Monday, September 29, 2014

A General or 200 Retire

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the commander of the Royal Thai Army (RTA), prays during the retirement ceremony for more than 200 Thai generals at the Chulalomklao Royal Military Academy

The mandatory retirement age is 60 years old for military officers in Thailand. Since so many officers stay in the army as a career and promotions happen on a regular basis, it means that every year hundreds of generals retire. 
Generals and senior officers stand for the national anthem during the military retirement ceremony. 

This year was no exception. What was exceptional about this year's retirement ceremony was who retired. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander of the RTA, and instigator of the coup that unseated the civilian government, was one of the 200 retiring generals. 

Prayuth is retiring from the army but not from public life.  He is staying on as leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta that runs Thailand and he was recently selected as Prime Minister by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the legislative body appointed by Prayuth and the NCPO.
Generals walk into the retirement ceremony, which featured a large military parade.

General Prayuth started the ceremony with a review of Thai soldiers. There was a prayer and merit making at a statue of King Chulalongkorn. 

King Chulalongkorn, also known as Rama V, is a revered Thai monarch who is credited with both holding British and French colonizers at bay and kicking off the modernization of Thai society. Rama V founded the military academy that hosted the retirement ceremony. 
A non-commissioned officer marches past a parked tank at the beginning of the parade. 
Soldiers march across the parade ground during the retirement ceremony. 

General Prayuth reviews the troops.

The parade.

Soldiers with Tavor assault rifles, designed in Israel. The RTA used to use a lot of American equipment from the 1911 Colt .45 handgun to the M16 family of rifles to M48/M60 tanks. They've diversified their suppliers and now have handguns from Italy, rifles from Israel, tanks from Ukraine, armored personal carriers from South Africa. 

There was a lot of media attention to this year's retirement ceremony, primarily because of Gen Prayuth's retirement. There are more photos of 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. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cleaning Up Sin City

Touts lure tourists into a bar on Pattaya's Walking Street.

Pattaya, the beach resort a couple of hours from Bangkok, is infamous as the best known destination in Thailand for sex tourism. Go-go bars line "Walking Street," a kilometer stretch of road that's closed to vehicles from about 6:00PM until at least 2:00AM. 

There's a sort of "Casablanca - ish" vibe to Thailand in general and Walking Street in particular. 

Tourists from around the world come to Pattaya to sample the sins of the flesh. Israeli tourists walk the same streets that Arab tourists do. Indians and Pakistanis frequent the same bars, Christians and Muslims also. 

There are some businesses that cater to specific nationalities. There are a lot of Russian restaurants and several go-go bars advertise that they have Russian women but in general it's very much a live and let live atmosphere. 
Tourists in the neon jungle of Walking Street

Walking Street, along with Thailand's tourism industry, though has fallen on hard times. Largely because of the political violence of the last year and the subsequent military coup, tourist arrivals are down by double digits over last year. Thailand is more peaceful now than it's been in years, but the travel industry seems unconvinced. 

Tourist police told me that the crowds on Walking Street are a fraction of what they used to be. Many bars are empty, the women who work in them standing in front dressed as flight attendants or school girls (the bars have themes) trying with little luck to draw men in. 
A Muay Thai demonstration in a beer bar near Walking Street. There were no tourists in the beer bar. I don't know why the men bothered boxing. 

Thailand's beach resorts, not just Pattaya but also Phuket and Hua Hin, have gotten a lot of bad publicity in the last couple of years because of scams directed against tourists and despoilment of beautiful beaches. 

After the coup, the Thai army started cleaning up the tourist beaches, first in Phuket and then in Hua Hin. They shut down unlicensed businesses that set up on the beach and brought order to an unruly mass transit systems that were allegedly run by "taxi mafias." 
A defense volunteer, a sort of paramilitary militia, checks out businesses that rent space under beach umbrellas to tourists. The beach umbrella business brings in billions of Baht. 

City officials in Pattaya saw what was happening in Phuket and Hua Hin. They decided that they wanted to take control of their own destiny and approached the military government about cleaning up Pattaya on their own, without military involvement. The military agreed and city officials are trying to spiff up their city's image. 

They're regulating the beach umbrella rentals, bringing order to the chaotic transportation system and most surprising, promised to change Pattaya from Sin City to Sun City and make it Asia's leading "family friendly" destination. 
Foreign volunteers who help the Tourist Police are a common sight on Walking Street. These volunteers stopped to chat with an Italian tourist. The foreign volunteers cannot make arrests. They help foreign tourists and assist Thai police. 

