Prose by Photography: The Falcon sees

An unshaven Arab man approached us at the gate of the campsite after the end of our Dubai dessert tour. He was thin, had a red checkered head wrap, a thin moustache and one lazy eye. He smiled gently at us, his dark skinned wrinkling from too much time in the sun, stretched out his arm which wore an arm guard on which a falcon stood, and asked if we wanted to take a photograph with it.

The falcon is a majestic bird, and even more so, up close. I observed her as she fixed her gaze on the horizon where the sun was about to set, and I wondered what she could be thinking – did she want to soar again into the sky as she once used to? Did she resent the little chain around one of her feet which kept her from flying? Did she resent the man who had taken her freedom and yet sustained her? Or could she understand that now, as much as she relies on him, he relies on her too?

I noticed the large chip in the front of her beak and wondered how long ago that happened- and if the wound reminded her of things she wanted to forget- just like how our scars, visible or otherwise, sometimes inevitably remind us of a time of pain and suffering, no matter if we thought we’d moved on.

Yet she remained poised, her plume of chest feathers raised high, her gaze still fixed unwaveringly on the horizon, her brown eyes ignited into a shade of amber by the last light – She was chained yet undefeated, wounded yet not discouraged. And I wondered if a day might come that she might find freedom again.

March 2014, Desert, Dubai, UAE

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Depth.”

Travel Diary: Journey through Bangkok, Thailand

Our taxi came to a halt behind a row of cars as the light turned red. A little girl, barely seven or eight, was standing next to the front door of the car in front of us, speaking to the driver. She was motioning with her hands, showing off something. I leaned over to the right and caught a glimpse of orange and yellow. They were flowers. She’s selling flowers in the middle of a main road. The intersecting traffic slows, and the drivers ready for the green. She turns, swinging a pole with garlands of flowers hanging from its ends, and quickly dashes to the road divider just as the vehicles begin to pick up their pace and get back in tempo. As we pass, I notice her head bent at a slightly downward angle, her shoulders slightly slumped, her feet grubby. I noticed that she had no shoes.

I remember the countless number of street-side stalls as being one of the most striking things about Bangkok. We would walk down pavements along shop fronts which felt more like narrow back alleys. The street-side stalls formed a blockade between us and the road, and would go on endlessly – light cotton apparel, thai boxer shorts, cheap plastic sunglasses stacked high, in between which were food stalls – letting in no air and no light. People walked past in a constant viscous stream, squeezing past each other to go in opposite directions, while groups of bored-looking Thai girls sat outside massage parlours, fanning themselves in the midday heat, calling out every once in a while to prospective customers an invite to come in.

Bangkok was everything I’d expected it to be. Crowded, lively, chaotic. In Platinum Mall, you would see that people from all around the world have come, dragging huge plastic trolley bags going from shop to shop to source for bargain apparel to sell at a profit. It was energetic yet exhausting to be part of, and we ended up finding solace at Starbucks.

Street side food stalls in Bangkok Roadside stalls in Bangkok Thailand

Food in Bangkok was cheap and readily available, although I did end up rushing to the toilet about 4 times a day (which, by the way, is not usual). Every once in a while, smells of food would be interrupted by the smell of sewage coming from the gutters and drains, and would inspire cringed noses and a quicker walk.

Corn based dessert at a street side stall in Bangkok Thailand

Whilst touristy, Jaktujak Weekend Market was a highlight of my trip. The sections selling apparel did not appeal to us but we did find much to our fancy at the other end of the market where they sold dried food items ranging from mango to ginger, and also aromatic oils of bergamot, rose, and lemongrass, packed into display-worthy bottles forged from glass. Leaving Jaktujak, cabs were lined up alongside the road near the exit, their drivers standing by the curb. A cabby approached us to ask where we were headed. Upon hearing Sukhumvit, he made a face, waved and said that it was “very very far” but would take us there for 600THB. I’d seen the map; it wasn’t that far at all. We walked farther from Jaktujak and got into a metered cab which ended at 150THB.

