Thursday, 28 February 2013

My 1st Mirrorless Camera

My plunge into the World of Mirrorless System. And a Brief Review of Sony NEX-6.

As a reasonably serious shutterbug, I've been using various makes of DSLRs for the last decades. My latest being Canon D50.

Now I want to switch to a mirrorless camera. I want to share my shopping experience on how I had arrived at the decision as to which of mirrorless camera to buy. This begs the question, why do I want to switch from DSLR to the mirrorless camera? And what on earth is mirrorless camera?

"Mirrorless camera" is contraction for the more official name of "mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera" (or DMIL). The phrase "interchangeable-lens" is added to "mirrorless camera" to distinguish it from compact cameras, which are also mirrorless. In general, the 2 labels are interchangeable (pun not intended).

The lenses of compact cameras are fixed. I.e. you can't remove it, and put a different one on. Another important difference is that the compact cameras have smaller pixel size in their image sensors (or the 'electronic film'). I won't go into the more technical, but less crucial difference between compacts and DSLRs like the ability of shooting in raw format. etc. These minor differences are too many, and not consistent.

The 2 most consistent and significant difference between a compact and DSLR camera is the ability to change lenses and the pixel size of the image sensors. A DSLR camera with 12 MP easily has far superior spatial resolution than a 15MP compact camera. A single number 12MP and 15MP is misleading when comparing one category of camera (compact) with another (DSLR).

The mirrorless cameras is like a crossbreed or compromise between DSLR and compact cameras. It has the lens interchangeability of DSLR while at the same it's designed to be much more compact (and lighter) than the typical DSLR.

There's no more perfect cameras than there're perfect cars or wives for everyone. It's only perfect - or nearly perfect - for your individual need. The types of cameras you want to own depending on your typical shooting requirements. For a serious shutterbug who mainly shoots photos as a leisure activity on the weekends, DSLRs make sense as size and weight aren't the prime considerations. In general, DSLRs have a huge range of lenses from the serious photographers to choose from.

For someone like me who shoots travel photos 90% of the time while travel overseas frequently, I want - no, I need - something light weight. Carrying a chunky DSLR all day long could be quite a punishment on the neck (especially that I'm far from being spring chicken, nor a big person). DMIL provides such a weight and size reduction while at the same time not scarifying too much of the captured image quality that compacts can't deliver. Furthermore compacts simply don't have zoom lens built in that would remotely come close to those offered by DSLRs. In fact, Mirrorless option seems to be catered for such a niche market.

Having decided that DMIL is the way to go, the question now is which brand? Fortunately, this route is easier to travel than choosing a DSLR because of its relatively limited choices when comparing to either DSLRs or compacts. The limited choices are due to its rather new appearance relative to the other 2 camera types.

You know this is a rather Johnnie-come-lately type of camera because of its many names, ranging from mirrorless camera, DMIL, MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera), and even EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable-Lens). The various names are still fighting for supremacy until one wins out. This was true with many other technology.

Another indication of the growing popularity of this category of camera is that even the giant of camera maker Canon who produces cameras in all conceivable market niches is only started to play the catch up game this year with the debut of Canon EOS M. This also suggests that this market niche is growing, and it's real contender to DSLR, especially when more and more camera makers are jumping into this market. Well, the 2 things - a growing market and camera manufacturers - are feeding off each other. I'm doing my bit to encourage the camera makers to produce more mirrorless babies.

Olympus, Leica and Fujifilm have been the forerunners of DMILs, and Sony and Nikon came in a little later. My initial choice of DMIL was Olympus thinking that it's the most experienced maker of this type. After some thinking, I come to the realisation that whether I'm hunting for a DSLR or DMIL, it's the lenses that makes or breaks purchase decision. This isn't just the case from functionality point of view, but the cost of a lens can easily goes above the cost of the camera body.

Olympus has very limited range of lenses. More importantly it doesn't have the lens I'm after, which is minimum x8 zoom lens. Fujifilm is in a similar situation, but it promised to make a bunch of zoom lenses in 6 months. I don't want to wait for 6 months. Besides, it's only a promise. Show me the lenses!

And then I discovered that Sony's NEX-6, the newest of Sony's mirrorless offerings, has a x11 zoom lens (18 - 200mm) that exactly identical to the one I have been using on my Canon 50D. I'm quite happy with this particular zoom lens.

Canon-50D and Sony NEX-6
Canon-50D and Sony NEX-6 with 18-200mm zoom lens mounted

A little more research reveals that Tamron also produces an identical lens (Tamron 18-200mm Di III VC) to the Sony's one. After reading some reviews, and making comparisons I'm convinced that the Tamron is lighter and more superior than the Sony one. And it's even 10% cheaper, in Singapore, anyway).

Some of these mirrorless cameras have adaptor rings that let you make use of the lenses from DSLR cameras. I decline to even consider this option for 2 reasons,
1.  The adaptor adds weight, cost, and extra moving part to break down.
2.  The whole point of buying a DMIL is to reduce size and weight, and DSLR's lenses are tend to be bulky while DMIL lenses are made to a smaller and lighter specification for obvious reason.

Having these DSLR lenses mounted on mirrorless system with adaptor rings defeat its purpose. I find my newly acquired Tamron zoom lens' focusing is far more responsive than the my existing Canon zoom lens, which is a bit clunky.

