Harmonica Yokocho (Alley) in Kichioji district of Tokyo contrasts nicely with the fancy neighborhood that it resides in. Places like this are called yokocho in Japanese, a set of alleyways where some of the city’s most precious gems are safely sheltered - small shops, modest restaurants, teeming ramshackle pubs. Those who are familiar with Kichioji usually associate it with its links to art, high-end fashion, fine dining, and top izakayas (Japanese pubs). In fact, many popular Japanese personalities such as famous musicians and manga (Japanese anime) creators flock here to hang out and shop for themselves. It’s also very accessible from anywhere in Tokyo; it’s just a 15-minute train ride away from Shinjuku.
You’ll know you’ve found the main entrance to Harmonica Yokocho when you see a large yellow sign with a red Japanese inscription. Below that inscription, you’ll also find the English translation, except it’s spelled “Harmonica Yokyocyo”. If you want to have a true “Tokyo Drinking Experience”, there is nothing quite as authentic to be found in Tokyo as what Harmonica Alley has to offer.
I first laid my eyes on Tallinn last December. At the time, I was on my trip to Helsinki, the Finnish capital two hours away by ferry from Tallinn. Given their close proximity and shared heritage, these two cities are often referred to as twin capitals, Baltic sisters, or simply Talsinki. Castles and other churches and buildings lie scattered all over this tiny country. Then there’s the aftermath of two World Wars and the Cold War, as well as Soviet occupation and withdrawal, making it a fascinating country to visit.
Tallinn’s old town is just marvellous. Visiting there is like stepping back a few centuries and they have done a good job of preserving their history and medieval structures. I walked around there shuffling down cobblestone paths which are lined with medieval homes and ancient churches. Tiny alleys lead to tinier lanes, where you find cloistered yards. The city is still ringed by much of its original stone wall and many guard towers. It’s breathtaking.
I don't really use a map nor an itinerary to discover it. I realise just going by foot everywhere and stumbling on interesting things is fulfilling enough. I like medieval towns to be empty and quiet. It personally helps me appreciate them more. Medieval towns are much better when they are empty and peaceful. In winter, the narrow cobbled streets that take you past grand merchants houses, medieval walls and hidden courtyards are almost deserted.
由于爱沙尼亚的首都塔林 (Tallinn) 就在赫尔辛基 (Helsinki) 两小时的船程范围内，于是我便贪心地把塔林这城市都加插在我芬兰旅行程之内。在港口便望见一大片白墙红顶、高矮参差错落有致的房屋，间或有一个个突起的墨绿色尖铜顶刺向天空，勾画出一道耐人寻味的天际线。那里就是塔林的老城区。单是听名字，已经觉得浪漫。塔林老城是欧洲唯一保持着中世纪外貌和格调的城市，因此被列入世界文化遗产。
I tend to shoot as I am going about my life so much of my photography is 'daily life' or places I have chosen to visit. I have not actually photographed many of the 'tourist' places and I probably need to do a bit more of that.
While I have not completed my Finland winter stories, I shall bring you back to Japan, precisely to one of the most crowded and vibrant cities in the world, heaven for street photographers: Tokyo.
One of my favourite spots in Tokyo to wonder around photographing and a paradise for street photographers is Ginza; the Grande Dame of high-end shopping in Tokyo. This is the place where all the main fashion brands show their beauty and richness by installing enormous stores and decorating the spaces with the most extravagant architectures and billboards.
There is also a sort of sophistication that Ginza still holds onto that the other districts just do not have thanks in part to its wide streets and sidewalks. This makes a much more relaxing place to shop. I would love to go back again and again and again, as there is always something new happening in these crowded and exciting streets.
One of the good things about visiting Finland in winter is that it is easy to catch both sunrise and sunset on the same day, offering ample photography opportunities without insanely early wake-up calls. Getting up to catch the sunrise in Finland in the winter is a piece of cake. It’s pretty odd to see a sunrise around 10 a.m. in the morning but the sky looks so beautiful that you forget about it later. The same thing happens during sunset. There is this magical blue light that can be seen around Helsinki that makes everything better. You will have to visit it to see it. Therefore, it’s actually reasonable to catch sunrise and sunset, and if you are at all able to, I suggest doing so as you certainly don’t want to regret missing out on a beautiful sunrise when photographing.
Do you prefer the sunrise or the sunset? Which one really stands for the beginning and the ending - when both are the start and finish line of another day or another night. It’s a matter of opinion. I love both, but love sunset even more. The color of the evening just after the sun falls behind the horizon is absolutely unique and stunning to me. Whichever you prefer, you can frequently tell a sunrise from a sunset by the fact that the latter appears more chaotic, and the former, tidier.
