Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Disaster in Slo Mo

Workers on Ao Prao beach use buckets to remove oil from the surf. 

On Saturday, July 27, an underwater pipeline off of Rayong province in southeastern Thailand sprung a leak. Officials say 50,000 liters of crude oil poured out of the pipeline before it was shut down. Skeptics say a lot more oil was released. 

The oil spill was announced Sunday. Officials said everything was under control and the oil was not expected to make landfall or foul any of the pristine beaches on nearby Koh Samet island, a very popular weekend getaway for people who live in Bangkok, Thailand's teeming capital city. 

Officials were wrong. By Monday, July 29, oil was washing up on Ao Prao, a secluded beach on Koh Samet. By Wednesday, July 31, Thai officials announced that the slick was larger than the island of Koh Samet, that the situation was essentially out of control and requested international help in reining it in. 
Workers haul a pump out of the surf. 

I went to Koh Samet Tuesday to photograph the cleanup efforts. When I was on Samet, the spill was limited to the area around Ao Prao, on the west side of the island and the rest of the island was humming along like it always does. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Always, Always Carry a Camera

Woman at a hair expo in Siam Paragon, an upscale mall in Bangkok

I carry a camera with me pretty much everywhere I go, including to the malls, the movies or grocery shopping. I have for as long as I can remember, going back to when I was between college and my first newspaper job in 1984. Especially in a place like Bangkok, you never know what you're going to see.

Last week I was running errands. I had no intention of making pictures when I left my apartment. I ended up at Siam Paragon, and there was a hair expo going on, so I hauled out my little Micro 4:3 camera and made a couple of photos. 

The week before I was looking for some Mac peripherals and ended in Gateway, a small technology mall in central Bangkok and there was a cosmetics show going on among the computer shops. I made a couple of frames of a woman pitching cosmetic samples in a hallway in the mall. 
Hawking cosmetics in a technology mall

These aren't great photos and I'm not sure they're very marketable - I didn't even send them to a photo agency. But they do reveal a side of life that most tourists don't see in Bangkok, or if they do they just pass on by. They also reflect the remarkable diversity of this city.
Father and son, for dad on the gate of their pickup truck. I came upon them while I was walking home in my neighborhood after a run to a noodle stall. This picture was made with my Canon 5D Mark III and 50mm f1.2 lens

My normal working kit is a pair of Canon 5D Mark III bodies and four lenses: 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2, 100mm f2 and 200mm f2.8, a couple of flashes and a bunch of memory cards. It's a set up that allows me to photograph everything I do. The downside is that it's kind of heavy. 

My "walking around" kit is a Panasonic Lumix GX1 with the 14mm f2.5, 20mm f1.7 and 45mm f1.8 lenses. The Lumix is a Micro 4:3 camera, which means it is a 2X crop compared to the 5D Mark III, so the 14mm lens is the equivalent (roughly) of a 28mm lens on full frame, the 20mm lens is a 40mm on full frame and the 45mm is a 90mm on full frame. 

This kit is tiny, it all fits in a small fanny back, and weighs next to nothing. I can spend the whole day on the street and in the Skytrain and not notice that I'm even carrying a camera. The lenses are very sharp. The outfit gives me the versatility to do about 85% of what I need to do. The little cameras can't equal the Canons for speed, high ISO/low noise and battery life so they're not a complete replacement for the full frame digital SLRs. But they are so close, so small and so much fun that I wouldn't be without them. 

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 28, 2013

Happy Birthday to Thaksin

Tida Tavonseth (center) the president of the UDD (United front of Democracy against Dictatorship aka the "Red Shirts") and other Red Shirt leaders blow out the candles on a birthday cake for deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a birthday party for Thaksin Saturday night

The Red Shirts threw a great party last night. It was the 64th birthday of deposed (and exiled) former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Reds rented a school and hosted a great party for the one man everyone knew couldn't attend. 

Thaksin hosted a birthday fete of his own in Hong Kong. Most of the leaders Pheu Thai (the political party his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, heads up in his absence) and many leaders of the Red Shirts went to that party. Most of the people at the Bangkok party were "regular" Red Shirts. 
Women dance to the music during the birthday bash for Thaksin.

