Anak burung, Pak John!

I was making some photos in the ‘Belian Garden’ (medicinal plants) at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Gardens), when one of my workmates beckoned me over to show a perfect little bird’s nest hidden inside one of the bushes. “Anak burung, Pak John!” The two tiny little featherless things hadn’t even opened their eyes.


He said the parents were out getting food, and sure enough, in a nearby tree was a ‘Karuang‘ (Sooty-headed bulbul, Pycnonotus aurigaster), with some tasty morsel in its beak, anxiously waiting for us to go away from the imperfectly-hidden nest.


I checked on the chicks’ development over the next week, and it was amazing how quickly they transformed into something more recognisably birdlike. But, two days ago, the nest was empty. No sign of any violence (e.g. from a cat), but surely they weren’t big enough to fly independently, so I fear the worst for them….


The Pemulung of Piyungan

As part of our most recent month of training in Indonesian language and culture at the Wisma Bahasa school in Jogjakarta, we got to go on two half-day ‘field trips’. Because we had already been all the ‘standard’ tours on offer at least once (the Kraton, Borobodur, Prambanan, Pasar Beringhardjo, Kota Gede, Imogiri etc) we were asked where else we’d like to go.


So (of course!) we nominated the Tempat Pembuangan Akhir (TPA) – the local garbage disposal facility and landfill site. After some efforts to dissuade us (“It smells REALLY bad!, you know” “It’s muddy, filthy, and unsanitary!” “You’ll need to wear a mask”) it was agreed, and Mas Anof kindly consented to accompany us there.


The TPA has been in operation near the village of Piyungan, about 16km southeast from central Jogja, since 1995. The site, which covers 13 hectares, is the final site of waste disposal for the city of Jogjakarta, as well as the adjacent Kabupaten (districts) of Bantul and Sleman.

It was constructed in three stages, with a total planned capacity of some 1,300,000 cubic metres. That’s a big heap of garbage. Due to the sheer volume of accumulated waste at the site, and also because of its location amongst some (rather scenic) limestone karst formations, it’s known as the ‘Gunung Sampah’ (the ‘Garbage Mountain’).


In addition to the many people who live and work in the area, the TPA is home to hundreds of cattle, who feast on the waste vegetable matter, leaves and tree prunings that get dumped there. They roam freely over the site, and are remarkably healthy-looking – considering their diet and habitat. They are owned by the families who live and work at the site.

One owner told me that they sell the meat from the cattle at the public markets. We were instantly attracted to vegetarianism.


People and cattle mingle freely across the site, seemingly oblivious to each others presence.


A steady procession of trucks and utilities arrive, each loaded to the brim (and above) with garbage.


As each load is dumped, groups of workers arrive to sort through the load, looking for bottles, recyclable plastic and paper – and anything else that might be of value. They are usually referred to as pemulung (scavengers), but it may be more respectful to call them pengumpul barang bekas (collectors of used goods).

I don’t know how many pemulung currently work at the TPA – but back in 2007 there were 225.


They only get paid for what they collect, so they work with speed and efficiency, without a lot of ‘workplace chatter’. There are roughly equal numbers of men and women, and (pleasingly) we didn’t see any children. Most of them wear the conical Javanese ‘caping’ hat as protection from sun and rain, and most are very sensibly kitted out in gumboots. Many wear gloves, but all carry a short pole with a hook on the end to pick up recyclable plastic and paper, which is then dropped into a large bamboo basket.


Each pemulung gives her or his collected stuff each week to a particular ‘skipper’ (juragan), each of whom may ‘oversee’ between 10 and 20 pemulung. The juragan recruits the workers, many of whom come from Pantai Baronan, on the far east coast of the Jogjakarta region.


jogjakarta_tpa_20161215_105We were told that a good pemulung can make a ‘reasonable’ amount of money in a day, enough that they don’t have to work every day to get enough for subsistence living. And if you didn’t have to work there every day – why would you?

We found out later that they can earn around Rp600,000 to Rp700,000 per month (around AU$70 – just over $2 per day). That’s if they are fit and healthy, which is not always the case.


