Saturday, February 28, 2009

From One Edge To Another

Current Location: Kuantan, Malaysia 3°49′00.00″N - 103°20′00.00″E
Photo (Top): Crossing a stream in the Malaysian Rain forest
Photo (bottom): Blood soaked pants from blood sucking leeches

It occurred to me today, while awake at 3am, that my job is not normal. But I guess that's what you get when you hoist a camera for a daily wage--a lifetime of intrigue, confusion, and the occasional moment of terror.

As of late, sleep is hard to come by. I've managed to get a few hours through the night, but for some reason, my mind will not rest. Maybe it's the constant change of environments or the sheer fact that I've traveled through 18 cities, 5 countries, and have boarded over 14 planes in the last three weeks. I've lost track of time. I have no idea what day it is, nor do I have any clue as to what's happening in the outside world. At times like this, maybe it's best not to know.

Lately, I've been filming deep in the Malaysian Rain forest, documenting the indigenous people and their fight to save their land. Their stories are compelling, to say the least. But for me, shooting in such an environment has put a toll on my body, my mind, and my spirit. I have a fight of my own--that is, to survive.

Traversing through mountainous terrain on foot, we hike for hours upon hours, looking for endangered species of plant and wildlife. Going up a 75 degree slope, at times, my body would shut down--totally dis-engaging every muscle and joint I have left. While resting, we'd fight off insects, lizards and snakes that roam the area. Feeling a pinch on my leg, leeches the size of human fingers would crawl up my legs, into my pants and fill their bodies with my blood. In a desperate attempt to get them off, we'd take turns rolling up our pant legs and torching them with lighters. It's the only way they'll let go of your skin.

By mid-afternoon, the sun is directly above us. We cross a flowing stream, climb on rocks covered in slime and eat our lunch consisting of a banana and granola bar under a gushing water fall. Purified water filled my stomach to quench my hunger. It was either that--or we'd have to kill an animal for lunch. I wasn't in the mood for snake on a stick. With my stomach churning, I knew I was getting weaker by the minute. I made the decision to call it a day and head back.

Making our way to base-camp, the sun quickly disappeared as rain began to fall. An orchestra of thunder echoed through the jungle while lightning danced above us. Covering the camera under my poncho, my body would sway left to right, right to left, in a desperate attempt to maintain balance--jumping from one rock to another. In retrospect, I don't know how I did it.

Sitting in my hotel room, I'm now suffering from a major bout with diarrhea, a loss of appetite and feeling extremely weak. I'll be recouping for the rest of tonight and all day tomorrow before heading out again.

From the northern coast of Kuantan, Malaysia.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Life At Ground Zero

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Pahan
Current Location: Jakarta, Indonesia 6°12′45.61″S - 106°52′23.74″E

For the first time in a long time, I held a shot that I couldn’t stop rolling. Her face was full frame in my viewfinder—and for a synapse, it felt like our eyes locked as she turned and stared down my lens. I couldn’t stop recording.

Every now and then you meet people who touch you, reach deep into the depths of your heart to remind you you're still human. Sometimes, you cannot understand why. We do not share a language, have never graced the presence of each other or yet to believe in common bonds--but some how, we are connected.

In the slums of Jakarta, children toil through a landfill of shattered dreams. Picking and prying their way through hills of garbage, they look for scraps of plastic and metal, bags, bottles, paper and food to sustain their existence. It's hell on earth--a form of unsurpassed humility to the human kind. I've seen images like it on television before, but never did I imagine that one day I'd be behind the lens--focusing, tilting, panning, and zooming amidst a pile of trash and treasure. War, conflict, and tragedy--some how merely measures up to the effect that this has had on me.

I've been behind on posts lately, mainly not because I'm offline or struggling to marry images with prose, no--it's because I've yet to find that rhythm in my heart to best describe what I've witnessed. But when I awoke this morning, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, I'm not desensitized after all. I'm still able to feel, to hurt...and to cry.

I've been following a group of volunteers from Lentera, a Christian aid group that provides medical care for the people who live in the heart of Jakarta's slum district. Their work is remarkable--reaching out to the poor, the needy and the desperate--sharing the love of God to those who need it most. I forever admire their efforts.

