First Travel Experience with a Drone

So I recently planned a trip to New Zealand with my old gang from my first graduation trip to Taiwan. I have always been wanting to do something more ambitious with my travel photography and documentary, something more varied than the usual photos and shaky GoPro footage (more about this later).

So a few months back I decided that it’s time to consider getting a drone to bring our travel videography to another level, and these were my considerations:

  1. Which drone below $1000 (SGD) to get?
  2. Can the drone get through customs? Hand-carry or luggage?
  3. How do I bring it around?
  4. Even if I bring it everywhere with me, where can I really fly it?
  5. How do I plan what shots to take so that it will fit in with my other footages?

Which drone should I get?

My budget was downwards of $1000 and I found that my main considerations for an amateur travel drone were that it should be:

  1. Portable enough (light and small)
  2. Capture at least 1080p video OR have a GoPro mount
  3. The controls should be easy enough to use
  4. Set-up should be fuss-free
  5. If possible, video stabilization (at least 2 axis or 3 axis gimbal)
  6. Basic functionalities like orbit mode, follow-me mode
  7. Spare parts should be cheap enough so that when I crash the drone it isn’t too painful to replace them

Alright so that was like my key considerations when I was doing my research into the HUGE variety of drones out there. These considerations actually changed a bit after my first few runs with the drone that I eventually settled on so this is really just to share the whole thought process I went through.

I narrowed my choices down to a few choices based on online reviews and pricing (Disclaimer: This was before DJI Spark was released, but it would have come into consideration)

Brand Price Included in Package: Controlled via Smartphone Controlled via Remote Video Stabilization Portability (1 is best) Video Mode
Yuneec Breeze 369.99 2 Battery with 15mins flytime each Yes Yes No 1 In-built 1080p
3DR Solo 258.79 1 Battery with 25mins flytime No Yes Yes 3 GoPro gimbal mount separately sold
Xiro Xplorer 330 2 Battery with 25mins flytime No Yes Yes 2 In-built 1080p
DJI Phantom 3 445.2 1 Battery with 25mins flytime No Yes Yes 4 In-built 2.7k

This was probably the toughest part of the whole process as everyone has their considerations when getting a drone and there are actually certain things that you just won’t know until you start playing around with it. Reviews are not that useful in this case because there are so many at each end of the spectrum so you wonder if its just a case of luck if you would get a product that happens to work fine for you.

I settled on the Yuneec Breeze after considering the below points:

  • I almost immediately threw the DJI Phantom out of the consideration on the account that it was too unwieldy to carry around my travels
  • The price points were roughly the same for these few choices, except the 3DR solo which doesn’t come with a camera.
  • The 3DR Solo, awesome drone as it was for the hugely discounted price, wasn’t sustainable as the manufacturer has pulled out and the lack of product support was just a huge no-go
  • Between the Yuneec and Xipro, it was down to the fact that the Yuneec was so small (pictured below) and I could really imagine it fitting into my backpack.
  • However, there is the point that the Yuneec does not have video stabilisation

It was a starter drone anyway, so after reviewing online footage of the Yuneec, I decided that for a first drone it should be rather acceptable.

Anyway, just a quick shoutout to RateX for helping to shave off almost 30 bucks on the exchange rate. I would really recommend using their service (its just a Chrome add-on) that helps to secure a cheaper exchange rate instead of using Amazon’s exchange rate and you basically save money doing nothing. Sounds too good to be true? I thought the same till I tried it (3 times so far). Check them out and install the plugin here.

Capture

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Come check out my review of the Yuneec Breeze when its up! (Soon)

How to pack the drone and bring it across Customs?

This part was rather simple. Most online advice and common sense dictated that wherever possible, I would bring along my fragile and precious items on hand-carry. My drone and battery and all got through customs (Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand) without any issues. I can’t speak as much for a larger drone for now.

How do I bring it around?

Now, this is the main reason why I bought the Yuneec Breeze. It was really a breeze (no joke) to bring it around in my backpack and that means a few things:

  • You don’t have to worry about planning your shots, like whether you might have a chance to use the drone or not – just bring it as it’s not too bulky anyway
  • It’s easy to deploy and I trek around a fair bit – hop off the car, bring along the backpack, fly the drone if needed

Where can I really fly it?

Now, this is the trickiest part of traveling around with a drone. On two occasions I brought my drone along to realize that I could not really fly it without any consequences. I was in Hobbiton and there wasn’t really any restrictions up-front regarding drone flying. But as it was a fully-guided tour, we really could not get away to do some drone flying of our own. Upon asking the guide if we could fly a drone (theoretically speaking), her answer was an absolute no. The second occasion was when doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (one of the most awesome treks I have done, do check out my review when its up!) and there was basically a restriction on flying drones that we were informed of only at the start of the trek.

However, there are some places that surprised me such as the Te Puia geothermal national park. We paid for our entry ticket and even though it was a heritage site, we were able to fly the drone and get footage without any issues.

The general consensus I get is to do some prior research to drone photography for the area that I am going to visit. As part of my travels I guess the norm is to stop by some attractions to either do a short walk and take some photos.

