Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What If?

Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand, riding the Skytrain

I ran into Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, on the Skytrain the other day. The story of how that happened is a story of serendipitous luck that involved a series of unrelated decisions.  

The joystick on my Canon 5D Mark III died last week so I took it to Canon on Monday to get it repaired. I use the joystick to select autofocus points and menu items. It's a pretty important part of the camera. A dead joystick is a pretty joyless thing. The timing was fortunate though because I knew I wouldn't be using the cameras that week since I had a week long commitment to lead private photography classes at the US Embassy. Off to Canon service the camera went. 

Canon fixed it in less than a week (it pays to be a member of Canon Professional Services) and I picked it up Friday after class. I knew I was photographing the Pongsapat campaign Sunday, but I wanted to make sure the camera was back to 100% (never test equipment on a "real" assignment) so I went out Saturday to make some pictures. My intention was to not worry about the pictures per se, but just put the camera through some paces to make sure it was up to snuff. 

I had no real plan and coming up with one was beyond my lazy capabilities Saturday morning. When I left my apartment I could have turned left, and gone to the riverfront and the old part of the city, or right and gone to the Skytrain and the weekend market. I haven't been back to the Weekend Market since arriving in Bangkok, so on a whim I turned right. 

I wandered around in the market for about an hour and a half. I shot about 120-150 frames and the camera was doing just fine. I left and walked back to the Skytrain.

I walk a lot in Bangkok and I ride the Skytrain a lot, but when I got to the Mo Chit station and looked up that long staircase, I just didn't feel like walking up the stairs. I walked down the street another hundred meters or so and took the escalator up to the station. 

For the uninitiated, Bangkok Skytrain stations are three or four stories above street level and each station is between 50 and 100 meters long. Many of the stations have an escalator at one end or the other but all have stairs at both ends. If you come up the stairs at one end, you can't usually see to the other end of the station. There are too many people and kiosks in the way. 

When I got up to the station level, three stories above the street, I saw a couple of Thai photojournalists just hanging out. Photojournalists waiting for an assignment to start have a certain attitude, sort of a "too cool for school" look, and these guys were putting off that vibe. I had no idea what they were waiting for, but I was bored and it was early so I joined the group and waited with them. They could have been waiting for some "Hello Kitty" characters, in which case I would have been very disappointed. 

A couple of minutes later a few people in blue golf shirts came up with placards bearing the number 16 and photos of Sukhumbhand Paripatra, the Democrats' candidate for Governor of Bangkok (16 is his number on the ballot). Excellent, I thought, a campaign shindig. Things were looking up. A little later the photographers ran over to the escalator and I joined them, thinking Sukhumbhand was arriving. 

I looked down to the ground level thought, "Hey that's not Sukhumbhand." It was Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Prime Minister of Thailand and still leader of the Thai Democrat party, campaigning for his partisan friend. 

In my mind, that was even better. I've photographed Sukhumbhand before but not Abhisit. Abhisit is still a powerful Thai politician and in the news a lot, photos of him could be handy to have. The former PM came up the escalator talked a little bit about the importance of mass transit (Bangkok has huge traffic problems and traffic has become the issue in this election) then got on a train and went for a ride. And I joined him. 

Call it luck or chance or whatever you want. It's just plain strange that of all the ways things could have played out Saturday, for them to end up with me riding a commuter train with the former Prime Minister of Thailand is one of the weirder outcomes I would have predicted. 

I could have turned left and gone to the river. Who knows what would have happened? 

I could have spent less or more time at the market and missed the politicians. 

I could have shown some enterprise and walked up the stairs, in which case I almost certainly would have missed them. 

But my indecisiveness, the timing of my day and my lazy nature conspired to present me with a little photographic gift. The day ended a lot more interestingly than it started. 

There are photos of Abhisit, Sukhumbhand, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, other Thai politicians in my archive
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.