Canon-50D and Sony NEX-6 with zoom lens full extended
Canon-50D and Sony NEX-6 with zoom lens full extended

Indeed, the Sony and Tamron's 18-200mm are both 460g while the same Canon EF-S 18-200mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS  lens I have been using weighs 600g. As for the Canon 50D, its body weighs 822g while Sony NEX-6 weighs 345g (both with battery).

So I had been lugging around 1422g of Canon 50D while in my next trip I'll carry a 850g of Sony NEX-6, which is a 40% of weight reduction. This doesn't seems much, but after the end of a long day of walking, it feels like a millstone on your neck. Every gram counts. Let not forget about the size reduction as well, which means I can carry a smaller bag. This further reduces size and weight.

In situation where zoom lens isn't needed, my Sony can be mounted with the Sony E 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS lens that come with the package, which is so small that it makes the whole camera feels more like a big compact than a DSLR. This lens is designed to capture that spirit of compactness.

Another feature or set of features that I like about this Sony is the different creative effects. I know that digital compacts tend to have this function while DSLR tend not to include it. And all these effect seems too playful for DSLRs. If you need to do it, you can do it as part of the post-production process.

While I'm familiar with Photoshop, and other image processing software. In fact, I have Photoshopped hundreds of photos. I'm pretty sick of doing that. If the camera does it for me, so much the better. I guess, once again, it depends on what your requirement. As the buyers of DSLRs are serious photographers, they want to keep a raw copy of the captured image. Well, I don't have that need. Besides, you can pick and choose which photo you want to apply in-camera processing, and which you want to do post-processing. With many DSLRs, there's no choice in the matter. Everything is to be done afterwards. Travel photos are tended to be shot in the hundreds and thousands for a trip, I really don't have time for all these post-processing. And I travel a lot! (Click here if you don't believe me. The number of photos I shot are staggering from a post-processing point of view. I feel tired just thinking about the prospects. In general, I do post-processing in batch with the minimal modifications).

I'm going to enjoy applying to special effects on my photos in future, and getting creative at the spur of the moment. When I got home, that whim would've probably gone.

I bought the whole package from Challenger in Funan DigitalLife Mall and got a pretty good deal through their membership discounts.

Here's the break down of the damage (all in SGD of course):
Sony NEX-6L/BQ                  $1399
Sony Herringbone Bag           $0         membership discount  RP $60
16 GB SD Memory card        $39        membership discount RP $52.8
Exra 2 Year Warranty            $158

Back to Mix Bag Page  

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Scene Rehearsal Night


The venue for our rehearsal tonight was Esplanade - Theatre on the Bay  (aka the Durians). It seems like an appropriate place for us to rehearse. As I walked through their basement, I saw groups of young artists rehearsing various dances, as well as roller skaters doing their things. I knew then I finally got to the right place after another re-run of a long running (by foot) episode called Lost in Singapore, starring yours truly (hopeless).

Theatre on the Bay - Roof Top
Theatre on the Bay - Roof Top, before the rain
Seems like that the Durians not only providing theatres for professional performances, it also provides ample of spaces for budding performers to practise their arts. People before cars. Nice move.

Most members of the cast were already gathered at the roof top when yours-truly-late arrived. At least, I wasn't Johnny-come-latest.

I reckon that we were asked to rehearse here so that we could get used to perform in public.

Every actor (non gender specific) needs to overcome their shyness in public as well as able to focus on your performance without being distracted by background noises.

Crowd of theatre goers regularly walked past the rooftop, casting curious glances our way. I had to say it didn't bother me at all or gave it much thought. I imagine, no I know, I would be much more self-conscious if I was some 20 years younger. I likely wouldn't able to pluck up enough spunk to sign up for this kinda thing. We grow thicker (darker, baggier and coarser) skin as we age.

Script rehearsal for the boardroom scene
Rehearsing the script of the Boardroom Scene on the roof top before the rain came

I missed out the acting class that took place on last weekend. Michael - our casting director and acting coach - was nice enough to ask me to come tonight to make up for my absence from the class.

I'm cast for the role of Salesman 4, and he has only a single dialogue (with 4 lines. Should that be counted as 4 dialogues?) Actually it's more like a monologue as Salesman 4 isn't talking to other character(s), but to the camera.

I'm actually glad that I only have one dialogue as a starter. This is enough for me for now to experience the entire film making process whether I deliver 1 or 100 lines. In fact, doing less gives me more time to observe, and absorb the whole experience.

This is my goal: to participate in the process of film making up close and personal. In any case, this is a step up when comparing to my film extra roles in the past.

Having said that, this is both a single dialogue as well as a scene with only myself in it. This is more like, no this is, a TV commercial. I'm supposed to sell Singapore Zoo to the audience in this scene.

I was given the script tonight, after spending 5 mins of reading it, I was ready to flesh it out with Michael. As part of the coaching, Michael asked me to deliver the lines in various different characterisations of the Salesman 4. While it's only a few lines, after only 15 mins or so (maybe shorter, it's just seems that long) of delivering the line, it was quite exhausting. All that walking (about 40 mins) of getting there (because I got lost a few turns) helped to rise my adrenalin for the job. I guess an actor (dare I call myself that?) can always make use of things that happening to them. Some of it could be counter productive, of course.

The different characterisations of the role suggests that my role have different possibilities. I will read the script with a magnifying glass (literally and figuratively) to work out the best characterisation I should adopt to reflect the intention of the script.

Ok, I'm going to rehearse my lines until it internalises. That's the biggest single thing I've learnt tonight regarding acting.

