“How to see interesting things in a familiar environment?”
The question came up in my mind one day in July 2014. At that time, I had just come back to Singapore from a memorable trip to Japan. I was so excited about the streets, cuisine, nature and people there that I took a countless number of photos. After that, the lack of newness in my surrounding environment in Singapore life made me feel bored quickly and not interested in taking photos. I longed for another trip to Japan soon. Does this mean I am interested in taking photos only when travelling? I didn’t want to take Yes for an answer. To me, photography is a creative process and by doing it, I feel energised and free. I want to keep doing it everywhere I go.
When I was still wondering about the answer, an idea appeared. My office was at Bugis and I usually rushed to and from work. Rarely did I walk around the neighboorhood to enjoy it. That thought triggered my curiosity to see what it looked like in the weekend.
That weekend, Bugis was still filled with people going for delicious and affordable food choices. However, I felt different because I wasn’t looking for a place to eat. Seeing queues didn’t tire me anymore. In fact, I enjoyed observing different people in the queue of a particular well-known hot pot restaurant.
Back alleys always interest me in a strange way. They look raw, industrial and certainly are a genuine part of the city.
Without being aware, I walked over to the Clarke Quay, a popular nightlife spot for tourist and locals. It was around 4 pm so most of the places are not yet open.
I saw this man standing on a table to clean the ceiling of his restaurant. The ice bucket was being used as cleaning water bucket, which was quite hilarious. He must be preparing the place for the evening opening.
Looking at these photos I took, it is clear that I was looking for novelty. What are the people in my photos were doing? and most importantly what did I have in mind when taking them?
I have written before that I liked to capture moments, but maybe I was just trying to capture my mind.
One of my friends said to me that she once reviewed all the photos she liked on Instagram, just to understand who she really was and what she was truly passionate about. That intrigued me greatly. The decision to like a photo happens in a split-second. There is no logical reason, only impulse coming from our desire and nature. It is quite similar to taking a photo. A button is pressed, the shutter closes and opens. The moment is captured as quickly as our thought. What went through my mind at those moments? What was I really looking for?
I took this photo when visiting some friends at Bedok. An uncle and his grandkid were hanging out at the playground next to my friends’ house. I can see joy and adventure in this photo: the joy of the uncle and the kid’s adventure to explore the playground.
It was true that my job back then was quite stressful, so following a daily routine didn’t allow me to see joy and adventure in life. It’s not about the place, but the mind. Travelling is simply an easy way to immerse my mind in newness and it’s not the only way to do that.
You may ask “How can I see interesting things in the city I am living in?” The following tips have worked me and they may work for you to varying degrees:
Do something unusual, something not in your routine. For me, it was revisiting familiar places at different time. I really like my neighboorhood at midnight, which I discovered only when I started running in the evening. My current city, Sydney, is lovely and quiet at Christmas time when many people travel elsewhere for holidays.
Take a different route to the office or back home. By taking a new turn, a new street, I discovered new restaurants and shops around my office. This is a small tweak but can give a surprising result.
Travel with new people to see the world through their perspectives. As seeing the world is not just through your own eyes, having a fresh perspective really helps you feel a different vibe of the place. I enjoyed Singapore also when being a tour guide for my family or friends when they visited me. Seeing how excited they were made me feel the same.
I hope will you find interesting things around you, even when you are not actively travelling. Remember that it’s not about the location, it’s about your mind. If you are curious about the world, you will learn new things.
That’s it for today. Thank you for reading this through. I will catch you next time.