, blowing bubbles at the camera, in a ballroom-like setting filled with people wearing formal attire

    Photo taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Fuji Superia 400, developed and scanned at Underdog Film Lab, Oakland

    Another photo from another concert I walked to from home.

    We were invited to attend a gala concert for the New Century Chamber Orchestra. I'd gone to a show some time ago, really liked it, wrote about it, and met some of the folks involved through that.

    It was our first time attending a high society event in San Francisco. There was wonderful music. The multiple Grammy-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus sang a few select pieces, and we were also treated to the 'dark, velvety' operatic voice of Nikola Printz.

    Since the theme of the evening was 'Out of the Woods', there were also fairies. Naturally. I took a photo of one of them here.

  • Take a Bow

    A scan of a black and white photograph of a standing ovation for an orchestra

    Photo taken on Leica M3, 50mm Summilux, Kodak T-Max P3200, developed and scanned by Underdog Film Lab, Oakland.

    One of the joys of living in downtown San Francisco is how I can get to many cultural events with a 10 minute walk. Some nights it's jazz at SFJazz, others it's at the opera or symphony. Many rock and punk (even Balkan music!) shows within walking or transit distance, too! Even though many artists have been priced out of San Francisco, many cornerstone and higher prestige shows still remain here at the downtown venues. I do find myself popping over to Oakland for more hiphop and even folk music, though. That stuff is barely in San Francisco anymore.

    I brought my Leica M3 and 50mm Summilux to the SF Symphony to watch Herbert Blomstedt conduct Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. With high ISO film (T-Max P3200) of course. The Leica was very silent, though of course I didn't take photos while the orchestra was playing. It was also my first time shooting T-Max P3200 indoors in a dim setting. I like this photo, and want to keep documenting the music I go to see.

  • The Best Camera is the One You Have

    I have been an avid enthusiast of phone photography and videos even before iPhones arrived in the world. To that end, I still chuckle when I think about how in the mid 00s, I not only took cool photos that I still love today, using a Nokia N73, one of them even went on the front page of Flickr for a while!

    a color photo of a cow standing on a pile of limestone rocks. Blue skies in the background

    A photograph of a cow on a pile of limestone. Cherrapunjee, India.

    a color photo of a kiln in a limestone mining area in India

    A photograph of a limestone kiln in Cherrapunjee, India.

    a color photo of a sign that reads, Cherrapunjee, wettest place in the world

    A sign that greets you as you enter Cherrapunjee.

    a screenshot of a browser showing the cow photo on's front page in the early 2000s

    I had to take a screenshot.

    This was the first photography and writing assignment I ever went on. I met a photojournalist in a bar in Mumbai, and ended up collaborating with him across India and Bangladesh. He took the cool pictures (I thought, at the time, as I was less confident in my photography skills and equipment); I wrote many of the stories (which were published by various magazines). We were there to document climate change in the world's wettest place at the time. Not bad for a still-in-college kid (me, then), to have had the opportunity to do things like that.

  • My First Time in Myanmar

    a color photograph of a person taking a photo for a local couple in a Burmese bus station

    Photo taken on Sony Nex-5 in 2012.

    Around a decade ago the world was a vastly different place. Aung San Suu Kyi had been released and was poised to run her country, finally. The country, so close to mine yet so far apart in so many ways, was opening up. I set out to try to see it before it became another Southeast Asian tourist hotspot with breathless growth and development. I think I was concerned about ecological destruction then, but boy, there was that and so much more to have been worried about.

    This was maybe the second last time I traveled anywhere that had no Internet connectivity whatsoever (the last place was Cuba, 2016). 6 months from the time this photograph was taken, you could get data on sim cards at the airport for five bucks; at this point, I still had one of the infamous three thousand dollars (yes, green bucks) per Burmese sim card arrangements, that I got through work. It also had no data on it, in spite of the cost. (For a long time, the market in issuing Burmese sim cards was very much like the used car market in an oligarchy. The elite officials ran the whole thing.)

    Friends with Burmese connections helped me plan this trip. You couldn't buy a domestic travel ticket for bus or plane outside of Myanmar, because that was closed, but you could do it in Peninsula Plaza, Singapore, the hub of one of the largest Burmese diaspora in the world. You couldn't use an ATM there, but you could send money to someone in Singapore, whose uncle would then meet you at your hotel to give you a bag of cash.

