Void Deck Checkers/Draughts

Checkers

Checkers

Walking around Toa Payoh, I came across an area where groups of old men apparently gather to play checkers quite regularly, drawing audiences. I suppose it’s the local equivalent of playing chess in a park.

I talked to one of the regulars who, as far as my limited Mandarin suggests, told me that they were playing for several hundred dollars a game, and wagers used to run as high as $1000 in the old days. I didn’t see any piles of money by the board, so there’s no way of knowing if he was just kidding me.

These two men had the largest crowd of spectators, and continued playing long after the others had packed up for the day.

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A couple more photos from earlier that day:

Checkers

Checkers

ION Orchard

ION Orchard front view

ION Orchard panorama

ION Orchard interior

Basement 3 & 4
ION Orchard interior

(Full photo set on Flickr)

I went to have a look at the new ION Orchard shopping mall on Tuesday, its first official day of being open. I’ve talked about it resembling the Bullring mall in Birmingham, UK before, from its sprawling promenade flanked by two-storey shopfronts to the curved sides of the building. The same architectural firm designed both, although I think they did a much better job with the Bullring. The ION’s curves are too slight, giving the whole building a strange form not unlike a dented pillow ā€“ I know for a fact they were hoping to elicit words like “organic” from onlookers. Not quite, in my opinion.

The interior layout of the four above-ground shopping levels also resembles that of the Bullring’s central arcade, which is a good thing. It’s easy to see where you’re going and where you’ve been because the shops don’t occupy fixed boxes of space, which gives them more identity, and better spatial recognition for shoppers. The roof design does a good job of letting in lots of natural light in the day, which, along with the use of predominantly white surfaces throughout and contrasting angular/curved elements like escalators and pillars, gives the whole affair a look of modernity that should last a decade, at least.

Basements 1 & 2 were a little darker, although that may change when all shops are open (currently about 70% are). The walkways are also narrower, which will probably cause some congestion problems. I was afraid, on the way down, that four similar basement levels were going to feel quite oppressive, but B3 & B4 smartly mixed things up with a different layout and more open space.

High points were the ThreeSixty Marketplace (link to another blog), with loads of imported food products that you’ve probably wanted but could never find locally before; a Korean gelato cafe that felt like it had been transplanted from some other country’s sidewalks; the return of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which means good, cheap coffee and passable donuts for me; and a raft of new Japanese restaurants to try out. I’m downplaying it a little here. If you’d seen me there that day, it would be pretty clear that I love this place and am very excited to have it as a part of our landscape (physical facade notwithstanding) from now on.

I also want to mention the large Epicentre outlet (they are a third-party Apple retailer) directly across from a Nokia flagship store and a SingTel mobile shop. Epicentre makes a few mistakes now and then, but they largely play it safe and therefore well by following the design language of official Apple Stores around the world. That includes placing large, round tables with lots of flashing, animated iPods and iPhones near the front of the space, for passersby to play with. People are always standing around and fiddling with them.

When you walk into the Nokia store, you’re greeted by a small table with maybe four working phones (I went in to look at the N97 flagship model, and the one I picked up wasn’t functioning), and then a very long wall of all the phone models they currently offer. It would have been very impressive, had any of them been real and not a plastic dummy. Move over to the adjacent SingTel store and you’ll find the same thing in each of the dedicated brand zones. LG, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson… not a single REAL phone to be had. Getting customers into your store is half the work done, so why let it fall apart with a non-existent product experience? It’s one of the simplest things in retail and marketing, and you don’t appreciate how Apple does it right until you see others get it horribly wrong.

~

As much as I’d like to go back several more times now, I expect the ION Orchard to be a total mosh pit for the next few weeks. There’s probably going to be a massive ground effect that wrecks the whole of Orchard Road for anyone who needs to find parking too. So while everyone comes down to town this weekend for a glimpse at the new hotness, my plan is to go shopping in the heartlands. Maybe I’ll finally get a place in line for that other Uniqlo.

Using an iPhone 3GS as a film camera

I got my iPhone 3GS a little over a week ago, on the 11th, and have been lucky enough not to get one that overheats or goes dead after a few hours. The WiFi reception isn’t as good as on my old iPhone 3G, but that’s another story.

