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The Challenge of Bird Photography In The Rainforest of Borneo

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Panorama shot of the trails within the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Pictures do not tell a thousand words when the eye of the beholder does not know the behaviour nor the habitat of the bird the picture was taken in. The level of effort corresponds with the level of commitment to obtain the shot given the probability of  most conditions that are not favourable to photographers. With a very small window of opportunity in the thick foliage of Sepilok jungle, you have a few seconds to respond to adjusting your lens to frame the bird & get it into focus before firing the shutter.

Most times, you need to be up early & light is usually not favourable to you. Making the best of these situations, you either use fill-in flash on 2nd curtain sync or bump up the ISO to the max, depending on how capable your camera is. Pictures shown here are the exact lighting conditions without any adjustments.

Venue:- Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sandakan, Sabah.
Heat & Humidity – This place must be the most awesome creation of tropical foliage in the rainforest of Sandakan but having so much thick cover, the humidity can reach well above 90% on an average day. It’s almost like the foliage on the canopy had trapped a massive amount of moisture for the life below that lingering inside is like a mist-cooker, you would be melting without even moving an inch. Lugging your gear with you & walking in the trails can cause you to be drenched wet with perspiration within your first half hour into your excursion. Solution: Get a Cobber, an expandable water-activated gel tube scarf to tie around your neck, cooling your carotid nerves as the day gets hot & hotter. Wear quick-dry & light attire to wick off moisture & sweat.

Hilly Terrain  – Be prepared to trek uphill as well as downhill. Carrying your mounted tripod if you have a 400mm lens or above would test your stamina & endurance but that’s just the beginning. Your essentials are almost always needed on an expedition like this so add it on to what you will be carrying on your photo backpack. Apart from carrying the right bag, an airtight/moisture-tight container is recommended for your batteries, memory cards & any peripherals which you think might be subjected to the humid air. A mini trolley would be an ideal partner for your bag & tripod as walking to the hotspots (spots with rare bird sightings) from one location to another can really drain you. Bring a 1.5litre bottle of water to rehydrate. You would not want to move from your spot for water only to discover from your birding buddies later that the bird landed, courted, fed & possibly mated when you were gone.

Wet Ground – Bring a foldable chair. Camouflaged preferred. I had to resort to sitting on the ground with my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod shortened to fit into the little window. Alternatively, bring a small piece of spongy, exercise mat to sit on. Wear shoes with traction. I had my Timberlands Chocorua Trail on & it has served me well for the last 6 years.

Here are the shots, unedited, a few of them just cropped to give you clarity.

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In this picture, there is a hole in the tree. What we didn’t know was that this hole, is a secret bathtub for the birds!!! Note the twigs & branches obstructing the view.
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Close up shot of the bird bath…..
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And I managed to capture a Leaf Bird! I took videos of this bird & will upload them when I have better internet connection!

Updated! Video of secret bird bath!
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See the full frame picture……
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….and this section here where I pointed my lens!
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Here the bird sits quietly as it hunts for food. And a twig was in my way! Grrrr…..!
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Sometimes, you get lucky. There were two Kingfishers in this shot! Unfortunately, they were too far in even for my 500mm lens’ reach.
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To get a shot of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (8cm in size only & this male was in a feeding courtship!), there was only one window around the leaves.

 

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This is the ‘window.’ The blurred parts of the picture are leaves obstructing my view.
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See the leaves again?
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Courtship in action! I gotta find a male who would feed me too! LOL!
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I think marriage is on the way…….yay! (Chan Pak, the HK veteran birder, eventually got the mating shot of these OD KF!)

 

The jungle is filled with sounds of bugs & birds. We were so engrossed with the little Dwarfs that we missed the big red Trogon behind us. The Diard’s Trogon has a red chest but always remain hidden with its back facing us so any opportunity to take a frontal shot is a shot in the dark…..

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See what I mean??? Obscured, I managed to get an ID shot of its chest.

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Still obscured despite me shifting position & angle.

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Getting a little frontal shot is still not considered good enough for any birdmasters, who will never show shots like these.

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Finally after a strained neck, a twisted back & wobbly legs from contorting myself to get the shots, I got the Diard’s Trogon!

My foray into bird photography in 2006, was attributed by my best friend, Chien, (who passed away on the 24 August 2011) when he talked to me about how he got those waders by staking out in the water to wait for the right moment. His pictures are astounding. His passion was even more infectious. He was born to teach & by sharing what he knows, he had enlarged his circle of influence to emulate what he did. And everyone enjoyed doing what he taught us to do, birding & learning about the habitat of birds to get the right time & capture the right shots. He had been a great friend & I am a product of emulating what he did with bird photography. I will share with you my discovery along the way just as Chien was so enthusiastic about sharing his discoveries when he was alive. Whatever challenges in bird photography that comes my way, his teachings would always echo in my head.

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Nature’s umbrella In the jungle – even the yam leaves are taller than I am!

The people behind the Borneo Bird Festival were fantastic & the resort I stayed in (Sepilok Jungle Resort) gave me a lot of opportunities to shoot birds in their compound. Being appointed as one of the judges in the Bird Photography Contest of the Festival, I want to thank the organisers for that honour & opportunity although it blew my cover as The Wannabe, I still think I do better stalking & reporting in my profession! Make Sepilok Forest Reserve as your next birding destination & be thrilled!

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A Sunbird in natural lighting.

Lifestyle Change Begins With A Foldie!

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Folding Bike shop.

The recent craze for folding bikes, fondly known as foldies, has hit town & people are realising the sheer simplicity of packing it & tucking it in the car to go anywhere & ride. I was given a rundown by Andrew Sia, the Chief Reporter of The Star daily, for the kinds of foldies there are in the market. My first encounter with an ultra cool foldie, was in front of a hardware shop in Bangsar, where a Brompton bike was parked. I was gawking at it so much so that the owner came out to demonstrate how it’s folded & unfolded. The conversion of the rear rack to a little wheeled trolley won me over. This owner whose name I didn’t manage to get as I was so engrossed in his description of the usability of the bike, has been all over Europe cycling & recently got back from China. I was totally impressed! The bike had only 16inch wheels! When he told me of the price, I thought, wow, would someone actually spend RM6,000 on a foldie??? Well, I was so taken up by it, I started doing my own research & recalled that Andrew had one so I deluged him with questions & midnight calls because I was very eager to have one.

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ORi C8 Classic

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Top view of the bike when folded.

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Andrew taught me a lot on how to search for one that suited what I’d want in a bike. Aesthetics was important too. Above it all, functionality & foldability.

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I went around town searching for the perfect bike. I found that most bikes with good components start at RM1,000 & above. Most importantly, I wanted something close to a Brompton but not the price. When I found Folding Bike Trading, I was so ecstatic to see a similar designed model but much more compact than a Brompton bike. When I got to the shop, a beautiful lady by the name of Well Tan, greeted me & served me a cup of tea before she proceeded to ask me about what kind of cycling I would want to do. I told her I was thinking of touring & maybe just for daily fitness. She recommended me the ORi bike.

