Monday, September 28, 2015

Evictions Update 2

A man packs up his belongings in a home in the Wat Kanalaya neighborhood. 

I've been back to the Wat Kanalaya neighborhood a couple of times to talk to people and photograph changes in the community. People are packing up and demolition work is being done almost every day now. A couple of people told me they have until the end of October to be out of their homes. 
The demolition work is being done by hand. A worker uses a cutting torch to cut a metal gate out of a home...

While another worker uses a sledge hammer to literally knock down a house. 

It's hard to overstate the economic wreckage this is causing for the families being evicted. Many of the families own their homes, the structures, but they rent the space, the land the homes sit on. Although their rents are fairly low (some as low as 600 THB, less than $20 US, per month), many of the families have invested relatively large sums in their homes. 

Speaking through a translator, several people told me they had asked salvagers to come in and estimate the value in construction materials in their homes. One homeowner told me the materials in her home were appraised at 150,000 THB (about $4,200 US). The temple offered her 15,000 THB (about $420 US). Another told me she was offered 50,000 THB (about $1,400 US) for the materials in her home. The temple offered her the same 15,000 THB. 

Other people told me the temple's offer to buy construction materials salvaged from people's homes was capped at 15,000 THB regardless of the size of the home. People are trying to sell the construction materials in their homes to salvagers, but they are having a hard time getting all the necessary permissions (because their homes are on temple land) lined up to complete the sales. Many told me they fear they will have to accept the temple's 15,000 THB offer.  
A couple packs their belongings, including a TV, onto the back of a motor scooter. 

I asked one woman, a shopkeeper in the neighborhood, what she was going to do when she left. She told me her son was supposed to graduate from high school this year and that she was looking for a small place nearby so he could stay in school and she could stay with him. She said that when he graduated she would probably return to her province in central Thailand and "grow rice." Looking around the shop, she said, "I can't start this over again. I don't have the money to open another shop. Farming is all I can do." 

I was talking to a family about their plans. Their patriarch said he found a place in Nakhon Pathom province (about 90 minutes from Bangkok) where he could set up his shop and start fresh. Then his daughter spoke up. Choking back tears, she said, "but this is our home. We are all family here. If someone doesn't have money, we let them have food. We're losing more than our homes. We're losing our family."
Monks from a nearby temple (not from Wat Kanalaya) walk through the neighborhood on their way to the Chao Phraya River. 

There is little the residents around Wat Kanalaya can do now. The courts have consistently ruled against them and there is no disputing who owns the land. So the evictions and destruction of the neighborhood will, almost certainly, continue.

There are more photos from the Wat Kanalaya evictions 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. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Feast of the Sacrifice

WARNING: There are some graphic photos in this post. 
Men pray at Haroon Mosque in Bangkok during Eid al-Adha services. 

Eid al-Adha is also called the Feast of Sacrifice, the Greater Eid or Baqar-Eid. Eid al-Adha marks the Old Testament story about the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son to God. Abraham (Ibrahim in the Muslim world) is an important figure in three world religions, Islam, Christianity and Jewish. 

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha is marked with the ritual sacrifice of animals, usually goats, sheep or cattle. The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.
Girls wait for Eid services to start at Haroon Mosque. 

I went to Haroon Mosque, one of the most historic mosques in Bangkok, to photograph Eid. Haroon Mosque was established by Javanese (now Indonesia) traders in the 1820s. It's the center of a Thai Muslim community but it also serves Muslim immigrants and tourists to Thailand. 
Eid al-Adha services at Haroon Mosque. So many people come to the mosque for Eid that they put mats out on the sidewalks around the mosque and most of the men pray outside. 

After the service people gathered around small pens behind the mosque for the ritual slaughter. 
A goat is led out of the pen to its slaughter. 

People buy a goat or sheep. Some people sacrifice it themselves, others have one of the workers do it. A prayer is said over the animal and its throat is slit. Then the animal bleeds out. Men from the mosque start butchering the animal as soon as it dies. The whole process, from start to finish, takes about 45 minutes. 
Men sacrifice a goat while another man butchers one.

A goat is butchered. 

Photographing events like the ritual sacrifices at Eid is difficult. I was invited into the service and no one put any restrictions on what I could and could not photograph. There were physical limits - the sacrifices were being done in the midst of a large crowd jammed into a small space, so squeezing into a place where I could photograph was difficult. People tried to accommodate and make room for me but it was a tight fit. 

