Year 2013 – Year of Stagnant & Frustration

My year 2013 was full of downs. It was a year when things were not moving fast enough.

Family

My elder brother finally got married. There was not much difference since his wife aka my sister-in-law had been staying with us for more than half of the weeks for many years. A joy for my mum was that she needed not be working super hard to find out if both my elder brother and his wife would be joining us for dinner everyday. There was less grumble about this and thus relieving some stress from me.

Luckie was one of my greatest problems apart from the joy and comfort he had given to me. As I was staying at home most of the time, he had been posing lots of troubles to me. I had to clear his pee and poo and he would pester me to bring him down for a walk every now and then. My elder brother would usually lock him out of the bedroom at night and I would still be the one clearing all the shit since my younger brother was not at home most of the time. Luckie was unofficially an abandoned dog since his daddy had been neglecting him as I could use my fingers to count the number of times my elder brother had brought him out of the house. There was a period of time when I felt so bad for Luckie that I tried to bring him down almost every weekday but I gave up, knowing my elder brother would continue to neglect him if he knew someone was taking good care of Luckie. Whenever I thought of the moment I told my elder brother that I would not be free to help to take care of a dog before we brought Luckie home, I felt stupid.

My younger brother moved over to his good friend Derrick’s place for some months as it was nearer to his school. That was a period of time when I became even more stress since he was the one who would settle everything in my house, including sorting out bills and my mum. I was also worried about his safety, especially his illness, when I could not get to see him during weekdays.

Money was the greatest evil in the universe. My family was plagued with issues with money as usual that often I wished I could just move out of the house to avoid torment of my ears. Basically, my mum continued to grumble at my elder brother frequently for she expected him to help out with the household expenditure, including grocery. My younger brother also joined in to nag over the wastage of electricity. Things got better eventually after some dramas. I felt our relationships had improved a lot and the bond was strong.

My mum gave me one of the greatest headaches as usual, behaving like a child most of the time. It would not going to be fun when you already had big problems with your work and someone kept asking you obvious or stupid questions, grumbling over small things or repeating stories over the phone near you. For example, she would watch her favourite Taiwanese drama and turned over to ask what was happening in the show when obviously I was busy with my stuff to even care about the noisy television.

Friends

As I was stuck with work and photography, and facing financial downtime, I did not get to go out with many friends. At times, I rejected gathering invitations in order to cut down on expenditure and it was difficult to make people believe how bad my situation was – besides, I was really busy, with many non-profitable stuffs though. The person I went out most with was Gilbert. Even for my volleyball gang, there was limited number of beach outing and there were groups within group. I did a few voluntary work with the voluntary gang and the experience with them was fulfilling. The few get-together sessions with my younger brother and our common friends were excellent. I got to meet up with old friends like Hoay Min, Guoxin, Xiuwen, Mike and Wanling etc. There was a rare occasion of meet-up with ex primary school friends and unfortunately I had not been keeping touch with them and could not remember the childhood encounters with most of them. I also attended quite a few wedding dinners and was a loner at a couple of the tables. I got to meet quite a number of new friends through photography but I was not able to keep in touch with most of them. Irwin returned to Singapore a few times but I only managed to meet up with him for once.

I learned to distinguish between net friends and real life friends, as well as true friends and fine weather friends. I was, however, still trying to learn to lower down my expectation for people in order not to torture myself. If you were to treat others very good, do not ever expect them to treat you even half as good. Sometimes, I just felt too guilty when friends like Gilbert treated me too well because there was nothing I could offer to him as a buddy.

Somehow, I felt very isolated sometimes despite I had quite a few groups of caring friends. There was no close friend who stayed near me and shared the same hobby – photography.

Health

Ah Pa introduced her friend, Dickson, to me and with his knowledge and experience in Chinese medication, my back problem improved a lot, even though it was still haunting me. I got sick less frequently than before ever since I started taking manuka honey, keeping the usual sore throat, cough and flu away from me most of the time. However, my right arm gave me pain for many months due to beach volleyball. At the last quarter of the year, I also sprained or slightly dislocated my fingers after holding onto the camera for too long hours without rest.

I rarely exercised. It was the thought that I could have spent the time to bring Luckie down for a stroll that placed me in a deep dilemma. He could not run for long.

