Camera : A companion

Camera : A companion

For those who know me personally, I am probably best described as that annoying bastard with a camera (probably). Clicking and snapping picture in random situation, like when its raining heavily and suddenly someone ran across the street without any umbrella!, its going to look nice on frame and guess who will be missing from the group?.

Taking picture has became a second nature for me and what started as an interest has somehow turn into a habit; an addictive one at that. Mind you, I started ‘photography’ when I got my first smartphone in high school and that was more than 9 years ago.  Within this so called ‘journey’ in photography, the one thing that has always been loyal by my side is non other than my beloved camera. After all, what is a photographer without a camera?, an eyewitness?.

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Camera is to be brought to for an adventure for the sake of happy memories.

Camera is also the reason for a photographer excuses in many situation; for it might as well be called their source of superpower.

“What are you doing here?”
“I am a photographer Sir!” as you wave your Leica around
“Okay” followed by a slow thumbs up.

“Can I take your picture?” as you nudge your Nikkor lens slightly.
“Sure, why not?”

“Can you let me in?” while slowly raising your white luscious leather covered L lenses camera.
“Sure, just enjoy yourself” as the bouncer open the door for you. Sounds of some techno song struck through your ears. 

Of course, none of the dialogue is true. It probably happen to someone but its plausible at most. Having a camera by your side is like having a free passport to anywhere, you will never be short of excuses if you are clever enough. After all, the camera is your sidekick or in some cases, your Wingman.

Camera is a companion that most photographer choose and consider as a set of tools. You can liken it to a knife that the chef would choose to make the right cut or a soldier who choose which gun caliber suits best for a situation. Camera is a tool for the professional where its uses can be very specific rather than subjective.

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I choose  Ricoh GR as my main travel camera mainly because of the size and the ability to be charged using powerbank. Have I ever mention that the 28mm lens is very good?.

   I personally have 6 different camera, each have a rather different use as I see fit. From a Ricoh GR for a casual day-to-day shooting to a Sony A90 for a rather serious attempt or maybe vise versa . I also use film camera for a certain photography project that I am currently working on. The reason for using a film camera has more to do with how using the camera alter my usual approach to my subject than the actual final output from the film camera.

“If you want to change your photographs, you need to change cameras. Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura.” 

– Nobuyoshi Araki

 

We photographer need camera and the need varies depending on our intention. Of course, an artist never brag about the brush that they are using but they still going to have a set of it to make a painting. To imagine how this actually work, think about Hajime Kimura works in color or Henri Cartier Bresson using the large format camera, can’t really imagine how their picture would be right?. Specific demand require specific camera, so choose the right partner.

Still, everything that I mention here doesn’t justify the urge to get all the best camera in the world (My dream camera is the Pentax 645D). You only get what you need. Like someone I met few years ago said, photography is a bit like marriage, you need to balance everything considerately or risk losing everything.

End of rant.

 

 

 

UTATANE by Rinko Kawauchi | A thought

UTATANE by Rinko Kawauchi | A thought

I remember the time when a friend of mine happen to brought some photobook from Japan. We were hanging out at a friend place at 1Borneo Shopping mall while discussing some geeky stuff on Photography; mainly on famous photographer and camera equipment. The topic that suddenly came out during that time was how Japanese photographer had a rather peculiar way in approaching photography. Araki with his cheap porno shots (not that I have a problem with though) and Daido with his understanding that everything has its beauty.

As we finally agree on that matter, another friend of mine happen to brought a photobook of his personal favorite photographer and I recall the way how he describe it as “Soft, serene, poetic” through Facebook message. I was skeptic about it for a while and a few pages through the photobook confirm my thought beforehand. It was more of a “Mundane, cliche’, flat”. I found the photobook to be boring for a while with no obvious narrative apart from its suggestive title and the book was none other than those of Rinko Kawauchi.

