Photography Chat With Lance Vun

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt

Photography is a powerful form of storytelling. It encapsulates time and preserves memory. Other than that, it is also a means to express and reflect one’s feelings. However, apart from personal uses, photography can also document formal occasions and events one would like to look back to. Graduation concerts and weddings, for example.

Today, with good smartphone cameras and a mobile photo-sharing application called Instagram, everyone – young and old – have turned into photographers. And whether it is important or insignificant, (or selfies), we capture and share everything on Instagram. It is relatively simple and fun. However, not everyone has the eye.

_SEB9317-Editsmaller

Lance Vun is a photographer born and raised in Kuching. He has been shooting professionally for over eight years. He first started as a photojournalist who then chose to make a living off of weddings. As a wedding photographer, he has had the opportunities to photograph countless weddings across the state. Other than that, he is also a passionate street photographer who has taken photos not only in the gritty streets of Kuching and some other parts of Malaysia but also in the brassy streets of Australia.

Prompted by a friend, Lance, along with a group of photographers have decided to organise a photo exhibition called Streets of Kuching. The exhibition is now live at Art Space, ChinaHouse, Kuching.

Here, the young lad talked about his passion and journey as a photographer.

How long have you been a photographer?
I was 19 when I first dabbled with DSLRs. I’m 28 right now so this year would be my ninth year doing photography. But I feel like I’ve not done enough. I know people who have been around for a shorter period and they’re doing pretty well. They’ve done more than me. I feel like I could’ve done more but everyone has got their own pace. I need to push myself because I feel that my photos are still nowhere near the top. But I dare say that my standard is above average.

What or who got you started in photography?
I was not into photography in the beginning. It was my friends who kickstarted the transition. I was in the middle of my diploma that I got influenced by them. I tried my hands on it and not too long after that, I found interest in capturing images. I was studying business in Swinburne at that time. So after I was done with that, I took another diploma in photography. I started building my career from there.

Who are some of you favourite photographers who has influenced your work? And how do they inspire you?
You see, inspiration is all around. It could be from the books I read to the films I watch. But my main source of inspiration would be Joe McNally – a New York-based photographer who used to shoot for LIFE Magazine. Right after 9/11, he did this huge project called ‘Faces of Ground Zero’. I was truly inspired by that. And the other one is Zack Arias – he’s an Atlanta-based photographer.

What sort of work do you specialise in?
I’m a wedding photographer by profession and I photograph mainly weddings and event coverage. That’s what I’ve been doing most. Because I’m very much into stories. So weddings and events can give you that. Sometimes I do basic portraits. I used to do press work. I used to work as a photojournalist for United Daily News and took photos for the newspapers. Now, I also run a studio under PhotoBorneo as part of the community project called HAUS.

What intrigued you most about your subjects?
Emotions… And moments that you can’t stage and don’t get to capture twice. Moments where you just have to be there because you don’t want to miss the emotions.

Exactly what do you want to say with your photos, and how do you actually get them to do that?
Well, I like to tell stories through my photos. I want to express how I feel about what I see at that time. But specifically, in weddings, I want to capture priceless moments. Moments that can’t be staged. There is something special about photographing couples who are crazy in love. But it’s not just about two people, it’s also about the people around them who are there to celebrate that special day with them. And every wedding is different. Every wedding is an exciting adventure. So, you’ll see a lot of different things happening at the wedding. Many that you can’t replay.

Like candids?
Not really. Some, maybe. But these are the stories, and kind of a life history that you want to share with people. There are so many opportunities for beautiful photos throughout a wedding day. And for me, those photos carry more weights because those are the photos which the future generation who were not there can see. So, I’m honoured to be hired as a wedding photographer. And I have been very fortunate in undertaking multiple weddings since after my initial work was well received.

Right. So what do you think makes you different from the other photographers that you know?
I think I see things on a deeper level. I photograph the essence of the soul, of the subject. My style is quite documentary with a focus on real moments and emotion. I don’t stage my photos. I watch events unfold naturally. It’s not just about the visual aesthetics but it’s more about the life. 

Why do you like street photography?
See, for me, photos that really stand out are the one where a street moment is captured to show a unique story. With street photography, you get more freedom. You don’t have to give instructions to your subjects or annoy them. Anything from candid shots to perhaps portraits, none of them is staged. I also like the challenge. People don’t usually realise that they are being photographed. You need to have an eye for detail and finding something worth telling through the photos you take.

What are the other challenges of street photography?
Well, unlike wedding photography, one thing that will always hold me back is the fear of shooting strangers. If I publish it, I might get in trouble. You will need their permission. But street photography is my passion. It’s probably the best way to show my way of viewing things and I’m determined to keep developing my eye for street photography.

I can say that you’re enjoying a pretty stellar career as a photographer now. What are the best and worst experiences you have ever had to go through to get the shots you deemed as perfect?
There are many. But I can’t pinpoint one at the moment. However, I would say it’s probably the one that got me the Kenyalang Press Awards. It was a random photo that I took from the bridge but I was fortunate enough to win that award. It’s not my greatest photographic accomplishment, but it kind of motivates me. I still have a long way to go.

254829_10150191964353956_7448160_n

Of course. Now, comparing where you are at the moment, with where you were when you first started, what do you think you could have done differently to get to where you are sooner?
I don’t know. But nothing, maybe. I may have screwed up many times. Many of my photos didn’t work. But I won’t say that I regret them. I learn from them. That’s how we learn and polish our skills. Only from mistakes and flaws will I know what to focus on in the future. That’s how we progress. Making better, more compelling art is addictive. So I guess, I wouldn’t change anything. In fact, I still have more to learn.

Do you create personal work often?
If you’re talking about street photography, I do it here and there, every now and then. Whenever I have the time and opportunity, I’d take my camera around and start taking photos. I do it mainly in Kenyalang. It’s a place that is close to my heart. And I like to do it alone and take my time to blend into the street scene.

Do you want viewers to recognise the symbols or messages in your photos and be subconsciously affected?
Of course. Not subconsciously. I want my photos to affect people. That’s what it’s all about. Especially the scenes of urban life through my street photos. This photo of these two uncles for example. They may look like they are only two old men having drinks. But it’s more than that. I want to show our culture here on Sunday mornings.

Sunday Morningsmaller

Of course. Let’s get to the technical part. What cameras and lighting gear did you start with and what are you currently using?
I started with Canon 1000D that my dad bought for me. At the moment I’m using two Canon 5D MKIII. And I mainly shoot with a 16-35mm lens, 50mm, 100mm, and a few lights here and there. But I rely on natural light as a preference, though. It’s the best.

And if you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
At the moment I guess it’s the 16-25mm because I like wide stuff. With a wider angle, you get more drama in. But with wide angle, you need to also handle the distortions. So, I kind of have this love-hate relationship with that lens. You have to be able to master that characteristic of a wide angle lens.

What technology or software do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
It depends on the tasks or the photos. I use 70% Photoshop Lightroom, 30% Photoshop CS6.

How much time do you spend taking photos, versus retouching photos?
Two-third of the time, shooting. One-third, editing. Not to say editing, but processing and delivering what’s best for my clients.

