Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy New Year!

Lion dancers on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok's Chinatown.

Thailand has the privilege of celebrating New Year's Day three times in four months. There's the Gregorian New Year of January 1, which is Thailand's official new year and celebrated in the usual ways: fireworks, music, alcohol and parties. 
People watch lion dancers on Yaowarat Road. 

Second up is Lunar New Year, also called Tet or Chinese New Year. About 14% of Thais are ethnically Chinese and Chinese culture has influenced Thai culture. Lunar New Year is a huge party in communities with a significant Chinese population. Bangkok has a huge Chinese population and celebrates the New Year with a lot of zest. This year is the Year of the Goat, the eighth cycle in the Chinese zodiac. 
A woman prays at a shrine on Yaowarat Road. 

Yaowarat Road is the heart of Bangkok's Chinatown. Food stalls line the road, dragon and lion dance troupes go up and down Yaowarat visiting businesses whose owners pay them to perform for the gods and ensure a prosperous new year. 
A woman reacts to a dragon dance troupe parading past a restaurant in Chinatown. 

Next up on Thailand's celebrations of the New Year is Songkran, also called the "Water Festival" and the traditional Thai New Year. It's in mid April, the heart of Thailand's scorching summer, and features community wide water fights. 

There are more photos of Bangkok's Lunar New Year observances 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, February 15, 2015

Sunday in Santa Cruz

Buddhist monks board a cross river ferry to take them to the Thonburi side of Bangkok. 

I went to Sunday mass at Santa Cruz, a Catholic church on the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi. It's one of the first Catholic churches in Thailand. It was established in 1770 by Portuguese friars who ministered to Portuguese soldiers and mercenaries allied with King Taksin who was battling the Burmese. The Portuguese married Thai women and a small Catholic community sprung up on the river. 
Santa Cruz church, across the river from the Flower Market.

The church is directly across the river from Pak Khlong Talat, better known as the Flower Market. It's one of the stops on Bangkok's "tourist trail." Within walking distance of Wat Po and the Grand Palace, with a pier for the Chao Phraya Express Boats thousands of tourists a day tramp through the market. 

Santa Cruz is only a few hundred meters away but it might as well be in another country. Few tourists find their way to the neighborhood. As a result it's a lot more laid back. Even though there's a large Catholic presence in Santa Cruz it feels more Thai than the heavily touristed parts of Bangkok. 
A woman sits on the floor near the doors of the church during Sunday mass. 

I've been working on a sort of mini project in Santa Cruz for the last few months. I've been over there often enough that residents recognize me and wave or chat. It's a really pleasant part of the city. I've been trying to get into the church since I started going over there but it's only open for mass and I've never been there at the right time. 

Sunday I went to Santa Cruz specifically to go to mass. 
Mass in Santa Cruz church. 

The church was packed. It was so full a few people sat on the portico in front of the church. It's a beautiful building. 
Some of the churches I've been in Bangkok are built in a pseudo Thai style. Not Santa Cruz. It's Portuguese roots are still visible (the current sanctuary was built in 1916). 

Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist, but Thai Buddhism is tolerant of other people and faiths, so Catholics in Thailand are allowed to practice their faith freely. There are only about 300,000 Catholics in Thailand, but the church has a presence that goes beyond its small numbers. There are several Catholic hospitals and universities in Thailand and the Church is involved in numerous charity and community building organizations.
A woman and her daughter sit under the portico in front of the church during mass. 

Bangkok is an amazing city. The neighborhoods, like the one around Santa Cruz, still have a small village feel to them even though it's in the middle of a city of 12 million people. 
A woman prays at shrine to the Virgin Mary in the church. 

There are more photos from Sunday in Santa Cruz 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. 

A Small Sign of Dissent

People opposed to the May 2014, coup scuffle with supporters of the military government in front of the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center Saturday. 

Thailand has been under martial law since the coup that deposed the elected civilian government on May 22, 2014. People who speak out against the coup or Thailand's nascent reform process are called in by security officials for "attitude adjustment." They're usually held in detention for a few hours (or days), questioned and then released after signing a pledge to not get involved in politics. 

The military says these steps are necessary to heal Thai society, which has been ripped apart by the various protest movements (which protest movement depends largely on who is in office at the moment). Opponents say "Martial Law" and "Attitude Adjustment" stifle free speech. 
Police detain a university student for using a bullhorn without a permit. His attitude was adjusted and he was released. 

There was a protest Saturday at BACC, across the street from MBK, a mega mall in the heart of the city. About 50 people showed up with mock ballot boxes and roses (it was Valentine's Day after all) to protest the lack of democracy in Thailand. One democracy advocate told me the protest was to mark the one year anniversary of the aborted election of February 2, 2014. The election was cancelled after anti-democracy gunmen attacked several polling places, forcing their closure.  
A police officer watches protestors. 

