Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carcar’s Festival of Lights

continued from Stories and Photos of Carcar

For the second year in a row, the Carcar Heritage Conservation Society organized the unique Festival of Lights on November 25, 2007, the eve of the feastday of the city’s patron saint, St. Catherine of Alexandria. Headlining the celebration were more than 100 dancers from the homegrown St. Catherine College, wearing bright colorful Filipiniana costumes. The Festival was so much fun, especially for photography enthusiasts like me.

The Presentation of the Carrozas to the Church
The Festival started around 4:30PM when the four carros featuring tableaux of St. Catherine were brought to the Church. The dancers who lined up Sta Catalina Street performed a specially choreographed dance while the cortege passed by them. The choice of Sta Catalina Street was obvious. The thoroughfare was the it address during the Hispanic times, as it directly leads to the Church up on the hill. It still hosts most of the 19th century manors. Picturesque would be an appropriate description.

phototip: Filipinos generally love to be photographed. You can cut in and take photos in the middle of the road. Just don’t block the performers.
f/16, 0.05s, 18mm, ISO 400, +1/3EV, cropped
streetdancing around the carro being brought to the Church, Sta Catalina Street, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

Once at the church grounds, the processional carrozas were blessed by the priest and the parishioners slowly assembled in preparation for the dusk procession. The procession started at about 6PM, when it was already dark, so the hundreds of followers had to use candles for illumination.

The Festival of Lights: Processional Passage

We could have waited at any point in Sta Catalina Street but we settled across the Balay na Tisa as our host Gibbster was asked by the family to document the festival there. Fortuitous I should say!

By 6:45PM, just when we could distinctly hear the rumbling of the brass band leading the procession, the dancers, who were already given hand torches and salakot or conical leaf hats fitted with a kerosene lamp, started to dance, illuminating the road with a drama of fluttering lights. A spectacle was unfolding.

phototip: Couple relatively long exposures with the 2nd curtain function for “frozen” moments. Movement lines shall still come out but the second flash freezes the action of the subject.
f/4, 0.8s, 21mm, ISO 800, slightly cropped
dancers with lanterns lining up the streets during the evening procession at the Street of Sta Catalina, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

The people joining the procession was thick. I am not good in estimating crowds but let’s say it took about 10 minutes for the 4 carrozas and the people to pass by us, without interruption. All throughout the parade, the dancers swayed and danced in place at the side of the road. Being a solemn religious observance, the dance especially created by renowned choreographer Val San Diego who happens to be the president of the Carcar Heritage Conservation Society, was not jumpy but rhythmic, almost reverent.

phototip: Have a sense of humor! Just when I finally found a good time to compose a long exposure shot of the candlelight procession, a videographer appeared and stayed in the middle of the road. There goes the shot.
f/6.3, 15s, 18mm, ISO 100, uncropped
the evening procession at the Street of Sta Catalina, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

The celebration of lights moved with the carrozas so when the procession passed, the dancing eventually came to a halt. The dancers still remained in place though so the lull was perfect opportunity to capture photographic sidelights. Dancers, already in a giddy mood – tired, but never lacking of enthusiasm – were willing posers.

phototip: Flash photography can sometimes be too harsh on faces, especially in low light conditions. Instead, ask your subjects to keep still. This pair did that for me, for 2 seconds!
f/4.5, 2.0s, 27mm, ISO 200, slightly cropped
at the Street of Sta Catalina, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

Returning the Icons
Always, the ultimate destination of any procession is the Church. However, the carrozas and icons are not owned by the Church so after the procession, they would be brought back to the owners. Of the four tableaux – the Emperor’s marriage proposal, the Broken Wheel, the Beheading of St. Catherine and the Ascension to Mt Sinai with the angels – the latter features the oldest and the most treasured antique image of Sta Catalina owned by the family in the Balay na Tisa. By design, the culmination of the Festival of Lights was in front of the house, in greeting of the return of the Sta Catalina image that will be put in safekeeping for another year. The climax was a dance performance of joyous choreography, befitting the return of a queen.

