Sunday, December 14, 2008

Life In Stereo - Dec 2008 Issue

I am caught in a time that only I can remember, because this time lives only in my memory, my memory and yours. But your memory is gone, dissolved away as you did, not too long ago. And it wasn’t too long ago, was it, since the last time you reached out for my hand? Not too long ago since we fell, careening into a happiness I never knew could exist.

And then I was frozen. It happened in a millisecond. The air hangs still. You can almost see the frozen molecules clinging to one another, forming a quiet nothingness that preserves you lying there, and me standing here under a megaton of realization waiting to fall upon my head. I am afraid to exhale, to bring me into the next moment that follows this one: the moment in which you are pronounced dead. “Are you sure?” I blinked against the fluorescent lights. “Yes, ma’am. He was dead upon arrival. We’ve tried everything we could for the past half hour. He’s gone.”

I have been holding my breath for the past year and nine months. Sometimes I wonder if anyone notices. I like to pretend that they don’t, that they cannot know the difference between the me going about my business everyday, and the popsicle me inside, dead amongst the living. The core of me lies with you, interred in a cement grave beside a silver urn of your ashes. What are ashes, anyway? Remnants of molecules reconfigured into a desperate preservation of that which was you. But the dead are most finely preserved in memories. Wayward, inconstant memories that deceive and give an approximation of truth, leaving you wholly dissatisfied, frustrated in its evanescence, pissed off in its perversions, angry in its clarity, and ultimately, fiending for more.

I can live with your blue shadow forever, can’t I? There’s no compelling reason for me to join the real world, beyond this comforting subterranean chill. I used to abhor the cold, but now I look for solace in its twilit corners. Swathed in indigo gauze, I am lulled to sleep by whispers and echoes of you.

Click here to see the full issue of Life in Stereo digital magazine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tatler (Asiawide Distribution) Aug 08 - spread

(photos: Edmon Leong; text: Jenn Chan Lyman)

Tatler (Asiawide Distribution) Aug 08 - text

Jordan: A Photographer's Perspective

When I arrived at Queen Alia International Airport, the first impression I had of Jordan was its rather intense dedication to tourism control. Beyond the normal rigmarole of customs and immigration, the tourism police meticulously compared our documentation with the itinerary we submitted during our visa application. If any divergence from the original plan was suspected, we would be put right back on a plane with not so much as a glance of Jordan.

Armed guards reminded us that conflict was no stranger here. Jordan is a relatively peaceful land wedged between states known for discord. Syria and Iraq form its northern borders, while Saudi Arabia wraps around the east and southeast. Israel and the West Bank share the Dead Sea to the west, while Egypt lies across the Gulf of Aqaba in its southwest corner. When it comes to political turmoil in the Middle East, Jordan is squarely in the line of fire. Watching tense officials riffle through our paperwork underlined that we were about to venture into the danger zone.  

After we received the stamp of approval, we headed into the capital city in a chartered minibus. As we drove along the dusty roads towards Amman, I was struck by the sheer vastness of the sky above us, an immaculate azure dome above the desert plateau and its swirling sands. Most of the structures in the city reflected the tans, taupes and khakis of the desert, forming a neutral background for colorful storefronts and advertisements. We checked into the Marriott, passing through metal detectors that guarded each entrance, an understandable safeguard for a hotel that has been bombed three times in the recent past.

Once on the streets of Amman, I quickly noticed the lack of panhandlers and peddlers that you often encounter in large cities. As much as I’d read about the Muslim practice of hijab, it was still a shock to see women covered from head to toe in the dry heat, with their long, loose-fitting jilbab, and only their eyes visible under their niqab veils. Many women averted their eyes, especially when they saw that I had a camera. Only husbands are allowed to photograph their wives. Aware that I might inadvertently offend someone, I shot with my camera at my hip and relied on telefoto for tighter shots.

After one night in the capital, we drove south towards Mount Nebo. From the summit, our tour guide led us to the banks of the Jordan River, flowing down from the Sea of Galilee. It was incredibly unreal to be standing beside a river of such historical and religious significance. Friends in our tour group more religious than I were visibly moved as they touched the waters at al-Maghtas, the site where Jesus was baptized. Bearing precious water in an arid land, the Jordan River and its tributaries are critical to the torso of the Fertile Crescent, much like the Nile in the southwest and the Euphrates and Tigris in the northeast.

