Thursday, January 31, 2013

Never Underestimate Your Luck

My 5D Mark III, 50mm f1.2 lens with my Panasonic Lumix GX1, its 20mm f1.7 lens (~ a 40mm lens in full frame terms) and my Cambodian press credential.

Yesterday I walked up to the Cambodian Ministry of Information to apply for a press credential to cover King Sihanouk's cremation. Apparently credentialing closed on January 25 and I was a week late. I put on my best sad face, apologized for my tardiness and pulled out the passport photos I always travel with. The Ministry official looked at me and shrugged. He took my particulars and passport photo and said come back tomorrow.

As I was leaving he reminded me of the dress code, black slacks, white long sleeve shirt, black tie and black leather shoes. No sports shoes (tennis shoes). On my walk back to my hotel I stopped at a street stall and picked up a pair of slacks and the shirt. Total: $5(US). I made a second stop for the tie, which set me back $2 more. 

I couldn't find shoes for under $50US, so I put those off in case my luck ran out and they denied me the credential. But the gentleman was as good as his word and my credential was waiting for me (well it was more complicated than that, but I got it). On the way back to the hotel I found a street stall selling shoes and scored a pair of black leather shoes for $30. They only need to last two days (Friday and Monday), so I won't be too bummed if they break down while I'm here. 

All in all, I think I lucked out. It would have been very easy for the Ministry official to shut down on me. But he didn't. And I didn't think I would find clothes in my size, but even that was easy. Then I stumbled into a street stall that had the right shoes in my size. The royal funeral trifecta.  

Tomorrow is the funeral procession. The King's body will be moved from the palace to the cremation site, which is next to the palace. This is also Cambodians' last chance to say goodbye to Sihanouk, who's been a part of their lives since the 1940's (and he's the man who secured Cambodia's independence from France), so the procession will wind its way through Phnom Penh, taking about five hours. They are expecting up to 1,000,000 (that's million) people to line the route. 

I will be working with my Canon 5D bodies, I'll take my 24mm, 50mm, 100mm and 200mm lenses, one flash and 20 Compact Flash cards. I'm going to leave my Lumix body and lenses in the hotel room safe - I'm going to be out on the street for about nine hours and have to pare down the amount of gear I'm carrying. Likewise just one flash (which I probably won't use). I won't cut back on CF cards though. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it would be bad to run out of storage halfway through it. (And the lesson here for traveling journalists is always carry a bunch of passport photos. You never know when you're going to need one.)  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mourning the King Father

A woman burns incense and prays while mourning for late King Norodom Sihanouk in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Norodom Sihanouk, the mercurial former King of Cambodia, died in Beijing in October. Cambodians went into mourning for their beloved, complicated King. His cremation is to take place Monday, February 4. I am in Phnom Penh for the cremation. 

Sihanouk ruled Cambodia wearing a variety of hats. Sometimes as Prime Minister, sometimes as King. He abdicated twice (the final time in 2004), he started the war against the Khmer Rouge and then became their public face. When the KR killed members of his family and he could no longer ignore their atrocities he turned his back on them. After his 2004 abdication, the Cambodian government bestowed the honorific of "King-Father" on Sihanouk. 

In 1970, Sihanouk was deposed by a coup led by Cambodian General Lon Nol. The coup was supported by the United States, which wanted to widen the war in Vietnam to include Cambodia (to get at Communist safe havens in eastern Cambodia). The US bombing of Cambodia strengthened the Khmer Rouge and led to their eventual victory and the subsequent genocide that scars Cambodia to this day. (Not to mention the thousands that have been killed and maimed since the war by unexploded ordinance dropped by US planes.) 

Through it all, Sihanouk was a presence in the lives of Cambodians. He was a prolific author and film maker. He liked to be seen with Western celebrities and movie stars. Phnom Penh in the 60's was a haven from the fighting in Vietnam and hustle of Bangkok. The rich and famous called on the King, who loved the limelight. 

His legacy in Cambodia will be disputed for years. But he was loved by his people and was one of the towering figures of Southeast Asian history in the middle of 20th century. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Welcome to Phnom Penh

Cambodian monks stand in the entrance to Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh.

Wat Ounalom is the most important Buddhist temple in Phnom Penh, and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. It was established in 1443. The temple complex was damaged by the Khmer Rouge but has since been restored. The main complex has a stupa which contains what is believed to be an eyebrow hair of Buddha.

I'm in Phnom Penh for a while to photograph activities related to the cremation of King Father Sihanouk. Last night I wandered around the area around the Royal Palace and photographed people mourning the death of Sihanouk.

