Saturday, April 11, 2015

Headed Home for the Holidays

Standing room only a train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, a town on the Cambodian border.

Songkran is Thailand's traditional New Year celebration. Some variation of the holiday is celebrated throughout the Theravada Buddhist world - Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia all have their own versions of Songkran.
The line to buy train tickets at Hua Lamphong Saturday morning.

Songkran is a massive public holiday in Thailand. The country essentially shuts down for at least three days (this year five) as people flee Bangkok. Workers, drawn to Bangkok for economic opportunities, go home to see family. Upper and middle class Thais go to the beaches or parks upcountry. Trains, buses and airlines are packed. 
Women pray at a Songkran alter set up in the main concourse at Hua Lamphong train station.
Waiting to leave Bangkok on a third class train. 

I've photographed Songkran a lot in the past. This year I'm going to take a break from the holiday. I've been lucky through the years. I've photographed the water wars and super squirter shoot outs without damaging my gear, but eventually everyone's luck runs out. I'll photograph the quieter, religious, aspects of the holiday and avoid the insanity. 
Waiting for a train. 

There are more photos of Songkran holiday travel 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, April 10, 2015

Friday Prayers at Ton Son

A man prays in Ton Son Mosque in Bangkok. It's the oldest established mosque in Bangkok.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. When people think of Islam they usually associate it with the Middle East. Islam was born in the Arab world, but it's become a global religion. More Muslims live in Southeast Asia than the Middle East. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world and India, typically thought of as a Hindu nation, is the second most populous. More Muslims live in four countries in South and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) than the rest of the world combined
Muslim teenagers eat lunch at a street food stand near Masjid Ton Son (Masjid is the Thai word for Mosque) in the Thonburi section of Bangkok.
Girls walk into Masjid Ton Son before Friday prayers.

Thailand, a Buddhist country, has a large Muslim community. The "deep south" provinces, which neighbor Malaysia (also a Muslim majority nation) have a Muslim majority and ethnically closer to Malaysians than Thais

Thai census figures put Thai Muslims at about 5% of the population, but that seems low to me. I've traveled throughout Thailand and I meet Muslims everywhere I go, from the Muslim majority deep south to the northern borders with Laos and Myanmar. Bangkok has a large Muslim minority population, there are Muslim neighborhoods scattered throughout the city but concentrated along the river and Khlong Saen Saeb.
A man performs ablutions before going into Masjid Ton Son for Friday prayers.

I made these pictures in and around Masjid Ton Son during Friday prayers as a part of a personal project I'm working on about spirituality in Thailand. At a time when there's a lot of mistrust and suspicion between Muslim and Christians around the world, I've never been treated as anything than a honored guest at every mosque and Muslim event I've photographed. Whether it was Ramadan services in southern Thailand, Eid in Phoenix, Friday prayers almost anywhere, or Iftar (the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast), I have been welcomed to photograph and socialize with no more restrictions than I would have in a Christian church or Buddhist temple.
A man walks into Masjid Ton Son before prayers. Established in the 1680s before Bangkok existed, it was the first mosque established in what is now Bangkok. The original teak building burned down decades ago, the current building is a modern (and air conditioned) prayer hall but the history is nearby. The mosque's cemetery has graves that are more than 300 years old.

There are more photos from Masjid Ton Son 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, April 8, 2015

Ordination in Chiang Mai

Tai Yai (Shan) boys in a parade marking their ordination as Buddhist novices during the Poi Sang Long Festival in Chiang Mai.

The Tai Yai*, also called Shan, are an ethnic minority in northeastern Myanmar and western Thailand. Thousands of Tai Yai people fleeing political persecution in Myanmar have settled in Thailand. Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai both have very large Tai Yai communities and celebrate Tai Yai holidays and festivals.
The parade winds through the streets of Chiang Mai. 

Monks and other youngsters photograph the parade from the back of a pickup truck. 

One of the biggest of those festivals is the Poi Sang Long, a three day long ordination ceremony for young boys. There is lots of music, dancing and prayer. I went to Poi Sang Long at Wat Pa Pao in Chiang Mai. 

The boys wear fantastic, ornate costumes and crowns. They are treated like princes (Poi Sang Long translates as "Festival of the Crystal Sons"), carried everywhere by men from their families (in fact their feet are not allowed to touch the ground), family and friends come to pray and make merit with them. Families put on tremendous banquets of Tai Yai foods and offer it to anyone who passes as a form of merit making. It's a wonderful experience. 
Men pray with a boy who will be ordained. They boys and their families lived in a dormitory at Wat Pa Pao in Chiang Mai during the ceremony. 

A woman donates money to a boy.

The festival ends with a ceremony where the boys are given their saffron monks' robes. They change out of their princely clothing and into the austere robes of a monk. 
Their final day as princes, the boys pray before getting their monks' robes. 



Boys change into monk's robes. 

A man prays while the boys get their robes. 


At the end of the ceremony, people made merit by making donations to the newly ordained novices.