The ORiBikes are designed by the award winning designer Jon Whyte, a former Formula 1 engineer from the U.K. Stylish and functional, ORi folding bikes bring an unprecedented experience of performance and practicality. I especially liked the C8 Classic model where the saddle & handlebar wraps are made of leather. The way it folds matched what I saw in a Brompton bike & for the price of RM2,699 for a C8 Eco series, it’s less than half the price of a Brompton. The Instant Rebound Catch (IRC) mechanism enables ORi to fold up in seconds and easy to carry and store. The brilliant idea was inspired by the simple and intuitive operation of airplane safety belt. IRC also works as a reliable hinge locking the bike together when unfolding. Thanks to IRC, the safety and convenience are perfectly connected together. It even has an easy rolling kit to commute to & fro the LRT!

Well taught me more about foldies & how I should go about owning one. A far cry from a few shops that I had been to in town whose main business is selling & servicing roadies (road bikes/racers) or mountain bikers. Her knowledgable guidance convinced me that owning the right bike is to be done pridefully & no one should rush you into a buying decision. She answered every doubt that I might have & went on to serve me more tea. Then she explained the difference between mainstream bikes & foldies, that the purpose is totally different. A foldie is used for commuting & touring with ease of being able to bring your bike anywhere & everywhere with you. It sounded perfect for my lifestyle! And it wasn’t about competition.

The thing with conventional bike shops is, you always feel pressured into conforming to the norms of cyclists, what they should wear when cycling, what kind of accessories you must buy etc. but with a foldie, YOU ARE YOUR OWN STYLE. I will come up with some fashion bits advice for the ladies who wish to embark on this journey with me. Do let me know what your preferences are & I will detail what the change that the cycling scene needs.

With that, I took a forthnight to mull over it & after My Selangor Story 2011, I took home the ORi C8 Classic foldie! Well is giving a very special deal on the ORi bikes & if you tell her that you saw this on Pummkin’s Pitch, she would give you a 5% discount + a bike cover bag with a further RM30 off on selected helmets to help you get started!

I’ve decided to form an all-girl cycling group to get fit & have since recruited several ladies to join me in my pursuit. Will be organising more photo trips on foldies too so get into gear, guys! Do get your foldie from Well as she can explain in detail what you ought to get & what will save you money in the long run. I will detail with more pictures once I get to ride on my new foldie soon!

Meanwhile, check out her shop at:-

Folding Bike Trading
G 10, Emerald Plaza East,
Jalan PJU 8/3, Damansara Perdana,
47820 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor,
Malaysia.

Tel: +603 771 33 888
Mobile: +6016 393 2229 ( Well )
Fax: +603 771 33 222
Email: foldingbiketrading (at) gmail (dot) com

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The frontal black bag holds the bike cover inside.

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Groovy helmet to protect your main asset….

Never Miss A Shot with Pentax – My Selangor Story 2011

I was eager to swim & soak away the aches so I took the opportunity to take the Pentax Optio WS80 with me. The thing that intrigues me is the amphibious nature of this model that I got supplied with during the contest duration to shoot with. I took it down to 1.5metres in the pool & it worked perfect. I could think of the many times that I have needed a small, waterproof, rugged camera with me & I will detail them here.
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Why You Would Need A Waterproof Camera:-

If you were an underwater photographer/videographer (like me), you need a backup camera. With the usual clunk that I carry, my underwater housing, strobes, lights, arms, tray, batteries/chargers weigh a ton. I simply cannot afford to carry another nor would I be able to purchase another set. When I shoot till the batteries dead, there is almost always a whale shark, a manta ray, an eagle ray or a happy squid BECKONING ME to shoot it. Somehow, Murphy’s Law would only apply then, ‘Anything That Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong.’ It is absolutely wrong NOT to be able to document any NatGeo moment that I encounter. The Pentax Optio WS80 or Pentax Optio WG1 would sit perfectly inside my BC pocket.

  • When you have a pool party, you almost always get thrown into the pool. Everything else can be replaced but definitely not the pixels recorded in your memory card if you don’t have a waterproof camera.
  • When you go jungle trekking & have to cross rivers with rocky terrain, the last thing you need is to drop your camera while balancing on these ultra slippery rocks. And you are like me, you want to take the breathtaking shots as you trek……
  • You teach swimming & scuba diving like me & want something to record your student’s progress. They can’t see how they perform themselves if you don’t have a waterproof camera that can shoot videos of them with. It is great for perfecting their strokes (swimming) and correcting their finning method (diving). Maybe you can get your friend to record your performance too.
  • You love tide pools after the tide go out & want to document life in these tiny pools that hold a myriad of life. It’s impossible to submerge a bulky, housed camera & a small, handhold, amphibious camera would be great for this task. Another NatGeo opportunity that you wouldn’t want to miss.
  • You’re one of those who like taking pictures of yourself in the bath……no, I’m not that type so WIPE THAT IMAGE OF ME DOING THAT IN YOUR HEAD.
  • You just want to don on your rain jacket & play in the rain & what better way to shoot in these circumstances than to have a waterproof camera with you at all times???
  • Still not convinced? Well, I spent a hour in the pool at Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort to convince myself why I SHOULD BE GETTING A WATERPROOF CAMERA next & it wasn’t very hard to convince myself after looking at the videos. These videos are super clear & have already been resized.

The beautiful landscaped garden at the hotel, has a man-made waterfall cascading into a concrete pool. The garden is bordered by a walled fence beside the golf course thus, a serene & tranquil environment for guests.

The kids playing merrily in the pool made great subjects to film underwater. Here are the videos taken with it:-

The camera is perfect for travellers who want a fuss-free, waterproof model to take snapshots in situations where they wouldn’t want normal cameras to function in, such as at beaches, waterfalls, lakes, swimming pools. It serves as a good back up camera with HD movie capability in the event that your primary camera refuse to work for whatever reason.

As soon as I got out of the pool to relax on on of the deck chairs, the pool attendant walked over with a beach towel & handed it to me. I am impressed with the level of service rendered even at the recreational level where guest are expected to take it easy. Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort has definitely got it right with impeccable service!

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Picture taken with the Pentax WS80

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Picture taken with the Pentax WS80

 

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Picture taken with the Pentax WS80

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Picture taken with the Pentax WS80

 

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Day 4 – Gruelling Course at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort

Our first activity before breakfast was to trek into the dipterocarp montane forest. Andi Kus & I preferred to take photos of life that enfolded around us & we stayed well behind the troupe as they marched pass us. Minute plants caught my attention & as giant fungi looked out of place, the jungle began to tell us a story of symbiosis. Moss that is found only at a certain height above sea level was seen here. Ferns that begin with a tight curl, unravel themselves in splendour the deeper you go into the forest. Every life form supports the ecosystem & make up the food chain. We are to take nothing but pictures, leave nothing behind but footprints. That’s not always the case with me. I left a scent & took 5 leeches back with me. Andi Kus didn’t get a single bite even though he was beside me taking the same shots! Now how is that possible??? *shudder!*

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Moss

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Moss on semi dead wood

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The leeches paled in comparison to what followed after breakfast. An obstacle course called ”˜Tears of the Sun,’ designed to test your endurance & team spirit, was part of surviving the My Selangor Story 2011 tour. Zul, our team trainer called out Ridha to lead the bloggers into a Bollywood dance as the theme song ”˜Jai Ho,’ from Slumdog Millionaire came on the superb sound system. Then everyone had to get out of a knotted circle to run to the starting line of the tremendously challenging course…..

