Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mourning His Majesty

Mourners at Sanam Luang hold up portraits of His Majesty while the sing the King's Anthem Saturday. 

Thais continue to mourn the death of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, their revered Monarch. There have been large crowds at Sanam Luang, the Royal Ceremonial Ground in front of the Grand Palace. The government has set up a system of shuttles from major transit points in Bangkok down to the area around the palace to make it easier for people to get down there.
People pray for the King at one of the shrines set up for the King on Sanam Luang.

A sea of flowers left at one of the shrines for the King.

There's a sense of community at Sanam Luang for Thais united in grief. People are sleeping at Sanam Luang, Thai community groups are serving free food, the Thai Army and Navy have set up their mobile kitchens to provide food. Rescue groups, hospitals and the Ministry of Health have set up free health care, mostly emergency care for people affected by the oppressive heat but also care for people with other health concerns. Barber schools are providing free hair cuts. Vendors are selling portraits of His Majesty and flowers. Girl Scouts line the walkways fanning people with large pieces of cardboard as they navigate the crowds. It's an astonishing scene. 
A barber school provides free haircuts. 

The government has mandated a year long mourning period, the cremation date has not been determined yet but is likely to be at the end of the mourning period. Government employees are supposed to wear black for the entire year (unless they're wearing their uniform, in which case they should display a black arm band or black ribbon). Other Thais, and foreigners who are being respectful, are supposed to wear black for the next 30 days. 
People dressed in black, carrying pictures of His Majesty, walk down the street next to Sanam Luang. 

It is not an exaggeration to say that millions of Thais across the country are in mourning. Yesterday, the government said there were more than 150,000 mourners at Sanam Luang. 

I don't know if that's true. I have been to Sanam Luang for political rallies, holiday events and the King's birthday. In all my years in Thailand I have never seen Sanam Luang as crowded as it was yesterday. It was packed with people in black. The streets around Sanam Luang were packed. Aerial photos in the Thai media showed that the roads leading to the streets around Sanam Luang were packed with people walking into the ceremonial ground. It was so crowded it was almost impossible to move through the crowd. 
A woman sat under an umbrella with a portrait of the King during one of the rainstorms that passed over Sanam Luang Saturday. 

This despite oppressive heat and monsoon storms that passed over Bangkok during the day. The King has long been revered as a unifying figure in Thailand's turbulent political history. We are seeing that reverence expressed in big ways and small ways right now. 
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, October 21, 2016

The King Has Died

Thais at Siriraj Hospital in Thonburi react to news that Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, has died. 

The day most Thais knew was coming and dreading at the same time arrived last week. After a prolonged illness, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, died. Millions of Thais across the Kingdom are in mourning, missing the only monarch most of them have known. 
A woman reacts to news of the King's death. 

The King is deeply revered by the Thais. He reigned for a little over 70 years, becoming King when Thailand was still shattered by World War 2. (Thailand suffered through a brutal Japanese occupation during the war and American and British planes bombed Bangkok and military targets throughout Thailand during the war.) Thailand's neighbors, all of them, were entering dangerous phases of civil war and anti-colonial insurgencies. It would have been very easy for that violence to spill over into Thailand. 

But Thailand persevered and became an island of stability and economic development in very stormy post war seas. 
Mourners at the hospital. 

The King made it his mission to see to his subjects' needs. He made regular journeys to upcountry Thailand, places that the Bangkok elite ignored. Thailand (then Siam) was a constitutional monarchy when the King inherited the throne - the absolute monarchy was deposed by a coup in 1932 - and the King had little official power. He couldn't tell officials how to govern, he had to lead by example. And the Thai people responded to that.

We were in Bali when news broke that the King's health was "unstable." We discussed our options and decided to return to Bangkok because I felt like I needed to be in Bangkok when the King died. 

We got back to Bangkok Wednesday night. I went to Siriraj Hospital early Thursday morning and photographed people praying for His Majesty. The King has lived in Siriraj for most of the last six years I've spent a lot of time at the hospital the last four years (since moving to Thailand) photographing people signing get well wishes and praying for the King. But this time it all felt different. 

In the past, there was always a sense that he would recover. That optimism was missing this time. About 7PM the Royal Household (which oversees matters related to the monarchy) issued a press release that at 3:52PM on Thursday, October 13, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, had died. As news rippled through the crowd people erupted in cried of anguish. People chanted "Long the King" while they clutched portraits of His Majesty. They hugged each other, comforting themselves in a moment of collective grief. Some people fainted. It was not like anything I had ever experienced. 
Friday morning, after the King's death Thursday, people gathered at the Grand Palace with pictures of their beloved Monarch. 