More and more iPhone photographers are coming out of their boxes now. They take good photos too. Soon, people may not need professional photographers anymore. What motivates you to continue taking photos?
Well, everyone can take good photos. No doubt. But many do it for fun. They don’t plan to become a professional photographer. And there’s no versatility. Versatility is important to photographers. And photographers are compelled to push themselves further in the pursuit of creative excellence. So, adding creativity to compositions and looking to achieve something different is something I am constantly striving to achieve in my work.

For your commercial work, how important is your website or social media accounts? Do you bother making a hard copy portfolio?
Well, yes. It’s very important. Otherwise, how would people reach me? Everything is through social media nowadays. And yes, I do make a hard copy. I need to bring something to show my clients to convince them.

As for this exhibition, is this your first or have you had many prior to this?
I have participated in a few but this is the first one with me being one of the organisers. It was a friend’s idea. And it was just a matter of realising it. Most photo exhibitions here focuses on landscapes and vibrant photos. So, I thought why not do something different this time.

16938789_10154939951363956_252781169500274653_n

 

What are you trying to achieve from this exhibition and why?
As organisers and speakers for this exhibition, we hope to educate, guide and motivate people. We want to give them tips on street photography, of course. Other than that, we want to provide a platform for other photographers to exhibit their work. As far as I know, in Kuching, we don’t have exhibitions for street photography. So this is the first and we have a lot of participants. Some of the participants are relatively new in this field. But I can tell you that the level of skill from the newcomers is astonishing. So we kind of want to set up a community where photographers – old and new – can learn from each other. This is the chance for everyone to learn and evolve.

Are you planning to make this is a yearly thing?
Well, we’ll see how it goes. I mean, I received good comments and positive feedbacks. They did suggest to me to do it a yearly thing, but you know, we need the budget as well. If need be, I don’t see why not.

Which photo in this exhibition are you currently most proud of?
The boat. I was at Waterfront. I saw the boat coming towards me. Something about it intrigued me so I took the photo from the top. I thought it was going to stop there. But it went to the corner. I went to take a look and saw the uncle counting his money. It wouldn’t be appropriate to take a photo of that. So, I left.

Sampansmaller

You’re born and raised in Kuching and spent some time in Australia. What is home to you?
Home is where I can just be myself. Without having the fear of how other people would think of me. Without anyone judging me. Home is where I feel joy naturally. When I’m home, at the dining table, I’d automatically lift up one of my legs on the chair. But that never happened when I was in Australia. I don’t feel comfortable doing that anywhere else. And when I do street photography in Kuching, I feel more of myself. When I do it in Australia, it didn’t feel like home.

If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet, where would you build your dream home?
I have not travelled and seen enough. So, at the moment, I can’t really say where I would want to build this so-called dream home.

Check out Lance Vun’s photos here!

PS: All photos are courtesy of Lance Vun.

Miyo – Kuching Street Heroine

“Graffiti is a life force in a city, that says to every citizen, I’m alive, the city is alive. A city without graffiti is like a field without flowers.” UC Berkeley’s Professor Greg Niemeyer.

Graffiti, regardless of its form, makes a statement. And any notion of meaning or interpretation towards the art which has existed since prehistoric times is left to the perception of the viewer. However, people often consider it as vandalism.

dsc02793edited

Graffiti is a time-intensive craft explored by highly skilled artists. And this art form is dominated by men. Contributions by the women have been particularly overlooked in many parts of the world. Despite pursuing their art under dangerous and illegal conditions, they do not receive the same respect as their male counterparts.

In Kuching, women are underrepresented in this subculture. One, however, is pushing the limit and challenging the stereotype. Miyo – real name Dewi Emilia binti Iskandar – is Kuching’s first female graffiti artist. In fact, the only one on the radar. Leaving her marks within the masculine spaces of street art, she astounds the traditional gender notions.

During my interview with her, she spoke passionately about the art of graffiti and her devotion to it. While some best-known female street artist has gone to great lengths to preserve their anonymity, she who sometimes goes by the moniker ‘The Black Cat‘, through this interview is doing the opposite.

Check out the interview below:

 

Could you describe your journey into becoming the first female graffiti artist in Kuching?

I used to create weird block letters. I was 13 at that time, and I had zero knowledge about graffiti. I was introduced to the art of graffiti in college by my lecturer. I started painting in 2007 on a plywood for a competition. I was a solo project.

I took a break and got back to it again in 2012 when I met my junior Dhiya Roslan who shares the same interest. I was not a skilled graffiti artist back then so, I picked up a thing or two from him.

We then officially kick-started our journey at an event called ‘Youthnity for Charity’ with some friends under the name RUSK Crew. There were Saddiq (Twenty-Fifth), Razi and Moody. After a while, we got along well and got Shafiq Fauzi (Shaff) on board as well to ‘bomb’ Kuching city.

dsc02818editeddsc02820edited

In 2013, they left to further their studies in KL. And I was left alone here. Fortunately, I had an offer to work at a bank so I had to go for training in KL for a week before sitting for the exam. When I was there, I saw a post on Jin Hackman’s Facebook page about a graffiti jam in KL. I contacted the curator of the event and joined a whole bunch of strangers to ‘bomb’ the walls in Jelatek. I was the only female writer there and the rest were pretty surprised. It is almost impossible to find a female graffiti writer in Malaysia.

After some unfortunate events in life, I stayed away from the scene for a bit. And got back to graffiti in March 2014. During that time, I received a couple of offers to paint on walls. I saw a great spot at the Bishopsgate’s arch in Carpenter Street and started to paint on the ‘virgin’ wall. I few friends tagged along and soon, Kuching city was filled with more and more graffiti.

Later, I began receiving some serious warnings from the Kuching North City Council (DBKU). I would fly to Singapore, KL and Miri whenever I get caught. But it was a great turning point when DBKU called me while I was in Singapore telling me that they want me to paint for the city. I took the offer and worked with an art community group that was recently established by D2K and I called the 9Lives. Ever since then, the public slowly accepts street art in Kuching and now more painters are coming out to ‘bomb’ the walls.

short1-horz

I travel quite frequently since 2014 to Singapore, Indonesia and KL to leave my mark. I also took part in most of the graffiti events in Indonesia. Through that, I got to meet more great, incredible talents around the world.

2015 was also a great year as me and the 9Lives art group was approached by Petronas to paint under a program called ‘TanahAirku’ which made a big hit for Kuching painters.

In 2016, I won fourth place for a graffiti competition in Brunei against all guys and a girl (who got eliminated in the first round), created the first ever official graffiti workshop in Kuching with my old friends and got a spot under TEDx, exhibited some of my artworks and had a mini graffiti workshop session.

I have mostly been doing commission jobs to paint on walls and participated in quite a number of exhibitions under 9Lives. Now I focus on my work as an independent artist.

dsc02823edited

It has been a tough journey with a rollercoaster ride from the streets to fitting in with an art group but nonetheless an amazing one; especially the ones that I have experienced in Indonesia and Brunei. I learned a lot through some graffiti friends in Indonesia, had my first ‘spraycation’ (spray-vacation) in Java from Jakarta to Tangerang to Yogyakarta to Bandung and back to Jakarta before flying back home, all by myself.