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Hills & ditches, everyone got wet. Climbing over wooden fences, inclining & declining wooden slopes only to be dropped vertically into the ditch again. Crossing every pool of water caused everyone to depend on one another. By the time they reached their 5th ditch, each one learnt to make the best of it by…….dancing & acting! Watch the video! The superb showmanship by medical student, Shaleh had me in stitches. At the end of the obstacle course, the differences in culture, ethnicity & countries bore no more obstacles to friendship & camaraderie. In the name of cohesion, we danced to celebrate the completion of the most gruelling task, not in the course but in trusting our lives with another on the journey.

Watch the video of bloggers in action!

We got ready & clean to go for the closing lunch reception that the wonderful sponsors at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort prepared for us. The General Manager, Ruddin Salim expressed that it was a pleasure to have us but I feel that the pleasure was ours to be invited for the journey. Najib reiterated that he never says goodbye but when will I see you again. The presence of the GM, Assistant GM & all the Fun & Adventure marshals & trainers who made us feel belonged & welcome was more than just the hospitality that came with their jobs. It came forth because of the love they have for the work that they do. I want to thank & appreciate all the physical effort of Zul & his team for working through the night to set up the course & trail for us & the group after us. His tireless work make him the best in a class of his own. Thank you for making it mean so much to us!

We savoured yet another lavish spread of buffet lunch at Rajawali Coffee House in Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort just before the bus departed for Day 4 of our journey at Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort for a sumptuous offer…

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Rajawali Coffee House

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Main dishes!

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Mousses & soufflé!

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Cakes!

 

Day 3 – The Soil Beneath The Clouds at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort – My Selangor Story 2011

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At the entrance of Golden Palm Tree Resort & Spa for the farewell.

Bidding farewell to such a wondrous place in Selangor seemed a bit morose, with all the feasting & the merry-making over the last 2 nights. It was also our dreaded time to face the oncoming unknown challenges in the jungles of Genting Highlands. The General Manager, Mr. Pascal Prigent, saw us off in style & sat with us to have a group shot for the record! Thank you for having us rock your resort & terrorise your bell-hops with requests to go to London, Mars & Venus. It made my stay ever more universal. ?

Like an entourage accompanying the mission, we bade farewell to the resort management, got onto the bus & possibly slept all the way to Awana Genting Highlands (minus the zippy washroom stopover) to make up for the eventuality of any (gruelling) exercises. We were briefed of the day’s itinerary the night before & anticipate it, we did not. Added to the challenge of not knowing the itinerary prior to the tour, the mention of an obstacle course was enough to unnerve the (un)fit, (un)prepared, (un)abled & (under)trained in us. *Gulp*….I wouldn’t like the thought of my hip falling out of socket in any of the challenges & to think that in my hey days, I was training to be a part of the Eco Challenge team & rock climbing was a weekly affair….then.

We had a grand welcome with all the managers lined up to greet us like VIP! It was great! We were ushered into the lounge where the launch of My Selangor Story 2011 for Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort took place. YB Elizabeth Wong was present again to grace the event & the Senior Vice President of PR Communications Genting Malaysia Berhad, Dato’ Anthony Loke, gave us an introduction of the property that Awana Genting Longhouse is a part of. The area had been gazetted as an IBA – Important Bird Area as of last year, marking the recognition of birds that live in the area requiring protection & conservation of their habitat. This is great news for me as a birder as I come up to this area to photograph birds & protection might hopefully gain them in numbers thus, increasing our chances of spotting them. He also cited the uniqueness of the longhouse experience, one that can only be had in Sarawak. He stressed that conservation to the surroundings have produced great interest amongst photographers who then participated in a contest to have their entries made into a coffee table book! The flora & fauna will be showcased in the book that is about to be launched soon. I’ve known about the conservation efforts in Cameron Highlands & Fraser’s Hill but this is the first time I’m hearing about the efforts in Genting Highlands. If indeed, this will be of great interest to bird & nature photographers to make more frequent trips up to document the fauna & spreading the awareness of species. I will organise my group to explore & expedite the appreciation of the place once I find out what there is to be done! It was evident that Dato’ Anthony showed a deep appreciation for the environment that built his career, even more, his love for the life that it contains. He spoke without a formal written speech & was probably assisted by only points in his note. As it’s paramount for the property on its stewardship, the steward would be the one to steer the wheels in motion for the rest in his charge. It made me forget that I was dreading the drill factor in the first place & made me want to go out to meet nature right there & then!

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Dato’ Anthony Loke during his speech.

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A basket of Phalaenopsis sp Orchid was presented to YB Elizabeth Wong for gracing the occasion!

After a video demonstration from the resort of what to expect of this journey at Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort, tea & snacks were served to prep us up for the abseil challenge. Najib, the founder of Fun & Adventure company that arranges the outdoor & team building activities for Awana Genting Highlands Golf & Country Resort, briefed us about the do’s & don’t’s when entering the jungle. He introduced Mohd Zul Fahmie, as the person in charge of leading us through the challenges that followed. With an amazing portfolio as an outdoor & obstacle course trainer, what we were to experience with Zul would be forever imprinted in our minds……and bodies (ouch!). He reiterated that there are several practices that they adhere to when entering the jungle & that is, not to call on each other’s names (how do we call for help then??). We were told not to take anything that does not belong to us & to generously donate blood to those who require it……aka leeches. Yikes! I will detail all that we did in the next posting.

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The hike up to the Abseiling grounds had such a pleasant sight. Beautifully landscaped pond with fringing jungle.

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The side of the Longhouse.

Everyone put on their harness as they had to be secured to Figure of 8 with a carabiner. Hiking up the hill to the top, many had to conquer their fear of heights. Once they got the hang of coming down with the support of the rope & the belayer, many of them went back uphill to descend down the rope again!

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We were put on the greatest challenge of our lives. Don’t miss my next post.

After dinner, we proceeded to walk a few hundred metres to a trail. It was dark. We were told to form two lines according to our two groupings. And we were to sit on the ground. Zul briefed us of the activity to follow. We were to do this trail BLINDFOLDED & SOLO. I had turned my GPS on, tucked away in my cargo pants pocket & was prepared in the event that I do get lost in the jungle, at least I would know how to navigate my way back. Not that the organisers would let us get lost, but as a sense of safety & precaution built into me, I would always carry at least 2 GPS devices when I go anywhere near a jungle. (There was a time that both failed on me but that’s another story!) All our escape plans that we had secretly formed had to be abandoned upon them telling us we were to go solo & the trail would be 2 hours long. And to think that so many trusted my escape plans in the first place! Aha! I can’t tell you what we had planned lest you make us go through it once again! Hahaha!

Assisted by a rope tied on sticks that formed the route, we were blindfolded & had to place our trust into the marshals hands. The wait in complete silence except for the sound of crickets & nocturnal squeaks accompanied us as the marshal took us to the route one by one. We were getting used to the darkness. Unbeknown to us, Tian Chad was assigned to take our photos & what a hilarious moment it must have been for him to see us crawl/duck walk/bent over & groping in the dark!!! As soon as I saw the pictures below, I was rolling on the floor laughing my heart out.

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All Blind Trail pictures are courtesy of Tian Chad.