  • Some heritage sites might ban drone photography out of respect.
  • Controlled attractions like theme parks etc might also ban the flying of drones for safety
  • The drones do make a bit of sound when flying so be prepared for some attention (esp. from animals)

Planning your shots

This is the part where I feel the least-qualified to talk about as I am just starting off but a few tips in general I guess:

  • Think of the shots you want to capture for the trip in general beforehand. I usually play around with some standard transitions, some panning shots, follow-the-person shots and so on
  • I think in general drone shots are great for introductions and transitions, you get the cinematic feels when you show a pan of the landscape or when it takes off from the ground and shows the background at the back as it rises.
  • Start recording as soon as you take off. Excess shots can always be trimmed off
  • If your drone does not have a video stabiliser (like mine), be sure to account for the jerking effect when you change the direction of flight. For me, I tend to drag the shots longer so that I can cut out the jerk when it stops or changes direction.

Closing Thoughts + What about the DJI Spark?

Well, I definitely did not regret bringing along a drone for this trip, even when it posed a few problems in terms of connectivity and flight stability for me. The footage taken really adds a new dimension to the travel photography that we take and it’s really fun to imagine yourself being a film director, planning the flight paths that the drone will take and so on.

If I could do it all over again, I might really have considered getting a drone with further range and a more stable connection (definitely not standard Wi-fi). The portability of the Yuneec Breeze was a huge huge plus but if I really wanted to go for really dramatic shots, I would consider something on the scale of a Phantom. I would have to think of how to lug it around, that is.

Will buying the DJI Spark solve the problem for me? Based on initial reviews, I am compelled to think yes, but there are a few things:

  • A small drone like the Spark and the Breeze inevitably suffers a bit of jerking when there is strong wind
  • The 2 axis gimbal of the Spark seems to offer video stabilization but I struggle to come to terms with settling for a middle ground if we are going to go ahead with including a gimbal for the design

But seeing that the price point is rather attractive and it promises to deliver more in terms of the maximum range, I would really have considered getting the DJI Spark instead. Heh, maybe its even time to consider an upgrade, who knows 😉

On a closing note, some initial drone footages from the Yuneec Breeze in the opening and closing sequences of my trip video:

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Pixel Photos

So I finally got tired and unbelievably frustrated with the state of my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 last month and decided to go all in for my next mobile device.

I think that ever since I splurged on my gaming laptop, I realized that there are just some hard facts that we (or at least, I) just can’t run away from when making decisions on our technological investments.

  1. Amount of time spent on it (almost every waking hour?)
  2. Criticality of everyday moments in life (ooooh look I’ve got to share this picture on snapchat *opens app* *phone hangs*)
  3. Less cognitive processing (better UI can have a drastic impact on your mental health)

So long story short, I bombed out on the most overpriced but highly coveted phone at that time – the Google Pixel. Mind you, this was just 2 weeks before rumours of the Pixel 2 (Walleye and Muskie) started surfacing. Oh well.

I bought it for a few reasons – a burning desire to see what was the big G capable of delivering in terms of hardware, its claim-to-fame rear-end camera, pure stock android and 99% control of your phone (still can’t delete the Playstore without rooting it) and of course, just me being a Google fanboy.

I am not going to go into a full length review of the phone here – I’ll leave that for 5 months later and do a 6-month status update of the phone and see how it fares against the ailing battery performance of iPhones and lagginess of Samsung phones.

For now, I just want to share what this baby’s rear end (camera) is capable of:

Dusk at Marina

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Tulipmania 2017 @Gardens by the Bay – Aperture shots

Apparently the lens blur function doesn’t always work as intended:

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The sheer hordes of people there on a Sunday:

Star Wars MayThe4th Celebrations, again at Gardens by the Bay but this time at the Supertrees Grove – pretty damn incredible a sight to behold:

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It was a chance to see how grainy the night shots could get for the Pixel but I would say that with HDR+ on, the digital processing really reduced a lot of the noise. Artificially or not, I can’t say that much.

Also took the chance to test out the brightness adjustments – the difference was quite drastic:

At this point I’m wondering if WordPress will compress my images and do the picture quality a disservice but I shall continue…with an AT-ST set against the backdrop of our national poster boys…

Might I mention that the Star Wars edition of the Garden Rhapsody was like probably the best free thing ever?

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That’s no moon…

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And of course, I was there for the inaugural Star Wars run as well. Patriotic (all of a sudden?) Star Wars fans wielding lightsabers set against our financial district – nope, never seen that before.

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To my favorite series of photos which I legitly think could pass off as a legit default wallpaper on my new phone:

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And where the HDR+ truly shone:

Quite afraid the mosaic layout might compromise the quality so here’s a full size shot:

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Definitely looking forward to taking more photos with the Pixel. If only there was some easy integration with WordPress without having to upgrade to a business plan :/

[Opinion] Insta, FB and WA stories and why you should be concerned

So it began with Snapchat, allowing people to post a short snippet of their everyday lives online for friends to see. Back then it filled the gap where I had something shareable but not quite worthy of the high and lofty (and filtered) standards of Instagram. And hence Stories became a thing and it sort of harks back to the days of MSN Messenger where we updated our statuses with songs that we listen to / cool nicknames / emo, vague quotes and so on. Whatsapp had statuses too, but we’ll come back to that.

Snapchat had this for ages and were struggling with monetization until recently where they had sponsored Lenses and more importantly, native sponsored ads that get inserted in between Stories. That wave of advertising hasn’t taken off in Singapore yet but the stage is set (that’s why they tried forcing users to view Stories in a “slideshow format” and you had to skip to go to the next).

And all of a sudden Facebook goes all crazy and starts introducing Stories for every single one of its child services, namely Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger and Facebook itself.