Indonesia is like my second home and I went there just to travel and paint on my own, met strangers then became good friends with some Indonesian’s finest like Poetry, Zaner, Cloze, Mone, Yogyakarta boys, Bandung writers and more. They certainly opened up my eyes to the real graffiti life and how it works.

Currently, I am given the opportunity to use a studio space at ChinaHouse, Kuching on my own until further notice; as a creative space.

dsc02858edited

That is a very inspiring story! As a female pioneer of street art in Kuching, who or what inspired you?

There are a few people. My mum is my great source of inspiration; I saw her doing batik ‘canting’ since I was small. My daughter as my motivation to be the mum she would be proud of. My late boyfriend Yuki who has mad love for creative street stuff and also this great graffiti writer named MAD C from Germany who is just great at what she is doing.

Have you come across any other aspiring female graffiti artists in/from Kuching?

Not even a single soul, but that is yet to change. I just need to work harder to create interest in them, I guess. Some approached me for a bit of guidance but then disappeared in a flash. Graffiti is always known as a ‘male’ thing and that explains how it is almost impossible to get females to have passion in graffiti.

dsc02855edited

Right. So, in your opinion, how is street art different than more formal kinds of contemporary art? Is it more or less important? Why?

Graffiti is the only art that cannot be bought or sold. Unless if it is a commission job, then, of course, graffiti writers are getting paid but loses the real essence of graffiti as an expression that is priceless. Real graffiti artists do not expose themselves in the public eyes. They are mostly anonymous, always working discreetly with artwork that shouts their name and character.

Graffiti or street art is as important as contemporary art where messages are conveyed through arts whether it is based solely on imagination or sensitive topics like politics or religion to create awareness. Most people perceive graffiti as vandalising properties because it made the streets look dirty but graffiti writers think the opposite.

dsc02857editeddsc02863edited

I believe you come from an artistic background. And your dad is a musician. How would you say this influenced you to become an artist yourself?

Both of my parents are creative beings who came from creative fathers. My dad’s father was a great self-taught ‘architect’ who built our kampong house from scratch and always been building and fixing broken stuff at home on his own. He also played ukulele in an orchestra band in Kuching back then. He is a big fan of keroncong music and he loves to write. From there, my dad might have been influenced by him and he himself is a great keyboardist, a composer and a sound engineer who has also been through many ‘rollercoaster rides’.

My mum’s dad is also a good singer who loves dancing to keroncong music. And he has the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. My mum used to be a singer and she loves art as much as I do. I grew up watching her doing her batik ‘canting’ but unfortunately, she had to stop doing what she loves because of her health condition while raising me as a single mother.

My parents made me think that it is possible for me to do what I love to do and be successful as long as I put my heart to it with lots of patience for my passion. There will be ups and downs but the most important thing is to keep on moving forward and create more as time goes by and guide others in the long run to create professional art community.

dsc02794edited

How do your family and friends feel about your artwork?

Initially, my mum was not too keen on me leaving a fixed day job to be a full-time artist but somehow, I managed to open up her eyes when I got paid a lot for my projects. Her main concern is my daughter’s future because I am a single mother also. But with time, she began to understand that money is not everything and for as long as I keep on doing what I love wholeheartedly, I will always get her support. The rest of my family was also very sceptical about it in the beginning but like my mum, they are slowly adjusting to the fact that I am rebellious and a born artist at heart. Nonetheless, I get supports from friends and families even though not everything I created impresses them.

How do you go about getting walls for yourself and other street artists?

I take walks around town or cruise at times and with my ‘cat’s eyes,’ I would spot a wall that screams ‘paint me’ or abandoned buildings, walls under the bridge that catches my eyes. When the time is right, I will ‘bomb’ the spot either by myself or with some friends.


What is challenging or difficult about street art in Kuching?

It used to be thrilling which makes it exciting because we need to avoid from getting caught by the city council. Now it does not feel as adventurous as before. The city council has now accepted street art and allowed it to be filled in Kuching city.

I can tell you miss the thrill! And what do you find surprising about doing street art in Kuching?

The public and the government bodies seem to have adapted to having graffiti all around town. And most painted walls have become an attraction where locals and tourists would take photos for different occasions, from weddings to projects, to just a mere selfie shot.

dsc02791edited

What kinds of reactions do you get as a female practising street art in Kuching? Are you threatened or do you feel frightened? And are you lauded?

As a female graffiti writer, I get criticised a lot. Some from the professional graffiti writers, some from peers who thinks that my art is ‘ugly’. At times it gets to me, but far from threatened. I felt challenged which makes me want to be better and surprise myself by proving them wrong.

I admire the rebel in you and the positivity. So, spray cans or brush?

Spray cans are my boyfriends.

What brands of spray paint are you using?

Anchor and Pylox are the cheaper options. Most of us use that. The rather expensive one would be Montana. That one last longer.

Making art is expensive. How much do you spend on spray paints an average?

About RM300, I think.

short4-horzdsc02810edited

What inspires your writing style?

My writing style is inspired by Hiragana & Katakana, Sarawakian natives elements, and also the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

What are your techniques and what inspired you to use them?

Just basic graffiti skills actually.

Can you tell me more about the Petronas street art project?

9Lives was approached by Kaki Seni Malaysia; they were looking for artists from Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching to be in the second edition of street art under TanahAirku; TanahAirku 3.0 Street Art Kuching. For the Kuching side, 9Lives was given 3 walls; 6 artists, 3 males and 3 females.

I collaborated with Twenty-Fifth for this and our artwork is called the Tree Edge in which his piece was a hornbill and a hibiscus while mine is the word ‘harmony’ on a ‘terabai’. It was one of my favourite wall-painting experience as it was the first time we painted using sky lift. We were literally brought to a higher perspective to paint which also symbolises a positive vibe.

I am blessed to be given a great opportunity to expose myself the legal way. And to work on it with an old friend made it even more special. We are equally proud to represent Sarawak for the project. That painting, I dedicate to all Sarawakians. May all of us continue to live in harmony.

edited

Are you or any other street artists mentoring young street artists in Kuching?

No doubt. Some do it on the streets, some do it through workshops.

Is there a strong interest in visual arts, or its history, in Kuching?

I believe so. As you can see the rapid growth in the Kuching art scene. The only thing that we need now is a ‘Balai Seni’ to display the work of our local artists (young and old). Since most visual arts nowadays got exposed through the ‘back door’ (shortcut) unlike the fine artist that has got to go through a lot of tedious and difficult process, the interest somehow shifts at times to modern contemporary art even though fine art is still considered as more valuable. We have art collectors and art lovers coming from all around the world or the locals who would support the local art scene by purchasing our artworks or give us commission jobs.

dsc02799edited

Please tell me about your involvement with the street art community in Kuching.

I was definitely the pusher, the so-called pioneer who started the ‘trend’ for the rest to follow. Currently creating and pulling the ‘chosen ones’ to guide because I choose quality over quantity.

Do you think that more people in Kuching are more aware of contemporary art because of the social media?

Through social media and based on what they found in their travels.

dsc02796edited

Are artists using their art as a way to voice their political feelings? And are you?