Inasmuch as I wanted to, I could not find a suitably near but elevated vantage point overlooking the Balay na Tisa to capture the frenzy of the dance. Me and my tripod had be on the streets, where the dancers were and that was a great challenge. I had to go manual with the camera settings. Quickly, I realized that extending the exposure beyond 10s resulted to overexposure as the house was too white and brightly lit. I had to narrow the aperture to f/10 to achieve a shutter speed <10s. Still, my initial shots came out with too much indistinguishable ghostly blur as the dancers moved too fast. Time was running out and I didn’t have the shot which would feature a clearly lit house, dramatic motion, yet enough clarity to depict the dancers in their fantastic costumes (I want to capture those gas lamps on their heads!). Finally, just when their performance ended, the dancers hovered in place. I finally got the shot below. It is all that I wanted and needed.

phototip: Conceptualize the image you wanted and experiment.
f/10, 6.0s, 27mm, ISO 100, uncropped
the Festival of Lights, at the Balay na Tisa, the Street of Sta Catalina, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

Acknowledgments: Our deepest thanks to Gibbs and John Enriquez Ada for the invitation, the grand lunch and dinner at the Rayla ancestral house, and the incredible access to the old world that is Carcar. Daghang salamat!

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Stories and Photos from Old Carcar

Preserving the architectural heritage in the Philippines is a struggle in the face of modernity. I have visited my share of towns with a critical mass of old Hispanic houses but none is more impressive than Vigan in Ilocos Sur. It was not declared a UNESCO World Heritage town for nothing. If I would be pressed to shortlist some other towns, I would certainly include Chavayan (Sabtang Island, Batanes), Silay (Negros Occidental), Bantayan (Bantayan Island, Cebu) and Carcar (Cebu).

It is in this context that I was excited when Gibbster and John, both lumad Carcaranon (true blue natives of Carcar) invited me, my wife Dia, Tet and Jenny to witness and document Carcar’s fiesta. We could not come on November 25, the kahulugan or actual feast day when the Kabkaban street mardigras would be held. Instead, we chose to visit on the eve or bisperas, November 24, which is a bigger deal for me as the town would be holding the traditional candlelight procession. This year, the Carcar Heritage Conservation Society is sponsoring a Festival of Lights, a choreographed street dancing around the 4 processional tableaux. Think of flaming handtorches and lamps on salakots (native leaf hats). As Gibbster is a member of the Carcar Heritage Conservation Society, the youngest in fact, he definitely can usher us into old houses that otherwise will remain off limits to strangers. He did that and more.

Sta Catalina
The city of Carcar honors St. Catherine of Alexandria (ca 287-305 AD), or Sta. Catalina in the vernacular, she who was legendarily tortured and beheaded for her faith. As oral accounts go, the image first used in the fiesta procession (before the war?) was the ivory image of the Valencias (below); but when the Noels gained political and financial prominence, their image of the Sta Catalina was bestowed the honor and the Valencia icon was hidden for safekeeping. By a twist of fate, a Valencia heir later on married a Noel and in the late 1990s, the tradition of using the Valencia icon in the town procession was restored.

Sta Catalina
phototip: Sometimes background can be distracting. I took the opportunity of photographing the antique ivory image of the Valencia family while it was sheltered under a blue tarp inside the Osmeña-Valencia family compound, while waiting to be paraded in the street.
f/5/6, 0.008s, 170mm, ISO 400, +1/3EV, uncropped
at the Balay na Tisa, the Ancestral House of the Sarmientos (Osmeña-Valencia), Carcar City, Cebu

This is not to say that the Noel image is no less revered. Unlike the youthful virgin-like beauty of the Valencia image, the life-sized Noel Sta Catalina has a more mature and knowledgeable countenance. It still is honored and is reserved a prominent altar at the left transept inside the Church of Carcar.

St Catherine Church student volunteers
phototip: Add a human element when photographing religious iconography.
f/5/6, 0.04s, 41mm, ISO 1600, +2/3EV, slightly cropped
student volunteers before the antique Sta Catalina image owned by the Noel family honored inside the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

Expression of faith
Fiestas are a time of reuniting with friends and family, of bringing out the best family porcelain and home-cooked recipes, but most of all, of paying homage to the patron saint. The essence of fiesta is faith so I always would try to capture prayer in its communal and personal form, whether of people jostling inside the church or of visitors offering candles, oftentimes accompanied by the now-famous sinulog dance. I chose to represent the solemn part of the fiesta celebration with a closeup shot of a hand offering candles outside the church. Petitions here are often said in silence.