Norodom Sihanouk was a fascinating person. He ruled Cambodia from the time of its independence from France in 1953 until he was deposed by Gen. Lon Nol, who was allied with the Americans in South Vietnam, in 1970. His ouster led to the US' greater involvement in Cambodia and ultimately the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge.

It's been a few years since I've been to Phnom Penh. The city has exploded. The area around the riverfront is lined with hotels and tourist restaurants. It's hard to move without running into touts pushing their taxi services on you. Still, it's a charming city with a much more relaxed ambiance than Bangkok and I'm happy to be here.

There are more photos from this trip to Cambodia (and my previous work from Cambodia) in my archive.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Monks On The March

Buddhist monks walk through Surasakmontri School during their pilgrimage through Bangkok

More than 1,100 Buddhist monks, most from the Dhammakaya Movement, will complete a mass pilgrimage through Bangkok and central Thailand later today. I photographed them during Saturday's leg of the pilgrimage. Thai Buddhists lined the route of the pilgrimage and sprinkled the path with marigold blossoms, which the monks walked over in a long single file. As the monks passed, people scooped up the blossoms as mementos of the day. 

As interesting as the pilgrimage was though, for me the best part of the morning was being among the monks as they broke their camp at the school where they spent the night.

More after the jump...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Why I Walk

Boy Scouts walk along Soi 22 near my apartment

I walk a lot in Bangkok. Not as much as I did in Phoenix, where I walked at least 9.5 kilometers a day, when I was walking for exercise, but a lot. I think I probably walk five to eight kilometers a day here.

I'm a bit of a fanatic about it. When I'm going somewhere, I walk to the nearest Skytrain or subway station and I walk home from the train afterwards. When I get to the station nearest my destination, if my final destination is walkable, I walk to it. All of those strolls add up. When I go out to eat, I walk to where ever I'm going. Sometimes it's just a block or two, sometimes it's three or four kilometers. (Like last night when I was hungry for Indian food and had to walk about four kilometers to get to the Indian restaurant I like.)

The only problem is Bangkok is not an especially easy city to walk in. The sidewalks, when there are sidewalks, are frequently blocked by vendors' carts or ripped up for construction. Some streets are too narrow to have sidewalks so you walk in the right of way while cars and motorcycles zip around you. On the main streets, where traffic is dreadful (Gridlock, thy name is Bangkok), motorcycles use the sidewalks endangering both pedestrians and motorcyclists. And then there's the weather. It's always hot and humid. Always. Miami and New Orleans get winter breaks, in Bangkok it's a big deal when the daily high drops from 35C (95F) to 32C (90F). Bangkok in January is like New Orleans in August. Ugh.

Some of my Thai friends (and most of the foreigners I know) think I'm nuts. Taxis are plentiful and cheap here. It costs $10US to get across town. They're air conditioned and clean. Which is great. But I believe the only way you really see a city is to walk it.

My interest in iPhone photography was spurred by my walks in Phoenix. It was the only camera I carried with me and I used it to photograph some of the signs of the Great Recession that still rocks Phoenix. In Bangkok I usually carry a full kit (I am here to make pictures after all) but even when I go shopping or out for dinner I carry my little Panasonic GX1 and a couple of lenses.

Alex Webb, perhaps one of the finest street photographers practicing the craft today, has a terrific quote about walking, "I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch..."

Which brings me back to the Boy Scouts at the top of the page. I was walking to the subway to get across town for a news event. I saw the Boy Scouts coming toward me on the opposite side of the street. I ran out into the street and made three or four frames as they marched by. If I had been in a taxi or on a motorscooter I wouldn't have made this photo. And that would have been a shame because it's probably my favorite from the day.

Most of the photos in my archive, including a lot I've made taking walks through Bangkok, are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Moveable Market

A train comes rolling into the market in Samut Songkhram

Thailand is famous for its markets. There are wet markets (meat and fresh produce), dry markets (clothes and non perishables), livestock markets (water buffalo and cattle), floating markets (markets on canals) and then there's the market in Samut Songkhram. Where the train drives through and over the market every time it leaves or comes into town. Eight times a day the train leaves or comes into town, rolling through and over the market. 

Samut Songkhram is a nice little town on the Gulf of Siam about 90 minutes from Bangkok. There's a fishing port in town and farms of all sorts dot the landscape around the town. A lot of tourists come into town for day trips to see the canals and floating markets in the area. But the town is most famous for two things: the salt fields north of town and the crazy market in town. 