Facebook stories looks set to be a failure so far:

  1. People don’t use FB in that social sense anymore (the “what’s up with life, poke poke” kinda social) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/04/06/facebook-stories-confirms-brutal-truth-facebook-isnt-fun-anymore/
  2. Plain hard truth is that it’s beginning to feel as hard sell as how Google Plus tried to integrate itself into every Google product imaginable – http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/5/15189148/facebook-stories-friends-ghosts-news-feed-snapchat

Whatsapp Stories are just way off:

  1. The older generation simply do not use such “fun” functions (on their own, at least)
  2. There are too many corporate chats using Whatsapp (wouldn’t want your bosses to know what you are doing on your “sick leave”)
  3. One redeeming point – Whatsapp was originally founded to share statuses but nah…not good enough an excuse to pull this stunt off
  4. It’s just the wrong platform because of the nature of sharing – http://www.ndtv.com/offbeat/whatsapp-status-heres-why-people-are-scared-of-this-feature-1663139 

Instagram Stories, however, is a different story (alright I’ll show myself out).

  1. It’s sitting somewhere in the realm of “Yup I’ve been sharing my photos for as long as I can remember here..so why not?” and there’s fun stuff like boomerang (which I contest as an equal contender to Snap Lenses)
  2. In pure numbers, Instagram stories is already more popular than Snapchat – http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/13/15279266/instagram-stories-facebook-200-million-users-snapchat-clone

The timing is impeccable too as Snapchat gears up to finally offer a compelling and competitive advertising model for its customers (on the back of its recent IPO too). To be fair, it kind of felt like a david vs goliath situation in terms of user base as Snapchat only has a third of Instagram’s daily users.

To add on, there has always been the feeling that the whole advertising thing might not work out eventually – https://digiday.com/marketing/advertisers-cooling-snapchat-live-stories/

I personally tried Instagram Stories for the first time last week out of consideration for the fact that Snapchat was just too buggy on my ailing Note 4. Apart from how much easier it was to record and post that random moment in my life, something slightly more sinister jumped out at me. It wasn’t until I saw the number of views on my girlfriend’s Insta story that I realized the far wider reach of posting a story on Instagram. I went back to check on my own Story (not the first one as Instagram kinda alerts everyone to it) and I was alarmed to find out that there were probably 7-8 times more viewers.

It’s alarming because I now have to consider that whatever moment in my life that I post on Instagram will be seen by potentially all the current followers I have, but all the followers I had so far were accepted without the consideration of them having such intimate access to what I do in everyday life. That to me is the biggest implication for me. It might be just me (that’s why the title of the article is prefixed [Opinion]) using Stories as a mico-blogging tool / imperfect posting tool but I’m pretty certain I’m not entirely alone in this.

So what’s next? Remember how Whatsapp tried to sneakily slot in a 30 day deadline to opt out of sharing your information with FB? Here’s a reminder: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/08/how-keep-your-whatsapp-data-whatsapp

(and anyway if you have not opted out, there’s no turning back) :

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The whole concept of getting users to share their everyday moments is brilliant from a data collection point of view. Even something as simple as when and where you post allows Facebook to get a better sense of its user’s habits and extrapolate that to information useful to advertisers. That will translate down to everything from the ads we see on our news feed itself to the Sponsored Whatsapp messages we should be seeing soon.

There will also definitely be native advertising that will seamlessly invade our friend’s list of stories while we are browsing through them – http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/11/watch-out-snapchat-facebooks-instagram-stories-now-have-ads.html 

The bottomline is this: every data-driven service out there is trying its best to paint a full picture of its user’s habits and browsing patterns. Google is trying to do that with its own operating system and suite of “indispensable services” (how many of us use Maps while travelling?) and Facebook is trying to TELL advertisers they can do that through its social network but it’s not true because not all of us are on FB everyday. Enter Whatsapp, where it got so much closer to knowing the ins and outs of the 500m+ daily users on it. Whoever reaches the point where it knows its users inside out first, will hold the bargaining chip to all the advertising moolah.

Finally: Is there an end to this? Any service/app needs to eventually find a way to monetize. Growth first, monetize later. Will it be possible to get the best of everything (quality app, no ads)? Or is it only a matter of time? Whatever it is, we can only hope to be on the side that doesn’t lose out too much.

Digital New Analyst School

The past two weeks have been unexpectedly fulfilling and momentous, even if it had just been a speck in the time that is my life so far. I experienced so many firsts, one of which is using my laptop on a plane which I am doing at this moment. I do realize that the frantic pace of life (part trying to juggle work, training and the networking events in the evenings) in the past two weeks had given me little time to reflect deeper than I would have liked and I do want to pen down my feelings now before work starts again.

So I had the opportunity to fly down to Chicago for corporate training for 2 weeks in a conference/training center at St Charles. Real charming place, St Charles is. The past 2 weeks felt like we were enclosed in a self-sustaining bubble with a facility that offered hotel-style lodging, gym and recreational activities and buffet style dining options. It really felt like a second home after 2 weeks and I’ll definitely miss some parts of the place.

Firstly, the firsts. It’s easy to go through things and take the experiences as they are, but personally the virgin experiences are of importance to me. One of my goals in life is to experience all the experiences in life and I am quite glad that some of the experiences I had were profoundly novel and memorable.

