Two camera stores in Singapore you must visit; even if you’re not into cameras

When I was visiting the Shiva Temple at Tadong in Sikkim, I made the horrible mistake of peeing with the camera strap round my neck. When I was done, my hand somehow hit the camera lens and the lens cap flew out, hit the wall, rolled on the floor for a bit and fell right in the the toilet. If one of the Indian style toilets in Tadong is not functioning anymore then you know why. But that’s not the point. I ended up lens-cap-less for about 5 days because I was in transit from Gangtok to Siliguri; Siliguri to Guwahati; Guwahati to Bangalore until I landed in Singapore.

So, on the second last day of my weeklong vacation in Singapore, I decided to check out the camera stores in Peninsula Shopping Centre at Coleman Street. Sometimes you just want to go window-shop at the camera stores; but you have this daunting feeling that if you do not purchase anything, the sales guy might kick you out. While I did check out quite a few shops at Peninsula centre, I specifically want to mention two shops that you have to visit, not just for buying equipment, but also because these shops have something that many camera shops lack – ‘character’.

1. The Camera Workshop

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Mr. Nelson is a popular man in Singapore’s camera market.

When I walked into this shop and started staring at the film cameras that were on display, Mr. Nelson, a white bearded, quite stereotypically Chinese looking man asked me what I was looking for. I showed him my camera and told him I was looking for a lens cap. He took the camera, unlocked the lens from the body and immediately gave me a stern look and told me I was not taking good care of my camera. I could only reply with an apologetic look on my face. This is the moment when I realised that this guy is actually passionate about cameras and not just a businessman. I was sold, I would have bought anything he sold me after that point. But I sort of controlled myself and told him, I only wanted a lens cap. . . ok I ended up buying a filter too. He also cleaned my 50mm and 24mm lenses for free and quite strictly instructed me to take good care of my equipment.

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A wall full of vintage cameras.

2. Riceball

No! It’s not a restaurant. Ling, the guy who owns the shop describes it as a one of a kind photography book shop. No wonder there were so many books lying around, but other than the books what stood out in this shop were all the Leicas and premium leather accessories, and the premium leather accessories for cameras. I was quite confused between two books because they seemed to be more or less serving the same purpose. To my surprise, Ling very patiently took me through the pros and cons of each book without trying to sell me the more expensive one. I ended up buying one of the books and an ND filter, Ling was kind enough to teach me when to use it.

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Ling makes his clients feel special.

I spent some time looking at the leather accessories, the vintage cameras and lenses; it was almost like a sex shop for cameras and camera lovers. While I was there, a boy who looked like a photography student popped in and he had a longish friendly conversation with Ling. From the looks of it, it seemed like the store was popular among youngsters.

These are the kind of experiences that make moments memorable, which go beyond discounts, or even the products available in the shop. The feeling that you are buying a piece of equipment from a person who actually cares about cameras and the art and craft of photography adds to the shop’s credibility.

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Like I said, it’s not a restaurant.
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Straps, straps and more straps.

This was the day I decided not to vlog and just walk around the city. I cannot express how good it felt; almost like discovering a new Singapore. Sometimes we are so caught up in the hysteria of ticking off all the important touristy spots in our holiday destination that we miss out on the actual life of the city, the life that exists in the corners of the streets and the shops hidden in the basements of aged shopping complexes – the leftovers of the old town charms that have been overshadowed by urbanisation. So, take a day off, relax and ditch the tourist bus for a while.

If you liked this blog then, you might like my Singapore vlog on my YouTube channel which I shot entirely on my iPhone 7.

Mumbai’s beloved Letter Writers.

A group of men sitting in their open air office just opposite the GPO could be a strange sight for somebody like me who is fairly new to the city. But on further research (by which I mean doing a simple google search) one becomes informed about the rich past they have lived as chroniclers of personal narratives of their clients.

What used to be a lucrative profession of writing letters for illiterate clients usually migrants has come down to becoming an odd job of packing parcels in muslin cloth among other tasks. The profession may have lost its glory, but these men are not complaining. They have accepted that there are better ways to communicate in the present times.

But the sheer fascination about the history of the city and the love for nostalgia brings people from around the world to this very spot where the Letter Writers sit with pride. A pride that is the outcome of having seen the city transform.

The open air office of the Letter Writers.
The open air office of the Letter Writers.
Heating the adhesive
Heating the adhesive
Shakeel Ahmed a well known letter writer
The signature stamp
The signature stamp
A transforming city around a transforming profession.
A transforming city around a transforming profession.
Packed up.
Packed up.