Some who has the balls and a great knowledge of the law and political matters, most definitely give their shots every now and then. It is not my mission, so I stay out of it.

Would you use street art to highlight women’s rights in Kuching in the near future?

Why not? Since I am always being discriminated for being ‘the only female’ in the scene, therefore, I have to work harder to reach certain standards. It would be great to show the public what we can achieve.

Is contemporary art in Kuching important? Why?

It is, to suit the future; to move forward without forgetting our roots.

Do you have any plans for exchanges with artists from outside to come to Kuching?

I am looking forward to hosting my friends from Indonesia mostly and the rest of my friends from all around the world for collaborations in Kuching.

Is it important for Malaysian street artists to have international recognition and opportunities? How could they be better supported?

Yes, and some of us have made it far to Dubai for a massive wall art project where they get paid a great amount of money. Also, some other projects through connections that were built from time to time through travels, research and such. Street art is known internationally and every country got their own great artist. Most probably through collaborations and sponsored travels, and more exposure I believe.

dsc02795edited

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?

I have established in 2013, a hip-hop community called Tha Project. Now I am focusing on building it from scratch; through 7 elements of hip hop – emcee, bboy, graffiti, DJ, beatbox, basic knowledge of hip hop, skateboarding and maybe basketball in the near future? Watch this space jam!

Do you have any plans to collaborate with street artists from other states/countries?

Well, of course. Hint: CATFISH (a collaboration with a Filipino female street artist, Beni Art).

Tell me about your ambitions for the future. Where would you like to be in, say, five years?

I would love to be living either in Japan or in France (with my daughter) as a harmonic poet, graffiti writer and a hip-hop enthusiast. Inshaa Allah.

dsc02798edited

Constantly in evolution, artists who believe in making changes will surely pave the way for more aspiring artists. Miyo is no different. She is paving the way – and back alleys – for even more female artists making graffiti, not only in Kuching but also perhaps, Sarawak. And Tha Project will surely be the next big thing many would hear in the near future.

I am definitely stoked to see more strong, smart and talented women in the predominantly male subculture. And who knows, this exposure may help Kuching’s graffiti movement to become launched into the rest of the world.

PS: ‘terabai’ is an Iban war shield.

Just SWAIV It; Smoothly

In the music scene – independent and mainstream – there is a lot more that makes the musicians similar than different. Although many come with a style that is rare and unique, most musicians combine a lot of ingredients and elements in their music.

Refused to be pigeon-holed into any single category, they take the elements of things that they like without trying to sound like anybody else. This is a challenge. Although it allows the musicians to improvise and combine the best of everything, there are so many bands out there that sound almost the same.

Swaiv may not have been a band name you have heard before. But after this, perhaps, you may hear the name over and over again. Previously known as Pearl & Rendall, Swaiv started off as an acoustic duo in 2010. Driven by their passion for music and personal experiences, Swaiv now consists of five young musicians with years of experience in many musical styles.

15781507_1159873910795487_4190204869896438554_n

(from left) Adrian Meringai (bass), Doboson Elisha (guitar), Meryll Pearl (vocals), Brian Chia (keys) and Rendall Ngumbang (drums).

The band recently performed at The Wayang, a bar located in the heart of Kuching City. The barstools were worn out, and the crowd was pleased. In between rehearsals for their upcoming gigs, at almost midnight, members of the multi-element band – equally inspired by classic tunes and today’s hit music – sat down for an interview with me.

Among other things including the band’s origins and musical influences, we also talked about their experience sharing a stage with Yuna, their thoughts on the independent music scene in Kuching and what is in store for the rest of 2017.

Check out my interview with the humble musicians below:

 

A band usually started with like-minded musicians getting together. Tell us how you got together to form Swaiv?

Brian: From what I understand, the band started out as “Pearl & Rendall”, the duo – this married couple here. It started out in 2010. And then, the story between the rest, I am not too sure. But personally, I, Brian Chia who plays keys was invited by Adrian Meringai, the bassist. Fortunately enough, we sustain this long and played quite a few gigs together. I must admit, it has been fun.

Rendall: Yup, it started off with both of us, we took part in RockERA. It was supposed to be a band thing but there were just two of us. So the judge said, he likes what he hears but it would be better if we come with a band because it sounded like… So empty. So we thought since Adrian at that time has started to pick up bass again, the three of us would do something. Later, we decided to form a band and Adrian looped in Brian. Dobo was always around, playing the shaker, of all things.

Brian: At that time we had a different line-up. Before Dobo came, there was another guy, his name is Nathaniel. He was on drums and percussions. And due to other commitments, we reshuffled. Dobo was the blessing in disguise – now, playing the guitar.

Rendall: We are the original band members. There were six of us, including former drummer, Charles Arthur. Now we are down to five.

 

Could you tell me more about yourself?

Brian: See, that is a question I dread. Aaah.. I would like to start with this. I am actually a Sabahan and I have been staying here in Kuching for 14 years. Uhmm.. I started piano when I was 5 and I really like the guitar. I took on guitar when I was 13 and decided to do music when I was 15. Thank God I managed to pull through and sort of continuing with it. I met not only these guys here, good musicians, but also people from the community. Initially, I was playing keys for Swaiv. But for certain gigs, I will play the guitar. And just this year, I started back on the keys again. And really, thus far, I think the best show that we have done together as Swaiv was for Yuna’s homecoming. That is by far, I think, the highlight of Swaiv. And definitely, more to come, I believe.

Rendall: I was always keen on music and I have been playing music since I was 12. I started off with guitar and played mostly rock songs. After that, I met Pearl, and I loved her voice. I thought her voice was suitable for jazz, blues, R&B or something and… After that, from rock, I started playing jazz. And since then I have been playing a lot of jazz and anything that I would say, close to jazz. Before Swaiv, I played for a couple of bands, mostly as a sessionist. As a drummer and guitarist. But when Swaiv first started, I played the guitar. We shuffled and now in 2017, I am the official drummer.

Pearl: I never expected to become an official musician because I did not anticipate what would ever be the means to do it. But I started singing when I was 15. And I played the guitar and started making YouTube covers. And I tried to be in a band as a vocalist but I was rejected because of my voice. See, I cannot sing high notes. It was demotivating, I stopped singing and just focus on playing the bass for a while. I was in two bands at that time. I played Muse and post-hardcore songs. Later on, my voice was accepted by some people and Swaiv happened.

Dobo: I started playing music since I was 10. I took a piano lesson, guitar lesson. And in high school, I started to join my friends playing rock music, and grindcore. And then when I was in college, I played acoustic. Right now… I played bass, guitar, a little bit of keys… Sort of… Everything. Before Swaiv, there was no band at all. But I have always had the interest in music.

Adrian: I first became involved with music when I was 13. It was all because of a friend who is now a tattoo artist. He invited me to his house, picked up his dad’s Fender guitar and taught me how to play All The Small Things by Blink 182. That was a good grounding for me. At that time, I had no idea how to play the guitar, I never touched a guitar before. So it all started from there and eventually, we jammed almost every week. I ended up being really into it. In college, I lost the interest as I was focusing on other stuff. But slowly, I got back to it again. Now, I am in Swaiv, playing bass.1378594_649267011856182_3184267878387894644_nThis, I have to know. Why the name Swaiv?