Samut Songkhram is on the way to the famous floating market in Damnoen Saduak and the trains run on a sort of schedule. Tour buses stop on their way to the floating market, the tourists tromp up and down the tracks and, if they're lucky, jump out of the way as the train chugs through, then get back on their buses and go to the crowded floating market. The problem is the trains don't always, make that seldom, run on time and tour buses have a schedule to keep so they don't always get to enjoy the spectacle of the train in the market. 

That's too bad because it is a lot of fun. The vendors sit on the edge of the tracks with their goods spread out around them. A train whistle blares in the distance and in what can only be described as a well rehearsed ballet, they stand en masse. First they move their merchandise off the tracks and out of the way (as you can see in the photo, some things are left on the ground next to the rails, the train rolls over this stuff). Then they help each other move the awnings that cover their stands and the tracks out of the way. Then they wait a couple of minutes until the train passes and put everything back together again.  

Since the train makes four round trips daily, it leaves and comes into the Samut Songkhram station eight times a day. So eight times a day the market vendors go through this routine. 

I think the best way to see the market is to have your own transportation or travel independently. Tour groups are committed to a schedule individual travelers have no control over the train is committed to a schedule it seldom keeps so the chances of a tour group being in the market when the trains comes is not very good. The market is more crowded in the morning that it is in the afternoons, so mornings are best. 

There are more photos of the Samut Songkhram train in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day Trip to Thonburi

Children at the Artists' House in the Khlong Bang Luang neighborhood of Thonburi play with a smart phone. 

I went on a walkabout through the Khlong Bang Luang neighborhood with members of the Bangkok Photo Club Sunday. Khlong Bang Luang is in Thonburi, on the west side of Mae Nam Chao Phraya. Neighborhoods on the west side of the river are a little more rustic than the Bangkok side. 

I took a motorcycle taxi to the subway, took the subway to the Silom stop, then took the BTS Skytrain to the Wongwian Yai stop where I met the other club members. Then we took taxis to a street close to the khlong and from there we walked. Getting anywhere in Bangkok is half the adventure of living in this city. 

Khlong Bang Luang is one of the larger khlongs (canals) in Thonburi. It's almost an aquatic freeway with big passenger boats zooming up and down the waterway, knocking smaller boats and canoes around in their wake. Homes on stilts line the waterfront and "streets" like the ones in Ban Krua, are as narrow as the sidewalks in downtown Bangkok. That doesn't stop the motorscooters from putt-putting past or the vendors from navigating the tiny throughways with their cumbersome pushcarts. 

Our first stop was the Artists' House, a wonderful 18th century wooden home built around an even older chedi. A young man, playing Hanuman, danced a scene from the Ramayana. Then we just walked through the neighborhood. It was a very relaxing and fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 

There are more photos from Khlong Bang Luang in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

One Night in Bangkok

"I can feel the Devil walking next to me".... Lyrics by Murray Head

Entertainers from the "Cockatoo" a ladyboy/kathoey bar on Soi Cowboy relax on the mirrored porch in front of the bar. Another line from the song is "But the queens we use would not excite you..."

Eventually almost everyone who comes to Bangkok ends up at Patpong, Nana or Soi Cowboy, the city's infamous red light districts that cater to western men. Like visiting Bourbon Street in New Orleans, it's a part of seeing the sights of Bangkok. 

It's not unusual to see families wandering around Patpong, which has changed over the years and become a Disnified version of its former self. There's a night market that sells everything from knockoff designer bags to knockoff designer clothes to knockoff designer watches. I have a fine collection of "replica" watches - Panerai, Tag Heuer and Breitling - that I bought in the Patpong night market. They look great but keep terrible time (I guess there's a reason a real Panerai costs $8,000 and mine cost $8). 

Nana is pretty raw. It's lined with go-go bars, beer bars and worse. Couples walk through Nana but they don't linger and not many families go in, not even to gawk. Lonely Planet says "Nana is where the sexpats are separated from the gawking tourists." That's as apt a description as any I've read. The best I can come up with is Sodom and Gomorrah. Real Old Testament debauchery.  

Soi Cowboy is a cross between the two. Like Patpong, it's a street lined with bars (Patpong is actually two parallel Sois between Silom and Surawong Roads in Bangkok's financial district), but there is no night market at Soi Cowboy. 