Relationship

At the beginning of the year, I got close to a girl but she was too busy to keep in touch with me after a week. Then, I realised she was not the one for me. I was never close to any girl despite getting to know many nice girls, especially through photography; in fact, I was too engrossed in photography that most of my chats were just discussions about the shoots. At least I could stand tall to say that I did not use photography as an excuse to get closer to girls.

No girl was able to spend time with me and I would never want to go into a relationship that I could only get to see my girlfriend once every fortnight.

I was also never anxious about getting a girlfriend given my financial situation. Perhaps, I had become a boring person with the countless numbers of worries and problems in my mind. I agreed that nice girls would not mind about my current financial status but I would mind if I could not give my girl a comfortable life. I would rather let nature take its own course.

The route to starting a family was not within my line of sight. I was, perhaps, depressed over the price of HDB flats. The supposed-to-be public housing to make sure every Singaporean had a roof over his head was more like a money-generating tool to push GDP up, so that the rich could become richer. I was not confident, at the moment, that I could afford a house in future.

Finance

I could hardly sustain my life despite I had been ill-treating myself. Income was at all time low since my NS days while I had to continue to give “protection money” every month, which was much more than I would spend on myself. CPF’s medisave extortion and life insurance added on to my burden. Basically, I was draining my saving every month with my bank account getting lighter. I got some of the cheapest camera gears but they were enough to weigh me down further more – photography was an expensive hobby and trade.

Most people who knew me well would know about my thriftiness but many did not realise that I was actually not earning much income. Almost everyone did not know I was in fact making negative income due to various financial loads as mentioned above. It was a joke when there were people who still tried to borrow money from met. Obviously they knew I was a very soft guy, and thus they would rather approach me than other mutual friends who were doing very well. This had helped me to reflect a lot on myself.

Due to the income problem, I hesitated a lot over to upgrade my photography gears that would bring me to a higher level. It affected me tremendously mentally.

On a better note, I would never get starved because I was thrifty and there were many kind people surrounding me. Before my saving could exhaust, I would have done better.

Work

My tuition agency was in a bad state as a few of the more consistent coordinators had left or taking up fewer assignments, and SEO was not well. ET got into a Taiwanese singing competition, Super Idol 8, and he had less time to help out, which resulted in a great fall of revenue since he was a very good worker. Unfortunately, the business model was more about helping parents than making big bucks – I knew of more ways that was less manpower intensive. Since it was my only source of income, it explained how bad my financial state was at. On a brighter side, I was also able to spend more time on picking up photography. That was because I was too lazy and frustrated to work on more features on my website.

I had to spend hours on my work everyday, including weekends. The workload was never consistent but the administration work had to be done daily. The least I had to do was to go through every new and updated tutors’ profiles, and also their submitted documents. I had to do SEO at least once in a couple of days. I had to be consistent with these because I placed myself in the tutors’ shoes that I would be anxious about my account and documents statuses. As for SEO, it would fall badly and would take many months or even years to pick up. Nobody understood how much effort I had to put in daily in order for my tuition agency to be recognised.

The most frustrating thing was that most people would think that I was very free. My time was very flexible but I was never free. I did not like the feeling of being the default person to handle everything whenever shit happened. If things had to be done, they had to be done and I would suck my thumb to settle them but not if being forced to. In other words, I hated to be taken granted of. This was pushing me to give up and simply get a “8 to 5” job instead. A pity that I was a very determined person. I had to work smarter but it was never easy to learn.

Photography

I spent most of my time on photography. I went through countless number of Youtube videos and websites. I took lots of time to go through potential models’ photos, discuss with them, shoot and do the post-processing work, which included filtering the photos and photoshopping. Unfortunately, lots of time for pre-shooting was wasted because of “models” who were wasting my time. It was very frustrating when things were confirmed and the other parties called them off out of a sudden or simply went MIA (missing-in-action).

Through photography, I was able to talk to more people but at the same time, I was also distanced away from many people. In fact, I was too focused in photography that I hardly kept in touch with my models after the shoots. Nevertheless, some of them were in relationship and I had to maintain a safe distance with them. I was also able to find out who were my true friends eventually.