The mourning process started almost immediately. I went to Sanam Luang and the Grand Palace Friday morning. There was a large crowd of people, most carrying portraits of the King, waiting to get into the Palace to pay respects. The King was 88 years old and had reigned for 70 years. He was the only King most Thais knew. 
A woman weeps at the wall of the Grand Palace. 

The Royal succession has been in places for years. At some point in the near future, the King's son, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, will become King. The exact date is not known yet and depends on the mourning process. The Crown Prince said he will be ascend to the throne after he helps the Thai people mourn his beloved father's death.
The area around the Palace and Sanam Luang is crowded with mourners. 

The Thai government has been critical of western news agencies for under reporting the total number of mourners. It's hard to estimate the size of the crowd because the mourning is being done over a large area in a congested part of the city. But Friday afternoon it was so crowded it was nearly impossible to walk through the crowd. The government said 500,000 people came down to the area around the palace.

What is inescapable is that people everywhere in Thailand are mourning His Majesty's death. From Sanam Luang and the Palace to temples in rural villages, millions of Thais are mourning the death of the King.  
Thais file into the Grand Palace to sign condolences for the King.

It's hard to explain this kind of reverence to Americans. There is nothing in our national psyche that can compare. I've traveled throughout Thailand, from Bangkok to small villages on the Burmese or Lao borders. To impoverished hamlets in Isan. And all have one thing in common. In every home and shop, restaurant, bus station or train station, in many taxies and buses, a portrait of the King is prominently displayed.
A mourner prays for the King on Sanam Luang, the Royal Ceremonial Ground. 
Royal Thai Police watch a crowd of mourners at the palace walls.

There are more photos related to the King's death 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, October 11, 2016

Ubud's Traditional Market

People walk through the morning market in Ubud just as the sun starts to come up. 

Most people who come to Ubud see the tourist market in the center of the town loaded with knickknacks, ukuleles, tiny surfboards and tropical kitsch and don't realize there is also a thriving local market at the same place much earlier in the morning. 
Buying fruit at the morning market.

You have to get up very early to see the morning market. Like 4.30AM early. I walked up to the market from our Ubud hotel about 5AM and it was packed - not a stall was empty. Market vendors  were hustling to sell fresh off the farm produce while shoppers hustled to get the best deals. The best part, for me, was that I was the only non Balinese person there. It was a chance to see Balinese people going about their daily lives in a very real way. 
Part of the morning market.
Nearby a child sleeps in a stairwell. 

The Ubud morning market opens about 4.30AM and starts closing about 7AM. It doesn't really close though as much as it transitions. The produce and food stalls in the market close up, but they're replaced almost as soon as they close by stalls selling tourist kitsch. 

What you barely notice at 7AM is inescapable by 7.30AM. And by 8AM most of the market vendors selling tourist stuff. (This is not quite true in the small downstairs part of the market, which retains much of its local ambiance through the day.)
A produce vendor in the morning market. By 8.30AM this part of the market is shops selling sarongs and souvenirs. 

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.

NOTE: My blogging schedule has been thrown off by recent events in Thailand. These posts are dated by when I did the photography. I will have more on recent events in Thailand soon. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

And They're Off...

Buffalo racers pass a puddle during buffalo racing in Jembrana, Bali

We are in Bali to photograph buffalo racing in Jembrana, on the far west end of Bali. 

Hook a pair of buffalo bulls up to a small cart, put a driver in the cart and watch them careen down dirt roads that wind through rice fields. That's pretty much all there is to it. 
Racers on the muddy straight away. The road is too narrow for the competitors to race side by side, so they run in tandem and are timed with stopwatches

The buffalo races are one of Bali's signature events, but the location, hours from the tourist centers in Kuta and Ubud, means that relatively few tourists go to the races. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of Balinese at the races we went to. There were fewer than 10 foreign tourists. We pretty much had the races to ourselves. 
Members of a race team haul the cart (with yoke attached) to the starting line.

The carts are pretty small, about twice the size of an American child's little red wagon, with bamboo floor and wooden spoked wheels. The buffalo are medium sized, probably adolescent (I'm not a buffalo expert). The drivers, always men, sometimes sit but usually stand in the cart flogging the buff with spiked sticks. The buffalo are decorated with colorful banners and bells. 
A farmer gets his buffalo ready to race. 

The track is not closed during the race. Spectators and community residents wander along the side of the road, carefully looking both ways before running across the road. The crowd at the finish line pushes well into the course, making it part demolition derby part race. I was a little surprised no one got hit or hurt. 
A pair of racers break for the finish line while a woman carries her son up the track. This is normal.
Crossing the finish line, just a few feet from where I was standing. 

The buffalo races in Jembrana are a seasonal event. They usually start in July, the last race of the season is usually in October. Races are normally held every two weeks, but may be postponed because of weather. The location changes from week to week. 

