Sunday, December 21, 2014

Learning new tricks - Macro Photography

Recently, my son bought me a macro lens. Though I have dabbled in amateur photography for years, I've never done macro like those you've seen - pictures of extreme close ups, of flowers, of insect eyes, of products close up.
So with a bit of trepidation, I plunged straight into it, and even in these early beginnings, I have grown respect for what macro photographers have done - it's not as easy as it appears to be.

It is not as simple as getting a macro lens and shooting as though you would with a normal lens.
It is not simply getting close up to the subject and snap.
Yes, I 'd be the first to admit that occasionally you can get close and shoot, and by sheer luck, you can get a good close-up shot like this dragonfly which I pointed and shot.

If you observe carefully, you can see that only the dragonfly's wings are sharp while the rest of the picture - the tail, the branch and even the head and eyes are out of focus.

This is the limitation of a macro lens. It has what is know as a very small 'depth of field' - the focal point - the area that is in focus - is very very small. So how do macro photographers get everything in focus?

You have to do what is called 'focus stacking' - you have to take several photos of the same image but focusing on different points of the object. Of course, a dragonfly will not stay in the same spot for you to refocus and take several pictures, which makes shooting moving insect all the more difficult.

I'll give you an example with this watch I photographed at close quarters.
(Click on the photo and see a detailed view where you can see the blurred parts)

This is a series of 6 pictures of the same object focusing on different points -the yellow boxes.
The areas outside the yellow boxes are actually blurred if you look up close (green circles).
When I focus on the watch dial, the knobs are blurred and vice versa.

Once you have taken a series of images with different areas in focus, you have to use your photo editing program to stack the photos one over the other and then remove all the blurred parts. What you end up with is a composite image of the sharp areas.

This is the result of the 6 stacked photographs taking only the sharp areas into the final collage.

Taking products pictures like this watch is easier as it is flat and can be parallel to the lens.
It is more difficult if the object is oblique.

I still have a long way to go but do look out for my photographs which I will post into my photo blog.
My photo blog is at this link.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Singapura - The Lion City

Legend has it that in 1399, the Sumatran Prince, Sang Nila Utama, after a storm tossed crossing from Bintan to Tumasek Island, spied an animal with a golden mane. He had never seen such an animal as yet and was told it was a Singa, the sanskrit word meaning lion.
Henceforth, he promulgated that the island would be called Singapura or the Lion City.
Whether he actually saw a real lion or not has been the subject of debate ever since.

Nevertheless, the lion has become the symbol of this city.
I thought it would be interesting to see where in Singapore, this animal can still be found.
Here are some of the places or icons where the lion serves as a reminder that this is the Lion City.
(Click on the photo for larger detailed views)

Coleman Bridge
Bank of China, Battery Road.

The Cenotaph War Memorial, Esplanade Park
The Merlion, Marina Bay

Lim Bo Seng Memorial, Elizabeth walk
Fullerton Building

National Museum of Singapore

Peninsula Hotel

Singa the Courtesy Lion, Fort Canning

The State Crest

The State Mace
Replica of the Merdeka Lion, Bukit Batok East Police Centre

The former tomb of Tan Kim Ching at 13ms Changi Road.
The 4 lion statues are now at the National Museum of Singapore.
(The 2 in the rear are elephants not lions)
Lion statue from the former grave of Mr Tan Kim Ching, National Museum of Singapore.

Grave guardian lion statue at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
(Grave of Mr & Mrs Tan Cheng Hoe, my grandparents)

Former Bukit Timah Fire Station

Chinese Gardens, Jurong Town.

Armenian Street Restaurant Signboard

Armenien Street Shop Signboard

Cavenagh Brodge

Singapore Fire Service helmet

Ngee Ann City

Tangs Department Store

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Municipal City Emblem
Istana Gates
The Legends Lion

St Mark's Lions, Sacred Heart Church

Wak Hai Cheng Bio, Philip Street
Ying Po Fu Kun Ancestral Temple

Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club

Teochew Building Lions

I will add to this post as and when I find more lions in Singapore. Do return for more updates occasionally. There will be a photo essay of the lions found at Bukit Brown Cemetery following soon.

If you do know where lions can be found, please send me a comment.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How the Brownies found my grandparents.

In December 2011, I blogged about how I feared for my paternal grandfather whose burial place might be affected by the announced plan for an expressway that was to run across the old Bukit Brown cemetery at Adam Road (article here).

I had never known my grandfather in life and had last visited his grave as a very young child over fifty years ago. None of my living relatives knew where the grave now laid.