    I was trying to get to Bagan. "Go to this place, wait there, and someone will come and help you sort out everything."

    It was a whole thing. I waited here for a long time, so I had plenty of time to take photographs. Sometimes, I wonder what happened to the people in the photographs I took a decade ago. But it's hard to think about it.

    Later, I went on to spend much more time in Yangon and Mandalay. I was there on a project with a company for almost a year. It's one of the countries I love so much, and so terribly, and I stand with the brave Burmese people who rise up, decade after decade, against crushing military rule.

  • Hari Gawai, some years ago

    One of the things I love about my home region is how it's home to so many unique cultures. Even in countries that I know well, like Malaysia, I never run out of things to do, people to meet or things to learn. In 2007 or so I went to Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, and lived with a local Indigenous family. June 1 of each year is usually the day of Gawai itself, which concludes the harvest season, but as many people return home from the city or even from other villages, it's also a time for merrymaking and reconnecting with family and friends. Festivities can go on for a month or more.

    Read more here. It can be difficult to arrange without an 'in' to the community. Some people go to the traditional tattoo artists in Kuching and ask if they can get a tattoo, AND be invited to their family celebrations (with adequate payment, of course).

    We were lucky to have been invited. Way too much local alcohol was made and consumed, and while my liver can't make this type of journey anymore (since I no longer drink), I have many fond memories of the longhouse we stayed in, and the families we met.

    a color photograph of a young woman dressed in traditional Iban dress for the harvest festival

    A young woman dressed in traditional Iban dress for Hari Gawai.

    a color photograph of a child looking on smiling as his cousins run by

    A child looks on as his cousins play, in a long house. We slept with everyone, with a mattress pulled out, on one side of the long house.

    a color photograph of a person rowing a longtail boat

    Getting there required expert navigation of the Skrang river. We were in good hands with the penghulu himself, and his sons, carrying us up the river from a small town a few hour away.

    All photos taken on Canon 50D.

  • Silhouettes

    Most people love the Golden Hour. I also love the moment just before the sun sets where the light changes so quickly you don't know what you're going to get.

    a photo of Angkor wat temples, silhouettes

    A photo of temples at Angkor Wat, some time in 2005. Nikon F-601, not sure which film stock.

    a photo of people riding camels in the dunes in India

    A photo of camels in Jaisalmer, India. 2006. Canon 350D.

  • My month so far

    A series of unprecedented storms swept us in San Francisco in January and February. Dark clouds and gloomy skies are not your typical fare here. I felt just as gloomy, but also thankful for the rain's impact on California's drought situation.

    a color photograph of Chinatown San Francisco with TransAmerica building in the background. Also with dark skies

    Soon, the sky started becoming bluer and bluer. Sometimes pink too.

    A color photograph of a large mural which reads Tenderloin People's Garden on a building. Blue and pink sky in the background

    And now we're back to blue, and I'm happy again.

    a color photograph of pigeons sitting on a building roof. Blue skies in background. Building has colorful murals on it.

    Chinatown photo taken with Olympus XA2. The rest with Nikon L35TWAD. All on Fuji Superia 400. All developed and scanned by Underdog Film Lab, Oakland.

  • Chinese Bakeries of San Francisco

    a color photograph of a chinese bakery in san francisco, sign reads Mee Mee bakery

    Photo taken on Leica M3, 50mm Summilux, Ektar 100. Developed and scanned by The Darkroom.

    When you think of bakeries in San Francisco, perhaps you think of sourdough. Certainly, there are some well known bakeries in the city known for their sourdough, but that's not a style or type of bread I enjoy at all.

    I don't think it's for everyone, but I like Chinese and Japanese bakeries. I like soft, pillowy breads that straddle the line between savory and sweet. I like hot dogs in my buns. I like ham in my bread. I like scallions in them, too. Barbecue pork. Eggs. All of it. My palate leans heavily on the savory side of things, and I also prefer my breads that way. Salty. Savory. I opine on that, and more, in this video.

    As part of my increasing frustration at the perennial sour-ness of bread in the city I now live in, I seek out Chinese bakeries. Here are a few of my favorites.

    Mee Mee bakery in Chinatown (pictured), is known for its 'cow ear cookies' or 'pig ear cookies', a savory spiral biscuit that's really more salty than sweet. I love that shit.