phototip: Simplify, simplify, simplify.
f/5.6, 0.002s, 255mm, ISO 200, uncropped
at the communal candle offertory outside the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

Houses of Heritage
According to the Carcar Heritage Society, there are close to 50 houses that were built in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. With such a unique setting therefore, Carcar was proclaimed a heritage town in 2005 by the province. Numerous are the grand buildings in Carcar, from the filigreed dispensary to St. Catherine College to the Sato Mansion, where Leon Kilat (General Pantaleon Villegas), the famous revolutionary, was killed by Spanish loyalists in 1898. On a personal note, my father’s older sister married an Avila in Valladolid, Carcar who inherited an opulent ancestral house complete with a fountain, a mini-piazza with imported statues and Italian glass windows although the manor has sadly fallen in disrepair, as have most houses in Carcar. With so little time, we have to limit our photographic tour in Carcar to just about two houses, the Balay na Tisa of the Sarmientos/Osmeña-Valencia and the Dakung Balay (the Big House) of the Noels.

Balay na Tisa
The house lays claim as the oldest in Carcar and the only one with the extant original tisa or clay tiled roof. It has a marker which dates the construction of the house to February 2, 1859.

Balay na Tisa marker
phototip: Frame plain objects. I used the Christmas decors hanging from the ceiling to frame the flat marker to add visual interest.
f/5.6, 10.01s, 44mm, ISO 1600, -1/3EV, uncropped
construction marker of the Balay na Tisa, the Sarmiento ancestral house, Sta Catalina St, Carcar City, the Philippines

Based on oral accounts and from what I gathered in the internet, the house was built by Don Roman Sarmiento and Doña Ana Canarias. In Philippine society, the appellations Don and Dona refer not just to the literal Mr. and Mrs. but are reserved titles for the old Spanish or mestizo Spanish gentility. Definitely, affluence was to the Sarmientos born. They not only built a house made of bato or stone (specifically coral), they used clay tiles for the roof or tisa.

The couple only had 2 children, both girls. As the elder daughter who married a Urgello died young, the house was bequethed to the younger daughter who married an Osmeña. The Osmeña’s only child, also a daughter, married a Valencia. No wonder then that the house is referred to by many names, the Sarmiento or Valencia or more popularly, the Osmeña-Valencia house.

Balay na Tisa
phototip: Fiesta night scenes are a treat, far more colorful and vibrant. The house is closed in ordinary days and is occupied only by a caretaker. The owners visit the house only on occasions, most specially, the Semana Santa (Holy Week) or the fiesta (Nov 24-25).
f/8.0, 10.0s, 25mm, ISO 100, slightly cropped
the Balay na Tisa, the Sarmiento or the Osmeña-Valencia ancestral house, Sta Catalina St, Carcar City, the Philippines

There is a side spin to the house’s history. In the 1980s, an heir who lived in house, ran into financial trouble, and allegedly sold almost all of the antique appointments. After the house was recovered by other family members, they tried to slowly, painstakingly and silently, buy back their lost heirlooms. No amount of money and influence could recover all the losses but over time, the heirs succeeded in populating the house with vintage, reproduction and antique furnishings, with some recovered originals. I know of an antique dealer in Minglanilla who helped search for the sold items and narrated to me this tale even before I visited the house. But without doubt, the house is now a veritable museum of beautiful porcelain, crystals, silver and woodwork. Not only are the interiors impeccably restored, the decorations are tasteful and unmistakably classy. We left with our mouths all agape.

phototip: Look straight up. I had to kneel to get this shot but the different perspective is rewarding.
f/5.6, 0.013s, 18mm, ISO 1600, -2/3EV
detail of the ceiling in hammered tin that is probably original to the the Balay na Tisa, the Sarmiento or the Osmeña-Valencia ancestral house, Sta Catalina St, Carcar City, the Philippines

Dakung Balay
If we were floored by the luxury of the Osmeña-Valencia house, we were ushered back in time by the Noel ancestral home. Now the residence of Jerry Martin Alfafara, the PRO of the Carcar Heritage Society and contributing writer to magazines like the Metro Society, the house is huge. Downstairs, there is ample space for parking and commercial warehousing, as the house probably was sometime in the past. Like the Balay na Tisa, the house has a grand wooden staircase which connects the stone-walled ground floor and the wooden second storey structure. The floors upstairs still have the original interspersed planks of what look to me as fine-grained yellow tugas (molave in Tagalog) and dark bayong (tindalo in Tagalog), all varieties of hardwood that are now rare.