Sad to say, the cabs were a major reason for my schlocky impression of Bangkok. We once boarded a cab waved in by a Bo.lan staff from the road which claimed he was on “meter”. It was a sort of van that looked more like it belonged in a zoo; heavily dented, with masking tape around the handles and on the doors where parts were on the verge of falling off. We were even more appalled at the state of its interior – cans stuffed between the top of the seat and the ceiling to prevent it from collapsing, a stool supporting the seat where my mother sat, and a lot of rubbish everywhere else. We were laughing about how shocked the hotel staff would be at seeing this “sampan” (a Chinese flat-bottomed boat, but literally meaning “3 planks”) come into their lobby, when my dad noticed the meter was off. The driver then insisted we would pay 250THB, and when we refused, veered to the side of the road and forced us out- but not before he demanded 50THB from me.

Cabbing in Bangkok Thailand

Nightmare cab in Bangkok Thailand

I didn’t know much about the Somboon Seafood scam until I got back to Singapore after experiencing it first hand. We’d tried to get to the restaurant several times, and every cabby we’d encountered said there was no Somboon Seafood, only some variation pronounced Som-boon-dee. We eventually got into a cab whose driver said he knew where it was, only to inform us halfway that “Somboon Seafood doesn’t open on Sundays. I take you to Somboondee. When my friends say they want Somboon, I bring them to Somboondee because Somboondee is better! I know the boss – he will give you 10% discount because you’re my friend.” The liar took us down some quiet gravel road where a wire light was poorly bent an attached to a flimsy fence to form “somboondee” in a wiggly writing. He lowered the side window and hollered to the owner, who’d been sitting at a table smoking and didn’t look at all like he’d been expecting guests, and straight away we knew something was amiss. The “restaurant” was practically empty except for a poor family of four seated in the dark, all of whom promptly looked up, surprised, stared at us miserably and totally halted their meal. The seafood selection was miserable, the prices steep, and the whole place was barely even lit. It was eerie, and we promptly said we’d had too similar a meal the previous night and started to walk briskly back out to the main road. The cabby had parked by the side, and upon seeing us, ran up to us to ask why we were leaving. As we walked, the discount steadily increased from 10% to 15% to 20%. We kept walking.

Mango Sticky Rice at Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand

Unfortunately, Bangkok just wasn’t my kind of city and left much to be desired, but it still could be yours, just as I’ve had friends who’ve gone back twice or thrice. While there was beauty in some of it, such as their piousness and cuisine, and of course, it is an inexpensive holiday destination, I especially wished the cabbies were more friendly and honest (to me, they’re sometimes tour guides who can teach you about the city, and are often the first locals you encounter extensively upon setting foot in a country; the ones in London were fantastic) – that would’ve helped preserve the impression that I’d gone to Bangkok with but sadly departed without, and that is “the land of a thousand smiles”.

Religion in Bangkok Thailand

Personal: The Diary of Scent

I was late to work this morning because I’d sat at my dresser a little too long. I’d lifted the cap and was captivated- yet again.

Three years ago when I was studying in Europe, I was looking for a special scent – one that I could call my signature scent. I never really knew what that meant because I’d never had one. All I knew, was that it was supposed to feel like you. A scent which somehow managed to describe you, epitomise you. I’d figured that out on my own because doing a google search on “What is a signature scent” yielded a million different answers and more questions from people as confused as I was.

I guess in a way it’s a bit like falling in love. You think you know what it is, but you don’t – at least not until you actually fall for someone. At least, that was how it was for me. I’d religiously gone to Sephora every few days to smell the various perfumes over and over again, enthusiastically priming my nose by smelling coffee beans in between. Once or twice I’d come close to buying one that I’d liked but not loved, simply because I thought there was something wrong with me in not being able to find a scent that I could truly feel for.

My first perfume purchase was Flora by Gucci. I wanted to like it – everyone was telling me how gorgeous it was, and even how lovely it looked sitting on the dresser with its sophisticated hexagonal bottle and little black bow. But then a few days later, I found myself back along the fragrance shelves at Sephora again.

The first time I inhaled the scent, I immediately knew that this was me. It was me through and through – and I didn’t even know why or how a scent could have that kind of an impact. It opened beautifully – a floral with spicy undertones. But what I found most intriguing was what lay beneath. There was- a certain mystery, a hint of something, dangerous- like a gaze held for a little too long, a gentle brush of an elbow against another, the sweeping of a strand of hair in the wind. There was a certain boldness in the scent which spoke volumes to me about adventure, courage, dreams and romance.