By a stroke of good fortune, it was then that I came across a group of enthusiastic heritage conservationists of Bukit Brown Cemetery. I followed their exploits online, both on their webpage and on facebook. After a while, I decided to write to them asking if by any possibility they might be able to trace a lost grave amongst the hundred thousand there.

A young lady, Ms Khoo Ee Hoon, replied almost immediately that same Thursday evening asking for a bit more details of my grandfather. I directed her to my blog article which was basically all I knew of him.
She read it and came back with a few unusual questions...did he take part in any sports (dunno)?,  was he a clan member (dunno)?,  what did he do (he was a towkay at Boat Quay) ?, what year did he die (dunno)?
The only thing I knew was what my mother had told me from her sketchy memory, which turned out to be completely wrong, except for  the clue that the grave was near a pavillion.

On the following day, I received a note from Ee Hoon. I found your grandfather ! He's located at Hill 5, plot 172 and buried beside your grandmother at plot 179! 

I was astonished and impressed, truly I was amazed at the speed at which they went through their own information database and records and found details of my grandparents.
What's more, the next day, Ee Hoon actually located the grave on Hill 5 and sent me photos of it! for this, I am forever in her debt.
Thankfully, their graves were not affected by the planned expressway except that it would be running very close to it in future.

My paternal grandparents graves at Hill 5, Bukit Brown.

Though I did not become a 'Brownie', I continued to follow and support their cause. Even meeting up with some of them, including Ee Hoon, as our paths crossed through other internet forums.

Last Saturday, I finally joined them on one of their free guided tours through Bukit Brown Cemetery.
I would encourage anyone who has not been there to join one of their weekend tours. It would be an eye opener for many and you will feel the dedication, the enthusiasm and passion of the 'Brownies'.
I dedicate the following video that I made to them for all their efforts to preserve this part of our country's heritage.

Friday, May 24, 2013

WW2 heritage sites in Singapore

On 8th February 1942, the Japanese army invaded the island of Singapore.
By the 15th Feb 1942, the British colonial government surrendered and for the next three and half years, Singapore came under the brutal occupation of the Japanese military administrators.

Fifty years after the end of WW2, in 1995, the Singapore National Heritage Board erected 14 markers around Singapore Island at places that witnessed significant events that occurred during the Fall of Singapore. An additional 6 markers were erected in 2012 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.

These 20 markers are just some of the 50 significant sites* around Singapore associated with the war period.  I will add these other sites as and when I get round to them.

For those who may be interested in visiting these sites, I have placed a map beside the photo showing where the markers are located.

The text following the graphics are as inscribed on the markers, in full or partial:
My own comments are preceded by 'Quispiam Loquor:'

Note: the photos are not placed in any chronological order.

1. Sarimbun Beach landing site

On this mangrove-filled shoreline, Japanese forces launched their attack on Singapore.
Protected by heavy artillery fire, soldiers of the 5th and 18th Divisions crossed the Johore Straits in a fleet of small boats on the night of 8th February 1942.

The first two waves of Japanese troops were repelled by Allied troops of the Australian 22nd Brigade. However, the third Japanese wave broke through the Australian defences to conquer Tengah Airfield by the following morning.

2. Kranji Beach Landing Site

On this shoreline, between the Kranji River and the Causeway, troops of the 27th Australian Brigade and Singapore volunteers of Lieutenant-Colonel Dalley's DALFORCE scored a victory against the invading Japanese troops.

On the morning of 10th February 1942, troops from the 4th Regiment of the Japanese Imperial Guards landed when the tide was low. They were stuck in the mud and were caught in oil slicks created by Allied troops, releasing oil from the nearby Woodlands depot.

The first waves of Japanese troops were burnt when Allied forces set fire to the oil.

However, for fear of being cut off by the Japanese landing from the west at Sarimbun and Jurong, the Australian troops and the DALFORCE volunteers were ordered to withdraw south, thus allowing the Japanese land and consolidate their invasion of Singapore.

Quispiam Loquor: Please note that although the marker is located here on the west bank, the actual Kranji Beach landing took place on the East bank between the river and the Causeway across the Kranji River from the marker.

3. RAF Seletar Airfield

RAF Seletar was one of three airfields built to provide air defence in Singapore. Completed in 1928, it holds the distinction of being Britain's first Royal Air Force base east of India as well as being the first military and civilian airport in Singapore.

4. The Causeway

The 3,465-feet Causeway, completed in 1924, was blown up by British and Indian Engineers, assisted by the Royal Navy. This created a 70-foot gap in the Causeway, severing the water pipes in the process.

5. Bukit Batok Memorial

Two monuments once stood on top of this hill in memory of Allied and Japanese soldiers killed in the battle for Singapore.