Japan is a country I have been visiting (besides Hong Kong) with incredible mountain scenery, one of the world’s most chaotic & quirky cities such as Tokyo, a long history of culture & tradition, and of course incredible cuisine with authentic sushi on offer everywhere you turn.
Surrounding these peaceful creations are cities with complex and diverse histories, filled with architectural wonders built for both style and purpose. My heart trembles at the thought of Japan and I’ll struggle to capture its greatness in words. Why am I so overwhelmed? Why does Japan hold so many special pieces of my heart? Why go back? Why do I keep coming back?
A very happy weekend! My short photo essay under pen name 蓝天游 on Lake Kawaguchi (near Mt Fuji) in Tokyo, Japan 日本东京《东京河口湖赏富士山美景》is featured in a special press travel edition.So happy to see it being featured nationwide in print! Special thanks to Lianhe Zaobao, you have made my day! Thank U so much 感谢 感恩 :)
I love street art. I have been a street art fanatic for many years. What began as mere curiosity, many years ago, soon became a deep appreciation, and occasional obsession. There’s something so impressive about artists pouring themselves into works that in all likelihood will be removed or destroyed. Aside from the more technical aspects, it’s simply a beautiful way to liven the concrete backdrop of an otherwise bland, almost dismal scene. Sometimes it’s a multi-story mural exploding with colour, becoming a focal point of the neighbourhood. Other times it’s a simple stencil, maybe conveying some cheeky social commentary.
In Helsinki, the city considered by many as the cultural capital of Finland, street art isn’t just an art form. It’s an intrinsic part of the city’s history and identity. Finland has a wonderful street art program. I found a wonderful art area. In their constructions zones, they put up blank walls surrounding the scene. On these walls, street artists are allowed to “deface” them and showcase their art. This blew me away. The beauty brought to the construction site from the artists made it a better destination. The bold colours used by the artists contrasted strongly with the brown wall of the stadium. Each section held a different message depending on what the artist wanted to portray. The result is that street art has burgeoned and become one of the defining aspects of the city’s character. Buildings tall and small are daubed with beautiful murals.
Everyone, truly everyone: from Helsinki locals to avid travelers, told me to visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Suomenlinna when in Helsinki. I wasn’t entirely sure what all Suomenlinna had to offer when planning my trip. It felt a bit like: "You have to visit the Eiffel tower" when in Paris, which usually makes me want to skip a site or monument altogether. But not in the case of Suomenlinna: it is a truly unique place. Suomenlinna has a really interesting history, paralleling Finland's history. It's a fortress built over 6 islands in the 18th century, at a time when Finland was part of Sweden.
After only a short 20-minute ferry trip from the city center, I arrived in what seems like a different world - a snowy white wonderland. No cars, few tourists because of the winter season and a snow storm. It was -20°C and all the trees were covered with beautiful hoarfrost. I was able to get some pretty epic pictures thanks to all of the snow. I’m not sure what Suomenlinna looks like in the summer, but with the snow in the winter it was breathtaking.
I spent almost two weeks in Finland, exploring, discovering and learning. Finland has long been a dream destination for me, so when I had the chance to explore this amazing city for several days, I packed my warmest jackets, my favourite camera and away I went. Winter in Finland is famous for the amount of snow falling every year and for how long the snow season lasts.
Helsinki was colder than I anticipated but the weather didn't stop me from exploring even its most obscure corners. There were so many things to do in Helsinki. Helsinki is a quaint European city with lots to see and do. I like it how you could have almost the entire place to yourself, especially during the cold winter season. Unlike the more famed touristy cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, Helsinki is the salve for the over-travelled soul, looking to take a break from bus loads of Chinese and European tourists. It’s a lovely place for winter-lovely travellers, on a search for a place of peace and quiet, for themselves. I am so grateful for every encounter in Finland.
My Photo Essay on Hayao Miyazaki Clock At Nippon Television Tower In Tokyo, Japan 日本东京《钟声响起走进宫崎骏的梦幻世界》Press Publication Dated 2 March 2019
A very happy weekend! My short photo essay under pen name 蓝天游 on Hayao Miyazaki Clock At Nippon Television Tower In Tokyo, Japan 日本东京《钟声响起走进宫崎骏的梦幻世界》is featured today! So happy to see it being featured nationwide in print! Special thanks to Lianhe Zaobao, you have made my day! :) Thank U so much 感谢、感恩 。
My Photo Essay entitled Shanghai Qibao Old Street《游七宝古镇感受千年上海》Published in LianheZaobao 联合早报 Special NATAS Travel Edition Dated 22 February 2019
A very happy start to a great weekend! My photo essay under pen name 蓝天游 on Shanghai《游七宝古镇感受千年上海》is published in today's special NATAS travel edition LianheZaobao 联合早报旅游版 dated 22 February 2019! 感谢、感恩! THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
I stole moments on benches during the winter in Finland. Sitting there helped me to take a real time out. A pause. It's a moment of just being me, doing what I wanted. No distraction, only nature. Sitting on a bench on a winter morning or night in December in solitude is a real treat to me. "Embrace it", I told myself. "It's good to be friends with yourself. It's a gift. Embrace it." And so I did. I sat on my bench and hang out with myself. I was having a great time.
