Shutter Therapy In Kuching With Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

I finally made it home recently with only one purpose in mind, to shoot on the streets of the beautiful city I have called home, Kuching which is situated in the Borneo Island. I have spent three days (technically only two and a half days) shooting around the city area that I grew up in and I was fortunate to be able to bring home an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with me for my shutter therapy sessions. The weather was not exactly on my side as it rained heavily for half of the time I was in Kuching, but when it was not raining I made the best with what I can.

It was a joy to just roam around freely in a place that is so familiar to me, and I know the roads and buildings so well that somehow I regretted not spending enough time in Kuching shooting. I think most people know I originated from Kuching and it is quite strange when I tell them that I do not have enough beautiful photographs of my hometown. Indeed I have spent most of my time in Kuala Lumpur since Olympus Malaysia is based there, and whenever I return to my home in Kuching I always decided to leave photography behind so I can spend more time with mum, relatives and friends. After all I do not come home often and there is so much to do and many people to catch up with. However, this one time I was making an exception, I wanted photographs, and I wanted the photographs badly.

Armed with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, 25mm F1.2 PRO, and 45mm F1.8, I attacked Kuching streets. My goal was to do my usual street photography shooting, but in Kuching instead of Kuala Lumpur. I did wonder what if I was here shooting for the review of the E-M1 Mark II, the variety of photographs would have been so different. These photographs shown here would have been fit enough to be an extension of the original E-M1 Mark II sample images!

These photographs shown in this blog entry are special to me, as they show my place of birth and where I grew up in. I do not think there is anywhere quite like Kuching. I hope you can enjoy the photographs as much as I have shooting them.

This scene was taken on the 8th floor of a carpark building called Medan Pelita situated opposite the Tua Pek Kong Temple (as seen as the red temple in the image). My secondary school, St Thomas was nearby and we have frequented this location for lunch, or just simply hanging out. There was the Star Cineplex, which was the only one of two go-to cinemas in Kuching back in my younger days, but Star Cineplex is now closed down. This is a classic view of the Kuching city, overlooking the Sarawak River, the Chinese Museam at the waterfront, the Tua Pek Kong temple and a handful of not so tall buildings (these are the only few multistory buildings around). I was lucky to be able to get this shot with dramatic clouds and blue sky as Kuching experiences rain and gloomy weather almost every day. 

Yellow Window
Kuching has a fair share of old shops and buildings, maintaining the original architecture from the yester-years which I find interesting to photograph. The wall of red with yellow windows as seen in the image above was located next to the Brooke Dockyard, and the Java Street is connecting the old city center (locals call it "pasar") to the Gambir Street which is next to the river. The narrow street is a popularly used passage way and I camped here awaiting an interesting action to happen. 

Blue and Yellow
The older shops in Kuching have the "five-foot-way", walkway for pedestrian since it is either uncomfortably hot to walk under the sun or it is raining out there. The image above was taken at Jalan Market, very near to the Open Air Market in the "Pasar" area. Since it was very early in the morning the directional light created a dramatic impact on the lady walking by. 

Sealed Entrance
The bright yellow painted wall area used to be the main entrance to Cathay Cinema, one of the older cinemas operating even before my time in Kuching. I have never watched any movie here, instead I have watched Batman (1989?) in Rex Cinema (now Medan Pelita). 

Awaiting Customers
Carpenter Street is another area with the old shops maintaining many businesses which have been operating for decades. Many of the shop owners are still around, usually sitting outside their shop awaiting customers. Kuching folks are generally very friendly and would greet you as you walk by the shops in Carpenter Street. There are still some old carpenters that build furniture and steel work and these have become popular tourist attraction as well as photography subjects for those interested in documenting scenes from the older days. 

Gambir street was another beautiful area to shoot in Kuching. Unfortunately, the Gambir Wet Market which was situated just by the Sarawak River, overlooking amazing sunset was torn down years ago, even before I started venturing into photography. It would have been awesome to shoot Gambir Market. The street is full of life especially in the morning, and this street is known for selling good Indian spices. There is also an Indian Muslim mosque built along this street. 

Closing Time
This shop was located at the corner of the Gambir Street row of shops, and I found this man peeking out the narrow gap looking at passer-bys. 