Pearl: We had been through so many names trying to work out what we could call our band. One day it just came to us. It rhymes with ‘wave’. We wanted a name that represents soothing music, smooth and cool vibes. So, we thought of the waves. And later from ‘waves’ to ‘Swaiv’. The soothing sound of the waves will always remind us of where we come from and why we are here.

 

You are sort of a blues and jazzy multi-element indie-pop band. Could you tell me about the biggest influences and inspirations for your music?

Brian: This is a very interesting question, I think. Because like what you heard early on, everybody comes from a different background. I think that is where it is a good challenge for everyone because everybody will put on their idea from different genres and elements. And that is where it sort of pushes each other like ‘Oh, this is new for me. So, I am gonna have to change my, whatever it is, like my playlist, I gotta listen to more of this stuff, that stuff to help the band’. I think that goes for everyone. So, definitely, there are some tunes that we do not really link on to but, for the band sake, it not only pushes us, it also helps everyone in general. Basically in terms of making us sounding versatile. We are mainly jazz-pop-ish group but as instrumentalists, we all enjoy playing other stuff as well.

 

That is for the band. What about personally? Who inspires you?

Brian: Rendall would have a very interesting story to tell.

Rendall: Mine would be John Otto, the drummer, and founding member of the nu metal band Limp Bizkit. But for Swaiv, I am inspired mostly by Jamie Cullum and Jason Mraz.

Pearl: Uhmm… I love Julie London. She has the sexiest voice ever. And Michael Buble too.

Dobo: Me, I would say… Dewa and Death Row Records, to name a few.

Adrian: Music in general, I would say Limp Bizkit. That is how I met Rendall actually. So Limp Bizkit, to Korn, to Nirvana. I also look up to Sam Rivers. The way he plays bass is kind of different. And from there I discovered Incubus’ former bassist – I forgot his name. After that, I met a friend who told me about this one guy and from there I focus more or playing the bass. I started playing more fusion style.

 

Who in the current music scene do you most admire most and why?

Rendall: Bruno Mars. Yeah!

 

Bruno Mars? His new music or the previous one?

Rendall: All of his music.

 

You have a few songs out. And I find that they are all very different from each other. Are you planning to release a full album in the near future?

Rendall: An album at the moment is quite big of a project to work on. I would say EP. We are working on an EP. Our first EP consist of 7 songs. Now we are going to come out with our second EP. Probably this year or next year. We will see.

Brian: In the near future, yeah.

Dobo: Hopefully by this year, if everything goes well.

15871811_1165976626851882_5207111723637063242_n

 

What was the creative process like when developing all your songs – music then lyric of the other way round? And who usually composes the songs.

Rendall: Sometimes lyric first then the music.

Pearl: Most of the time, music first.

Rendall: When it comes to composing a song, I think everyone contributes. Sometimes we will call it ‘Brian Song’, or ‘Dobo Song’. We ourselves influence and push each other to try and produce something new, something different.

 

And how did the writing process work? Is there a formula you employed, like starting with a guitar riff or title?

Rendall: Somebody either has a riff, or tune or something and we’ll be work from there. Someone will say, ‘Hey guys, I have this thing going on, check this out’ and we’ll slowly build it up from there into a more proper and clean composition. And after all that, we will… ‘Swaiv it!’

Brian: Yeah. During rehearsals, we would try out new arrangements. Everyone will throw in their ideas and improvise. We basically feed off each other.

 

You have a very deep sultry voice. Kind of whistle-y too. Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape?

Pearl: Not that I know of. Haha. But when I perform, I just sing passionately, I guess. And you know, it just comes out naturally.

 

Right. You have been performing every once a week somewhere, correct? How did you get the gigs?

Brian: Hmm… A lot of the gigs are from previous exposures. It could be from personal friends.

Dobo: Recently, mostly are from friends.

Brian: Yeah. But I have to highlight this, Kuching is a close-knit city. Everybody knows each other, especially the music scene. So, we sort of look out for each other in a way that, say, if we really are not able to take the gig, we would sort of pass it to another group or something like that. Or vice versa.

 

What has the fan/audience feedback been like so far?

Rendall: It has been good, we are thankful for that. I think the best compliment we received is from Germany. They sent us an email and asked about our new projects. That, and a band from Italy.

 

13626387_1001457543303792_3910309555834382122_n

 

That is awesome. So what was the response to that – what did you guys say to them?

Rendall: We told them we had a pause moment for a while. At one point we hardly did anything.

Brian: We took a break for almost two years. We kickstarted in mid-2016. And when we received that email, we were in awe actually. They discovered us from Twitter, I think.

Rendall: I think it was because of Bandcamp. The exposure. To have the opportunity to meet the community on the global scale would be pretty awesome.

Brian: Well there is a fine line between compliments and… Just because you are my friend, I can help you. Things like that. Sometimes you just got to take it with a pinch of salt.

Pearl: There was this one time during Shades of Arts. We have not been playing for a few years and suddenly someone approached us – ‘Oh, I am a fan, and I have been waiting for Swaiv to play’. We’re thankful that you know, someone recognises us.

 

What has been your favourite live performance to give?

Rendall: I must say that it would be that time we opened for Yuna. We were the opening act for her gig here.

Brian: Yeah. I have to second that. That is definitely by far the coolest life experience. This was in 2012. And we played all our original songs.

 

Nice! So what did Yuna say to you guys?

Pearl: We did not really get to talk to her after the show, unfortunately. Well, only the guys.

Brian: Yuna was the highlight but I guess the whole experience in terms of sharing the same stage, personally and I think I can say this on behalf of everyone, it felt surreal. ‘Wow! This is really happening. We are sharing a stage with Yuna.’ This happened in December 2012 and we found out the next year, she just got signed with David Foster. So we were like, wow, we were the last group of local act, I believe, to be performing with Yuna. That was quite an honour.

Cool! And now she is known worldwide – a superstar! And that actually, is a really good platform to put yourself out there.

 

So, most of the time, do you perform your own songs, or covers as well?

Rendall: Both, actually.

 

What is your favourite cover?

Rendall: I think it would be Feeling Good and L.O.V.E. I mean, besides Pearl, we have another singer in Swaiv. Brian sings as well. For Pearl, Feeling Good. For Brian, it would be Turn Your Lights Down Low.

Brian: Really?! Thank you for this interview, I am learning a lot of new things about my band members! Oh wow!

 

I know you have SoundCloud and YouTube. So, what other platforms are you using to promote Swaiv and your songs?

Pearl: We have Reverbnation as well.

 

What do you think about Spotify and other streaming services? Are you planning to use that platform as well?

Pearl: Yeah, we wanted to. We are going to but, we are not sure how to go about it.

Oh, we can talk to someone who can help you with that.

 

16115075_1178490535600491_1002569961725465421_n

 

So, you have performed with Yuna, you have a couple of songs out, you have been playing gigs here and there. You are doing pretty good, I think. What else do you plan to get up to in 2017, besides the coming EP?

Dobo: More new stuff, definitely.

Rendall: We were just talking about this recently and we hope to play in one of the big festivals here in Sarawak.

