Friday, July 25, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Thai military students and a sailor participate in a sing-a-long during the party to restore happiness to the Thai people on Sanam Luang

It's party time in Bangkok. On the two month anniversary of the coup that overthrew the elected government, the ruling junta is throwing a series of parties meant to Win Hearts and Minds and restore happiness to the Thai people
Pictures with a military mascot

There were several "happiness" parties in Bangkok in the weeks after the coup and as the two month anniversary approached the NCPO announced plans for more parties this week. There were parties in the provinces but the big party was at Sanam Luang. 
Historic reenactors engage in some friendly sword play before their show

The party on Sanam Luang featured food from all corners of Thailand, music acts, free haircuts, historic pageants and movies. There was a sort of state fair atmosphere (without the midway rides) right down to the food, most of which was available on a stick. There were health checks from civilian and military medical organizations and government ministries set up tents and booths to do citizen outreach. 
Men line up for a patriotic parade

It seemed like the entertainment was carefully vetted. The junta made arrangements to show the King Naresuan 5, the fifth movie in an ongoing series of historic epics about King Naresuan, King of the Ayutthaya kingdom from 1590 until his death in 1605. He is one of the most revered kings in Thai history and credited with saving Thailand (then Siam) from Burmese conquest in the 1500s. 
A kite vendor sells a kite to a child

There are more happiness events scheduled through the weekend. Today the party moves from Sanam Luang up the road a bit to Ratchaprasong, where the Tourism Authority of Thailand has planned a happiness event of its own.

Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik said, “This event will be unmatched in the annals of Thai tourism," and went on to call it the "mother of all bounce back parties." There will be a "Happiness Activity" (free ice cream is the prize) and something called a "Happiness Surprise." With a build up like that, I feel like I pretty much have to cover today's party. 

There are more photos from Thursday's Happiness Party 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. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Things Fall Into Place

A girl sets out a meal for her family on the beach in Kao Seng, a village in Songkhla province.

One of the things I like photographing is the little incongruities of life. Dictionary.com defines “Incongruous” as “out of keeping or place; inappropriate.” That’s certainly what I thought when I saw this living room set on a beach in Kao Seng, a little north of Hat Yai in Songkhla province. I was there photographing fishermen and walked past the furniture. I made a mental note of it but photographically it didn’t work without a human element.

I went down the beach and photographed the fisherfolk for a couple of hours. I was walking back to my car and the young lady was setting the table. This was the picture I was waiting for, the moment it clicked. Everything came together for a few seconds – the blue sky, the aquamarine ocean, the girl’s blue clothing all contrasted with the red furniture set and the girl’s warm complexion. Everything fell into place to create the photo I saw in my mind when I originally walked past the furniture.
Shoppers ask for directions on Orchard Road in Singapore.

A few months later I was on Orchard Road in Singapore. It was the Christmas season and seasonal decorations lined the busy thoroughfare. I was trying to photograph people walking between and around the statues of Mary and Joseph, Wise Men and donkeys. The photos were more like snapshots and not really working. Then lost shoppers and a Good Samaritan wandered into the frame. It was the moment that clicked, when everything fell into place.

Finally, on a road trip in northern Laos, I stumbled upon this scene.
Migrant workers from China in a bus in northern Laos.

This photo was a gift. There was no waiting for something to fall into place. I was headed up to the Lao-Chinese border. I saw this scene as we passed a bus full of Chinese migrant workers. I practically screamed at the driver to pull over and was out of the car before it came to a complete stop. I ran back down the highway to the bus and nothing had changed – the person on the lower bunk was still dangling his legs out the window while the person in the upper bunk was still framed by the window. I made a couple of frames before the person in the upper bunk moved out of the frame. This was the easiest of these three photos, there was no waiting, no hoping for something to happen.

As a photojournalist I can’t set up a photo. I rely on luck and timing to complete my photos. That doesn’t mean being purely reactive though. Only in the bottom photo was I completely reactive. In the photos from Kao Seng and Orchard Road I saw the pictures before they actually took place. I knew what I wanted and I essentially waited for things to fall into place.

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, July 19, 2014

Answering a Higher Calling

A monk watches from a doorway as men are ordained as monks and novices at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

I photographed an ordination this morning. Seventy-seven men, from 18 countries, were ordained at Buddhist monks and novices at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, in Pathum Thani, about an hour north of Bangkok. 

Ordination in Buddhism is different from ordination in a Christian faith. In Theravada Buddhism, becoming a monk and joining the Sangha is a right of passage. Many men enter the sangha to meditate and find inner peace. Joining the Sangha can be a lifelong commitment but many men become monks for just a few weeks or months.
A man being ordained as a novice (young monk) participates in a procession around the ordination hall. 