There are more pictures of the buffalo racing 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 30, 2016

Before the Flood

Thai school girls play and swim in the flood waters that have inundated the playground of their school in Ayutthaya province north of Bangkok. 

Two months ago I was covering the drought that devastated rural Thailand and most of Cambodia. I think it's a little early to say the drought is over, but it has been raining. In some places it's raining a lot and the drought is certainly abating. Now I'm covering floods in central Thailand. 
A child swims in the flood waters that swept through his village. 

Flood waters along the Chao Phraya River recently swept down river and pushed through communities along the river. This flood is not caused by too much rain. Indeed, the Thai government says reservoirs upstream are still below 50% full. The current round of flooding was triggered when officials in flood mitigation and irrigation departments opened sluices and flood gates along the river to make room in the reservoirs for expected heavy rains in October. 
A man paddles his plastic canoe through flood waters near a temple in Bang Ban district of Ayutthaya...
And statues at the temple are submerged.

In 2011, Thailand was devastated by historically bad flooding that swamped 65 of the country's 77 provinces. Localized flooding started in July, by October huge swaths of central Thailand (including the parts of Ayutthaya that are again underwater) were submerged, the flood wasn't declared over until January 2012. 

I wasn't living here during the 2011 flood, but I followed it from our home in Phoenix and did what I could do get wire service coverage of the flood into the Arizona Republic. People living in the US probably best remember the flood because it took Western Digital's hard drive factories in Thailand off line and, at the time, most of the WD drives sold in the US were made in Thailand
A lottery vendor waits in the flooded plaza of a temple for a boat to take to her home in a flooded village a few hundred meters away. 

Thailand was so traumatized by the 2011 flood that the current government has vowed it will never again happen and that everything that can be done will be done to prevent a recurrence. So with the prediction of more rains in October, the sluices are being opened to make room in the reservoirs.
A woman lifts her daughter out of a boat. This is not a waterway. It's a road. A banana plantation, now underwater, is on the left. 

I went up to Ayutthaya today to see how bad the flooding is. The local people I talked to said this was the worst flooding they've seen since 2011. A number of communities are underwater and thousands acres of farmland are underwater. In the district I was in, most of the flooded farmland had been banana plantations but rice fields have flooded in other parts of Ayutthaya. 

The areas that are flooded are really flooded. Some villages have more than a meter of water flowing through them. At this point though the flooding is still localized. Some areas are completely submerged but neighboring villages are bone dry. Many of the roads here are built well above grade and they function (intentionally) as dikes or levees and the dikes are saving communities away from the river. 
Villagers paddle down a flooded road in their village. The water here was about a meter deep. 

The government has asked the flooded communities to be patient and has asked dry communities to do what they can to help their neighbors. Even though this flood is still localized, communities that are flooded are experiencing significant losses. 

I met a banana and corn farmer who lost his entire year's crops. Both his cornfields and banana groves are completely underwater. His loss is 100%. 
A man who grows corn and bananas paddles out to the road that runs past his now flooded farm. 
His submerged banana groves. The water here is very deep - the banana plants are well over two meters tall. 

This is early in the flood season and flood waters are still inching up. This isn't a flood like Katrina in 2005 or the Fukishima tsunami in 2011 - cataclysmic events that swept through a community in hours. This is a disaster in slow motion. A person at a flooded temple told me everyday there is more water in the temple, that the flood started a week ago and it's still getting worse. 
A man pulls a "khlong" jar back to his home in a flooded village. In rural Thailand these huge ceramic jars are used to store domestic water. His broke loose overnight and he pulled back to his home. 

The people I met in Ayutthaya are responding to the flood with what I could only call Thai je ne sais quoi. 

When I wanted to visit a flooded village, I asked a shopkeeper if there were any boats available. She yelled to a friend that I needed a boat and her friend, an 80 year old woman, paddled over to me and told me to hop in and took me through the village. When we got back to the highway, the woman who paddled me around refused my offer of money. We had a brief discussion and I was finally able to convince her to take about 100 Baht. Less than $3.00 US. 
Children swim in the floodwaters that left their playground submerged. 

I stopped at a school that was partially submerged (the first floor was underwater but the second floor was dry and all of the classes had moved upstairs). I asked if I could look around and the principal said of course and then added, "but you should really come back at 1.30PM, when the children swim in the playground." So I went back at 1.30 and the students were taking swimming lessons in the floodwaters. 

The banana farmer who lost everything invited me into an empty storage shed and offered me his last bunch of bananas. I tried to pay for the bananas and he absolutely refused. He wouldn't accept anything from me. 
A man from a flooded village floats on a home made raft past a submerged chedi and Buddha statues at a temple in Bang Ban. 

There are more photos of the flooding 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.