Monday, April 20, 2015

We'll Be Right Back...

The doors close on a commuter in a BTS Skytrain at Ekkamai Station Monday morning.

Posting on the Occasional Blog is going to be even more occasional for the next few weeks. We're going back to the U.S. to see family in Minnesota and Florida and deal with paperwork in Arizona. 
A hipsters' clothing shop in Chatuchak Weekend Market in northern Bangkok. I made this picture over the weekend while we were at the market picking up last minute gifts for family in the states. 

I haven't been back to the U.S. in more than 18 months. This is a pretty short trip (three weeks) to reconnect with family and pick up some gear (there's a new MacBook Pro and maybe a new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II waiting for me. And, as an aside, who names these things?). 
A picture I made Monday morning of a woman looking at giant statues of revered Buddhist monks. This was in Benchasiri Park, next to the Emporium, a high end shopping mall.

I won't be working at all on this trip to the U.S. When I went back in 2013 I covered a couple of political campaigns and the Republican led shut down of the US federal government. This trip is so quick and we have so much ground to cover that I don't think I'll doing any actual photojournalism. 

But stay tuned. We should be back in Bangkok by mid May and I have some interesting things coming up in June and July. 

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, April 18, 2015

Spirituality in Thailand

A novice prays in a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai. 

According to a recent story in the Guardian, Thailand is the most religious country in the world. I don't know about the validity of surveys like this because people are asked to self identify whether or not they consider themselves religious. 

But Thailand is an incredibly spiritual place. The unseen is all around you here, whether in big ways like the majestic temples that dot the skyline, or small ways like the discreet offerings left on sidewalks for the spirits (called phi in Thai). 
People "make merit" at an alter in Hua Lamphong Train Station. Public buildings and private businesses throughout the country set up alters for people to pray at during religious holidays. 

Spirituality in Thailand also encompasses a very diverse world view. Most Thais, probably about 85% of them, are Buddhist. But their Buddhism is tempered with tolerance and even appreciation for other faiths. A Thai Buddhist will go to a Buddhist temple to make merit on a Buddhist holy day but may also go to a Hindu temple to honor a Hindu deity or go to a Christian church on a Christian holy day. 
The "viharn" (prayer hall) at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai.

I've photographed a lot of religion and spirituality in Thailand. It's an incredible mosaic and one I never tire of being around. 
A family prays before releasing an assortment of fish and reptiles into Khlong Bangkok Yai near Talat Phlu. Releasing animals, usually small birds, fish and reptiles, is a popular way of "making merit."

There is a large Muslim community in Thailand. The southern provinces have a Muslim majority and many of the urban areas have a large Muslim minority. There are mosques (called "masjid" in Thai) scattered across Bangkok.


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, April 16, 2015

Barbers on the Tracks

A man gets a free haircut on the platform at Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok.

I was walking through Hua Lamphong Train Station this week and saw a line of people getting haircuts at the west end of the platforms. There six or seven chairs set up, each occupied by a man getting a haircut. 
A little off the top? The instructor (background, purple shirt) helps a student. 

There was a line of men and boys waiting their turn in the chair. I think it was a barber school offering free haircuts to holiday travelers (it was the end of Songkran, the Thai traditional New Year). It seemed to me like a good idea. You have time to kill before your train pulls out, you need a haircut and the students need live heads to work on. Everyone wins. 

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, 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.