Brian: For the band in general, I think we all want to get more new stuff out there. Grow our repertoire. We want to avoid recycling the same thing over and over. And we are going to get our tunes legalised, in a way. Get them copyrighted. That is going to take extra funds, so we are trying to sort that out.

 

There are a lot of talented people here in Kuching. But not many are out there. Not many have the opportunities to do so. Do you have any advice for aspiring independent musicians who may feel disillusioned or discouraged at times?

Rendall: There is a saying that goes ‘quality over quantity’. For me, with time, I found out there is one more important thing. That is progress. Sometimes people would look at the quality or the quantity. But they forgot progress. And that is the most important thing. You must progress, never stop. You must keep going. Keep moving until people notice you, recognise you and acknowledge you. Eventually, they will see your quality and quantity. Just be positive and keep progressing.

 

What is your personal opinion on the music scene in Kuching?

Brian: That is a very fragile sensitive question. But I think it is growing. Slowly but surely. And it boils down to our mentality and attitude towards the art – both the clients and the musicians. The music business is fragile, you just have to keep an open mind, be positive and be truthful to yourself and to people. Perhaps avoid jealousy, envy, and general intrigue, all the negative vibes.

 

Do you think you have a competition out there?

Adrian: You see, we are not competing with anyone. We are just doing our stuff. We constantly grow and we want to improve.

Brian: I really like the question. Damn. Uhmm.. I think the competition is really within ourselves. Our competition is our achievement. If the benchmark for 1026 is this, then 2017 has to be higher. It’s part of the progress for the band.

 

So who have you been collaborating with, here in and from Kuching?

Pearl: rhymebo0k, Saufi, Nutty Slicc…

Rendall: Soon, there will be a surprise. Wait for it.

15541969_1158271874289024_8302805583866163720_n

 

Now, to enlighten you, check out my favourite song from the band HERE! This was from 3 years ago, but I still love it! RED is one of my go-to jam in my smoke-filled, dimly lit room.

PS: Photos were taken from the band’s Facebook page. I do not own the credit. This was an audio/video interview.

A Muted Global Pandemonium

Internet luring is common, since perhaps, 10 years ago. And any child can become the victim of an internet predator. A sexual predator, to be exact. And these predators are open to anything. They don’t discriminate gender, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, even religion.

Nowadays, there are many stories of young children being groomed online and raped. Rescued? Less than half of that.

However, even at home, one is not safe. One does not have the fear of being left alone for no reason. Or being left alone with a certain person.

I don’t personally know any rape victims, but I do know a number of those who were sexually abused – as a child, even adults. And there are a few that I know who were sexually assaulted by their own next of kin – the victims of incest.

While they nervously shared with me about the routine event of molestation, whether or not they experienced the sadistic crime of rape, I don’t really know.

When I was 18, a friend in high school once shared a very disturbing story with me. A story of incest that took place in the 1970s between his uncle and his aunt. Every now and then, whenever the topic comes into discussions, I would have flashbacks of the narration that makes me sick. The narration was so graphic. It was more than just molestation. And I questioned the incident, though – was it rape, or accidentally a consensual sex?

It was a tale of incest that first took place in a cornfield. His uncle who was drunk when he shared the story with him was in his late teen when one day he realised how fully developed his younger sister was. Puberty did her right. She was curvy and voluptuous. She still is today, even in her late 50s.

The siblings were close when they were kids. They were innocent. He admitted, however, that he has always been sexually active and developed wild imaginations when he was a young boy. As he gets older, masturbating was getting boring for him.

He has had his eyes on his sister for quite some time before the cornfield incident. He shared that he would have sexual dreams of her. Her shadows and silhouettes at night drove him crazy that he would masturbate to the images he has of her whenever he had the chance.

The sister who had no idea what was going on in her brother’s head, of course, didn’t have any suspicions and was okay being left alone with him. He was her trusted babysitter. Or at least, seemed less predatory.

The story as told by my friend:

So one day, in the cornfield, and happened to be far from everyone else, just the two of them, he couldn’t control himself. Watching his sister walking from behind, somehow physically exposed, he could feel himself having a hard-on.

He couldn’t stand the torture anymore and told her to stop walking. She ran to him and coincidentally brushed her breast against his face as he lifted his head and moved closer to her.

He took a step back and looked at her from top to toe. Obviously, he was undressing her. But still, she didn’t suspect anything. Until he got even closer to her and started violating her body. She was stunned, I’m sure but, couldn’t say anything. He pinned her down in the dirt in the cornfield.

He started touching her firm breasts. He took off her shirt. And then her bra. He groped and massaged her breasts. He pinched her nipples between his fingers. Her nipples both go rock hard at that. She whimpered. It turned him on and then continued rubbing and pinching her nipples for a while. He was having a time of his life with no guilt at all. And she moaned a little as if she liked it.

He then started kissing her breast, and slowly went down and started sucking them. While at it, he pulled down her pants, sliding it down her hips. He spread her legs and started caressing her thighs. He could feel her body shaking. And slowly pulled down her pants and panties to her feet. She was breathing heavily and moaning as he became more aggressive with her breast. When he rubbed her pussy, she whimpered. She was so wet!

Dude, I am a guy and I know for sure, why he couldn’t help himself!

Her body language was so inviting, she whimpered and moaned! She was so wet that she allowed his finger slid up her snatch then forced its way inside her pussy! She was a virgin and her pussy was tight.

It’s so wrong that I was so into his story. They are my uncle and aunt for fuck sake!

And of course, naturally, she spread her legs even wider. He didn’t need any more encouragement to go on. He took off her pants and panties, shoved his head down, started kissing and licking her pussy. She was moaning like crazy as his tongue plunged in and out of her. He fingered her and ate her out. And later, his hard dick slid into her wet pussy. As he was fucking her, she was moaning, gasping and panting, craving more.

Doesn’t she know that she was being raped? Did she want it to happen? I had so many questions in my head.

And I asked my friend, “Didn’t he feel guilty at all?”

“He said he enjoyed it, and he could tell that she enjoyed it too. She sort of didn’t say stop,” said my friend.

“Did it happen again after that?” I asked.

“No idea, I didn’t ask. But I can’t look at them the same way anymore,” he said.

Well, I don’t think I can even see them as siblings, hugging each other without thinking it’s sort of in a comforting yet sexual embrace.

But they seem to be cordial with each other. They are both married. Not to each other, of course. And in fact, they are grandparents now.

Let bygones be bygones, I guess. But I am pretty sure, if it was rape, she must be traumatised by the incident. And if she was, perhaps at that time, nobody reacted to her traumatic reactions. Perhaps even she herself would not have realised that she has checked out for a while and was not being herself. And she must have had an endless amount of sleepless nights. And perhaps, dealt with it by never telling anyone, and eventually forgetting it herself.

No two rape victims will react in the exact same way. Some would want to be positive and live their lives. While some would think, what is the point of living anymore? And they would engage in substance abuse of drugs or alcohol to help cope with the overwhelming feelings.

There are many short- and long-term effects of sexual assault and rape. There are the physical, mental and spiritual effects. Mental illness and depression can lead to self-injurious behaviours. Victims of sexual abuse become abusers themselves.