I was one of the first few who got taken to the trail. I felt my nose & ears being tickled by some feather-like substance & had to learn to use my other senses to feel my way through. Along the way, I was anticipating drops in the terrain or uneven ground when suddenly, a hand grabbed my forearm & a voice said, “Lebih baik kamu jalan di sebelah tali,” (Best if you could walk on this side of the rope) which I retorted, “Kenapa???” (Why???) and the voice said, “Nanti kamu jatuh kalau kamu berada di sebelah itu. Saya bagi you tips. I help you!” (You will fall otherwise. I’m giving you tips. I’m helping you!) And the hand released its grasp. Ohmygawd! I got helped! So straight away I climbed over the rope & continued with one outstretched hand, groping in the dark. Almost towards the end, somebody bumped into me & I realised it was Helga. And Siti was behind him. We got led to where we sat down to remove our blindfolds & found the first few bloggers sitting & sniggering away! We’ve been had! It wasn’t 2 hours but 20 minutes!

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Upon downloading the tracks from my GPS unit, this is the screenshot of the trail that we took, coloured in dark orange above.

Watch this video!

The marshals & organiser had planned for a birthday surprise for Nigel Low, who had to be tricked to do the trail last. By then, we got ready & sang him a birthday song when he removed his blindfold! Many happy returns, Nigel!

We spent the night in 4 dormitories within the longhouse. Very basic accommodation with mattresses on the floor, pillows & thick woollen blankets for everyone. I guess team building starts with sharing your space with everyone else. Bathrooms & toilets were outside of the longhouse. We had to sleep early as there would be a 6:30am wake up call next morning to accept our challenges ahead.

Note: This is a contest entry & I would appreciate your vote for me HERE! <—- Thanks again!

Up in Awana, gluttony took on a new meaning. Read about the storm the chefs cooked up here!

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The Awana Genting Longhouse – communal living with nature!

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Ascending the stairs to the Longhouse.

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Comfortable mattresses & pillows.

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Communal area outside the dormitories in the Longhouse.

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Awana Genting Longhouse dormitories.

 


Day 2 – High Tide, Low Tide & My Ride – My Selangor Story 2011

Rising to a high tide is awesome! Apart from hearing the sound of water beneath my villa, it was also indicative of how much time we could spend in the water. The ripples generated by the wind was another visual clue that I ought to be in the water as soon as I can! Got ready in record time, slathered a layer of sunblock, put on my fun visor & I was ready to rock & roll. It would be a great day to be outdoors.

Right after we breakfast, the congregation of bloggers marched to the Smiley Beach for some fun in the sun & for me to launch the windsurf. Dragging the board out to waist deep water, I only managed to sail within the confines of the buoyed perimeters as it was rather choppy & I was out of practice for over a year. Nevertheless, it was very fun to fall into the water each time the sail did not want to cooperate with me & the wind! The other bloggers took on a more physical challenge by taking the sailboat or the kayak out. Rowing in tandem, they had a field day manoevring the kayak before aggregating for a game of beach volleyball. I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked to simply because I spent most of my time in the water or on the board but I kid you not. It was more times in the water than on the windsurf board. Such is life!

As we weren’t the only guests, many people turned up to hire bicycles for a ride about the village & it was quite chaotic to get onto some other activity within the place. Cycling was something that we eventually got to do in the afternoon. At 2pm. I was already thinking about bringing my collapsible umbrella out, to the horror of others who then suggested I should have an umbrella holder on the bike. Hahaha! If only that was possible for my mini collapsible brolly! I may love the sun, but I don’t like the effect that it brings so I try to stay covered up whenever I’m outside.

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Photo of Watersports Centre at Smiley Beach courtesy of Golden Palm Tree.

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At Smiley Beach

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Dwi Andi & Ridha on the board posing for the camera!

So we set off on a journey around the village roads to satisfy the adventurous in us, hoping to see wildlife but the only thing that went wild was us. The cycling leader told us to stay in a single file but almost everyone defied that because it was more fun to group up & terrorise other road users! I was expecting to see cows & chickens but the route we took was purportedly ”˜the beginner’s track,’ which lasted approximately half an hour. The squeaking of the bike as I cycled was such a funny noise to hear. Given so, having withstood the salty breeze & splashes, the bikes were fairly well maintained. I chose one with a front basket for me to place my bag & other gadgets in it. I kept hollering to Nigel who was in front of me to ask him if he can hear this funny squeak but he turned around & said, “Mine’s squeaking too!” @_@

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Bloggers cycling

It would have been more fun if we had a purpose or if there’s a specific object to acquire like food! I know of a ”˜keropok’ (crackers) shop in the village that sells great tasting crackers & what a boon it would be to the economy if all 24 of us went there & bought 3 packets each to have something to boast about when we get back. I was expecting to see some cottage industries or maybe even farming methods in the remote of Bagan Lalang but I had to keep up with the group who was going too fast for the tour. I wish I had brought my umbrella then, even if I were to get lost, I would be identifiable by looking ridiculous on the road. Surely there were streams which we could explore? Perhaps get down to look for shrimps & such. I’ve made up my mind to bring MY BICYCLE & a troupe of likeminded friends with theirs to come back & look for that cow, chicken & keropok.

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Returning to the watersports centre, we were greeted with ice-lollies & ice-cream, treated by Tourism Selangor! What a refreshing appetiser! Thank you, Tourism Selangor, for the little stuff that matters. We embarked straight away on the Low Tide Tour, an activity where you walk in the tidal flats to discover life within, very much like the exercises I do with my students at tidal zones too. So Rosie, our nature guide, gave us a run down on what we could expect to see. Going barefoot, we trotted to the mud flats where the sea was but had gone out with the tide, we found ourselves walking in to the underside of the resort! Rosie taught us how to find ”˜pephahat,’ (bamboo mussel), which are buried in the mud. Any attempt to take the animal out was forbidden as we were there to observe & conserve. A myriad of snails were seen actively crawling about & the army of Soldier Crabs were invading our territory. I was delighted to stalk them! What did they look like? Well, watch the video to find out!

I would have loved to do the other nature tours such as the Mangrove Tour but time was limited & we had prepare ourselves for dinner at the ballroom! More on food in my next blogpost!

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Please vote for me HERE! <= Just give me as many hearts as you think it’s worth once you get in!

And whats special about wining & dining in this resort??? Read all about it here.

Day 1 – Setting The Mood for My Selangor Story 2011 Tour

The anticipation didn’t wear off on the day of the launch. It magnified the moment I managed to shut my luggage. Packing for a ”˜blind trip’ was a mixture of anxiety & angst with a dash of ingenuity generated by the fear of not being equipped for the journey. What the 5 days beheld, we weren’t told but bringing a pair of sneakers was compulsory. So I brought everything. Setting my GPS for Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort, I arrived at the hotel at 3:30pm.

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Map of Holiday Inn Glenmarie from my Garmin Roadtrip.

All thanks to our generous sponsors, the press conference to kick off the event was held at The Mix restaurant & bar, within the property of Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort. The chefs were on hand to ensure the layout of the trays of canapés would look as appetising as they were. The beautiful Marketing Communications Manager, Sagina Manandhar, greeted us with all smiles & welcome, making me feel that my holiday has just started from that point on! It’s amazing how the hospitality of one person can set the mood for the rest of one’s stay but we were not to stay there yet.

