Japan

 

Although I live in Seattle, I consider Japan a home away from home. While I'm half Malaysian and have actually made Japan more frequent in my calendar than annual doctor's visits, culture shock is still prominent. It is a country where full self-expression is encouraged (and expected), where cleanliness and controlled chaos can be found walking among others in busy streets.

Fashion here sets precedent for new global trends and it's married to traditional cultural values that still remain of utmost importance, like showing respect. Behavioral nuances such as respect are woven into the fabric of Japan's culture so much so that you can even see the influence of this cultural differentiation even in the cuisine.

Making my way through the city as an outsider, I was able to find enjoyment in the otherwise mundane moments we take for granted.

  Happy Girl, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Happy Girl, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

  An afternoon bike ride, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

An afternoon bike ride, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

  The daily grind, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

The daily grind, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

  The daily grind, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

The daily grind, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

The first thing I heard were the constant announcements I couldn’t understand.

  Little Moments, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 1.4 50mm

Little Moments, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 1.4 50mm

Looking around were people wearing face masks, minding their own business and busy on their way. It was around 5pm, so rush hour was in full effect; employees orchestrated the swarms of people like water flowing into a funnel into the already overly packed train; a collective disregard to personal space.

In Japan, cleanliness and attention to detail does not go unnoticed.

  A rare sight in Japan, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

A rare sight in Japan, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Walking down the streets you may be shocked to find an absence of litter, no garbage cans, and vending machines for cold and hot drinks everywhere. Early in the mornings we would observe shop owners cleaning every single leaf off the sidewalk that has fallen the night before. Cleanliness is an act that everyone feels an obligation to participate in.

Tokyo is a streetwear photographers paradise. I was lucky to spend the first few days and nights there. Apparel is not simply worn to stay warm or to be practical with whatever place of employment they were hustling off to, their look is a full expression of themselves. Tokyo style is a hybrid of trends that combine with unique personal touches creating an air of effortlessness which is so intriguing.

  Supper on a Rainy Night, Shinjuku Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Supper on a Rainy Night, Shinjuku Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

I felt like I was a little kid again in a big city with everything new and exciting. There were beaming bright lights around every corner, playful typography among the seas of various signs and my favorite-- bunches of ramen and sushi shops everywhere!

  Lost in Translation, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Lost in Translation, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

  The Ramen Source, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 1.4 50mm

The Ramen Source, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 1.4 50mm

  More noodles, less talk, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 1.4 50mm

More noodles, less talk, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 1.4 50mm

  The perfect ramen, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on iPhone X

The perfect ramen, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on iPhone X

Little toy vending machines selling cute trinkets for 200 yen became instant pit-stops.

  Long noodles, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Long noodles, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

  Taiyaki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Taiyaki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Kyoto was next. The JR train, which is one of the bullet trains that run throughout Japan, made this extremely accessible. The warm and flourishing sights of the countryside were a stark, yet welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Kyoto is one of the quietest cities I’ve been to.

  A quiet bus ride, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

A quiet bus ride, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Walking to the Airbnb while rolling my suitcase felt like a disruption because the noise of the wheels against the pavement was loud. It felt almost serene to be able to reflect on otherwise minuscule details with stronger attention because of this sound awareness. Even the food shops felt slow paced in comparison to Tokyo. 

  Chicken Ramen, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Chicken Ramen, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

  Peace in the city, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Peace in the city, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

The next day, I went to the bamboo forest. It was a sacred area, filled with tombstones and shrines.

  Shine sunsets, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D 24-70mm

Shine sunsets, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D 24-70mm

  Eternal peace, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D 24-70mm

Eternal peace, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D 24-70mm

It is blanketed in bamboo as high as the eye could see.

  The depth of bamboo forests, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

The depth of bamboo forests, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

The surroundings are enough to get lost in, so it was exciting to stumble upon new little things all along the way. Every detail about Kyoto is in complete opposition to Tokyo. From the ambiance and environment of Kyoto, I can still imagine sitting on the side of the road just listening to the gentle wind in a state of meditation.

  Tranquil Mountains, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

Tranquil Mountains, Kyoto, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

Osaka was next. The first steps taken off the train from Osaka was immediately immersed into a river of people and shops. Once I got out of the street of shops, I was greeted with neon lights covering every single building, and food shops everywhere. Osaka was full of life, full of moments.

  Osaka, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

Osaka, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

On the last leg of the trip, the journey continued back to Tokyo. I got the chance to shoot with a lovely model, Mizuki. While our communication was more visual than verbal, I'm happy that the positive energy was captured in a successful shoot.

  Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm

  Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 50mm

Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 50mm

  Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 50mm

Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 50mm

  Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 50mm

Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 50mm

  Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 50mm

Mizuki, Tokyo, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with Sigma 50mm

I’m thankful for the opportunity to travel and document the wildly diverse parts of Japan. It’s one of the most unique countries in the world and I'm already in anticipation of when I can visit again!

  In Another World, Osaka Aquarium, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm (shot by Evan Luza, edited by me)

In Another World, Osaka Aquarium, 2017. Shot on Canon 6D with 24-70mm (shot by Evan Luza, edited by me)

  Sunrise over Japan, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

Sunrise over Japan, 2017. Shot on Leica M8 with Voigtlander 1.4 35mm

 
 
 

First Gallery Show!

 

Chicago is such an amazing city with numerous gallery spaces, and a real appreciation for the creative community. One gallery you may not know of is YO:U salon. A modern hair salon, decorating their space with a new local artist of the month every month. During that month, there is one night where them and the artists host an art show to showcase and sell their work. I got the opportunity to have my first gallery show there in April! I shared the experience with another local Chicago photographer, Evan Brightfield, who captures amazing aerial shots of big city's that one could never see from being a tourist in foot. I also shared it with Sara Niezgoda, owner of MIKADO; modern handmade jewelry and home goods. I felt only love and support from all those who came, and feel so thankful to have supporters for what I love doing and what I'm passionate about.

