Pilgrim of Beauty

Life, Death, and Everything In-Between Including Ice Cream

Dealing in Death, Pt. I

Okay, so the picture from “Up | Down” requires a little context. That photograph was taken inside the gilded Ming Palace of the private Nirvana Memorial Park at Shah Alam, the place where my parents will be cremated then compartmentalised.

Just typing that is unsettling.

On Sunday morning, mother insisted that I follow her to visit her “future home”. She actually used those words. The fact that it was an euphemism made it worse. She and my dad were going to attend a talk on Chinese astrology in conjunction with the arrival of the Lunar New Year, which commences on February 19. These talks usually involve an excessively chirpy emcee, unruly children, and free gifts per attendee, not family. That last distinction was the reason for my mother’s insistence.

I’ve never been comfortable about death and I’m unafraid to admit that my mortality terrifies me. Every now and then, when I stay indoors far too long for my own good and my serotonin levels drop to an all-time low, macabre discussions on death can cripple me for an entire afternoon, which is terribly unhealthy and reproachingly unproductive. I’m already a little anxious when I think about my grandmother’s age, so imagine how disturbed I become when my parents talk so casually about their impending deaths.

“It’s a very convenient process, much simpler than before. No hassle whatsoever. When we pass, you just dial the number and everything will be done for you. It’s better that we do this now instead of running around frantically over the sudden arrangements when it actually happens.”

My dad’s candid explanation of the process did nothing to soothe me. While I know it’s something I’ll be doing myself before I expire, seeing my parents do it now decades in advance (I am optimistic about their futures as long as I keep them away from irresistibly unhealthy Malaysian street food) just shakes my present reality. I occasionally have horrific nightmares of them dying, and I wake up with my eyes wide open praying, hoping that the visions were simply visions. I’m an only child; I don’t have any siblings to grieve with. Even in my independence as a twenty-something, I know it’ll be an excruciatingly lonely existence not seeing my dad sneaking a single peanut into his mouth from the snack containers at the supermarket, or hearing my mom admonishing me for my unkempt hair and stretch skinny jeans.

Upon arriving at the memorial park, I managed to convince mother that I didn’t want to hear predictions of how 2015 will be a particularly auspicious year for those born in the year of the horse like me (though I have to admit this forecast has been pretty consistent across various sources), and I’d much rather spend my time exploring the expanse. She kept telling me how the park was very well managed and maintained, with manicured lawns (that are actually synthetic turf), tranquil ponds (emitting an algae green phosphorescence), and landscaped vistas (that open up to power stations and housing development projects).

I didn’t have much expectations of the place, nor was I aware of the sights I’d be able to capture, but what I had found within the Ming Palace stunned me, which brings me to the Photo(s) of the Day: Processed with VSCOcam with se3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with se3 preset What you see before you is a luxury columbarium for the rich. Each and every single one of those tiles, or vaults, would contain cremation urns. In case you were wondering what’s in front of those tiles, here’s an up-close shot of them: Processed with VSCOcam with se3 preset Thousands of mini Buddhas sitting cross-leggedly, gleaming so resplendently that it’s impossible to take a picture inside the room that’s not yellow. Death, has never shone brighter. I’ve always known Nirvana to be one of the nation’s, if not the region’s, top death care service provider, but I never imagined they’d take it this far. Death is ultimately commercialised, and I frankly do not know how I feel about it.

When I think about death and funerals, I imagine them to be simple, muted, and unostentatious: what I saw at the Ming Palace was none of these. Here, have a look at this empyrean ceiling: Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset Even in death, there’s hierarchy. The entire building is air-conditioned for the comfort of the deceased, and as described on their website, “each compartment is a unique design with space for individual style”. I guess that means we can treat them like high school lockers. Really expensive lockers.

The other thing about the entire place is that they play a soothing sutra / mantra perpetually to provide peace and tranquility to its “residents”. My mom agrees, in the way that implied she’d enjoy listening to the sutras from within her urn, though I can’t help but wonder… What if I grow sick of it and wanted them to play ABBA’s Dancing Queen” instead?

Despite my ambivalence towards the opulent treatment and hefty price tag, I confess I am in awe with the work they’ve done to the place. Remember the photograph from the previous post? The elevators inside the Ming Palace have a different façade on each floor, and the one I took just so happened to be the most photogenic of the lot. While the interior of the building may have the appeal of a sumptuous hotel lobby, the exterior adopts a far more traditional appearance: Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset I could say I took these in China and no one would even dispute my claim. Oh, and here’s a random trivia: the Ming Dynasty gave us the Forbidden Palace, and the edifice you see here takes inspiration from that. Directly in front of the Ming Palace is a statue of Buddha atop a fountain: Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset And here’s another one for perspective: Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset They could easily convert the place into a tourist trap if they wanted to, and as odd as it is for me to say this, I would bring my international friends to visit the place. I’m not sure if there are many places around the world that coaxes its community to place such high values on their final resting place. Nirvana is an example of that, and while I do agree their services come with convenience, I find it a little unnerving that death now comes with a price tag instead of a sickle.