There's something happened tonight - a break through - that worth popping a champagne, but I didn't realise until some days later. Even though I said my skin thickens with age. That is, my stage fright problem would pose no problem, in general. Having said that, when I recall the experience in my 1st casting call, I was washed over by a sudden surge of nerves in the begining of the casting session. Although I had managed to overcome it as the casting progressed, it was there throughout the session.

I recalled one such public speaking in my 2nd year uni in a communication course where I had to present a 10 mins talk in front of the class of about 40 students. My hearts raced like the pistons of a formulae 1 engine, and cold sweat oozed out of my palms, and so I unconsciously hid it in my pockets. My feet was so weak from stage fright, I had to sort of half sitting half leaning on a table. The lecturer gave us appraisals afterwards. She commented that my performance was good because of my relaxed manner. The relax manner that came from my leaning on the table and my hands in my pockets to combat my apprehension. Man, I fooled her! A communication lecturer who had totally misread my boy language. I guess even then I was a good actor without even know it!

Ali MacGraw appeared to have a time of her life sitting on the bike's crowbar, which is quite a pain in the butt. That's also what I call good acting on the part of Ali MacGraw.

I didn't break a sweat - cold sweat that is - during my rehearsal tonight. And the environment that I had to perform under were far more challenging, thus implying far greater jitter than my 1st casting call. In the casting session, I did it in a closed room with only few people, but tonight, I did it in public with far more people looked on. But I had absolutely not a single butterfly in my stomach. Not even a flea.

So why was the heebie jeebies I felt in my 1st casting call simply vanished without a trace? I could think of 4 reasons.

1. I know the people better by now, and feel closer to them, and so results in a relaxed environment. You may be nervous speaking in front of a group of strangers in public, but never with friends.
2. I believe physical condition also plays a part. You handle stress less well when you're less well. Make sense, isn't it? I had a common cold in my 1st casting call.
3. I took the casting a bit too much to heart. Thus increased the stress level, and lowered performance.
4. I was unprepared mentally. This lowered confidence, thus increased stress level.

It's not simply disappeared. Whatever the reason, this new found confidence is going to be a start of a beautiful life-long friendship.

One thing above all else that this movie making process gives me is that after decades of watching movies, I could now watching it from a very different perspectives and greater appreciation. No bull. I found myself watching actors delivering their lines, as well as various other technical aspects more intently than ever before.

One would be less quick to be critical and yell out at the TV screen with things like, "This guy can't act!" One would be more likely doing things like, "How is this scene could be done better?" It adds a new dimension to movie watching (not that I was totally oblivious to this before). Viewing it from these angles, even the most boring movie becomes an exciting analysis in movie making.

Return to My Movie Making Main Page 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Chinese New Year Lantern Float 2013 in Singapore

Chinese Xmas and Santa Claus

rain28 °C

The Year of the Snake has slithered its way here today. Had been living in Singapore for over 3 years, but this is the 1st time we actually do something that would resemble what the locals do in CNY (Chinese New Year). We bought some CNY biscuits. And even went to visit the Float @ Marina Bay on CNY's Day on 10 Feb.

Every CNY, Singaporean government would put on a lantern display during the Spring Festival ('chun jie'='春节' as Chinese New Year is sometimes called). And it had been a tradition to place the Float at Marina Bay on a floating platform.

It had been raining, no, dumping down, for the last 2 weeks before the CNY's Day . From memory in the past 3 CNYs, it had been dry. But CNY falls on different dates every year (it falls between January 21 and February 20. Some years, it fall on Valentine's Day). If it occurs in January, the chance of  rain is lower. When I looked at the weather forecast to decide what would be the best day to attend. The weather forecast showed exactly the same rain pattern for the whole week. So we decided that we would simply take a chance.

Chili Crabs and Cockles
Chili crabs and cockles
In fact, the rain had stopped when we left the house about 5:30pm. We went there and grabbed some grub. We ordered chili crabs, boiled cockles and a seafood fried rice from the seafood stall on the Food Street that was set up next to the Float.

Both of these are Singapore specialities, very popular with the locals. Chili crab is up there with laksa, Hokkien noodles, fried carrot cakes, and Hainan chicken in terms of popularity, and being Singaporean. We wanted to make today a truly Singaporean day.

As a foodie, I'm truly flushed with embarrassment to admit that this is the 1st time I ordered a chili crab having lived here for more than 3 years. Shame on me! I ordered crabs once before, but it was cooked in century eggs, not chili. Very interesting taste combo, though.

God of Fortune, God of Wealth, in the Float in 2013 Chinese New Year, SingaporeI don't know why it took us so long to order one. It wasn't as if I can't handle spicy food. I love laksa, and eat it often. I didn't regret that I ordered the chili crab. It gave my mouth quite a party. I also love cockles, and they're often added into laksa and Hokkien noodle dishes. This order of cockles is so-so because most of the juice had gone. Still, I enjoyed it.

When we arrived at the Marina Bay, rains had resumed, albeit only drizzle. Despite the rain, it didn't dampen the spirit of a scattering crowd there. The highlight (pun intended) of the Float this year is the giant lantern of the God of Fortune (='cai shen'='財神'), who stands 18m tall. He's said to be the tallest lantern in Asia.

CNY isn't complete without the appearance of the God of Fortune. CNY in East and SE Asia is the closest thing to Xmas (than the New Year) in the West.

In the West, you get the full commercialisation of Xmas like Xmas musics and decorations in shopping malls. Likewise, you get CNY music, decorations and merchandising in shopping malls the weeks leading up to CNY. Don't forget Xmas and CNY food and movies. And both festive occasions are about families gathering for dinners, and exchanging gifts.

