Monday, December 28, 2015

A "Car Lite" City

A passenger on Singapore's new extension of the Downtown Line subway train checks out the route map on the first day of service.

Singapore, the tiny city-state that consistently hits above its weight class in urban planning, is on the way to becoming a "car lite" city. The city opened an extension of the Downtown Line subway this weekend and has plans to open more new lines and expand existing subway lines every year. Ultimately, Singapore hopes to have a subway stop within a 10 minute walk of every housing development in the city. 
The entrance to Rochor station, on the edge of Little India, on the first day of service. 

Singapore's subway is a wonderful thing. It can get you to most of the important parts of town with just one transfer. And Singapore understands the "last mile" concept. Bus lines connect to the subway system so people who live in the vast housing estates on the edge of the island can catch a bus to their home when they leave the subway. 
A passenger walks into Rochor station. 

This means most people don't need a car, at least when they are in Singapore's central business district. I like Bangkok's mass transit and use it every day, but there is no planning for the last mile. When I get off a Bangkok Skytrain (or subway) I usually still have to take a taxi. Phoenix's terrific light rail was even worse in that regard. The one line could get you from the northern suburbs to downtown and on out to the eastern suburbs but once you get to your destination you still need a car. Downtown Phoenix is walkable and Tempe, around the ASU campus is walkable but the suburban stops are not. Your car use is reduced but not eliminated. 
A subway train goes through the underground darkness. Singapore's state of the art subway system is robotic. There are no drivers on the trains, the trains are remotely driven. 

We visit Singapore on a pretty regular basis and the only time we use taxis or cars is when we go from the airport into town. It's just easier when you're juggling baggage to sit back in a taxi and go straight to the hotel. But once we're in the hotel, we use the subway and mass transit exclusively to get around. It's fast, reasonably cheap and fun. I only wish other cities matched Singapore's dedication to mass transit. 

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, December 26, 2015

Pictures of the Year 2015 Edition

Aung San Suu Kyi supporters celebrate her victory after the election in Myanmar. 

Without further ado, here's my gallery of 2015 Pictures of the Year. Most of the photos this year are from Thailand, but trips to Cambodia and Myanmar are represented along with a whirlwind visit to the US last spring. 

On a technical note, few of this year's photos were made with Canon cameras or lenses, my mainstay for more than 30 years of photojournalism. During the trip to the US, I went to National Camera Exchange in Golden Valley, MN, and traded my Canon gear for Olympus Micro 4:3 gear. Just one photo in this year's gallery was made with Canon gear. All of the other photos were made with Olympus gear. I'll leave it to you to decide which picture it was. 

Here are the photos.

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, December 25, 2015

Christmas on Orchard Road

Santa Claus and one of his helpers pose for photos on Orchard Road in Singapore.

Merry Christmas to everyone. We're in Singapore for a short get away from Bangkok. As wildly as Bangkok celebrates Christmas (and it is wildly and widely celebrated in Buddhist Thailand), it's an even bigger deal in Singapore. Part of this is understandable because of Singapore's history as a British colony and part of it is related to the way Christmas is embraced in Asia. Not the theological aspects of course (except in the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic) but in the gift giving sense and certainly in the commercial sense. 

People walk through the fantastic light displays on Orchard Road on Christmas evening in Singapore. 

It amuses me when conservatives in the US complain about the "War on Christmas." It's the most widely celebrated religious holiday in the world and not just by Christians. You can't escape Christmas displays anywhere in Buddhist Asia. 
A man and his son in a Christmas display on Orchard Road. 

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, December 24, 2015

New Terminal at Don Muang Airport

Nok Airlines employees in yellow Santa Claus suits parade through the new terminal at Don Muang airport Thursday. 

Don Mueang (originally spelled Don Muang) International Airport (IATA code DMK) is the not so little airport that won't die. It started functioning as an airfield in 1914, before commercial air service was a thing, and has grown through the years. For a while, it was one of the busiest airports in the world but Bangkok has outgrown Don Mueang. When it was established, Don Mueang was in the middle of rice fields and farms north of Bangkok. Now it's in the middle of the suburbs and industrial parks. There's no room left for Don Mueang to grow.