The party was a lot of fun. Sanuk is a Thai word I've written about quite a bit. It doesn't have a direct translation into English. It translates more into a philosophy meaning enjoy yourself and have fun at whatever you're doing. Last night's party (and a lot of the Red Shirt protests) was a perfect example of Sanuk.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Iftar

A man prays before eating the iftar meal at Haroon Mosque in Bangkok

I went back to Haroon Mosque in Bangkok Friday night to photograph iftar, the meal that breaks the day long Ramadan fast. I've been to Haroon Mosque several times and I tried to photograph iftar there a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't very satisfied with my pictures because I spent too much time eating and not enough time photographing. This time I decided I would skip the meal (if possible) to focus on the photography. 

When I got to the mosque, I went back to the kitchen and talked to the dinner's organizer. I asked if I could photograph iftar. He remembered me from my first visit and said that of course I could photograph the meal, but that I should also join them and eat. It was sort of the invitation I'd been dreading because although their food is outstanding and the company really interesting, I discovered that the meal itself is quite short, so I told him that I would like to but that last time I ate too much and didn't photograph enough and so I needed to concentrate on the pictures. He laughed and gave me his blessings to photograph. 

I was happier with the photos this time. The crowd was much smaller, about half the size of the crowd during my first visit, but people were just as gracious and I received just as many invitations to dinner. I did sit and eat a few bites but mostly I photographed the meal. 

There are more photos from Iftar and Thai Muslim life 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. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Flowers for Buddha

A monk receives floral offerings from people lined up along the road in front of Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi province during the Tak Bat Dok Mai.

The Tak Bat Dok Mai is one of my favorite temple festivals. It only happens in one temple in Thailand, at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi, about 90 minutes from Bangkok. This is a time of temple fairs and festivals in Thailand, the Tak Bat Dok Mai, like many of the others, marks the start of Vassa or three month rains retreat. 

Thousands of people make the trip to Wat Phra Phutthabat for the three day festival. The first day is a mass merit making ceremony, like the much smaller merit making I covered in Bangkok Sunday, but the main event is on the last two days of the festival when people line the road leading to the temple and present the monks, who walk in single file through the crowd, with flowers and wash the monks' feet. They also make presentations of money and food. It's a colorful, crowded amazing scene. 
People wait to present monks with flowers. The flowers are "dok khao phansa," related to ginger. They only grow in Saraburi province and only bloom in the weeks before Vassa.

The processions (two each day) start about 9AM and 3PM but people start lining up well before the processions. I got to the temple about 7AM and a few people were already staking out their spots on the street. 

Police and security guards from the temple try to hold the crowd back, but it's good natured chaos as people close in on the street making it almost impossible to get through. 

But they always make way for the monks, who walk single file through the crowd. The crowds part for the monks and then close in around them as they pass. It's an interesting thing to watch and almost organic the way the crowd parts and closes in again. 

The crowd is a real mix of people - young people in their 20s. Families with children. Families with elders in wheelchairs. Groups from companies, all in their company approved attire. And as chaotic as it seems, there's obviously a method to it that I don't understand since there's no pushing and shoving, everyone just knows that they will have a chance to give flowers to the monks or wash their feet as they pass by. 
A girl waits to make a presentation to a monk. 

The whole procession, which goes for about a kilometer, takes nearly an hour and ends at the temple, where monks climb a staircase to a hilltop Mondop (chapel).
A girl washes a monk's feet as he passes her.

There are lots of 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. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vassa

A woman reaches to her son while he prays in front of his parents at Wat Benchamabophit - the Marble Temple - in Bangkok.

The three month annual rains retreat starts this week. It marks the season that Buddhist monks stay in their monasteries for reflection and meditation. People support the Sangha (the Buddhist clergy) by bringing food, candles and necessities of monastic life to the temple. Devout Buddhists also frequently give up something - smoking, drinking, meat or similar - during Vassa so it's sometimes called "Buddhist Lent" by Westerners. 
Three generations make merit by presenting a monk with food at Wat Benchamabophit. 

It's also a time that a lot of men enter the clergy. The notion of clergy is a little different in Buddhism compared to Christianity. In Christianity, becoming a priest or minister is frequently a lifetime commitment. 

In Buddhism, it's more transitory. It's certainly a lifetime calling for many monks, but most join the monastic brotherhood for a short period of time. Sometimes as short as a few weeks or months, other times for a couple of years. (A friend of mine in Chiang Mai was a monk for nine days.) Another difference is that almost every Buddhist male is expected to join the Sangha at least once in his life (although in industrialized nations in Southeast Asia, like Thailand, there is some evidence that this tradition is waning).  