Portrait photoshoot was very tough on me since I was too soft when dealing with my models and the shoots usually did not turn up half as good as I had expected. I was never a commanding person – even when I was lecturing in ITE, I would never instruct any student to help me in anything simple. I did learn a lot but the progress was never fast enough as there were too many things to learn at the same time while my gears were limited. In fact, I had to learn how to use the gears, see lighting, get good composition, watch out for model’s appearance and makeup, and pose the model at the same time.

Tricia guided me a lot through her experience but her critics killed my confidence often. I had problems communicating with her at times because of her extremely serious typing errors in Facebook messenger. There were too much expectation on me, pouring pressure and stress over my helplessness. Sometimes I felt like I was trying to fly before I had learned how to even crawl. Throughout the entire year, I spent most of my days in depression because of the photos I owed people despite I had warned them of the long timeframe before the shoot. I was more anxious than the models to get the photos done so that I could move on to other shoots. Tricia was too busy to go through the photos with me but without her catching errors on the photos (mostly due to makeup and hair), the final photos would not turn out to be good.

I got to realise the limitation of my first DSLR camera – Sony NEX F3 mirrorless. The auto focus speed was simply too slow and I could not expect the models to pause their expression, especially during event shoot. It did not come with a hotshoe and I could not attach an external flash without buying an additional costly adapter. I bought my Canon 650D but things did not go smoothly. I realised the cropped factor of the body was 1.6x, which was lousier than Sony NEX F3’s 1.5x – 1x (full frame) was the best. Since Sony was using Carl Zeiss lens, the quality was much better as well. Canon’s 50mm F1.8 lens was far lousier than Sony’s. Therefore, it was actually a downgrade of image quality that I could never get used to and in fact, it was affecting me badly. Instead of working on my creativity during the shoots, I was badly distracted by the quality of images. I lost my confidence ever since the switch. I knew I needed a better camera.

AFter I got both my photography website and Facebook page up, there were more models approaching me for photoshoot. However, most of them were not serious. Unfortunately, I was someone who would be putting in my best effort every time. I was also disappointed by the results of my Facebook marketing, such that the number of fans for a start was far less than what I had expected.

Through photography, I had learned a lot, especially on human. Most people would not bother much if things were to come for free. I had tasted lots of fake enthusiasm. At least, I was comforted by the existence of great friends, especially Tricia.

Spread the Love – December 2013

My Samsung Note 2 was initially accompanied with a bookcase cover, which was rather inconvenient. Moreover, it did not protect the side of the phone. I was lazy and thus repeatedly asked my elder brother to get another one through eBay (I did not have an account there). He told me to do it on my own and eventually, I had forgotten about it. More than a month later, we received a parcel and it was my new handphone cover! It was not an expensive item but it took some effort to purchase it.

Amelia approached me for a photoshoot and I roped Guoxin in so as to catch up and instigate him to go further into photography. Since Amelia had to go to her new school first, Guoxin picked her up before fetching me to Kaplan. Later, he drove us to Lorong Kampong Buang Kok for the kampong shoot and then Woodlands Waterfront. He even sent both of us home after that. Without him, it would be very inconvenient for us to travel to two locations. After that, he had to rush off to fetch his girlfriend.

For my Christmas photo shoot with Tisha and Evelynn, my dad’s youngest brother hosted us for the indoor shoot. My entire gears was near 18kg and luckily they went for breakfast picked me up from Hougang Mall. They even bought breakfast for us. My auntie, Iris, helped me with dolling Tisha up in her outfits and settled my dinner for me. My only blooded cousin, Jocelyn, helped me with blowing of bubbles for one of the sets. I was overwhelmed with the impromptu help.

Sharon sacrificed her time to do voluntary coordinating for a charity organisation who had approached my tuition agency despite her being sick.

NEA Officer Reacted Fast

When I was having lunch with my mum and younger brother on 24th December (Christmas Eve), my brother complained that he was molested by the mosquitoes during the short trip to the nearby coffee shop. I noticed that there was a pool of water being trapped at the construction area of the new lift below my house. I was quite worried about mosquito breeding and thus I decided to inform NEA about it. This time, instead of using email, I used their Android APP to take a photo and submitted my feedback.

Two days later, I received a call from a NEA officer telling me that he had checked the place and assured me that the contractors had poured some oil over it. Even though they took two days to get back to me, it during Christmas period and I was really impressed by their speed of work.