Standing upon a mound of garbage, I collected light by scanning with my inner peripherals, feeling that pounding rhythm in my heart--knowing that what I'm capturing speaks a thousand words. Shot after shot, I zoom in and out, close ups and wides--a marriage of light and magic. I was merely transfixed by my surroundings. Zooming in for a close up, my lens had lost focus. A hypnotic blur of light filled my screen. Turning the ring clock-wise, I brought in clear focus a set of eyes that stared directly at my lens. And that's when I stopped moving.

Through her eyes, she spoke to me.

Ahning and her husband Riahn collect garbage for a living. Making less than one dollar per day, they walk the streets of Jakarta finding things that you and I would discard on a daily basis. Without gloves or masks, they hand pick each item, looking through piles of unwanted treasure. When I asked her what her dreams were, she said she hoped for a better job, a brighter future for her family, and a healthy up-bringing of her newborn son. He laughed and smiled, clapped his hands and waved at us as we started the interview.

Through a translator, she described to us her plight, her hopes and her dreams. Fighting back tears, she spoke of her family, the love for her parents and the determination she has to move forward. Her voice cracked, her face somber. Barely looking at us, her words echoed through my headphones, telling me how lucky I am. Standing there with the camera rested on my tripod, my hands began to shake, my eyes watery and my throat caught in rapture.

As I packed my gear to leave, I gave her and Riahn fourty U.S dollars. She kissed my hands, cried, and hugged me in her arms. I can only hope it will help in one way or another. I've never felt so helpless.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beauty At Peace

Photo By Ron Sim: Off The Coast of Nias Island, Indonesia
Current Location: Jakarta, Indonesia 6°12′45.61″S - 106°52′23.74″E

I have to admit: having seen so much of the world has made me less intrigued by the suffering that I so desperately try to capture. Being in a third world country is beginning to feel natural. The people I meet, the images I capture and the plight I witness are all starting to look the same--a constant recycling of events from one country to another—and I think, because of that, I’m no longer emotionally touched as I once was. Lately, I’ve been debating whether my desensitization of the world I see is normal, whether that feeling I feel is right or wrong. It’s a battle that rages in my heart, erodes my soul and wakes me in the midst of a midnight dream.

Sometimes, when I’m awake, I lay there in bed, playing back in my mind the images I’ve captured. A close up of a hand in prayer, the smile of an elder, or the smirk of a lonely child peeking out the window all play back in slow motion replays—and sometimes I can even hear them, recall their words and remember the ambiance of the moment. And most times, I just lay there and smile.

I smile. I laugh to myself and I feel joy knowing that some how, I’ve managed to capture more than what is already evident. In the developing world, it’s easy to see suffering, to see poverty and despair—it can rip through your heart within seconds, tear away at the very fabric of your soul. The hardest part is to look beyond that--to see love and life and happiness and laughter.

But just before I close my eyes again, the image of their suffering hasn’t even flickered in my mind. But to be honest, I hope it never does. Desensitized, I know. I like being at peace.

There’s so much beauty here that it out weighs everything else.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On The Edge of The World

I'm writing from a remote island off the cost of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Nias Island is home to over 700,000 residents, tribal and indiginous people alike. I've ventured thru some of the toughest terrain I've ever been thru, setting a new record for the number of times I'd wished I would've paid more attention to my physics teacher in highschool...wondering if our pick-up truck should really be going up that 50 degree embankment or not.

I'll be in Indonesia and Malaysia until March 12th, documenting stories on the rebuilding efforts of the worlds leading Non-Governmental Organizations in post tsunami Indonesia and Malaysia.

I wish I can post pictures, but there's only one internet connection on this whole island...and it's slower than trying to teach grampa how to look for porn on the world wide webby.

As for me, I'm feeling fine. I'm healthy...been drinking gallons and gallons (liters and liters for my Canadian readers) of water every day! And don't signs of death by diarrhea...knock on wood. But then again, I had Durrian fruit it if you don't know what it is. It smells like baby poop, but tastes amazing!

I love it out here! I get to wear the same clothes over and over again! I don't have to shower and I no one cares if you wear deodorant or not. I smell like a whopper with cheese! The cool thing is: we all smell the same! So no one can really say "hey, Ron, did you shower?" Nope, because I'll just deny it and they'll go sniffing the next guy! SUCKER!

