Photography is one of my favorite ways to see the world.

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    • Waiting for dimsum

      Whenever I can, I make the 45 minute walk to Chinatown in San Francisco to Dim Sum Bistro, my favorite 'cheap dimsum' spot. Sometimes, I take photos too.

      I say this every chance I get: dimsum isn't always 'cheap' food. Dimsum can be fancy, and should be fancy, because to make large amounts of high quality dimsum you need a very large team. 'Nice dimsum' is a treat. It's a birthday meal, it's a treat you give your parents, it's going out to linger over nice tea and good ingredients to snack on dishes you probably won't make at home.

      Cheap dimsum also has a place. But it should still be fresh and of relatively high quality. The menu should be large and the 'skin' of dumplings shouldn't be too thick. On these metrics, many of the other Chinatown dimsum places don't pass muster for me. But Dim Sum Bistro always delivers. So I'm glad it's here, and I'm glad I can have good, cheap dimsum.

      a scan of a black and white photo of a machine in a dimsum shop that takes orders and payment. on the wall, menu pictures and items and a person leaning on the wall

      Dim Sum Bistro
      675 Broadway (Map)

      (Photo taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Kodak T-Max 400, developed in Xtol stock for 12:15 min @ ISO 1600)

    • 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

      Carousel.

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

      Boats.

      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)