P.S. I just realised how my earlier statement in the beginning can be a little ambiguous as my parents ashes will be displayed at the far more economical Heritage Court, not the Ming Palace. Will be covering more on that tomorrow.

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Up|Down

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I Can’t Even

Believe me when I say I can’t even is the most appropriate descriptor for my emotions today as I can’t even even believe that it actually happened. This happened today:

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I’ve never had 38,000 people liking a photograph, nor have I ever imagined this ever being possible for me. Just yesterday, I discovered three of my shots made it to VSCO’s grid. Today, I found out that VSCO handpicked and featured one of those shots on their Instagram account. It’s an understatement to say I’m overwhelmed by this. It’s an incredibly humbling experience, because I never thought my photos would ever garner so much attention, considering I only jumped into photography two years ago and have only, very recently, starting curating and sharing them on social media sites.

So, first of all, thank you VSCO for making my Sunday by featuring my photo. When I started using VSCO, all I ever wanted out of it was to be featured on their grid, and I kept thinking just having one of my photographs featured there would be good enough. It’s a form of reassurance that I am producing something “decent”, I suppose. But the numbers that I’ve seen today is astonishing. I’d frame this snapshot if I could! The number of followers I have on my Instagram is not impressive and has never been, but today’s feature doubled the number of my followers within a span of a few hours. I was a little alarmed when my phone kept flashing and I kept seeing people liking a photo or have started following me. I almost thought my account was hacked or something.

It’s been a good day, and having my work recognised like this only pushes me to capture even more beautiful things, and to complement them with appropriate copy (when I’m not doing this at 4AM in the morning… ugh…).

P.S. A lot of the comments below that picture on Instagram mentioned how the subject looks like an arrow, which was an “oh yeah…” moment for me as I never looked at it that way before.

Three in a Week!

We interrupt this broadcast with a quick announcement… Three of my photographs were featured on VSCO’s grid last week! Woohoo! It took me a while to discover they were automatically categorised under a different tab in my Gmail account… Anyway, here they are with their links:

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http://grid.vsco.co/grid/goto/547fe784e45515bc5e8b45b7

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http://grid.vsco.co/grid/goto/5482dc2b0456150d4b8b4600

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http://grid.vsco.co/grid/goto/547f127504561561298b45a4

This isn’t the first time my photos are featured, but I always feel like a kid who just came back from a really good trick-or-treating trip whenever I get that email from VSCO.

Also, some of you may have noticed my second post yesterday (“The Hut”) was incredibly simple with just the photo and its title. It is something I’m trying with regards to the blog content and how it’s presented as I’m still playing around a little with how I’d like to see things appear here.

The Hut, Lake Rawa Pening, Central Java

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Of Caffeine and Typography

Just when I thought I’ve caught up with my missing posts, I ended up crashing… That’s it, it’s caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine all the way from now. In fact, it’s precisely because of caffeine that I suddenly had an idea for a story today. Happened at an inopportune time though since inspiration arrived during working hours, but I didn’t have much to complete today and most of the major assignments were out of the way so I shamelessly used Microsoft Word for personal projects… in Baskerville, which should be the universal font for typing out stories.

I’m pretty sure there are graphic design students out there who’d agree with me when I say choosing the right font for any purpose is a matter of life and death. I mean, I cannot imagine typing out a corporate press release in serif; the document will look too pretentious. However, print the copy on a different medium like the newspaper and it looks alright. CVs and resumes are the other kinds of documents I can’t stand reading with a serif font. You’re already trying to cram so much information onto a page, why bewilder the eyes with squiggly serifs? Helvetica Neue Light or Gill Sans Light for those! But pass me a novel and I’d expect to read it in Baskerville or Garamond. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just slip into my maroon bath robe and pink bunny slippers, then sit cross-leggedly with book and wine in hand. *cough*

I dunno… I just like how “words look like” I guess, probably the reason why I still try to make sure my handwriting is not just legible, but pleasurable to look at. My mother’s the best person to ask for an opinion on handwriting, because I know unless mine’s absolutely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, it’s worthless. Asian moms are tough. Probably the reason why we’re so good at math. *Ba dump tss* Though I’d also add it’s probably because it’s in my name. Apparently, the Chinese characters for my name would come to mean “Forests of Calligraphy”. You may choose to interpret that however you may. I’d simply like to think it means I’m a man of letters, who happens to value good handwriting. oh ho ho ho ho 

Incidentally, have a look at today’s not-so-Photo-of-the-Day:

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Almost like Disney, but not quite. Of course I don’t write like that all the time It would be a day before I’d be done with a page. On the picture, I love wrapping gifts like an old parcel, then adding my seal (did I just say my seal?) to it as a finishing touch. People who receive gifts from me would feel like they’ve just been accepted into Hogwarts. “Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment”. It’s all about eliciting smiles, people, it’s all about the smiles.