Heading downstream, we reached the eerily quiet waters of al-Bar l-Mayyit, the Dead Sea. There was not a bird within hearing range or any sign of life, other than a handful of tourists bathing in the buoyant waters. As the sun submerged, a soft mist rose above its spectacularly still surface. We stayed for two nights at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa, designed to resemble a seaside village with its low, sandstone structures and clean architectural lines.

Next, we headed for Petra, my most anticipated destination by far. Petra has held a place in my imagination since I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a kid. We were finally on our way to Harrison Ford’s Holy Grail. Soft, shifting dunes lounged lazily beside rough limestone steppes as we drove down the King’s Highway. Gazing upon this land of the Bedouins, I wondered if much had changed from the days when this area was first dubbed the Fertile Crescent, the Levant, even the “cradle of civilization”. The harsh contrasts of sand, rock, and shadow are inspiring for a photographer, but not exactly a lush Eden. After a full day’s drive, we reached Petra at nightfall.

The next morning, we set off towards Al Siq, a protective gorge forming the only entrance to Petra. Walking in the morning light, I was mesmerized by the pastel palette of sandstone layers around us. Pinks, purples, mauves, and all sorts of nameless colors wove along the weathered walls inside the narrow canyon. Shallow niches had been carved into the wall by pious hands commemorating the dead. The smell of camel and donkey dung stung our nostrils as the upper walls of the gorge closed in, leaving us in long shadows.

Just as the gorge was becoming slightly claustrophobic, we caught a glimpse of cobalt blue sky and an elaborate structure ahead. Set several meters deep into the rock face, Al Khazneh al-Faroun, the Treasury of the Pharaoh, has welcomed visitors for centuries as they entered Petra, the stronghold of the ancient Nabateans circa fourth century BC and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s not easy to give justice to a two-story building carved deep into stone over two thousand years ago on a 35mm, but I clicked away regardless. The kid in me wanted to clamber up the intricate façade to find that secret switch that would reveal the Pharaoh’s treasure. The adult in me wanted to genuflect at the accomplishments of a clearly sophisticated civilization.

As with most buildings in Petra, the Khazneh is a monument to the dead. An entire city devoted to honoring ancestors is difficult to imagine today. The Nabateans must have spent the greater part of their lives chiseling and honing to form these exquisite tombs, whose glory can only be imagined now. Brightly colored stalls lined the ruins, with friendly shopkeepers who smiled at us, while their children scampered happily along the sandstone mounds. Much to our relief, we were neither harassed nor ignored.

We continued along the natural curve of the hillside towards the four Royal Tombs on the city’s main promenade. Each of these illustrious monuments features specific architectural styles, from traditional Nabatean to Greek Hellenistic to the more modern Doric. In a breathtaking blend of nature and man, tombs materialize out of the rocks as far as the eye can see. Gaping cavities endure, paying silent homage to their late inhabitants. We trekked northwest for two hours towards the largest and loneliest of Petra’s edifices, Ed-Deir, the Monastery. With its predominantly Nabatean elements and distinctive disc engravings, some archaeologists believe it to be the tomb of the last Nabatean king.  

On the second morning of our Petra adventure, we hiked to the summit, astutely referred to as the High Place. The journey up the face of the mountain was sweat inducing to say the least as we swayed on donkeys up a narrow path. Any misstep of two or three inches would have been fatal, but these donkeys knew what they were doing. Perched on the Attuf Ridge, the High Place overlooks the entire canyon of Petra and formerly served as a sacrificial site for ancient worshippers.

After descending the mountain on foot, we hopped aboard jeeps for the final leg of our Jordan journey, the Wadi Rum. Famously featured on the silver screen in the 1962 epic, Lawrence of Arabia, the Wadi Rum is the largest and arguably most stunning of Jordan’s wadis, or valleys. We stopped to rest at a teahouse set in a traditional Bedouin tent, with three walls of heavy carpet and one open face. Our host regaled us with song and dance, and I felt my eyelids getting heavy in the afternoon heat.

Lulled by the lilting melancholy of the oud, the lute’s Arabic predecessor, I felt myself submersed in the surreality of Jordan. In just six days, I had traversed far from my initial impression of tension and conflict. I peered across the sandy sea as evening winds brushed new waves along the dunes, and reveled in the feather-light sense of freedom that washed over me.

