Thursday, December 28, 2017

Exercising in Hanoi

A man stretches before exercising at Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. 

This will be my last post from Hanoi. I walked down to Hoan Kiem Lake early one morning to photograph people working out on the lake shore. This is a traditional activity in much of Asia. I've photographed people in early morning aerobics on Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, in Lumpini Park in Bangkok and in markets in Bangkok. Most of the people in the exercise groups are older - it's a good way to keep people active and avoid the lifestyle diseases that set in at middle age. 
Women stretch before their aerobics group starts. 

Most of the exercisers at Hoan Kiem Lake were practicing "low impact" type exercises, lots of stretching and tai chi exercises. But there were also high impact exercises going on. People lifting weights, jogging and running around the lake. 
Spotters? Spotters? We don't need no stinking spotters. Lifting weights in the morning. 

While a few meters away, tai chi classes go on. 

Almost of the people in the exercise groups were Vietnamese. A couple of tourists joined one group, but they couldn't keep up, even with the low impact stuff. Most of the other tourists and Europeans were jogging around the lake. 

At the end of the exercise sessions, people got in line and gave each other back massages. Not something I've seen in exercise groups in Thailand and I don't remember seeing in Cambodia. 

Back massages and rub downs after the exercise class. I don't know how effective the massages were. 

There are more photos of the exercise groups 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, December 26, 2017

Holidays in Hanoi

A boy in a Santa Claus suit with his family in a street side cafe in Hanoi.

We went to Hanoi for the holidays. It might seem an odd choice, Christmas under Communism, because Communists are, allegedly, atheist. The truth is though, Vietnam is no longer communist. It is, absolutely, a one party state. But communist? No. Since adapting market reforms in the 1990s, Vietnam, like China, is runaway capitalist. 
A vender sets up Santa hats for sale on a street in Hanoi. 

For years, we've celebrated Christmas in Bangkok, which although majority Buddhist, has huge Christmas celebrations. This year, we decided to go to Hanoi because we haven't been there in a couple of years and because it's much colder than Bangkok and we wanted a little weather break. 
Public school children at their school holiday party. 

If you think there's a "War on Christmas," you need to drag your head out of the FOX News / GOP bubble and tune into the world. It is, without doubt the most widely celebrated holiday in the world. And claims of a "War on Christmas" only serves to divide people. 
Christmas carolers perform in front of St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi. It was one of the first large buildings constructed by French colonial authorities in the mid 1880s. St. Joseph's serves as the center of Hanoi's Christmas celebrations. 

Hanoi's Christmas is a thing to behold. Entire streets in the city's historic Old Quarter turn into a vast Christmas bazaar with shops selling nothing but Christmas kitsch. The Cathedral hosts multiple Christmas events for days before Christmas. Pageants, carolers, and masses in Vietnamese, English and French (we went to the French Christmas mass). Parents put their kids in Santa suits. Teenagers and young people don Santa suits of their own. Cans of fake snow are sold to create a European Christmas atmosphere. 
Women stand in a blizzard of snow in can during one of the Christmas celebrations in front of the Cathedral. 

Dancing Santas during a show in front of the Cathedral. 

Just like the US, it's mostly the commercial aspect of Christmas, but the spiritual aspect of Christmas is widely celebrated in Vietnam. Vietnam has a large Catholic population, the fourth largest in Southeast Asia (a legacy of French colonialism) and the churches are packed for Christmas. The French service we went to was packed to beyond standing room and thousands of people crowded into the plaza in front of the cathedral for midnight mass. 

At the French language Christmas mass in the Cathedral. 
The crowd on the plaza in front of the Cathedral before midnight mass. 

Christmas is a great time to be in Hanoi. It's much colder than most places in Southeast Asia. (Although this is relative. We're talking overnight lows in the 50s and daytime highs in the 60s. Summer weather in Minnesota.) Gray and overcast with frequent rain. And relatively short days. And I mean that in the best ways possible. If you're from Europe or the Americas and used to seasons and early evenings common to those regions, Hanoi feels more "Christmassy" than Bangkok or Singapore.
A family near Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. No lack of Christmas spirit here. 

There are more photos of Christmas in Hanoi 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, December 14, 2017

Pictures of the Year 2017 Edition

Laborers carry sacks of rice off of a riverboat docked in Yangon. 

It's that time of the year, when we look back on what we've done and start to think about what we're going to do next year. 
A street photo from the Little India neighborhood of Singapore. Laborers on their day off. 

We still live in Bangkok, but this year I didn't work on any projects in Thailand. In fact, there are no photos from Thailand in my POY collection this year. It's more a reflection of my travel in the region and a few from our annual visit to the US. 
A boy catches snowflakes on his tongue during a snowstorm in St. Paul, Minnesota. In May.