    I also like Yummy Bakery for Hong Kong style 'paper cup cakes', which are fluffier and softer than American cupcakes; almost like a souffle, but like paper. If that makes sense. Also try their egg white tarts and wife cakes.

    In the Outer Mission, Princess Bakery is an old school favorite. Try the coconut buns and the hot dog scallion buns. In the same neighborhood, Hong Kong Bakery is a classic. Don't sleep on the Excelsior: I think it has the highest density of my favorite Chinese food in the city, more than Chinatown and more than the Sunset or Richmond.

    Lastly, Pineapple King Bakery, like I recommend in the YouTube show. Try literally anything there, and definitely don't skip the milk tea. I wish there were more Japanese bakeries in the city, but there are not. I'm glad people enjoy the sourdough of San Francisco, but I'm overjoyed that I have these alternatives here. I'm trying to take the perspective of "it's okay to not like things", but it is so goddamn hard when it's so hard to find good bread in this city that isn't surprisingly sour. (Recently, I bought a bag of bagels, and it was made of sourdough. Without warning. Sour simply isn't a flavor I enjoy: I also feel that way about American hot sauce.)

  • Black and White: Three Photos Outside

    a black and white photo of some women traveling by Segway along Crissy Fields in San Francisco

    This is one of the photos that made me very glad I had a film camera in my pocket. I was able to jog alongside these friends, who were having so much fun on a Segway tour of San Francisco's Crissy Fields area near the Golden Gate Bridge, and they were very kind to pose for a photo for me.

    Ever since I got my Olympus XA2, I've had a capable film camera in my pocket at all times, including when I'm out running. It's not my favorite camera, but it is very capable. It certainly fits the bill for 'everyday camera'. I did not have any issues zone focusing with it as I used to own one.

    It was my first time using the Fuji Acros 100 II film, though. It's very sharp, very dark, very contrasty. I probably prefer the Tri-X and HP5 look in general, but it was fun to have tried something new. I don't think I would shoot the outdoors in black and white again; a big part of why I love this part of San Francisco is the sunshine and blue skies. Even when it's extremely foggy out, it still tends to be quite colorful. I'll probably end up shooting this area regularly with different types of film stock, and see what we end up with. I think I spend most of my time outdoors in the city in this area, at least four times a week.

    More photos:

    a black and white photograph of some yachts outside Fort Mason

    Yachts outside Fort Mason.

    a black and white photograph of some signs that say Lyon, Marina and Mason in front of some trees

    Which way? Near the Palace of Fine Arts.

    All photos in this post taken with Olympus XA2, Fuji Acros 100 II, developed and scanned at Underdog Film Lab

  • Little Saigon, SF

    a color photograph of the fridge section at a Cambodian grocery store in Little Saigon, San Francisco

    Photo taken on Olympus XA2 on Fuji Superia 400, developed and scanned by Underdog Film Lab.

    Mention the Tenderloin and a certain type of San Francisco resident will definitely scrunch up their faces. "Homeless people", "poop", "crime"; look behind all of those terms and I believe the fear and condescension is "class".

    The Tenderloin is a working class neighborhood with a largely Southeast Asian, trans, Mexican, Arab, queer, and Black population. It is also home to many of the city's unhoused population. We also need far more toilets. And housing. Problems aside (as a board member of the Tenderlon Community Benefit District, I am working to improve things in this neighborhood!), I live here because it immerses me deeply in my communities. It is Southeast Asian, and queer, at the same time. I am also far more comfortable around working class people than around the types of people who live across Van Ness. It has the food that I want to eat, and the groceries that I need.

    The freedom to run downstairs and get the types of tofu, lemongrass, galangal, many rice types, noodle varieties that I use without having to go to a 'special store', or the 'ethnic aisle', is what makes me feel connected. I know that living in a 'nice neighborhod' where my food lives in the ethnic aisle will be extremely alienating. Not to mention inconvenient.

    So here I am, and I am always giddy with joy when I get to grab the freshly made tofu, and the nice stalks of lemongrass, from a Cambodian grocer in the Tenderloin. The lady and her son speak my native language, even though we come from different countries. We have the same conversation daily. "What are you cooking today?"

    Tofu is often my answer. The answer is always tofu.