But last but not least, you also get to meet God of Fortune. It's Chinese Santa Claus. They're both bearded old men who wear red outfits and head gears,  give away things, and are very popular with children. And they only pop up to visit us once a year during the festive seasons. They're the 'human' faces, the ambassadors of respective Xmas and CNY festival.

You would usually see God of Fortune walking around shopping malls and whatnot handling out Red Packets, which usually contain chocolate coins instead of Luck Money. It isn't the actual value in the Red Envelop that matters, it's receiving anything from God of Fortune would bring luck to the whole year. Who can't use some luck throughout the year?

The giant lantern above, along with all the other lanterns were designed by Singaporean, but made in China (like everything else).
God of Fortune, God of Wealth, Chinese New Year, Singapore
God of Fortune poses for me in Vivocity Shopping Mall. And that obviously it's
 a fixed smile

God of Fortune, God of Wealth, Chinese New Year, Singapore
God of Fortune hands out Lucky Money
in Climenti Shopping Mall

Bespectacled God of Fortune holding a gold ingot, Marina Bay
Bespectacled God of Fortune holding a
gold ingot, Marina Bay

These 3 God of Fortune are decidedly shorter than 18m (and lower than 1.8m). If we were here last night (CNY's Eve), there would be stage performances from the Guangzhou Arts Troupe as well as fireworks. But it would also be a considerably much larger crowd than today.

Lotus lantern pond screen, in the Float in 2013 Chinese New Year, Singapore

This lantern screen above depicts a lotus pond with gold fish, which says to bring fortune. Furthermore, 'fish' (='Yu'='魚'), in Mandarin puns with 'adundance' (='Yu'='餘'). More fish motif below. Other pun like 'Fu', which sounds like 'bats', and so you tend to see them in CNY decorations.
Fish lantern, in the Float in 2013 Chinese New Year, Singapore
While It drizzled the whole time we were there, its dazzling colour were enhanced by the shimmering wet ground as well as flashes of colourful umbrellas, making it more picturesque.

Entrance, the Float in 2013 Chinese New Year, Singapore

Of course, no CNY float is complete without the 12 Chinese animal zodiacs inside what look like hollowed out vases.

Dragon inside a Vase, in the Float in 2013 Chinese New Year, Singapore

Snake lantern, in the Float in 2013 Chinese New Year, Singapore
The left photo shows the Dragon, the zodiac for last year. The right photo shows the star of this year, the Snake. There's also the tradition of Lantern Riddles Guessing Game (猜燈謎). This Lantern Riddles are supposed to be held on the 14th days after CNY, and it's appropriately called Lantern Festival. According to custom, the riddles are dangled at the bottom of the lanterns, and the answers are hidden inside the lanterns. Over here, they're simply written on pieces of papers on a board to save cost, I imagine.
Lantern Riddle Competition, in 2013 Chinese New Year, Singapore

This CNY float definitely hooks me to attend future ones. You could see the rest of the photos here.

Back to Living and Travelling in Singapore Page  

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Year of the Snake

Year-of-the-Snake bun sold in bakery
Year-of-the-Snake bun sold in bakery
The Year of Snake has snaked on me.

I watched a major Chinese news network (that shall remain nameless, but very easy to guess) that the Chinese portrays the Snake positively while the West depicts it negatively. Just another cultural myth/misunderstanding for me to debunk.

It illustrates with an example of the Biblical Snake in the Garden of Eden. I can't say I agree with that characterisation. For one thing, Chinese language is filled with many negative expressions associate with the Snake.

"Fo  kou she xin" = "Buddha mouth,snake heart" = "佛口蛇心""She tou shu yan" = "Snake head, rat eyes" = "蛇头鼠眼"

Just 2 examples among many sayings that use the word "Snake" in a negative light.

It's one thing to accuse the West to perpetuate the stereotype that Chinese and Western cultures are polar opposite. It's another thing for the Chinese to do so. There's no question that there're polar opposites. I point out out some of these in this article for example.

The zodiac isn't a good example in illustrating that cultural contrasts between East and West. There's nothing inspired dread than snake (or rat). This is built into our evolutionary past, and so it's always an aspect in any culture that snake (or rat) aren't viewed with glowing sentiment.

But if you read the descriptions of the zodiac for the Snake, it sounds quite positive. In fact, if you read the description of any Chinese animal zodiac, they're all positive. It seems that the Snake zodiac, and the word "snake" in general, simply has different usage.

This makes sense. There's little point to put a damper on things at the start of the year. And these animal zodiacs aren't about facts. They're about spreading festive cheers. These are nice-to-have (kid-myself) cultural feel good vibe.

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Friday, 8 February 2013

Getting a Hell Banknote on Chinese New Year

An Island $tate Encircled by Loan $harks. My Loan $hark $aga Continues...

It's always heart warming to know that you're on someone's festive seasons cards mailing list. If that someone is a company/business, it's less flattering. What about if that someone operates in the Underworld?

Apparently, I'm on the mailing list of a loan shark. In this previous entry detailed my brush with the unlicensed financial lender (aka loan shark). After that incident in Jun 2009, I said I had a gut feeling I wouldn't see the end of it. Yep. I had jinxed myself (as I often do so well).

Just when I thought it's safe to go into the water, or open a letter, when I checked my letter box on Chinese New Year's Eve, I got a hell banknote (aka hell money) from a loan shark. Wow! The loan shark is pretty generous with their hell money. It's denominated at 2 billion Yuans [1]. I have never seen a 2 billion Yuan banknote before. It's quite an eye opener.

