Of Paths I Will Not Cross Again

Sunday, February 28, 2016

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"Should we take this turn?" I asked him, motioning to an alley. The sun was up and it was a bright afternoon. There was no harm taking a shortcut to our destination.

At first glance, it looked like one of the usual back alleys of a row of shophouses, where shop owners go to take a breather or have a quick smoke. This one though, was unusually crowded.

No, it wasn't packed by the likes of Chinatown streets during Chinese New Year or Orchard Road on Christmas. It just didn't seem like there'd be this many shop keepers all taking a break at the exact same time. And all of them being men.

Strangely, all the back doors to these "shophouses" were wide open, and the men were entering and exiting freely, most of them looking to be in high spirits.

As he stopped in the middle of the alleyway to tie his shoelaces, I glanced down and watched him do it. From the corner of my eye, I could feel the stares. Looking up would probably mean making eye contact and I somehow knew I should avoid making any there.

The moment he stood up, we quickened our pace. "What the hell is this place?" he whispered. As we walked, I couldn't help but steal glances of the interior of the shophouses. I saw many doors that were painted pink, presumably belonging to the many rooms inside. Later, he told me that he caught sight of an altar.

As we were nearing the end of the alley, a faded poster was plastered on one of the walls in full view. It featured a collage of girls in raunchy outfits.

"Oh my god!"

In broad daylight, in an unexpected location. I made a mental note not to take anymore shortcuts anytime soon.


As she sat at a secluded corner of the almost-empty Yoshinoya outlet - eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed - she counted.

She emptied her pockets, and counted the number of coins she had. She counted and tallied up their value. She counted and mouthed the value to herself.

The sound of the coins rang through the quiet air of the fast food restaurant. There was no doubt that the staff have noticed her presence. With the noise from the coins, they must have. But no one said anything - didn't ask her to leave, didn't ask her to purchase an item from the menu. They let her go on counting.

As she thought about the number of meals she could have with the remaining coins she had left, she let out a sigh. She gathered them and gingerly put them into her pockets, before emptying them out once again onto the plastic beige table.

She counted them again. Again, and again. Some were shiny, others were filthy. But it didn't even matter. She counted them, hoping that the more she counted, the higher the value would become. Things unfortunately don't work that way, and she knew that very well.

With the final tally, the elderly lady carefully put her precious silvers into her pockets and walked out of the restaurant.

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Sydney, Australia (Part II)

Monday, February 8, 2016

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My internship has been making me write the most I have ever written in recent years (which is really something, considering I took four essay-based subjects out of five for my A Level examinations), resulting in me wanting to take a break from doing it whenever I get the choice, explaining my lack of posts on this space. But since my previous post clearly indicated "Part 1", suggesting that at least one other Sydney installment was coming up, here it is. Plus I had already uploaded all the photographs onto the blogger server so why not? 

The first part covered more of the countryside-rural side, while this post will showcase the parts of the city which I got to visit. During the trip, I definitely enjoyed myself more when we were in the city. Although the countryside gave us quieter, more picturesque moments, I somehow preferred the hustle and bustle of things and just, being in the more "happening" places, for the lack of a better word. And despite the city being well, the "city" - synonymous with modern skyscrapers and all that - I do think that Australia has done a brilliant job at combining both historical and newer elements in their architecture and landscaping. That was just a very nice touch in my opinion. 

So here's my best attempt at capturing the sights from my little stint in the foreign land. 

One of the habours/ docks for all kinds of ships from cruises to public ferries. I think one of the (few) things that blew me away on the trip was how the Australia public transport system included ferries which made for an interesting experience. I mean, of course I've sat ferries before but having it as a main form of transportation and the thought that some people took it every single day to work and back was quite neat. It also costed the same/ comparable to their buses and trains. And they weren't run down or anything - the sights from the ferry were quite lovely.

Taken from the ferry. 

From the front of the ferry. 

The Australian public transport system was extremely confusing for me, the maps took so much getting used to. That said, one thing I really appreciated was the presence of back-up plans. When we were there, there were multiple times where we were re-directed to another form of transportation (such as when the water level was too low for the ferries to continue operations, or when they were doing maintenance works for their subway tracks), but plan B was always well-executed. People were always on stand-by and the alternative mode of transport (mostly buses) would already be waiting for us. Insanely organised, but it also makes me wonder if it's only because all these "unpredictable" situations happen way too often. 