Like the last few years, all of my work this year was done with Olympus Micro 4:3 gear. The Olympus lenses have been rock solid and excellent. This year I moved up to OM-D E-M1 Mark II bodies from the OM-D E-M5 Mark II bodies. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is Olympus' high end professional body and it is a great camera. If you work in the Micro 4:3 universe and are thinking about a new body, I recommend the OM-D E-M1 Mark II without reservation. Everything on it just works, including continuous autofocus.
Celebration of the Hindu holy day of Holi in Bhaktapur. 

Buddhist monks at Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.

I don't update this blog as often as I used to. I'd like to say that I'm going to get back to regular updates, but it depends on some things that are beyond my control. I should know by early next year if I am going to be able to get back to previous blogging habits. 
Still in Nepal, at a brick factory about 90 minutes outside of Kathmandu. Earthquake recovery is proceeding slowly and the brick factories are in Kathmandu valley are very busy. 

Most of my work ends up in my archive. I urge you to visit and take a look at the photos there. Thank you for sticking with my now very occasional blog and reading these posts. 
On a beach in Bali, a fisherman carries the pole he uses on his outrigger when he goes out to sea. 

From my archive, a gallery of some of the year's work.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Yangon's Wholesale Fish Market

A worker carries a basket of fish out of the cargo hold of a boat at San Pya Wholesale Fish Market in Yangon. 

I went back to the San Pya Wholesale Fish Market during my time in Yangon. It's hard to pick out a favorite thing to photograph in Yangon because it's such a dynamic, visual, place. But certainly the fish market is high up on the list.
A buyer checks his smart phone on a pier in the fish market. 

It's a 24 hour market, but it's busiest early in the morning. From sunrise until about 8AM. After that the light becomes harsh and the heat stifling. I usually go very early, leaving my hotel before sunrise and working the market until 8:30 or so. If I go straight back to the hotel, I can still get some yogurt and coffee for breakfast. 

Workers sort fish in the market.

The market is powered on the backs of its laborers. Fish and ice are hauled by hand. Boats are unloaded by hand. Food is pushed through the market by handcart. There are a lot of trucks in the market but they all take the fish from the wholesale market to other markets or the few grocery stores in Yangon. (The fish comes to the market in boats from up and down the Irrawaddy River. 
Fish for sale. 

The fish market is not the only market in the neighborhood. There's a poultry market next and traditional Myanmar market selling everything from clothes to vegetables to pork and beef next door, there's a lot to see and explore. 
A rivertaxi operator waits for passengers at the pier next to the fish market. 
Bananas for sale in a market next to the fish market. 

If you're in Yangon, you should go to the San Pya Wholesale Fishmarket. It's a great glimpse into real everyday Yangon life. 

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, November 29, 2017

The Pope Visits Yangon

Pope Francis drives among the crowd at the Papal Mass in Yangon. 

Covering Pope Francis' visit to Yangon was my main reason for this trip to Myanmar. His visit was historic (the first papal visit to Myanmar) and came at a complicated time for Myanmar, still finding its way through a tricky democratization process in which the military gave up some power but it still the most powerful entity in Myanmar. 

The Pope sort of invited himself to Myanmar. In August, when the current anti-Rohingya pogrom started, the Pope made some statements in support of the Muslim minority, whose home is in Rakhine state, in northwestern Myanmar. He also said he would visit Myanmar and Bangladesh and try to negotiate an end to the bloodletting. 

I think it's important to note that he wasn't really invited. The government of Myanmar didn't say he wasn't welcome, but neither did they roll out the welcome wagon. 
Nuns lineup near the airport to see the Pope on his arrival. There were a few hundred people at the airport, but the government did not close roads for the Papal motorcade. 

Myanmar's Catholics were excited about the Pope's visit and churches in Yangon were packed with Catholics from the countryside who came to Yangon early and slept rough on church grounds. One church, St. Francis of Assisi, hosted more than 1,500 on it's grounds. The church I went to Hwambi, had more than 500. But for the government of Myanmar it was a minimum effort. 
A woman prays in a chapel at St. Francis of Assisi. 

The sanctuary was set up as a dorm. 

The Pope participated in two masses in Yangon. The first was at a large sports complex, on the infield of a horse racing track. About 150,000 people are estimated to have attended the mass. There are about 450,000 Catholics in Myanmar, so the 150,000 attendees represent a sizeable percentage of Myanmar Catholics. 
Part of the crowd at the papal mass. 