Some of the lines to check in at the Air Asia counter in the new domestic terminal at DMK. 

In the early 2000s, the Thai government built a new airport east of Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi Airport opened to much fanfare in September 2006. Don Mueang slid into backup status (it's also an important base for the Royal Thai Air Force), a few low cost carriers and private planes continued to use the airport but its days seemed to be numbered. 

But things don't always work out the way they're intended and Don Mueang never completely closed. As the Thai and Asia economies expanded so did air travel in the region.

Tourism boomed in neighboring Cambodia and Myanmar and Bangkok was the gateway for both places. Suvarnabhumi was soon exceeding capacity. Airports of Thailand (AOT), the body the owns the two Bangkok airports, looked around and said, "hey, let's paint and reopen Don Mueang and move the budget carriers to the old airport." And that's what they did. They told the budget carriers, like Air Asia, that they had to use the old airport and reopened it to great fanfare in 2012. 
Passengers wait to check in in the new terminal at DMK this morning.

Less than two years later, Suvarnabhumi is still over capacity and now Don Mueang is also over capacity. When the old airport reopened it was sort of rushed job to relieve pressure at Suvarnabhumi. The old DMK barely got a new paint job and was kind of dingy with minimal services. (Try finding a plug at the departure gates. Go ahead, I dare you.) It was generally faster to fly in and out of Don Mueang because lines were a little shorter but the experience in the airport wasn't as nice.

But that changed when the new domestic terminal opened today. They completely refurbished one of the existing terminals at DMK, giving it a lot more than just a paint job. It's as new and shiny as any airport in Asia with amenities to match (excepting Changi in Singapore, which is one of the nicest airports in the world). Next on Airports of Thailand agenda is to refurbish the international terminal at Don Mueang, which is still in the old, comparatively, dingy part of the airport. 
A man sleeps in the new, not completely finished, terminal. 

There are more photos of crowds in the new terminal 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, December 21, 2015

A Visit to the Flower Market

People work out during an exercise class in Pak Khlong Talat, the flower market in Bangkok. Exercise classes start in the market about 7AM.  

I went to the flower market Monday morning. The flower market is a 24 hour market - it's always open, but it's busiest very early in the morning, from 3.30AM to 7AM. I got to the market about 5AM. 
A plastic flower vendor walks up the street in the pre-dawn. 

The flower market is a Bangkok institution. It's been a landmark for more than 50 years. Going way, way back, to the 1800s, it was a floating market. Then a "wet" market (produce and meat), then more than 50 years ago it transitioned to flowers and produce. 
A woman pushed her food cart up to the street past the entrance to the market. 

Now it's transitioning again. Slowly but surely it's becoming less a flower market and more a tourist haunt. 

When I started going to the market, back in 2009, I seldom saw foreign tourists there. Now it's a part of Bangkok's tourists' trail. 

The market's riverfront has been ripped down and turned into a mall called the "Yodpiman River Walk," complete with Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Bangkok officials have announced that the sidewalk in front of the market will be cleared as a part of their effort to "clean up" the city. This follows shutting down parts of the amulet market, closing Bang Chak market, and evicting the vendors at Saphan Lek electronics and games market
Selling lotus buds on the street near the flower market. Stalls like this one could be forced out when the city moves its clean up campaign to the flower market. 

People walk through the produce section of the flower market. This is in the covered part of the market and won't be forced to close.

I hate seeing these old markets and street vendor areas being shut down. They are an important part of Bangkok's identity. 

Bangkok is an amazing city. 

It's a city with multiple personalities. There's the new Bangkok of the BTS and shiny malls, the one that appeals to tourists and wealthy Thais. There's the old Bangkok of wet markets and narrow sois, the Bangkok where most Thais live. City officials seem to favor the new Bangkok over the old. 
Traditional dancers perform at the rededication of a Buddhist shrine on a small residential street in the market. 
This is one of the joys of living in Bangkok. I went to the market because I hadn't been there in a while. I didn't know the shrine was being rededicated and sort of stumbled into the ceremony.