The Venerable Ronnapob Jotilabho, head of the The International Dhammadayada Ordination Program (IDOP), which organized the event said, “Being ordained as a monk or novice enables a person to devote time and attention to learn the art of inner peace and happiness skill, which is life’s most important knowledge.” 

Thai Buddhists are very tolerant of other faiths and welcome people of any religion into their temples. You don't have to be Buddhist to study meditation in a Thai temple (though it helps). 

Wat Phra Dhammakaya, seat of the Dhammakaya sect, though takes that tolerance to a very high level. Today's ordination ceremony was conducted in three languages: Thai, English and Chinese. The Dhammakaya sect has a very active outreach program and seems almost evangelical compared to traditional Thai Theravada Buddhism. 
Men being ordained file into the "ubosot," or ordination hall

There are more photos from the ordination 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, July 18, 2014

Registering Migrant Workers

Cambodian migrant workers wait their turn to apply for temporary Thai ID cards at a "one stop service center" set up by Thai immigration authorities in Bangkok


It wasn't as much an invitation to return as it was admission to a club. Migrants were welcomed back if they met certain requirements, specifically they have to have jobs and their employers need to vouch for them. The first one stop centers were set up in Samut Sakhon, a fishing port and industrial city with a large migrant population. After that the government opened one stop centers in cities along the Thai-Cambodian border. Now they've opened centers in Bangkok proper. 
A Cambodian woman and her child wait to sign up for temporary ID cards and work permits.

The procedure at each of the centers is the same. Migrant workers, most of whom were undocumented, applied for temporary ID cards and work permits. They showed proof of employment to immigration authorities and went through a screening process. The migrants were photographed and fingerprinted and issued temporary ID cards. The last step in the process was a very brief and perfunctory health check. 
Immigration authorities set up a large processing center at the Bangkok Youth Center in the Din Daeng section of Bangkok.

An immigration police officer helps a Cambodian woman pose for her ID card "mug shot." 

I've been covering immigration for more than 20 years. I've always been struck by the similarities Thailand and the US share when it comes to immigration. 

Both countries have a complicated relationship with undocumented immigrants. Immigrants provide the low wage muscle that powers the economy (Thailand is the world's leading seafood exporter - most of the workers in the seafood industry are Burmese. Many of the construction workers in Bangkok are Cambodian. In the US, where Latin American immigrants make up most of the agricultural workers and construction workers.) 

Conservatives and nativists rail against immigrants in both countries, claiming they bring disease and crime and take jobs from, here, Thais and in the US, Americans. 
Immigration police check IDs as Cambodians leave the one stop center

There are also differences of course. Many in the Thai fishing industry, especially crews of trawlers, are held in slavery and human trafficking is more prevalent here than in the US. 

At the same time, you would never see Thai politicians leading demonstrations against Burmese refugee children the way we've seen American politicians leading demonstrations against Latin American refugee children.

As imperfect as the Thai system is, you have to give them credit for trying to deal with the issue of undocumented immigrants and guest workers in a way that recognizes the workers are an essential part of the economy. 
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, July 13, 2014

Flowers for the Buddha

People place "Dancing Lady Ginger" flowers onto a float at a parade for Khao Phansa (the start of the rains retreat) at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi

This weekend is the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, one of the most important Buddhist holidays in Southeast Asia. Temples throughout Thailand were crowded with people making merit and offering prayers. 

The holiday marks the time, more than a millennia ago, that Buddhist holy men, who then traveled from village to village, stopped traveling and stayed in a community for the rainy season. These communities evolved into the first Buddhist monasteries.  
People wait at the side of a road in the district for the procession of monks to pass them
Monks line up before the procession.

The holiday is celebrated in different ways in different parts of Thailand. 

At Wat Phra Phutthabat, in Saraburi province, a couple of hours north of Bangkok, people gather by the thousands to present monks with "Dok Khao Pansa" (also known as "Dancing Lady Ginger") flowers which are only grown in Saraburi and bloom only around the time of the Rains Retreat. 
A procession of monks walks through the crowd, people line up and present them with flowers and wash the monks' feet as they pass

Wat Phra Phutthabat is one of the most important temples in Thailand. The left footprint of the Buddha is housed in a small chapel at the top of the temple. Buddhists from around the world come to the temple to pray in the chapel and to get their "teab" (a sort of Buddhist spiritual passport) stamped. 
A man releases caged birds as an act of compassion to make merit during the Tak Bat Dok Mai

The Tak Bat Dok Mai is just far enough from Bangkok that it's off the tourist path. Tens of thousands of Thais come though to make merit and enjoy the day. 

There are more photos from the Tak Bat Dok Mai 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.