Feel free to check out these other artists and recap video of the event! The video was created by VIEWS media, who exceeded my expectations in their video work!

YO:U salon: 
www.hairbeingart.com

Evan Brightfield: 
www.instagram.com/evan_brightfield

Sara Niezgoda:
www.mikado-design.com
www.instagram.com/mikadojewelry

 

Kenya

 

I was on a journey to become a stranger in a foreign land. Gazing out the plane window, seeing the curve of the earth with the moon and faint stars lighting up the sky. When looking down, small clouds on large plains, with small winding rivers having split second shimmering reflections from the moon gave me my first impression of Africa as  a huge, foreign, beautiful place. We (my good friend Sara and I) arrived in Nairobi in the early morning. Driving past Nairobi National Park, Kibera (Africa's largest slum), and the overall environment of the roads and homes around us, I knew there was going to be much learn, and many be experiences during our time there.

The first day there, we were volunteering at a girl's shelter. The shelter was made for these girls to learn, and spend time there to have a safe place from their abusers. They were honestly the brightest young girls, who just needed opportunity for them to really blossom into young women.

IMG_4692.JPG

When it came to lunch time, all the girls hurried into the kitchen, and came back with what looked like white large beans. One girl offered that I tried some, which I did, and I must say I was not a fan of it. It turns out it was maize, which is corn, but not the kind of corn we eat in America. America has sweet corn, yellow with smaller kernels. Maize is a bit bigger, whiter kernels, and its the same corn that farmers feed their cattle. It was clear that things there were eaten to be full, not for nutrition or pleasure.

Our second day, we took a day tour of Kibera. Kibera is the largest, continuous slum in Africa. There's about 2 million people who call Kibera home. It is a flow of unstructured huts, smiling friendly faces, and home to many people, gangs, disease, and the list goes on. The extreme poverty there leaves residents with a budget of around $1 a day. Unemployment is very common, along with HIV and cases of AIDS, rape, and assault. About 80% of women are raped before they turn 18 years old. Prostitution is common, but seen as a way of life to support your family. If you can't feed your family, and your only way to get food is through prostitution, then its a way to support your family. A majority of people there are living without electricity, running water, medical care, and education. The way it was explained to us, was that Kibera is broken down into three different areas, the high class, middle class, and poverty. None of them would be considered an acceptable way of living in US standards. Being there was like nothing I have experienced before, mud everywhere mixed with garbage, feces, but at the same time it was organized chaos. Everyone had their own home, there were shops that sold clothes, food, snacks, etc. People were smiling and friendly regardless of their living conditions. We got to go inside a family's house, which consisted of a small, maybe 8'x8' with a small bed, chairs--just the essentials. There are 7 people who lived in this home, and this is a common thing, if not bigger families.

One of the highlights of this trip was going to the Masai Mara and going on a safari. It was a butt lifting off the seat bumpy drive to get there, but once we did it was unlike anything we've experienced before. There are over 40 different tribes in Kenya, and the Maasai is one of the biggest ones, which is the tribe we visited.  

We were greeted in the Maasai village with a welcoming dance and song that consists of rhythms and harmonies sung by the song leader, and others will add to it. The lifestyle the Maasai take on is a complete 180 from anything else I've experienced. Living with no electricity or running water, in a village of 200 people where all the men come from the same grandfather. Where they use chickens as a form of currency, drink cows blood regularly, and men can have up to 5 wives. A place where the male warriors must kill a lion as proof of manhood, and where male and female endure a painful circumcision and a teenager with a ceremony that will lead them to manhood and womanhood. It was eye opening to understand this lifestyle from bring there and sharing stories with them. The way they use the resources around them and live off the land truly feels ancient, especially in comparison to how advance technology is now. Our Maasai friend, Eric, was telling us their means for transportation is walking everywhere. He would visit some of his family in Tanzania every so often, and was casually explaining the walk there is about 24 hours...of straight walking!

The next day was from dawn to dusk safari. The first thing we saw was a kill-- a hienya killed a cow. At first it was a bit surreal, like literally stepping into a scene from a National Geographic documentary. But once that wore off, I stepped back from the scene in front of me an really took a look around at what was happening, and how it was the circle of life. The hienya killed the cow because it was hungry, and the cow was too weak to get away. Once the hienya was full and stepped away, then all the vultures came in, along with all the other random animals who saw there was new food available. When the hienya came back, all the vultures knew to immediately back off. The respect for the other animals is embedded into their instincts. During our game drive, we got lucky and had an epic safari, which means seeing the "super seven", consisting of the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino, cheetah, and wild dogs. When leaving the Masai Mara, a feeling of peacefulness swept across me. Watching the sun go down, seeing zebras and gazelle running along one another; seeing the lions with their young and the wildebeests staying in their pack and migrating for miles and miles; the giraffes eating the top braches of the trees while the African elephants walked with their young across the plains. Witnessing these animals coexisting on the same land, without constantly wanting to hurt one another (only when necessary when hungry), was one of the most beautiful sights and feelings I've had the pleasure of witnessing.

Overall, Kenya was one of the most memorable, interesting learning experiences I've been on throughout the travels in my life. If you have any questions about anything, please reach out to me with any questions at all, there is so much I did not touch on and I would love to talk about as well. 10/10, would recommend going and experiencing what Kenya has to offer!