If you want to see the flower market in its current version you should go sooner rather than later. The city's clean up efforts could start anytime in the new year. The covered parts of the market will probably be around for a few more years (albeit with encroachment from tourist oriented businesses) but the sidewalk vendors are a part of the market's charms and they'll be gone soon. 

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, December 17, 2015

Thailand in the News

Burmese workers in a shrimp processing shed in Mahachai.

Thai labor practices are in the news. Again. An AP report published this week alleges that many workers in Thailand's shrimp industry, in the shrimp processing sheds that line the streets of Mahachai (also known as Samut Sakhon), work in slavery like conditions

This comes after reports of slaves held in the Thai seafood industry, the panicked repatriation of Cambodian migrants in Thailand, the abuse of workers in the poultry industry, and now it's the shrimp industry (again, since shrimpers were implicated in the reports of slaves in the seafood industry two years ago). 
A Burmese woman patches fishing nets on the docks in Mahachai. 

None of this is news to me. I've been photographing workers in the shrimp and seafood industries in Mahachai for five years. I've been in workers' apartments and schools and photographed in the shrimp peeling sheds. 
A common space in a tenement building for Burmese migrants in Mahachai. 
The ground floor of the tenements is used for small shops and food stands. 

Conditions for migrant workers are deplorable. They live in crowded, crumbling tenements. Some are above the shrimp processing shops, others across the street from the sheds. 
Burmese workers peel shrimp in Mahachai. 

There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed though. We (in the first world "west") have become addicted to cheap "stuff" whether it's food, clothes or housing. Increasingly, we rely on migrant workers from the south to provide those things for us. 

Drive around any housing construction development in the American Southwest and almost all of the workers are Latin American immigrants. I photographed farmworkers in the US, and their circumstances are just as difficult as the circumstances of seafood workers in Thailand. 

I am not defending Thai labor practices. Thai officials and corporations should be doing more to protect workers, but these issues are by no means unique to Thailand. Before Thailand found itself in the news for labor issues, the media was focused on garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia. 

Workers were held in slavery like conditions making clothes for American and European consumers. In April, 2013, more than 1,000 people were killed when the Rana Plaza collapsed. Suddenly the media was focused on the plight of textile workers. 

Now it's Thailand's turn to face the harsh glare of the media spotlight. But is the abuse of workers really the fault of Bangladeshi or Thai authorities? Or is it the fault of western consumers who demand a steady supply of cheap clothes and food without questioning the origin of those things?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Funeral for the Patriarch

Women hold photos of the Patriarch while they wait for his funeral procession Wednesday.

Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara Somdet Phra was the Supreme Patriarch for Thailand. He was the most senior monk in Thai Buddhism and a revered figure with close ties to Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand (he served as the King's spiritual advisor during the King's time as a monk in the 1950s). The Patriarch is appointed by the King. Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara Somdet Phra was appointed Supreme Patriarch in 1989 and occupied the position for more than 20 years. He was the longest serving Patriarch in Thai history.
Prayers for the Patriarch at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, his "home" temple. The temple has been packed with mourners since he died in 2013.

The Patriarch was much revered by Thais. Thousands came out in mourning when he died in October 2013 at 100 years old. Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, his home temple in the old section of Bangkok, was frequently packed with mourners and Buddhist clergy from around the world came to offer their condolences and respect. 

The Patriarch's body was at Wat Bowonniwet for more than two years while his state funeral was planned.
People offer prayers for the Patriarch at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara.

I went to Wat Bowonniwet a couple of times to photograph mourning ceremonies related to the Patriarch's passing. I covered his funeral procession from Debsirin School, about four kilometers from the temple. (The actual cremation took place at a temple behind the school and was not open to the media.) 

Tens of thousands of people lined the route of the procession, offering prayers as the ornate urn passed them. 
Attendants lead the way for the royal chariot bearing the Patriarch's funeral urn. 

The Patriarch's physical remains are in the ornate urn.

The procession was led by military honor guards - I was a little surprised that there was such a huge military presence at the funeral of Thailand's spiritual leader. There were no tanks or heavy equipment and all the personnel were in the ornate uniforms worn during ceremonies for the monarchy. I don't know if it was a deliberate attempt to tie the military to the Sangha (Buddhist clergy) or if it was simply a part of the ceremony, but it struck me as odd that soldiers would lead the way while monks, the Patriarch's coreligionists, were nearly last in the procession. 
Soldiers in formal uniforms lead the procession. 
While monks and religious lay people followed behind the procession.