I went to Wat Benchamabophit Sunday morning to photograph people making merit by presenting alms to the monks. After the alms presentation I wandered through the temple grounds and came upon a couple of young men getting their heads shaved as they prepared to enter the monastery for the rains retreat.
A man grins while a family member cuts his hair before his ordination.

After the haircuts the men don special robes and make merit with public prayers in front of their families. It's the last time they will have physical contact with their mothers, sisters, girlfriends because monks are not supposed to have physical contact with females. Like so many life passages, there's a lot of laughing and crying at the same time during the ordination ceremony. 

After I finished at Wat Bencha I went to Wat Mahabut, a temple in a residential part of Bangkok, about 10 kilometers east of Wat Bencha straight out Sukhumvit Road. It was packed with people making merit and praying in front of monks and shrines. Wat Mahabut is famous for its shrine to Mae Nak, the most famous ghost in Thailand, and the fortune tellers and seers that line the streets around the temple and populate the temple grounds. 

People at Wat Mahabut also have a tradition of making large candles for the temple in the days before Vassa. I photographed people making merit and pouring molten wax into the candle molds. The street in front of the temple was lined with people selling pre-made merit kits - bundles of candles, monastic robes, incense and flowers all wrapped and ready for presentation to the monks. The fortune tellers were doing a brisk walk up business with mostly younger people. 
People wait in line to make merit at Wat Mahabut.

The scene around the candle making station at Wat Mahabut. 



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. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Black and White and Bangkok

Motorcycle taxi drivers play chess while they wait for a fare on Sukhumvit Soi 79

I don't do a lot of black and white photography anymore. Back in the day, way, way back in the day, when I worked for newspapers, before photography went digital, I did a lot of black and white photography. We (we being newspaper photographers) worked in B&W because that's what our newspapers published. 

I haven't worked in black and white in years, probably more than 10 years. At the end of the film time, when we were scanning our photos, we worked with exclusively with color film and scanned the slides (or color negatives) into the computer and then prepress handled whatever conversion was needed. But 100% of our photography was done with color film. 

One of the least appreciated things about digital cameras is that they can record both a black and white and color version of the same picture at the same time. That's what I did today. I didn't have an assignment and wanted to try something a little different so I went up to Wat Mahabut, an interesting temple of Soi 77 Sukhumvit and worked in black and white and color at the same time. 

There are some digital cameras that record exclusively in black and white, like the ridiculously expensive Leica Monochrom ($8,000 body only and that's not a typo. Leica spells it Monochrom, I guess when the camera costs 8K you can spell it however you want), but I don't own Leicas anymore. 

I set my camera up to photograph in RAW+JPEG. The RAW file is the file straight off the sensor, with none of the presets or parameter settings you, the user, might have set. The JPEG, on the other hand, has all of the user set parameters applied. This gives you the best of both worlds. The RAW file (which is what I work off pretty much 100% of the time) and the JPEG. 

The only time I record JPEGs is when I'm working for a wire service on a tight deadline. I transmit the deadline JPEGs if I don't have time to import and process the raw files. On the rare occasion that I record JPEGs, I record them in color. 

Today, since I didn't have an assignment I worked in B&W. It was like going back to the 80s, when I had my first newspaper job at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal and photographed everything with black and white film. Only today my "film" was an 8gigabyte Secure Digital card.

It's easy to set your digital camera to record in both black and white color. (This assumes your camera can record in RAW+JPEG, most, but not all, can.) First set up your camera to record in RAW the way you usually do. Then go into your Picture Style settings (this varies from camera manufacturer to camera manufacturer and may require some hunting to find - or you could read the manual. On Canons it's called Picture Style) and select Monochrome. You can also set up the contrast and sharpness here and on some cameras you can select specific color filters (a green filter for example emphasizes skin tones, a red filter deepens blue skies etc). And you're good to go. The color filter effects, if you choose to use them, are "virtual" filters applied by software built into the camera. They don't actually change the color of your raw file. 

When you're done, import the photos into your Lightroom catalog and your black and white photos should be next to your color raw files. Pretty cool. (Note: Make sure you've selected "Treat JPEG files next to the raw files as separate photos" in your General Preferences.) 
Girl Scouts walk down Soi 22 Sukhumvit after school Thursday afternoon. 