Spread the Love – November 2013

November was the month of my birthday and thus there was no lack of sweet actions from my loved ones.

On my actual birthday, my younger brother, Kaiwei, was out of Singapore. The rest of my family arranged a simple dinner at a nearby coffee shop with me. Initially, I felt something was weird when they took a big round table and I was somehow told to take a seat instead of free seating like usual. Although they almost made a blunder when the waitress was asking for the size of the dishes, I was somehow too tired to notice that. Eventually, ET, Derrick and Peisee turned up to surprise me. They had brought along my present, which was my Thinktank Airport Essentials camera bag. I had also gotten many “vouchers” that I could use for photo shoot. My younger brother had actually planned for it before he went to Philippines for his holidays, which made him the biggest hero for the month. I also felt bad for making his buddies come down after work just to accompany me.

For the previous years, Gilbert had been making great effort to meet up with me and Dexter Peh to celebrate our birthdays together. We were three great army buddies who happened to be born in the same month. This year, Dexter was too busy and hence, we had to do without him; besides, he had already celebrated with Gilbert together with their mutual friends. Titus and Wanling joined us for a special morning. They took a cab in the early morning to pick up Titus and I before we headed to Sentosa. Gilbert prepared the cake and salad, Titus did his famous bread and Wanling made some juices. Although I almost died listening to Gilbert and Titus “arguing” for the entire morning. Sentosa Palawan beach may not be the best place to catch sunrise but it was the company that mattered most.

The month of November had filled me with lots of love by my family and some of my closest friends. I knew they would be there for me whenever I need them.

Spread the Love – October 2013

I had an appointment at ITE College West during October to meet up with my ex-colleague (a great chef), Edwin Phua, for some photography projects. I went slightly earlier to visit other colleagues. It was near 6.30pm and most of my ex colleagues had left. However, as I had expected, my ex boss, Lim Wee Lian, was still around. It was around an hour after the official working hour had ended and he was one of the few hardworking civil servants who were still slogging hard.

I started chatting with him inside his office. During the half an hour’s catch-up, the topics were mainly resolving around my current well being. Wee Lian was busy thinking of ways that I could work on to generate some income. At the same point of time as I was amazed by his creativeness, I felt so guilty that I was actually delaying him from finishing his work, such that he would have to leave for home even later.

It would at least take half a day’s time to list out the great things he has done for me. I would just sum up that he is someone I would sacrifice my time for. That was the reason I had stayed on for three more months by his request before I left; moreover, he had forgotten about my new degree paper that would fetch me at least a thousand bucks more in total. Three months, no, I doubt I would do that for anyone else.

Spread the Love – September 2013

The heroes for September 2013 were my younger brother and sister-in-law.

My younger brother, Kaiwei, took my mum out of Singapore for holidays. Even though he was spoiling her seriously (yes, I’m serious that she’s behaving like a kid at times and it’s not funny at all), it was very brave of him to bring her to China alone. The culture of China’s native Chinese was far different from Singapore Chinese’s, although people from different parts of China do vary. I would not say European countries would be safer compared to China, but all the negative stories about China had really scared me – passengers-by ignoring injured person, fake food, milk powder with harmful ingredient… etc. After all, my younger brother and I would appreciate people who are more soft-spoken.

Although it was an eye-opening experience for him and my mum, it was definitely tiring to avoid being scammed almost at every part of Hai Nan Dao. The island was so commercialized that most people were out to cheat you for extra bucks. Nevertheless, the amount of money being conned might not be a lot. For example, the staff of a tourist attraction would ask tourists to take some “holy” water from a fountain like as if it was free and it ended up that they had to pay for it. Some shops would use some prize winning tactics that when you pass by, you would happen to be the lucky winner – my younger brother dared not try on them to see the actual result though. Overall, it is a place where anyone who does not know Chinese mandarin would definitely be conned.

Would you visit such a place that most things are cheaper than Singapore but you have to keep worrying about being conned? No, I don’t fancy that because holidays are meant to be enjoying yourself without worries.

While my mum was away with my younger brother, my sister-in-law, Ivy Leow, did the laundry work. There were a couple of times when my elder brother was not coming home for dinner because of delivery work or soccer game, my sister-in-law bought food for me after she knocked off from work.