There are more photos from the Poi Sang Long festival 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. 

*The Tai Yai are commonly called Shan, but they prefer Tai Yai. A Tai Yai man at the ordination ceremony explained that Shan is the Burmese translation of Siamese, but their preference is Tai Yai. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another Mall in Bangkok

Women take "selfies" of each other on the red carpet in front of EmQuartier, the newest shopping mall in Bangkok.

Central Bangkok, an area rich with upscale shopping malls, has another place where the 1% can spend their hard earned Baht. EmQuartier (note: it is not "EmQuarter") is a new shopping destination across Sukhumvit Road from Emporium, a well known high end mall in Bangkok. 
Inside EmQuartier. 

The new mall is a part of a major expansion of shopping at Sukhumvit Soi 24. It's adjacent to the Phrom Phong BTS station, in the middle of a part of Bangkok where many farangs (Thai for caucasian foreigners) live and very close to Thong Lor and Ekkamai, where lots of wealthy Thais live. Emporium, opened in the late 90s, was the first mall in the area, EmQuartier opened this week and there are plans in place for EmSphere, about 100 meters west of Emporium. The complex is being rebranded and will be called the EM District (you may notice a theme running through the names.) 
Shoppers walk past a women's fashion store in EmQuartier.

The EM District is owned by the same developers who own Paragon, another large, very high end, shopping complex on Rama I Road, about 4.5 kilometers (roughly 2.5 miles) from Emporium and the EM District. Paragon is on Rama I, but both are really the same road. Rama I changes names several times but it is a straight shot down Sukhumvit to Rama I and Paragon is a longish walk from EM District. 
A worker installs flooring in a courtyard at the new mall. 

There's a plethora of expensive malls between Paragon and EM District. Coming out Rama I/Phloen Chit/Sukhumvit (the three run together) there is: Paragon, a "luxury" mall; Siam Square, which features fashions geared to college students and young adults; CentralWorld, a sprawling mall with almost every high end western and Japanese chain store you can name; Gaysorn, one of the first high end malls in Bangkok; Central Chidlom (also spelled Chit Lom), more of a huge department store with aspirations of being a mall; Central Embassy, a brand new mall that opened in 2014 and still seems mostly empty and Terminal 21, a mall popular with Thai teenagers and fashionistas. Of all the malls, only Terminal 21 has a really unique identity and is geared to local people. 
On an escalator in EmQuartier, a shopper unknowingly matching the Hamburglar. (There's a McDonald's in the food court of the new mall.)

EmQuartier is opening in the midst of what seems to be an economic slow down in Thailand. There are near daily reports in the local media about economic challenges facing Thailand. Thailand's export driven economy is facing hurdles as the export driven economies of Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam gather strength. Tourism in Thailand is experiencing a slowdown because Russians (who make up a big part of the tourism to Thailand) can't afford to travel as the ruble collapses. 
People file into EmQuartier a few hours after it opened.

As a lay person observer and resident of Bangkok, this development does not feel sustainable. One of the problems is that the malls (again, except for Terminal 21) all have the same stores and restaurants. Paragon is unique because you can buy a car in the mall (so long as you're buying a Rolls Royce or Masareti. Seriously, there are Rolls and Maserati showrooms in Paragon) but otherwise they feel very similar.
A worker dry mops a floor while shoppers go around him.

All of these malls contribute to the surreal nature of living in Bangkok. I can go from photographing in Khlong Toey market or slum to eating at an expensive bistro in EmQuartier in minutes. It's about 2.5 kilometers (roughly two miles) from one of Bangkok's most famous wet markets and infamous slums to some of the most expensive retail in Southeast Asia. This really is an amazing city. 

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, March 26, 2015

Not Your Usual Beauty Pageant

Contestants on stage in the first round of the Miss Tiffany's 2015 pageant. 

Thailand is famous for its tolerance of transgendered people. "Ladyboys" or kathoey in Thai are a well documented part of Thai culture. Thailand is the center of gender reassignment surgery.

Thailand is also famous for its cabaret shows featuring transgendered performers. I've photographed a couple of them. Working within inches of the performers I could not tell they were transgendered.

One of the best known cabarets is Miss Tiffany's, in Pattaya. Every year Miss Tiffany's hosts an international pageant for women who were born male.
Contestants wait to go on stage during the pageant. 

A contestant gets help with her eyelashes. 

The first round of the pageant, for Thai contestants, was yesterday at CentralWorld, a large mall in central Bangkok. The women were primping and preening. The mall's central court was packed with spectators. 

The contestants wore white tee shirts with the Miss Tiffany's logo. There will be a swim suit pageant at the end of this month, the finals will be held in Pattaya on May 8. The international finals are usually held in December, also in Pattaya, and features contestants from around the world. 
A contestant prays before going on stage. 
She's video chatting with a friend on their smart phones. 
Contestants watch the pageant. 
Contestants on stage.

There are more photos from the pageant 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.