Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Long Dry Season

A worker walks across the spillways at Pa Sak Dam in Lopburi province. The spillway should be completely full of water at this time of year. It's the rice planting season and farmers depend on the water to irrigate their crops

This is the rice planting season in central Thailand. Rice is a big deal here. In one form or another, it's eaten at almost every meal. Thailand is the world's leading rice exporter, rice is very important not only for sustenance but also economically. Anything that disrupts rice production has serious implications for the whole country. 

And drought certainly disrupts rice production. We're supposed to be in the early weeks of the rainy season except it's not raining. We've had a little rain in Bangkok, but there's been almost none upcountry and Thailand's reservoirs, which provide water for rice farmers and Bangkok are running dry. 
The recreational area in the reservoir behind Pa Sak Dam. The land mass in the background is normally submerged. The water level is more than 10 meters below normal for this time of year

About half of the rice crop is already planted but the government is asking farmers to suspend any more planting until the rains come. Farmers in central Thailand typically get two rice crops a year harvested. The government has already told them not to plant a dry season crop because there isn't water to irrigate it. The decrees will cut many farmers income by at least half. 
A farmer collects wild vegetables from the bottom of a khlong (canal). At this time of year, this khlong is usually full of water. This year it's dry. The farmer said he could never remember this canal being completely empty

Thailand has a sophisticated and ancient water management system. One of the country's riches is its reliable water. Water resource management has turned Thailand into one of the leading food exporters in the world. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Turn and Face the Changes

Buying and selling vegetables in the Bang Chak Market

There was a time, not that long ago, when most people in Thailand shopped in local markets. When we were growing up here, in the mid 1960s, being attached to the US diplomatic mission meant we had access to the military P/X - Post Exchange, which was sort of a department store and commissary, a grocery store. But Americans not attached to the Embassy, and most other ex-pats, had to "live on the economy," that is do all of their shopping in local markets. 
People walk through Bang Chak Market

Of course it never occurred to me that we were the outliers, that in fact most people in Thailand lived on the economy. At the time I thought living on the local economy was a mighty feat. Up there with the moon walk and jet packs (I was also only 10 years old). Now I realize that Thai markets are some of the most dazzling places in Bangkok. If you can't find what you're looking for in a Thai market, chances are it doesn't exist. 

The first "grocery store" or supermarket didn't open in Bangkok until 1974, years after we left Bangkok the first time. Even though there have been supermarkets in Bangkok for more than 40 years, and you can find some sort of a supermarket in almost every neighborhood in Bangkok, many people still shop in the markets. 
In Bang Chak market, a vendor takes a fresh batch of Chinese donuts, called patongos, out of the fryer, which is a giant wok filled with oil. Patangos are sort of like beignets without the powdered sugar

But in Bangkok, markets are disappearing as the modern supermarkets take over. This is especially true along the BTS lines, the elevated trains that move Bangkokians with science fiction like efficiency. 

The neighborhoods along the BTS lines are fully built out and new development means tearing down existing development. All through central Bangkok, there are high end condominiums and shopping malls attached to the BTS stations. 

The further out you go from central Bangkok, the more traditional it is. I don't mean rice paddies or rickshaws - those have been gone for generations. I do mean traditional three and four storey shophouses (shop on the main floor, apartments above) and wet markets. But as land starved Bangkok looks for ways to expand, those old shophouses and markets are in danger of disappearing.
A fishmonger's stall in Bang Chak Market

Bang Chak Market is the latest market to fall to the wrecking ball. It was never in the first tier of Bangkok markets, not like Khlong Toey. It's a community market that serves the people who live around it. 
Most of the shophouses are already gone. This is the only remaining block and they're being demolished as you read this

It's sad to see the old markets and the street food areas, like the one at Soi 38, disappear. I'm not just being sentimental or pining for the "good old days." These new developments are not sustainable, they contribute to the city's already unbelievable traffic gridlock and they consume huge amounts of electricity.

