The Heavens

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The night sky over the hills of Himanag, Lagonoy, Camarines Sur. There’s Saturn as a bonus! For this shot: @18mm, ISO 1600, 30″, f/3.5. Taken May 13, 2016.

It was more than fifteen years ago since the very first time I saw the Milky Way. I was staying in my aunt’s place in an island fishing village in the Bicol region during the summer vacation. I woke up at around three in the morning to join the older men tend their fish cages. And as I looked up in the sky there it is. I just could not believe it. It was almost a magical feeling. I grew up in the city and there aren’t many stars visible through the city’s haze and pollution. So, the first time I saw it, I knew it got to be the Milky Way. And when the summer was over and another school year started, I used to tell my friends and classmates all about it. We were young kids. But sadly they don’t seem to share my excitement – which was fine with me. They always think of me then as rather eccentric kid, who always come up with strange stories of island adventures every time summer vacation is over.

So I then promised myself that in the future I’ll buy me a nice camera to take a snapshot of what I saw.

Once Again

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Every morning when the dawn breaks, I have renewed hope. In this photo, the sun had just risen and was strolling under our pomelo tree in Candelaria, Quezon Province. For me, every morning was a sight to behold.

I’m back!

So, it’s been ages since my last post. And I never have imagined that I’d be writing once again. I’ll just take this opportunity to tell a very short story about what happened to me since my last post.

I’ve been struggling on how to fix my life. Turns out that the company I have worked with as a writer cannot financially sustain its operations and had to lay off several employees. And since I was the newest member, I was the weakest link. Up until know, I still wonder on how a media company would possibly be able to keep on running, broadcast worldwide, and pay about fifty employees with just selling geomancy and feng shui stuffs as source of income. I mean, seriously, I was very ambitious on the owner’s part. But then, that was a different story.

Just last year, I met a former co-worker from that company and told that sometime after we were laid-off, our former boss and owner of the media company faced a lawsuit, charged with estafa. Well, I thought, that figures.

Life was hard. Life of joblessness was churning my soul. I simply couldn’t figure out what was happening to my life. I have a family. I couldn’t simply give up, even if I desperately wanted to. They need me.

In the first months of 2014 things just got worse for me. Due to some dire circumstances me and my family were forced to move from our urban home in Bacoor City and to live in the rural backwaters of  Candelaria, Quezon Province. My father-in-law lived their in his childhood. And since his mother died recently and the house was left abandoned he offered me the house for us to live in. That time, I already have two sons – my eldest was four years and my youngest was turning one – and my wife was pregnant to our daughter.

I was used to living the life in the rural setting. During my own childhood and my teenage years, i used to spend my two-month summer vacation every year in my mother’s home village in Camarines Sur, Bicol Region. I had experienced living without electricity and running water, with the only means of connectivity to the modern civilization was a battery-powered transistor radio. So living in Candelaria wasn’t all that difficult for me – even if I have to gather firewood for cooking. As for my kids, they seem to be doing fine. They don’t mind at all living in the countryside. For my thinking, what’s wrong for them living there? They got to breath unpolluted air, the vegetables they eat are fresher, and the they got a quiet neighborhood.

My wife, however, wasn’t all that amused. She gave me all kinds of hell because she didn’t like living in the province. She was born and raised in the city and probably have no experiences whatsoever on living a rural life for more than a week. I totally understand her complaints and displeasure, I mean, I couldn’t agree more that we were facing a very serious problem of unemployment and having to borrow money from my mother to feed my family. But by that time, what choice do we have? We had nowhere to go. Candelaria was all where we can run to and  we had to make the most of it. We just had to be patient and wait and see and try to figure out how we can earn money to make ends meet.

To be honest, despite all the hardships, I found happiness in Candelaria. There was peace. There was quiet. The people are nice. During the first weeks of living there, I felt that I belong there. It was home. And although we were still struggling on figuring out on how to make money, I rediscovered my skills and talent. Or maybe I should say I was forced to. And I was happy about it. Because for once I get to realize that my future is in my hands. I’ve been overlooking my artistic skills for years. Maybe I could resume drawing and painting and other artworks then sell them. I could totally use the quietness and the tranquility of my new surroundings to regenerate my soul! I could totally use my passion for cooking for opening up a business!

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Pancit Habhab, one of the reasons I fell in love with Candelaria. Most eat it without the use of utensils, hence the word “habhab”, but I devour it using chopsticks.

Suddenly, the possibilities were enormous. There were still hard works that had to be done and odds are tremendous. But the possibilities were there. And that gave me hope.

But none ever happened. Nature has a way of rearranging itself, our lives, and our dreams. In July 2014 we were struck very hard by a devastating typhoon. Never in my entire life have I experienced such violence from nature. It was just the first one for the year’s typhoon season. In the middle of the night the house was flooded due to relentless rain brought by the typhoon. The house was not destroyed, though. But most of our things got soaked in the muddy flood water. We were so overwhelmed and the conditions unbearable for my family that we decided to go back to Bacoor City. That time, it was already alright for us to return there.

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Wild flowers bloom on our forested backyard.

Looking back, I had learned pretty hard lessons. It seems that I was purged. I was made to look deeply into myself and made me reassess my life. Of course I felt sorry for my family especially for my wife. But then again we had no choice.

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By June 2014, our pomelo started blooming, promising sweet pomelos. Something to look forward to.

Storms may come and go. They test our strength. The house was still there until now. Worn and neglected maybe, but it’s still there standing, waiting for its new occupant.

