Shifting into Gear

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It’s been a good break.

In the last two and a half weeks, I didn’t get to visit all the lesser known parts of Singapore I had initially wanted to, but I did start writing a bit more, and taking more photos. It has been cathartic. Three of my latest photostories on Exposure have been picked by their staff to be featured:

  1. Remembering Sacrifice - my visit to Kranji War Memorial
  2. Slowing Down - cycling around Pulau Ubin
  3. and Homecoming - reminiscing childhood memories made in Rochor Centre, where I grew up, which is slated for demolition in 2016

I hope to keep on capturing moments through photography, and to make penning down my thoughts as natural as exhalation. I really missed the writing process - revisiting it has made me more appreciative of what God has placed in my life.

As this transition comes to a close, work begins next Monday.

I am joining Google as a user education and outreach specialist. It is a new chapter in my career, and a fitting extension of my calling to serve the public. I am constantly in awe of the many things Google has been working on, and it still hasn’t totally hit home that I am privileged to have this opportunity to contribute towards these efforts. I am thankful and humbled.

To God be the glory.

Homecoming

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This photo-story resides in its full glory on Exposure.

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This is where it began for me. Well, as far as I could remember. I spent my first years in the care of a nanny. I had four older siblings then - three brothers and a sister. They were all very distinct personalities. I’d compare the uniqueness of their traits to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so you’d understand, but personally, I’d use the more obscure analogy of them being different members of Ultraman’s family.

The Mutant Turtles were a import from the West; from the anglicised, second chapter of my life. I started out with Ultraman. I don’t even remember what language the TV episodes were in.

Hokkien was the language I used back then.

20140902-31.jpgRochor Centre was this labyrinth of corridors and staircases. Little pipes and wire casements were always running above you, or on the side of the walls, probably because planners didn’t factor these things in when they designed the place.

I was reminded of Rochor when I watched the movie Judge Dredd. The megacities were these huge monolithic blocks that towered over everything, and within was dark and dank. I smiled when I watched the movie. Where most people reacted to the decrepit living environment being portrayed, I felt this warm nostalgia.

The feeling of home.

20140902-9.jpgThere was a distinct smell whenever we headed home. Staircase 5 was right next to the main rubbish collection point and also near some old coffee shops that were always deep frying ngoh hiang or some other assorted tidbit. So you’d experience a mashup of the two smells that rocked your senses, but like everything, you got used to it. And over time the smell no longer carried sensations like pleasure or repulsion - they carried memories and meaning. They carried a time and a place. They still do.

Being the one tall structure in the neighbourhood at the time made looking down a favourite pastime. You would always find yourself in the middle of a story: people braving certain death as they dashed across the main road in front of on-rushing cars; or loud funeral processions that went round and round the block, travelling with music on loudspeakers as relatives bid their last goodbyes; or the yellow taxis that picked up passengers going across the border to Malaysia.

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For every child living in Rochor Centre, the 4th floor provided refuge. A wide open expanse, this was where we learned the most important things in life: how to run, where to hide, how to kick a ball, how to ride a bike.

Impotent “no football” signs hang on walls pelted with a thousand ball prints from dirty footballs - goals that were scored over the years. Every pillar provided a goal post, every poor child that had the misfortune of standing before the wall, a goal keeper.

The ground was always peppered with pigeon droppings. I remember clearly the slight panic in the neighbourhood when a newspaper article spoke about the diseases spread by pigeon droppings. We all went “oh no”, then headed downstairs to play.

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Some years ago, they painted all the blocks in these gaudy colours in an effort to downplay the age of the housing estate. To the uninitiated the colours add vibrancy and youth, but if you’ve lived there when Rochor Centre was young, the paint job was like way too much make up on your mother. You felt embarrassed, and kinda missed the original old lady.

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Then you looked across at another estate down the road.

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Ok, maybe a new paint job isn’t that bad an idea.

They announced that they’d be tearing down the old dame in 2016.

My Rochor. For all the dirt and grime and smelliness, she was mine. My childhood. Me, before all this internet and English-speaking, and church-going. Before all this westernisation, there was 刘文正 and 天空小飞侠. We woke up for midnight snacks and played with plastic toy soldiers who couldn’t move a limb. We put all our toys in a large plastic bucket and pretended we were cooking up a storm.

Everything is now just going to smell of silicon now, isn’t it?

I don’t want to lose all of this, but I am told in the name of progression we must.

Is it naive to want to hold on to these things for fear we irrevocably lose part of ourselves when they are gone?