The procession was about 500 meters long. It took them about 90 minutes to cover the four kilometer route from Wat Bowonniwet to Debsirin School and then about 30 minutes for the entire formal procession to pass my camera position. 
The chariot carrying the urn passes my position. 

Thais, and many non-Thai Buddhists joined the procession as it passed them. For me, it was the moving part of the day, the most visible show of public reverance reverence for the Patriarch. The procession was ornate and lovely but didn't match the solemnity of thousands of people, dressed in mourning black, some walking silently, some chanting, behind the monks and nuns. 
Buddhist nuns (called Bhikkhuni) walked behind the monks. Nuns in Thailand are not usually ordained, they live a spiritual life and follow the precepts and serve in temples in support roles but women are not ordained.
Thousands of lay people, most carrying photos of the Patriarch, followed the procession. They fell into line as the procession passed them. 

There are more photos of the funeral 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, December 6, 2015

Happy Birthday to His Majesty

Hundreds of people stood at the front of the stage on Sanam Luang for the candle lighting ceremony to honor Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, on His Majesty's 88th birthday. Tens of thousands of people crowded onto Sanam Luang for the ceremony. 

December 5 is probably the biggest secular holiday in Thailand. It's the birthday of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, and is also celebrated as Father's Day. 

It's hard to explain the King's importance to a non-Thai, especially an American because Americans have no experience with a monarchy. The King is, by far, the most revered person in Thailand. He's 88 years old and has reigned since 1946, almost 70 years. He is the longest serving Monarch currently living in the world and longest serving Thai King in history. 
A woman prays for the King at Siriraj Hospital. The King, whose health is fading, has lived at the hospital for most of the last six years. Hundreds of people came to the hospital this year to pray for His Majesty.

He is the only King most Thais have known and has served as unifying figure for most of his reign. He famously threw open the gates of his residential palace in 1992 to shelter student protestors who were attacked by soldiers. He later called the leader of the protests and the army commander to his palace and the army commander resigned a few months later.

He's an accomplished photographer (he has a camera around his neck in most of the pictures of him) and played saxophone, appearing with Benny Goodman, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and others. 

The King was seen as a King of the people, especially during his younger days when he made numerous trips upcountry and to rural Thailand to meet with farmers and rural people. As he's aged and his health has faded he doesn't get out much but that has not dampened the people's reverence for His Majesty. You see his portrait in commercial buildings and homes throughout Thailand. 
The candle lighting ceremony for His Majesty at Sanam Luang. 

His birthday celebration every year features with a candle lighting ceremony. People sing the King's anthem, light candles and lanterns and the evening concludes with a fireworks display. The King used to make an appearance during his birthday to address the nation. The last one was in 2012, the first year I was here. Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into the streets around the royal throne hall to hear His Majesty.

The crowd this year was a little smaller than it has been in recent years. I'm not sure why that is but it might be because his birthday this year fell on Saturday. Monday is the observed holiday and for a lot of people it meant a long weekend and people left town. Or it might be that because of his health people knew the King wouldn't be making an appearance at any of the events this year. Even though the crowd was smaller, there was no doubting the people's allegiance to their monarch. 

There are more photos of the King's Birthday 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.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Battling a Menace

A "vector control" worker fogs a street in Bangkok. The best way to control dengue fever is to kill the mosquitoes that spread it. 

Dengue fever is endemic in Thailand. The mosquito borne virus infects tens of thousands of Thais every year and kills nearly 100. This year more than 100,000 people will be infected and well over 100 will die from the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, there is no known treatment for dengue and there is not, yet, a vaccine for the disease. About half of the world's population is at risk, including parts of the United States (health officials in Hawaii are currently battling a dengue outbreak). At this point the only way to prevent dengue is mosquito avoidance - not getting bit by mosquitoes.
A woman tries to get out of her house while the mosquito assassin fogs the living room.

(More after the jump...)