Bishop Gate Street is quite an interesting place. The name Bishop Gate was coined after an actual gate separating the St Thomas Cathedral (which happens to be my home church) and Carpenter Street. The Bishop who was residing in the church would often used this special gate to enter the Carpenter Street, hence the name Bishop Gate Street. 

Portrait of a Stranger 1

Open Air Market and Electra House
Those living in Kuching city area would definitely know these two places, located opposite each other. Open Air Market (the one with the yellow tower) was originally a fire station built in 1946, and the observation tower was the remnant of the original fire station building after the demolition process. Open Air Market is now a hawker center/food court serving popular local dishes and is a crowded place especially in the evening. Electra House is a shopping mall situated directly opposite Open Air Market, and used to be the most happening place in town. My mum would bring me around these places often when I was a kid. I still feel a tinge of nostalgia every time I walk around these two buildings, and I sure hope they will not get destroyed. 

Open Air Market Tower
Just another composition to show the remaining observation tower from the old fire station. 

Kuching is quite a small place, and people here generally are more relaxed and go through a slower pace in life than larger metropolitan areas like Kuala Lumpur. There is less traffic jam, the air is cleaner and people are generally friendlier. 

Acrobatic Stunt
This was shot at one of the specialized spice shops in Gambir Street. One of the few places where you can spot local Indian populace, which is the minority here. I saw the lad went into the storage area arranging some stuff in there. One tip I can share in street photography: what goes in must come out later. I waited for a minute or two and as the lad was about to exit he jumped and I caught this with a bit of luck. 

Waiting for Bus
When I was a kid, I used to go around places in Kuching by bus. There were two prominent bus operators, we identified them as Blue and Green buses. The Blue buses usually operated within the city area while the Green buses went further away out from the city to more rural locations. I used to take the Blue buses very often, almost daily and Green buses only occasionally. There is no more Blue buses today, but the Green Buses (Sarawak Transport Company) still survives. Not many people take public transport any more these days and the scene of this man waiting for bus reminded me of my younger days of braving the sun or rain, sometimes waiting for an hour for a bus to arrive. Such bittersweet memory!

One of those shots that I took just for the sake of testing how fast the AF of the camera is. The E-M1 Mark II did not let me down. In fact, I was still amazed by the camera's capabilities, the confidence in getting the shot is just so reassuring. 

Kuching City Mosque
The big mosque (how I wish it was not painted in ugly colors) was a landmark in Kuching, being close to the old bus station. This used to be the busiest place in the city with people coming here for bus exchanges, as this was considered as a hub. While I usually dreaded waiting for bus here since it was completely open and hot, noisy and having polluted air, how I wish it could be like what it was before, bustling with people busy with their activities going everywhere at once. 

Kolo Mee By The Road
This photograph describes perfectly the laid back atmosphere in Kuching. The girl simply enjoyed her bowl of local dish, Kolo Mee outside of the shop overlooking passing people and vehicles. 

Matching Colors
I was drawn to the explosion of colors in this shot. So many colors mixed in one frame, and there were the matching shirt with background colors!

Square Tower
This is a prominent landmark at Kuching Waterfront, situated opposite the Old Court House (which is now known as China House). I have heard many stories of how this white square thingy is haunted and honestly if you ask me to walk in it now I would have my hesitations. The fact that it was constructed in 1879 and was operating as the first prison in Kuching did not help making things less creepy. These colonial buildings are well maintained throughout the city center. 

Different Generations
I wonder if I should slot myself in between these two, since I represent a generation between them. The barber shop was situated at Gambir Street. 

Portrait of a Stranger 2

Portrait of a Stranger 3

Portrait of a Stranger 4
This man asked for his photograph to be taken! He is a carpenter, operating outside the Electra House. 

Portrait of a Stranger 5

A Carpenter
This is a typical scene at the Carpenter Street in Kuching. 

Carpenter Street Bird's Eye View
Went up to fourth floor of a corner lot turned into a Chinese Temple to grab this view overlooking Carpenter Street and the DUN building across the river in the background. 

Java Street Shop
At the Java Street, the narrow road connecting Market Road to Gambir Street, there were several small shops along the large plain red wall with yellow windows. 

