Sunday, November 29, 2015

Another Market Closing

A vendor sits on the sidewalk, waiting for customers, at the amulet market on Maharat Road in Bangkok. City officials closed the sidewalk amulet market this week, forcing vendors to move more than an hour away. 

It's another week in Bangkok and another street market has been forced to close. The amulet market, on Maharat Road near the Grand Palace, has been a Bangkok landmark for generations and even has its own page in the Lonely Planet guide. 
Beach umbrellas shade vendors from Bangkok's mid day sun at the amulet market.

Hundreds of vendors lined the streets in the neighborhood selling Buddhist amulets and religious paraphernalia. Across the street, along the Chao Phraya River, there was a more permanent covered market that also sold amulets. 

The market was a Bangkok landmark. Thais, lay people and Buddhist monks, came to the market to shop for their spiritual needs. Tourists came to see a unique slice of Thai life.
A shopper uses a jeweler's loupe to appraise an amulet. Buying and selling amulets is a serious business to many Thais.
One vendor put a small shrine in his "shop." 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fun at the Fair

A Ferris Wheel at the Wat Saket temple fair. The chedi is in the background.

The Wat Saket fair is probably the most popular temple fair in Bangkok. It runs for nine days around the November full moon and brings tens of thousands of people down to the narrow streets and old neighborhood around the temple. 
A ball game on a midway at the fair. There are arcade games all around the temple. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To the Mountain Top

Thai Buddhists participate in a procession to the top of Wat Saket, the "Golden Mount" in Bangkok.

Wat Saket is one of the best known Buddhist temples in Bangkok. It's also called the Golden Mount because the temple's large golden chedi tops the man made mountain that is the base of the temple. The man made mountain is an old cemetery used to inter the victims of a cholera epidemic that swept through Bangkok early in the 19th century. 
The golden chedi at the top of Wat Saket gives the temple its nickname, the Golden Mount.

Wat Saket hosts the best temple fair in Bangkok. The streets around the temple are clogged with food vendors, midway rides, arcade games and good old fashioned freak shows. The procession to the top of the Golden Mount is the start of the Wat Saket temple fair. 
People write their prayers on the red cloth that the pious carry to the top of the Golden Mount.

The procession is good opportunity to see the pious side of Thai Buddhism while the fair is an opportunity to see the raucous side of Buddhism. 
Monks lead the procession to the top of the temple. This used to be the highest point in Bangkok but the building boom of the 1960s permanently altered the cityscape. 

A man in the crowd prays during the procession to the top. 

People pray during the service at the top of the temple. 

When the service ended people scrambled to get some of the fruit and flowers left at the chedi.

There are more photos of the procession 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. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lucky vs. Good

(And Making Mistakes in Editing)

Aung San Suu Kyi leaves the final rally of her campaign hosted in a Yangon suburb. This is my favorite photo of Aung San Suu Kyi from the rally. 

A lot of my photos from the Myanmar election were used in publications in Europe and the US. Most of them were used on web news sites but one was used by Newsweek in a double truck in their print edition. What's interesting, to me, is that this picture shouldn't exist at all. To me it's a good example of the lucky vs good argument (and this falls into the lucky category, not good).

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Eviction Update 4

A woman in her home while family members pack around her. 

I went back to Wat Kanalaya as soon I returned to Bangkok from Myanmar. I wanted to see what was happening with the evictions and what was left of the community. 
Demolition workers disassemble a home. A month ago a family lived here. 

There are a still a few families living in the area but the community is gone. There was once three small convenience stores that sold soft drinks, snacks and toiletries. They are gone. There was once a row of four food vendors who sold papaya salad, curries and stir fries. They are gone. There was a small park that displayed the children's art work. The park is still there but it's being used to store recyclables from the destroyed homes. There was a small volunteer fire house. It is gone. 
When I was last in the community, in the middle of October, this was a block of six or seven homes. 

Now it looks like a massive storm of some kind tore through the community. Perhaps a tornado or typhoon (neither of which occur in Bangkok), destroying homes and scattering lives. 
A street vendor selling cotton candy and children's toys walks past a demolished house. With the families gone, there is no one left to buy the vendor's products. 