Chinese Hell banknote, Singapore
Hell banknote, issued by the Hell Bank Corporation.
(Click on image to get a larger view)
In light of this hell money, the name "Underworld" is more appropriate in Singapore (or HK) than in the West. In fact, this isn't the 1st time I received the hell banknotes from them. I received it a few months ago, and I reported to the cop.

Loan shark threatening note
On the back of the Hell banknote contains threats from the loan shark, and contact detail.
Mr. Kulasekaran's IC number had been rubbed out to protect his privacy.

2 possible scenarios went through my head why the loan shark still sending me these threatening notes.

Scenario 1
My 1st guess would be that the former tenant - Mr. Kulasekaran - still borrows money from loan shark while using his old address - my current address. I still get his mails. He could have stolen some of his own mails today from the mail box, and use it as a proof of current address to the loan shark to borrow more money.

Scenario 2
There's another explanation after looking back at my previous police statement that I filed a few months ago. It was in fact dated only a few days after the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In my previous post I mentioned above, I was mistaken for Mr. Kulasekaran. This people aren't exactly do things in the open. And so they don't exactly getting all the correct info. So when Mr. Kulasekaran moved out, he didn't exactly inform the loan shark that he had run away with their money.

Secondly, I don't think the bunch of loan shark's administrative operations are quite as efficient as those in the typical offices. Say, after one member of the loan shark realised I'm not Mr. Kulasekaran, my record is still in their mailing database. It didn't get deleted. And so on every festive seasons, another member would send their threatening seasons greetings.

So why send these seasons threatenings during festive seasons? Bear in mind that hell money are usually burnt by Chinese as a form of offering to their beloved departed. So if you want to send money to your dead ancestors or relatives who had passed away, you simply burn some money that are issued by the Hell Bank Corporation, just like the one you see above[2].

Scare tactics are the loan sharks' bag of tricks. There's no more superstitious bunch of people than gamblers (it's almost certain that Mr. Kulasekaran is a gambler to get into debt this deep. At least in the loan shark's eyes, he's a gambler. After all, the loan sharks know their client). And there's no more worse luck than receiving hell banknote during festive seasons (especially Lunar New Year). After all, these things are received by the dead. The receiver of such inauspicious gift surely feel they're jinxed.

Fortunately, I'm not a superstitious. These seasons greetings are nothing but slight annoyance to me. I could imagine any superstitious people would be quite upset when receiving this hell banknote. The loan shark would have accomplished their mission.

Having considering the 2 above scenarios, I didn't even bother to report this threatening note to the cop. Judging from my last police report about the previous Hell banknote, it isn't as if anything had been done and they have put a stop to it.

Once again, I took matter into my own hand. I called the number left on the note a few times, but nobody answers. So I sent them a text message and let them know the situation, and while I was at it, I also let them have it. Something along the line of some choice 4-letter words like 'debt', 'dead',  'hell', 'bank', 'note', and what-have-you.

Having said that, I still haven't completely ruled the possibility that the sad Mr. Kulasekaran is still a victim to his gambling habit and desperately scraping money from other loan shark using his old - my current - address (Scenario 1). In that case, if I ignore the loan shark, they will carry out something more drastic like what happened in 2009 by throwing paint at us. Or worst, get become prisoner of my own house when they locked me up. I hope they understood, and more importantly believe in what I said in the text message I sent.

I still believe that crime rate in Singapore is very low, especially serious crime. But this particular vice trade - loan shark business - however, is probably keeping 80% of the Singapore police force employed (rivalled only, probably surpassed by HK). Now that 2 casinos have opened in Singapore in 2012, I guess we can expect the loan sharks' businesses are booming (the silver lining, more employment created in the law-enforcing body, and locksmith businesses because loan sharks buy locks to imprison us, and the locksmiths coming to our rescue).

It isn't that Singapore police department is standing idly by while this is happening. In fact, because this is the most prevalent crime, it's given its due attention.

Crime Alert Notice

This crime alert notice board at my housing estate shows that they're serious about it, as well as organising neighbourhood meetings to deal with these crimes. But the problem is simply too widespread and intractable.

Don't take my words for it, just Google "Loan Shark Singapore" and you get a fairly good idea of what I'm talking about. When I talked to locals about it, either they have seen something like that, or similar thing had happened to their friends or neighbours. Everyone has a story about loan shark to tell. And even an expat like me who has no truck with any loan shark has a close, unpleasant encounter with them.

UPDATE  01.03.2013  A few weeks after I received the Hell banknote, a man in business suit knocked on my door and looking for Mr. Kulasekaran. He said he's from a financial collection agency on behalf of a bank. I told him that Mr. K had moved out over 3 years ago.

Mr. K doesn't restrict himself just borrowing money from the loan shark, but also legitimate sources. No, he's not picky, especially when he knows he doesn't have to pay it back. I had seen these suits knocked on my door some 3 years ago looking for him. But they stop coming after awhile. They knew they had to write it off.

This cycle of business suits knocking on my door, and getting Hell banknotes had resumed. I could now safely conclude that it's scenario 1 that's taking place here. He's borrowing money left and right (read legal and illegal) again.

I'm surprise that the legitimate financial companies are still lending him money. I would suspect he's black listed given his credit history. Apparently not. I understand that the loan shark don't have such a black list because these people operate in the dark. Get the irony?