The national government is giving city officials time to clean up Pattaya, but they're not saying how much time they have. The army changes in Phuket and Hua Hin came fast. The army announced they were going to clean up the beaches and the next day the beaches were clean. The clean up in Pattaya is taking much longer. 
Tourists on the beach just after sunset. 

There are more photos from Pattaya's Walking Street 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, September 25, 2014

Vegetarian Parade

Lion dancers perform during the Vegetarian Festival parade in Bangkok's Chinatown

It's Vegetarian Festival time in Thailand. The Vegetarian Festival is the Thai celebration of the Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival. The festival starts on the eve of the 9th Lunar month and lasts for nine days. 

In Bangkok, vendors line Yaowarat Road, the main street in Chinatown, and sell vegetarian food, lots of desserts but also noodle soups and main meals. The food is excellent and innovative. Traditional Thai favorites, like pork with holy basil and chilies, are widely available only with tofu subbing in for the pork (or chicken or fish or pick your protein). 
A child marches in the Vegetarian Festival parade.

The festival kicked off with a parade down Yaowarat Road Wednesday afternoon. Before the parade started people, dressed in white to show piety, came to Chinese temples and shrines and prayed and made merit. 
Prayers at the Thian Fah shrine near Odean Circle in Chinatown

This year we get a special treat: two vegetarian festivals. This is a Chinese Leap Month, there have been 13 new moons since the winter solstice, so for the first time since 1832 we get to repeat the first part of the month. Hence, two vegetarian festivals
A woman portraying the Goddess of Mercy leads a procession before the parade

There are more photos of the parade 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, September 23, 2014

Seeing Red

A subtle hint of red with this Burmese woman sweeping the street in front of her home in the jungle in western Thailand. One of the reasons I think this picture works is that red and green play off each other so well. This picture would not have worked if the blouse had been blue or yellow.

I'm a part of a group of photographers who meets regularly in Bangkok. We enjoy a good meal, talk about photography and make a group assignment - something we're supposed to photograph in the coming month. This time around the assignment was "Red."
Burmese hats for sale in a market in Sangkhla Buri, Thailand. I was lucky that there was one red hat on top of a stack of bamboo colored ones.

The challenge on an assignment like this is not to photograph red, but to make an interesting photo of red. 

Red doesn't even have to be the dominant color - because it elicits such strong emotions, just a tiny bit of red in the frame can have a profound affect on your picture. Think of the little girl in red in Steven Spielberg's otherwise black and white film "Schindler's List."
A window in a Burmese temple near Sangkhla Buri. The window shutter was a brilliant red.

I didn't go up to Sangkhla Buri to photograph red. I was working on a story about a bridge up there. I spent a morning wandering around in the Mon community and I was seeing red everywhere I turned. Not usually in a big way, but in lots of little ways, like the hat at the top of this post or the woman sweeping the bridge.

It certainly helped that red is such a powerful color. Even in the photo of the hats, where the dominant color sort of an earth tone bamboo, which has red in it, the red in the hat on the left really pops. Red is to color photography what garlic is to chicken - it always makes it better. But you have to be careful not to use too much or it completely overwhelms the photo.
Nothing subtle about this. Red chilies in a red basket on top of a pile of red chilies. Probably too much red

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, September 22, 2014

A Penny-farthing

A man pedals his penny-farthing up Silom Road in Bangkok on Car Free Day. Car free did not mean motorcycle free

Sunday was Car Free Day in Bangkok. Several of the city's streets were closed to cars so people on bikes could navigate the city's streets in relative safety. Most of the bikes were a lot more modern than this gentleman's bike, an old "penny-farthing" design. 

Penny-farthings date from the early days of bicycling and reached their peak of popularity in the 1880s. They were called penny-farthing because they reminded people of two British coins, the penny and the farthing. The penny was a unit of currency equaling one two-hundred-and-fortieth of a pound sterling and the farthing one nine hundred and sixtieth of a pound sterling. 

The composition of this photo is 100% luck. I was running along the side while he pedaled photographing. He was moving along at a pretty good clip and I was having a hard time keeping up. 

It wasn't until I got back to my computer at the end of the day that I realized this photo had everything. The "penny-farthing," the motorcycle taxi behind it and then, in the background, the Bangkok Car Free Day advertisement. 

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.