I believe in order for people to remain healthy, strong, viable providers for their family and to be positive forces in society, they need to take time out for themselves. The world as we know it now – a society based on antagonisms and competition – has left many people feeling like most of their lives are lived against the world but little or not time is spent living in it. The only way I have found to constructively deal with this, is by taking time out through solitude. It is one of the most practical ways to reconnect with oneself, to regain clarity and to be reminded of one’s deepest passions and purpose. Spending time alone allows us, as humans, to see clearly that which either we can’t see, or society won't let us see, because we are so busy trying to outdo everyone else.
I adore being outside and sitting on a bench and just enjoying the sounds of nature, the gust of the wind or feeling a light breeze. Another thing I adore to photograph is benches and seats found in parks or on trails and paths or other outdoor areas. I love to photo benches with or without people on them. Maybe I long to have more outside time with the nature. This is the first time in which I really enjoyed being outside, especially in winter. I can actually participate in it rather than wish I could.
The tram is part and parcel of everyday life in Finland in much the same way as gastronomy is. It is a good reason to involve the tram in Finland in every possible sense. A quintessential Helsinki tram experience takes you past the city’s palatial monuments.
The living pace in Singapore is fast, and we demand high speed in transportation too. The slow going tram in Finland, by comparison, is like a gentleman walking nobly on the street and living out his own unique lifestyle. The tram came into service on dating back to hundred years ago, and is one of the earliest forms of public transport in Finland. Getting around Helsinki on tram is an interesting experience as you can observe and photograph the lives of people in a relaxing way without needing to worry about the snow, sun or rain. Most tram passengers are not rushing for time. Instead they may just want to take a rest and think during the ride.
In trams, the history is visible in the present. The tram simply looks very different from the other vehicles in the city and it is often pretty old-fashioned, even the latest versions of it. More importantly, surprisingly old models are in active use. In Helsinki, the oldest tramcars are actually older than many parts of the city.
芬兰的有轨电车于如今它依然是赫尔辛基城主要的交通工具之一。每日乘坐电车的旅客超过二十万人次，它墨绿色的车厢早已与这座城市融为一体。在过去一百多年的风风雨雨里，电车上的乘客换了一批又一批，如果电车有记忆的话，也许它自己也数不清在这一百多年里见证了多少历史时刻，见证了多少人的悲欢离合。它就像一位百岁老人，带人游走在新旧之间，饱览城市的各种景象。搭乘电车能够带着人穿越赫尔辛基 450 多年的历史，体味从现代到古老，从悠闲到繁忙，从静谧到生动的韵律。
My Photo Essay entitled Prague, Czech Republic 捷克布拉格《穿越世纪的布拉格古典老爷车》Published in LianheZaobao 联合早报 Dated 9 February 2019
A very happy weekend! My short photo essay under pen name 蓝天游 on antique cars in Prague, Czech Republic《穿越世纪的布拉格古典老爷车》is featured in today Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 dated 9 February 2019! Thrilled to see it being featured nationwide in print! Special thanks to Lianhe Zaobao, you have made my day! :) Thank U so much 感谢、感恩 。
Notes on Finland as promised…Going on holiday and taking my favourite camera along can quickly turn into a photographic journey where you’re always in the right place at the right time. As a photographer, I love looking at great imagery. We all do. It’s what inspired most of us to pick up our own cameras and it’s one of the main things that continues to inspire us as we evolve as artists and image technicians throughout our lives.
I’ve taken my work and style further by incorporating a very tasteful element of HDR into my imagery. I’m not talking the kind of HDR that gets a bad rap, so much of which is overdone and just looks, well, you know…kind of “off”. There is also a time and place when doing HDR photography has its benefits. This is where ‘street’ style photography is perfect and I hope to work at it more as I found it can be liberating.
HDR photography can be a bit polarizing in terms of personal tastes. It's like opera and sushi – you either love it or hate it. All I can say is that personally, for me, I prefer the look HDR gives. Maybe because it’s my first experience with HDR, or maybe because I just feel comfortable with it.