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. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Building Bridges

Soldiers from the Royal Thai Army work with members of the Mon community to repair the Mon Bridge in Sangkhla Buri

The Mon Bridge is a huge handmade wooden bridge that connects the Mon community in Sangkhla Buri to the Thai community. The bridge, built in the early 1990s, was the idea of Luang Por Uttama, a revered Burmese Mon Buddhist monk who led a group of Mon people out of Burma during one of Burma's many civil wars to the relative safety of Thailand. 
Boys jump into the Songka Lia River from a temporary bamboo bridge the Mon community built to replace their permanent bridge, which is in the background. 

Part of the bridge washed away in floods in 2013. The Mon community solicited donations of cash and materials from their community and set about rebuilding the bridge. Provincial politics got in the way of the repair efforts. 

Sangkhla Buri is in Kanchanaburi province, but in a remote corner of the province far from the provincial capital of Kanchanaburi town. Provincial politicians took over the repair and the work stalled. What was supposed to be done in months took well over a year. Most of the money was spent and there was still a gaping hole in the landmark bridge. 

Mon leaders appealed to the national government in Bangkok. The Prime Minister responded by ordering an engineering unit of the Royal Thai Army to Sangkhla Buri to rebuild the bridge. 
Thai army engineers survey the riverbank down river from the famous bridge, which is in the background

Thai soldiers are now working side by side with members of the Mon community to rebuild the bridge. 

This is old school bridge building. The original bridge was hand made. The rebuilt one will also be hand made. Soldiers and Mon men work side by side with hammers and nails pounding each piece of wood into place by hand. Pilings are sunk with hand pulled chains and pulleys. Some of the workers have small power saws and chain saws but they're not industrial grade saws. They're what you would find in a workshop of a hobbyist woodworker in the US. 
A member of the Mon community uses a small hand ax to trim a piece of lumber on the bridge deck. 

It's a fascinating process to watch. The first thing I noticed is that safety standards here are completely different from what they would be in the US. Most of the civilian workers were barefoot or wearing flip flops. Some of the Thai soldiers had boots, but most wore tennis shoes. Nobody was wearing hard hats. Nobody was wearing safety harnesses. There were no safety railings. Men working at water level were ducking debris thrown off the deck of the bridge by men working topside. 
A member of the Mon community perches on top of a piling waiting for a new piling to put into place. It's less than 12 inches (~ 300 millimeters) across.
And moving onto the next piling. 

The local community is vested in the bridge repair. Much of the lumber being used was salvaged from the collapsed bridge. New lumber is being donated by families in the area or cut from the surrounding forests. 
A monk from the Mon community sits on the edge of the bridge and watches the construction. 

Monks from Mon temples come out every day to talk to workers and watch the progress. Since this is Thailand, there's always food. Lots and lots of food. Local women prepare a daily lunch buffet for the soldiers and Mon workers. Before and after lunch, women from the community bring drinks and snacks out to the workers. One morning I was out there, work started at 8AM and they had the first coffee break at 8.30AM when a group of villagers brought coffee and sweets out to the workers. 
Women from the Mon community walk out to see the construction.
Mon women serve desserts to soldiers working at water level on the bridge. 

The Prime Minister has promised to have the bridge rebuilt by the end of September. That seems a bit optimistic but villagers are confident that it will be done by November, in time for the peak of the tourist season.

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 16, 2014

The Morning Alms Round

People in the Mon community in Sangkhla Buri present food to monks during the monks' morning alms rounds. 

One of the rhythms of life in Southeast Asia is the ritual of Buddhist monks going out on their morning rounds receiving alms from the people in their communities. Whether you're in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar, you'll see monks out early in the morning. 
Women pray in the street before the monks reached them

When you've photographed monks on their morning rounds as often as I have you start to notice differences from community to community. 