It was definitely great to be stepping onto American soil for the first time in my life. I have had past inhibitions about going to the States due to bad experiences I hear from the people around me revolving around racism and discrimination etc. It wasn’t bad at all. I had no such encounters and the service in general was really good. It was also a first to be travelling and staying and eating on someone else’s expense. From a material point of view, it was awesome. It was weird realizing that at some point of time, we would all have to go back home and start bringing along our wallets for meals and such.

It was my first time being part of such an international group of individuals. I’ve had many groups of strangers coming together before but this felt really different. It was (and still is) fascinating to stick a bunch of people from all around the world and see how they work in groups. It is even more fascinating to observe how we reacted under pressure. It made me realize that cultural norms and work ethics are entirely different concepts and yet easily confused for the other. What I thought to be cultural differences previously perceived turned out to be just an individual’s work ethic problem.

2 weeks of interaction turned out to be too short, at least for me, as I realized that we were just starting to be comfortable and opening up to each other towards the end. I reckon its just me though, having to connect with the rest more on an individual basis rather than as a group. It felt vastly different from the international friends you make from travelling or even work. As we bid our final farewells to our new friends, I saw in their faces the realization that we connected on a deeper level. The realization that yes, what we have had here is indeed special and precious (also because it is the last run of the training class) but also with a realization that we may not see each other again. I am fairly certain that I will be thinking of the myriad of interesting personalities I have interacted with even in the days to come. And maybe, just maybe, our paths might cross again.

For 2 weeks we started classes at 8am, finished the day at around 6 and either attended networking events or went out to the malls to shop in the evening. The concept of working beyond hours was a damn well foreign one to the foreigners and I found myself struggling with the fact that I actually wanted and felt obliged to catch up with work back home after hours. Some colleagues pointed out that it may very well be a problem with ourselves (our office) and I didn’t know what to do if that is true anyway. I came across colleagues who were uncomfortable with working beyond bedtime hours and for the most parts of my life I had lived in an environment where pulling all-nighters to finish up a project is commonplace. Then again – hard work is a differentiator. Its hard to deny that for the most parts, putting in the hours and going beyond can reap results. Is it an Asian thing? We played a game called 2 truths 1 lie where everyone had to write 2 truths and 1 lie about themselves on a piece of paper and everyone had to guess which was the lie. There were a few times where among the Indian counterparts, we had people saying that “the longest that have not had slept was 40 hours” or something along that line. Nothing wrong with that but its like we Asians value hard work as a badge of honor. Cultural difference maybe?

And of course, there were many other pictures which I am too tired to post and would probably leave it to the next few days 🙂

Union

Once in a while, you get this feeling that you are embarking on a whole new journey in life. Every day brings newfound wonder and things seem to change but don’t quite change that much. Life is still nonetheless mundane in nature; we eat the same, we do the same and we live the same life. But we don’t quite feel the same; layers and layers seem to add on to existence and before the realisation sets in, life just ain’t the same anymore 🙂

I’ve had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of an unassuming, warm-souled lady roughly a year ago who’s now my partner-in-crime in many of the things we do. A relationship is a daunting and beautiful thing to get into, for all the same reasons. To the playful sprite that has captured my imagination and my heart – I feel that there is no better way to dedicate my affection for her than through the medium of writing, a common love that we share.

When you get to know a person, what do we really uncover? Interests, habits, pet peeves, favourites, so on and so forth. We hear people use the word “nice” all the time to describe others – be it for a lack of a better word or for the fact that it’s really quite easy to be nice most of the time. When we look at an individual’s social circle, however, we see a reflection of past, present and future. How we treat our friends from the day we first met them, how we keep in contact and maintain relationships and how we prove our ties to be strong enough to stay in touch for the days ahead. Something that has intrigued me to no end in recent times.

In mathematical terms (pardon me), when two individuals get together, their social circles should collide (if they don’t, you get what is called a toxic spiral of isolationist inter-possession). A few things can happen.

  1. A left join is when one individual introduces their other half to all of their own social circle and gets introduced minimally to the friends of their SO.
  2. An inner join is when they keep only to their mutual friendsImage result for left join
  3. And there is also what they call an outer join where both individuals form a union of their immediate circle (literally, social circle).

The above can definitely feel surreal at times. It feels like a new journey in life, almost like being integrated into another life. And in essence, that’s really what it is. As an introvert, I definitely know my limits when it comes to meeting new people. But sometimes we try because of our trust – trust in your partner and trust in their choice of relations. There is also trust in yourself – trust in your friends in their acceptance and inclusiveness.

It also feels like a newfound family gained overnight. Weird as it may be, I sometimes inevitably take my own parents for granted but it feels like an unfair adoration of the other side which all of a sudden brings about a fresh appreciation for family and the likes.

Life, in all its peculiarities, can be beautiful indeed.

2016 – year in review

I wonder if I say this every year but 2016 was a really defining year for me. Whatever people say about 2016 being a bad year, with all the celebrity deaths and Brexit and Trump, you yourself make what you have of the 365 days laid out in front of you.

To me, 2016 was 5 things. Tenacity, Networking, Mindfulness, Listening and Love. Sounds like a bunch of airy-fairy bullshit haha but let’s get onto it:

Tenacity

I started actively looking for a job since Oct 2015 onwards. It was a decision I made knowing that 1. I felt that I didn’t have many hard skills to offer in my domain and 2. The job market was going down (and still is, as of now).

In Dec/Jan 2015/2016 a bunch of friends and I started validation on a startup idea. Fast forward to February 2016, and I was on a part-time internship and yet another leadership program cum social enterprise incubator from Ground-Up Initiative (GUI). I kicked off 2016 knees deep in a twice a week full day job, 2 startups in their incubation phase on top of my final semester in school, as well as my ongoing job hunt.