According to Penang Women Development Corporation (PWDC) chairman Yap Soo Huey in 2015, there are 3,000 rape cases reported every year on average in Malaysia, with only two out of 10 cases going to court.

Rape is a crime that revolves around power, hostility, and violence. Rapists don’t discriminate. And they can be anyone – strangers and family members with an insatiable thirst.

Rape happens every day. Yet, it’s one of the most under-reported crimes in Malaysia and around the world. A lot of evidence point out that Malaysians’ attitude towards rape is very poor. And victim-blaming seems to be the culture.

I’m not a professional but I’m glad that people trust me enough to talk about their experiences with me. I believe by doing so, they feel more relieved and liberated. And that they stop blaming themselves for what had happened to them.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. For some of us, it’s a day of love and romancing. Some, it’s a day to be a complete couch potato. While for the rest, it’s probably a day of reliving their worst nightmare.

Everyone wanted their first time to be a loving and positive experience. Unfortunately, not everyone gets what they want and eventually make themselves believe they had a wonderful night.

On a separate (yet related) note, one of the biggest forces in the Universe is puberty. It has the highest potential for transforming one’s life from zero to hero. Don’t forget, good genes play a part too.

While we can say that puberty kicked in at the right moment and did the right job with some of us, it did not for the rest, with additional fat tissue and funny patches where they are not needed.

But when it did the right job, and you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, it gives rise to certain evocative tales – sexual assault and rape. Perhaps, let’s include child sexual abuse as well.

 

Being Sarawakian: We No Longer Behead

Here is one of the common conversations I had with the people who met me for the first time when I was in Peninsula.

“So where are you from?”

“I’m from Kuching.”

“That’s in KK?”

“No, that’s in Sarawak. KK is in Sabah.”

“Aah.. So, you’re from the headhunter’s tribe? Do they still hunt heads there?”

“Uhh.. No, we don’t do that anymore.”

I do not know much about my own tribe except the basic knowledge the whole world would have. Let alone, about other tribes and their history. But it is offensive when a conversation like this takes place in the 21st century.

However, I don’t blame people for immediately associating the word “headhunting” with Sarawakians. They are not entirely wrong. After all, Sarawak is the land of headhunters.

The practice of collecting heads was widespread among the Dayaks – the indigenous, non-Malay inhabitants of Borneo. And the Iban tribes are reputed to be the most formidable headhunters on the island.

I am a Bidayuh; a tribe known as “Land Dayak”, a name that was first used during the period of the White Rajah of Sarawak. We are the second largest Dayak ethnic group in Sarawak after the Iban (Sea Dayak).

My parents are from two different geographical areas. While my dad is from the Penrissen district, my mum is from Bau. And they both speaks two different but related dialects. My dad, Bisitang and mum, Bijagoi. One is much softer than the other. But the Bidayuhs are generally very softspoken people.

However, they are also known for their warrior audacity. The men are proud and strong. In a war, a Bidayuh man’s prowess and status are determined by the heads he collected – the more heads, the higher his rank.

And what happened to the heads, you asked?

Well, the brains were carefully extracted through the nostrils. And then the heads were skinned, placed in rattan nets and smoked over fires. I still can’t get this image out of my head. The skulls then, were stored in their baruk, a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres off the ground.

Curious about the history of headhunting, I had a conversation with my dad about it. He could not give me the kind of explanation I wanted on the subject, though. But according to him, back in the days, the men would go out for a headhunting expedition once in four (4) months. The first to bring home a head is considered a hero. Sounds to me like headhunting is a form of sport. And sort of… Evil?

But our ancestors were animists, and the skulls were said to possess powerful forms of magic. Since the ideas of manhood were also bound up with the practice, the skulls were considered trophies of manhood and bravery.

Dad also spoke about tribal wars. Our ancestors’ headhunting skills played no small part to their aggressive culture of war against other tribes. When there is the need of territorial expansion due to overpopulation, there is the need to intrude on lands belonging to other tribes. Thus, there is the need for brutal confrontation as it was the only means of survival. And during that time, while the Bidayuh men were killed, the Bidayuh women were taken and raped (a common scenario in any wars).

But our headhunting days has long gone. It was outlawed in the 19th century through the efforts of the colonial Dutch. Conversion to Christianity or Islam had also suppressed the practice. And our humility and peace-loving reputation had opposed our headhunting past.

My Thoughts In The Backroom

I was glued to my chair that rainy evening, busy editing my songs when I heard my parents’ commotion in the living room, talking about someone’s death. I was curious and worried as for the past couple of months, many of our relatives had passed away. And I was not around to attend their funeral.

I went down and saw them staring at the TV. Sarawak’s 5th Chief Minister Adenan Satem had passed away. He died of heart complications that Wednesday afternoon (11 January 2016), just two weeks shy of his 73rd birthday.

The great son of Sarawak has been described as the best chief minister the state had. He who held the post for nearly three years has contributed greatly to Sarawak. He spoke openly about autonomy for Sarawak and the rights of Sarawakians.

Fondly known as Tok Nan, he had done much to the rural communities by giving bigger allocations for infrastructure development. His rakyat rallied behind him as he brokered greater autonomy for the state and dealt with long-standing issues such as recognition of native land rights. A few days before his passing, the great leader was still talking about autonomous rights, education and his rakyat.

In a mark of respect, on the day of his funeral, flags were flown at half-mast. Our state government declared a seven-day mourning period following his death. His demise is a loss to Sarawak, but we will always be grateful for his deeds and contributions to the state.

The popular leader had a way with words and his sense of humour as well as toxic remarks on things at times raised eyebrows. There is no leader quite like him. His successor – Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg or Abang Jo – certainly has very large shoes to fill. It is now up to the elected representatives to carry the state forward and fulfil his aspirations for the state.

His death hit Sarawakians like a tonne of bricks. And today, many Sarawakians are still coming to grips with the fact that they have lost their highly-regarded leader. Our prayers go out to the family and may his soul through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

 

On a separate note, millions out there are addicted to politics. Some people are fervent followers of all things political, while some are interested in politics but would prefer not to discuss it for fear of offending people. And for the longest time, I was one of those who is simply apathetic and couldn’t care less about voting and the general state of things.

I used to think that being interested in any political matter won’t change a thing for I see that for the longest time, caring for it and hoping for changes only generate frustration and pessimism. And when talking about Malaysia’s Barisan National (BN) political party, all you will get is HATE.

However, people often tell me that our opinions matter a lot and defending a candidate and voting for him/her can make an actual difference. I was 25 and all I cared at that time was about myself; focusing on my own situations rather than examining any political issues. The struggle was real.

At that time, I decided that it is not worth it to vote or get involved in politics. And I cared more about being realistic. I mean for decades, despite knowing which political party is the strongest, we hardly have a reliable source of sufficient information to back our decision between two candidates. The uneducated ones won’t know. Those in the rural areas have no clue. But they are forever hopeful that things will change.

And the opposition’s vote is always overridden by the government’s. I find that funny because based on my observations over the years, the number of people who are against the government is more than those who are with, which got me thinking, at this rate, shouldn’t the votes hold heavier weight, highest importance and the bigger number?