There is no sick leave, superannuation or holiday pay. Possessing no capital resources, little or no formal education, and no control over the prices they are paid for their work, they have little or no opportunity to escape from this workplace.

The work is also dangerous. On 21 February 2005, an ‘avalanche’ at the another landfill site (Leuwigajah, near Bandung), buried 71 houses and killed some 143 pemulung and others at the site.


At first we were quite reticent about photographing the people at work, thinking that they might feel shamed or disrespected by being pictured doing such a dirty and menial activity. The negative connotations of ‘poverty porn’ came to mind.


But no-one declined when asked to be photographed, and some seemed to rather enjoy the attention.


Mostly, though, everyone was so focussed on their work that they largely ignored us, apart from responding to the usual greetings, and asking the ‘where-are-you-from’ type questions.


The pemulung actually provide an important service. It’s estimated that 20-30% of the waste dumped at the TPA is recycled (including that portion which is eaten by the cattle). Without this reduction to the volume of waste the landfill would have exceeded capacity several years ago.


It’s good to see what happens to our waste after we throw it out, and it was a fascinating, shocking, thought-provoking, outrage-inducing experience to visit the Jogja TPA. And yes, it is a smelly place, and our clothes (and especially shoes) needed professional cleaning before they could be worn again.



During another very enjoyable month in Jogjakarta, we went away for one extended weekend to visit the city of Semarang, located on the north coast of Central Java. We were in great company, accompanied by Kadek and Roro (who are, in equal measure, our guides, teachers and friends) and by Martine and Juris (who are fellow volunteers, fellow students – and also friends). It turned out to be (as always) an interesting and rewarding excursion. Here’s a few highlights…


Our drive up there skirted around several volcanoes, including Merapi and and Merbabu.


Semarang is the fifth biggest city in Indonesia (after Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Medan). Although the city proper ‘only’ has a population of 1.8 million, the greater urban area totals around six million.  We arrived at the start of a long weekend, and it seemed like all six million of them were on the road. (Yes, those balloons are on a motorbike.)


There is a sizeable Chinese Indonesian community in Semarang, and a number of examples of Chinese architecture, and not just in the ‘Chinatown’ area of town. The Sam Poo Kong temple dates back to the beginning of the 15th Century CE, when the Chinese Muslim explorer Admiral Zheng He visited the area. He (He) prayed in a little cave, and a small temple was established on the location. It is now a site used by people of various faiths – Confucian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, while retaining a very Chinese feel to the architecture and artworks. Over the centuries it has endured many cycles of neglect and renovation, and was restored to its present impressive condition just ten years ago.


The Tho Tee Kong temple (also called Dewa Bumi) is used by people praying to the earth god Tu Di Gong – who will “provide fertile soil, abundant harvest and a wealth of natural resource diversity”.


The temples (klenteng) have all been built around a central paved square. One one side is a large stage area, used for all kinds of performances and ceremonies. While we were there, a large team of young Danish gymnasts arrived to put on an acrobatic show for the bemused locals.


We visited each of the temples on site, attracting some curious glances, and (as always) great interest from the children.


When we arrived at the Klenteng Tay Kak Sie, preparations were under way for a ceremony to mark the seventh anniversary of the death of prominent member of the community. A model house, complete with cars, staff, air conditioners, satellite dish etc was constructed, all from paper, to be burnt later that day. Meanwhile temple attendants prepared an elaborate meal for the spirits.


An oil flame candle burnt in a bowl beside the shrine.


In another part of the temple are shrines for several bodhisattvas and guardian deities – this one to the ‘minor’ Taoist god Kong De Zun Wan (known in Hokkien as Kong Tik Djoen Ong).


Displayed in alcoves along one wall are engraved tablets dedicated to the memory of prominent members of the community.


Not far from the Klenteng Tay Kak Sie is Kota Tua, the old Dutch centre of town, with a number of fine (and not-so-fine) examples of colonial architecture.  (The centre of town has long since moved to another area, which is less prone to flooding.) The Immanuel Protestant Church of Western Indonesia (generally known as Gereja Blenduk) was first built in 1753, and is the oldest church in Central Java.