Slowing Down

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The photo-story, in its full glory, resides on Exposure.

A Remnant of Old Singapore.

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Pulau Ubin, an island only a few minutes away by boat, is one of the last pieces of evidence that Singapore wasn’t always concrete and glass. Walls made of wood, roofs of attap or zinc, and neighbours who never hid behind locked doors, Pulau Ubin is the embodiment of our collective nostalgia for the old ways.

20140828-4.jpgLife on Ubin now mostly revolves around visitors to Ubin. Bicycle rental shops and seafood restaurants crowd the jetty; the beloved old school convenience store with ice-cold coconuts and beer; and in the corner a temple, decked out in red, welcoming worshipers rather than tourists.

If you walk away from the loud and boisterous crowds, Ubin comes alive at your very feet. Waterfowl, monitor lizards and wild boar (pictured here with two little babies) are often seen. If you’re lucky you may get to encounter sea otters, dolphins or even the elusive dugong.

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It is late August and the weather is a little unpredictable. I spent the morning riding around the island on my bicycle, quick as I could in order to avoid the rain, making sure I checked off all the key places on the map.

Such a typical Singaporean thing to do.

Then the huge raindrops fell, and after spending an hour under shelter, I began to understand that exploring Ubin meant more than reaching different checkpoints.

Ubin was a means of catharsis for city dwellers much in need of a deep, deliberate breath from the breakneck speed of urban life. I rode slower, with a more carefree heck-all attitude. I was going to enjoy Ubin at her terms, not mine, and certainly not as a tourist destination.

She was Singapore before Singapore grew into a petulant teenager with ADHD.

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I left Ubin with the knowledge that if we were to taste life in its fullness, we needed to savour it at different speeds.

Walking Alone in the Rain

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Photostory posted on Exposure: Walking Alone in the Rain.

Dark clouds over Chinese Gardens

The skies looked like they were about to unleash the fury of Zeus’ full bladder. But photography has always been this tug of war between the vision in my head (sunshine piercing through clouds, lighting up the pagodas beneath) and what I’ve been given (flat light, low contrast, little colour).

I would try to make the best of what I had - I did not want to waste the trip this morning.

Pagoda in the Chinese GardensAs the drops fell it became a game of cat and mouse. I walked out when the rain was a light drizzle and ducked under the shelter of pavilions and pagodas whenever the rain threatened to pelt me silly.

I met an elderly man sitting behind one of the pagodas. For the past few decades, he has been on the waters, clearing the lake of discarded plastic bags and bottles. He recounted how these gardens used to be filled with newlyweds going about their phototaking. These days, the newly married would rather go to the spanking new Gardens by the Bay, he said.

I wondered if Singapore treated its elderly the same way. We’ve built a city for the young and driven.

There were at least half a dozen signs at the gates to the gardens stating what was prohibited: no food and drinks; no smoking; no fishing; and skateboarding. That included my little kickscooter.

Great Heron, Japanese Gardens

Purple Heron and Milky Stork, Japanese Gardens

I spent a good hour and a half photographing these leggy supermodels. The rain meant that I had pretty much the whole gardens to myself. The birds were quite comfortable as I inched towards them for a closer shot. They were the real residents of these gardens, and I was privileged to be their guest.

Guess the rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Remembering Sacrifice

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For the intended experience of this post, visit Remembering Sacrifice on Exposure.

Kranji War Memorial, Singapore

They were fathers, sons, mothers and daughters. Many of them younger than I was. They began life so differently: they were Australian, British, Indian, Malay, Chinese; and yet all of them came together at this point in history and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Unknown soldier, Kranji War Memorial, SingaporeEvery few tombstones, you’d find one that bears no name, only the acknowledgement that someone lies here, whose life was extinguished too early for his or her time.

Away from the noise and the frenetic pace of the city, I could feel the slowing down of my pulse, and I could almost feel the uncertainty and fear that must have been in the hearts of these young men and women as they were thrust into the ravages of war. What made them fight for this land that wasn’t their own?

We could debate endlessly on whether we needlessly romanticise their deaths, but there is no debate as to whether we should honour their sacrifice with humility and gratitude.

Kranji War Memorial, Singapore

About

The weblog of Lucian Teo who resides in Singapore. He is husband to the most beautiful wife, father to the most amazing kids. Photographer, storyteller, all-round nice guy [citation needed].

He also blogs about Gov2.0, Storytelling, User Experience Design and Social Media at blog.lucianteo.com.

He can be contacted at lucian@tribolum.com.

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