I had credentials for the mass, but journalists weren't supposed to leave the risers we were positioned on. Vatican press officials said the risers were 100 meters from the altar, but it felt a lot further. More like 150-200 meters. I had the equivalent of a 400mm lens and I could not see the Pope at the lectern during the homily. 
My view of the altar. 

I photographed most of the mass, then got off the riser and worked some remote parts of the mass, not in the main infield. The pictures were much better and showed more of the Burmese Catholics devotion to the Pope. 

People pray in a field adjacent the mass. 

The Pope also said a mass at St. Mary's Cathedral. The only media allowed to cover the mass was the Pope's traveling pool, Vatican based photographers who travel with the Pope. 

I photographed people on the streets around the Cathedral. Hundreds of people gathered to witness and participate in the mass, but the government refused to close the roads around the Cathedral, so it was hard for people to pray or participate because traffic was roaring by. 
Myanmar police keep people without tickets out of the Cathedral. 

A boy in a Pope outfit in front of the Cathedral. 

People pray in the street during the mass. 

After the mass, I was able to get into the Cathedral grounds and photograph the Pope walking out. 
Pope Francis leaves the Cathedral.

There are more photos related to the Papal visit 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, November 21, 2017

Rice Harvest in the Ayeyarwady Delta

A woman harvests rice by hand in the Ayeyarwady Delta. 

One of the things I do on every visit to Myanmar is drive into the Ayeyarwady Delta, west south west of Yangon. It's become a marker I use to gauge economic changes. And there have been a lot of changes. My first visit was five years ago. There was one roadside restaurant (by that I mean proper restaurant with service people, tables and chairs, and a building) but many food stalls. My last visit was two years ago and there were a lot of changes. Many more restaurants, many gas stations being built and more traffic. 

This time the changes were overwhelming. The road ultimately leads to Chaung Tha Beach, about five hours from Yangon and now the road is packed with beach goers. Hotels, more restaurants, and gas stations have sprung up to serve the people going to the beach or exploring the delta. 

My main reason for going into the delta though is to photograph agriculture. Photographing farmers in Myanmar is like stepping back in time about 150 years, maybe only 100. Almost all of the work is still by done by hand, although some tillers and tractors are making inroads and mechanical threshers are becoming more common. 

Gathering baby rice plants (top photo) and transplanting them into a paddy (bottom photo). 

This is markedly different from Thailand where agriculture has been heavily industrialized and most of the rice is harvested mechanically. Farm work, whether it's cutting lettuce in Yuma, AZ, or harvesting rice in the Ayeyarwady Delta, is hard, back breaking work. 
A worker throws harvested rice into a mechanical thresher. 

Now for a shallow dive into rice geekdom. 

I like rice. I eat a lot of it. And while I'm not a rice connoisseur, I've eaten enough rice through the years to have formed opinions about it. I can tell when I'm eating Thai rice or Vietnamese or Cambodian or Lao or Burmese rice. Thai rice is always better (I think almost every Thai would agree with me). Sometimes much better. Thai rice (especially "jasmine rice") has better kernels, better aroma when it's steaming and better flavor. 

Myanmar was once, generations ago before World War II, the world's leading rice exporter. The Burmese rice industry is working hard to improve its international standing and regain some of the export market. As a result, Myanmar has made huge improvements in its rice crop. The rice I had in the delta this time was a huge improvement over what I had five years ago.   
Feeding harvested rice into a mill. 

The rice I had in the Delta was more like Indian Basmati rice than regular white rice found in the rest of Southeast Asia. The grains were longer, firmer and didn't clump together the way rice usually does. It also had a nice flavor. 

That's enough rice geekdom. 

A miller in a small town about three hours from Yangon told me the biggest challenge now facing Burmese rice farmers is the lack of infrastructure. 

His mill, for example, is on the far side of the river from the town he lives in. The local power grid ends at the river bank. He has no access to electricity for the mill. He generates all of his own energy. Power for the mill is generated by burning rice husks. Power for the office is generated by solar collectors. He is literally 200 meters past the end of the line.

There are no roads on his side of the river. Rice harvested on his side of the river is taken to the river by bullock cart and floated to the mill on barges. Rice harvested on the other side of the river (the side on the grid) has roads (we got to the town on roads and then took a boat across the river to the mill), rice is brought to the river on trucks and tractors then floated to the mill on barges. All of the rice in the area is harvested by hand.  
Rice delivered to the mill is offloaded by manual labor. The town, where the electrical grid and highway ends, is on the far side of the river. 

He sees a lot of potential for Burmese rice, but the industry is also facing a lot of challenges. 

Cutting rice by hand. 

On the side of the river that is on the road system. The rice is gathered by hand and stacked in the field. After it is threshed it will be taken to a local mill by truck.  

There are more photos of the Delta rice harvest 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.