Beside the old church is a little lane lined with about a dozen stalls. They call it an ‘antique market’, but in reality it’s a wonderfully eclectic mix of genuinely old stuff, artwork of variable quality, broken and/or obsolete equipment (anyone need an instamatic camera or a Gestetner machine?), quirky oddities – and some tacky junk. All set out against a backdrop of attractively run-down warehouses and offices. All very photogenic…


These old cameras are now mute (they’re cameras, after all…) but, if they could speak, I’m sure they’d have many interesting stories about the exotic scenes they had captured…


We have developed quite an interest in children’s games and toys in Indonesia, with many traditional games (e.g. kite-flying, spinning tops) still very popular. Karen was delighted by these little toys, which may be unique to this area (Does anyone know more about them? The stallholder himself did not know much). You wind a piece of string around the wheel, and the figure is somehow propelled forwards when you pull on it


The owner of this stall seems to have made a point of hanging a printed photo of former President Suharto beside another of Hitler and Mussolini. ‘Old Order’ and ‘New Order’?


Another stall had a great mingling of European ceramics and Javanese statues and other artworks. The four figures above would be immediately identifiable to any local. They are Semar, Gareng, Petruk and Bagong – the four Punakawans who are only found in the Indonesian version of the Mahabarata epic. They appear clownlike, but they are themselves gods, and are deeply profound observers of human folly – especially Semar (on the left in the photo above) – who is the father of the others.


After a rather nice seafood lunch at the local branch of the Rumah Makan Cianjur franchise we went to visit the Lawang Sewu. This compound of four elegant white colonial buildings is the former headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company. In the Javanese language, Lawang Sewu means “one thousand doors”, and there certainly are a LOT of them – though perhaps not quite 1,000! The central courtyard is adorned with frangipani trees and one huge and very old mango tree.

Construction of the complex began in 1904, in an architectural style known as ‘New Indies’, apparently a version of Dutch Rationalism, transitional between 19th century classicist and the modernist styles of the early 20th century.


The Japanese occupied the building during the 2nd World War, and used the basement of one building as a prison. Several executions took place there. Later in the war there was a battle between Dutch and Japanese troops in the tunnels below the building, in which many died. As a result of this history, the building has a strong reputation for being haunted, including by at least one headless spirit. (Indonesians seem to commonly believe in ghosts, and enjoy being terrified of them!)

The basement is closed off at present, supposedly for renovations, but I got at least one ghost photo upstairs (who bore a striking resemblance to our friend and fellow volunteer Martine!)


A nearby church spire viewed from the top of the Lawang Sewu.


Along the lane of the Kota Tua ‘Antique Market’.


Street art on a wall near Lewang Sewu.


Wayang kulit

Back in Jogja for another month of Bahasa Indonesia tuition. Déjà vu sekali!


Over the years, we’ve attended several performances of that most Javanese of artforms, the wayang kulit, or shadow play.  (A closely related form of wayang kulit is also found in Bali – as in the photo above).

In the wayang kulit performance, a master puppeteer (Dalang) sits behind an illuminated cloth screen (kelir), and tells stories using the shadows cast by the large number of two-dimensional, semi-articulated puppets that he has arrayed in front of him.


The stories told are mostly derived from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with many characters and narratives added to the Indonesian versions of these classic Hindu epics. There is drama and pathos, good vs evil, romance – and a large amount of broad rollicking humour, with the Dalang adding in references to contemporary events. The Dalang is supported by a gamelan orchestra, and the performance, which will go for many hours without a break, is bound to contain something of appeal to every member of the audience.


Audience members, sitting in front of the screen, greet the appearance of each new character with gasps, hoots of delight, sighs etc as appropriate. They recognise the shapes, and they know the names and personalities of every one of the dozens of characters, and their place within the overall narrative. Some of the characters are perennial audience favourites, such as the powerful Bima and the comical Panakawan servants, led by the god/clown Semar.

The stories can be a bit opaque to the foreign viewer, as they are told in the Javanese (or Balinese) languages.


