2019 in the Rearview

Writing a look back on the past year hadn’t crossed my mind this time, not to mention my complete overlooking of the fact that another decade had just flashed by. I only realized this after the deluge of posts by friends online, listing their accomplishments, highlights and lowlights.

Photographically speaking (since this is technically a photo blog), 2019 was a year I spent capturing my experiences, vs. actively seeking out sceneries to photograph. There’s an important distinction here. I focused on the latter in 2016 and 2017, where I joined photography Meetup groups to visit beaches along the Sydney coast every weekend at sunrise, and later on with Sydney by Kayak every morning in Lavender Bay. My goal then was to learn to see, capture, and appreciate the same environments in the different seasons, clouds and light.

Here in Singapore, the beach-scape hasn’t inspired me to the same extent, though I admit it would be a good challenge to take up, to try capture the different essence that is Singapore. In any case, my motivation to consciously and actively seek out scenes to photograph has waned, and accordingly my DSLR and various lenses has for the most part, stayed in my cabinets.

So, 2019 was the year of documentation, of recording our numerous journeys and adventures around the world, and of little moments with friends.

We rung in 2019 while still on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, where we learnt that at those altitudes where the air is so thin, it’s safer to stow away our cameras and focus literally on just placing a foot in front at a time.

When Jeff went to Shanghai for work in January, we also made a weekend trip out of it, and spent long hours walking around the town, delighting in the clean streets and charming old school architecture.

In March we joined a friend for a weekend in Yangon. It was like stepping back in time, into a Singapore in the 1950s.

We also did our first week long kayaking and camping trip in Coron and Palawan in the Philippines. There, we got a first real taste of ocean kayaking, where wild waves and currents freaked us out just a tad. But the food, freshly delivered each evening on long tail boats, was heavenly, as was dips in the crystal clear waters at our lunch and camping spots.

We also spent a long weekend in Bali, where we dove at Manta Point and Crystal Bay, and also visited some padi fields.

Over the Labour Day long weekend, we visited Hoi An in Vietnam. We may have spent one too many days in that little tourist town, but had did enjoy visiting the Champa temples in My Son.

Mid-May, we went to Sydney for work, and made most of the weekends visiting with friends.

Over the Vesak Day long weekend in May, we went to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Even though the weather was unforgiving, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the different temples. Apart from the main Bayon temple, which was crawling with tourists, most of the other temples were quiet and serene.

Natalie visited for two weekends in June, so we went to Langkawi in Malaysia for one of the weekends. We were a little disappointed that none of the beaches had kayak or SUP a rentals because of the (small) surf, but we still had a relaxing weekend splashing about in the sea and pool.

August saw us visiting Copenhagen and Greenland for the first time. The food in Copenhagen was stunningly expensive but delicious, and the kayaking in Greenland was addictive.

In September, we spent another long weekend in Sydney, this time for our friends’ Garry and Linh’s wedding.

When we got back, I found that I had an extra week and a half before I started my new job, so I booked myself on a week long trip to Nusa Penida in Bali.

October saw me travel back to the States, the first time in almost five years, to San Francisco for onboarding. I made most of my weekend there, meeting up with various old friends.

Over the Deepavali long weekend in November, we went to Yogyajarkta with a friend. We weren’t blown away by the Royal Palace or Ratu Boko, but Borobudur itself is grand and worth a visit.

In December, we did the Raja Ampat liveaboard, and so thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and richness of live in these Indonesian waters, we are seriously considering jettisoning our plans to kayak in Greece this September for another liveaboard aboard the Blue Manta to Komodo Islands.

Jeff’s family visited over the Christmas break, and after a few fun and relaxing days touring Singapore’s attractions and lounging in our pools, we spent a couple days in Bangkok.

2019 was definitely a good year travel-wise. It turned out fantastic career-wise too. So I’m stoked for the many more adventures 2020 will bring!

Borobudur at Sunrise

Diwali long weekend = another opportunity to explore the region around us. Our aim this year – and the next – is to visit as many South East Asian cities and historical sites as possible while we live here.

So that’s how we (Jeff and my old primary school mate Kate) found ourselves in Yogyakarta last Saturday. The main focus of our trip was Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple in Central Java. Given that we’d landed in the morning and couldn’t make the 11 hour day tour to the other highlight in the area, Jomblang Caves, we decided to wander around locally.

Where we visited Saturday:

  1. The Kraton Royal Palace – Very underwhelming. Most of the palace is private and can’t be toured, and the only open areas we could wander around were really rundown and basic. We were left honestly very confused if we had gone to the right place. Our hotel and malls were in much better condition
  2. Taman Sari Water Castle – We had a local volunteer to bring us around and give us the history of this compact grounds, and so could appreciate the history of the 18th century bath house a little better. As bath houses go, we enjoyed our visit to the better preserved ancient Roman Baths in Bath more, but this visit was a huge step up from the palace.
  3. Ratu Boko – This archaeological site is a 45 min taxi ride out of Yogyakarta, but given that we’d completed both the palace and water castle visits in 2 hours and had the entire afternoon wide open, we jumped into the cab after a gelato lunch. Our recommendations? Skip this one too, especially because of the US$25 foreign tourist price we were forced to cough up (the local price was less than half that!). The 8th century site has not quite been properly restored; just yawning stretches of land broken up with old piles of rocks. The few signs scattered around the park did nothing to help inform the history, but just listed the dimensions of the site. The tourism board needs to be overhauled.

So our expectations were very low Sunday morning when we roused out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3am, so we could make the hour drive to catch the sun rise over Borobudur.

But our fears were unfounded. Borobudur itself is worth the trip to Yogyakarta (along with Prambanan temple, which we visited after). The air was crisp and cool when we walked up the steps of the temple in the dark. There were other tourists milling around, but everyone was quiet, just silently soaking in the meditative atmosphere.

I brought along my nifty little Fujifilm X100F for the trip. It takes great photos in light, but personally I feel its low light performance is quite wanting. I can’t quite bring out the shadow details like I can with my Canon 6D, or even my tiny Sony RX100! Or, maybe it’s photographer error. I’ve found that it still takes me a few seconds to adjust the settings in this camera to take photos, whereas I can make the same adjustments on my Canon in a fraction of the time.
The morning mist slowly dissipated as the sun rose, lending an impressionist feel to the landscape
Some of the stupas still had sitting buddhas in them; but a lot were either empty, or had headless ones
The grounds of Borobudur were large enough that we could find empty stretches of corridors to wander around in

We’d signed up to visit Borobudur under a day tour, with the second leg The next part of our tour, we visited Mt Merapi. Or tried to get close to it at any rate, on these old school open top jeeps. Honestly, the jeep ride up the rocky trail was much more fun than walking a couple hundred meters up a dusty track to stare at the live volcano in the distance. Its top was obscured by clouds.

For the last leg of the tour, we visited Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. It’s in the similar style as the temples we visited of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The main compound was crowded, but as soon as we ventured to the other temples, the crowds dwindled to nothing, and we had a very enjoyable couple of hours wandering around and soaking in the sights.

Good weekend excursion. 🙂