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Raw Salmon with Caviar Canapés & Turkey with Tomato & Diced Mango Canapés!

The General Manager, Mr. Anil Pathak, arrived to usher in & welcome YB Elizabeth Wong, the EXCO for Tourism, Environment & Consumer Affairs for Selangor. An introduction speech was made by Amelia Tan, the Organiser of My Selangor Story 2011 from Horizon Communications, who was the brainchild behind the event since the first inception in 2010. She called on Dian Azura, who was last year’s grand prize winner, to give her take on what My Selangor Story had been for her. Immediately after winning the title, she was offered the position of a Social Media Specialist for Tourism Selangor, a 1-year contract in which she tweets & updates the organisation’s Facebook page with her resourcefulness in bringing events come to life. Her engagement with social media had proven to be successful by the number of followers Tourism Selangor had acquired. In a span of a few short months, the number had grown to 3,177 to date, inspired a lot more people to explore & experience Selangor no matter what time of year it is! She detailed how one’s passion for travel should not be quenched & that everyone should follow their dream & attain to get somewhere, wherever that may be. She reiterated that winning last year’s contest was just the start of her adventure.

And aptly so, when YB Elizabeth Wong took to the rostrum, she echoed the same sentiments telling us how she used to blog ever so often before taking office as an EXCO. Being extremely pleased to see a great number of our neighbours from Indonesia & Singapore flown in specially for this occasion with VIP treatment by Firefly, she extended a warm welcome to them & told them to make use of the 5 days to experience as much as they could. How I wished Firefly could fly me from the Sg Besi old airport to Subang Skypark just so that I can experience the VIP service from them! It’s always a pleasure to fly a different class! Setting the event for the 2nd year running, she thanked Amelia for her team’s monumental effort in bringing people together, Tourism Selangor, our tourism board, for extending logistic support & all the sponsors who had graciously given to the event.

The Golden Palm Tree Resort & Spa located in Sepang Gold Goast, Bagan Lalang, is our official resort & spa whilst Resorts World Genting is our official resort. Holiday Inn Kuala Lumpur Glenmarie Resort is our official hotel & The Mix is our official restaurant. Pentax is our prizes sponsor apart from being the official camera for the duration of the tour as they would be supplying us each with a camera to shoot with. The official airline is of course, Firefly, who will fly everyone home when the tour is over. We wouldn’t be complete without phone & data coverage kindly sponsored by The Cube, who provided us with pre-registered SIM cards.

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The officials, organisers & sponsors of the event.

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Travel bloggers roaring to go!

Soon after the YB Elizabeth launched the event, we had to board the coach for the journey to our first resort destination to begin our tour! What did I do in a 5 star resort? Find out in my next instalment, still on Day 1 – My Selangor Story 2011…..

 

Next,  see how I lived it up at Golden Palm Tree Resort!

And please remember to vote for me HERE! <— THANK YOU!

Our sponsors:-

Organiser Official Tourism Board Official Airline

Official Hotel Official Resort & Spa Official Resort

I'm on The Cube, are you? Official RestaurantOfficial Camera

Why You Need A Tripod

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From L to R:- Me, Sree, Adrian, the late Chien, Kam Su, Alagan & Philip.

It comes a time when amateur photographers or those aspiring to go pro, make a decision to get a tripod to complement their setup. You may have asked yourself the same question everyone of us asked before acquiring our first, “Why do I need a tripod in the first place,” and “Why do I have to spend money getting a premium tripod when there are lots of tripods that are a fraction of the cost???” Let’s address these questions as we run through what, when, how, where & why you need one.

Why You Need A Tripod:-

  • You can’t take steady shots no matter how you hold your breath when you press the shutter button.
  • You want to take HDR photos – bracketed shots of over & under-exposed ones to be recombined in HDR softwares.
  • You want to do bird photography.
  • You want to shoot video & not want your motion pictures turn into a Blair Witch Project kinda production.
  • You have a giant setup.
  • You want to free your hands to eat/drink/talk on the phone while monitoring your subject.
  • You want to shoot from a vehicle/boat & need support for your gear.
  • You want to shoot remotely.
  • You don’t want to be called an amateur.
  • You want to rely on a support that’s not called ”˜a man.’
  • It doubles up as a defence weapon when confronted by thugs/wildlife/crazy neighbour/over-amorous monkeys in parks.

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Birders at work.

When You Choose A Tripod:-

  • Select one that has the right height. If you are tall & the tripod is short, you end up bending in the wrong places & craning your neck to accommodate the camera rather than vice versa.
  • Determine the make. Manfrotto is the world leader company in the production and distribution of supports for photography and videography such as tripods, heads and monopods. And Manfrotto is Italian. Italians are sexy. So are the tripods they make. ? For some founding history, read here.
  • Quality over price. Determine a budget. A good rule is knowing how much your camera+flash+battery pack+lens cost. If you spent in excess of RM2,500 & above for your system, does it make sense to get an el-cheapo, flimsy/wobbly, sub-standard RM50 tripod that run the risk of collapsing & ruining your gear??? Surely not. Protect your investment & make a wise choice. My birding setup cost me RM10,000 & this is small compared to what the birdmasters spend on their gear. I’m the Wannabe birder so I can shoot with whatever I please but I do get the best with whatever I can afford. You don’t need a Gitzo if you are starting out & you don’t need to conform to the norms of society. I will show you equipment that are equally good but costs much less.
  • Determine your kind of travel, by road or by air. If you fly often, it would be good to get a light but sturdy tripod made of carbon fibre.
  • Determine the weight of your camera+lens+flash+ball head before you choose the right tripod for your system.

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Ian Liew & myself at Kuala Selangor Nature Park

Setting A Standard:-

  • Be creative. Paint your tripod. Put decals on. Make your tripod standout from the rest. If you are a birder like me, you ought to put camouflage tape instead.
  • Everyone thinks they ought to use to top range products but my Manfrotto 055 Nat Trekker (for birding) & Manfrotto Modo (for travelling) have served me so well. With the recent acquisition of Manfrotto 055CXPro4, I think I’m quite ready to become Manfrotto’s official fan.
  • Manfrotto is readily available locally & all spare parts too. I need not wait forever for a part to arrive from the other side of the world should anything go wrong.
  • Did I mention Italians are sexy?

Watch out for more posts on tripod usage as I begin the tour with My Selangor Story! Readers of Pummkin’s Pitch will get a special price on selected tripods so check back here often! (Visit my sponsors on the right of this blog.)

My Selangor Story 2011 – A Story Worth Telling

My travels have never been short of dramatic & in my profession, I’ve seen things & encountered things that sometimes baffle even the scientists I work with. When you work in an environment that requires 110% of your alertness, you will begin to notice the life around you. And holding two complementary professions means that I get to be at many places & write about them at the same time.

If I’m not teaching my students to dive, I am out there filming my next blockbuster……..and that’s to film the amazing coral reefs & everything that moves therein. If I’m not filming my blockbuster, I’d be stalking birds & bugs in the jungle. If I’m not in the jungle, I’d be pestering the fishermen to find me the elusive Sea Apple (sea cucumber) or documenting culture wherever my assignments take me. I’m guided by my sense of adventure, moved by my emotions for the living, inspired by the love of God & activated by the cameras & gadgets that I hold in my bag.

