Shutterbug loves Asia

Chris Thompson, the photography enthusiast
Around 2001, if you noticed an Aussie guy riding a Vespa across the causeway, that would be me traveling regularly from Singapore to Johor Baru to meet Alisa, who’s now my wife. 

I’m from Melbourne but since 1996, I’ve lived and worked in Asia and I met Alisa in Singapore.  She and her family, who are involved in a restaurant business, live in Johor Baru and after we were married, I moved to live here in 2003.

At age 16, I discovered an interest in cinematography from my friend’s father who made TV commercials.  I asked a lot of questions and learnt a great deal about cameras from him.  My interest in cameras not only started me on a hobby in collecting cameras but it also set me up for a career in photography.

Over time, my camera collection expanded and now I have 70 cameras in my collection.  Besides collecting different makes and models, I would sometimes take old cameras apart and assemble them again.  I would tinker around with old cameras, experimenting with various lenses and I eventually created my own camera!

With a passion in photography and a big lover of old-school designs and craftsmanship I traveled throughout Asia to look at old buildings like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the E & O Hotel in Penang and The Strand in Vietnam.  As I traveled around Johor, I saw many charming colonial buildings designed in a blend of Asian, European and Portuguese influenced architecture.  I believe there’s nothing like this anywhere in the world!

The Thompson family on holiday in Port Dickson
One day while I was in Kota Tinggi, I was captivated by a particular scene and thought, “I just have to take this picture.”  The reaction to this and many photos taken in Johor was, “Wow!”  I’m deeply moved when I get compliments for my photos and when I tell people that these photos were taken in Johor, their response usually is, “Where’s that?” 

My parents, brother and other family members still live in Melbourne so my friends find it strange that I now live in Johor Baru especially after having lived in Singapore for 4 years.  At first, I found it strange too but I’ve fallen in love with Asia and now I love this place. 

I enjoy living in Johor Baru so much that in February 2010, my wife and I opened an art gallery and lounge we call Lost Malaya in a colonial bungalow.

It’s very rewarding to take a beautiful property and transform it into a place where people can come to chill out and especially where ladies can feel comfortable in.  Sitting at the balcony, I can look out and see two countries because Lost Malaya commands a panoramic view of the Johor Straits with Singapore and the Danga islands in the distance.  The charming ambience and spacious compound in Lost Malaya presents a perfect setting for private parties, especially outdoor events like barbecues for up to 100 guests.   

A section of the crowd in Lost Malaya lounge
A regular at Lost Malaya told me that for some time, he used to drive along Jalan Skudai and noticed the building and was curious after reading our sign but did not venture in.  One day he finally decided to come in and was surprised to discover the colonial charm, laid back ambience and personalized service in Lost Malaya.  Since that day, he’s been a regular and brought along other friends to experience what he discovered here.

Another time, I was surprised when two Dutch girls found their way to Lost Malaya.  Someone had shared their experience with them and after hearing about this place, they were just keen to see it for themselves.  I just give credit to my wife, who in between caring for our 4-year old son, Shane and 2-year old daughter, Lyla, runs the place with a capable team while I’m away on work assignments.

As Director of Photography for season 2 of The Biggest Loser Asia reality show, I’m often traveling and filming in the field.  I was also involved in The Biggest Loser Asia season 1, seasons 1, 2 and 4 of The Amazing Race Asia and two seasons of The Contender America.  I love working on these shows but I must say that I’ve never worked in a job with so much crying as in the Biggest Loser!

In the last 6 months, I discovered a great deal of untapped talent in Johor Baru and am keen to create an art base for young artistes at Lost Malaya.  To cultivate the art scene in Johor Baru, the Lost Malaya art gallery presented a series of three 2-month long exhibitions.  It’s very encouraging that 50% of exhibits featured are by local talents and I believe that Lost Malaya can be an inspiration for creativity in Johor Baru.

I’m living my dream, preserving a part of the beauty and charm of the pre-Independence era at Lost Malaya and look forward to using the gallery as a platform for young artistes in Johor to present and promote their creations.  Open daily from 3pm to 12am and closed on Mondays, the Lost Malaya lounge serves hot and cold drinks and finger food.  For more info, Tel: 607 – 221 0629 and visit website: http://www.lostmalaya.com/

This interview was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in September 2010

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