Then there's the nature of what I was photographing. It was a sacred moment, and a prayer was offered before each and every animal was sacrificed. But it was gruesome. People in the US and Europe are divorced from where their food comes from. They go to the local supermarket and pick up a piece of beef or a chicken or fish or whatever. It's packed in styrofoam and plastic wrap and no messier than buying a new shirt or an iPhone. They generally don't know (or care) how the animal they are about to eat lived and died.

I've photographed Eid al-Adha a couple of times. I've also photographed in butcher shops and slaughter houses. Those places are far more brutal than the sacrifices at Eid. It was important to me that I not abuse the invitation and kindness people showed me during Eid.
After the goats were exsanguinated, men butcher them.

Muslims are the largest religious minority in Thailand. Even though Christian holidays, especially Christmas, are widely celebrated throughout Thailand, holy days like Eid and month of Ramadan are far more important. 

A woman in a wheelchair kisses her Q'uran after Eid services at Haroon Mosque.

There are more photos from Eid al-Adha 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 22, 2015

Evictions Update

A woman packs up her belongings before she was evicted from her home near Wat Kanalaya. She said her family had lived in the neighborhood for more than 100 years. This picture was made last week. The home was torn down this week. 

The eviction of residents from the neighborhood around Wat Kanalaya and the destruction of their homes is continuing. Fifty-four homes will be torn down but the project is going house by house and, at this point, all of the work is being done completely by hand. No electric power tools or big demolition equipment. I wouldn't be surprised if it took months to completely tear down all the homes. 

It's a sad thing to see, like watching someone rip off a bandage little by little, the pain just continues. It also means people have extra time to find new housing but the mood around the temple is melancholy. 
Women who are being evicted chat in front of a shop that will soon be torn down. The woman on the left is peeling garlic.

I am going to the Wat Kanalaya neighborhood a couple of times a week to photograph the people there as the neighborhood changes. 

It's interesting working there and working in an environment where you can't talk to people (because I don't speak Thai and nobody around Wat Kanalaya speaks English). You'd think that this would be a recipe for failure. I am trying to make pictures of people at their most vulnerable and at a time when they are losing their homes. This is not photographing a wedding or birthday or happy event. 

I wasn't sure how I would be received but I've been astounded at how welcoming the residents are. Every single person I've asked has said it was okay to photograph. Since I don't speak Thai and they don't speak English, we're doing this via sign language and body English (body Thai?) but not one person has said no or turned me down. Some have invited me into their homes for lunch. 
Packing up a home that has been torn down since this picture was made. 

I always carry a Thai-English dictionary and I use a translation app on my iPhone. I usually start by "asking" via sign language if I can photograph. If someone asks me why I'm photographing (at least I think that's what they're asking) I use the dictionary to tell them I'm a journalist. (The Thai word for journalist is pronounced nák k`ee-an n`ang-s`eu pim and I never, ever, get it right.) Then I use the translation app on my phone to tell them I am working on a story about how the Chao Phraya riverfront is changing (the temple is on the river and is one of the first of up to 200 communities that could be razed to make way for new riverfront developments). 

I am overwhelmed by the generosity of Thais. After going through the "why are you photographing?" routine one resident of the community literally grabbed me by the hand and walked me through the area pointing at homes and making a sweeping motion while she was looking for her friend who apparently speaks a little English. The friend was gone for the day, so our conversation was short. 
A woman being evicted in the window of her home. People are staying in their homes up to the day before it is torn down. The Thai flag and a portrait of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, hang on the front of her house.

Another time I was walking through the community and a family I had seen a couple of times, but never photographed or had any interaction with, invited me in to share their lunch. The same day a woman I had photographed pressed a bunch of bananas into my hand and when I pulled out some Baht to pay for them she turned up her hand and said "gift." 

This is a complicated story. Most of the people around the temple are angry that they're being evicted. But their homes are temple land - they don't dispute this. 

They don't have leases in the US sense. They've been living in their homes, paying rent to the temple, for generations based on a gentleman's agreement of sorts with the abbot. About 9 years ago, the temple got a new abbot. He has plans for the land, as is his right, and wants to redevelop the property around the temple. He also says he has concerns about the safety of the homes, many of which are made out of scrap wood and wired without any thoughts to grounding or safety. Plus the area floods a couple of times a year (the area along the river floods under predictable circumstances. Heavy rains at very high tides guarantee flooding which may only last a few hours but is a problem none the less). 
A somtam (papaya salad) vendor talks to a novice monk from a nearby temple in the Wat Kanalaya neighborhood.

All of which makes it hard to say there is a villian in this story. What's not hard to say is that there are a lot of victims. In a country with a yawning income gap (although the income between rich and poor in Thailand is less than it is in the US), it's the poorest citizens who are displaced by gentrification. 