The families left behind are still packing and leaving but the community, the things that make it more than just a collection of homes, are gone. The day is approaching when there will be no one left to photograph. This day was inevitable. From the time I started photographing at Wat Kanalaya I knew it was coming, it's why I started this project. That doesn't make it any less sad.
People pack up their home. 

A gallery of photos from my visit to Wat Kanalaya this week. 
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, November 13, 2015

Myanmar's Festival of Lights

A woman lights small oil lamps during Thadingyut at Botahtaung Pagoda in Yangon. 

(Note: Thadingyut was Oct 28. I am posting this now because I was in Myanmar for the holiday and had internet access issues.) 

One of the most popular and beautiful Buddhist holy days in Myanmar is Thadingyut, the Festival of Lights. Myanmar's Buddhists (about 85% of the country is Buddhist) make pilgrimages to pagodas and temples to pray and make merit. 

It is celebrated on the full moon night of the Myanmar month of Thadingyut to mark the end of Vassa, or "rains' retreat," what's called "Buddhist Lent" in the west. Houses and government buildings are lit up with lantern, candles, or electric bulbs. Young people show their respect for elders by formally presenting them with gifts of food or longyi. This festival observes the event when the Buddha came down to the earth after the end of Lent.
People pray amidst a sea of candles and oil lamps at Botahtaung. 

It's also a time when many of Myanmar's Buddhists visit temples in the countryside. I went to a couple of temples outside of Yangon and had to cut the day short because roads were so jammed they were practically impassible. The driver I was working with kept taking progressively more "rustic" shortcuts that were stretches of road so potholed I had to walk ahead of him to guide him around the potholes and gullies. 

We still made better time than the busses on the highways though. The highways were completely gridlocked. (And "highway" in Myanmar doesn't mean the same thing that it does in Thailand or the US. Highways in Myanmar would be two lane country roads in Thailand. They're paved, in parts, but barely wide enough for two oncoming busses to safely pass each other.) 
A woman prays in Botahtaung. 

I had intended to visit Kyaik Khauk Pagoda, an ancient pagoda on an island in the river about 90 minutes from Yangon. It took us almost three hours to get to the pagoda and when we got there it was a mob scene. People were clamoring to get onto small boats that shuttled back and forth from the mainland to the island. 
People trying to get on a boat to go to Kyaik Khauk Pagoda. 

I photographed the mob scene at the river for about 15 minutes while I considered my options. It took twice as long as I expected it would to get out to the pagoda, the pagoda itself was a swamped with devotees and I was afraid it would take twice as long to get back to Yangon. So I made an executive decision to skip going out to the actual island pagoda and instead returned directly to Yangon. 
People waiting for boats to take them to the island pagoda. 

It turned out to be the right decision. The roads going back to Yangon were every bit as jammed as the roads leaving Yangon and it took us nearly three hours to go back. 
A Buddhist monk meditates at a temple in Thanlynn, a town in the Myanmar beyond Yangon. I stopped there for a few minutes on the way back to Yangon. 

I wanted to be in Yangon in time for the twilight lighting of the oil lamps and candles, and twilight comes early in Myanmar, it's dark in Yangon by 5.30PM. We got back to Yangon about 4.45PM, just in time to get to Botahtaung Pagoda for their celebrations of Thadingyut. 
The Festival of Lights at Botahtaung Pagoda.

There are more photos of Thadingyut 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, November 12, 2015

Ashura 2015 in Yangon

A man participates in a flagellation ritual during Ashura in Yangon. 

(One of the reason I went to Yangon was to photograph Ashura, which was Oct 23/24. Posting now because I had internet access issues in Myanmar.) 

Ashura is the Shia holy day that marks the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. The massacre of Hussein with a small group of his companions and family members had great impact on the religious conscience of Muslims. Shia Muslims remember it with sorrow and passion.

I went to Yangon because most Thai Muslims are Sunni and Ashura is not publicly observed in Bangkok. There is a sizeable Shia minority within Myanmar's Muslim minority and Ashura is publicly celebrated in Yangon's Shia community.
Women participate in a prayer for Hussein ibn Ali at a Shia mosque in central Yangon. 