I remember life as a blur back then – I stayed in hostel on Mondays and Tuesdays and went back home on Tuesday nights to work on Wednesdays and Thursdays, often rushing out work on train journeys home before heading back to school on Fridays. Weekends were spent at GUI and the occasional facilitation programs and training.

I think a lot of people are like that and have many things on their plate too. Looking back, I felt that it is important to recognise that a certain tenacity and drive was within me to actually survive through that phase (I have to admit, I did not thrive). You did it before, you can do it again. And we raise the bar higher and higher each time.

Networking

The last point about tenacity ties in with networking – which is to never give up. I went for my first career fair when I was in my first semester of my second year and like many of my peers, we were quickly disillusionised by the ineffectiveness of the whole fiasco. My internship/job hunting buddies dwindled off and I actually find myself attending what would be my last career fair in my second semester of my third year. That day, I finally got lucky and eventually secured an interview with my current company. Don’t ever give up.

And as for networking – like it or not, I realised that it has been falsely mislabelled, vilified as a pretentious act but at the end of the day, it is very much necessary. Case in point – above in my example. Like most people I really hated networking, or rather, the way that the school teaches or drills us in networking. It may be a necessary evil (going around in a circle and doing 60 seconds elevated pitches – some sort of satanic ritual?) but I very much preferred to have done it in my way. I was lucky enough to find out early on during a tech networking session that if you forget about the term “networking” and the obligations associated with it, and simply position oneself as an interested person – you take the stress out of conversing, and an interested person is an interesting person.

The dots do connect themselves (nope, I’m not gonna quote any particular tech evangelist) when you connect with people. As I expanded my circle of friends in both startups and my job hunts, I began to see links and synergistic opportunities. Some of them translated into job opportunities. Go out there, ignore the dogma associated with networking and be an interested person.

Mindfulness

2015 pushed me into a state of reflection which saw me taking up meditation which inevitably exposed me to the concept/state/goal of mindfulness. Mindfulness is undefinable because it is an individual journey, but at its simplest it is about being aware. Being aware of your feelings, your thoughts and how they affect oneself. With awareness comes choice.

I have to admit that 2016 wasn’t so much about meditation anymore, even though I wished I had more discipline to practise it regularly. But I am definitely more mindful than ever. I feel a precision in identifying my thoughts, which empowers me to consciously dissect my emotions and understand why I am feeling what I am feeling. Some of the most obvious uses I have for this is such as when I am feeling jealousy or envy, or frustration at things that are not within my control.

It might be too early for resolutions but it would definitely be a good thing to continue striving for a higher state of mindfulness in the coming year.

Listening

If there was a ‘thing’ that was most important or defining to me in 2016, it has to be that of listening. My partner and I are thoroughly invested in communication between the two of us and very early on I got to know of what it really means to listen to a person. This was validated along the way by my learnings from other sources too.

I lived my whole life (and I think a lot of guys in general) listening to friends and feeling that, oh right – I have been a good friend, I have listened attentively this whole time to the problem at hand, now what advice do I give to solve the problem? Firstly, there isn’t always a ‘problem’ and secondly, we don’t always have to have a solution to every problem.

This year, I became more aware and mindful of how I perceived my friend’s issues and how I reacted to them. It really feels very different to be content with just listening to a friend, and sitting in with them in their problem. And by ‘sitting in’, what I mean is to share the same perspective, to be sitting and facing the same direction as they are in life, to understand what it means to them and to reflect back to them that yes, you are trying to understand what they are going through. Perhaps if they ask for advice, then it can be given.

Love

And yes, listening happens to be one of the love languages (quality time). This year, I learnt that the human capacity to love is still a really amazing thing. I rediscovered my capacity to care for another human being. Apart from the usual notions of love, I similarly realised that there are other dimensions to loving your friends and one of them is for accepting them for who they are.

There is also the faint realisation that what constitutes as love is also slowly changing for me as I grow older. It isn’t so much as just liking both the “personality and looks” of a person (alright I apologize if that’s way too insultingly simplified) but so much of it is about respect and understanding the other. It’s way too much to summarise in this space – but the bottom line is that in the greater scheme of things I still have much to learn and experience.


 

So that was 2016 for me. A year of budding independence and new found zest for life. 2017 here we goooooo

 

Amsterdam and London (part 1/2)

It has been 3 weeks since I put down everything at work to fly off to the other half of the world (almost) for a long and I would say, well-deserved break.

Hadn’t had much time to unpack my thoughts about it as I basically had to pick up all the pending work items #reality and try to recover from the jet lag. It left me thinking, though, about how this might be life as I know it now – living from one holiday to the next.

Featuring photos that were mostly taken with (and by) my partner’s Canon EOS M3 – despite paltry reviews online, I must say that the digital quality of the M3 is simply amazing and it takes incredibly flattering shots with just a simple understanding of photography concepts.

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I think the one thing that stood out for me was not about the country or the sights or the people that I saw, but about the vibe of the trip itself. Travelling with family has its own benefits, but we often have to do family friendly activities. Travelling with friends has so far been quite structured – hiking up mountains, sightseeing or doing community work. To have a like-minded partner feels like a whole new form of freedom, close to travelling alone but having someone to share your thoughts with constantly. We could go to less-thronged places and spend more time at places we liked. One of the things that we did with this level of freedom was to spend our time exploring the markets in London. Camden was one of the largest and it was really refreshing to explore a street market that actually offered novel sights (unlike south-east Asian street markets that have been globalised and standardized by merchant groups).