Haven't really had to eat anything weird yet. Durrian fruit is probably the weirdest...but I like it so I guess it doesn't count as weird. Dinner last night consisted of two deep fried cat fishes off the side of the road. I ate it...devoured it...head and all! Even the whiskers were good!

Alright...I hope all this typing gets published when I hit the "publish" button to finally submit my first post from Indonesia. I hate it when internet explorer pops up saying "Windows Cannot Open This Page"...bastards! I'm getting dilarious...I've had little sleep lately as I've gone from one extreme to another...from the freezing Canadian snow to the tropic mosquito infested jungles of South East please bare with me.

I will be in Jakarta in two days. Hopefully I'll be able to recharge my batteries and recharge my soul. Will write again soon.

Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease!

Nias Island, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Worse Case Scenarios

Current Location: Changi Airport, Singapore/ 1°17′35.0″N 103°51′21″W
On Layover, en-route to Medan, Indonesia

I don't know what's worse:

  • Giving birth to Octuplets
  • Dropping the soap in a jail house shower
  • Having your colon checked/Ovaries for the ladiez
  • Finding out you're a member of the Jackson family
  • Being interviewed for a job by Donald Trump
  • Realizing you've forgotten your Malaria pills while in the jungle


Being on a flight from Vancouver to Singapore for 21 hours, sitting beside a lady and her 3 month old baby girl. Her melodic screams echo through the cabin, ripping apart any hopes of maintaining sanity. And to make matters worse, now that baby has stopped crying, she poops. Mom snores, fast asleep.

I don't tell me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Vancouver 2009: A Week in Review

Current Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada/ 49°17′60.0″N 123°4′60″W

Truth: I haven't showered in two days.
Dare: Take a whiff of me...go ahead, knock yourself out! Literally. I mean it!

Ok, so there you go: not only am I behind on my blogging, but I'm also behind on my date with the shower--the one and only thing that I can "turn-on"--hot or cold. Ha-ha-ha. Yeah, ain't I funny? Laugh Out Loud (LOL). This is what happens when you've been deprived from scribbling your thoughts online for the masses to read...or the five or so people who actually frequent this thing.

Being here in Vancouver to cover the preparations for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, I've been subjected to some of the most extreme weather conditions I've ever faced. Add that to the three hour time difference, the altitude, and the fact that I've been lost more times than I can count, I've gotten myself a severe case of "Canadiana Diaspora"--symptoms of a confused and bitterly frost bitten Canadian on his own soil.

Sure, I have the comforts of a warm hotel room in the evening and the potential to indulge in three square meals a day, but let's think beyond that--beyond the luxuries of modern marvels and delve deeper, deep into the world of a traveling photog. Here goes:

Getting strapped in. This doesn't look too good...

Five minutes later, I found myself swinging over the wing of a 777.

Shooting on the tarmac of Vancouver, International Airport

This shot almost busted my knees. Yeah, I'm gettin' old.

Up close and personal with The Ice Maker.

Riding shot gun with The Ice Maker on his Zamboni.

The Ice Maker cruisin' at Pacific Coliseum on his Zamboni. Home to the 2010 Speed Skating Competition.

'Chillin' at the Bob Sled Track in Whistler, BC.

I almost had a Death by Diarrhea moment getting this shot.

We actually don't look too cold here. On top of the 2010 Olympic Nordic Ski Jump.

OK, so there you have it. That's what I've been doing all week. Now, as for not showering, let's just say that I'm conditioning myself for the jungle. Will be in the jungles of Indonesia in 48 hours!

Be well.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just Cold!

Photo: View of Olympic Park/ 2009
Current Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada/ 49°17′60.0″N 123°4′60″W

Call me a wuss if you want, but it's damn cold up here! Maybe it's not the chill that bothers me so much, but more so, the fact that my body is just not used to the thin-arctic air in these elevations. Sometimes, when I'm roaming around with my camera, I can feel my head pounding like someone's driving a jack hammer thru my skull.

Beleive it or not, as a Canadian, I hate snow! I can't stand the cold. It makes my skin dry, freeze my toes and sucks the oxygen out of the air. Yeah, I'm a baby! So what?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Me, Mexican?