Ashura is best known in the west as the day that Shias participate in flagellation rituals. Processions of men go through the community whipping themselves with chains and knives. This is the culmination of the holy day, but leading up to the flagellation there are prayers and other religious celebrations. The truth is that although the flagellation rituals are best known, there are a lot of other rituals that go on during the holiday.
A procession through Yangon on the first night of Ashura. 

I photographed most of the activities connected to Ashura. The flagellation photos are the most dramatic, but to focus on just the flagellation doesn't give a full view of the holiday. 
Prayers at a small mosque in Yangon. 

A firewalking ceremony on the first night of Ashura. The flagellation rituals were two days later. 

My practice when I cover a religious ceremony like Ashura is to show up early and make contacts in the mosque, temple, church etc. That's what I did for Ashura. I went to the mosques the afternoon I got to Yangon, introduced myself and chatted with people. I asked if I could come back to photograph the firewalking and other Ashura celebrations. People said I was welcome to attend as many of the celebrations as I wanted to. 
A procession through Yangon. 

Many of the Shia families in Yangon are originally from Iran and India. They've lived in Myanmar for generations and are citizens of Myanmar. Some of them were curious about why I was there. They were used to photographers coming for the last day, for the flagellation rituals, but not for the much quieter processions and prayer services. I told them that I wanted to photograph the full Ashura experience, not just the flagellation, which is what most western photographers focus on. 
At midnight Shia men chanted in the middle of a Yangon street. 

Ashura is a fascinating holiday. The closest Catholic/Christian holiday I can compare it to is Easter, when some Catholics submit to crucifixion. 
Shia women weep during a memorial for Hussein. 

I photographed the flagellation but I think the time spent photographing the other aspects of the holy day present a more accurate picture of it. 
One of the last pictures I made during Ashura. 

There are more photos of Ashura in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Photos of firewalking:
And photos of Ashura:
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. 

NLD Celebrations in Yangon

NLD supporters celebrate their landslide over the military dominated government.

As election results continue to trickle in Myanmar, one thing has become clear. The National League for Democracy (the NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, has scored a landslide victory. Not all of the results are in yet, but at this point they seem destined to control both houses of the national parliament. 

There are 323 seats in the lower house, and the NLD controls at least 196 of them. 

The USDP, the incumbent government party supported by the military, is the second highest vote getter. The USDP won 23 seats. That's not a typo. It's not 123 seats. It's 23, one less than two dozen.

Results are still trickling in, primarily from rural areas on the edges of Myanmar. These are not considered NLD strongholds, so it's possible the final numbers will not be as overwhelming as they now seem. But the NLD lead at this point is essentially insurmountable. 
People dance in the rain during the victory party

I photographed the reaction to this stunning upset. (The NLD victory wasn't stunning - it was widely predicted. What was stunning was 1. the size of the victory and 2. there was no significant effort to steal the election or impede the vote.) 

People gathered in front of the NLD offices to cheer, sing, dance and celebrate their victory. It was a raucous, joyous crowd. It was an amazing thing to experience. 
People with a NLD flag during the celebration

Now the real work begins. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have to put together a government and negotiate a transition with the incumbent USDP and military. And even though the NLD won a smashing landslide, they still face a huge challenge in the parliament because under the current Myanmar constitution, 25% of the seats in both chambers of the parliament are reserved for the military. 

Also, ASSK is constitutionally prohibited from being President because her sons have UK passports. Unless and until the constitution is amended, she will have to govern in some unofficial way. She has said repeatedly that as the leader of winning party she will be making the decisions and the President will answer to her.

Finally, under the constitution, the military retains control of the most important government ministries (defense, interior etc). Myanmar will not have a fully formed democratically elected government but rather a unique civilian / military hybrid. 
People watch election results come in at NLD headquarters. 

There are more photos of the NLD victory celebration 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. 

This post was written from Bangkok and is my last post on the Myanmar election. More regular postings, including catching up on non political posts from Myanmar resume tomorrow. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Election Day in Yangon

Women vote in Yangon Sunday. 

