Sunday, September 30, 2012

Things Don't Always Go According to Plan

A worker hangs screen printed "Union Jacks" to dry in a shop in the Raminthra section of Bangkok. 

Saturday's trip to Nakorn Nayok for the Ganesh festival was so successful, I decided if my luck would hold and went off in search of second Ganesh festival at a temple in Bangkok. This time I dragged Gavin Gough, another Bangkok based photographer, along for the ride. 

We set off in a taxi with only a vague description of where the temple was and a photo of the temple. Our plan was to get the taxi into the neighborhood and then show the photo to people until we got to the temple. That may not be the way things are done in the US, but it's pretty common way of getting around here. Or at least it's not an unheard of way of getting around. 

Our taxi got us into the neighborhood. Bangkok is a huge, sprawling city and today's temple was almost halfway to where the festival was yesterday. 

Our cab driver lacked our spirit of adventure - or maybe he thought we were nuts or maybe he knew our quest was quixotic, so we paid him off (less than $10 to get across town) at a very nice little market (which I will have to explore at some length when I have time) and started showing the photo of the temple to people in the market. Gavin speaks a tiny bit of Thai but I speak none and this is not a part of Bangkok flush with English speaking Thais so most of our communications were done by pointing and gesturing. 

Eventually we found a motor scooter taxi driver who recognized the tempe from the photo and pointed off in a vague direction and started waving, but he expressed no interest in taking us. We thought either a) it's so close it's not worth his while (which would have been good news) or b) (and in my mind more likely) it's so far he didn't want to get involved in our quest (bad news). 

We went in the direction we think he had been waving, walking through the market when we spied a shop selling religious materials (candles, Buddhas, amulets, offerings for monks etc.) and thought surely they'll know where the temple is. The young woman working the front was as puzzled as we were, but the older man in the back seemed to recognize the temple and pointed off in the same general direction that the moto driver had. We set off feeling that we were headed in the right direction. 

Gavin stopped another moto driver and showed him the photo and he indicated he knew where the temple was and pointed off in the same direction the previous driver and shop owner had. Gavin pressed him and asked (by gesturing) if he would take us. He sort of shrugged (I think it was sort of a "why not?" thing but it could just have been "You crazy foreigners. I'm a taxi driver, taking people where they want to go is what I do." Which we would never have understood if he had said aloud.) He rounded up one of his compatriots, because there is no way two of us would fit on a Thai motor scooter taxi, and we set off. 

The temple was in the general direction everyone had been pointing but it was certainly not walking distance. It was down a main road, turn off the main road and go down a smaller road through a housing complex, continue down an even smaller road over a bridge across a canal (called "khlongs" here) and we were at the temple. I think it was a three or four miles. It took about 10 minutes on the scooters and cost about $1.30 (each).

The temple was deserted. Not just that we were early, but rather whatever was going to happen had happened a week ago. It was beautiful and would be a great place to photograph during an event but the only people there were construction and maintenance workers. Eventually Gavin found an English speaking Indian who told us that indeed the Ganesh festival had been last week. 

I'm sure it was fantastic. 

We walked around some and then headed back to the main road to catch a taxi back to central Bangkok. On the walk back to the main road we passed a small workshop where a couple of people were screening clothing. That's where I made the photo at the top of the page. 

On the surface this sounds like it might have been a bust. But I think it was actually a pretty successful outing. We saw a part of Bangkok neither had been to before. We found a couple of places that would be good places to come back to photograph (the market and the temple) and we had fun. What's not to like? I bookmarked both the market and the temple in my iOS6 maps application so I can get back there the next time I hear about something happening. All in all, a successful day. 

Inside the Shiva Temple we visited this morning. 


Ganesh Festival in Nakorn Nayok

Women line up to make offerings to the Hindu deity Ganesha at Wat Utthayan Ganesh in Nakorn Nayok, Thailand, during the Ganesh festival at the Temple

Thai Buddhism incorporates several elements of Hindu worship, including reverence for Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. He is known as the remover of obstacles and one of the most popular deities in the Hindu world. He's also worshipped in other religions originating on the Indian sub-continent including Jainism and Buddhism. Ganesha's iconography - the elephant head - makes him easy to identify even for people who aren't familiar with Hindu deities. 