Built by some 500 Allied prisoners-of-war in 1942, the Japanese memorial, the Syonan Chureito, was a 400-foot (sic) high wooden pylon topped with a brass cone. To the rear was a small hut housing the ashes of Japanese soldiers killed in the Battle for Bukit Timah. The prisoners-of-war were allowed to build a second monument to honour the Allied dead. This was a 10-foot high wooden cross which stood just behind the Japanese monument.

The Syonan Churieto was destroyed by the Japanese just before the return of the Allied forces to Singapore in 1945.

Quispiam Loquor: The 400-foot pylon stated in the marker was actually only 40-foot. I think it is a typo by the NHB. Here is a confirmation of the 40-foot, (not 400') pylon during the dedication ceremony.

I wrote to the NHB after noticing the error and they responded by saying 'someone will go verify my finding'. Subsequently, they corrected the memorial with a temporary acrylic panel and said a more permanent panel was being made.
I was astounded that no one had spotted the mistake for the past 18 years!

Original panel

Corrected temporary panel as of 27 May 2013.

6. The Battle for Bukit Timah


On the night of 10th February 1942, the Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions, supported by armor, attacked troops of the 11th and 15th Indian Brigades, the 22nd Australian brigade, The Special Reserve battalion, Tomforce, Merrett's Force, the Argylls, Jind State Infantry and 'X' Battalion. The Allied forces had to re-grouped to defend the critical junctions at Choa Chu Kang, Jurong and Clementi Roads leading to Bukit Timah Road.

By dawn of 11th February 1942, the Japanese troops reported to their commander Lietenant(sic)-General Tomoyuki Yamashita that they had seized Bukit Timah. The road to the city was open.

7. Battle for Pasir Panjang

One of the last battles for Singapore was fought on this hill which dominated the harbour and British military depots in the Ayer Rajah area.

On 13th February 1942, the Japanese 18th Division, with strong artillery and air support, attacked the 1st Malay Regiment, the British 2nd Loyals Regiment and the 44th Indian Brigade defending this locality.

At the battle, the men of the Malay Regiment led by officers like 2nd Lietenant Adnan of "C" Company distinguished themselves. The "C" Company held its ground for 48 hours, and the last few survivors abandoned their posts only when the unit had almost been wiped out.

8. The Rimau 10 Commandos Execution site

There were two Allied commando raids on Japanese ships in Singapore's Keppel Harbour during the Japanese Occupation. The first codenamed, Operation Jaywick, was a success. The second mission, Operation Rimau failed when all 23 commandos involved never made it home.

Of the 23 operatives, ten were captured and brought to Singapore. The remaining thirteen were either captured of killed throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

On 7th July 1945 at around 10am, the commandos were brought to this vicinity to be executed. They remained defiant to the end. They were buried in three graves nearby.

9. Fort Canning Command Centre

Fort Canning Command Centre was completed in 1939 and became operational in 1942 as Malaya Command Headquarters. The headquarters consisted of an office complex and barracks with an underground command centre to be used during air raids (later known as The Battle Box).

The historical decision to surrender to the Japanese was made in the Battle Box's Centre for Anti-Aircraft Defence room during a meeting of British senior staff held at 9.00am on 15th February 1942.

10. Force 136

Force 136 was a covert military unit that gathered intelligence and conducted sabotage missions in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation. It originated as the Malayan Country Section within the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was set up in London to conduct operations in enemy occupied territories during the Second World War.

11. The Jurong-Kranji Defence Line

The narrow ridge connecting the sources of the Jurong and Kranji Rivers was a natural defense line protecting the north-west approach to the city. The Allied troops were to defend this line strongly against the invading japanese.

However, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival's secret orders to withdraw to the last defense line around the city, only if necessary, were misunderstood by the defending Allied troops. As a result, the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 22nd Australian Brigade, reinforced after their withdrawal from Sarimbun Beach in the north-west, abandoned the Jurong-Kranji Line on 10th February 1942. This allowed the Japanese forces to sweep through the line to attack Bukit Timah.

12. Labrador Battery

In 1878, the British constructed an artillery fort on this ridge to defend the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. On the eve of World War 2, Fort Pasir Panjang had two large six-inch guns.

13.  Indian National Army

In the final months of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, a memorial dedicated to the "Unknown Warrior" of the Indian National Army (INA) was constructed on this site.

The local INA was formed in 1942 with Japanese support. It sought to liberate India from the British and consisted mainly of prisoners-of-war from the British Indian Army.

When the British returned to Singapore, they demolished the memorial barely two months after its installation.