We have enjoyed watching the wayang kulit shadow puppet performances, but until our recent visit to the village of Gendeng (just south of Jogjakarta) we hadn’t realised just how much effort, time skill and creative art goes into making the flat puppets themselves.

As with most of the ‘traditional’ material arts of Indonesia, there is no meaningful boundary drawn between craft and art, or between the skills of creation and construction, as is (erroneously, IMHO!) applied in the West.

The workflow begins with a whole skin from a water buffalo (kulit kerbau). Buffalo skins are stronger and more even in thickness than those from cattle. The best ones are imported from the region of Toraja in South Sulawesi.

In the photo above, Pak Suyoto, who is a specialist in skin preparation (proses pengolahan kulit perkamen), removes the hair and outer layer of hide from the tautly stretched skin. [These scrapings of hide – minus the hair – are later deep fried with a mixture of garlic and salt and eaten as a snack. Surprisingly tasty!]

The skin is soaked, cleansed and cured (sometimes for years) in preparation for making the puppets. By this stage it is clean, stiff and translucent.


Pak Daldek prepares a full size drawing of the puppet to be created drawn onto paper (or, in this instance, a photocopy of a drawing!), and places it below the (now-translucent) sheet of buffalo hide.


Working on the floor, Pak Daldek uses a set of variously-sized hole punches (mostly shaped like heavy duty nails) and cutting blades to cut out the main features of the puppet design.


Transferred to a workbench, the details of faces, body, and the articulated limbs are carefully added to the puppet until complete. The precise design of each character (angles, lines, placement of holes) is codified, and must be memorised and carefully applied by the maker.


At another bench, the specialist painter or pelukis wayang (Pak Parjio) applies water-based inks by brush. The pigments are water-based, and are (or were?) all traditionally derived from natural materials – lampblack, blue from indigo, white from burnt bones, yellow from ochre and red from cinnabar – all fixed in a medium of egg-white. Commercial pigments may be used nowadays. In the better quality puppets, gold is applied not by ink but as gold leaf.


Some of the complicated patterns which are painted on include really finicky details.


Pak Suprih is the master puppet-maker (Empul Wayang in Bahasa Java) and owner of the workshop the we visited. He began making wayang kulit in 1974, and studied as an apprentice with two other masters of the art/craft – Ba Pudjo and Pak Sagio.

In the photo above, he is attaching the finished kulit to a finely turned and split length of buffalo horn, which is used by the Dalang as a handle during performances.


Above are front and back views of a finished Gunungan shadow puppet (which we bought from Pak Suprih…). The Gunungan (‘Mountain’) or Kayon (‘Forest’) is a special puppet – indeed the most important one of the entire wayang performance. It is the first and last puppet used by the Dalang, and it is also is employed during performances to indicate major natural destructive forces like fires and storms. A second, ‘female’ Gunungan is also used in wayang kulit – the one above is the (slightly smaller) ‘male’ Gunungan.

On its front side it features a tree of life (a banyan tree in gold leaf), with monkeys, birds and other animals in its branches. In the middle is the blue face of the demon Kala (‘Time’). There are two doors below, at the top of stairs guarded by monstrous guardians, which lead to heaven. In total the puppet represents the totality of heaven and earth, and all living and/or sentient forms of existence.

The reverse side shows symbols for fire, water and air. It is dominated by the face of the demon Kala – representing time, or the forces of destruction in the universe.




Sanur cats

At this critical point in human history, with so many serious and complex problems, and so much hanging in the balance, it’s clear that what the world really needs is… more cute cat photos on the Internet. So here’s my little contribution…

Before we returned to Australia in September, we had the great good fortune to stay for several weeks in an extremely comfortable villa near the beach at Sanur, Bali. While we were there we befriended (or were befriended by – it’s hard to tell) two delightful little cats.


They were real Bali cats – lean, wary and street-wise – and pining for affection (and food). They were also the best of friends (and siblings?) One was white, and the other tabby grey. They arrived without any names that we know of, so we imaginatively christened them Putih (White) and Abu-abu (Grey).