Kolo Mee 
The trip home is not complete without the local delicacies. This is Sarawak Kolo Mee. 

Glorious Laksa

Noodles with Mixed Pork Soup from Noodles Descendants, Padungan

Black Bean Coffee at Ewe Hai Street in Kuching

I did not have much time to catch up with friends since the majority of my time was spent with mum and shooting on the streets. I managed to do breakfast with Cyril. And damned, I WANT THAT SHIRT! Like Cyril, I am always always a Sarawakian. 

Allen Ang - Check out his awesome work here. 
Allen joined me for the street shooting session. We originally planned to do some outdoor night shooting but had to cancel due to heavy rain. Oh well, maybe we can do that again next time?

Georgette Tan - The one holding the winning ticket at the bottom of the image!
I found myself at an unexpected place with Georgette as we spontaneously joined a Quiz Night at China House. We joined a group of another 4 people and formed the team "Where Is The Stig?" consisting of two dentists, a reporter, an accountant, a contractor and an ex-engineer (me). We braved the night of many random quentions and somehow, we emerged champion of the night! Surely I have fulfilled my quota of "try something new and different" for this week. 

Hey, it is me!

This was me shooting my beloved hometown as I saw it through my own eyes. I did not shoot because I was testing the camera or showing certain features and talking about certain photography technicalities. This session of shutter therapy was me doing what I love doing, shooting on the streets and I have done so in Kuching which I believe is a wonderful ground for street shooting. I only wish more local Kuching photographers can appreciate this and do more street photography there. 

There were bittersweet and nostalgic moments as I walked through the streets which I have spent time growing up at, and part of me wish that Kuching will stay the way it is always, though I know modernization will take its course and old things must go before new things can happen. I think it is only apt that I do my best to shoot this beautiful hometown of mine and document it the best I can, in my own unique ways, through my own abilities so I have these collection of images to look back on many years from now. 

Certainly I do wish to continue shooting more and more. My job is not done and I look forward to return home again very soon to continue my shutter therapy there.

Have you been to Kuching? If not, you may want to add Kuching as your next to visit destination!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is available from B&H here. 
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  1. Let me tell you that all of your photo are amazing. Very sharp and vibrant. Also, Kuching is a beautiful small city. I was there few years ago for works. Unfortunately I only spent a week and didn't really have time to explore every nook and cranny of this town.

    1. Thanks prof Arief. you should plan a photo trip to Kuching, it is an amazing place!

  2. Very nice essay Robin! Those photos are sharp. Processed with oly image viewer 3 and workflow as blogged before?

    1. Hey Leonarce, since this was not a blog review I did do more post processing than usual. Pretty much all the previous steps I have mentioned applied, but with more tweaks on contrast, highlight/shadow control and colors management.

  3. Can it be that we're seeing very much different colors here? It was already hinted at in some reviews, but I never saw the difference so clearly. Cooler, less magenta, more green. Not Oly-like. I had the E-P2, EM5, E-P5, EM1 and PEN-F, and they all look very similar. I've seen images taken by you with most of these cameras, and they all look similar as well.

    In this case, with the EM1mkII I see colors that I wouldn't have expected. Am I wrong? Is this an illusion?

    1. hey Andreas, for this particular blog entry since it is not a blog review I did modify the colors more. I tweaked the white balance and I selectively managed the colors myself. yes it is different from the usual out of camera look.

    2. OK, this explains it. Not that I care particularly about it form my own imagery, because I always process in Lightroom from RAW and to my personal preferences of the year, but would you think that the "out of camera" JPEGs from the EM1mkII match the typical Olympus style or not?

      My interest is mostly in reasoning about sensor characteristics. For instance when I went from the CCD Nikon D200 to the CMOS D300, the colors completely changed. I think I will upgrade from PEN-F/EM1 to the EM1mkII, but I would hate to have to deal with a sensor that makes it hard to achieve the same consistent style between the PEN-F and the EM1mkII. Even having to use different recipes to get to the same result would be irritating.

