Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bali Arts Festival 2008- part 3

The opening parade of the 2008 Bali Arts Festival started only at about 4PM and since we arrived early, at 1:45PM, I had the luxury of time to check out the delegations as they prepared and queued along the parade route.

One of the contingents which stirred up rabid excitement from photographers when they emerged was the group of ladies with huge headdresses of yellow flowers. Unfortunately, the dance troupes did not bear any identifying signages of what regency or district they represented so I would affectionately refer them as “flowerheads”.

full costume
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/800s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400

To describe their headdresses as fabulous is accurate. Imagine peacock-shaped crowns studded with yellow flowers and traditional gold ornaments. Measuring at least three feet wide and two feet high, these headgears must be heavy. Up front, they were nothing short of intricate, consisting of concentric rows of champaca buds (cempaka), yellow plumeria or frangipani (kamboja) fashioned into squares and capped by a cascade of gold foil flowers.

Bali Arts Fest 061408_0047-3
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/5.6, 240mm, ISO 100, +1/3 EV

The backside was just as stunning. Lush petals of yellow flowers profusely sprayed over the half-circular arc of the headdresses. They appeared like frangipani petals to me especially that they seemed to wilt slightly under the noontime sun. However, the strong light can be divine as it played boldly on the bare shoulder curves of the dancers, highlighting the elegance, if not the sultriness of the female form. When a dancer began toying with her extra-long beaded necklace which extended right down to her knees, my camera was quick to oblige.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/3200s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400

I continued taking portraits of these girls with my 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, testing its rigor as an all around lens for street photography. When set at infinity, the lens is capable of acting as a telephoto lens although I noticed that the details either get blown out by harsh light or underexposed if under the shade. Exposure compensation is important and nothing beats doing test shots and chimping until you get the feel of the lighting conditions.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/4000s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -2/3 EV

Definitely, the lens is excellent for closeup portraits. Its 100mm focal length means you don’t need to come too close and intrude into some body’s personal space. The f/2.8 aperture also provides appreciable bokeh but be quick with the manual focusing to get the appropriate plane of field.

flowerhead smile
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1600s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3 EV

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

the heavenly beaches of East Lombok- part 1

continued in part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5

No offense to Bali – and everyone knows how I adore Bali – the best beaches I’ve had the pleasure to swim in is in the lesser known island east of it, Lombok.

I am not just talking of the strips of Senggigi or the high end Gili islands which Lombok is known for. The beaches I am featuring here are off the beaten track. They are in East Lombok or Lombok Timor (Lotim) in Indonesia and are about 2 hours away from the Mataram airport.

First is Sumerang.

Sumerang is blessed with more than 5 uninhabited islets which arc 180 degrees around the bay. Some are rock flats but at least two are soaring limestone karst cliffs that seem to be sentinels of the blue waters. As for now, there are no signs of tourists. Talk about an undiscovered gem that is not even identified in any commercial map!

My other favorite beach in Lotim is the lagoon of Serewe.

Albeit Serewe would occasionally appear in the map as Seriwe, that the spelling is a subject of confusion signifies how far-flung the area is. Like Sumerang, it is 100% devoid of tourists. Serewe features a narrow U-shaped lagoon which offers waters in a myriad of aqua blue and emerald colors.

How did I get to know these beaches? That is another story…

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1250s, f/5.6, 190mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
3 seaweed farmers in Sumerang, East Lombok, Indonesia

fisherman at Sumerang
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1600s, f/5.6, 300mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
fishing in Sumerang, East Lombok, Indonesia

SereweCanon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/14, 18mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
Serewe, East Lombok, Indonesia

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Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights

June 18 and I found myself in Kowloon once more. I missed my family and wanted to go home straight from Indonesia but I could not get a same-day connection from Surabaya to Cebu. I had to stay overnight in Hong Kong.

Arriving at the hotel close to 4PM, I could have gone outside and shoot some street markets. However, the spirit was willing but the body was not. It was not until it was 5:30 PM that I decided to venture outside.

The lighting condition was not only dark but the weather was damp. Rain was beginning to fetter. I decided that my best opportunity left for any photoshoot would be the famous Symphony of Lights of Victoria Harbour. I have read in the highly informative website that Kowloon’s best vantage point would be the viewing deck at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. I have never been there so I ventured southward, following Nathan Road. Just like a dress rehearsal, I timed the distance that I need to walk (I am so OC, I know). From the hotel, I found out that the waterfront is about 30 minutes by brisk walking, passing by 2 MRT (subway) stations of Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui. Although I can competitively sprint-walk as fast as the next Hong Kong guy, I figured that later– the show would start only at 8PM – I could always save time by using the train.