On the other hand, Soi Cowboy has some of the best neon in the city, making it popular with photographers and there are bars at the east end of the Soi that are not a part of the sex trade, so it's popular with adults who want to have a beer and take in the sights but not get too close to the action. Patpong also has a nice neon display, but it's a little harder for a photographer to work there. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Walk Through Ban Krua

A man sits in the shade in front of the mosque in Ban Krua

Bangkok is a surprisingly diverse city. Thailand is a Buddhist country and most Thais are devout Buddhists, but Thai Buddhism is tolerant of different religions and lifestyles. 

There is a large Muslim population in Bangkok, both of native Thai Muslims but also people who have emigrated to Thailand from elsewhere in the Muslim world. There are also large Christian communities (and not just in the expat community but also Thai Christians) and large communities of Hindus, Sikhs and others from the Indian subcontinent. There is a Jewish community center down the street from my apartment. 

Most people who come to Bangkok, whether to live or visit, see only a small part of the city - the area around the Palace, Chinatown, Ratchaprasong and Sukhumvit (which is sort of all one street) and the financial neighborhood at Silom. 

Get off the beaten path though and Bangkok starts to reveal itself as a city that is much more than retail and temples.

Ban Krua is one such neighborhood. It's incredibly easy to get to - it is just across Khlong Saen Saeb from the Jim Thompson house. Most people pass right by it without venturing in. It was the first Muslim community in Bangkok and traces its history back to the very early years of the Chakri Dynasty and King Rama I. 

Thailand (then Siam) was caught in one of its several wars with Cambodia (then the Khmer empire). Rama I told the Khmer Cham Muslims he would give them a royal land grant if they joined him in his fight against the Khmers and they did. When the war ended, he fulfilled his promise and thousands of Khmer Cham Muslims moved to Bangkok. 

Thus was created Ban Krua. At the time, in the early 1800s, the community was beyond Bangkok's city walls and more or less in the countryside. Now Bangkok has grown up around the community and Ban Krua is firmly in the middle of town. 

Walking into these communities can be a little intimidating to the first time visitor. Streets aren't really streets at all. They're no wider than sidewalks and way too narrow for cars. Motorcycles, bicycles and pushcarts share space on the "avenues" with pedestrians. Roofs overhang the sidewalk/streets. To an outsider the view might be dark and a little unwelcoming. 

Don't let appearances fool you. What you're seeing is the way Bangkok used to be, before the car became the main form of transport. People walked to the Khlong and then caught a boat, or poled their canoes from place to place (most of the small khlongs have been filled in and people no longer pole their canoes in the neighborhood). 

Ban Krua now is a changing community. The Bangkok municipal government wants to evict the community and put in an expressway but the community has resisted the move. Some of the Muslim families have moved out and more Buddhists have moved in. But mosques still outnumber wats, women still wear hijab and the food is still halal

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Reaching for the Relic

I'm a little behind in blogging so the next few entries are going to be out of order. 

Women reach to truck carrying a relic of the Buddha during a ceremony to honor the relic in Bangkok

I took Jeff Topping down to see the old part of Bangkok while he was here. We wandered through the Amulet Market and then headed out to find something to eat. We crossed Sanam Luang, and couldn't help but notice there was a Buddhist ceremony going on. Being a couple of photographers with nothing in particular to photograph we immediately seized the opportunity to make a few pictures. 

There was a lot of security around the ceremony, so we mostly worked the periphery, photographing people in the crowd praying. This being Thailand, once the security people realized we weren't "normal" tourists (I don't know how you define a normal tourist, but whatever the definition, we didn't fit the profile), they let us into the media space to photograph alongside the Thai newspaper and magazine photographers that were there. (Maybe it was the fact that I was dressed appropriately - long slacks, long sleeved white shirt and a press credential around my neck. Or maybe they just took pity on us.)

There were a number of high ranking politicians from Bangkok city government there along with senior monks and members of the military command staff. All of which explained the security. Jeff and I photographed the ceremony, which was to honor a relic of the Buddha. The relic, a strand of hair from the Buddha, was on loan to Thai Buddhists from Buddhists in Sri Lanka. It was being moved to a temple in Ayutthaya, we had stumbled into the farewell ceremony for the relic.

I expected to be at the service for a few minutes and then push onto lunch. Minutes stretched into hours and before we knew it lunch time was dinner time and the ceremony was still going on. And we were still photographing. 