“Well, that’s politics for you,” people would say to me.

Like it or not, politics is worth paying attention to. Today, I do care a little about politics, but only on matters that I care deeply about. And I keep tab of what the government is doing. But I would rather not talk about it as I prefer not to know other people’s take on politics. Talking about politics is not my idea of a casual conversation. I am sure of course, that they would have very valid points and I respect them. But there is no such thing as a friendly conversation about politics. It usually turns into a debate that I am not interested in as I don’t like the idea of shoving my ideas about politics in someone’s face.

You see, politics is something that affects literally everything in our lives. And the decisions politicians make are the ones that directly influence every tiny detail of our daily existence. Tok Nan walked the talk. And I am very grateful for my autonomous rights as a Sarawakian and benefits that I get as a Bumiputra in Malaysia. And thus, I, of course, do not want to live in a world without any government at all.

More people voting means corruption is less likely. And it should be fine by all that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, f we even get that far. But to vote and help make a difference, people should be given the freedom to support their candidates full heartedly.

People shouldn’t vote for a candidate because their parents, friends or head of the kampung ask them to. People should be allowed to have their own views and belief. They shouldn’t be clouded by petty debates on why they should vote who through someone else’s eyes. They shouldn’t be convinced to vote for someone else’s choice. Otherwise, if that candidate turns out to be a douche who is obsessed with power, your neck is on the line. Everyone has a voice, everyone has a choice. Let them make theirs with their own voice without interference.

A big chunk of Malaysians might not be big fans of the BN coalition, but Tok Nan has managed to prove himself as a rare leader in Malaysia that walks the talk. He delivered his promises. His brand as “a different kind of politician” was so strong that it had changed my mind and view on politics and politicians. And Abang Jo certainly has his work cut out for him.

Politics preys on moral outrage and the lust for power. Even if you are not a politician, whatever you do, wherever you go, whoever you deal with, subtly or not, politics affect your lives as you will need to play the political game to survive.

Her Vision In Infrared

This is an incident that happened many years ago. I can’t precisely remember the day it occurred. But I was 13 and I had a hard time understanding the turn of events for quite a while. But in some weird way, I am glad that it happened and I witnessed it.

We exist in an environment that is filled with malicious negative energies and evil spirits. And there is no indisputable proof that can end the debate on whether ghosts are real. You either believe it or you don’t. And we all have our fair share of encounters with dark shadows, lost souls and angry spirits. We experience paranormal phenomena, hauntings and ghostly occurrences, almost everywhere we go, if not at a specific place.

While that is common, it is a known practice in some parts of the world that people indulge in all sorts of dark arts for property, money and sometimes even plain jealousy. This is synonymous with Borneo and the Southern Philippines. It still is a tradition – practised today, in broad daylight. After all, it is a land filled with legends of headhunters and dense steamy forests.

While beheading is their traditional way of killing their enemies, people back then and now have no qualms stooping as low as they can to hurt people and get a piece of anything that is not even rightfully theirs. And watching their victims in pain is an entertainment. The most notable part of this practice is that it often brings about death. And why do so many people in our society enjoy intentionally do bad things to others?

Dark arts; I have witnessed many of this. And I am somehow conditioned not to ever question this practice, especially its effectiveness. I accepted it but am silently against it. It is still very bizarre to me how dark arts somehow give some people hope and the answers they had been looking for. It may be for some cases, the best of self-defence.

I am far from religious and was always a skeptic about the paranormal, dark arts and shamanic healing. But this particular one proved to be effective. My sister, just a few days old at that time fell sick, it was worrying. My parents were really devastated. They had to resort to the shamanic healing. And fortunately for us, the shamanic healer delivered what was expected of him. And my sister, turning 18 in April this year is alive and kicking. Thanks to – let’s not give it a negative name for this case – the grandmother of all medicine.

Apparently, the house that we live in 17 years ago was located not far from a haunted tree, despite it being in the city. The house was not in a secluded, undeveloped area, and that was quite a strange notion. As hard as I try to imagine the opposite, I did find the tree to be rather spooky.

Stood tall and motionless among the grasses, its branches twisted like distorted limbs extending out into the sky like skeletal hands and partly reaching out towards our house that is probably 3 minutes away. It had that force that gnawed us with unfiltered horror. Looking at it at night especially, sort of felt like it would rape me in my sleep. It was a sight nobody in their stupid mind would dare to capture. And when it comes to a haunted tree, even merely saying offensive things around it would provoke its wrath.

According to the shamanic healer, the haunted tree – I don’t remember what it was called – was stocked with evil spirits and curses. It was hungrily trying to absorb the soul of my newborn sister. And a newborn baby, who happened to have the ability to connect with the other side, saw something that perhaps even us adults cannot handle. She stared and cried at nothing. It went on for days. The sleeping troubles troubled the family.

My parents were cynical in the beginning and went to the doctor but came back with no solution. They panicked. Of course, they were! Something was not right with that precious new bundle of joy. They were desperate. Thus, the shamanism, despite the fact that at the same time, the shamanic healer also practices dark arts that lead to death.

So on that very night, while believing in God, we put all our faith in shamanism. With his impressive toolkit and assistants, the shamanic healer, suited up in all-black clothes, used all the cleansing techniques in his arsenal. I had goosebumps, of course, and I could not take the strong smell. But I was enchanted by his shamanic healing steps. He looked like he was in a wrestling ring, beating the hell out of his opponent. And I began to imagine a wicked-looking, black creature hovering above my sister. Staring at her with its big red eyes, almost popping out of the sockets, screaming its lung out!

Not too long after that, he stopped and fell flat. He looked pale and weak as if he had not been eating for days; as if he had been carrying a heavy load across the city for hours. But he did his job, as promised. His shamanic healing saved my sister. And yes, that incident did shatter my belief system and drove me to question my perceived reality; dark arts and the role shamanism plays in our lives.

Dark forces roam independently in the universe. And the ongoing battle between good and evil in the unseen worlds constantly shapes our experience of reality. Some people do bad things not because they were born bad, but because of the negative energy from outside that penetrated their body which they can’t control. If we choose to not pay attention, we will not be able to recognise between dark and light forces.

And in my sister’s case, several paranormal experts believe ghosts like to hang out in the UV and infrared ranges – so-called the spirit world – which we adults cannot detect. Also, at some point along the way, we have decided and believe that our experiences weren’t real. DENIAL, we call it. But unfortunately, babies are the opposite. While seeing spirit guides and angels are beautiful and magical, seeing something else, as per my imagination, is beyond spooky.

Without doubting the power of God – our creator, we are grateful that the shamanic healing worked. It is, after all, a gift from the Higher Power for the selected few. And we are glad that my sister survived the battle. She survived that and she will survive any battles coming her way.

bwdsc_0077

bwdsc_0087

bwdsc_0090

bwdsc_0093

bwdsc_0094

bwdsc_0095

bwdsc_0097

bwdsc_0103

bwdsc_0105

bwdsc_0106

bwdsc_0107

bwdsc_0112

bwdsc_0114

bwdsc_0120

bwdsc_0123

bwdsc_0124

bwdsc_0129

bwdsc_0182

bwdsc_0207