Dakung Balay
phototip: Recreate the atmosphere of the scene. The interior of the house is as somber, if not “haunted” in feel, so I shot a picture in the dark, timed when no one was in view, to depict a sense of desolation.
f/18, 20.0s, 30mm, ISO 100, uncropped
the Noel Ancestral House, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

The furnitures clearly are as old as the house. Most notably, I saw a dining table which features the kalabasa (squash) foot design, indicating that the piece is probably made by Ah Tay, the renowned late 19th century furniture maker from Manila. The four posters of the huge bed also are impressive for they are hand-carved and not mechanically turned, indicating how expensive the bed must have been even during its time. The current dining room is sized like a ballroom and so is the open aired veranda. There are also living quarters behind the traditional old kitchen at the back which appear to be occupied by a family helping out with the upkeep of the house.

While the house foundations and walls are generally intact and solid, a lot of the interiors were consigned to the ravages of time. Take for instance the paint and wallpaper in the living room which were allowed to flake. Decoration was sparse and lighting was dim, adding an eerie atmosphere of mystery in the house. My lady companions certainly were too unnerved to go to the toilet alone, which by the way, was thoroughly modern. For additional old air ambiance, the homeowner’s computer was packed and stored away from view. I saw no radios, phone or television. How‘s that for effect?!

phototip: Experiment with angles when shooting subjects with mirrors. From where I took the picture, the antique Venetian mirror was able to reflect and highlight the patterns of the flaking wallpaper.
f/4.5, 0.013s, 31mm, ISO 1600, -1/3EV
details of the flaking paint and wallpaper, the Noel Ancestral House, Carcar City, Cebu, the Philippines

Part 2: Documenting Carcar’s Festival of Lights

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Photographing Through Crowds (the Bali Saraswati Celebration)

It was my fortune that my last visit in Bali coincided with the Saraswati celebration. However, capturing ceremonies in Hindu Bali is not that easy. Temples would be far too packed to get photographic elbow room. While temples are generally open to the public – the Balinese are fairly tolerant and accommodating people – I always get stymied by fear of intruding too much in their religious observances.

I will describe here several tips in capturing Balinese ceremonies, specifically in making the crowds work for you photographically.

The challenge
To give you an idea of the difficulty, here is one picture at the Temple of Tangkas Puri Agung in Klungkung which happened to be celebrating its temple anniversary that day. The jostling crowd can be seen charging out of the first inner courtyard of the temple after a blessing. As temple courtyards can typically accommodate only a hundred people at a time, blessing rites have to be repeated all throughout the day, from morning and even into the night, to accommodate the thousands who would pay homage.

Pura Tangkas Puri Agung
phototip: Be unobstrusive and wear Balinese attire. As ceremonies are repeated in cycles, staying over for the next rite allows you to choose which spot gives you the better vantage point.
f/4.5, 0.002s, 18mm, ISO 200, +1/3EV
Pura Tangkas Puri Agung, Klungkung, Bali, Indonesia

1. Distill the essence of the celebration
Now, back to the ceremony. Saraswati, in Hindu Bali, is the goddess of learning. During this holy day, the Balinese, most particularly the youth, would pray for scholastic success in temples all throughout the island. As in most rituals in Balinese temples, people come in the inner courtyard with offerings of food, flowers and incense. Praying is done by squatting position on the ground while sacred scriptures would be read over the mike and several times over, the worshippers would bow to the ground in unison. Finally, they would receive cooked rice and holy water from priests of the brahmana caste. The cooked rice would be partly eaten while some rice kernels would be pasted over their forehead. The water would be also be drank and sprayed over their heads, as shown below.