  4. Ill check if I still have the shirt in stock. If ur lucky, I do and in ur size. If not... hard luck lah bro....

    1. Thanks Cyril! If you have, keep it. will return home soon. woo hoo

  5. This is a home match for you isn't it? And that new 25mm is really something special. You put me to expenses.
    In fact it's the ideal lens for lousy photographers like me, because even the messiest backgrounds look great.
    I can't wait to make large prints to see how it compares with my Mamiya 7.

    1. Oh dear I would not think comparing it with medium format is a fair thing to do. Nonetheless being what it is, it does give you that special sauce in some photos!

  6. Great picture, as always. I really envy you for the colours at your place.
    On a different note: I first thought that with the e-m1 II and the 25mm pro lens, some heavy rain shouldn't hinder you to do some outdoor night shooting, but then I realized that the other guy was shooting Canon… :-)

    1. Thanks John!
      The camera and lens can survive but not me! and when it pours, it pours in kuching like cats and dogs and you can hardly shoot anything.

  7. My favorite is the "Sealed Entrance" and a "Carpenter".
    Shots that only Robin Wong can spot..

    1. Thanks Robert. You should plan a trip to Sarawak! It is such a nice place for photography.

  8. Love your blog. I would have liked to see which picture was taken with which lens.

    1. The wider perspective were shot with 7-14mm PRO lens. The close up shots of portraits were mostly taken with 45mm F1.8. Environmental portraits were shot with 25mm F1.2 lens.

  9. I've always thought that it would be nice if you could find a way to leave the EXIF data intact.

    1. I normally only do that with the review entries, which I painfully inserted each data one by one to the images!

  10. Hi Robin, thank you for sharing, I feel you produce work of consistently high standard and at the same time provide wonderful insight. Your series on the EM2 is really welcome, at least to me as I am interested in buying one.
    I love the colour palette in many of these, especially "awaiting customers", just a beautiful combination of subtle blue/green.
    And thanks for allowing us to journey to your home town, more photographers should do this.

    1. Hey Brad,
      Thanks for the kind words! My colors are always evolving, I think I did minor tweaking (white balance mostly) mostly to suit the particular series.

  11. Hi Robin, as usual your photography inspire me, love all of them!

  12. Oh, the Laksa. I'm hungry.

    I hope you're getting some rest and getting to see family and friends.

  13. How is mark ii compare to PEN-F in terms of image quality including high resolution mode?

    1. I have not had the chance to do extensive comparison but from my observation, E-M1 Mark II is holding better detail retention and noise suppression in high ISO images. I have explained high resolution mode advantages extensively in my blog review extension of the E-M1 Mark II

  14. Hi Robin, great post as usual. Out of interest, how come you didn't take the new 12-100? And when will you have a review of it out? There are zero reviews on it at the moment online...

    1. Hi Felipe,
      It was a personal shooting session and for my own shooting style I generally prefer to work with prime lenses. I needed the wide aperture for shallow depth of field for my portrait isolation and the F4 on the 12-100mm is not sufficient for that task.
      I do not have much free time yet and when I do I will review the 12-100mm lens for sure.

  15. Fantastic photos and commentary. Felt like I was there for the day. The colors are stunning. I grew up in the desert southwest of Arizona and evertyhing was pretty much shades of tan! Please keep these awesome blogs coming! Robert.

  16. Thanks for sharing such beautiful shots, the first one with the clouds and blue sky was breathtaking and my favorite. By the way, I love how you always manage to have a shot of a cup of coffee included, how is your caffeine addiction doing? lol

  17. Robin,

    Thank you for your excellent blog. On another topic... Would you be so kind as to provide of an assessment of any speed advantage held by the E-M1II over previous Olympus cameras regarding hi-res images. If the acquisition of the eight shots composing the hi-res image is significantly faster, then more landscape shots would be keepers. The effects of movement in the scene would be reduced. I think there must be an improvement in acquisition speed based on the superior hardware of the MkII. Any sense of by how much?

    Thanks again.

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  19. Hi Robin, I've been following your blog as a reference point for all things Olympus but I somehow skipped this post. I was pleasantly surprised to find out you're from Kuching (like me!). It was really lovely seeing these photos which brought back nostalgic memories of my childhood in Kuching. Like you, I rarely took out my camera when I'm back, preferring to catch up with friends and family. Such a shame as I have few photos of the place.