  • The Magazine, SF

    There's a curious shop on a street I walk past daily, that makes it look like we're in the '60s. It sells vintage magazines and other memorabilia. It also has vintage theatrical programs and erotica.

    I thought it would be a nice shot to take photo of a retro magazine store with my retro camera. So here's a shot of The Magazine, taken with my 60 year old camera.

    a color photograph of retro magazines in a storefront in San Francisco

    Leica M3, 50mm Summilux, Ektar 100. Processed by the Darkroom in San Clemente, Orange County

  • Feeding My Soul

    Maybe some day, I'll think of the years between 2009 and 2019 as a lost decade. It was a decade of development, when I came of age, when I left home, when I made my home in so many different places in the world, where I tried on different ways of being, as if they were seasonal coats, or swimwear.

    Things are different now.

    When I was least expecting it, king tides subsided and became gentle lakes. The weather is rarely frosty or humid, it's mostly even-tempered, and cool. I have time to sleep, exercise, meditate, and eat well: I am no longer scurrying from here to there. I know how lucky I am.

    I got to recover from a chronic illness that not only took away my physical abilities for a long while, I also got to bounce back mentally from it. From insomniac mania, I now have a well-rested, even-keeled, decently-paced life (and personality). When I think back to those years, to 2012 and right after especially, I wonder how anyone ever kept up with me. I barely did. (Autoimmune diseases are a bitch. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.)

    I have work that is engaging, challenging, and evenly paced. I have the weekends to discover and explore. Surprising to everyone, especially to myself, my new hobbies are fun, slow and old: birding. Cycling slowly. Walking slowly. Hiking. Being in nature. If I'm optimizing for anything (throwback to my startup days!), that's it.

    So many weekends spent around the Bay Area wandering about with friends and people I love. Sometimes I look at birds. Sometimes I look at fungi. Many times, I am just happy and so damned pleased to be out and about, and alive.

    In line with the theme of 'finding joy in things I have always loved', like playing my piano, saxophone, clarinet for fun, I started picking up my camera again. Over there, on my microblog, I'm documenting all the ways in which my brain gets to have fun. I've forgotten how nice it is to just make things, tell stories, and do things for fun.

    I'm done with the hustle.

    The hustle that I want to spend time and energy on is the one that's about nourishing my soul. I'm working on some long term writing and photography projects. While it's tempting to think of 2009 - 2019 as the lost years in which I did not do very much creatively, I think it's given me the experiences and time to really become the kind of artist that I want to be. In recovering from chronic illness and hustle-related illnesses, my mind is now clearer than before: I have the headspace now to work and make things the way I want.

    It's still too early to share what I'm working on, but know that things I do in this space will always have something to do with one or all of the following: immigrants, California, India, Southeast Asia, food, culture, festivals, climate, nature, mushrooms, birds, queerness, bicycles, music, and maybe more. Those are all of the keywords to my life, these are all of the things that keep me going. Until then, snippets of my creative brain can be found at the microblog, and sometimes also on Mastodon (especially at the #FilmIsNotDead hashtag that I sometimes use).

    So instead of focusing on status, success, money, or hustle and grind culture, I'm going to explore all the ways in which I can immerse myself deeply in all of the things that I love, some or all of them at once. And I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do this.

  • Test roll: Nikon L35TWAD

    As I previously mentioned, I've had my Nikon L35TWAD for some time but was not able to turn it on until now. I'm glad I managed to do that, because it's been such a joy to use! The idea that you can have two very good lenses: a wide and a telephoto one, in such a tiny package, is wonderful to me.

    Here's a test shot at dusk with Fuji Superia 400 film, handheld: I like it a lot. I'm going to take it out for a few more rolls.

    A close up photo of a retro sign that says King Kong Billiards with a large arrow

    Nikon L35TWAD point and shoot camera, Fuji Superia 400, developed at Underdog Film Lab in Oakland.

  • Music for the Soul

    I was having a horrible day in August 2020, feeling shut in and defeated. There was no Covid-19 vaccine yet, and we had been sheltering in place in our tiny studio apartment for around 6 months by that time. Going out for a walk with my camera was something that helped me find the little joys of life.

    I hadn't used my Leica in a while, and this was one of the moments that brought a smile to my face. I'm glad I managed to stand there and hear them play for a few minutes. It lifted my spirits. I'm also glad that I have a photograph to remind me of that time.