(submitted June 22, 2008, 1348 words)

Monday, April 14, 2008

IN Magazine: Apr 08 issue - spread

(photos: Edmon Leong, text: Jenn Chan Lyman)

IN Magazine: Apr 08 issue - text

Susan and Steven

Long ago, during their university days in Vancouver, Steven was first attracted to Susan when he heard her dulcet tones on the other end of the phone. Sure enough, the rest of Susan proved just as adorable as her voice and from their very first date, Steven had his heart set on being with her for the rest of their lives. Within six months, the two created their own wedding certificate, exchanged rings, and declared themselves married in their hearts. Eight years later and all grown up, the happy-go-lucky couple made it official at St. Margaret Mary’s Church in Happy Valley, Hong Kong.

As Susan walked down the aisle, her heart fluttered along with the delicate feathers adorning her Melissa Sweet silk and lace sheath, which her father helped her select. Steven’s Ermenegildo Zegna white jacket and black trousers were accentuated by a vintage cream ascot tied in a bow around his collar, a gift from his soon to be father-in-law. Seeing Susan’s sweet smile behind her mantilla, Steven was once again reminded how she had been “the one” for a long time.

After the priest’s blessing, Susan and Steven exchanged matching Cartier bands and kissed for the first time as husband and wife. A photo excursion was next, starting with a stroll in the park and then a tram ride into the heart of the Central district. Onlookers smiled as the decked-out couple sauntered along busy overpasses and stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. Afterwards, they hopped aboard the Star Ferry which whisked them across the water towards their evening destination.

The historic Peninsula hotel was the perfect follow up to St. Margaret Mary’s Church, as both were built in the late twenties. Friends and family gathered together in the colonial-style banquet hall and were touched by videos recorded by the couple with personalized messages to each of the guests. Steven surprised Susan with an on-the-spot re-enactment of the proposal, while Susan brought tears to his eyes during her speech. After stepping away momentarily, Susan returned in a ruby red Vera Wang evening gown, escorted by Steven in a sleek Georgio Armani suit. A personal Ceroc dance instructor inspired the entire party to dance until midnight, celebrating this long-awaited day in the story of Susan and Steven.

Monday, February 18, 2008

IN Magazine: Feb 08 issue - spread

(photos: Edmon Leong, text: Jenn Chan Lyman)

IN Magazine: Feb 08 issue - text

Hedda and Leonard

More often than not, that special spark between two people ignies by accident. For Hedda and Leonard, the first flicker happened literally by means of an accident. The couple met at a dinner one night with mutual friends in San Francisco. As they parted, a taxi charged head-on into Leonard’s car at the intersection where they had just dined. Hedda rushed over to make sure he was all right. As Leonard recollects, it was her genuine concern that impacted [Editorial changed to “impressed”] him the most that night and continues to win him over even now.

is quite far away from their California home, but the isle of Phuket offered both familiarity and adventure for the couple’s nuptials. Hedda’s family had met there often for the holidays, while many other guests would be venturing to Thailand for the first time. Out of the many resorts situated in the Laguna cluster just bordering the Andaman Sea, the couple decided on the renowned Banyan Tree Phuket for their wedding ceremony.

[Natural adventure-seekers, even tsunami scares did not keep the down-to-earth couple from having a fabulous time as friends and family poured in with the wind and rain from around the world.] [Editorial deleted] The big day began with a few Herculean [Editorial changed to “crazy”] tasks for the groom as he arrived to pick up his bride. Leonard and his crew performed a fully-clothed, synchronized swimming version of a Jay Chou classic and gulped down a concoction of dried, whole wasps. When the bridesmaids were finally satisfied, Hedda stepped out, exquisite in a traditional two-piece “kwa”. After pouring tea for their elders, Hedda retired to don a deliciously crumpled cream gown of Thai silk designed by Barcelona’s Pronovias and prepare for their exchange of vows.

The Banyan Tree’s Glass Chapel provided shelter from intermittent sprinkles as well as a 360° view of the lush landscapes surrounding the congregation. Leonard was ready for action in a lightweight navy Ben Sherman suit, grinning as Hedda walked down the aisle towards him. After the ‘I-do’s’, guests took pictures with a baby elephant arranged by the couple as a surprise before the dinner reception. The night reached its zenith in a shower of fireworks, a gift to the newlyweds from Hedda’s brother and Leonard’s new brother-in-law, a perfect epilogue to a memorable day.