There are other photographic features at Nathan Road and in the Waterfront but overcast light made the landscape and scenery dull and colorless. I walked back to the hotel with only a few photos and prayed that the light rain would ease down for the laser spectacle.

Unfortunately, a little after 7PM, the heavens opened up. Rain poured down heavily. I tried a couple of blocks and gave up. Frustrated, I backtracked. Across the hotel was a small hole-in-the-wall Chinese eatery and if I were to miss the light show, then I might as well eat local Cantonese food. Dinner was divine.

dinner at Mau Lam St
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 1600, +1/3EV

When I got out at 7:40, rain was intermittent between light and heavy so I risked it. I raced to the waterfront. I took the Jordan to Tsim Sha Tsui line and used the underground walkways to keep myself dry. I was praying that I would not get lost and luckily, I found myself in the promenade in front of the Hong Kong Theatre. Racing to the covered viewing deck, I found myself panting but exactly just in time for the 8PM show. Thevoice-over already started when I searched for a space I can squeeze in my tripod. I later found out that I got fine timing as I visited on a Wednesday when English would be used, just as in every Mon and Fri, but not on Tue-Thur-Sat (Mandarin) or Sun (Cantonese).

As explained by the taped narration boomed over the waterfront, the Symphony of Lights is a synchronised laser display by at least 44 buildings, both at the Hong Kong and Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour. Accompanied by symphonic music, the 14-minute show is listed by the Guinness World Records as the world's largest permanent light and sound show. Obviously, that night was still considered as “good weather” for the show was not canceled. Again, fortune was on my side as the disastrous Fengshen storm would only strike Southeast Asia several days later.

When the show began, rain already was light but the dark clouds were too thick to allow us the full spectacle of multi-colored laser and searchlights. Not much laser beams, yes, but the hovering cloud of wet haze and foreboding darkness provided the drama and difference that meant a lot photographically.

rained on
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 6.0s, f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 100
phototip: Use fill-in flash to get a more detailed exposure.

stormy symphony
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 5.0s, f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 100, +2/3EV

IFC2- Symphony of Lights
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 2.5s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

the Cacing Diaries #11

4 months + 3 weeks

What’s up with Cacing? A lot!

The biggest news is that she is teething. Poor baby. Last week, late Saturday afternoon, we were mystified by her incessant crying. No amount of soothing was able to quiet her down. It struck me though that she would often chew on something- her bib, her hand, even her shirt. When I examined her mouth, there they are: two distinctly white teeth about to break out from her lower gums. Quickly, I texted our pediatrician for help and she suggested Xylogel, which is a toothpaste-like balm. Luckily, we live near a pharmacy so I was able to buy a small tube quick. It did not take long for her to take a liking to the cool gel. This and a teether seem to work most of the times. It’s never easy to have babies.

It is not all problems though. Just about the same time, Cacing started to prefer drinking her milk while lying on her crib. Gone are the days when we have to feed her while cradled in our arms. Not bad really. It’s easier for us especially at night, especially now that she sleeps as long as we do already. She would occasionally twist and squirm on her back making feeding an exercise of patience but she’s a good girl.

Talking about eating, whenever Cacing sees us munching on food, she’ll copy our chewing action and pretend to masticate. She’ll drool heavily, obviously tempted by the solid food. Our pediatrician however prefers to have Cacing eat semi-solid food only after 6 months to allow her immunity system to fully develop. She said that a lot of the allergies can be traced to premature introduction of food like meat and fruits, as manifested by infant scabies and later in life, even as grave as adult-onset kidney diseases. We can wait then.

And some really “sinister” development – is Cacing a lefty? Recently, we have noticed that she prefers her left over her right, from handling things to the direction of her body rolling and even to the choice of which hand to chew. It still is too early to be sure but my wife is a lefty and so is my brother so I would not be surprised. Before anyone becomes concerned about my “sinister” tag, I am simply referring to the word’s old Latin meaning, which means “left”. Funny how word connotation evolves sometime. Cacing can be as left-handed, or right-handed, or ambidextrous all she wants.