If I can as much as show you, the stuff that magazines ask me to write about, or scientists pay me to discover, I would show you the splendour of Selangor through my lenses & the excitement through my expressions in my blog. Will you vote me into the 30 to be a part of My Selangor Story 2011???

To vote, please go to this link & give as many hearts as your heart desires! Thank you! http://bit.ly/nVzspS

Footnote:- If the music in my blog is drowning out the video, the embedded player is on the top right column of the sidebars. Just press stop…..or play again if you like!

Trail Through Fishing Village & Quaint Town of Tanjung Sepat

Gathering a bunch of my friends to take this trail of faith (many did not know how to get there & was relying on me leading the convoy), 22 people in 8 cars embarked on an adventure to shoot anything & everything along the journey to the quaint town of Tanjung Sepat in Selangor. We stopped in Banting to have a cup of butter coffee, a classic favourite of the locals located near the taxi station.

Getting to the town was an adventure in itself. We came by an irrigation canal filled with lotus lillies & everyone got down to attempt to take pictures. The town was famous for its fisheries, Hainan Pao (steamed buns) & locally produced coffee.
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The fishing jetty here is popularly known as ”˜The Lover’s Bridge.’

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Tanjung Sepat Famous Pao.

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Locally produced Kwo Zha B coffee.

After a scrumptious lunch by the Lover’s Bridge, we headed to Bakau Gruv Resort to see the mangrove swamp & the beautiful surroundings. The resort belongs to the late Professor who used to teach at University Malaya before he succumbed to his condition last year. He is succeeded by his son. We were granted permission to roam around the place & take pictures of nature.

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Mating butterfies.

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The view at Bakau Gruv Resort.

Before long, we found ourselves on the road again, heading towards Batu Laut fishing jetty. The sun casted a nice glow as it set over the river bank.

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Batu Laut Fishing Jetty.

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Panoramic view of the jetty along the bank of the river.

Selangor has so much to offer. The shutterbugs only called it a day after the last of their battery power had drained & looking forward to another trip some time in the near future, prompted those who had no cameras to get one & those who had cameras to get better lenses! We vowed to return, with an empty stomach to savour all the local delights that Selangor has to offer on the trail through Banting to the quaint town of Tanjung Sepat……

Visiting The Mah Meri Weavers & Woodcarvers of Carey Island

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Carey Island is the home of one of Malaysia’s many indigenous tribe (Orang Asli) called Mah-Meri in the state of Selangor. With a legacy of wood-carving & pandanus leave weaving skills, the Mah-Meri had been in their settlement in Kg. Sungai Bumbun since the beginning of time. Now the island has been taken over by oil-palm conglomerates & the place has been converted into a huge oil palm estate, with the exception of this settlement that is still untouched. Passing a golf club on the right, we came to a junction with an indicative signboard to enter the village.

I was really intrigued by their craft using the pandanus leaves that’s been dyed in colour & delicately handwoven to make beautiful purses, wallets, mats & baskets. I got to hear about them through Reita, who was manning the Gerai OA at the Museum during a showcase of indigenous people’s crafts. We set out in the morning of 23 July, in a convoy of two cars, Soon’s 4WD & my Pammobile. Making a quick pit stop for nasi lemak along the way, Carey Island is only a mere 48km from Kuala Lumpur.

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Arriving at the entry point junction of the settlement, it started to rain. There were tell-tale signs that this community is into animism. The woven decorative leaves that hangs from a tall, bamboo pole that droops at the roadside, marks the entrance to their place of residence. Shrines are built from all natural materials, offering atonement to their ancestors for divine protection. We soon got familiar when we asked whoever we could apprehend in the rain, to tell us how to get to the weavers & the carvers. And we got there just in time to hijack Samri, a Mah Meri woodcarver, who was on his way out to fish in the nearby river when the rain stopped.

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Samri’s shed & woodcarvings.

As he demonstrated the craft, he showed us his works & photo albums of the places he had been around the world to showcase this art form. He sometimes receives commissions to do statues & idols which he takes his time to finish. Samri told us the tales that were told to him by his forefathers about the mysticism of the knives that their ancestors used to defend themselves against monsters & dragons in the jungle. Presumably, they must’ve encountered territorial spirits. He elaborated with such drama, that I began filming him to record his account. It should be uploaded with links here in the next few days. He learnt the craft from his father, who learnt the craft from his forefathers. A skill handed down the generations, Samri work can be commissioned & can be contacted at +6013-2286045.

Going pass his hut to another similar thatched roofed hut, we found the weavers whom we had come for. The ladies were sitting on the raised platform with basketful of dyed pandanus leaves that were ready to weave.

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Colourful leaves for the weaving.

Asking permission to photograph them, we soon got into a lively conversation with them. SoonCM, then took the opportunity to address his curiosity:-

SoonCM: “Macamana dapat warna seperti ini ah?” (How do you get these colours? – pointed to the weaving)
Orang Asli Lady: “Belilah! Dari China! Apa warna pun ada!” (Buy lah! From China! Whatever colours are available!)

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Colourful unfinished woven basket.

Stunned, SoonCM was undeterred. He wanted to know how the leaves are dyed in the colours they are now. Not how the colours were obtained. Nevertheless, he continued the conversation while I laughed.

SoonCM: “Dari mana datangnya daun ini? Mana boleh dapat?” (Where do these leaves grow? Where can you find them?)

Orang Asli Lady: “Daun ini datang dari pokok Pandanus, terdapat di dalam hutan.” (These leaves are from the Pandanus tree from the jungle.)

SoonCM: “Oh, bila kamu akan masuk hutan lagi ah? Saya nak ikut boleh?” (Oh, when are you going into the jungle again? Can I come along?)

Orang Asli Lady: “Sini mana ada hutan? Gorf kors adalah. Semua ladang kelapa sawit. Mana ada hutan?” (Where got jungle here? Golf course got lah. Everything here is oil palm estate. Where got jungle?)

By which time, I was hysterical, trying not to shake to take my pictures. I was quite certain the lady thought we were genuine city slickers, yet I couldn’t stop SoonCM from having that conversation with them. Still adamant, he went on to enquire about festivals & celebrations.

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Orang Asli Mah Meri weaver lady.

SoonCM: “Di sini ada musim perayaan ah? Saya mau datang tangkap gambar lah.” (Are there any celebrations/festivals here? I want to take pictures.)

Orang Asli Lady: “Ada. Perayaan sembah moyang. Datanglah nanti. Ada makan minum.” (Got. Festival to honour our ancestors. Come then. Got food & drinks.)

SoonCM: “Bila ah? Bulan depan ah?” (When? Next month?)

Orang Asli Lady: “Tahun depan. Tahun ini sudah lepas.” (Next year. This year’s has passed.)

SoonCM: “Di sini bila orang mati, ada perayaan untuk mereka tak?” (Here, when people die, are there any celebrations for them?)

Orang Asli Lady: “Orang mati mana ada perayaan? Kalau sudah mati, mati lah. Mana ada perayaan lagi?” (Where got celebration for dead people? If they die, they die lah. Where got celebrations?)

SoonCM: “Oh, tapi saya dengar di suatu tempat bila orang mati ada perayaan punya….” (Oh, but I heard in some villages when a person dies, there’s a celebration.)