Of course, you can also do this by just working with RAW files and then converting them in software when you get back to your Mac. But where's the fun in that?

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, July 16, 2013

Life Goes On

A Muslim woman and her daughter at a barbecue stand in Pattani

I really enjoy traveling in the southern Thailand - I've never had a bad experience and I'm touched by the hospitality of the people I've met there. At the same time, you can't deny the violence in the south.

It's hard to write about Pattani and Thailand's "deep south." I don't want to blow the violence out of proportion but you can't ignore it.

When I tell people in Bangkok (or the US) that I'm going to the south, they look at me like I'm crazy. The first response is "Why?" followed by an admonition that I shouldn't go; that it's too dangerous for a foreigner to travel there. The violence, which is bad by Thai standards, is not nearly as bad as other places I've worked, including almost any large city in the US, where easy access to firearms means you never know what you're walking into. 

In fact, I feel much safer at the scene of a roadside bombing in Thailand than I did at gang shootings in Phoenix. Part of it is the knowledge that if I'm hurt in Pattani, it's because I'm essentially collateral damage, in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In the US, that's not the case. I was assaulted by a Tea Partier protesting during a public rally at the Arizona capitolLaw enforcement at the Occupy protests in the US seem to delight in assaulting and arresting journalists. 
Pedicab and tuk-tuk drivers wait for customers in Pattani

I am conflicted about traveling to the south. 

On one hand, I think it's a really interesting part of Thailand. The religion, culture, food, language, are all different from the rest of the country. On the other hand, the violence, when it happens, can be spectacular (a roadside bombing destroys a military vehicle, a drive by shooting killed six, including a two year old) and that's what grabs the headlines.  
Children play in a bouncy house type thing

About two million people live in the south, between 4,000 and 5,000 have been killed since the insurgency was rekindled in 2004. That compares to well over 40,000 killed in Mexican drug violence and more than 19,000 murders in Honduras since 2004. In the US, more than 6,000 have been killed by gun violence, since the Newtown, CT, shooting on December 14, 2012. 
A Muslim family on a motor scooter

Put into that perspective, traveling in Pattani and Thailand's south doesn't seem so dangerous. That's not to diminish what's happening. The situation can't go on forever, the longer it does the more inured people become to it and it becomes an accepted part of daily life. 

I don't think you can assess blame exclusively on one side or the other.
A woman walks through the market in Pattani

Thais are very tolerant of other religions, but tolerance doesn't always extend to understanding, especially in the Muslim majority south. The Thai government has not always respected the heritage of the Muslims in the south. Road signs, for example, are in Thai and English but not in Yawi, the Malay based language spoken in southern Thailand. (This is changing, on my last visit I saw more road signs in Yawi than I had in the past.) 

The government's response to the violence has, at times, been heavy handed.

In October, 2005, at least 84 people died when Thai authorities made mass arrests at a protest and threw the arrestees into locked trucks for a several hour trip to a military camp. The dead suffocated in the backs of the trucks. In April, 2004, 32 militants were killed when Thai security forces attacked the mosque they were sheltered in. 

In both cases, allegations of excessive force were levied against security forces.
A handmade signs warns of dangers on a main highway in Pattani province. 

At the same time, militants attack "soft" targets. Monks on their morning alms rounds. Teachers on their way to school. Farmers in their fields. People sitting in front of a grocery store. 

There is a tit for tat nature to the violence. In October, 2012, someone rolled a grenade into a crowd of Buddhists eating at a night market in Sai Buri in Pattani province. A few days later, in apparent response, someone rolled a grenade into a crowd of Muslims on the beach in Sai Buri. 
A market near Krue Se Mosque in rural Pattani.

Traveling in the deep south is a surreal experience. Buddhist monks go out on their morning rounds accompanied by soldiers with M16s. The beaches are some of the most undeveloped and stunning in Thailand, but the fear of violence keeps most people, including some locals, away. There are checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the southern provinces. 

The blessing (if there can be a blessing in a situation like this) is that the violence hasn't spread to other parts of Thailand. Flying in and out of Narathiwat (the airport that serves the three southern provinces) is no different than flying in and out of any other airport in Thailand. Security is very light, you leave your shoes on and your laptop stays comfortably nestled in its bag. Muslims in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand have not been targeted by Thai authorities (compare that to post 911 US and UK where mosques are frequently surveilled by law enforcement). 