In Bangkok, by far the largest city in mainland Southeast Asia, monks typically go out by singly and people wait in front of their homes or businesses for the monk to pass by. A donation is made and the monk sometimes prays with the person and sometimes not. 
Monks on rounds in the Mon community

In Laos (and northeast Thailand), monks go out in large groups, sometimes as many as 100, and people line the streets waiting for them. This scene is most famously repeated every morning in Luang Prabang, Laos, but it's common in parts of Lao influenced Thailand, like Isaan. 

Monks in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia wear the bright orange saffron robes most people identify with Theravada Buddhism. Monks in Myanmar usually wear darker, almost burgundy colored, robes. 

Western Thailand, where I am this week, is home to a large Mon community. The Mon people played an important role in Southeast Asia through the centuries. The Mon kingdoms sided with the Siamese (Thai) kingdoms during the Thais frequent wars with the Burmese. The Mon were among the first Buddhists in mainland Southeast Asia (before that Hinduism was dominant - the temples at Angkor, for example, were originally Hindu). Theravada Buddhism was spread through the region by the Mon. 

In the Mon tradition, when the monks approach people sit in the road, face the monks, and pray. When the monks get to them, people stand and present food to the monks, who pass by wordlessly. 
A woman prays as monks approach during the morning alms round in the Mon community in Sangkhla Buri.

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 9, 2014

The Prime Minister Prays

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the recently appointed Thai Prime Minister, prays at a Spirit House at Government House. 

Thailand's new Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, met with his hand selected cabinet for the first time this morning. Prayuth was unanimously selected to be Prime Minister by the National Legislative Assembly, the parliamentary body he personally appointed after he took power in a coup in May. The cabinet, which he also appointed, is made up largely of generals and technocrats who support him.
Prayuth, flanked by security officers and aides, walks out to the spirit house

Before the meeting PM Prayuth walked out to a spirit house near the main gate of the Government House complex. He lit some incense and made merit before walking over to the cabinet meeting room. 
Gen. Prayuth lights candles during his prayer at the spirit house

The whole thing took about four minutes. The General / Prime Minister walked out, lit candles and incense, prayed quietly and walked back to the cabinet meeting. There were tens of Thai photographers and dozens of TV crews there. Cameras started clicking as the General walked in and went nonstop until the General left. 
Gen. Prayuth squeezes around the spirit house

The only "real" moment (and it wasn't much) of the four minute event came when General Prayuth tried to walk between a small alter and spirit house. Other than that it was tightly scripted and executed perfectly. 
General Prayuth walks away from the spirit house after praying

There are more photos of General Prayuth praying before the cabinet meeting 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, September 8, 2014

Rice Harvest

A rice farmer looks over his field near Ayutthaya while it was being harvested Monday.

The rice harvest is underway in Thailand. Thailand is the world's leading exporter of rice, although India and Vietnam threaten Thailand's supremacy, and rice is hugely important here, both as food and as an economic driver. 

When Thais ask if you've eaten, they actually ask if you've had rice yet. Rice, either as a grain (the way most Americans are used to eating it) or turned into noodles (Pad Thai) or a porridge (congee) is consumed at almost every meal. "Sticky" rice, also called glutinous rice, is used as a grain or starch for meals and cooked with coconut milk as a desert (sticky rice and mango or sticky rice and black beans). Rice does not have dietary gluten, so if you're on a gluten free diet you can eat rice. 
The rice harvest in central Thailand is mechanized, much like grain farming in the US.

The rice harvest in central Thailand starts just as the rainy season is kicking into high gear. Every year, there's a race on to get the rice in before the fields flood. This year is no different. The Thai meteorological agency and flood mitigation agency have advised farmers to get their rice harvest in the next two weeks. Although it hasn't rained much in Bangkok, it has rained a lot up country. Rain has swollen the rivers upstream from Bangkok and officials said they may have to open floodgates on the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries to relieve flooding upcountry. 
Rice is loaded into a truck after it's harvested.

When they do open the floodgates, it could trigger floods downstream especially in Ayutthaya and Ang Thong provinces, both of which flood almost every year. Farmers are busy bringing in their rice before the water comes. 

I made these pictures in Ayutthaya. There are more photos of the 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.