    Two children playing string instruments on the streets of San Francisco

    Photograph taken on a Leica M3 with 50mm Summilux, Kodacolor 200.

  • Roadtrips and Chicken Rice Balls

    In my last year of university I started dating a person who lived 250 miles away from me. It was my first serious relationship, and my last long(ish) distance one.

    Before we found a living arrangement (that involved me moving to her city), we met sometimes in the middle. Luckily, her country was full of fun towns and cities with delicious food, so I didn't mind.

    That relationship eventually fizzled out after several years, but I got from it: Cookie, a deep love for that country, and many years of happy food and travel memories.

    a black and white photo of a food scene inside a famous Malacca restaurant known for their chicken rice balls

    A black and white photo taken in Melaka around 2007. Probably with a Leica M3 and 50mm Summilux, unsure which film stock (I'm guessing it's Tri-X).

  • Past Life: Sana'a Street Life

    Getting to see Sana'a in 2009 was an honor. It was one of my favorite cities: ever. Anywhere. I stayed with a friend and I got to wander around sometimes with him and his family, but sometimes alone. It was the weight of history and the air of what was about to happen: I frequently described Yemen as 'better than a set from the Passion of Christ'. It felt old, dusty, but also warm and familiar.

    At the time, I made some videos of my trip. You can see me talk about spending time with some local aunties, and how they fed me. I also have a stack of photos from that trip that I never looked at. What's happening in that country is truly horrid and makes me feel sick to my stomach. (My friend managed to leave, but his family remains in Sana'a.)

    You hear about the hospitality of that part of the world but you never truly understand it until you've been a guest. Then it's a memory that you'll never lose.

    a black and white photo of a street scene in the middle east with a lot of street life in front of some shops
  • Graphic novel review: All Quiet in Vikaspuri

    Finished reading: All Quiet in Vikaspuri by Sarnath Banerjee 📚

    Sarnath Banerjee's graphic novel "All Quiet in Vikaspuri" is an alt universe / dystopian future story centered on the posh neighborhood of Vikaspuri in South Delhi. An ensemble of colorful characters illuminate this otherwise monochrome book, whose pencil art is sparse, but powerful.

    Girish, a psychic plumber tasked with finding the magical river Saraswati. A former army colonel. A former employee of the Delhi Water Board.

    For anyone who is vaguely interested in how Asia's mega-cities balance urban planning, growth and ecology (hint: mostly poorly), this is a poignant way to understand some of the issues at stake. Even though the characters and issues are presented as dystopian fantasy, they are very real.

    Nowhere more real than Banerjee's quips about Gurgaon, the satellite city just outside New Delhi that was built by private enterprise, and feels like it.

    In the graphic novel, he says, "80 per cent of Indian cities will become like Gurgaon". "People think their building provides their water and power."

  • Mycology: Fantastic Fungi

    Finished reading: Fantastic Fungi by Paul Stamets 📚

    As part of my new interest in mycology, I read the book by the supposed granddaddy of the field.

    If you've watched the documentary on Netflix, this book is what started it all. Lately, I'm trying to read more about the perspectives of Indigenous people on mycology and nature, and their relationships with the mostly settler types who participate in mycology, whether in foraging, creating enterprises, or even in healing. I'm starting to develop a more critical view of some of the more well known faces in mycology.

    The book is a little disjointed, in that it presents many different perspectives from all types of people who are in the field, some interested in the healing properties, some in the climate change fixing possibilities, some in the psychedelic aspects. I found myself most interested in the essays written by activists from other parts of the world, like the one from Chile who is working to see how mushrooms can help create interesting solutions for climate change, but am largely meh about an approach that is too psychedelic-focused.

  • Street Life: Air Mata Kucing

    As a child, my parents would put us on a bus or train to Kuala Lumpur to see friends, visit people, or just have a weekend break.

    One of my strongest memories of KL: getting out of the overnight train at the old railway station, and strolling to Chinatown (Petaling Street) for breakfast. Air mata kucing (literally translated to 'cat eye water'), is a sweet drink with ice, rock sugar and longans. This stall in Petaling St is extremely famous, and probably still there today. I loved drinking it out of the little steel bowls they used to have, the ice cooling me down in the ever present Malaysian heat.

    This photograph was probably taken in 2005 with a Yashica Electro 35. I can't wait to go back there and have it again.