The Ganesh festival celebrates Lord Ganesha's rebirth. It's a very happy holiday. 

In Thailand the festival is a bewildering blend of Thai Buddhist traditions, Indian Hindu rites and Chinese traditions, including the Lion dance, a distinctly Chinese tradition popular in Chinese emigrant communities around the world. 

In Nakorn Nayok the Ganesha festival ended with a mass making of offerings to Ganesha. People were singing and dancing and some appeared to go into a trance like state. The end of the festival was almost like an altar call at an evangelical revival in the United States. Even though the two are from distinctly different traditions there were definite similarities. 


Friday, September 28, 2012

Getting Ready for the Big Day

Oarsmen propel a Royal Barge down the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok Thursday.

I went down to the old part of the city yesterday to watch the rehearsal for the Royal Barge Procession. It was a minor adventure. 

Normally I take the Skytrain down to the river, catch a river boat to the pier I want to go to and then walk to my final destination or take a cross river ferry if I'm going to Thonburi. The river boats weren't running Thursday because of the procession, so I went to a bus stop and hopped on a bus that meandered through old Bangkok before dropping me at the Grand Palace. From the palace I walked along the river front trying to take a ferry to Wat Arun, where the procession was supposed to end. I finally got to the right pier and was told that because of the Royal Barge Procession rehearsals, the ferries weren't running either. Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. 

I wanted to be on the other side of the river, the Thonburi side, because I wanted to see the barges coming to shore. Instead I found a park bench facing the river on the Bangkok side and waited. A few minutes later the barges, rowed by more than 2,000 oarsmen, glided past me. Hundreds of Thais and few tourists waited along the riverbank. 

The Thais were here on purpose - they wanted to see the barges. The Royal Barge Procession is a big deal. It's a massive undertaking that takes place only on a very special occasions. There have been just 16 processions during the 65+ year reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current monarch of Thailand. This year's procession will mark the end of Buddhist Lent and as a memorial from last year's floods, which devastated much of central Thailand. 

The tourists were here by accident. They wanted to get across the river or take a river taxi but couldn't. Instead they got quite a show. 

I made all of the photos with my 200mm lens and a 1.4X teleconverter - so it was about a 280mm lens. I would have preferred a longer lens. Next time I'll come down here with a 300mm lens and a 2X teleconverter. 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Market Day in Bangkok

A man unloads a side of pork to deliver to a butcher's stall in Khlong Toey Market in Bangkok. 

Today was my first "work" day in Bangkok. Up to now, I've been taking care of the mundane chores one has to deal with when sets up a new home. Opening a Thai bank account (which was very easy), setting up my apartment, which was a little more complicated and settling in. 

This morning, I left my apartment about 6 and walked down to the market, which is only a mile or so from where I'm living. 

There are two types of markets in Asia - "wet" markets, which sell fresh foodstuffs like produce and meat, and dry markets, which sell clothing and drygoods. Khlong Toey (which is also called Khlong Toei) is one of the largest wet markets in Southeast Asia. You can buy pretty much anything in Khlong Toey, from soup to nuts (literally - there are food hawkers selling tom yum and noodle soups and lots of peanut stalls). If you're a carnivore, you'll be in heaven. There's pork, chicken, duck, frog, crab, fish - if it bleeds it's here. I am pretty sure this side of pork was a living breathing hog a few hours before I made the photo. 

There's a whole section of the market that sells chickens. Pick your bird from a cage and the vendor will pull it out, ring its neck and package it up for you. Feathers on or feathers off, your choice. Doesn't get any fresher than that. 

Some people find the wet markets are a little off putting. I've been with more than one who swears he or she is going to become a vegetarian after seeing the meat section. 

Asia's wet markets can be quite an eye opener. There is a pecking order to the quality of the markets. Personally, I find Thai markets to be pretty clean. The wet market in Vientiane, Laos, was so wet you sank into the mud as you walked between the stalls. (And this was in the dry season - the mud was from the water and other things flowing off the vendors' tables.) Bali, Indonesia, wasn't much better. But Myawaddy, Burma was the worst. Even I thought about becoming a vegetarian in that market. Then I saw the vegetable section and was really glad to be eating in Thailand that night. 