The ceremony didn't end until the truck carrying the relic to Ayutthaya left the park. Even then, people stayed to pray at the shrine that had been built for the ceremony. Many folks also took a souvenir from the event - a lotus blossom from the shrine or a candle or other memento. It reminded me of services I had covered in the Southwestern US for a relic of St. Therese, a Catholic saint with a large following in the US

It was dark by the time we left the park. So we hopped into a tuk-tuk, which honestly is my least favorite way of getting around, and headed home. There are more photos from the ceremony in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Riding the Kanchanaburi Local Train

A couple shares a blanket while they try to sleep on the local train that runs between Bangkok Noi (Thonburi) and Kanchanaburi.

Jeff Topping, a photographer I knew from my time in Phoenix, was in Bangkok recently. He wanted to take a day trip, and I like riding the Thai trains, so I dragged him down to the Thonburi Train Station and we rode the 3rd class local train from Bangkok to the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai. It's supposed to be a little over three hours but the trains usually leave Bangkok late and almost always leave Kanchanaburi late.
The conductor's desk

This is not a tourist or express train. It's an un-airconditioned local train that stops at nearly every siding and station along the way. The train, like most Thai trains, is spotlessly clean if a little Spartan. Some of the cars have padded seats, some of them have wooden slat seats. There is no dining car, but passengers won't go hungry. 
A fruit vendor walks through one of the cars

A steady procession of food vendors work the train selling everything from beer to fresh fruit. There's stir fry with chillies and basil, fruit, iced coffee, chips - pretty much everything you would expect to find on a third class local train. The beer is cold and the stir fry is spicy hot, what more can you ask for? 
A veteran of Thai train travel relaxes in the doorway of the train.

I've spent a lot of time in Kanchanaburi through the years. The train is slow and dusty but it is by far the best way of getting to Kanchanaburi. The road from Bangkok is always crowded and Bangkok's urban sprawl has spread almost all the way to Kanchanaburi, driving is not that much fun. The train passes through rice and sugar cane fields, orchards and villages. With the window down, the swaying of the train and the rhythmic clacking of the wheels could well put you to sleep. But then you'd miss the view. 
The view. Yes, Thailand really is that green

Another advantage to riding the train? You're riding on history. The train to Kanchanaburi and beyond into Burma (Myanmar) and the Bridge over the Kwai is the train made famous in David Lean's epic film and Pierre Boulle's book "The Bridge On the River Kwai." 

Almost nothing in the book or movie is real. The movie was filmed in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka and the bridge is iron, not wood. And it was bombed by airplanes, not William Holden. And the river was not then called the Kwai. 

The Kwai is further west, the bridge was built over the Mae Klong (which is completely different from and in no way related to the Mekong). The Thai government changed the name of the river after the movie came out when tourists started showing up looking for the bridge. 

And perhaps most horrifying, as bad as conditions appeared to be in the movie, they were far worse in real life. 

The Japanese had slave laborers from Thailand, Burma and Java working alongside the Allied prisoners of war. More than 90,000 of the 180,000 of the Asian slave laborers pressed into service died during construction of the railroad. "Only" about 16,000 of the 60,000 Allied prisoners of war died on the railroad. In one six week stretch of particularly grueling construction, on the Hellfire Pass west of Kanchanburi, the Japanese beat 69 prisoners to death. I have Thai friends in Kanchanaburi who to this day will not travel parts of the railway because of the ghosts still thought to haunt the area.  
The Bridge. It's now a tourist attraction. Approaches to the bridge are lined with restaurants and floating resorts

Kanchanaburi's tourist trade has skyrocketed thanks to the Bridge. There are golf courses, resorts, restaurants ranging from food stall status to three star status. There are temples (some genuinely old, some, but many made to look old), tigers and leopards and giant fish and souvenir stands a plenty. Some of the wildlife exhibits are controversial because there are reports that animals are sedated and abused to keep them compliant. 
An apparently sedated leopard that is supposed to be a tourist attraction near the bridge

After spending a couple of hours wandering around the bridge and having a nice lunch, Jeff and I got on a returning train and eventually got back to Bangkok. 

A vendor runs across the tracks as the returning train pulls into Kanchanaburi before heading back to Bangkok

The train returning to Bangkok got into Kanchanaburi more than an hour late, which seemed to surprise no one in the Kanchanaburi station. 

Passengers look at the windows after the train returning to Bangkok broke down in the countryside

On the way back to Bangkok, the last car of the train had a mechanical failure and couldn't travel forward. This meant backing up to the last station we had stopped at, dropping the car and continuing onto Bangkok. We were really late getting into the City of Angels. 

A passenger sits in the walkway between cars. The passenger cars are smoke free, so smokers relax in the gap between cars.