The situation in the south is a complicated one. I don't know what the solution is. I fear that the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to find a peaceful solution. My nightmare is that some incident in the south will spark a wider confrontation that spreads to other parts of Thailand. That would be a disaster for everyone - not just people in the south, but all of Thailand. 
A Boy Scout at a private Muslim school in Pattani. 

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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Another Roadside Bomb

A soldier inspects the scene of a roadside bomb in Yala. Eight soldiers were injured in the blast.

We were finishing up at the school in Pattani Thursday when we got word of an IED attack on an army patrol in Yala, the province next to Pattani. We drove out to the site of the attack, which was eerily similar to the attack we photographed Monday. A truck carrying a teacher protection detail back to their camp drove over a large bomb planted beneath the roadbed. Eight soldiers in the truck were injured and hospitalized. The attackers melted away. 
A soldier photographs the scene with his iPhone, which he carries in a "Hello Kitty" holster.

This attack was a little different though. The road crossed a railway track and the explosion damaged not only the road but also the tracks, severing rail service between Yala and the Malaysian border. And this attack happened very close to a Muslim village. There were several homes and a mosque across the highway, about 25 meters from the blast site. The bombers burrowed underneath the roadbed and planted the bomb, which was inside cooking gas can. They remotely detonated their explosive as the truck drove over it. (Monday's attack took place on an isolated stretch of road about a kilometer from a village.)  
Thai soldiers stack their colleagues' gear and weapons after the attack.

I am always amazed at the access Thai authorities give the media at these scenes. The EOD unit ("bomb squad") was still working the scene of Monday's attack when we got there and we were allowed to watch from less than 100 meters back. We were allowed on scene to photograph as soon as EOD finished clearing the area. Crime scene technicians were still collecting evidence when we got up to the crater. 

We got to Thursday's scene a little later because it was a much further away. Crime scene techs were still collecting evidence and soldiers still maintaining a rather porous security perimeter when we got out there. Officers and soldiers on site gave us freedom of movement and didn't interfere with our photography or news gathering. Covering spot news like this in the US is completely different. The media is kept back, way back, from any sort of an active scene. I have to admit, I much prefer the Thai way. 


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 14, 2013

Breaking the Fast

A man serves chicken biryani during Iftar at Haroon Mosque in Bangkok.

Last night I went to Haroon Mosque in Bangkok to photograph Iftar, the meal that Muslims eat to break their day long fast during Ramadan. It's usually a community event where anyone can just show up and eat. That last part is what tripped me up. 

Haroon Mosque is in a neighborhood of old Bangkok close to the French Embassy and old Customs House (now a fire station) near the Chao Phraya River. It's one of the oldest mosques in the city and serves a small community of Muslims in the neighborhood. Although it's a relatively small mosque, because it's older and well established, it serves a large number of Muslim expatriates in Thailand. Tucked down a small soi (alley or lane) it is usually a beehive of activity that not many non-Muslims visit.  
Praying in the mosque before Iftar. 

I've been to Haroon Mosque several times. It's an interesting neighborhood and the eclectic mix of people at the mosque makes for interesting conversation and photography. When I got to the mosque late Saturday afternoon, I slipped off my shoes and socks and walked in. I was invited into the musallah (main prayer hall) and I made a couple of pictures, sat down and visited with three Thai Muslims and accepted their invitation to share Iftar. 
Bowls of soup for the Iftar meal. 

Iftar is eaten right at sunset and since it's the first time all day that devout Muslims are able to eat or drink, it's taken the second the sun goes down. The meal is laid out and people sit down (at Haroon Mosque men and women take Iftar at the same time but separately). Prayers are read out in Arabic and translated to Thai over the mosque's loudspeakers, some people pray, others chat and then the second the sun has set people eat. 
 
A man prays while his dining companions chat in the minutes before Iftar.

At Haroon Mosque the Iftar meal consists of a number of small dishes, a little like Spanish tapas. There were dates, samosas, a semi-spicy rice porridge, larb gai (Thai minced chicken with chilies and mint), vegetables, ginger tea and fruit drink. And all of it was delicious. Traditionally, the first thing eaten is the dates (modeled after the Prophet Muhammad, who broke his fast by eating dates), the other dishes are eaten in no particular order. 
The Iftar meal, the dates are nestled between the samosas, in the lower right.