We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. This was the only thing my brother and I planned for and agreed on going prior to embarking on this trip. It was a nice feeling knowing that there was at least one activity in common that we wanted to do - and I didn't even know that my brother was interested in these things as well. Only when we were there did he tell me that at every country he visits, he would drop by their contemporary art musuem. Sydney's one doesn't even collect a fee from any visitor - tourists and locals alike - so that was indeed a pleasant surprise. 

I sneakily took this photo and I shall not comment on it although my motivations are probably pretty obvious. Plus I already have a caption up on my Instagram accompanying this shot. 

This was one of my favourite pieces on show, for no particular "deep" reason except that I loved the use of lights. I just have something for this sort of retro-looking neon signages. 

This one too, and I like how strong it looks contrasted with the softer feel of the outside. Not sure if the placing was intentional though. 

This particular piece reminded me of a huge homemade fort made of blankets and comfy things. The artwork was also interactive and allowed people to walk through it. 


Outside of the museum, we saw some people on the streets creating art too. "This looks dubious as hell," my brother commented. 

This shot captures a little example of why I think Australia did a good job in terms of retaining some historical elements and balancing it with the modern vibes in their architecture. 

There seemed to be quite a lot of visual juxtapositions wherever I looked. At the train station, there was this rustic vibe going on but the trains themselves were insanely futuristic looking (if you can tell from this photograph). They have a double-deck design and it's all so... polished. 

Train tracks. 

The Sydney Opera House, from a distance. We went there twice, and while we weren't able to catch any concerts or anything, the atmosphere there is already amazing on its own. People were mostly there to chill, so they'd get a couple of beers and finger food from the bars there (which also have live bands and music) before spending an afternoon/ evening soaking in the sights and mood.

I made my brother go to Chinatown for two consecutive days, just because I wanted to get the ice cream I didn't manage to get on the first day due to my fickle-mindedness. The particular parlour,  called N2 Extreme Gelato,serves creations that people buy just because it's nice to take photographs of (at least for me). The store uses liquid nitrogen to make the ice cream on the spot, which isn't new - we had it in Singapore for a while before the concept failed to take off. It has been very successful in Australia though, and I saw it featured in a couple of Youtube channels before. To top off the entire "mad scientist" effect, the ice cream comes with a syringe filled with whatever sauce goes with the flavour you ordered. 

I got the "Ferrero Reveal", which consisted of a chocolate hazelnut gelato, topped with a chocolate shell with rice bubbles and a syringe filled with chocolate ganache. It costed a whopping AUD$9 but hey, I'm a tourist so I should be forgiven, heh. The gelato was pretty yummy and not as sweet as I expected to be and I loved the texture from the hardened chocolate and rice bubbles. The syringe on the other hand, was purely a gimmick. 

Pulled pork burger, served with fries from Casa Ristorante Italiano. To be honest, the food in Australia is pretty expensive and you won't be able to get anything for five bucks unlike in Singapore. However, something we realised during our trip was that the jump in price from food court to restaurant is really little so it's a lot more worth it to dine at better establishments. A meal at the food court or even fast food restaurant costs around AUD$12 while restaurants will charge you from about $10 to $18 at lunchtime on weekdays so the choice is obvious. 

A shot of Luna Park taken with my zoom lens (we were actually at a significant distance from it). Had wanted to visit the theme park but didn't manage to fit it in in the end. 

I couldn't stop taking photographs of strangers throughout the trip, as I mentioned in my previous post. This one was taken when we were at Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe at Habour Street. I didn't get anything from the cafe, which was quite a surprise considering my sweet tooth but my brother got a glass of champagne (quite an odd choice for where we were at) and we just sat there people-watching. 

One of my favourite photos from the trip, featuring my brother's arm and arm veins. He was super embarrassed holding up my ice cream cone, and to be honest I never thought that I'd be so comfortable doing such things in front of him and even involving him. 