[1]  2 billion Yuans is about 400 million SGD, or 320 million USD at today's currency conversion rate. On 2nd thought, I haven't come across a Hell banknote that denominated below ¥1 million (I have some familiarity with the Underworld currency). The Hell must have one hell of an inflation problem.

Ok, let be serious for a moment. The reason they print such a large denomination is that the costs to the living are the same if they print a banknote of 1,000 or 1 billion. So why not print as large a denomination as possible? If the earthly economic principle applies on earth that also operates in Hell, all this happy money printing like Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would eventually lead to one hell of an inflation in Hell.

Since everything else in Chinese Hell seems to operate like they do on earth (e.g. the use of paper money, the government hierarchy, etc), why wouldn't their economy behaves the same?

Chinese Hell Banknotes for burnt offering to ancestors, Singapore
Chinese Hell Banknotes for burnt offering to ancestors. These are denominated at a cool 1,000,000.
There're no currency units because even if it's Chinese Hell, these are printed in Singapore.

When I was a kid, I had seen ¥1,000 denominated Hell banknote (my grandma run a shop that sell these things. I loved to visit her shop). Today, ¥1 million is lose change down there. This is yet another way where the World of the Dead is being reflected by the World of the Living. After all, the living people created this Underworld (if I'm wrong, I will be punished severely when I end up in Hell. My tongue would be pulled and attached to the ceiling for speaking such heresy. Since I type with a keyboard, my fingers would be chopped off, and chuck into a boiling oil cauldron. And I would be made to eat my deep-fried fingers while it's still sizzling hot, roasting my mouth. Fingers licking good? No, fingers chewing good. Would they mind marinate my fingers in 11 secret herbs and spices first? Yes, pretty please and with a lot of sugar on top).

With this kind of runaway inflation, there's little point in burning paper money, even if some foolishly think cash is king (soon, there's no space left on the banknotes to put all those zeros). It's much better off burning some real assets (ask any economist or astute investor). And the people do heed this advice, and these days many burn offering of hard assets like paper computers, Rolex watches, company share certificates, houses, maids, etc to offset the expensive living expenses of their ancestors in Hell.

Paper villas that come with security guard and sexy maid for burnt offering to ancestors, Singapore
Paper villas that come with security guard, friendly guard dog, a sexy maid,
and a car in the garage for burnt offering to their Chinese ancestors.
These real assets are much better to protect against hellish inflation in Hell.

Chinese burnt offering of cigarettes to the ancestors, Singapore
No more feeling guilty for buying cigarettes
for your smoking relative.
There's little chance that they will die
of lung cancer from smoking down there

Chinese burnt offering of electronic gadgets to the ancestors, Singapore
While they rely on psychic communication down there
Still, having gadgets made you look cool.
Mind you, you need to constantly burn the latest model.
We don't want a loss of face after a loss of life.

For those who are interested more in Chinese Hell can read my article about my visit to the Ten Courts of Hell.

[2]  The portrait on the Hell banknote is of course the Jade Emperor. He's very much alive unlike the dead presidents appear in the banknotes of most countries. This makes perfect sense. Dead people are printed on banknotes of the living, and living beings are printed on banknotes of the dead.

Also, apparently globalisation has also reached deep below our world, English is also being printed on the banknote in the Chinese Hell.

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Old vs New and Chinese vs English Languages

CCTV Headquarter, Beijing, China
CCTV Headquarters
There's a taxi scene in Karate Kid 5 where Dre (played by Jaden Smith) and his mum Sherry just arrive in Beijing. As Drei cranes his neck out of the taxi window and looks up at the CCTV headquarters building with its sleek, futuristic architecture, Sherry comments to Drei that not everything in China is old like he imagines it would be.

Every country has that modern facade, no matter how traditional it is. China is no exception. In fact, China and the Middle East have some of the most modern and tallest structures in the world. After all, we're living in a modern world.

Soon after the movie, I went to a desserts store in a hawker centre in Singapore. a customer was being addressed as 'auntie'. Looking to me in her late 30's or early 40's, she growled at the staff that she wasn't married. The female staff, in her 50's apologised, "Sorry miss". But the customer went on, "Do I look like an auntie?"

Don't know if she having a bad day, I'm quite sure that this isn't the first time she has been addressed as 'auntie'. Plenty of people who are my senior in places of business like supermarket checkouts, barber shops, etc addressed me as 'uncle'. The first time, it came as a bit of a shock, even though it was coming from a youngster. Later, they frequently coming from people who are decades older than me. It doesn't bother me any more. My pain is now totally numb.

In Singapore, I suspect 'uncle' and 'auntie' is simply a Chinese equivalence of the English 'Sir', and 'Madam'. Indeed, in a larger and more established business premises like banks, post offices, etc, male and female customers are being called 'Sirs' and 'Madams' - a term that's somewhat more neutral in age. The problem is that Chinese put respect over vanity. Instead of addressing somebody younger with the appropriate younger equivalent address like "younger sister", or "younger brother", they think it's safer to call somebody with a senior salutations like 'uncle' and 'auntie'. Actually I thought the term 'xiaojie'(= '小姐' = 'Miss', which literally means "little sister") is quite standard especially when an elder person like the above mentioned store staff addressing a younger customer (or any peer or older person addressing a younger female). I guess Singaporean tend to be quiet even if they're offended, and so the staff is none the wiser in using term 'auntie' loose and fast for all customers.