Cacing with pink hat (2)
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, +1/3 EV
Cacing loves this pair of earrings too much she’d grab them so we replaced them with her original hypoallergenic studs which are less likely to come off.

the pink bonnet
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, -1/3 EV
Cacing is most photogenic when she flashes her wide smile.

Cacing in red
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800
An innocent look from Cacing

Cacing at Rustan's
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800
Her eyebrows are quite thick and frame her eyes quite beautifully.

skirt up
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 800, +1/3EV
That is the dress of her billowing skirt which I hiked up to serve as her bandanna.

halter beauty
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400
Isn’t her halter dress cute? It’s a gift from my best friend in Bali.

a bored cacing
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV
Cacing engages us into child talk all the time.

so what if I drool
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV
So she drools and makes faces but we still find her cute.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Sunatan (circumcision) parade

It was totally unexpected. I was in a day trip to Lombok last week on business in the southeastern part of the island. We were in the town of Mujur when suddenly our car was blocked by a slumbering parade. The sound of men chanting over some drum and woodwind orchestra signaled a ceremony of some kind. I craned my neck and as slowly overtook a party of some 20 men and boys. There were two open palanquins, each borne on the shoulders of four men. The carts are ornate, deeply carved and polychromatically painted as horses. Each carried two young boys, who were no more than 6 years old and were wearing traditional jackets and sarung in woven sasak ikat or songket brocade. More curiously, the men bearing the cart would regularly stop in the middle of the road to perform a dance.

My companions, who are all too aware of my photography habit, hastily explained that this was a ritual for a sunatan or Muslim circumcision! We asked the driver to drive a few meters so that I could get off and shoot them passing us by. The parade was moving fast and I had little time to frame pictures. Fortunately, the cart bearers, who were in front of the parade, saw me, a tourist to their eyes, and obliged with a dance. They squatted in place, bent their knees simultaneously to keep the litter level, and danced with their hands. There was cheering and laughter. The crowd was animated. All these to the live accompaniment of a traditional wind and percussion orchestra that were at the tailend of the parade. The Sasak gamelan featured musical instruments constituted antique looking wooden flutes (bamboo?), drums with stretched cowhide, and brass cymbals.

We stopped just at the right spot as when the parade moved ahead, they shortly turned at a corner just a few meters from where our vehicle was. Too bad, I only got a few frames as the procession moved fast.

Unfortunately, I could not get much of the sasak circumcision ceremony. A search in the internet provided me with a few clues. One, circumcision is a must to Muslims so Indonesian Muslim males undergo this rite as do other Indonesian non-Muslims. Traditionally, the Javanese boys undergo circumcision when they are 11-12 years old. Sundanese boys are circumcised at a younger age, at about 5-6 years old. Obviously, the Lombok Sasak boys follow the Sundanese lead. As a coming-of-age ritual, the circumcision is a joyous affair celebrated by relatives, friends and neighbors replete with gifts for the boy. There is even a community circumcision for poorer neighborhoods but still, a scaled-down party is expected.

Definitely, there is that pervasive feeling that traditions like this are going by the wayside of modernization. Already, not all the participants wear the customary finery reserved for grand celebrations. Convenience and practicality are prevailing over custom. How long will those old gamelan instruments last too? They appear ancient and would they be replaced soon with modern pipes and drums, and more ominously, be supplanted with piped in recordings?

As the tailend of the procession disappeared down the dusty lane in Mujur, I could only hope that the local Sasak people would continue to find meaning in age-old traditions. To the unordained, they may look exotic but to the very folks who persist pursuing this vanishing custom, the sunatan parade is only part of a precious culture that defines their society.

Mujur crowd


Sunatan Mujur


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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Perang Pandan, part 1

The humanity of a society is not just measured by how people treat their friends but how they care for their enemies. But what happens when the lines distinguishing friends from enemies are blurred by cultural dictates? Are bonds of kinship strong enough when tested? These questions are posited in a ritual called perang pandan of the Bali Aga people in Tenganan where males of age of reason, from children as young as seven to men as old as seventy, engage in a bloody duel, every year.

Literally meaning “pandan war”, perang pandan is a man-to-man, or child-to-child battle using a thorny pandan (wild screwpine) leaves bunched into a club, with only a peresai or woven bamboo (?) shield as protection. There are no declaration of winners or losers and one can participate in as many duels as permitted by a council of adults who themselves participate in the rites.