Putih arrived first. He was sweet and affectionate, though we soon realised that he wasn’t the genius of the litter. He’s an inveterate ankle-rubber, but he never quite learnt that he shouldn’t try to rub up against the ankles of a walking human, and was consequently subjected to numerous accidental kicks. Didn’t stop him doing it again and again, however.


After a few hard minutes’ exercise chasing dragonflies and frogs around the yard, Putih liked to have a stretch and then curl up to sleep on the outside lounge for hours. Sometimes he managed to stretch and sleep at the same time.


Abu-abu arrived soon after Putih, but was at first very wild and totally scared of us, and wouldn’t let us get near him. He would hiss and roar savagely at us. The fearsome effect was however diminished by the fact that (due to some genetic defect or injury) poor Abu-abu had no voice whatsoever. So his silent roars and his yawns looked almost identical.


After a couple of days, and a few bowls of food, Abu-abu worked out that we weren’t dangerous, and could in fact be rather useful, and so the two of them became semi-permanent fixtures around the house. They certainly spent a lot of time sleeping there.


By late afternoon, they’d stir, and start to enquire about the when the next meal might be ready.


We never let them inside, and they never (well, hardly ever) tried to come in. But they knew where the Whiskas catfood came from, and they were ever-alert to any signs of food being prepared.


They waited (somewhat) patiently for the food to arrive.


They pretended to be more-than-usually affectionate as it was doled out into their dish. Putih would sometime fall of the end of the bench in his excitement (did I mention that he wasn’t real bright?)


After dinner, it was time for prowling and preening.


And, of course, more sleeping. Abu-abu took a particular liking to a wooden bowl that was just the right size, shape and texture for curling up in.



He spent many hours curled up in the bowl, dreaming (we imagined) of the sea.

Putih and Abu-abu were there when the taxi eventually arrived to take us to the airport and Australia, and we were very sad to say goodbye. We fancy that they were looking confused and sad – but it is rather hard to tell with cats…


We had become very fond of them, and imagined that, in their nonchalant cattish way, they had come to like us too – and not just for our twice-daily provision of Whiskas. The life of a Bali street cat is not easy, and we wonder what has become of them after we departed. Hopefully Abu-abu and Putih have managed to charm someone else into caring for them – and at least they will have experienced one good month of love and luxury…


More photos of Sanur cats are on my website at


Caves Beach

I got out on Sunday to play briefly with the new 5D Mk4. After seven years and over 90,000 images with my much-loved and ever-reliable Mk2 it felt a little bit like betrayal. But I do rather think I’m going to enjoy using this new camera…

Here’s some first images, taken on a glorious day at Caves Beach, NSW.


Kookaburra and dragonfly

Pigface flower on the beach

Pigface flower on the beach


Peculiar hats ahead


Hardy daisies growing on the beach dune




Aussie beach idyll


Surf University (but what about the banana skin?)


Peter contemplates, and soaks up the sunshine


Stephen and Norfolk Island pines

Playing with a water sprinkler? Hours of fun!

Playing with a water sprinkler? Hours of fun!


Pines, cloud, moon


Is it a bird?

You can also see these images on my web site here.



Temples of Chiang Mai

The Buddhist temples (wat) of Thailand are beautiful and fascinating places. We recently had a too-brief (5-day) visit to Chiang Mai in the Central North of the country, and visited some of the many many wat that dot the landscape. Just inside the relatively small area of the old walled city there are 3 dozen active temples. Across the entire city there are, depending on which source you consult, more than 200 or 300. Suffice it to say that there are a whole lotta wat.

Chiang_Mai_20160731_090 composite

Each wat has a character, a history and an atmosphere unique to itself, but each one is an oasis of calm and elegant style in the midst of a bustling city of 960,000 people living in the metro area.


We first visited Wat Phan Tao, which is just over the road from where we were staying in the Old City. The old (late 14th century) viharn (assembly hall) is constructed entirely out of teak wood.

There were hundreds of blue flags flying around the grounds at the time we visited, blue being the colour of the revered Queen Sirikit – whose 84th birthday was about to be celebrated. The flags almost obscured the view of the chedi (stupa) which stands behind the viharn.