Looking back I am very grateful because in times of my troubles I found shelter. And in the middle of hardships I found true peace of mind and happiness. And most of all I found renewed hope. Everything happens for a reason.

KUWENTONG MASALIMUOT

A laborer by the Sunset. Photo by Christopher Barja
A laborer by the Sunset. Photo by Christopher Barja

KUWENTONG MASALIMUOT

Akda ni Christopher Barja

 

Heto na naman si Boy Kulot

Katinuan ng pag-iisip sa kanya’y pinagdamot

Pinandidirihan, madungis at mabantot

Walang habas kung siya’y umutot

 

Pagkakamaling bunga ng harot

Sa mata ng ama’y siya’y ‘sang salot

Sa kanyang amang puno ng puot

Dulot sa kanya’y bugbog at takot

 

Sa isang matinding sigalot

Sa kanyang kamay kutsilyo’y naabot

Sa isang kumpas, kamatayan ang dulot

Sa ospital, kanyang ama’y ‘di na umabot

 

Dala marahil ng matinding lungkot

Sarili’y pilit ibinaon sa limot

Mundong malupit at masalimuot

Para sa kanya’y tumigil sa pag-ikot

 

Naging palaboy sa kalyeng pasikot-sikot

Pag-asa’t pangarap sa kanya’y nasimhot

Sa problema niya’y solvent ang naging sagot

Ngunit sa realidad siya’y walang lusot

 

Tadhana sa kanya’y naging maramot

Laman ng tiyan ay basura dinadampot

Matinong damit ay walang maisuot

Sa malubhang karamdama’y  walang gamot

 

Isang araw, si Boy Kulot

Sa bangketa’y nakabaluktot

Sa dyaryo siya’y nakabalot

Miserableng buhay ay maagang naudlot.

 

A Piece of History, 1/35 Scale

Sd. Kfz. 165 Hummel 150mm Self-propelled Gun
Sd. Kfz. 165 Hummel 150mm Self-propelled Gun

I bought this 1/35 scale model of the German Sd. Kfz. 165 Hummel 150mm self-propelled howitzer from a local hobby store. It took me about a week to complete its construction.

I bought the German gun crew separately, and it took me 3 days to construct and paint them. About 3 hours a day. Since they are wearing parkas, and it seems that they are geared up for a winter action in the Eastern Front during WWII, I decided to paint them in winter/spring scheme.

As for the paint, I didn’t use the kind that most modelers would. Instead, I used what are available at my disposal – artist’s oil paint, in tubes (Vinton, Reeves, Pebeo, Alpha). I even compromised using some of my very finest brushes, to suppress any mark of brushworks (oh, those sables!).

Scaled modeling and diorama making has become my new form of art. But instead of using linseed oil to thin my paints, I resorted in using kerosene for thinning to keep the oil paints from giving off their natural luster. It should be noted that there are no tanks or any other military vehicles on the grounds that are shiny. The only problem with artist’s paint is that they took some time to dry up, unlike the aqueous and other oil-based modeling paints that dry up instantly. Artist paints take some time to settle: blacks and burnt umber take about 12 -24 hours to dry; siennas and ochres about 24-36 hours; white paints could reach 3 to 4 days before finally settling.

After constructing and painting the tank and the crew, next comes the planning for the composition of the diorama. On this one, I experimented on using used coffee grounds to represent the soil (to be broad, the coffee was Arabica, Bon Vivant Irish cream blend, hmmm… plug!).

I put the thick layer of glue and coffee ground over a ½ inch Styrofoam sheet topped with a thick layer of paper mache.

As for the grass effect, I used the cogon strands of our mop. And everyone in our house was puzzled to see the mop nicely trimmed.

In making the tree, I had to watch a Youtube video on how to make a miniature tree from scratch. But I deviated from using expensive lichen and Styrofoam for the foliage. Instead, I used shredded dried moss and sprinkled it to armature of copper wire shaped into branches. I think the best way to stick the shredded moss to the armature is by using adhesive spray. But then, I simply dipped the ends of the armatures into a pool of paper glue. Anyway, the result was still great.

Making the fences and the toilet is the part that has the more fun. I had to use match sticks, toothpicks (I made sure they’re unused), Popsicle sticks, and matchboxes for them. It was like back in those childhood days when I used to create houses for my toys out of shoe boxes and cartons.

It took me about three weeks to complete this diorama. As I have also other things to do, I find it hard to allocate a significant amount of time to finish it soon. The last part is taking photos of it and making it look like a footage from the 1940’s era. To give its picture a vintage look, I used Photoshop for photo manipulation.

So there it is. There’s my 1/35 scale of Sd. Kfz. 165 Hummel 150mm self-propelled gun with crew preparing their ammunitions for their artillery barrage, their order for the day. I find it cute that a military vehicle be named after a bumblebee, though.

MY PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY DEBUT

Sometimes it is not the very camera that matters; it is the lighting that gives life to the picture.
Photo By Christopher Barja. Sometimes it is not the very camera that matters; it is the lighting that gives life to the picture.

 

My product photography debut. Simple and easy way of taking pictures of your products. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take a good shot. It’s all in the lighting, and a good camera.

Original file:

Original Dimension: 3240 x 4320 px

F-stop: f/5.3

Shutter speed: 1.6 seconds

ISO speed: ISO-100

Lighting: Yellow incandescent lamp, white LED, white flourescent

Digital manipulation:

Size reassignment: cut by 75%

Color balance: Cyan: +40, Magenta: 0, Yellow: -20

Channel adjustments: Red contrast: +30, Green contrast: +10, Blue contrast: 0