Human as men are, the fights can get heated, resulting to lots of blood and bad temper but somehow after all the lashing and whipping, participants are put into place and acrimony is left on stage. Smiles and embraces are exchanged. Manhood is tested. Civilization survives.

More notes and photographs in the following days.

"I can do this.."
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/5.6, 255mm, ISO 800, +1/3EV
phototip: Be early, especially on the 3rd and last day of the perang pandan. The fight started before 2PM, so by 1PM, I already claimed a stake in front of the the stage and soon enough all places would be taken. This, under the heat of noon sun. It would be worth the aggravation as even the sidelights leading to the battle ceremony are worth documenting.
a nervous young boy, psyching himself up for the perang pandan duel in Tengenan, Manggis, Karengasem, Bali, Indonesia (uncropped)

perang pandan
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/5.6, 255mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
phototip: Gradually, as the more than one-hour ritual progressed, the participants would sit around the arena and would block your view. Move backwards and seek higher ground and use a telephoto lens. Otherwise, bring a stool with you, or as other male photographers would do, wear traditional clothes and go bare-chested like the participants so as to gain access to the sacred pavilion overlooking the makeshift stage.
a seriously touch and bloody battle at the perang pandan in Tengenan, Manggis, Karengasem, Bali, Indonesia (uncropped)

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/8.0, 22mm, ISO 200, +1/3EV
a gory duel in the perang pandan in Tengenan, Manggis, Karengasem, Bali, Indonesia (uncropped)

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bali Arts Festival 2008- part 2

Over a period of one month, from June 14-July 12, the Bali Arts Festival celebrates the cultural heritage of Bali and beyond. Art teams from districts all throughout the island and the outlying provinces would converge in the Bali Arts Center in Denpasar to present cultural performances, from the traditional to the neoclassical and even modern. Dance, literature, music, sculpture, whatever art form there is, these can be found in a backdrop of a pameran country fair, Indonesia-style.

Every year, foreign delegations would also come over to showcase their own festivals or cultural features, hoping to draw in the same tourists that flock over Bali. This year alone, about 14 troups are joining the Bali Arts Festival.

To celebrate the glory of Bali, what better way than present portraits of Balinese ladies in all their regal fineries. They are sure magnets of the photographers anywhere.

Before my trip, I bought a 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. I tested it as an all around lens in the Bali Arts Festival and I must say, I love it! Here some tips on how to convert this sharp macro lens for street portraiture:
1. Set the focus to manual. Practice and learn how to focus. Trust your eyes to get the right sharpness.
2. Adjust the exposure compensation and test what is right for the prevailing light conditions.
3. To prevent camera shake, ensure that your shutter speed is 1/100s or faster. You may have to increase the ISO, or use flash.

beauties of Bali

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/2.8, 50mm, ISO 200, +1/3 EV
phototip: Stalk. This lady was texting in her cell phone at the same time chatting with her friends. I knew that sooner, she would look up as they always would after using the phone. She did and I got rewarded with this Julia Roberts mile-wide smile. (uncropped)

senyum manis
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1000s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, +1/3 EV
phototip: Frame. I had several shots of this beauty but I wanted to frame her among her friends and the banten offerings that they were carrying. (very slightly cropped)

gossiping girls
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/2000s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV

posing for photogs
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1250s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, +1/3 EV
phototip: Be on the lookout for the “different”. While all the other girls were posing for the photographers, I noticed one solitary lass who looked at me. I smiled and she returned the favor here. (uncropped)

girls with long hair
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 200, +2/3 EV
phototip: Wait for the right moment. These girls aren’t dancing. They were stretching and folding their banners. A lot of things are happening during the waiting period before the start of the parade so be quick and be ready with your camera. (uncropped)

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Bali Arts Festival 2008- part 1

This year is the 30th holding of the annual Bali Arts Festival. Over the years, I’ve attended several of the performances and exhibitions of the month-long affair but I still haven’t had the opportunity to watch its grand opening parade. My timing, obviously, was shot. Not until this year.

Finally last June 14, I found myself on the streets of Denpasar. My close Balinese friends told me that it is their first time too to attend the opening meped as they’ve always contented themselves to viewing the proceeding in the television.

Part commercial, cultural and religious, the parade features the best that Bali can offer. Numerous seka or cultural groups put a spectacular display and studied performance to live up to its billing as the biggest and grandest cultural festival in Indonesia.