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There’s something about drinking coffee and other hot beverages in autumn-winter (its definitely winter to me) that makes it a hundred times more enjoyable. Here was where I was first introduced to mulled wine, served beside the store that served Ethiopian coffee. Mulled wine is the warm, spice-infused epitomy of the festive spirit of Christmas here. Little would I know that this would be the first of the many cups I would have here.

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Singaporeans as we are, food is never far off from our heads. We had a friend studying in Manchester joining us – and promptly pointed out the obsession Londoners had with pulled pork. Featured here are the manifestation of our hungry souls – corn chips (not nachos), pulled pork salad and Greek fries with feta. They turned cold by the time we found a table but somehow tasted every bit as good as we imagined. I suspect that the cold makes us all that much more accepting of food – as long as it lines our starving stomachs.

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I love how Camden is so huge – but yet somewhat organised. We eventually ended up at Stables Market, a continuation of the markets with its own history and all. Notice the surveillance camera above the signages – I almost forgot that London used to be (or still is) the most surveilled city in the world. However, having stepped foot in the city for 4 days, I don’t really get the feeling of a Big Brother watching over me – its either we Singaporeans are too used to it, or I myself am too jet lagged to take notice ¯\_ ツ _/ÂŻ

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The Stables had a vibe most befitting of the most hipster of all hipsters. There were vintage items lying all around – making one question if half the goods here were not stolen from some musuem or whatnot.

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This reminded us that we were in the land of The Boy Who Lived, and made me look forward so much to the studio tour.

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In retrospect, I recall that the whole idea of going to London seemed to start from this. Winter Wonderland. I remember hearing it and thinking that it seemed too trivial a reason to choose London as a destination out of the many cities in Europe.

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As a person from a relatively religion-neutral upbringing, I have never really celebrated Christmas for what it is – not with my family, and even then with friends, it was just for the sake of secret Santa and the likes. Almost every year, we would spend Christmas abroad on some family holiday. I had no concept of a Christmas spirit or any festive spirit of any sorts.

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Roaming about the streets of London really captured a part of my imagination in ways never before. I’m not sure if its something about the lights and how pristine they shine at night, or the quaint facade of every single building and neighbourhood that makes everything so regal-looking and colonial. The company, of course, made everything that much more magical. I remember using the word “surreal” to describe the state of things that were more than just a couple of times and it still is, whenever I look back.

As I stepped into this winter wonderland, slowly but surely a part of my heart grew full with a newfound sense of festive cheer. Not all of my favourite memories are captured, but here are some of them.

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Roaming past countless storefronts from the christmas market – even though they all looked the same after a while – it was still a rather pretty and interesting sight.

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We saw another dude setting up his tripod to take a long exposure shot of one of the rides and I kinda wanted to do the same (well at least I gave credit…haha). But this was the result. Slightly blurry, very spontaneous but that’s what makes the picture real to me. On another note, the rides here are no joking matter – I see countless spinning contraptions that spin on other contraptions and so on..much intense.

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Perhaps one of my most vivid memories – I’m not going to reveal if they are good or bad memories. But – there’s nothing quite like huddling around a warm, crackling fire in the wet cold. If I were to find someone to indulge me, I would very much like to sit by a fireside in winter when age catches up on me, side by side with someone familiar, and go on and on about life and all its intricacies.

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It truly rained on our parade – we went on two occasions to winter wonderland (that’s how much we wanted to go) and the last time we were there the weather was much more unforgiving. But I guess everything is a matter of perception – I still find it funny how we had to hunt for a sheltered spot and eventually found one, not before getting all wet and cold (still very sorry I had to get my partner wet :/). The price we had to pay for a roof over our heads was a cuppa mulled wine and hot chocolate for 12 pounds, but we couldn’t care less at that moment. I guess the most amazing thing was how the seats had a warmer integrated into it – my ass was feeling all toasty and…it just felt right hahaha.

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Even a month after I’m back in tropical, sunny Singapore, a part of me knows that I’ll never see Christmas in the same light again 🙂 perhaps, its indeed the best time of the year.

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Can anybody ever read the Harry Potter series, go to London and not visit the studio set? The Warner Brothers studio was by far the furthest attraction from the city area (we were basically roaming about the zone 1 and 2 areas) but it was easily worth a day trip out.

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It was quite unreal to see the actual sets and how down-to-earth real they are as compared to how they look on the big screen. I’m 24 this year and I can truly say that we are the Harry Potter generation – spending a huge part of our youths reading and re-reading our favourite books (in paper-back, no less) and begging our parents to buy the latest release (after Goblet of Fire onwards) and spending the whole night (and day) to finish reading the book in one sitting.

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Everything just seemed so iconic there. At times I wonder if the movies had not been made but the sets existed – would we be able to tell which props were for which items in the books? I remember that the world of Harry Potter for me was entrenched from the first 4 books, which I had read before Sorcerer’s Stone was released on the big screen. Stuff like the dining hall, I can imagine it being so like as in the films. The mind paints a funny hazy impression of what you read – and after watching the movies, its almost as if you can’t go back to the mental picture you had of the novel before you watched the movies. To me, the chamber of secrets was supposed to look like Russian subway tunnels and Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom kinda looked like my primary school toilet.