    A color photograph of a person standing in front of a Malaysian beverage stall with signs on it

    Longans are now popular in the west as a sugar alternative: 'monkfruit' sweetener is popular with fitness types. I like the fruity fleshy taste of longan, or 'luo han guo', in a traditionally made beverage like this. To this day, I haven't found a better version than this stall, though nostalgia is a drug.

  • The Market in Mae Salong

    Mae Salong is one of the most interesting little towns I've ever been to. It is said that many of the town's folks are descended from the southern Kuomintang army during the Chinese civil war. They went south through to Thailand with instructions to wait there in case Generalissimo Chiang wanted to mount a southern attack against the Communists. That day never came.

    My mother and I went to spend a week here together once (she also likes adventurous and historical vacations), and I wound up meeting so many people because she's so good at talking to people. She speaks many languages, including the several languages spoken by this community.

    We went to the market every day for fresh soy milk and you tiao. It's a memory I will cherish, and I think I have my mum to thank for why I am really interested in people, adventure, food and stories.

    A woman in a rural Thai market standing in front of a camera while others do business in the background

    I love the wet markets of Asia, especially in Thailand. There's always so much to see, so much to eat.

  • Where I Live Now: Near San Francisco's Mission District

    In 2018, my wife and I moved to San Francisco. We love the Mission district and try to spend as much time there as we can, especially for groceries and tacos. (La Oaxaqueña is our favorite.)

    I'm especially interested in the less gentrified bits of it that remain. A few steps away from Valencia Street, there are still pockets of the Mission that are gritty and edgy. Those are the parts of the Mission that tend to have the food and groceries that I want to have.

    Sometimes, I admire the old department store signs for shops long gone, in buildings still vacant and abandoned. I like grit, real people, and greasy tacos. I like these parts of the Mission.

    A color photograph of a street scene in the Mission district, San Francisco, with a large sign that says Bruno's and a few people standing in front of a heavily graffitied wall

    Photo taken on Leica M3 with 50mm Summilux, Kodacolor 200, processed by Underdog Film Lab in Oakland and lightly edited by me for color and contrast.

  • One Shot: The Farallones

    Sometimes you have a bad photography day where there is no light or poor light, you don't get any of the shots you want because you haven't had coffee, or you just don't know your equipment very well.

    In this case, I had a borrowed Fujifilm XT-30 and telephoto lenses and.. boy, I did not have fun. I'm still not sure the Fuji digital cameras are for me, though many people love them, but I did come out with this one shot I love.

    I had a wonderful trip to the Farallon islands just off San Francisco. We got on a boat with a birding crew from Half Moon Bay and, many, many seasick hours later, got close to the islands. We saw pelagic birds, porpoises, and even puffins. We got to hover near the rocks full of spectactular marine life, where the deafening chaos of thousands of sea lions and birds overwhelmed us with the sounds of life, thriving.

    If you ever visit, it's well worth trying to join a trip to the Farallons. We had a good time with Alvaro's group, where we had some scientists onboard including a scientist who was previously stationed at the Farallon Islands himself, so he had a lot to share. Remember to pack the Dramamine, though.

    Dozens of penguins sitting on a huge rock, next to sea lions. Overhead, a bird flies past. Some gulls too.

    The scientists told us about how colonialism led to the decline of many birds in the area, but that conservation efforts of the past decades are starting to help them flourish again.

  • Five Frames: Chinese Gods

    Singapore is technically a secular country. A large number of its ethnic Chinese population practices traditional Taoist rituals, though evangelical Christianity is encroaching quickly. As an ethnic Chinese person raised in Christian traditions, I felt surgically removed from these practices and I wanted to document them and learn about them whenever I could.

    You'll find signs of faith everywhere you go. Outside local 'coffee shops' (kopitiams), inside wet markets and hawker centres, under trees, in a street corner somewhere. At various Taoist festivals. At 'void decks' (the ground floor of a public housing building), especially during funerals.

    From my archives, some photos of how faith is professed in black and white. First photo is a film photograph, the rest are digital (some kind of Sony Nex camera from 2012).

    A black and white photo of a Taoist altar

    The ground floor of a public housing building is used for weddings and funerals. Here, a scan of a film photograph taken with a Leica M3. The Chinese characters are a call to prosperity.