Demolition crews tear down a house near Wat Kanalaya. 

I am going to follow the changes in the Kanalaya neighborhood, including going back with a Thai assistant to do some proper interviews. I will update project when it's merited. 

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, September 20, 2015

Praising Ganesha

People pray during the Ganesha festival in Nakhon Nayok Sunday. 

Sunday was the annual Ganesha festival in Nakhon Nayok. Ganesha is the Hindu deity usually represented as an elephant figure. He's the "overcomer of obstacles" and tremendously popular in the Hindu world and revered by many Thai Buddhists. The Ganesha festival in Nakhon Nayok is actually held a week or so before the Ganesha festivals in other Hindu communities in Thailand, so people come up to Nakhon Nayok and then attend other Ganesha festivals the next weekend. 
People wait to have their Ganesha statues blessed at the festival. 

Coincidently, this year's festival fell on the third anniversary of my move to Thailand. One of the first events I covered when I got here was the Ganesha Festival in Nakhon Nayok in 2012, when I was still living in a hotel. Photographing Ganesha has sort of become a tradition for me - a way of marking the passage of time
Men march in the procession to the river where the Ganesha deities were sent downstream. 

September is the middle of the rainy season here and it's rained on all of the other Ganesha festivals I've covered. The rain is a mixed blessing. The Nakhon Nayok festival ends with a 2.5 kilometer procession from the temple to a nearby river. Walking in the procession in the rain is kind of messy. This year was a beautiful cloudless sky. Walking in the procession in the tropical heat under a beautiful cloudless sky is brutal. Photographically, the river is due east from the temple, so the procession was horribly backlit almost every step of the way. 
At the river, a large statue of Ganesha was loaded into a small, dangerously overcrowded, boat taken out to the middle of the river, lowered over the side and floated downstream.

Thailand is an amazingly diverse country, so much more than curries and Buddhist temples. I think one of the reasons I like photographing Ganesha is that it serves as a reminder of how diverse it is. There are more photos from Ganesha 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. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Speaking Their Mind

Protestors on Ratchadamnoen Ave near Democracy Monument speak out against Thailand's military dominated government. The sign says "Let's Declare Victory and Step Over Dictatorial Power." 

There was an anti-coup protest in Bangkok Saturday. The protest came at the end of a seminar about Thailand's 2006 coup that deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, the incredibly rich elected (and then reelected) populist Prime Minister. Several hundred people gathered at Thammasat University for the seminar and then marched to Democracy Monument.

The NCPO (the junta that rules Thailand) warned that the marchers would not be allowed to leave the university campus and there was a large police presence at the university gates. Protestors marched to the gates, talked to the Police Colonel in charge of the scene and then marched up to Democracy Monument.
Protestors at Democracy Monument.

Police set up a perimeter around Democracy Monument. When protestors got there, they walked past the police moved onto the grounds of the Monument. There were no arrests and no violence. 
Protestors at Democracy Monument. According the Bangkok Post, the banner says, "Long live the people, down with dictatorship."

Saturday's protest was by far the biggest protest in more than a year. There have been a couple of protests and marches that were announced but they were all stopped by either the military or police before they gathered any momentum. I'm not sure why this one was allowed to proceed when others were not. 

Even though this was the biggest, most sustained protest in more than a year, it was still, in the continuum of Thai political protest, tiny. 

Bangkok is a city of 10 - 12 million (depending on who is counting and what they consider Bangkok). Two hundred people marching 1.6 kilometers is barely a blip on the radar. The protests we witnessed in 2014 (and 2010) had hundreds of thousands of people gridlocking vast swaths of the city. 

The other thing I thought was interesting about this protest was its demographics. It was not the usual political players. 

It wasn't hard core Red Shirt supporters of Thaksin (although there were some Red Shirts in the crowd). It wasn't students from Thammasat University (although there were students in the crowd and the march was organized by students). It wasn't the urban poor who frequently participate in political demonstrations in Thailand (although there were some urban poor in the crowd). 

It was mostly middle aged and older women and men. The same demographic who protested the aborted election in 2014, when militants aligned with Suthep Thaugsuban brought the election to a crashing halt by intimidating voters and attacking polling places. The demographic we sometimes call "grannies and aunties." 
A protestor holds up an origami dove.

The question is what does this mean going forward? Was the police reaction a one time thing or does this signal a new policy of managing protests? We won't know the answers to that until people try to organize another march.

There are more photos from the protest 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.