The real estate along the Skytrain is especially popular but the Skytrain's success is also its great failing. Rush hour trains are so crowded you sometimes have to queue up and wait for several trains to go by before there's room to squeeze into one. The new condo and shopping developments only contribute to the congestion
People go past the front of the shophouses

I'm also concerned about what happens to the people who are living in the neighborhood. I look at the  markets as a part of a self contained eco-system. Take away the market and the other parts of the eco-system whither. The families who live in the neighborhood are forced out by circumstances and the neighborhood loses its vitality.
Vendors make and sell marigold garlands in the market. 

There are more pictures of the market in my archive and 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, June 26, 2015

A Transformative Lens?

An anti-coup protestor in Bangkok. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 150mm (effectively 300mm on full frame), ISO200, f2.8 @ 1/800 of a second

There was a discussion about the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro Zoom on one of the photography web sites I visit. The person who started the discussion asked if the 12-40 is a "transformative" lens. 

I don't think it is. It is an excellent lens, a class leading lens in all ways, but not transformative. It was not the first of its type (the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 was released years ago) and similar lenses have long been popular on full frame bodies. The Canon 24-70 f2.8 and Nikon 24-70 f2.8 zooms have been mainstays in professional photographers' kits for years. 


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lightroom 6

Part of my Lightroom library, now in LR6. I have more than 400,000 photos in my Lightroom libraries, most of them "raw" files

I've been using Lightroom, now Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, since the betas of version 1, way back in 2006. I bought a copy of LR the week it was released, in early 2007. Editing in version 1 was pretty limited and I found myself using Photoshop to finish off a lot of my edits. But with the inclusion of local editing in version 2, I've used Lightroom pretty much exclusively for my photo editing needs since 2008. I've convinced other photographers to use LR and I've taught classes on LR. 

I've been a huge fan and proponent of Lightroom for many years. 

I mention all of this to give what I am about to say some perspective. I am very close to being done with Lightroom. The decision is based on two things: Adobe's dreadful customer service ethic and Lightroom's slide in quality. 

The customer service part first. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

City Pillar Procession in Mahachai

Men carry the Lak Mueang through Mahachai (Samut Sakhon)

I went to Mahachai to photograph the procession for the City Pillar Shrine. Most provincial capitals in Thailand have a City Pillar Shrine, called Lak Mueang. The shrines are revered by the city's residents and thought to offer protection to the city. 

City Pillar Shrines are a relatively new tradition in Thailand. King Rama I, the first King of the current Chakri Dynasty, ordered construction of the first City Pillar in Bangkok, across the street from the Grand Palace, in 1782. But it wasn't until 1992 that the Ministry of the Interior ordered the construction of shrines in all provincial capitals. 
A woman prays in the shrine in Mahachai. 

The festival honoring the City Pillar Shrine in Mahachai is one of the biggest public events of the year in the fishing port. The shrine is carried by a team of men to a waiting fishing boat and taken up the Tha Chin then paraded through the town and brought back to the temple. 
People pray as the shrine is carried past them

There's a three day festival in the park next to the temple with stages (for Chinese Operas and Likay), music acts perform each night and it's generally a good time. 
People get off the fishing boats that accompanied the shrine

Hundreds of people jam onto fishing boats to participate in the shrine's procession on the river. They walk ahead of the shrine as it's paraded through town, while people who didn't get on the boats line the streets to offer prayers and alms. 
People line the street to pray as the shrine passes them.
The shrine being carried through the streets.
A school girl, in her uniform, prays as the shrine approaches her school

I covered the parade then returned to Bangkok. I've spent a lot of time in and around Mahachai. It's near the salt fields I photograph every year and thousands of Burmese migrant workers live in the town. They're the muscle that powers the town's fishing industry. This is the first time I've been there to cover a cultural event and I had a wonderful time. 

It's easy to get to Mahachai from Bangkok. A train leaves every hour from Wong Wian Yai train station in Thonburi and goes straight to Mahachai. Wong Wian Yai station is about a kilometer from the Wong Wian Yai BTS stop. If I make the right BTS connections, I can be in Mahachai about 90 minutes after leaving my apartment. 
Prayer flags carried through Mahachai during the procession

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.