Goa Lawah_0055-1
phototip: Capture the essence of the ceremony. Saraswati is for and by the youth, as shown in this picture.
f/4.6, 0.008s, 49mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV
Goa Lawah Temple, Klungkung, Bali, Indonesia

We visited a total of 3 temples that morning- the Pura Tangkas Puri Agung, the Pura Goa Lawah Temple (the famous bat cave temple) and the Pura Bukit Buluh, which has a tall 11-tier pagoda perched on a hill. However, the youthful celebration of the Saraswati offerings is best depicted in a series of pics I took at the village hall of Kusumba, Klungkung.

Apparently the blessing ceremony in the village of Kusumba was scheduled after lunch and in the morning, as entertainment prelude, classical dances were performed by local children. As families actually pay for their children to learn Balinese dance, the Saraswati was a special recital occasion.

2. Isolate a subject
Knowing that the Balinese are the more discerning critics and not the paying tourists (and there were none in the hall I visited), the dancers of various ages were obviously edgy and were practicing movements while performances were ongoing in the center stage. Find someone who stands out. Think of someone pretty. Someone in a gorgeous costume. A child. It might not be easy as the people around the subject often would block your view. Yet soon enough, the crowd will part. For the picture below, I followed a pretty girl in a fabulous headdress for sometime until finally, she looked at me.

phototip: Portraits, particularly the candid ones, are stronger if the subject looks back at you, straight into the lens.
f/5.6, 0.004s, 140mm, ISO 400
Kusumba Village, Klungkung, Bali, Indonesia

3. Tell a story
Cultural performances are visually attractive by themselves but watch out for crowd action that is organized, as opposed to random. In this photo, a masked topeng dancer was obviously trying to entertain a young boy. The spectators, young and old, sitting or standing, are all looking at the boy, in anticipation of his reaction. Although the boy was partly blocked from my view, there is a cohesive story unfolding in the drama. All eyes definitely were on the boy, as eventually yours would too.

phototip: Watch out for scenes when eyes, gestures and movements are oriented towards one focal subject.
f/5.6, 0.006s, 222mm, ISO 200
Kusumba Village, Klungkung, Bali, Indonesia

4. Look behind the scenes
Interesting actions are not just limited in the stage. What is happening behind the scenes can be as fascinating as the dance performances. Getting backstage is easy in a Balinese village hall, which is just a quadrangle pavilion that is open in all sides. Besides, the Balinese don’t mind the occasional stranger like me.

phototip: Watch out for colors. I shot this knowing that the contrasts of the girls’ dress against the colorful brocade would be stark.
f/5, 0.005s, 75mm, ISO 200, +2/3EV
Kusumba Village, Klungkung, Indonesia

5. Use the crowd as frame
Candid moments are happening everywhere so be quick. Once I saw that there were young dancers sitting in a corner waiting for their turn to dance, I recognized that their idle gossip was a photo op. The problem was that the girls were moving all the time. So I waited. When the girl in the right suddenly bent slightly and gracefully, I was ready. Sometimes you have to create your luck.

phototip: Use the crowd as frame for glimpses of intimate moments.
f/5.0, 0.008s, 150mm, ISO 800, +2/3EV
Kusumba Village, Klungkung, Bali, Indonesia

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Creating My Own Wayang

Wayang kulit is the ancient puppet theatre in Bali and Java, where shadows of flat leather cutout figures are made to dance against a white curtain using a blazing fire as backlight. In photography, similar shadow plays can be created and I will share here inside tips on how to take dynamic silhouetted photos. I will limit the discussion to fast speed shots that can be done handheld, as opposed to long exposure silhouette. In homage to wayang, the pictures I am featuring here taken in Bali.

day is done
phototip: Choose and interesting subject. Although this was taken by a point and shoot using digital zoom instead of a real telephoto lens, the drama of surfing is captured.
f/8, 0.01s, 21.3mm
Kuta Beach, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

As illustrated above, shadow shots need strong backlighting and nothing but the rising or sinking sun provides a cleaner and brighter almost-horizontal natural light. I suggest a location with a reflective body of water, most convenient of which is the sea. Get a map and check out which beach faces the east (sunrise) or the west (sunset). Check out the internet for the sunrise/sunset time as the golden hours for hand-held silhouettes, depending on the conditions, often are the 30 or 40 minute periods after sunrise or before sunset.