14. Japanese Propaganda Department Headquarters

Cathay Building housed the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation before the Japanese occupied Singapore.
During the Occupation, the Japanese took over the building for their own propaganda activities. They tried to impose the Japanese language on the local population through their radio transmission from Cathay Building. 
Cathay Building later served as headquarters for Admiral Louis Mounbatten (sic)  who accepted the Japanese surrender in 1945.

15. Kempeitai East District Branch

The old YMCA building which once stood here was the East Branch of the Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police).
The much-feared Kempeitai was assigned to crush local resistance to Japanese rule. They conducted the "Sook Ching" (mass screening) Operation which resulted in the deaths of many Chinese suspected of being anti-Japanese.
The Kempeitai recruited informers from within the local community thus sowing distrust among the population. People were taken away on mere suspicion. Suspects were tortured during interrogation. The quiet of the building's surroundings was often broken by the screams of victims from within.

16. Keppel Harbour

During the invasion of Malaya, Keppel harbour was amongst the first targets of Japanese bombing on 8th December 1941.
The harbour reflected both hope and desperation for the island at war. Large numbers of soldiers arrived to bolster the defence of Malaya and Singapore.
On the other hand, the harbour also witnessed the desperate evacuation of thousands, particularly in the last days of the Battle for Singapore. Many ships were sunk while escaping.

17. Sook Ching Centre

This site was one of the temporary centres of the Japanese Military Police, the Kempeitai, for screening anti-Japanese Chinese.
On 18th February 1942, three days after their capture of Singapore, the Kempeitai launched a month-long purge of anti-Japanese elements in an operation named "Sook Ching". All Chinese men between 18 and 50 years old, and in some cases women and children, were ordered to report to these temporary registration centres for interrogation and identification by the Kempeitai and their hooded informers.

Those who passes the arbitrary screening were released with the word "Examined" stamped on the face or arm or on clothes. Other not so fortunate were taken to outlying parts of Singapore and executed for alleged anti-japanese activities. Tens of thousands were estimated to have lost their lives.

18. Ponggol Beach Massacre site

On 28 February 1942, some 300-400 Chinese civilians were killed along the Ponggol foreshore by hojo kempei (auxiliary military police) firing squads. They were among tens of thousands who lost their lives during the Japanese Sook Ching operation to purge suspected anti-Japanese civilians within Singapore's Chinese population between 18 february to 4 March, 1942.
The victims who perished along the foreshore were among 1000 Chinese males rounded up following a house-to-house search of the Chinese community living along Upper Serangoon Road by Japanese soldiers.

19. Changi Beach Massacre site

Sixty-six male civilians were killed by Japanese hojo kempei (auxiliary military police) firing squads at the water's edge on this stretch of Changi Beach on 20 February 1942. They were among tens of thousands who lost their lives during the Japanese Sook Ching operation to purge suspected anti-Japanese civilians within Singapore's Chinese population between 18 February to 4 March 1942.

Tanah Merah Besar Beach, a few hundred metres south (now part of the Changi Airport runway), was one of the most heavily used killing grounds where well over a thousand Chinese men and youths lost their lives.

20. Serapong Beach Massacre site

For 8 days from 20 February 1942, hundreds of Chinese civilians bound hand and foot, back to back, in groups of four, were transported by boats from Tanjong Pagar Docks to the waters across from here. There, Japanese soldiers hurled the bound civilians into the water and opened fire on fire. Many bodies drifted ashore along the outer coastline of the then Blakang Mati (now Sentosa) island. Some 300 bodies were buried by British prisoners of war around the Berhala Reping artillery post (about 100 metres ahead).

*Other significant WW2 sites in Singapore

21. Lim Chu Kang Landing site
22. Ama Keng Village
23. Tengah Airfield
24. Kranji War Cemetery
25. Singapore Naval Base
26. Sembawang Airfield
27. Japanese Cemetery Park
28. Ford Motor Factory
29. Pasir Panjang Pillbox
30. Reflections at Bukit Chandu
31. Alexandra Military Hospital
32. Siloso Battery
33. Raffles Library and Museum
34. Former St Joseph's Institution
35. The Padang
36. Municipal Building (City Hall)
37. Lim Bo Seng Memorial
38. Cenotaph
39. Civilian War Memorial
40. Singapore Volunteer Corps HQ (Beach Road camp)
41. Kallang Airfield
42. The Changi Museum
43. Johore Battery
44. India Barracks
45. Selarang Barracks
46. Roberts Barracks
47. Kitchener Barracks
48. Pulau Ubin
49. St Andrew's Cathedral
50. Changi Prison