I was the first to wake up again.
My phone indicated Chika and Hana tried to video call me, but for some reason, I couldn’t call back, thanks again to the great firewall of China.
It’s a different kind of frustration, knowing that things could be working optimally, just not for you, not because of your race or religion, but the intent behind the technology you own.
Eventually, Hui Chin woke up for work.
I followed her recommendation and walked to a Chinese pancake store nearby.
I don’t know why but the Chinese really love their puns, as if there’s a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the person who could associate their business name with the most ridiculous puns ever. And there’re different level of puns too – one that is simply using the different meanings or pronunciations of the same character, to the ones that require some basic understanding of ancient Chinese history and pop culture. The ones that made you shake your own head in shame when you get it.
Perhaps I was overthinking it again, if I could stop and have a laugh about it, then it’s entertainment. It’s harmless fun.
I had a good solid hour of shooting.
Sometimes I feel like my main occupation is street photography. Just that I don’t get paid and I have no audience. I don’t really mind – that’s the only few times in a year when I feel like my camera has a purpose. Some people have triathlon training, some people fish in the early morning, some people play MMORPG, maybe I have my rangefinder with a 35mm lens.
One amazing thing about Shanghai is how deep the mobile phone has penetrated society. The lady sweeping floor is looking at one, the man making furniture is looking at one, the guy on his break is watching a video channel. Back home, we’re having conversations about limiting screen time, I’m not sure if such conversations exist in this part of the world. I remember my parents said how they couldn’t get to anywhere with cash the last time they visited China. Even Nelson said something like ‘if you don’t have a phone, you starve.’
I bought breakfast for Nelson, and we stayed at home the whole day preparing for the talk.
It was a collaborative one – Nelson would open and share his experience as a publisher; I close the second half with my personal story and the fruition of our book. We presented our slides to each other by noon, provided feedback, and spent the rest of the afternoon tweaking it. In fact, I probably spent too much time trying to make our Chinese font consistent.
It reminded me of pitching in advertising.
Back then I was a really inconsistent presenter. I could sell the shit out of the ideas I believed in. But if I didn’t believe I solved the brief or the product, I would stutter.
This time, I was simply retelling my life story.
It’s MY life. It happened.
Whether the audience like it or not, there’s nothing for them to dispute.
We arrived early to deliver the books and slideshow for the projector.
I was wearing a red jacket I brought from Fukuoka, the event lady made a remark that I knew how to suck up to the audience.
I took the jacket off.
Ever since becoming a parent, I keep running into this theory:
The first seven years dictate the rest of our lives.
The first seven years, we take in everything around us, like a sponge, installing our software to our blank operating system which we would apply for the rest of our lives.
I’m not sure if it’s a proven fact, but it explains why we tend to fall into certain behavioural cycles.
When I was seven, my mother entered me into a storytelling competition.
It was the first time I spoke in front of an audience.
I won that competition and my mum had never experienced the same pride ever since.
As I was starting my presentation at Seesaw, five cycles later, I thought:
Here I am, telling stories again.
When I tried to picture the type of people who would pay money to attend a photography talk on a Wednesday evening, I saw young kids in their 20s filled with hope and dreams, unable to fail.
I was expecting basic questions like what sort of cameras I used, what software, who was my favourite photographer etc.
I remember the first question vividly:
You made everything sound so easy in hindsight, can you elaborate on some hardships you faced along the way?
One lady asked: since everything is moving so fast now, photography seems really hard – how do you maintain my voice?
One guy started with saying how he tried to get ‘into’ photography, but he gave up because he couldn’t find a purpose. I didn’t think it was a question – he was just sharing his experience.
My point was, I wasn’t expecting such philosophical questions from the audience.
I wished I had more time to sit down and have a chat with them.
Nelson posted a QR code on the final slide to announce our workshop on Saturday.
I would teach food photography for the first lesson and he’d teach them how to create a zine out of the photos after I left.
Some of the audience actually bought the book and I clumsily autographed the first page, trying my best to address their names in Chinese.
It was almost 10 pm when we were done. Nelson and Hui Chin took me to a Viking themed restaurant called Barbarian.
To the locals, it was an authentic ‘foreign’ restaurant because the owner behind the bar was a skinny Scandinavian.
I think the real boss was an old lady with a cauliflower hairstyle chewing a cigarette.
The Scandinavian guy was just her boy toy.
We went back and talked until 1 am.
Quite impressive considering we didn’t have any alcohol in our system.
I found out Hui Chin actually went to a private Chinese school in Malaysia, like me.
And I started cracking jokes about our sino diaspora.
There’re certain things we share under the surface, all of us who left home to pursue further education, the sacrifice we endure, the judgement for not returning home, the merciless assumption from the locals, and the silent pride for making it.
All of it made for good material for my jokes.
And Nelson laughed.
I never knew he had that emotional capacity.
If I could pinpoint a time in the whole week that we started to relax and throw formality out of the window, it would be the night we presented at Seesaw.