SoonCM: “Macamana kita nak tahu bila? Kamu ada nombor kontak ah?” (How do we get to know when? Do you have a contact number?)

Orang Asli Lady: “Ada. Kat Facebook.” (Got. On Facebook.)

By then, even the Orang Asli ladies were laughing their heads off, at the visibly stunned & blissfully ignorant city slickers like all of us who have had little or no interaction with the indigenous people in the country, much less with rituals for the dead. Surely in his conversation, he never meant to be offensive but instead of calling it upacara, (ceremony), he used perayaan (celebrations) instead. Being quite the sport as he is, he thanked the ladies for their time & entertainment & vowed to come back for those photos he came for.

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Nearly finished wallet woven by the Mah Meri ladies.

We explored the rest of the village & found many edible fruits from the mature trees. The sun was already high above our heads & the nearest eatery is about 10km away. One old pakcik (uncle) came out to ask us what we were doing & I replied that we are from the city coming here for some fresh air & pictures! He then told us the fruits are ripe & we can eat them if we wanted to…….and we did!

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One such tree was the blossoming Rose Apple tree, with juicy, succulent, sweet Rose Apples hanging like bells off them. Then my subject disappeared. “Soon! Where’s my subject?!?” “Errr….I ate them. I thought you’d finished taking pictures..???” *Face palm!* Then Aziz spotted the fruiting Rambutan tree, with a little hesitation, we discussed about how we could get our hands on those hairy fruit. SoonCM’s 4WD came in really handy & naturally, he got the honours of tending & feeding the troupe! Aziz snapped off some branches for him to jostle the bunches while Edmund scoured the area for other fruiting trees. I realised that only hunger can bring out the hoarding instincts in us as we began to ravish any kind of edible fruit found! And no, we didn’t touch Pakcik’s prized red pineapple. 🙂

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SoonCM, our hero!

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Compromising positions???

The village is filled with nature’s surprises & naturally, a photographers delight as we trailed all the way to the end of the road. We were even treated to Man-Faced Bugs mating!

And what was I shooting wrapped in a windscreen shield?

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Flowers.

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Bee on flower.

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Mating Man-Faced Bugs!

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Pod.

Wrapping the trip with a seafood lunch, we headed back feeling liberated by the Orang Asli giving us an insight to their lives, marvelling at their skill that would have been lost if not for programme that helps them sell their goods to receive 100% of the profits thereof. Do help them keep the craft alive! They can be found on Facebook (really!) here:- http://on.fb.me/ojtEWm

Racing For Birds in Frasers Hill

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Under the invitation of Travel Malaysia & Tourism Malaysia in Singapore, I attended the Bird Race two weekends ago in the company of avid birders & photographers comprising of 38 teams in a quest to spot & name the most number of species in the 1 & 1/2 day race up in Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. The event was celebrated with the presence of officials & councillors amidst vendors adding to the festivity with sale of bird identification books, embroidered patches, shirts, binoculars, digiscopes & headgear. I met someone whom I had been communicating with for the passed 4 years in the forums & later joined his group for the race that soon floored me.

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Panoramic shot using the inbuilt function on the Samsung NX100. Vendors at The International Bird Race 2011

The race started at noon & we proceeded to the usual birding spots to count the species & also procure ”˜photographic evidence.’ Jason, Andrew, Ron & Alven were using digiscopes, short name for digital camera-mounted-spotting scopes. They hail from the land below the wind, Sabah, our neighbouring state in Borneo, and they were bent on locating the Silver Breasted Broadbill, the Orange Breasted Trogon & Silver Eared Mesia, which are non-existent or scarce in their terrain. Playing the good host, I brought them to midway between Hemmant Trail & Bishop Trail, when I got plagued with a broken clamp on my tripod, a non-functioning Aperture Priority on my Olympus E1, slow buffering rates & tripod giving way. Upon Andrew’s suggestion, I shortened the third section of my tripod to make it two sections for all three legs, rendering a shorter tripod, a bent back & a craned neck. I was subjected to sitting on my birding chair & crossing the tripod legs over mine in order to get a better balance & stability to shoot any birds that land ahead of me. The picture below depicts how camouflage & proper equipment can make a big difference in the success of bird photography. Unfortunately, I haven’t got any NX lenses for birding. I am contemplating on getting an adapter to affix my current lens onto the NX100 but will be limited to manual focus only.

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The Sabahan birder team & the armchair birder!

Spotted the Female Large Niltava giving me her sexy pose near her place of residence. The Male came out while I was fiddling with my camera, hopped onto a milestone & stared squarely at me about 2 metres away. Before I could direct the lens at him, he fled. Sigh. Presenting you, his partner……

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Female Niltava.

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Niltava feeding on a worm.

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Cuckoo Dove perched after feeding!

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Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush feeding on moth.

Nesting sites & nests are almost a highly prized commodity worthy of secrecy & protection. Alven & I ventured to the spot where a Silver Breasted Broadbill’s nest was spotted & we virtually parked ourselves about 7 metres away from it. This specie is very clever, weaving & building a hanging nest from a suspended branch over a ravine where no humans could get to, nor wild animals apart from snakes. At 15 minute intervals, the parents would return singularly to feed the chicks in the nest. Each time people ventured to where we were, I swung into a pose & Alven had to pretend that he was shooting me instead to detract them from sighting the nest. Here, I managed to catch a glimpse of the chick but only see it properly in the pictures.

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The mummy (female) returning to feed chicks. Note the ”˜necklace’ she’s wearing.

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And the slightly larger male’s turn to feed chicks.

To get a proper shot of them, we had to stay put for over 2 hours. Even with my camera troubles, these record sightings of them are worth it. I can’t wait to get my hands on an NX lens for birding. With newer technology, I am sure to have the chance to improve on my shots. The Sabahans came out as 3rd Runner-Up in the pro category & received books & hamper plus cash vouchers & I got to take home a piece of my work, not in bird photography but in an expression of colours on fabric!

The batik painting that I completed in about 4 hours in between meals & shooting nature, sparked off a new hobby & reignited my passion for painting since I laid my brushes to rest after school.

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My next purchase would have to be a sturdier, carbon fibre tripod to support my equipment. The never-ending buying of gears is part & parcel of a lifelong pursuit of nice pictures. Until then, I’d have to be happy with being under-my-tripod-on-a-chair to track birds that fleet over with no fear of the camo-clad, clandestine meets with the feathered-kind.

Team Off Course In Motor Treasure Hunt

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Blue skies outstripped the preceeding days of rain & haze, ushering me to get ahead with my geargets (pummkinology for combination of gears & gadgets) & newly acquired Samsung NX100 hybrid camera! Rendezvous with Nigel & Carman was at 7:15am, at Metro Tabernacle. Most times, we spent hours on end not saying anything to each other as we spend them underwater but it was an exceptionally chirpy, Tuesday morning because we were going on a motor treasure hunt! Nigel called our team, OFF COURSE, which was quite apt, I tell you. One wonders what team members get up to when they put an adventurer shutterbug who loves food to the navigator. Let me lead you through our journey of solving the puzzles & clues contained within the challenge.

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At the flag-off, we got a shot of our 1-member-short team. Jo couldn’t wake up in time to join us leaving us to solve problems & decipher what-we-thought as non-existent!