Millions of people voted in Myanmar Sunday. It was the country's most free, most fair, most competitive election in 50 years. It was historic. 

I covered election day from Yangon. I spent the day traveling to polling places throughtout the city and found lines were long throughout the city. 

The National League for Democracy, Myanmar's leading opposition party, was well organized throughout the country. Most of the people I talked to said they were going to vote for the NLD. The exit polls, such as they are here, bore that out. As much as 80% of the vote went to the NLD. They are predicting they will capture 70% of the seats in the national legislature.
Picking up a ballot in a Buddhist temple north of downtown Yangon. 

The polls were open 6AM to 4PM. People showed up early in Yangon and by 2.30PM most of the polling places were pretty quiet. There were long lines in some of the rural areas though, and polls stayed open late to allow for people in line to vote. 
As soon as the polls closed, elections workers in the polling places started counting the votes. Each vote was counted by hand in front of elections' observers, party representatives and the media. 

By 3PM, before the polls even closed, a large crowd was forming in front of the NLD offices. They started celebrating their expected victory early. It was a joyous crowd, people chanted "NLD! NLD!" over and over again. They sang party and Myanmar rap songs. They were hoping to hear their idol, Aung San Suu Kyi, but she did not come to Sunday's celebration. 

The scene in front of NLD headquarters. 

Many in the media chased Aung San Suu Kyi all day. She's the light that shines on Burmese democracy. I made a decision Saturday to not chase her. There were hundreds of photographers (TV and still) at her polling place and in her caravan to her legislative district, about two hours south of Yangon. I thought my time would be better spent working away from the media scrum, photographing places other photographers ignored. That's why you won't find election day photos of "The Lady" in my archive. 

There are more photos of Myanmar's election day 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. 

This is my last post from Yangon. I return to Bangkok tomorrow and will resume regular posting when I get back. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Campaigns End

NDF supporters dance at the end of their rally Friday evening. 

Myanmar's campaign season is over. Friday was the last day politicians and parties could legally campaign. Saturday is a quiet day so voters can consider their choices.

I've been to five rallies, minor parties and major parties, and the only rallies with any sense of excitement or serious motivation were the NLD rallies. At the other rallies people sat stone faced and listened to candidates make speeches with polite applause.
People listen to NDF candidates speak during their final rally. The NDF, National Democratic Force, was formed in 2010 by people disaffected by the NLD's decision to boycott the 2010 elections in Myanmar. 

A part of this is that the entire notion of campaigning here is brand new. For more than 40 years, any large gathering of people was met by a police/military presence. Any discussion of politics meant going to jail. You couldn't even say "Aung San Suu Kyi." Saying her name meant going to jail. So on a certain level I understand why the election campaigns here have been low key affairs. 

I went to the NDF rally Friday evening. They're a small party (fewer than 10 seats in the national parliament) but I've seen their canvassers all over Yangon this week so I thought their rally would be an interesting one. 

People listen to speakers at the NDF rally. People would sit for hours to listen to the candidates. 

There were a couple of hundred people at the rally. Most wore white tee shirts with the NDF logo emblazoned on the front. Many wore conical peasants' hats, also emblazoned with the NDF logo. 

People listened to the speakers, applauding politely when there was a pause in the speech. The speakers did not use teleprompters or notes - they either memorized their speeches or spoke off the cuff. (I've noticed the same thing in Thailand). I find that refreshing, coming from a background where every speech is presented via teleprompter or from notes. 

When the rally ended there was some brief celebration before people got into trucks and busses and went on their way home. 
NDF candidates in their victory pose with some of Yangon's new buildings behind them. 
Enthusiasm at the end of the rally. 

We don't know what's going to happen Sunday. 

I've heard speculation on BBC that turnout may not be as high as expected because Burmese aren't fully trustful of the system. Others have speculated that lines will be hours long and we'll see voter turnout like the world saw in South Africa in 1994. 

We've heard that results will be out Monday and we've heard that it will be weeks before results are known. Both of the major parties have poll watchers who presumably will track results at polling stations, so we should have some unofficial sense of how things are going by Sunday night. 

We are living in interesting times. 

There are more photos from the NDF rally 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. 

Limited posting resumes.