    A black and white photo of an altar of Chinese gods

    Even in downtown Duxton Hill, hipster central in the middle of the Central Business District, you can see altars everywhere if you look. They tend to be hidden away.

    A black and white photo of an altar of Chinese gods part 2

    There are different hierarchies of Taoist gods. The ones on the street tend to be lower ranking, and serve different functions from the 'higher class' gods.

    Black and white photo of two women singing on stage

    At big Taoist festivals, like the Hungry Ghost Festival, we have traditional singers on stage. Many traditional Chinese arts are deeply entrenched in Taoist practices; or is it that Taoist practitioners tend to be the keeprs of many traditional Chinese rituals and arts.

    A black and white photo of a close up of Chinese gods

    A close up of a Taoist altar with various deities.

    Here's a link to an interesting story about how some of these deities are made by craftsmen.

  • Touching Grass: Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

    Taiwan's Taroko Gorge near Hualien is a place of great beauty.

    I spent a fun day here in 2006 with my family, with my Leica M3 and some black and white film (I am guessing it is Tri-X 400, which would have been what I was using a lot back then).

    I don't photograph nature or landscapes very much, so am very out of my depth here, but I do like the way these photos turned out. Taiwan is a place of great natural beauty, and I don't feel like I've seen enough of it even though I've been many times. (I haven't had enough of the food either, which is in my opinion one of the best in the world.)

    In 2023, I am far more into being outdoors in nature than I was at the time. I will take more photos of the Californian outdoors shortly.

    A black and white photo of water rushing through Taroko Gorge in Taiwan

    Taroko Gorge from the top.

    A black and white photo of rocks and sand in Taroko Gorge in Taiwan

    Water enters the gorge from the Liwu river.

    Photos taken on Leica M3, 50mm Summilux, probably Tri-X 400, probably processed at Ruby Photo in Singapore

  • Well Fed: Two Artisans

    As you may know from elsewhere, I love food. I am obsessed with it. I love eating, I love food stories, I love writing about food, I love writing about people who make and eat food.

    I did that more actively in the past where I wrote a few travel guidebooks and cookbooks, and also published a few articles about Asian food culture and chefs in various publications around the world.

    From my archives, photos of two true artisans. One in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the other in Roses, in Spain's Costa Brava coastal region.

    a satay seller fanning the flames in Malaysia

    I maintain that you haven't had satay / sate until you've been to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. The quality and artistry of this type of grilled skewer is on a whole other level. Xinjiang style BBQ skewers are also very good, but in the realm of well spiced, fatty satay Nusantara style, this is my favorite. Unmarinated and unseasoned chicken breast satay in Asian restaurants in America make me weep.

    A fishmonger weighing seafood in Spain

    I had the opportunity to eat at the 'best restaurant in the world' (El Bulli) in 2008, shortly before they closed. It was a memorable meal, but the ridiculously great seafood at Rafa's in the town of Roses was even better. Here, Rafa himself weighing the seafood he's about to feed the hungry patrons of his tiny restaurant.

    Photos shot on Canon 350D and 50D, with a 17-40L lens, probably one of my all time favorite lenses.

  • What I’m Shooting: Nikon F3HP

    I started out in film photography in 2003 using a little Nikon F-601, and to many people (including me) the pinnacle of SLRs in the Nikon world is the F3HP.

    Built like a tank, this thing will outlive me, I’m sure of it.

    A black and white photo of a Nikon F3HP SLR camera

    The mirror slap of an SLR feels a bit anachronistic at this point. I simply haven’t used a camera with a mirror in years.

    With a good old tank camera and a good lens (I love the 28mm f2.8), it’s like being reacquainted with an old friend. Or riding a bike for the first time in a long while. There’s something in muscle memory, and all the pleasures of the thing you loved come back quite quickly.

    I’ve not had such a nice film SLR, though. Even as dated as it is today, it is a joy to use. Everything about it feels right.

    More on this after I get back my first roll from this baby.

  • Half Frames Around The Tenderloin

    The Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco frequently gets a bad rep, but I could not live anywhere else in this city. I live on a block where I get to speak my first language, the Teochew / Chiu Chow dialect of Chaoshan, with all of the Southeast Asian Chinese people here who own restaurants, grocery stores, and who mostly settled here after the Vietnam War.