A lot of research, money and organization are poured into this grand opening parade. I expected colors, costumes and beauty and I got more. And so did thousands who braved the heat of the afternoon sun, including scores of photographers who jostled for the best angles and positions along the parade route.

Over the next several posts, I would feature the spectacle of the parade, if only to relive the excitement and relish the fulfillment of a wish that I long made a long time ago.


phototip: Shoot at relatively slower shutter speed to create action.

zooming in
phototip: Another technique in capturing action, especially in a fast moving parade, is to move the barrel of the lens while shooting at a relatively slow shutter speed. Zooming in or out the lens could enhance the perception of action.

at rest

smiling boy
phototip: A smile always trumps the harried expression.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father’s Day

stuck in Bali

So it comes to be that I will spend my first Father’s Day without my Cacing! It doesn’t really feel so bad as I always thought that the celebration is an imposition of Western mores on Filipino culture and on Asian culture at large. Perhaps it is the unconventional in me that I tend to look at Father’s Day as commercial trivialization of fatherhood. That said, I would certainly look forward to the day when my daughter Cacing will “surprise” and regale me with greetings and gifts when she comes of age. Cynicism goes out the door when it comes to your children and that time will arrive quite soon enough.

So where am I and what keeps me away from my family this week?

Work. It is an 8-day trip for me covering the Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali, Lombok and Makassar. I am already midway of my business trip and should be back in Cebu in 4 days.

Bali Arts Festival

Meantime, I was able to squeeze some downtime yesterday to watch the Bali Arts Festival. I’ve watched performances of this annual Festival several times in the past 15 years, but this is my first time to watch its much talked about opening ceremony.

Part pomp, part religious ceremony, the opening parade (meped) of the Bali Arts Festival gives you a glimpse of the diversity of Bali culture. It’s like watching Cebu’s Sinulog grand parade. In celebration of Father’s Day today, I am featuring male portraits from yesterday's parade. These are somebody’s fathers and somebody’s sons.

Happy Father’s Day!





cowo (2)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

the Cacing Diaries #10

Month 4

Babies grow up so fast!

Was it just yesterday when my wife and I were deprived of sleep in attending to her needs every night? But there is a God! A day before her 4-month “birthday” last week, her sleeping pattern suddenly changed. Without any fanfare or warning, Cacing just started sleeping for a stretch of 6-7 hours. Sure, there would be occasions that she’d wake up, but these are far and few between, and only for a short bottle feed or for a quick diaper change. Then she’d promptly go back to sleep. Bliss for her and for us. We hope this is a rhythm that is for keeps.

Talking of milestones, Cacing could now rollover on her own. My wife played the rahrahrah cheerleader when Cacing first made the attempt last week. It only took her a few tries and she succeeded. Her technique still needs a bit of polishing. She’d start to lie on her back and then twist to her left and contort. She already has learned to raise her left arm over her head while turning so that it won’t get in the way. In no time, she’d be on her stomach. Her next challenge is returning to her old position lying on her back. In due time, she’d master her own technique.

Ah, babies! They’d cry without notice but in a blink they’d laugh. When we expect her to be upset, she’ll surprise us with a smile. When we thought that she would laugh, she would ignore us completely. Last Saturday, we took her to her pediatrician. She took in her vaccination shot without flinching, imperiously dismissing the needle as if it were nothing. Good girl! Seems like she doesn’t mind injections. For now.


Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +2/3 EV
This was taken on Cacing’s 4 month “birthday”. Cacing is such a poser when she’s in the mood. She is seen here playing with her mommy. That’s a bib around her neck. She drools a lot!

headband beauty
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 800, +1/3 EV
Cacing, like most babies, don’t like headbands. The garter could get too tight so we only could use them for a short time. I still say that even momentarily, the efforts are worth it, as she looks photogenic with flowers on her head.

rolling in delight
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/30s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800
Last Saturday, I received my new macro lens that I ordered from b&h. My sister couriered it from NY and gladly, I got it in one piece. Now I can make clear close-ups without any crops. Here is one macro shot, done without any post-processing. Cacing enjoyed rolling on these colorful scarves. A willing model she can be.

I love that smile
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 800
Working with a 100mm macro lens is difficult. Babies move too fast so focusing is a pain. This picture is not the sharpest of the lot but a smile like this can trump any focusing faux pas anytime.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/50s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 1600
This is Cacing just before yelping. I am so biased I think she looks pretty even when she’s not smiling. Hahaha!

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