I wasn’t a fan of people using the highly popularize lomography tone (I used to refer the soft pastel color tone of Rinko work as Lomography tone) on their work and while Rinko works isn’t exactly ‘cross processing’, but it’s the fact that she use the film negative to create a soft tone images was very distasteful in my opinion at that time. I see it as a cheap way to romanticize a mundane scene and amateur photographer around the world have been copying her style to utter failure.

Rinko Kawauchi is a highly successful international photographer but I haven’t really consider much about her work until few years ago during Zhuang Wu Bin workshop. He mentioned some photographer who has successfully document their family life and one of them is Rinko Kawauchi. I was shocked, not because of her mesmerizing visual photograph but the fact that there is another side of Rinko Kawauchi that actually document stuff (yeah, I know). The misunderstanding was entirely my fault to begin with. Rinko has always had a clear concept in her mind and it was just me being oblivious in making a certain statement without actually bothering to give it a second look.

The book that was shown during the presentation was ‘Cui Cui’, a compilation of Rinko family photographs that was taken for the last 12 years. The fact that it took her 12 years to compile such collection of impressive photograph is a feat in itself and in photography, the sentimental value of a photograph increase overtime. Such was the editing itself was impressive and it has shed a new light on Rinko Kawauchi, she is a fucking genius!.

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The cover for ‘Utatane’

Sadly, the book is not mine and getting it online is rather hard as well since the book is no longer being printed. I needed a reference of her work to remind myself of my own shortcoming, or more like an inspiration for future work. The only book that I could get was ‘Utatane’ from Foiltokyo, part of the 3 early photobook that she published during her debut in 2001; which also earn her the 27th Kimura Ihei Photography Award .

PRINTING QUALITY

Much of the quality of Rinko work comes through the vibrant color of her photograph which can only means that the level required for the printing should be nothing less than good. Foiltokyo is a well known photography and design book publisher, so there is no such flaw to begin with as the book binding and choice of paper is rather appropriate given the price and the size of the photobook.

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Just to show how clever Rinko is in allowing the reader to interpret her work. I assume this is probably a relationship of the bubble being fragile similar to the thin line that is holding the two thread. 

NARRATIVE AND SEQUENCING

The thing with Rinko’s photo editing and sequencing is that it never really get boring. seriously.

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ALL OF US WORSHIPING TO THE ONE AND ONLY ALMIGHTY!!! (You can make up what you want to say)

I am sure that a lot would argue with the fact that all the picture that Rinko took could be taken by anyone, it’s so fucking simple. True, but not all of the photograph is that simple and many people had try to copy her ‘style’ before and fail miserably. The main reason is simply because I believe she has a lot of photograph to work on (or to choose from) and she sequence all her photograph in a form of pair which could either form a relationship between the two or against it.

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From dark to light, a sequence on surprise. This one is my favorite. 

The sequencing can be funny sometimes, interesting on the other, clever in some part, and simply weird in many way. It’s very hard to pinpoint where the narrative is going through for ‘Utatane’ but this is the kind of editing that allow you to enjoy the entire series even though you had left it on the bookshelf for years. ‘Utatane’ means ‘Siesta’ which according to the definition from Google, its a noun that state “an afternoon rest or nap, especially one taken during the hottest hours of the day in a hot climate.”. So her editing did in many way reflect that; a short dream that happen when you took a nap.

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Sometimes Rinko also add in a similar visual element to pair up for the editing. The timing within the pages is rather refreshing. 

‘Utatane’ is not as famous as her other series such as ‘Aila’ and ‘Illuminance’ but it does give you some insight on how his dreamy looking series works. There is simple brilliance throughout the book and you can feel the warmth of summer Japan all from Rinko personal perspective.

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Again similar visual element being used as a pair. Maybe our sky is just a big washing machine to the alien above. 

CONCLUSION

Need some warm sunshine feeling of Japan?, grab a copy of ‘Utatane’ and immerse yourself in it. I did notice that her other series (Illuminance and Murmuration) is also impressive but for now, this would suffice to satisfy my curiosity on Rinko’s work.

Until then. Or when I get some spare cash to spend.