Saturday's protest was small, maybe 50 people, certainly less than 100. But it's significant because it was the first public protest of any size since June. The military is still very firmly in control, but this protest, coming after two very small IEDs were detonated at a Bangkok mall and university students unfurling anti-coup banners at a soccer game means that martial law will continue. 
Roses on the sidewalk after the protest. 

There are more photos from the protest 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, February 13, 2015

A New Market

A vendor in the Bangkok's newest floating market cooks up an order of pad-Thai for a customer. 

Bangkok used to be known as the "Venice of the East" because a network of canals (called "khlongs" in Thai) crisscrossed the city and people used boats to get around. Shopping was done on the canals, vendors poled or paddled their canoes through the community. 

Now most of the canals have been filled in, paved over and turned into roads. The canoes have become pushcarts and motorcycles. There are still a few canals in daily use on the Thonburi side of the river and even a few floating markets on the Thonburi canals (but truth be told, the floating markets in Thonburi are tourist attractions). 

There are only a couple of navigable canals left on the Bangkok side of the river. One is Khlong Saen Saeb, a canal dug in the early 1800s to ferry Siamese (Thai) troops from Bangkok to the Cambodian border. Saen Saeb still has regular commuter boats running up and down it. The other, Khlong Krung Kasem, was originally dug in the 1850s to be a moat around Bangkok. It hasn't seen regular boat service in decades.
A grilled meat vendor paddles down the Khlong. 

Krung Kasem passes along the south side of Government House, the office of Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha. Since seizing power in a coup last May, the Prime Minister has stressed a return to traditional Thai values. He saw the canal sitting there unused and suggested it to be turned into a traditional floating market. 

Work crews started cleaning out the canal, flushing the stagnant, fetid waters with slightly less fetid water from the Chao Phraya River, clearing out the dead bodies (seriously, work crews found human remains in the canal during the clean up) and within weeks the new floating market was open. 

The new market will be open in the afternoons. Yesterday, the first day, it was busy with Thais from offices in the area. They came down to the canal to check out the floating market and order food from the vendors in canoes. Most of the canoes were moored to the shoreline. People walked on floating docks while safety divers stood by just in case things didn't go according to plan. The floating market should be open until March 1. 
A safety diver inspects canoes just before the opening of the canal. 

There were more Thais there than I expected and fewer tourists than I expected. I thought it would be packed with farangs but it wasn't. I saw just a couple of foreign tourists who ventured out to see what the hubbub was about. 
A som-tam (spicy papaya salad) vendor on the canal. 


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, February 10, 2015

The Gateway to the Guru

A man studies the Sikh holy texts in a room at the Gurduara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, a large Sikh temple in Bangkok. 

Bangkok is a city of remarkable religious diversity. Although it's overwhelmingly Buddhist, there are large and active Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities. In my time here, I've been photographing some of Thailand's many spiritual sides. This week I photographed the Sikh temple. 

Sikhism is one of the world's youngest major religions. It was founded in 1469 by Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji
A man prays upon entering the Darbar Sahib, or main prayer hall, at the gurdwara in Bangkok. 

The Gurdwara (translated it means "Gateway to the Guru") is a large complex nestled in the Bangkok's teeming Little India neighborhood. The temple's current, modern building opened in 1982. It's next to the older Gurdwara, which was established in the early 20th century. 

Interesting historical fact about the original temple, a wooden structure. During World War II Bangkok was occupied by the Japanese (for a while early in the war Thailand was allied with the Japanese). The Gurdwara was accidentally bombed by allied air forces in World War II (it's just a couple of blocks from what was then Bangkok's main power generating station, which was considered a valid military target). Two 1,000 pound bombs fell through the roof of the temple while it was packed with people seeking shelter from the air raids. Neither bomb exploded and no one was hurt. Clearly, someone was watching over them. 

Several thousand Sikhs live in Thailand and many have assimilated into Thai society and become Thai citizens. There are Sikh Gurdwaras in Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket. 

One of the traditions of Sikhism is the serving of a communal meal, called a Langar. People of all faiths are welcomed into the temple to partake of the vegetarian meal. I've attended Sikh services in Bangkok and Phoenix. The food has always been great. At the Langar in Bangkok, one of the Sikh gentleman serving told me vegetarian food was served because "Everybody can eat vegetarian. Some people cannot eat beef, others cannot eat pork. But everyone can eat vegetables!" This is an important point because most Sikhs are not bound to be vegetarians and can choose to eat meat if they want to. (Although there is some disagreement about this in the Sikh community.) 
A Muslim woman and her children participate in the Langar, the community meal served everyday at the Gurdwara. People of all faiths are welcome to the meal.

There are more photos from the Gurdwara 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.