Spread the Love – August 2013

The heroine of the month of August 2013 went to Tricia Lee.

Apart from having to take care of her three monkeys and my tuition agency business, she has spent a lot of time guiding me on my photography, especially for the post-processing work. Unfortunately, she is a super detailed and nagging person, and thus the amount of effort she has to put in for helping me is unimaginable.

I’m not a fashionable person as I have not been reading fashion magazines. Moreover, I have not been working with makeup artist. Tricia has been my advisor on fashion and also guides me along on which part of the model requires touching up.

She has no interest in holding onto the camera and thus she does not have much knowledge on the features – for example, she does not know what is depth of field. However, her countless years of commercial makeup experience has geared her with most of the knowledge and sense of art for photo shoot. In fact, she is also able to fit the job of an art director.

Without her, I will not be able to progress so far within a year. I can even proudly say that I can differentiate ugly and nice eyebrows better than many girls.

Spread the Love – July 2013

“If you can’t afford staying in 5-star hotels, at least get a sister-in-law who works in a company that supplies products to them.”

During the month of July, my sister-in-law got some free credits to get some bathroom and bedroom items from her company’s warehouse as staffs’ bonus. Her company had been supplying the items to high class hotels. They were actually rejected and old stock that her boss needed to clear from the warehouse.

It was a Saturday morning and everyone knew I usually went to bed before sunrise and thus would not want to get up so early to join them. Each family member who went along would get additional credit points to grab more items. In fact, I did not have much idea about the entire thing until my family returned home with items like pillows, towels and floor mats in different sizes.

I got a large share of some of the items, which was a long pillow for king size’s bed. By using that, I could easier turn about on my single size bed. The pillow was long enough for me to share with anyone who would not mind squeezing onto the small mattress with me. I received a large bathroom towel as well and it could easily dry me up after a wet shower. I also got some face towels, which were smaller and more portable for swimming.

These freebies were just some extra bonuses of life. It was the kind thoughts from family members that mattered most.

Luckie got a nice pillow as his bed as well!

Marketing is Most Important for Photography

After doing portrait photoshoot for nearly a year, I have to concede to the fact of the trade/hobby – marketing matters most. My experienced ex-classmate, Benson, has warned me a few times that the real photography work will take up just a small portion of time of most professional photographers.

The most popular photographer may not be the most skilful photographer. There is definitely some standard in most popular photographers but most of them are being overrated by their “fans”. There are actually more hidden talents in Singapore who can amaze me with their work. It actually takes some experience to differentiate a good photograph from a normal one. I’m still learning to judge, although I can already easily identify awful ones by now.

I have seen many normal standard photos of hot freelance models in Facebook. They are considered as “Club Snap standard”. Club Snap is a forum that many people organise mass shooting at, which around six photographers would surround a model each time, such that it is difficult to improve with the restriction. It is more about networking and trying luck to get some nice photos.

It just takes some connections to get more freelance models dying to work with you. You can either suck up to the bosses of some modelling agencies or act friendly to some of the freelance models directly. You do not need to be extremely good in your skill, but you need to at least know how to pretend to be. As long as your photos turn out not awful, with the hot girls as your models, all photos will appear awesome, psychologically, to most others. It will not take a long time before friends of the models start approaching you to work together.

You need to be popular before good models will flock to you; otherwise, even your friends will skip you. I have a number of friends, both online and offline ones, who have wanted to work with me enthusiastically. It just turns out that they are not available after up to a year of “business” talking. The feeling is definitely not worse than when I see any of them uploading new photos taken by other photographers who are obviously more exposed to freelance models. This is called reality. I do believe they have made good choices because those “popular” photographers can definitely give them more exposure compared to me. On the other hand, I prefer working with models who are not so realistic since every photoshoot should be an enjoyment and the model’s character matters a lot. Nobody can understand my happiness whenever I work with models who sincerity wish to help me build up my portfolio.