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But I would say this – the movies brought the series to life. Seeing all the intricate sets and effort put into all the visual effects and props reminded me that some people lived in the wizarding world well and truly.

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Definitely ticked this off the bucket list – found out that butterbeer aint beer but it was so good nonetheless.

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The last room of the tour blew us away. You can’t really tell the scale of the model but there’s no point in trying to put it in words – one really has to see it for oneself to know how breathtaking this was. I had no idea that all these while, the shots of Hogwart’s exterior was shot with a real model, standing right in front of me.

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On what seemed to be the most eventful day in London, we were supposed to eat at this ramen joint recommended by our friend but it was yet to be open for dinner when we arrived. Walked around Tottenham Court road and ended up at another Christmas market. It’s really friggin pretty.

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And it was worth the wait indeed. I’m not the most well-versed ramen connoisseur but Kanada-Ya was the best ramen (and best sit-down meal in London) I had so far. I would definitely recommend it anyday:

https://www.google.com.sg/maps/place/Kanada-Ya/@51.5151292,-0.1282324,17.56z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x48761b32c8a422bd:0xa6d8ce5d74f6042d!8m2!3d51.5154826!4d-0.127594

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We went on to catch Disney’s reimagined portrayal of a classic on stage – The Lion King. Funny thing about Lion King was that in Singapore, video rental shops used to play VCDs (yes that was some time ago) on televisions outside their storefront and people used to crowd around to freeload and watch whatever they were playing.

I fondly remember a very young and impressionable me sitting down to watch the entire sitting of Lion King all the way up till the part where young Simba walks along and transforms into a grown-up Simba. I had no idea why but I started feeling all the feels and actually cried in public, much to the shocked amusement of my parents.

The Lion King was definitely one of the best plays I’ve watched – in terms of the set and the music. I definitely have nothing to say for the story itself as…everyone should be kind of familiar with it haha. It’s one of those plays that reminds you of why theatre exists – to portray an art form that relies only on the creativity of the props and the improvisation of the actors to paint a story for the audience – something that is vividly real and standing just metres in front of you, up on the stage. The Lion King brought some of that magic to life that night. I wouldn’t say that its a play I would not mind watching again – I would definitely catch it again when it comes to town.

The other thing about the theatre culture in London is that it’s so much stronger than the cinema culture. Well technically both are called theatres, but the funny thing was that we wanted to catch Fantastic Beasts in London but there were simply no showtimes after 8.30pm, which was quite a shocker. The operating modicum was also vastly different from Singapore, which only has 3 major theatres which rotates shows and musicals every few months or so. In London, it seems as if every show will be situated in a particular theatre for the long run (like how the Lion King is at the Lyceum) and its kinda special in the sense that there’s a sense of territory to each show.

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The next day, we ended off a memorable trip to London exactly like how we started – exploring markets, this time round going to Borough Market where we thought that it kinda resembled a glorified equivalent of a wet market, but with a few extra cakes and ready to eat foodstuffs thrown in.

I felt that we were thoroughly charmed by London despite the gloomy weather. I recognize that its not entirely fair to say the whole of London as we were largely confined to zones 1 and 2, but the people here and the general air of civility and as well as the colonial architecture is a constant reminder of the richness of culture in the city. Winter Wonderland left an indelible (in a good sense..) impression on me and I find myself yearning to sip a cup of mulled wine and walk past stalls in the Christmas markets in the chilly, wet London air on Christmas day itself. Then again, it may just be the company I had that made me feel that way 🙂

Is 2016 so far proving to be the year of feminism in pop culture?

It seems as though 2016 is not only proving to be the year where:

  1. It’s near impossible to say anything without offending anyone,
  2. It seems like every one of our childhood heroes is passing on,
  3. Politics has never seemed so interesting,

but the voice of feminism has never seemed to be more mainstream, far-reaching, and might I add a little too loud for its own good.

I want to start from the top, say at the end of 2015 with a historic event that is very close to my heart and go on to probably do my best in listing the events that I remember and which I tagged #feminism mentally in the recesses of my head.

The Female Protagonist

So yes, said event at the end of 2015 is none other than Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA) which is definitely a historic event. Alright it’s just a movie series but in the annals of pop culture history Star Wars IS the definite grand daddy of all mainstream movie series and it’s reincarnation in the form of this 7th movie is significant in more ways than the death of Han Solo (yes that’s a spoiler because if you have not watched it…shame on you).

Getting on to the main point: many had correctly pointed out that Disney executed a marketing masterclass with the casting of Daisy Ridley as the main protagonist, Rey in the film. An absolute unknown, fans slowly but surely warmed up to her bubbly and way too unbelievably-authentic mannerisms (think hashtags like #idontwanttogotoworktoday). The stage was set for a feminist win – in the movie, Rey went on to defy all female stereotypes and saves the day (sort of) WITHOUT (and this is important) getting tangled in any romantic bullshit along the way. For the benefit of those who had not seen the film, here’s a breakdown of the ways that Rey steered clear of the classic female supporting role in action movies:

  • In the initial scenes with Finn (the black Stormtrooper), Rey rejected his slightly chauvinistic helping hand thrice (while saying: “I know how to run without you holding my hand”) and eventually saved his ass
  • When Han handed her a blaster before an imminent battle she replies: “I think I can handle myself” (watch out we have a BA over here)
  • She fixes shit (all the shit in fact, hence the Mary Sue accusations  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue)
  • She did not need to undress or in any way sexualize her character for us to be captivated by her performance

Why is this important? I definitely know it’s not the first movie that has a female protagonist or one that does their job without getting involved romantically but its definitely a first time this is done with a relatively unknown in one of the most anticipated movies in recent times (surpassing The Avengers).