MID 2016

MID 2016

All is well so far for 2016.

As for my University life, all the thing that I try to do from my ‘New year resolution list’ is slowly being done but of course apart from my love life; which is as miserable as it always is. So far for this year, I manage to get into my first architecture competition at the end of last year and managed to get third place out of 20+ participant from all over Malaysia. I also got myself busy with some extra-curricular activities which I try to avoid before in the past, something that I try to actually get myself involve in a different circle of people and at the same time improve my time management skill.

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Part of my presentation board for my design studio.

The thing with my semester break this time is that I will be involve in a several events few weeks before the next semester start which means my ‘holiday’ is not exactly 3 months but only for a solid 2 months. It did force me to change my mid-semester plan short as I did plan to take several design commission but nevertheless, I happen to work at my old company instead since they are short in staff at the moment (a rather surprise decision actually). This in addition will help me ease through next semester financially and hopefully funds me to do something interesting on the next semester break.

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That final project feeling.

Coming back to Labuan for the semester break allow me to be more collective in thought, like considering how much had I progress so far in life (Current Level : 24, 2456 EXP required to the next level) and focusing on what to do next. Photography wise, it’s time to get back to my previous work and to actually review my past work. There is this wise photographer once told me that you need to detach yourself from your photograph that you took and guess what happen when you been away from looking at your photograph for like a year?, that awful nauseating feeling of seeing a newbie works!.

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A remnant of my past documentation work on Labuan. 

True enough that some of the photograph feels as if it works when I show it to Wu Bin last time but now I realize how true his opinion is, it just doesn’t work, composition wise or technical wise. Maybe it’s time to be more ruthless when it comes to editing my work and to be a more tougher critic of my own work.

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A rather slow process to get everything in perspective.

Going back to my contact sheet for my ‘The Promised Bridge’ long term photography project, maybe, just maybe I finally get a grip on what I actually been seeking through the project; that mundane melancholy of Labuan itself.

This will be another tiring mid-semester break all over again.

 

IT’S 2016.

IT’S 2016.

 

Exam is done and home here I come!.

Its been a long day of flight for me and I just finished organizing my workdesk for little bit. I guess the right thing to do now is either to read a few pages of Haruki Murakami or finish this blogpost which has been in draft since last year. (pun intended)

Looking back at the stuff that I manage to do last year, I would have to say that it’s been another great year. Continuing my study is perhaps one of the major highlight of the year because I am leaving a rather comfortable job as a Junior Architectural Designer. It’s been a great 3 year stints at the firm but I foresee a rather bleak future where I am unable to reach my true potential as a mature professional.

At the start of the New Year, my former mentor, Steven Lee post up a rather interesting request to all his photography friend. The request were rather simple where everyone post up their own definition of photography along with their Favorite photograph that define their understanding or style of photography over the year. This simple question has a really strong effect on me at that time since I will busy with my study for the next few years, where would my photography work would go?, or will I be able to retain the same curiosity and vision to produce a great series of work in the future?.

“Photography started out as an excuse for me to go out and getting away from my family and still is one of my favorite excuse to stay late while hanging out with my friends. Over the years, this excuse turn into a routine that has became part of my life where the act of capturing a ‘great’ photograph become more as an act of preserving thoughts and memory.

Few years ago, the worlds seems big with Photography but now my work has become much narrow in perspective and I am slowly turning into a selfish photographer that only concern with my own fetish of my surrounding. Certainly, I consider myself as a good photographer, just not a great one.” – Kelvin Ah Kian

That was the same comment that I post to Steven on what photography means to me. There is probably a sense of ego and humility in my post but being honest is all I had for it. For those who had been following me on facebook over the years, It seems that I have nothing new worth showing up  on facebook. True but not because of artist block or anything, I just have been very selective on what to show and what not.