My main reason for upgrading was the speed increase, and in that respect the phone has been everything I expected. I play a lot of casual games on it, and being able to start up and get into a level within seconds is something I’ll never take for granted. Even other handhelds like the Nintendo DS and PSP don’t always do a good job of loading quickly. Don’t even get me started on games that only let you save at predetermined points.

The secondary draw of the iPhone 3GS was its improved camera. With apps like Autostitch (a Flickr group I started is here) and ShakeItPhoto updating to support the increased memory/speed of the 3GS though, it may soon be my favorite feature. It’s not like I’ve never had a good camera on a phone before; my old Nokia N82 had a good, autofocusing 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. It was versatile enough that I tried using it as my only camera while on a short holiday. But it wasn’t a very lovable device ā€“ great hardware features bolted onto creaking, vintage software.

Because the iPhone does so much (takes notes, calculates tips, translates Japanese, tracks expenses, etc.), and gets pulled out of your pocket so often, it also finds more use as a camera. And with the right iPhone apps, you can do all your post work and upload the results to Flickr without even coming near a desktop. Some of my other recommendations: Photo FX, CameraKit, ColorTaste (outputs low-res photos, hopefully an update is on the way), Mill Color, and Camerabag.

Here are some photos I’ve taken this week, processed to look like they were shot with a film camera: noise, light leaks and all. (Unfortunately, these weren’t done on the iPhone.)

Starbucks mug macro

Mandy in the garden Mooks' Australian paraphrenalia Chili's Burger Canon Singapore Visitor Centre

Bintan vacation wrap-up

I haven’t been very good about uploading the rest of my holiday photos since the last post, but finally got around to it this afternoon. Here are some of my favorite non-people ones.
Resort Leisure Center Panorama
Pool Villa Panorama
(The above panorama was stitched together from about 20 photos; the two edges of the pool you see on the left and right were part of the same straight line. I have no idea what an equivalent wide-angle lens would be.)
Black & White
20090328-P1000957
20090328-P1010016
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Ocean
Martinis by the pool
Dragon cloud 20090328-P1000965

Night for Day

Night for Day

There’s a thing they do in the movie business (far more in the past, when technical limitations mandated it) where night scenes are shot in daylight through a special filter that darkens the scene. It’s called day for night photography; watch any old noir film and you’ll see it, the darkness that doesn’t look quite right. We roll with such tricks the same way we do hokey CGI effects in modern story-driven films (bonus points if you can name any) ā€“ we’re willing to suspend our disbelief.

On holiday in Bintan recently, I took a couple of photos like the one above. It was pitch black and near midnight, but setting my camera to keep its shutter open for a full minute, it was possible to gather up all the faint light that normally eludes the human eye, getting a photo that looks very much like day but not quite. The stars are one telltale sign. Who knew that the sun’s orange rays continue to creep past the horizon long after we consider night to have fallen?

For working people, one of the joys of being on holiday in the middle of the week is imagining what you’d be doing if you weren’t, and knowing that your office and colleagues continue to toil in your absence, maybe even suffering because of it. You know the feeling I mean. When it’s Thursday afternoon and you’re lying on a beach somewhere, the mind experiences a strange sensation, a pleasurable disorientation, as it tries to reconcile the information it has. You’re not in a meeting. You’re on a beach. It’s Thursday, but not quite.

I used to wonder if it was possible to get that feeling of freedom on demand, as easily as pulling a filter over a lens. Having a tough day at work? Maybe project a few months into the future, where you have a new job or whatever, and confuse yourself into thinking that that world was running in parallel with the present.

Now that I’m not traditionally employed, I find myself having to take the reverse approach on holidays. For my travel companions, the four days burnt brightly with a sharp peak, followed by a treacherous comedown back into working routine. Not having to feel the pinch of expending precious leave days or returning to deal with crises left my experience curve shallower. I didn’t dread the end as much, so one might say I enjoyed myself less. The solution was a perverse one. I had to imagine a time when this self-employed life was no longer viable. It’s a state that continues to feel temporary, like an illusion made possible by warped optics. Having a job but not quite.

Anyway, I have a nice tan now. Nobody can believe it’s me.

— Posted from my iPhone with BlogPress