And boy (or should I say, girl) did that send ripples of glee throughout the world as young girls everywhere finally had a wholesome hero (not heroine) to look up to. A hero that did not, by the end of the movie got married to some love interest or whatnot and was yet emotionally authentic with her own struggles for us relate to.

Which brings us to 2016, which I felt was basically a year where many jumped onto this “Female Protagonist” bandwagon and basically followed in the wake of Rey’s success.

  • Wonder Woman, where I felt such similar vibes when Gal Gadot stated “What I do is not up to you”
  • Star Wars Rogue One, where it was recently revealed that Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) will be the leading character
  • X-Men Apocalypse also had Jennifer Lawrence as the lead playing Mystique whom I hope will not attempt another motivational speech in the near future
  • Female Cowboys? Jane Got a Gun stars Natalie Portman as a gun-slinging cow girl on a quest to save her husband
  • Ghostbusters had an all-female reboot which proved that slapping on an all female cast ain’t a recipe for success

Feminism in US Politics (which is so entertaining in itself to be considered pop culture)

I think that the whole starting point of writing about 2016 as a year of feminism came from a Vox documentary about how HRC’s debate performances “left Trump’s presidential campaign in ruins” (https://www.facebook.com/Vox/videos/587702298084043/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED).

But in a sense, we can be very thankful for the rhetoric played out these past few months between HRC and Trump. Both are not ideal candidates for sure, but for the past few months, the sensible people of the world have been trying ways and ways to halt Trump’s unbelievable march towards the presidential seat. They tried tearing down his policies (or the lack of it), his morals (for suggesting state-sanctioned murder of terrorist’s families), his financial state and tax returns, his religious extremism but nothing had worked.

We had to wait for a leaked recording for the world to wake up and for dozens of politicians to step up and proclaim that they cannot sanction the actions of Trump because “I know a woman too. My wife’s a woman, my sister’s a woman..” and so on. We had to wait for HRC to be a figurehead of sorts (at least for this campaign) and be the best person you can find right now to denounce Trump’s alleged “respect for women”. Within 3 debates, the margin between the 2 has expanded by 7%.

If HRC does take over as POTUS, it will be sort of a feminist win on both fronts. One for dismantling Trump’s campaign at the final leg, and one for another first for the US, a female president.

 

Too Loud?

I feel that sometimes the publicity can be too much for its own good. There has always been a gap and it seems like overcompensating isn’t going to cut it either. There was so much hoo-hah in 2014 when Emma Watson took on the role of UN Ambassador for gender equality with the speech and whatnot. Its good to know that she’s actually taken the year off from the limelight to work on understanding gender equality on a global scale.

And it does feel a little contrived when people latch on the feminist tag for ulterior motives (which HRC is accused of being guilty of) and when it shows up in places where it’s not needed (in gender neutral situations).

Well, the year is really proving to be too damn well complicated.

 

Do it anyway

So these days on my way to work I try to listen to a hour-long podcast every now and then instead of the routine tunes (good as they are) but today I decided to try one on the way back for a change.

http://www.onbeing.org/program/parker-palmer-and-courtney-martin-the-inner-life-of-rebellion/transcript/8946#main_content

I think there are plenty of important rhetorics that were passed on in this conversation and its worth singling out some of them especially in the context of the world we live in nowadays where its so easy to be consumed by the superficiality of  trends and a general lack of strength in character to stand up for oneself.

It’s an act of rebellion to show up as someone trying to be whole and as someone who believes that there is a hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world.

How counter-intuitive is it to think of rebellion as being wholesome? But it makes sense in a world where its not cool to be prim and proper, not interesting to follow the rules and where nice guys finish last.

It takes courage even, to take a deep breathe and decide that you want to be this wholesome self and in the process show your hidden wholeness to one and all. We call it the “hidden wholeness” because in Courtney Martin’s words we show up as only slices of ourselves in different places. And that is an important rhetoric because we live in a world with an increasingly dynamic social setting where there is your online self and offline self, and the offline self has a dozen other selfs depending on who you are with and whatnot.

We have become used to the idea that it’s alright to partition ourselves to different slices, each handpicked and tastefully (not always) crafted for different settings. I’m not saying we should not, because it is important to sometimes fit into and blend well with company. But what is apparent is that then, choosing to represent your whole self is an act of rebellion.

I won’t say that I am a rebel in that sense, but the idea resonates within me. It’s that part of me that wants to believe in the good. Like Aragorn once said at the brink of the Black Gates, by all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I too want to hold on to the belief and desire that things will work out.

In Parker Palmer’s words which are so poetically put, rebellion can be that very small thing of swimming upstream against a tide of cynicism – and that is what I feel everyday. People who hide behind a wall of cynicism as a defense against the utter vulnerability of believing in the innocent ideals of the good and pure. Because what can be more dreadful than riding the moral high horse and falling off it when faith in humanity is misplaced (more often than not). It’s so, so easy to deride ideas and achievements (that start up is doomed to fail, its just another medal) and put forth the spectre of failure before anything so as to set oneself up for a softer landing when eventually reality don’t seem to match up to expectations. It’s hard sometimes to be the lone voice amidst the voices of ridicule but that’s exactly why it takes courage, a quiet, burning courage.