So for 2016, I have my own resolution that hopefully will allow me to be better as a photographer and much more focused on my interest, especially on student lifestyle or maybe landscape. Part of the thing that I will focus on for the rest of they year is probably as following;

GET BACK TO THE FUNDAMENTAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Philip Chong (one of my earliest online mentor) always stress before that any amateur photographer should master the true basic fundamental of photography which consist of 5 point (if I was not mistaken) Shutter, ISO, Aperture, Composition, and probably type of lenses?. But that is not the point, the rule is that once you have master all this point, understanding other photography genre is easy and the same thing apply when you try apply a certain idea or concept into your work. Surely since my Ricoh GR has been performing well on most situation, my photography skills has been a bit dull compare to the time when I use my old Nikon.

So I am going to refresh myself by going through some photobooks by Henri Cartier Bresson, a hero that I sought after, before I hit the shorelines around the Island in the next few months (Labuan or Penang).
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The Ultimate camera.

REPLACE MY COMPANION FOR THE YEAR

I am a fan of football.

Not a fanatic, just a fan, especially on Arsenal FC, the current leading team for the Premier League 2015/2016. Similar to football, you need to replace or add someone into your team every season since, well, football technical strategy reason of course.

I believe I have a decent amount of gear to enjoy with to go through the next few years with my personal project but ever since one of my player camera has died on me, I have been thinking of getting something much more robust that suits my hectic student lifestyle. There are thousand of option but thanks to my limited student budget, I could only get a certain few. Surely the medical repair cost for the camera going to cost a ton so why not spend it on a brand new camera?.

The criteria should be align with my main objective for the year, which is getting ‘back to basic’ so I believe getting a film analog camera should be great. I have been planning to replace my Yaschica TLR since it suffer from a rather serious haze on the lens element but somehow getting a compact camera or an SLR camera seems a better choice since it is much more flexible to use.

CONCLUSION

Since this was written during my semester break, I will probably have a few stuff that I need to get done with before I can enjoy the freedom of roaming around the Island. Surely this year seems to be heading towards another great year and with a few photography festival that I plan to attend in the coming month, I am sure I could learn more in the coming years.

Till then, Gong Xi Fa Cai.

 

Heading on a new adventure

Heading on a new adventure

For those who are close to me in real life, they already know that for the next few years, I will be based in Penang for my further study.

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Some of the SMS that I received on the result of my University application.

After my 3 years stint as a Junior Designer in a small Architecture firm at Labuan, its finally the right time for me to part way with the company. My years at the office has been fun and far more valuable than I imagine before as I experience the real world construction industry especially in a small busy industrial island of Labuan. During my time with the company, I had manage to conceive a few large scale construction project by myself and that alone gave me a great insight which I am sure will be a help for me during my study. Nevertheless, at my age, I felt that there are still many thing that I could achieve. The decision to continue my study was a no brainer. I knew that with my result and experience, I could get into most University (which is true where I actually got an offer from 3 of Malaysia top university to continue my study). After reviewing all the choice that I have, I finally decided to continue my study at University Sains Malaysia, simply because of its ideal location/courses and the fact that there is an unlimited choice of food around Penang.

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Photography is not just about taking pretty pictures, its about preserving time and memory that will soon be forgotten by time. Shown here is some of the picture that I took and receive from other photographer.

As a Photographer and an aspiring Architect to be, this journey mark another chapter in my life. My main objective is of course to improve all the skill that I had and meeting new people. Despite being an Introvert, I actually enjoy meeting new people. Meeting new people allow me to share my idea and in exchange, gaining a few more knowledge on anything related.
Consistency is something that I try to achieve in both Photography and Architecture. After finishing a series on my father, I continue to work on the short edit for my photography project on the shorelines of Labuan.

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My fellow classmate for the next few years.

For the time being, I am working on a blog that document my student life at the University. It’s not a photography project but more like an ongoing journal on the life of an Architecture student. I am not sure how long I could keep it up. Only time could tell.

After thought on my Photography project : Between two sons (2014-2015)

After thought on my Photography project : Between two sons (2014-2015)

Few months ago, I finally finished a short photography project of mine where I have been exploring the use of old photograph with a new.