Photographing in Thailand's markets is pretty easy. The Thais are extremely cordial and seem to enjoy being photographed (it helps that there is a very vibrant photographic tradition here, the King is an avid photographer). Your biggest challenge will be convincing your subjects you want a natural photo, not a cagey portrait of someone looking right at you with a big smile and flashing the "V for Victory" sign. 

The market is almost always open but best seen early in the day, when folks from the neighborhood are doing their shopping. It's so congested that I ended up using my 24mm lens the most frequently, followed by my 40mm lens and then the 50. I tried to use my 200mm telephoto for a couple of long shots of the streets, but it was too crowded to get anything I really liked. 

I knew the 40mm would be a good lens for the markets when I bought it. It's a very natural focal length and works great in tight confines. 

There are more photos from today's walkabout in Khlong Toey in my archive. The photos are available for licensing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Viva Mexico! Waiting for the Show!

Lucha Libre fans wait for the wrestlers to show up at an exhibition match in front of Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lucha Libre is Mexican style wrestling that is becoming popular north of the border.

Today is September 16, just another day in September in the US, but it's "Independence Day" in Mexico. On Sept 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico's revolutionary hero, issued the Grito de Dolores, Mexico's declaration of independence from Spain, in a small town in the state of Guanajuato. 

In the US, we tend to celebrate Cinco de Mayo as Mexico's independence day, but that's wrong. Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is a holiday in Mexico and celebrates the defeat of French forces (France invaded Mexico in the 1861). But Mexico's real Independence Day is September 16. 

The Arizona Diamondbacks traditionally mark a home game in mid-September as Hispanic Heritage Day. September 15 - October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month and Arizona has a large Hispanic population. It's good business to celebrate Hispanic culture. This year they lucked out with the day falling on Mexico's actual Independence Day. 

They celebrated the day with a Lucha Libre show on the plaza in front of Chase Field before the Dbacks game against their arch rivals, the San Francisco Giants. 

We had a good time watching some of the show. It's the last time for quite a while that I'll be able to do anything that comes close to Mexican culture because I leave for Thailand Tuesday morning. My cameras are packed, so I took my Panasonic GX1 and lenses and made a couple of photos. It was a fun way to spend my last real day in town. (Monday, my real last day, I have a bunch of errands to run.)

There are more photos of the Lucha show, and Lucha Libre wrestling, in my archive 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

All My Bags Are Packed I'm Ready to Go...


(with apologies to John Denver who wrote the 60's pop hit "Leaving on a Jet Plane") 

Another in a continuing series of blog entries on Thailand and preparations for my move.
My ThinkTank Airport Commuter backpack packed and ready to go to Thailand. 

The worst part of traveling to Thailand is the actual travel part. It's 26 hours in airplanes and airports - a long time in thin metal tubes. Traveling with cameras, especially when you're packing for a year, raises its own issues. 

Normally when I travel I bring my basic kit: two bodies, five lenses, two flashes, battery chargers, memory cards etc. (My MacBook Pros get their own treatment.) All of this gear rides in a ThinkTank Airport Ultralight I've had for years. (The Ultralight is now discontinued but if you can find one it's a great small camera backpack that holds a lot more gear than you think it will.)

This is not a normal trip though and I decided I need to bring everything

Everything is a lot. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Up in the Sky!

I caught the last few seconds of a show during my walk this morning. In a Star Wars test, a missile fired from Ft. Wingate, near Gallup, NM, was hit by a Patriot anti-missile missile fired from White Sands Missile Range, near Alamogordo, NM and apparently exploded. 

I was walking up 16th Street just past Indian School Rd in Phoenix and saw the contrail. While I was reaching for my iPhone (for its always present camera) I saw a second missile come in and strike the first one. You can just barely see the end of the impact to the right below the rainbow, which I am guessing was the explosion from the impact. The crescent moon is visible in the upper right corner of the photo. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Target of Opportunity

I am basically packed for Thailand. Clothes are packed. Cameras are packed. Computers, well they're still in use, so no, they're not packed yet. 

Packing the cameras was a tough call. I don't leave until Tuesday next week but I am also trying to wrap up my work in Phoenix, so I decided to go cold turkey and just put everything away. Everything except my little Panasonic GX1 and its lenses. 