My close friend is a Westernised (actually Australianised) woman despite her early Chinese upbringing. She speaks English far more fluent than her Chinese, and so tends to understand Chinese culture via Aussie eyes. She's utterly against her hubby calling her 'laopo' (='老婆'). 'Lao' is 'old'.  'Po' is so loaded in meaning that it's actually quite untranslatable. Its closest translation is 'granny', or 'old woman'.

Here's the crux of the matter. The word 'old' has very different connotation in the English and in Chinese, in fact, they're opposite. 'Old' in Chinese is more like 'home' than 'house'. It's supposed to give you that warm and fuzzy feeling.

The Chinese word 'lao' (='老'='old') has two aspects to it. The 1st is being used in terms like 'laoshi' (='老師' = 'Teacher'), 'laoshou' (='老手' = 'old hand'), 'laoma' (='老馬' = 'old horse'), 'laosifu' (='老師傅' = 'old master (of trade)'), 'laoban' (='老闆'='boss'), etc. These and many others are terms that command respect that derived from seniority and experience.

Another facet of the same word like our slang term in question 'laopo' (='老婆' = 'wife'), 'laoyou' (='老友' = 'close friend'), 'laosi' (='老死' = 'best mate', literally 'old dead'), are used for intimacy. They're terms of endearments. Not insults. If your surname is 'Wang' then your friends would automatically call you ' Lao Wang' to show closeness, and it has very little to do with age unless you're a teenager. So the term 'laopo' has both old words together, and it's therefore doubly good.

As you can see, these two uses of the word 'old' are both positive. On the other hand, English phrases come to mind like 'old timer', 'old fashioned', 'old geezer', 'old shoe', 'old people', etc tend to be negative. The phrase 'good old time' needs the word 'good' to negate the negative connotation of 'old time'. If 'old time' is positive, the word 'good' would be unnecessary. Similarly, in the expression, 'oldie, but goodie', you need the word 'but' to butt out the negative implication of 'oldie'.

The latest popular term in the long line of pedigree of good old words that's prefixed with 'lao' is 'laowai' (='老外'='foreigner'). 'Wai' is short for 'outsider', which in Chinese language is neutral. But in Chinese history, especially in the 19th century, 'foreigner' is a dirty word due to colonisation attempts. But just having placed the word 'lao' in front of it turns everything that follows it into something positive. It's a term of respect and endearment.

LeBron James the big-time NBL basketball player is quite popular in China, and to his adoring fans, he's been nicknamed "Lao Beijing" (="老北京", Chinese sounding of LeBron James). It means "Old Beijing". In USA, I'm sure as a sportsman, he wouldn't want to be called Lao anything. In fact, most athletes retire before they're considered old. In China, Old is good.

A proud Chinese loves that old - thus good - quote, "we Chinese have 5000 years of history". If old is a good thing, then the quote is gold. Those who respect progress might have the opposite view of that quote.

Chinese culture favours tradition and so 'old' is good, while Western culture favours progress and 'old' is antithetic to it. Of course, I'm over-simplified to highlight the differences. Since progress is also associated with technology, and without question, you wouldn't want to own old technology. The Chinese respects for the Old is one of the dozen of factors that held China back from progress in the last 2 centuries.

Linguists believe that not so much that our languages reflect thought pattern, it's more like our languages pattern our thoughts. Regardless of which of the 2 statements is true, it remains that in Chinese language, the word 'old' has quite different connotation than in English. Language is probably the most important part of cultural expression.

Filial piety is a highly regarded virtue in Chinese culture. It follows from the respect for the the elders in the society. One of the requirement of filial piety is obedience to your parents. In the West, we call you mommy's boy or daddy's boy to discourage such obedience. In China, you will be called a filial pious son. A highly respectable term.

Perhaps, there's no better examples of the old versus new than the Chinese classics of the 24 Examplars of Filial Piety. Specifically the examplar 22 of She Breastfed Her Mother-In-Law.

Examplar number 22: The story of She Breastfed Her Mother-In-Law., Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Examplar number 22: The story of She Breastfed Her Mother-In-Law.

In this story, because Madam Tang's mother-in-law has no teeth, she breastfed her instead of her baby. What's better to show this preference of the old over the new?

This diorama shows the Examplar 22 could be found in Haw Par Villa in Singapore. You can read my article of trip to this place here. This place contains a lot of unique exhibits showing traditional Chinese values.

Old people, old tradition, old anything is valued more highly in China. This is all part and parcel of the Confucian value. But it's changing like everything else in China.

Confucius statue, Jurong Chinese Gardens, Singapore
Confucius statue
(Jurong Chinese Gardens, Singaore)

So next time when you're in China, and somebody use the term 'old' to call you or describe your certain aspects, don't get offended. You're being either complimented or being liked (similarly, when somebody calls you fat. This (the 2nd half) of this article explains why fat is good in China.
Remember that, my dear old and fat readers (even if you're young and slim. I'm calling you that out of respect)).

After the Fall of Roman Empire, the West plunged into the Dark Ages, it was a series of historical rebellions that saw the West rose to their prominence today. The 1st rebellion is called Scientific Revolution where the long held established religious dogma took a backseat to Science. The religious power also held power in Europe. The 2nd rebellion is called the American Revolution where the old British Empire gave way to the rising New World of republican USA (the French Revolution also falls into the same category. The Rise of Republicanism. I'm not going to debate which of these 2 revolutions are more important). The 3rd rebellion is the Hippie Movement, the spirit of freedom and rebellion catalysed the subsequent social movement like the promotion of social, racial and gender equality in the 1960s. The consequences of those 3 rebellions define the very shape of the modern world.