It started during my session with Exposure+ workshop program last year where I present a series of off-shore oil and gas worker in a ‘Diptych’ format. The idea was to show a contrast between the worker and its surrounding. During the early part of the workshop, I intent to capture it from a wider perspective but the main objective is somehow lost due to the subject size within the frame. I have been through some discussion with Steven Lee (my mentor for Exposure+) and we finally found a way to project the idea visually and that is through ‘Diptych’. In my opinion, there is probably a better way to use ‘Diptych’ format since it allow the viewer to subconsciously comparing the difference between the two photograph, similar to how photograph that is placed side by side on a photobook pages.
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 Earlier attempt in documenting the off-shore worker in public spaces around Labuan. It use similar format but different concept. Steven and I have this feeling that there is something off with the way the project being shown in this format.

‘Diptych’ is nothing new in the history of Photography but I always thought that the idea can be use on a different context. ‘Between two sons’ was initially started after a discussion with Zhuang Wu Bin, a renowned photographer and curator in South East Asia, during his workshop in early 2014. He gave his thought on my idea and point out the possible flaw of my approach. It prove beneficial as always and it took me a few weeks before I began taking pictures for the series. Basically its because of procrastination and nothing less.

10417633_1492285394318865_3967842455661001043_nSome of the material that I brought during my workshop with Zhuang Wu Bin at Kota Kinabalu last year.

‘Between two sons’ was something that I had always wanted to do for a photography project, something that is personal and yet subtle in terms of visual presentation. It is used to show my relationship with my father and how our difference came to be due to the fact that we grow up from an entirely different era and circumstances. My relationship with my father is in fact great but this project is to show the little argument that we had throughout the year and the irony of the said argument. Perhaps the initial concept was to show the conflict of our relationship but it is in fact a subtle message of my love to my father. Our difference is in fact counterweight by our similarities.

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One of the few photograph from ‘Between two sons’.

Throughout the project period, all the photo of me was not a self-portrait but actually taken by my little brother or a colleague who happen to be with me for the photograph. There is something interesting from this process where despite me, the photographer, became a subject of my own idealogy, taken by other photographer, to conceive a narrative which is this project. The relationship is a peculiar one indeed and it reminds me of the discussion that we had at Chiang Mai on what makes a Photographer Photographer. The picture was not taken by me but do I have the right to claim the right for the entire series?. Perhaps the discussion could be decided on court (refering to the copyright issue between a monkey and some wildlife photographer) but I would rather not.

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My photographer on numerous session. Brought the tripod along but I found that having a human holding the camera is much more easier/quicker to execute.

I had received numerous comment and feedback after having it posted on one of Zhuang Wu Bin blog. The feedback from my audience on facebook can be categorize into humorous, interesting, and clever. Some people found it to be funny since our looks are similar (i am his son for god sake) and the fact that even at this age, I haven’t been able to settle with a decent relationship with the opposite sex. ‘Interesting’ is often mentioned for the fact comparing two different picture can somehow create an interesting visual narrative. ‘Clever’ was used for people to give me some credit on doing something that has never been done before (it’s not true, there is nothing new with Diptych and in fact the format is widely use in magazine and photobook).

Completing the project was a relief, it means I finally been able to conceive a photography project that I truly satisfied with the output. I am sure it can be better in many way but for now, the work stands for itself. I did plan to have it exhibit in some way but the scale is to small and most likely work better in a group exhibition of a similar theme.

Here I am sitting in my dorm room wishing for the Malaysia currency to bounce back so I could finally settle my long overdue Photography website of mine.

Hari Gawai 2015

Hari Gawai 2015

Earlier last month at the end of June, I decided to join a friend back to his home village to celebrate the Harvest Festival. Being a Sino Kadazan, I never been to a longhouse before but my friend assure me that although the longhouse nowadays are made from a much more contemporary material, the culture has pretty much remain the same.

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The town at Limbang is busy with people preparing for the Harvest festival tomorrow.