Three years on. Even the slightest whiff, I would still consider arresting – a stir in my heart, an excitement coursing through my veins. Even as I write this, I’d closed my eyes and breathed in to ignite the scent memory from deep within, and it sweeps me back to Paris- to the Eiffel Tower, to the Gardens of Versailles.

They say that true love is worth the wait. And if true love is this, then truly it is.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Express Yourself.”

Poetry by Photography: The Ninth Army

Love, the Giver of life

Joy, the Bearer of light

Peace, the Prince of nobility

Patience, the Protector of faith

Kindness, the Deliverer of humanity

Goodness, the Messenger of gold

Faithfulness, the Knight of salvation

Gentleness, the Healer of old

Self-control, the Defender of the soul

March 2014, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Express Yourself.”

Poetry by Photography: Serenity

A golden light

Caressing stately, gilded domes.

They reached towards the sky;

the symbols of Christ the Saviour pointing heavenwards.

Victorious, a promise made – a light even in the darkness slowly falling.

A moment – just, standing still.

A moment, of unexplainable serenity and comfort in the knowledge of the time to come.

October 2014, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”

Travel Diary: Shiretoko Pass (知床峠), Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido is full of untouched natural flora, and the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Shiretoko National Park located on the Shiretoko Peninsula, the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, is probably the prime location from which to witness Hokkaido’s beauty. There’s something about Shiretoko, something about it that’s so innocent, so special – I can’t quite put a finger to what it is.

Hokkaido is a fantastic place to drive about, and I don’t think there’s any better way to go about it besides renting a car and doing just that. Shiretoko, in particular, gave some of the most scenic, beautiful drives – its wide cement roads gently folding over the undulating landscape, with the most beautiful views of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Driving on mountain roads Shiretoko Hokkaido

They said the Shiretoko-tōge (known as the Shiretoko pass) would be quite a sight, and they were right. It wasn’t uncommon for us to suddenly slow to a crawl because there were deer standing right on or next to the road gazing at us, doe-eyed. Not with trepidation, however, but with more, oxymoronically, of a sort of disinterested curiosity – and the humans in the car starred right back. After all, we don’t see many deer from where we come from.

At the highest points of the pass, the scene was still blanketed in white snow. Winter in Spring time, is what I’d called it. We’d pulled to the road shoulder and had a mini snowball fight, after which I hopped farther into the winter wonderland and busied myself with recreating Olaf.Winter Snow in Shiretoko National Park UNESCO Hokkaido Japan

The pass was also the first place where I encountered a fox (featured picture). We spotted it walking on the edge of road and slowed to a gradual halt. I was seated in the front seat next to the driver, and so I saw it approach in the side mirror. With green eyes, it eyed our MPV, came closer, sat, and waited. Everyone was fascinated – a bunch of humans staring right back at a little red fox. We gathered it was hoping for some food (which our car was full of), but decided against it. I stuck my head out of the window to get a better look, and it turned to look straight at me before proceeding to walk along the length of the vehicle, its ears tilted forwards, alert, until it was right under my window. After a while, we drove on. I looked back, and the fox, disappointed, turned and walked off, with its thick bushy red tail swaying into the distance.

Jatujak (Chatuchak) Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand (Gallery)

Jatujak Weekend Market is one of the world’s largest weekend markets, with 27 sections and more than 15,000 stalls. You can find anything and everything from household items, to fragrances, jewellery, food, clothes, and handicrafts (the one shown below is AMAZING). This was my first visit to Jatujak, and honestly, I found it to be overcrowded and touristy. Many shops sell similar things, so it’s challenging to discern between them and even if you wanted to go back, you might just get lost in the maze of shops! Nonetheless, it remains a must-see when in Bangkok, so here’s a little taste (:

Coconut Ice-cream at Jaktujak Chatuchak weekend market

Zabrina Alexis C at Chatuchak Bangkok Thailand

Red Ruby desserts at Chatuchak weekend marketFood at Jaktujak Bangkok Thailand

Jaktujak weekend market handicrafts