Photo: At The World Cup Winter Games/ 2009
Current Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada/ 49°17′60.0″N 123°4′60″W

When you hoist a camera for a daily wage, it's bound to pay off in more ways than my weekly stipend. Girls stare, old geezers strike a pose--while kids wonder if that fury thing on my camera is a puppet or a dead cat. Whether I'm shooting in a war zone or covering a sporting event, the camera on my shoulder usually gets me access to some of the coolest places on earth--allowing me to see in real life what others only get to see on television.

I'm here in Vancouver, covering the 2009 World Cup Winter Games--a pre-qualifier to the 2010 Olympics next year. So far, I've frozen my butt off, been spoken to in Chinese, German, and Polish, and even was mistaken for as a shooter from Mexican TV--Do I really look Mexican? All in all, I'm here to capture the world's need for speed, document the science behind the games, and interview those who race for a living--on the ice and around the track, skaters and bob sledders, skiers and Lugers alike.

Even though I'm shooting from within my own country, it still feels like I'm shooting abroad--on a foreign assignment. The mountainous landscape here is absolutely amazing, breath taking at times, yet awe inspiring to realize that this is my country, my Canada! I understand their English, speak their lingo and can appreciate a good poutine! Google it if you don't know what that is. You'll definitely want one, eh.

I've met reporters and photographers from all over the world: Latvia, Russia, Romania, and Italy, to name just a few. Yesterday, I had the privilege of dining with a few guys from Sports Illustrated--that was cool! We shared exposure settings and dined on hot dogs. Life was good.

Tomorrow, I'll be shooting a story on the secrets of making ice. Yup, ice! Should be interesting. Will write soon.

Be well.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Thursday, February 5, 2009

And Lift Off!

5 Cases of Camera gear
1 Back Pack for South East Asia
1 Suit case for Vancouver (Fed-Ex Back Before SE Asia)
4 Bags of candy (For the kids, of course)
5 Boxers (Yeah, I like boxers)
5 Socks
5 Shirts
4 Pants
1 Jacket
10 Cliffs Power Bars
10 Fruit Roll-Ups (Not for the kids)
10 Cans of Tuna
1 First Aid Kit
1 Survival Kit (Custom made)
1 Smith and Wesson Military Knife
Vancouver in 4 Hours
Indonesia in 1 week
Malaysia in 2 weeks

I need to get some sleep. Will write when I get to Vancouver tomorrow night. Sorry for the lack of posts as of late. I've been going crazy trying to prepare for every type of scenario imaginable. I also apologize for not having the time to visit all your blogs lately, but I do promise to visit each and every one of your posts when I return.

Talk soon,

Monday, February 2, 2009

Price Of A Backstage Pass

Photo: Brother and Sister behaving/Ghana, 2008
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

I learned early on in my career that my camera acts as a backstage pass to life, taking me to places I've never dreamt of going, places I never knew it even existed. From the deepest parts of the Brazilian rain forest to the depths of chaos and war, I've ventured from one corner of the globe to the other, savoring an array of cultures, a rainbow of colors and an unimaginable pallet of life at its finest hour. From rich and poor, triumph and tragedy, darkness and beauty, I've been there, lived it, captured it with my lens. I'm forever grateful.

But no matter where I've been or what I've seen, it's never enough. As a self proclaimed addict to life, I seek more--more adventures into the unknown, more stories I can capture, share, and show and tell. Sometimes, by looking at the world thru a lens, I see much less than the average person, but in a way it allows me to appreciate more, to understand and see every minute detail of life. It's like looking at a picture with a magnifier, seeing only whats thru the glass. Maybe that's why, with my backstage pass to the world, I venture on, keep going in a journey set out to capture the rest of that image.

But every journey has its challenges. The world is made of cliffs and ridges, sharp and steep--constantly shifting, never the same.

Bearing a backstage pass to life is hard; it comes with a price. It ain't easy. For days now I've gone with very little sleep--kept awake by fear--fear of the unknown, of new surroundings, of fate and failure. For my next assignment, a world of change awaits me on the other side. To most people, the image is all they see. To others who appreciate and understand the art of my craft, they know all too well the hardships that befall a photographer, and the struggles one must endure.

Technically, emotionally, and personally, it's not easy to plan for the unknown. It's even hard to balance life, family, and friends. As a travelling photographer, I sacrifice a lot to be doing what I do. Loved ones worry for my safety, birthdays come and go, anniversaries have little meaning. The world keeps spinning, I keep shooting.

Four days to departure. I'm excited.