After Iftar, people return to the prayer hall for evening prayers, which last 25-35 minutes and then return to the dining halls to finish the evening meal. 

Men pray after Iftar and before dinner.
Fruit juice is poured before Iftar. 

My plan last night was to photograph Iftar, not to participate in it. But things don't always go according to plan. I shared Iftar with the Thai Muslims who invited me into the mosque, but everywhere I turned I was invited to eat and it would have been rude to turn down the invitations. As a result, I only made a couple of photos last night. 

I had a great time though, enjoyed some wonderful food and was touched by people's hospitality. I will make another effort to photograph Iftar later in the week. 

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. 

Back to School

A girl gets off a "school bus" at a private Muslim school in Pattani. The bus is a pickup truck with a couple of bench seats in the bed

The gap between Muslim and Buddhist in Thailand's deep south is perhaps most visible in the schools. More and more private Muslim schools are opening in the south and parents are sending their children to those schools. 

Muslim parents in southern Thailand send their children to private schools for the same reason many conservative Americans send their children to private religious schools. They want a good education for the children but they also want their children educated in accordance with their religious beliefs. 

A boys hands move over the script in the Koran he's studying at the Pattani Muslim school. 

A boy reads the Koran during religious instruction at the Pattani Muslim school.

Most of the schools are licensed by the Thai government and teach the official Thai curriculum. Their students have to take the Thai standardized tests. The biggest academic difference is that the Muslim schools teach a curriculum that meets Thai government standards but fulfills Islamic requirements. 
Girls pray at the Muslim school. 

Students pray on the regular Islamic schedule in the Muslim schools, but only at lunch or recess in the public schools.
Students at a public school raise the Thai flag. 

All Thai students, whether they go to a public school or a private school, wear uniforms. Girls dress modestly in both public and private schools, but in the Muslim schools they dress very modestly - long sleeves, longer skirts. Boys in the Muslim schools wear prayer caps. Almost 100% of the teachers in the Muslim schools are Muslim. In some of the public schools, fewer than half of the teachers are Muslim, even though the student body might be 100% Muslim. 

One of the reforms Muslims have won in the south is the right to dress their daughters the way they choose. Before the current unrest started, students in the south dressed like students elsewhere. Girls in the public schools didn't wear the hijab and they wore the shorter skirts used elsewhere in Thailand. 

The women who teach in the Muslim schools dress in accordance with Muslim culture. Very modestly with floor length skirts or slacks and hijabs. Muslim teachers in the public schools also dress in accordance with Muslim culture but Buddhist teachers in Pattani dress like young women in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand, which is not at all in accordance with Muslim principles. They wear short (hemlines above their knees) skirts and high (4+ inches) heels. Many of the Muslim parents find their attire inappropriate. 
A Buddhist teacher walks among the students at a Pattani public school. 

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 13, 2013

Ramadan

Women pray on the street, among parked motorcycles, at Pattani Central Mosque in Pattani, Thailand

Ramadan started this week. It is the month the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar. (Ramadan is also the name of the 9th lunar month.) 

Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours. They eat breakfast before sunup and don't eat or drink anything again until after dark. In the tropics, that means about 13 hours (sunrise in Bangkok today was 5.55AM, sunset was 6.51PM) but it in the more northern parts of the northern hemisphere it can be 15 or 16 hours. Sunrise today in London, for example, was 4.56AM and sunset at 9.15PM for 16 hours 19 minutes of daylight. And fasting means no liquids, including water. 
Women walk into Pattani Central Mosque for Ramadan services during a rain storm earlier this week.

It takes a lot of concentration and self control to go 16 plus hours with no food or liquids, including water. It takes a lot of self control to go the 13 hours of Bangkok daylight without food or water. I'm not Muslim and I don't fast during Ramadan, but I do respect the religion. I don't eat or drink when I am in public in Muslim majority southern Thailand. (I keep tea and water in my hotel refrigerator and get some small snacks from a Buddhist owned convenience store near the hotel.)
Men during Ramadan services earlier in the week.

Ramadan services at the Pattani Mosque Thursday night were beautiful. The Mosque was packed - so full I couldn't get in, so I photographed services from the outside of the Mosque. I was told there were about 15,000 people at the service, so I had plenty to photograph. The crowd spilled out of the grounds of the Mosque and onto the street in front. 

There are more photos from Ramadan 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.