Last November 11, I was not really too keen on doing any sunset shots. Work took a frontseat that Sunday but when I became free late in the afternoon, I suggested to my friends that we go to Canggu. Now Canggu is not in your typical Bali tourist map – it is that blank spot between Seminyak/Kuta and Tanah Lot temple – but I have never been there. My Balinese friends, Komang and Ketut, perhaps being just too much familiar with me, no longer raise an eyebrow that I chose a place off the tourist track although lately, the place is being peppered with villa-type cottages.

The beach of Tibubeneng was, as expected, crowded. That Sunday after all was Banyu Pinaruh, the auspicious date to cast away offerings and ritually bathe in the sea. I already had my fill of the spectacle of the celebrations during sunrise at Geger beach in Nusa Dua (but this would be in another coming blog).

Just a few paces from the road, I could not see the people swimming in the water for the sand swell was blocking my view. However, people going into and coming from the beach would be fully silhouetted against the yellow sky as they go up the dune mounds. Getting graceful silhouettes would be another matter. Stalking takes patience and for the shot below, I first chose and then practically chased a family of three with my lens and waited for the right moment to click.

phototip: Be aware of the foreground and background which can add value to your composition
f/5.6, 0.001s, 300mm, ISO 100, +1.0eV
Tibubeneng Beach, Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

As I walked closer to the beach, people would no longer be backlit fully, at least not in my camera. In front of bright light, a camera sees differently from the human eye. While I could see the head, body and feet of the people in front of me, the camera can only distinguish the contrast of the dark forms against the light and as I moved on higher ground, the people’s legs will be set against the sand which cannot reflect any light. From the mound then, the camera can only capture people often from the knee or even from the waist up.

When I saw some lads starting to play volleyball, I knew that I have to retrace my steps back to the road to get a lower perspective. Unfortunately, I could not find a spot low enough to capture the full figures of the players, what with the crowd surrounding the court. I finally settled by a tree stump which rather stank from some refuse. And did I mention too that in these shots, you will always be against the harsh sunlight? Silhouette shots are not for those who don’t want to get dark. Or for those who cannot stand to sweat in the sweltering heat.

bola voli
phototip: Shoot, chimp and shoot. You can improve on your shots by learning from previous photos
f/5.6, 0.0002s, 160mm, ISO 200, +1.0eV
Tibubeneng Beach, Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

Although the jumble of the spectators is not be too distracting, it diminishes the punch of the action. I even have to tilt and crop the shot above. That is when it hit me. I can actually frame some shots from the net up knowing that the players will eventually jump and smash the ball. So I angled the camera slightly and focused on the action above the net. The wait was just short. In less than 2 minutes, there came another kill and as I was ready, I got the frame I wanted. The photo below was not cropped at all.

phototip: In volleyball, as in any team sport, the players’ eyes and actions will be always be oriented towards the ball, the natural dynamic focal point. If possible, always include the object of play in the frame.
f/5.6, 0.0002s, 220mm, ISO 200, +1/3eV
Tibubeneng Beach, Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

After some more shots, I was ready to give up on the game. I joined my friends near the beach and capped the afternoon with some peanuts. It was still some 30 minutes before sunset. There are still some more photos to take.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Hong Kong in Half a Day

So I was in Hong Kong again. I subscribe to Cathay Pacific for business trips, so I always transit by the Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok airport. Somehow, flight schedules between Cebu and Surabaya or Bali are misaligned so I have no choice but to sleep overnight at Hong Kong. Not bad. It has been more than 2 years since I entered Hong Kong! Counting those 2 years as my entire flickr lifetime, I realize there begs the opportunity to take pictures of life in Hong Kong.

Having arrived almost midnight in my hotel at Kowloon last November 5, I decided to hit the sack promptly. I only have a good half day for a mini photographic tour the next morning. Getting up early is never my problem and to my utter surprise, at almost 6:40, while I was having a (cellphone) text exchange with my wife, the sun suddenly shot up behind the Kowloon cityscape. My room window is directly facing east after all! The unplanned sunrise shots then became my first official photos in Hong Kong for the day.

BP Intl_0003-3
phototip: For the unordained sunchaser: be quick. The sun rises so fast from the horizon that you would have little time with camera adjustments and composition. But ha! Note my too high an ISO below.
f/5.6, 0.002s, 300mm, ISO 400, +1/3eV
Kowloon, Hong Kong

But where should I go? The street markets? Hong Kong Central perhaps? There’s always that cable car thing somewhere- I’ve never tried that. The decision was made a day before the trip actually. When I googled Hong Kong, I was led to this nifty website I followed the Attractions link and clicked Hong Kong walks and voila, there it is, a cultural walk tour around 2 temples and an old walled city.

