You know the feeling. Looking at the world through technicolour filters and a plastic lens. When you see something completely astounding or breathtakingly beautiful, and your hands reach instinctively for your phone or DSLR to capture the moment before it passes you by.
Ironically, in taking the time to nail that perfect shot, it actually does.
Is every photo an obituary of a moment lost? I personally struggle with these two conflicting desires. Half of me wants to live completely in the now, taking every sight, sound and smell slowly with all my senses. But as a journalist, it’s second nature to document, to tell the story. That instinct courses through my veins. Having to find that middle ground is a constant challenge. But there’s definitely a way to have your cake and eat it.
For example, I always give myself time to relish every new experience or brush with beauty without distraction, before whipping a camera and a notepad out to document it. It’s really as simple as taking a few moments to be fully present. As a reporter, I’ve learnt that there is no way you can accurately paint a picture without first absorbing every nuance. Without sensing, there can be no authentic storytelling. Without experience, no imagination. It can be so easy to be caught up in getting the details right; making sure you don’t miss that picture-perfect moment, the Nat Geo money shot. But at the end of the day, looking back on that perfect photograph, you might find that moment devoid of memory or sensory pleasure. Being slow to reach for your camera might deprive you of a great picture, but a good shot could rob you of the whole experience and a memory. A moment you may never experience again.
It’s no secret why Zürich is regarded as one of the most liveable cities in the world. It’s incredibly clean, safe, culturally rich, and its bustling urban activity is balanced perfectly by the azure calm of the crystalline Zürich Lake. Everything moves like clockwork in Switzerland’s largest city.
But it’s not just where the world’s richest park their money. The city has long shed its stuffy reputation to reveal a contemporary arts scene, a whole host of nightlife and chic bars, while embracing the quaint cultural beauty in its old town. But frankly, you don’t need more than a day or two to explore the city. In fact, much of it can be traversed on foot. Come on, let me show you what you can see here in just a day!
I’d arrived in Zürich one chilly morning by train from Freiburg in Germany. It’s incredibly convenient to cross countries by rail. All it took was roughly €50 and less than two hours! My first stop was to take a 15-minute stroll from the main train station to the city’s main cathedral, the Grossmünster.
Inside, it was sleek, clean and minimal by gothic standards. And to get to the top, you’d have to pay an small entry fee of a few Euros.
The church building itself is relatively unremarkable from the outside, but definitely don’t miss climbing the 180-odd steps to the top of the tower for an incredible panorama. It’s said to boast one of the most spectacular views of the city. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
With the morning mist just barely dissolving in the light of the rising sun, the whole city seemed to slowly awake from its drowsy slumber. Simply breathtaking.
Trust me, it’s definitely worth the extra leg work.
Another vantage point for a gorgeous view of the city and the water would be from..
Okay, so the title is a little tongue-in-cheek. And hip hop is not everyone’s cup of tea. But whether we like it or not, rap is relevant. You’ve got to admit, today’s rap royalty have got a certain charisma and street cred that few other musicians enjoy. Most times, the verses drip with narcissistic rhymes about flashy cars, obscene amounts of bling, drugs and breaking out of life in the ghetto. But that’s fairly stereotypical. If you listen carefully, you might find some interesting perspectives in there. Rappers reject elitism and the The Man, but their cult appeal lies in their ability to connect with those who feel alienated by society. They often contain passionate social commentaries, if you know where to look.
Take the above for example. I’d glazed over the song on The Great Gatsby soundtrack until i actually started paying attention to the lyrics. There’s a fascinating philosophical puzzle there. Where does power really lie? It asks a very fundamental question – does being godless make you invincible? And then, the climactic paradox – even the non-believer is slave to the mob because no one can survive alone. Before you know it, we’ve come full circle. It’s really quite poetic. Kanye even raps about Socrates and Plato. Perhaps I’d been too quick to write off the likes of Drake, Dr Dre and Tupac.
Hip hop is informed by the great Jazz age of the swinging ’20s. Its themes often revolve around survival, being marginalised by society, and overcoming the odds to become a self-made success. All of which most of us can relate to. Despite being snubbed by corporate America just two decades ago, rappers are laughing their way to the banks. It is now a $10 billion industry. Its rise is unparalleled, overtaking traditional agriculture and manufacturing industries in record time. People make jokes about Kanye, Tyga and how ridiculous the Kardashians are. I agree that our obsession with reality TV is a symptom of a much bigger decay in society. But these musicians are something else.
They’ve turned their art into musical empires built on the narrative of rags to riches, selling hope and celluloid dreams through Yeezy sneakers, lip kits and overpriced jeans. They tell people you can make it big like me. Rap is the new religion. These gold-clad titans languish on the volatile thrones of pop culture, straddling the often warring realms of art and business. Ka-ching.
Sure, there is much to be said about the licentious lifestyle, guns, drugs and and dysfunctional relationships. But behind their success lie a certain brilliance, keen business acumen and a dauntless determination to succeed. But of course, this comes at a price. It gets lonely at the top. We all know there is but a fine line between genius and insanity. It probably won’t be the last time Kanye checks himself into rehab.
“Watch out for him. He just got discharged from the mental hospital,” said a white-haired, wrinkled man in a black polo shirt, as he dragged his wares around in a rusty shopping cart.
Plastic toys, old VCDs and antique rings — a pile of carefully-foraged treasure.
He was referring to the younger vendor grinning widely at me in earnest. Aside from the fact that he kept speaking in a confounding loop, he seemed otherwise perfectly ordinary. I’d spent the last five minutes struggling to understand him, as he spoke perfect Mandarin but yet made absolutely no sense to me. It’s a completely new encounter. To hear carefully chosen words and such sincere enthusiasm combine to form a code I could not decipher.
He was not the only one who’d just been released from institutional care. 74-year-old Mr Ng had attempted suicide just weeks ago, after Parkinsons’ disease left him bedridden for months. Miraculously, his condition took a turn for the better. Being out with other vendors, and getting some exercise by moving his goods and tending to his stall has left him in far higher spirits.
But like the angel of death, I’d come bearing dark news. The Government was going to seize the piece of land on Sungei Road (which had been the home of resilient peddlers and flea market merchants since the 1950s) to make way for new homes. And they’d just announced it that morning. I’d come to film a news story and their reactions for the night bulletins.
You could almost feel the heaviness in the air. Grief, loss, denial, anger, despair. Like an invisible casket had passed through the alley that bustled for more than 60 years with a riot of colour and activity. The death of an entire lifetime’s work. A requiem for their safe haven, where the forgotten sought refuge.