We took the ferry from Labuan and arrive at the Limbang Jetty in the next few hours. The ride was smooth while the immigration system is pretty efficient as well. Limbang is part of Sarawak therefore its jurisdiction is different compare to those from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah.

The town however; although small, is pretty busy with people stocking all the necessary item for a feast. A longhouse usually hold at least 10 family but its not uncommon for some longhouse to have at least 50 family in a single row. My friend brought his family back to the village for the holiday and as usual, we will bring our own share of the celebration by buying liquor and meats.

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A pig head that my friend brought back for the barbeque.

After we were done with the shopping, the next agenda of the day is to visit their ancestor graveyard which is meant to pay their respect and praying for their blessing for the upcoming festival. It is a pretty common practice for most races in Malaysia.

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A Christian Cemetery
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Paying their respect for the elder. My friend grandfather who passed away few years ago.

The journey back to the village took us about 1 hour and half despite our aggressive driving. There is no proper asphalt road that connects the village with the main road but according to my friend, the road is in a much better condition than it was few years ago, plus there is electricity grid throughout the area.

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4WD vehicle is a standard choice for the people around the area. We are stopping by at my friend family orchard before continuing our ride back to the village.

The longhouse is actually really long. Its similar to the British terrace house design with a long corridor or ‘ruai’ connecting the house. The ‘ruai’ is consider as a public area where kids and elders usually hang out. I didn’t spent much time exploring outside the longhouse since the family has been very welcoming ever since I got there. Everyone is pumped up for tomorrow and preparation is hasten towards midnight.

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Part of the ‘Ruai’. Its big enough for the kids to play and surely big enough to hold hundreds of people celebrating the harvest festival.
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The backyard of the longhouse. Store were built to keep farming equipment away from the longhouse.

Iban people are known for being fond with alcoholic drinks and true to their reputation, we were serve with some rice wine and pork barbecue to freshen our day. I couldn’t remember much after that day since I haven’t been sober for the next few days. Drinks were serve like there was no tomorrow but falling asleep was pretty easy.

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Alcohol can do wonder to people.
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A family gathering.

The next morning I woke up with a terrible hangover. My mouth was dry and my stomach was hungry but that is pretty much what we do for the next few days; drink, eat, and sleep. Its holiday and many of the family relatives came back for the week to celebrate the festive occasion where having a great time being their main objective.

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Barbecue pork meat and a few shots of whiskey.
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Serves up!
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Again, Alcohol could do wonder and at a time like this I wish I was not that drunk to hold the camera properly.

Later on that day, I did got the time to explore some part of the village. The village is surround by dense forest with a river passing through in between. Back then, people of the village have to rely on the river as their main transportation method but ever since the road was built, it hasn’t been used much due to safety and convenience.

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Gathering some edible palm from nearby tree for tonight dinner. 
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The scenery around the area. 

My original intention to join my friend back for a visit is actually to have a look at their old wooden longhouse structure, which remain pretty much as it is despite being in ruin for a long time. My friend uncle brought me to the place and being drunk as hell, the three of us make a journey through the forest, barefoot.

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Entrance to the old longhouse.
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The inside of the longhouse with the top space being used as a place to keep harvested rice. Similar to how Kadazan people used to keep their rice.
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Drunk as hell. To be honest, I didnt remember how we walk out from that place.

The highlight of the harvest festival would be during midnight where blessing and prayers are given throughout the longhouse. Again, I don’t really remember how the night goes, my camera however are still by my side and somehow I manage to even change my memory card. Looking through the picture do made me realize that festive event should be fun for everyone while preserving our own culture and identity. The night last until dawn with people tossing their glass and laughing at each other jokes. During the last day of my stay there, they even hired a local band to entertain the people with everyone joining in for the dance.

A truly festive season that I truly enjoy which I wish I was not that drunk during my entire stay.

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Sarawak national flag.
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Before the praying session start. I didn’t ask about the ceremony in detail though.
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The younger people enjoying the drinks and music.
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DANCE, DANCE.