Of course, if you can even sweet talk to bimbos, you may become luckier. I have a open-and-simple-minded net friend who always initiates chat with me. I do not entertain her a lot because she never seems to get messages right and sometimes her comments on my Facebook status simply makes me speechless. She has happened to see one of my friends in real life and insists my friend will do sexy photoshoot just because of her ah-lian-ness. To be fair to all the ah lians in Singapore, not all of them are wild and wild does not mean they will show their body parts. Back to the point – she thinks a photographer is always sweet to her and she is going to do a sexy shoot with him in future. Good luck both of them for his patience and her self-assurance that she is completely safe. There are also some popular photographers who will comment “beautiful” on lousy self taken photos by models in Facebook. Frankly speaking, I may give a LIKE to show encouragement but I will never lie to the hot model that her photography skill is good.

I’m lucky because I do have quite a number of friends who are willing to work with me, but I’m also unlucky that I have encountered far more bad experiences than anyone. Before you see any release of my work with any kind friend, there are always numerous shit I have already gone through, including last minute cancellation of collaboration from other so-called models. There are also people approaching me but they go missing in action before they can make themselves available. I mean I have encountered lots of challenges that nobody knows to get my photography portfolio up.

No, I’m not yet a master of the arts. At least I don’t boast, but this does hurt me badly. Remember it is mostly about marketing, which includes how you present yourself. If you do not appear confident enough, your models may doubt your work even when professionals think those photos are good enough. You may also sound very humble but it will only make your model distrust your professionalism. Your models may be very nice people but some will hurt you unintentionally – there are too many ways to insult a photographer.

Packaging yourself is a must to progress faster because you need to attract good models to create better portfolios. Before I start to overcome myself to do more marketing and pretend to be very popular and skilful, I will just continue to work hard and improve on my photography skill. For now, I’m ready to face more disappointments because I rather be myself. I will rather under-promise and over-deliver than doing the opposite.

Things do get better no matter what.

Home Cleaning Project at Bukit Merah

https://www.facebook.com/sillydumb/media_set?set=a.10153059402945307.1073741863.653480306

While you were probably still asleep on a Sunday morning, our team was already out on a mission to clear up the house of a lonely lady staying in a one-room flat in Jalan Bukit Merah.

Huiting was arranging the cleaning a few weeks ago together with the earlier free soup project for the residents (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152994532110307.1073741858.653480306), but luckily we did not put the projects on the same day, otherwise we might need to work until late evening.

The flat’s condition was definitely unsuitable for human beings to live in. It was packed almost fully that at any point of time, only a few people could step in; anyway, it was just too dirty and dusty, with a foul smell, that not many people would want to do that. We could not even see her single size bed and she was very used to sleep on a chair instead.

Elderly would not want to throw away any useless stuff because the item might come into good use in future (if they could locate the item). Moreover, many things were parts of their lives and dumping any was kind of like throwing their memories away. If your mum was from a very poor family throughout her life, you could probably been living in a messy house like mine, but trust me, your living condition could never be as bad as that.

We used gloves and masks. Some gloves were torn and my hands were most of the time soaked in water since I had to dip the cloths into the pails of water often. The masks could not filter off the smell and Yonghao had to change a few because they were soaked in his sweat.

The corridor was packed with her items, stretching to around three doors away. I made many trips down to the garbage collection centre with heavvy loads. Each time the auntie said yes to throwing any item, we would cheer because that would lessen the mess.

During lunch time, we bumped into a big group of SMU students who were on their mission to interact with the elderly over the area to find out their problems and needs. They were very nice to send manpower over to assist us despite they were very busy as well.

The auntie was not someone who took things by granted. She apologised and thanked us very often. She even called a friend to buy can drinks for us. She also forced us to take a special edition Singapore coin each by threatening to chase us away.

We went to Tanglin Halt with two big red plastic bags of her clothes to wash while we had our dinner over there. Then, we brought them to return to the auntie before we set off to Yonghao’s house since his dad had to use the lorry. After that, we went to Serangoon Garden for dessert to end the day.

The photos were taken without using speedlite and thus there might be grain and blurriness caused by high ISO and slow shutter speed. My hands were in a big mess throughout. It was extremely challenging to be the photographer when you needed to participate in the mission as well.

Credits:
Su Huiting
Lee Yong Hao
Ahpa Sae Yeoh
Precious Jadey
Guo Yong Sheng
Nancy Quek
Jiayu
SMU students from SHINE programme

Camera: Canon 650D
Lens: Tamron 17-50mm F2.8