The wat was originally built as a palace for one of the early rulers of the Lan Na Kingdom. A carved panel over the entrance still displays an ornate peacock, the symbol of the monarchy, standing astride a dog – which is the zodiac symbol for his date of birth.


Large heavy bells stand in a row in the garden outside.


Inside the viharn, a large Buddha sits in blissful meditation with smaller statues in front. On either side of the Buddha figure are suspended two large naga (snake/dragons). They protect the Buddha. There is a story of Buddha, meditating under the bodhi tree after attaining enlightenment, when a severe story erupted. A huge cobra snake came and shielded him from the rain with his big hood.


Next door, in front of the very much larger Wat Chedi Luang, is a small but richly decorated shrine for the Sao Inthakin (City Pillar) of Chiang Mai. Such shrines are found in cities across Thailand, and it is considered that the prosperity and safety of the city is dependant on the city spirit deity (Chao Pho Lak Mueang) who resides there. Women are not permitted inside.


There is also a very large Dipterocarpus alatus tree standing beside the shrine. There is a widespread belief that a disaster of some sort will result if this tree should every fall. (But a disaster is already occurring – as these magnificent trees have almost entirely disappeared from the forests of Southeast Asia.)


Wat Chedi Luang is so named because of the stupa located there, behind the (much newer) viharn. This massive structure was first erected in 1391, to house remains of the father of the king (Saen Muang Ma). Construction continued for nearly a century, by which time it was some 85 metres tall! For a time it housed the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred Buddha statue in Thailand, before it was moved (first to Luang Prabang in Laos, and then to its current home at the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok).

In 1545, an earthquake caused extensive damage to the chedi, and at least the top third was lost. There were partial restoration works conducted in the 1990s. It’s still very impressive!

The main assembly hall (viharn) was built in 1928, and is itself rather impressive – especially so when the monks (Wat Chedi Luang is an active monastery) assemble for evening prayers.


One stray temple dog wandered in and out during the prayers, which appears to be a regular occurrence, as no-one seemed overly concerned. One monk made a half-hearted attempt to expel the intruder – who then simply re-entered through another door!


Speaking of temple dogs… at the Wat Chiang Man there were many resident dogs, including this lordly creature who looked like he was holding audience on his throne.


Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, dating back to 1296, when the city was founded. The chedi here is quite different to the one at Wat Chedi Luang, fully intact and quite elegant in form. The top, gilded part of the chedi contains relics – of the Buddha, or of some auspicious monk.


The main viharn was renovated almost 100 years ago. Behind the large Buddha (and not visible in the photo above) is another Buddha, standing and holding an alms bowl, which is the oldest Buddha in Chiang Mai, dating back to 1465.


There are a limited and prescribed number of standard Buddha poses – standing, sitting, walking, reclining – and also a number of specific gestural variations. I particularly like the ‘calming the ocean’ pose. The depiction must be executed correctly, if the Buddha is to have power.

The Reclining Buddha shows the Buddha lying on his right side, close to death and about to enter into the state of paranirvana. We encountered this Buddha at a Wat (not sure of the name!), east of Chiang Mai, while on a bicycling tour.


Some of the statues in this new wat were very colourful and, with the sunglasses as above, perhaps not quite as seriously reverential as we saw elsewhere.


Another reclining Buddha, this time in repose at the Wat Phra Singh. You may be able to see Karen standing by his feet.


This large and stunning wat dates back to 1345. It got its current name in 1367, when the famous statue of Phra Singh Buddha was brought to the temple, and housed in the all-teak Viharn Lai Kham. The Phra Singh Buddha is reputedly from Sri Lanka – though there is also evidence that it was actually made in Chiang Mai. Another story tells that the head of this Buddha was stolen in 1922, and that the statue now sports a substitute head. This statue is greatly revered, and is carried through the streets during songkram festival is April.

The wall behind the Phra Singh Buddha is red lacquer, decorated with patterns of gold leaf.