There are more photos from Kanchanaburi, which is a very interesting town, in my archive

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Peeling Back Another Layer of the Onion

A pigeon races a longtailed boat up Khlong (canal) Phra Khanong at Wat Mahabut.

This city is so much more than shopping malls and markets. I went up to Wat Mahabut, a very old temple in eastern Bangkok, to visit the Mae Nak Shrine. The fortune tellers in the temple do a booming business with people who want guidance on their lucky numbers before they buy lottery tickets from the shops surrounding the temple. 

The temple was built in the late 1700's, during the Ayutthaya empire, before Bangkok was Bangkok. The shrine is popular with Thais and certainly a few well traveled foreigners find their way to it, but the shrine and temple are well off the beaten tourist path. 

The temple sits on the bank of Khlong Phra Khanong, one of Bangkok's few surviving original canals. The canal is too small for the big boats that ply Khlong Saen Saeb, instead it's serviced by the smaller longtailed boats (like in the picture above). While the longtailed boats speed up and down the canal, neighborhood residents paddle up and down the canal in their small flat bottomed canoes. A steady stream of people come out of the temple to the canal to release fish and snails to make merit. 

Sitting on a bench on the canal bank watching life go by it's easy to imagine that this is what Bangkok must have been like 60 or more years ago before the canals were turned into roads and skyscrapers replaced stupas as landmarks. 

There are more photos from the canal, Wat Mahabut and the lottery shops around the temple in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lucky 13 (as in 2013)

On New Year's Day, Thais light incense and pray at a shrine during a merit making ceremony in front of Bangkok's City Hall building, which is in the far background

Thais' frequently go to temples and shrines on New Year's Day to "make merit" for the coming year. Merit making is the Theravada Buddhist concept that the act of giving assistance and comfort to others will in turn help you overcome life's obstacles. It seems to me like a good way to live your life.

I wanted to photograph some of the merit making. I left my apartment early to go to a couple of temples. My plan was to make a sort of circular route to Wat Saket, Wat Suthat and finish up at Wat Hua Lamphong, all popular, important, temples. When I got in the taxi I made a spur of the moment to decision to start at Wat Hua Lamphong and go in the reverse order.

Wat Hua Lamphong was empty, not a very lucky start to the day. There were no crowds and nothing was happening, I flagged a second taxi and headed over to Wat Suthat. We got caught in traffic around Bangkok City Hall (which is across the street from the Wat) and I saw there was a large merit making ceremony with a massed Tak Bat (alms giving for monks) going on. The traffic was from the people going to and leaving the merit making ceremony. I paid off the cabbie and hopped out. 

A man presents orange juice to monks during a merit making ceremony at Bangkok City Hall. The roof of Wat Suthat is in the background

The Right Tools for the Job

New Year's revelers wait to get the party started at Bangkok's New Year's Eve countdown in Ratchaprasong intersection. Picture made with my Panasonic Lumix GX1 and the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens. 

I spent last night photographing Bangkok's big New Year Eve countdown party. A dirty little secret is that in 28 years as a photojournalist at daily newspapers, this is only the second time I've photographed an actual "clock strikes midnight" New Year's Eve party. The deadlines at the papers I worked for were always so early we only covered the first couple of hours of the community New Year's Eve parties. We'd drop in a picture from 7PM or so into the page and hope that nothing big happened after deadline.  I was always home by midnight. (My first clock strikes midnight New Year's Eve was Y2K. Anyone remember that? I covered a church service where they prayed the world wouldn't end and it didn't.)

Planning to cover the Ratchaprasong soiree I took a two things into account: 1) I would be out on the street, on my feet from 5PM when I left my apartment until 1AM or so when I got back to my apartment and 2) it was going to be very, very crowded.

All signs pointed to packing light. I knew it would be dark, and there's no better camera for available darkness work than my 5D Mark III and the 24mm f1.4 and 50mm 1.2 lenses. They're also huge and fiendishly heavy. The antithesis of packing light.

There's nothing lighter than my Panasonic GX1 and its tiny lenses. The full kit - the Panny body and the 14mm f2.5, 20mm f1.7 and Olympus 45mm f.18 lenses together take up only a little more space than the Canon 50mm f1.2 lens does by itself and they weigh next to nothing.

I use the GX1 a lot and I like it. I think it's very nearly the perfect street photography camera, fast, reasonably quiet and very unobtrusive. I was a little worried about the high ISO noise from the smaller sensor, but decided that if I could keep the ISO to 1600 and below, Lightroom's noise reduction would do the rest.