In our family, we are never particularly fond of such "frivolous" activities which is why I rarely bring out my camera when I'm with them. None of them know of my Instagram or have even seen the photos that I share on my feed. Well, apart from my brother who found out about it from his friends. They apparently stumbled upon my account and told him that he had a sister with quite a good number of followers (far from it though). As long as I openly acknowledge my "pretentious" side upfront and put aside whatever reservations I have, he'd actually gladly obliges my photo-taking requests. I mean, considering we traveled all the way to Down Under, he isn't that cold-hearted to deny me of my #touristprivileges. He was quite amused to know that I buy ice creams largely because in my opinion they are one of the most effortlessly aesthetic food items. 

Here's a bad shot with the focus everywhere and loads of noise, but it's one of the only pictures I have with the Opera House. 

One of the highlights of the trip was counting down into 2016 together with the Sydney crowd and the Sydney fireworks. Apparently the New Year fireworks in Sydney is one of the best in the world, if not the best. Plus Australia's one of the first few countries to usher in the new year due to the time zone so the knowledge of that made it more exciting.

I do remember that at that point in time though, I wasn't really feeling it. I had yet to complete my self-reflection for 2015 nor did any personal goal-setting for the year ahead so there wasn't any closure for me at all. It was rather discomforting, and to add to that I actually counted down alone despite being surrounded by a whole load of other humans because my silly brother decided to go off to the washroom at around 10.30pm. There was only one cubicle and like half of Australia's population seemed to be in the queue to pee. So I spent my last one and a half hours of 2015 and first couple of minutes of 2016 standing solo in a sea of people, with no one to talk to or whine about the wait with. I was also quite afraid that I wouldn't find him amongst everybody because trust me, the crowds there were crazy insane. Not Orchard Road-crowded but rather, stampede-standard-crowded. That was pretty nerve wrecking though I also saw it as a sign that I was growing up and in due time, should be facing this world on my own mostly. So come on, 2016. I got ya. 


No tripod, no biggie :-) 

I had expected people to be wishing strangers and whoever they saw Happy New Year, but it didn't exactly work that way, to my disappointment. All I got was someone saying "NI HAO MA" to me and showing his ignorance at the same time. But when we got out to the streets, it got a lot better and everyone was really friendly to one another. 

"When the sun burns out, we'll light the world with tiny glowing screens." 

Now, getting out from wherever we were was the difficult part. However, everyone was so calm - no one was rushing or pushing or anything so it was ultimately a very pleasant experience.

The unsung heroes who have to work to ensure the safety of everyone at a celebratory occasion and I think the same goes for the policemen in Singapore. (On a slightly related note, the new Singapore Police Force propaganda campaigns have been drawing me in quite a bit) 

All in all, my trip in Sydney was quite enjoyable. It was very chill - we did things at a slow pace but also got a taste of several new experiences. What I will probably treasure the most from these two weeks will probably be the time I spent with my brother. Coming in, we never had a bad relationship and in our family of four we probably understand and get each other the most compared to our parents' understanding of us. However, we were never extremely close and I have always wanted to get to know him a lot more because he has such an interesting character and way of thinking. There was never an opportunity for that, and asking to spend time with him in Singapore just seems too out of the ordinary. We've never done that, and it would be awfully awkward if I even did bring up such a suggestion. I'm thus incredibly thankful that we got to do this together, and so glad that all the little talks and inside jokes that happened throughout the trip... well, happened. 

That said, I do think this holiday has confirmed the fact that I am not particularly fond of going on leisurely overseas trips. Maybe I don't really know how to appreciate things like natural and breathtaking sights such as towering mountains but they don't really make me feel much. I mean, eating nice food and taking photos of them is quite fun to do but they aren't things that I yearn for much especially if the expense could have been directed to something else. Perhaps I have been conditioned to long for personal emotional growth and development, such that things that satisfy my more materialistic side fail to satisfy me anymore. Like thinking about it, considering I went to both Cambodia and Australia last year, I'd probably rather go to Cambodia again if I had a choice. Not because I'm trying to sound benevolent or whatnot but right now I'm solely thinking about myself and my own gains in terms of my growth as a person.

That, or maybe Australia's just way too similar to Singapore in terms of the standard of living and food quality and immigrant culture for me to feel a sense of much-needed discomfort to secure a more novel overseas experience.
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