The other three walls inside the Viharn Lai Kham were decorated with mural during the 1820s. These detailed murals depict stories from Buddhist mythology as well as from Chiang Mai day-to-day life, and are amazingly detailed – though fading in places after nearly 200 years.


The complex of buildings has been extensively restored on several occasions, including in 1782, 1920 and 2002. The very shiny golden chedi (known as the Phrathatluang), with a golden elephant emerging from each of its four sides, is dazzling, and almost too bright to look at when the sun is shining.


The wat houses a large number of monks (all male), ranging from the very young to elderly and wheelchair-bound. All gather several times a day for prayers at different locations around the complex – including afternoon prayers here under a breezy sala (pavillion).


After prayers, the monks head off in single file, hands clasped in front of them in the classic wai gesture. (The wai is so common in Thailand, and so routinely used for greetings, that even the Ronald McDonald statues in Thailand stand in that pose!)


The monks make three clockwise circumambulations around the chedi, chanting quietly in unison as they walk.


We saw this quite firm instruction near a reclining Buddha figure at the Wat Chiang Man. We were of course disappointed, but we dutifully refrained from take wedding photo there.



Singapore: My camera loves mirrors

Now that we’ve left Kalimantan (at least for the time being), it’s an opportunity to catch up up some photos from other places. So I’ve been (finally) processing photographs taken in Singapore last December, when we were there on a ‘visa run’.

What struck me about the images is that most of them were composed to feature reflected light and/or odd perspectives. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I hadn’t even noticed it until I started processing the photos. Perhaps it was the contrast with Kalimantan, where there are fewer opportunities for that kind of image – or perhaps I was just feeling obtuse…


Here’s Karen and I (and other diners) having lunch in the ’Smoke and Mirrors’ bar at the newly opened National Gallery Singapore, housed in the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings. The Gallery is a SG$450,000,000 blend of colonial and highly contemporary architecture, which (often) works really well.

The bar is constructed with a single huge curvy piece of stainless steel – which is said to weigh 400kg. It makes a great way to feature the panoramic view across The Padang to the Singapore waterfront and the unique Marina Bay Sands resort.

We had fish and chips.


Here’s a more conventional perspective on that same view – from the same place.


A fisheye mirror on a bend in a pedestrian laneway, with a construction site behind, made for an interesting (though perhaps unoriginal) composition. Did you spot Karen over my right shoulder in a green blouse, also making photos?


Another, quote different, circle. Looking down into the entrance hall of the National Museum of Singapore from a balcony on the next level up.


And from the same position, a third circle (actually a hemisphere!), looking up into the magnificent dome. The original building dates back to 1887, when it was built as the Raffles Library and Museum. Recent extensions have more than doubled the floor area of the Museum, but the very modern new parts have been (almost) entirely concealed when viewing the building from outside.

The stained glass in the rotunda was painstakingly restored in 2004-5. All 50 of the curved glass panels were removed, and glass, lead and joints were replaced or rectified as needed. The result is beautiful.


As Singapore transformed into the modernistic glass-and-steel metropolis that it is today, it has been moderately successful in preserving some of the better architectural examples from its colonial past. This juxtaposition of past and present can be seen everywhere.


Entering the new National Gallery feels like being invited back to a more ordered, graciously elegant past.


But once inside, it turns into a futuristic, techno-organic world. Very different, and the contrast is a bit overwhelming at times!


The joins between the two architectural ages are interesting – but not entirely seamless.


I think I most liked some of the classical-looking parts of the building, where you couldn’t be sure whether it was very new or really old.


There are some quite dramatic, and sometimes confusing, perspectives when looking down from high up in the atrium spaces. It’s a bit Escher-esque at times.


Strong railings and high glass walls help to dispel the vertigo!


In front of the Gallery main entrance, and leading across Coleman Street, through the grounds of St Andrews Cathedral toward North Bridge Road, is wonderful covered walkway. The high ceiling of the walkway is fully mirrored.


I found it difficult to walk along there without tipping my head backwards to marvel at the kaleidoscope of fractured reflections above.


My camera loves mirrors.

More of my Singapore photographs can be seen on my website by clicking on this link.