This morning was a part of my "Farewell Tour 2012." I was headed home after visiting with some friends, I looked right as I was turning left and saw members of the Communication Workers of America picketing the CenturyLink (formerly Qwest Communications) offices in central Phoenix. This is the normally the sort of event I would cover with a mix of big cameras and little ones, but all I had was the little ones. So I drove around the block, found a parking spot and put the little camera through its paces. 

It wasn't a great assignment, but it was fun for a few minutes and it was a chance to make a couple of photos. 

There are more photos of pickets in my archive

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

That We Never Forget

The President of the Tempe Exchange Club performs "Taps" at noon at the Healing Field in Tempe Beach Park

For the last nine years, the Tempe Exchange Club and city of Tempe have been hosting the "Healing Field," a display of 3,000 American flags to honor the people killed in the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It's one of the best attended 9/11 memorial events in the Valley.

The event is free and takes up most of the space at Tempe Beach Park. People come and wander through the flags, read the names of the people killed that day. They remember friends and recall the horror of that day and the days that followed as smoke poured out of the hole at Ground Zero.

The attack was aimed at America, but it was really an attack on the world. There were victims from 90 countries. The UK suffered the second highest number of fatalities: more than 65 Britons died that day (more than the number of people killed in the London attacks on July 7, 2005), 47 people from the Dominican Republic died, 41 from India. Australians and Canadians were killed as were Jamaicans, Haitians and South Africans, Filipinos and Malaysians. American born citizens were killed, naturalized citizens, tourists, legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants were killed.

Watching the towers collapse on television, I knew our world was changing forever that morning.

There are more photos from the Healing Field (and from New York after the 9/11 attacks) in my archive.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On the Campaign Trail With a Little Camera

Dr. Richard Carmona talks to voters at a town hall meeting in Surprise this morning. This photo was made with a Panasonic GX1 and 20mm f1.7 lens

As my departure for Bangkok approaches (eight days and counting), I am winding up my photography in the Valley of the Sun. I photographed what I suspect is my last campaign event this morning.

Dr. Richard Carmona, the Tucson Democrat, is facing Jeff Flake, the Mesa Republican, for the US Senate seat being vacated by Jon Kyl, a long serving Republican. Carmona, who has an amazing resumé (former US Surgeon General, decorated Green Beret wounded in Vietnam, college professor, cardiac surgeon, SWAT police officer) was in Surprise, where he hosted a town hall style meeting.

The room was packed to overflowing, which surprised me a little because that part of the Valley is generally Republican country. And the crowd was very enthusiastic about Carmona, which surprised me a lot. They gave him a standing ovation when he defended the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare and Romneycare). He said it wasn't a perfect health care reform bill, but that it addressed a number of serious problems we have in the US healthcare industry.

I enjoy covering the political process. It's a chance to see history in the making. I've spent a lot of time since my separation from the newspaper photographing politics and politicians, first the primary race and now the start of the general election campaigns.

I've been using my GX1 more and more for election photos.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Spare Glass & Flash

Another in a continuing series of blog entries on Thailand and preparations for my move.
Backups: 5D Mark II with 16-35 zoom, 70-200, 15 Fisheye, 300mm f4 and 580EX II flash. 

I wish all I needed on a long term road trip was two cameras, five lenses and a canvas bag. But it's not. Stuff breaks and a professional needs to plan for that. You get into situations where a 24mm lens isn't wide enough or a 200mm lens isn't long enough and you need to plan for that too. You always have to assume that something is going to go wrong. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. That's why I bring spares with me.

Here it is, one more camera, four more lenses and a flash.

Two Cameras, Five Lenses and a Canvas Bag

Another in a continuing series of blog entries on Thailand and preparations for my move.
I leave for Bangkok in about two weeks and this seems like a good time for a rundown on the camera equipment I'm taking to Asia and why I'm taking what I'm taking.

I'm toting a lot more gear on this trip than I normally bring on a road trip. I'm going to be there for a year, maybe longer, and I'm basically bringing all my normal workday gear and backups, so if something happens I can keep going without having to find replacement gear.

My normal kit bag for working on the street is pretty basic (for a photojournalist). Two Canon bodies, five lenses (all Canon), two flashes and a remote trigger for the flashes.