Science is another name for Rebellion. Science is about challenging the old established thinking. This lies in the very heart of Science. Nothing is too sacrosanct to be questioned. Absolutely nothing. Even so called "Laws" are being challenged. And had done so for many times over.

Spare a thought for majority of Singaporean who are exposed to these contradictory influences of Chinese and English cultures in equal measure. This leaves our deserts store staff quite confused as to the proper term to address her customers. Should she go with the Chinese ways and uses 'old' terms to show respect and/or friendliness, or should she apply the English usage and avoid 'old' words as much as possible? Things are grey, complicated and slippery than ever. No wonder she's perplexed. This is a prelude to the kind of ambiguous ambivalence that's going to experience in China in the next generation, if it isn't already happening. This is a well documented phenomenon of what I like to call Cultural Fusion of Confucian confusion. If you think it's hard to say it, it's far harder to negotiate it.

And more than any place in the world, China is learning the melting of the English and Chinese cultural value from HK. After all, the HK people have been doing it for at least 3 decades while China had its bamboo curtain tightly drawn. And the popularity of HK movies (not just within Greater China), is providing a reasonable successful model of such cultural fusion of East and West for China to emulate. We know that nothing has more impact on the populace than pop culture.

Aren't this kind of imported value from outside that clashes with one country's own predominant culture is an issue that has to deal with by all countries in the world of globalisation? I guess nowhere is this cultural intrusion more apparent and extensive than some of the Gulf States like Dubai and Bahrain where the population of foreign workers are higher than those of natives. In the case of Dubai, at one stage, almost 2 to 1 foreign workers to Emirati.

I guess I would live in the West when young, and retire in a Confucian societies where the old are being respected. If these societies still exist when I retire. If Confucianism could survive globalisation.

If Confucianism is still a viable option in the 21st century. It had survived more than 25 centuries. Can it soldier on? I suspect it had outlived its usefulness. Its expiry time stamp may read, "21st Century". Sometimes we still consume stuff after its expiry date because it seems like a waste to throw it out, especially after it had sustained us for so long. So we still nibble on its moldy content. For a culture that respects old things so much, it isn't easy to bring in the new. Could globalisation in the 21st century be as powerful as colonisation in the 19th century? Time will tell. And I'll be dead before I can find out. Or would I? Let have a race to see if I head to the grave faster than the speed of globalisation. This is one occasion where I like to be a loser.

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Monday, 4 February 2013

Announcing the Cast and Schedule


We met up today in Han's Tasty Town in Raffle's Place for the announcing of the cast and other things for our short film Once Upon a Time in a Stormy Night that we had the audition on 23 Jan.

I went out of the house a few hours before the meeting, and didn't carry my brolly. By the time I got to the meeting at Han's in Raffle's Place, there was a heavy downpour.

Singapore's rain could be quite patchy. It may rain heavily in the city, and in a 15 minutes bus ride home, the streets are bone dry with not the slightest hint of a drizzle. This happened a number of times. So you couldn't really decide if you need an umbrella by looking at the sky.

While I had studied the location of Han's at home, it looked different at the street level, especially in heavy downpour and at 7pm, visiblity was reduced to less 50m. I studied the map before hand, but only from the consideration of walking from Tanjong Pagar to Raffle's Place. Now that I took a MRT, I was somewhat disoriented.

I tried to consult my iPone, and Murphy reminded me his Law. The map seems to take forever to load. I decided to rely on the time tested method - asking people for direction. When I asked for direction to Church Street, nobody seemed to know (even though it was near by). I decided to change tack and asked for direction to Han's. I immediately got a correct response.

Han's is a household name in Singapore (up there with Ya Kun Kaya Toast, my other fave eating place). But this expat only discovered one of their branches (located less 300m from where we live) only 4 months ago after living in Singapore for 3 years. Well, better late than never. Their selling point is that they do both local and Western food. So I could order a seafood fried rice and a cappuccino. Han's is probably is the only place in Singapore (that I know) where you coud do that.

I run from Raffle's Place MRT station to Han's and was soaking wet. I ordered a beef bee-hoon (rice vermicelli) in Han's. And as usual in Singapore, they're too heavy handed with the gravy. Other than that, it wasn't bad. Of all the Han's outlets, this should be the largest, and it has a large area in the back for a group meeting like ours.

The script for our short film Once Upon a Time in a Stormy Night requires 20 acting roles while only 19 people attended the audition, which means nobody is going home empty handed. A nice happy ending for all attendees.

Marie - our Executive Producer - also went over the script briefly. It sounded interesting to me, and could be quite funny if all the pieces fall perfectly into place (in an ideal world). As the film hasn't been finished, I won't go into details except to say it's a comedy.

I thought making a comedy it's a great idea for a short film of this nature, i.e. amateurish film making. Because even if the acting (or other technical aspects) are bad, it could still give audience a laugh. E.g. overacting, intentional or unintentional, could work in comedy. Low budget movies made back in the days made us laugh today for that reason. It's either laughing at the jokes, or the jokers.

I was casted for the role of Salesman 4. Most of the behind-the-scene roles weren't filled at all. In fact, there're almost as many of these technical parts as there're acting parts. It means everyone who signs up for the acting role should take up a technical role. I promptly volunteer myself for the assistant cameraman. This seems a good fit for me as I'm a shutterbug.

I might also volunteer myself to the post production work. I've some experience with Photoshop, as well as basic video editing with popular software. I'll talk to Marie if she needs an extra hand in that department.

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