Capturing Infinites

Alright, for the second visual post of the day, I’ll be sharing a trio of pictures that simulate infinity. These were all taken at Central Java. The first one’s the Photo of the Day, followed by two others that depict contrasting moods and themes.

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Always Check for Tpyos

It wasn’t anything serious, truly, though I did find it hilarious having accidentally typed my General Manager’s name as “Zulu” while texting a friend. His real name is Zulkefli, but we usually shorten it to Zul, an act my iPhone vehemently disagrees with. A really close friend and I have come up with this thing where we’d scream “JACQUES!” whenever technology tries to be smart with us and automatically corrects our supposed mistakes. I can’t remember the exact word I tried typing but I remember it was corrected to French, for some reason. And that’s how Jacques came to be.

Anyway, I’ve had a really tiring day today so I’ll have to zoom through the two posts. Here’s today’s Not-So-Photo-of-the-Day:

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This was taken quite a while back at a restaurant called Delicious. Can’t really say that of the food… they’d probably be better off with a restrained “Decent”. That said, they had all these pretty lanterns just hanging from the ceiling at one area and I thought they deserved a shot. It’s been a while since I deliberately explored cafés and restaurants for the sake of taking photos. Maybe I should start again soon…

Prambanan, Jogjakarta, Central Java

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Day 2 of the paired posts y’all, so don’t miss out on my previous post where I experience a very familiar problem… Oh, and that’s me saying hi from one of the temples at Prambanan, though I have to say my favourite photograph taken from the site (aside from the broken reflection one in this post) would have to be the one below, also today’s Photo of the Day:

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I just love her umbrella. She was actually posing for another camera, but I couldn’t resist the shot.

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Candi Prambanan is the other UNSECO World Heritage Site at Central Java that’s a must visit. A ninth-century Hindu temple compound, Prambanan is instantly recognisable for its tall and pointed shrines dedicated to the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). The largest and tallest of them all is the Shiva temple:

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I couldn’t even fit the whole thing in a frame… Similar to Borobudur, the temples are covered in intricate stone carvings:

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And the final picture before I crash for the night…

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Okay folks, I have to go to bed now. I am so close to just falling on the floor on my way to my pillows…

That Excruciating Moment

… when you just can’t find the song that keeps playing in your head. Especially when you can’t make any sense of the lyrics. Was that… “gotta love these Starbucks lovers” or… “got a long list of ex-lovers”? Though I didn’t have too much of a problem deciphering Taylor Swift’s hit, it took me far longer to even decode MisterWive’s “Reflections”. Now, I didn’t discover the song by endlessly watching Vines, as some would think, even though I do agree they are incredibly addictive in a traffic jam. My first encounter with it was over the radio while I was driving (best way to discover music and lip sync to them nonsensically by the way), and before long the lead singer’s voice kept echoing in my head. The chorus was so damn catchy that it makes you wanna sing along with it… if you only knew what the lyrics were

Know that all this was before I even knew the name of the band or title of the song. Thus began the long odyssey, travelling into the depths of Billboard’s Hot 100 and Malaysia’s Hitz 20, but no luck. I was obstinately confident that this song had to be a hit since it had all the makings of a chart-topper by Malaysian standards: great beat, god-knows-what lyrics. Still, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Tried Googling “underrated pop songs of 2014”. Nope. Not it, it, or it.

That’s when I decided to try watching some Vines. Knowing now how that song was overused by so many Viners (my laptop keeps insisting I spell that as Vineries), it was sheer dumb luck two hours ago for me to actually encounter one singing it (not his best, but Gabe’s pretty hilarious and sweet, so is Thomas Sanders. Go check them out!). Perhaps it was a combination of having listened to Vines while I’m stuck in traffic and remembering Gabe’s voice before the track that I thought I’d try just scrolling down his page, you know, until I find it.

Took me a whole hour… If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.

But hey, this was how I felt when I found the song:

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I think I might’ve just jumped off my seat and danced to the music. A little.