Starting out hopeful, I brought my entourage along. Let me introduce them to you. Tigris, my tiger; Gigi, my giraffe & Hippster Jr, my baby hippo. Don’t be fooled by their cute expression, they pack a punch to power up a computer & wire up to the net! I’m serious! They are little bags that hold all my cables, USB modem, AC Adaptor & other knick-knacks…..hahaha!

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Tigris, Gigi & Hippster Jr at work.

Having done 2 U-turns, we must have missed all the clues because either we have gotten it wrong or there’s something about the tulips (instructional map of hunt) that really threw us off course. By the end of the first hour, we figured we weren’t going to make the finish line at 12:45pm. The route took us through to Cheras & onward to Kajang town, with questions that challenged our intelligence…..or the lack of it. I was particularly looking forward to the photo-acquisition challenge along the way, however, we circled round & round Kajang town to find why ”˜Baba is missing’ or how ”˜Hot coins perhaps heated up audio equipment’ could have been possible. Some of the questions were quite pseudo & deceptive & the only way to find out the answer is to get down for them. The sun was high up & both Carman & I were in sleeveless/spaghetti strapped top, exposing a huge surface area that would be sun-kissed so we decided to stick our heads out of the window to scout the place.

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I found a biscuit shop! They had all my favourite kinds of biscuits! No, I couldn’t stuff Nigel’s car with it…..

We changed course the moment I told my team about Duck Satay. Suddenly, the quest for the champion spot was no longer on the list. Carman & Nigel were on the hunt to eat a quack. Duck Satay, it has become….. We ordered Fish Satay & Duck Satay, literally ate our heart out before setting off on the hunt again.

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Malaysia Restaurant is at the corner shop opposite the pedestrian bridge.

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The satay was all meat & no fat pieces. Pretty good for RM1.20 per stick!

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The peanut sauce came with a teaspoon of sambal paste to give it an extra zing!

Along the way, you might say we happily trailed behind others because looking for the answers was a lot of fun. We had to take a photo of ”˜one of Dorothy’s friends’ which we deciphered to be Scarecrow, Tin Man or Lion. I wasn’t expecting to see any lion in the wild so we had to settle for Tin Man or Scarecrow only. We had strange quests to fulfill & seeing the picture below was an indication of how we performed to achieve them. The vista of the interiors of Hulu Langat from Semenyih was truly breathtaking. We were glad we had satay because every car in the hunt was off course & late.

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Scrumptious food awaited us at the Langat Fishing Seafood & Beer Garden, the final destination of the hunt. It wasn’t about winning, it wasn’t about how we couldn’t answer the questions because with all the pictures that we took along the way with all my geargets, we had a whopping good time!

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Yam with Mantis Shrimp & Cashew Nuts

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Steamed Chicken with Soy Sauce

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Steamed Tilapia Fish with Bean Sauce & Chillies

The moral of the hunt is, it doesn’t matter where you are going or what you are looking for, as long as you have great friends to get lost with, it makes it worthwhile to stay OFF COURSE!
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The team OFF COURSE! ? – Incredible hunters with wild friends….

A Secret Wonder – Coral Bay, Western Australia

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Coral Bay is 155km south of Exmouth & one glance at the azure sea would tell you that this pristine marine park has more to offer than what meets the eye. Famed for its caravan parks & a handful of resorts in this little suburb by the sea, Coral Bay holds the world’s best kept secret in hosting the most diverse structures of coral colonies in the region! Who would have known that this sleepy suburb is the base to reach pristine dive sites? Colonies of corals that built mazes & fish condominiums, tiered mounts that mould into exotic framework piling into the foundations of the sea, this must be one of the best dives I’ve done (and I have done in excess of 2,500 dives in my life all over South East Asia) & truly, I am torn as to whether I should disclose the location or let it remain a secret & maintaining its pristine conditions by reducing human impact on the area.

Every diver in our presence was floored by the awesome structures that formed the maze leading out to a gigantic creek with sandy bottom. The only thing that possibly frustrated me was that the light wasn’t where it was supposed to shine & casted shadows in places where I needed corals to be lit. It was a challenging time for photography (though nothing could beat my Rottnest experience!) & to find the right angle just so that I can show you the majestic formation but alas, these pictures were all I managed as the sun was setting.

Presenting you a dot in the ocean, a speckle in the map but a world of beauty beyond what you & I can ever envision!

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Bearing in mind that corals are actually animals with male & female reproductive organs, the reef is made up of millions of colonies that build structures as they grow. To have a magnificent ecosystem that looks equally astounding is something that only God can create.

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We were taken to a sparsely populated reef before getting into the thick of things. It’s an absolute wonder that the marine life thrives in every reef due to the protected status! There are absolute fearless fish to contend with!

Harlequin Sweetlips at the cleaning station!

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Mantle of a Giant Clam

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Looks can be deceiving. This reef even has a Picasso Triggerfish!

Completing two dives on a day out was exhilarating to say the least. The awesome wonder took my breath away, both underwater & above. Visit Australia if you are planning your journey!

P.S. This blogpost will appear on Amazing Journey with a flash gallery of more photos than what’s posted here. Pummkin’s Pitch has a mixture of my personal journey & adventures but Amazing Journey categorises my travels by destination & product reviews with an occasional sponsored post or two.

Riding Into The Sunset with a Quad Bike

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Arriving at Learmonth Airport in Exmouth, Western Australia, I drove a hired car to approximately 155km South to a tiny town called Coral Bay. As part of the Ningaloo Marine Park, the first thing I got to do was to experience riding an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) fondly known as Quad-Bike here, through the hilly & rugged terrain along the coastal line. Aptly called the Sunset Quad-Bike Tour by the Coastal Adventure Tour company, our guide called Sam & his successor, Brett, took us on a two-hour ride into the countryside weaving along zig-zagged routes & climbing hills & sand dunes for the thrill of skidding down. I hadn’t ridden a bike before except as a pillion & taking on a four-wheeled monster was a bit daunting at first but somehow with the donning on of a safety helmet, I didn’t feel so vulnerable wrapping my legs on this oversized bumper vehicle.

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The handles operated like a bike with the brakes on the left & the acceleration button on the right thumb. Setting out at 5pm, we were given a full brief on how to operate the ATVs & before long, the group of us including three other customers took to the bushtracks along the wonderful clifflines of Coral Bay to watch the spectacular view of the isolated coastline. The tracks allowed us to weave left & right after a practice round of flat & straight road getting to the dunes.

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As we passed the shoreline, the many wildlife that we expected to see hadn’t come out of hiding yet but there were two spots where Sam & Brett brought us to see turtles feeding on seaweed in the water & to watch insects that loved nectar!

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There were animal tracks on the sand & as we made our way further inroad to the rugged terrain, the dunes got higher & bigger! The absolute thrill was to be able to ride down the highest sand dune which was rather safe despite the height of the drop. As the sun began to set, kangaroos came out to play! They were too quick for me to whip out the camera & take a shot but it was great seeing them hop about in the wild.

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The ride took about 2 hours & we got back just before it got dark. The Sunset Quad Bike Trek is one thing that you must not miss when you are in Coral Bay.

This tour was made possible courtesy of Tourism Western Australia & Tourism Australia in Malaysia.

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That’s me feeling exhilarated! 🙂

Next blogpost:- the Coral Bay adventure dive tour!