Keow Wee Loong, 26, snuck into the building on New Year’s Eve and made it to the top.
He then captured a series of photographs that gave a bird’s eye view of the city in China’s southern Guangdong province. One of the heart-stopping images showed his feet dangling off the edge of the building.
According to his Facebook post, Keow dedicated the climb to the passengers onboard the AirAsia Flight QZ8501, which crashed in December.
“When I arrived in Shenzhen for this project, I was shocked to find out that the AirAsia flight was missing. This flight departed around the same time as mine,” he wrote.
It was not the first time the full-time photographer to scaled a skyscraper. This activity is known as “rooftopping” and its enthusiasts, “rooftoppers.”
The law graduate from University of London completed his first climb up the Shanghai Tower in April 2014. Following this debut act, Keow has “conquered” other buildings.
In June last year, he climbed the 1 Sentrum Tower at KL Sentral in Brickfields, waving the Jalur Gemilang when he reached the top. For this, he was charged with trespassing and fined RM1,000 by a Magistrate’s Court.
His other ascents included buildings in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, often checked in as “unknown place”, and a Ferris wheel in Hong Kong.
Some may consider his passion to be extreme and spine-chilling because he does not use any safety harnesses when climbing the structures, but Keow insisted it is not as dangerous and crazy as people assumed.
To see more of Keow’s photos, drop by his solo exhibition at the Nikon Photo Gallery at Berjaya Times Square from now till May 15, or visit his Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/uglykiwi).
Keow spoke to The Star Online on the passion that fuels his daring acts.
Q: What prompted your first climb up the Shanghai Tower in April 2014? What or who inspired you to start rooftopping?
I was in Shanghai on vacation and someone told me that two people climbed that building in February, so I was curious and decided to try it out during a public holiday in China, the Qing Ming Festival.
Q: Why do you do this? Is it for the adrenaline rush? Or to take photos from the top of the buildings?
It is no different than people who wanted to conquer the tallest mountain while carrying their country name. I am the only Malaysian who does this. A lot of people think only Europeans or Americans can do these crazy things. But why not an Asian? Why not a Malaysian?
I also enjoy climbing to the top of the building and capturing an image that is so rare that no one can duplicate. Is it worth risking my life to capture the perfect photo? As a photographer, I will say yes, it is worth it.
The view from the top is so great that I want to share it with people all around the world. When I stand on top and look down, I feel that what we do sometimes is just so insignificant. Everything seems so small up here. We are just a dust in the universe.
I am always trying to inspire others to do what they want and say yes to all the opportunities life presents to them. It takes great courage to take the first step.
Q: What kind of preparation do you do before ascending a building?
I cycle, swim, jog and climb mountains. Nothing big and I don’t do these all the time.
Well, it is easier to climb with T-shirt and shorts. I wear black because it doesn’t get dirty easily. It is also easier to blend in with the shadow so I don’t get spotted at night when I climb. It will be very obvious is you are wearing pink or other bright colours at night.
I cover my face when I climb the buildings because I don’t want people to recognise me in public. It will make it very difficult for me to move around.
I am only producing art – which are the photos – and I am not hurting anyone, so why should I stop doing it? I enjoy climbing and taking photos from above. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do in life. If you want something in life, go get it. No one will give it to you if you don’t put in effort to get it yourself.
Q: You climbed the Ping An International Finance Centre in Shenzhen on New Year's eve. Can you describe this experience for us?
I chose Ping An International Finance Centre because it is the second tallest building in the world. I visited Shenzhen specifically for that. It was really cold that time and I was just wearing shorts. It normally takes me one-and-half-hours maximum to reach the top of any buildings, but for this climb it took me 23 hours because I was evading the guard and construction workers.
Besides using the stairs – which were only built until Level 97 then – I climbed from the outside, on the steel frame of the building to get up to the crane. It was freezing on top.
I bumped into a guard at Level 55, who then alerted the other security guards on the ground floor. They were looking for me floor by floor, so I just hid for eight hours until they changed shift before moving up again. It was like looking for a fish in the ocean for them because the building has 115 storeys. They beefed up the security later, but I managed to get out in one piece.
I was doing this alone.
Q: People would say what you do as crazy and dangerous. What’s your response to this?
My dad actually knew about this and he is very supportive. Well, it is only crazy and dangerous if you don’t know what you doing, like flying a plane without any knowledge or skydiving without knowing how to open your parachute. While other people see it as crazy and dangerous, it is normal for me.
I don’t really care what people think as I don’t need their approval to do what I enjoy doing. I smile at them, and ask how often do you get to do what I do?
A: Seriously, I hate that title. Other international media also used “daredevil” or “adrenaline junkie” in the story headlines. I always tell them I am a photographer from Malaysia, but somehow the editors got creative and changed everything.
I am okay if you call me a rooftopper, but I prefer to be known as a photographer rather than Spiderman. I am just a normal human being.