    Being in community and surrounded by the intimacy of language and culture has given me a different perspective on this part of town.

    My photographs will often reflect this, and here I really like these half frame photos I took around here with my Kodak H35 toy camera.

    A half frame photo diptych of City Hall with a Burmese protest outside it and a view of Larkin St

    The Burmese community comes out to City Hall often to advocate for help for their country.

    A half frame photo diptych of a Vietnamese Chinese noodle shop in the Tenderloin and a mural of a bull next to it

    The people who run this noodle shop not only sound exactly like my grandparents, they also make food like my grandparents'.

    Photos shot on a Kodak H35 half frame toy camera and processed at Photo Plus, San Francisco, then lightly edited by me for color and contrast

  • Santa Baby (Film Version)

    Happy holidays! We're having weather here in San Francisco, which is a bit of an event. My plan for the next couple of weeks is to stay inside. This city is not made for weather, since we so rarely have any.

    The best thing that happened to me over Christmas 2022 is that I started shooting film again.

    Funny story: I was so mad at how my last few rolls of film turned out that I stopped using my film cameras for a few years. Turns out I have poor eyesight in my right eye, and I can't really focus rangefinders very well. I'm getting that fixed. So thank you, rangefinder focus, for letting me know to check my eyesight.

    Some Santa-related photos from the last couple of weeks. I think this was Kodacolor 200, but I can never remember.

    A Santa figurine on a glass display full of cakes

    A Santa figurine inside a Thai dessert and coffee shop in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood.

    A Santa figurine reading a book

    A Santa figurine reading a book outside a bar in San Francisco's Polk Street.

    A Santa blow up hovering outside the second floor window of a club in San Francisco

    A Santa blow up outside a club in San Francisco.

    Photos shot on Leica M3 with 50mm Summilux, processed by Underdog Film Lab in Oakland, then lightly edited for color and contrast in Photoshop.

  • Manga review: Moyasimon volume 1

    Finished reading: Moyasimon by Masayuki Ishikawa 📚

    I spent the latter half of 2022 reading widely on all things microbiome and mycology. I am fascinated by these two related topics, particularly by how little we seem to know about it. I certainly wish I had been exposed to these topics more extensively in school.

    From a book about mushrooms, I was introduced to a manga about a boy who can see germs and bacteria. It's certainly a topic I never imagined I would read about in this format. It's very educational but also fun.

    It's set in an agriculture university, and through a variety of characters tells you about the different types of bacteria in sake-brewing, bacteria that exists around us, as well as different fermentation practices around the world. It's fun, and quite action-packed for manga that's about something so.. unseen. Highly recommended, and I'm digging into volume 2 as we speak.

  • How Music Works

    Finished reading: How Music Works by David Byrne 📚

    David Byrne seems to like the same things I do, having written a book about bicycles, and about music. Or, I like David Byrne and the music he makes and loved seeing his thoughts on music in this book.

    Part memoir (about his experience in the Talking Heads), part history and science of music, this book will be something I keep coming back to. A very helpful chapter describes the current state of the music industry and provides a cold hard glimpse into the numbers behind how professional musicians make music and money.

  • Five Frames from Ceylon

    Between 2013 and 2016, I went to Colombo quite frequently for work and relaxation. An old friend of mine from school lived there, and it was such an easy flight from Singapore that I found every excuse to go there, really. The scuba diving is phenomenal, too.

    This past year, Sri Lanka has been in my thoughts. The troubled island continues to have a difficult time economically and politically. I highly recommend my friend Rohini Mohan's book, The Seasons of Trouble, for a gripping read of the civil war era.

    It's a beautiful country, and I hope to return some day.

    I don't remember what camera I used here, but it's quite likely.. an iPhone 5S definitely a Sony Nex-5 with 16mm lens!

    A black and white picture of a man in a department store in Sri Lanka

    Old school cool in one of Colombo's many historical department stores.

    A black and white photo of three men wearing lungis posing against a wall

    Friendly faces everywhere.

    A black and white photo of a commercial area in Colombo, Sri Lanka

    So many of the cities I love—Colombo, Chennai, Yangon—former British ports, have a very similar vibe in their port areas.

    A black and white photo of some men in Sri Lanka at a tea shop

    It's always time for tea.

    A black and white photo of a man sitting at a bench under a circular arch

    The languid afternoons felt like they went on forever.

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