Excited that I was, breakfast melted into an afterthought of 2 hot buns from a corner deli. I even dug into it subterfuge, in the subway rides from the Jordan station to Wong Tai Sin. (I am not sure if Hong Kong, is anally hung as Singapore where eating in subway trains means a sizeable fine so I was discreet).

Wong Tai Sin, a fairly new temple built in 1973, is nestled on hilly ground. Definitely a popular destination, it already was crawling with tourists who come in by busloads. Brightly painted, heavily tiled and ornately decorated, it is visually attractive. There is also no paucity of chances if you are into incense shots. I must have smelled rank with sandalwood and camphor, having lingered there for almost 30 minutes. The only minus was the constant badgering of the volunteers (?) cum maintenance crew who continuously chase people who overstayed in the central court. Necessary for easy traffic I guess. But they cut down on my photo ops.

Wong Tai Sin
phototips: If you have a telephoto lens, shoot at the side of the main temple offering table to be less intrusive. Wait for the smoke to get thick and for a color-worthy subject, say this lady in red.
f/8.0, 0.005s, 180mm, ISO 100, -1/3eV
Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Next, the website suggested a subway ride to the adjacent station in Lok Fu. Niggardly, and always wanting for exercise, I decided to take a hike. Problem was the map was not drawn to scale and street names are missing. After almost getting lost in a semicircle – Hong Kong highways are blocked from pedestrian crossings and skywalks are sparse in this part of the City– I found the main street Tung Tau Tsuen Road. The walk took me almost 30 minutes. I was a bit disappointed that there is not much to photograph along the way, the street scenes were too sterile and concrete for me, but at least finding the Hau Wong temple was easy, exactly at a corner junction, as illustrated in the map.

Surprise, surprise, this is no crowded temple. No one was there save for some caretakers. Strangely, I was too unnerved to go inside. Being NOT a Buddhist, I felt that I would be intruding into a holy space. I contented myself to photographing artifacts outside like the weapons and staff flanking the entranceway of the temple and the red cauldron with burning incense. Honestly, while this temple is reputed to date back to the 18th century, this can be skipped unless you are interested in photographing calligraphy and plaques. Unlike me, you would have to venture inside. Probably the caretakers would not mind some photography if you asked politely enough.

Hau Wong
phototip: For vibrant shots, choose a subject in red. Always a headturner!
f/5.6, 0.017s, 55mm, ISO 400, -1/3eV
Hau Wong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

To cap the cultural journey, the Kowloon Walled City Park is just across the temple. To trivia buffs, the old Kowloon Walled City is an enclave in the heart of Kowloon that remained under Chinese rule during British occupation. Therefore, it was infamous for lawlessness, grime and eventually, decay. In 1994, it was razed down by the government and turned into a park showcasing the original walls, gates and the Yamen courtyard. For photography, watch out for the traditional gardens and the circular moon gates. The Park is also a popular hangout place for retirees and senior citizens who chose to relax in the gardens, swap talks, play music (one old man was playing the flute fabulously!) and perform the tai chi (calisthenics). I was all agog though in capturing the Lung Nam pavilion set amidst a lagoon and a manmade falls.

Lung Nam
phototipTo create a dreamlike scene, try long exposure mid-day. Stack on your filters (the polarizer, UV, ND most particularly) and use the narrowest aperture. Wait for a breeze to capture the blur of the thrashing greens.
f/29, 4.0s, 25mm, ISO 100, +2/3eV
the Lung Nam Pavilion, the Kowloon Walled City Park, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China

Time was already catching up with me. Since I only need to check in for my flight to Surabaya before 1PM, I have to check out of the hotel before 12 noon. Actually made it back by 11AM. I didn’t mind spending some more time in the airport. Work, after all cannot wait, and Hong Kong is just corollary to my final destination: Indonesia.

And oh, I will be back in Kowloon on Nov 11, this time, only for the night. Nightime Kowloon in 2 hours? Now that is another challenge.

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