Friday, January 30, 2015

And I'm Back (Not that I went anywhere)

National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard talks about one of his iconic photos at a Bangkok Photo Club meeting last week. 

I took a little break from photography this week to help out at a Bangkok Photo School "Beyond the Frame" workshop with William Albert Allard. The workshop was organized and meticulously well run by Gavin Gough, a fellow photographer living in Bangkok.
Bill Allard talks to workshop participants after we watched some documentary clips. One of the workshop activities was a night of watching clips from documentaries about photographers and photography at the Friese-Greene Club, a great venue for seeing films or just relaxing. 

We had 14 participants from around the world - people came from Hong Kong, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Kazakhstan, the US and of course Thailand to work with Bill and Gavin. It was a very talented group. I had a lot of fun working with our students and spending time with Bill, who has been a huge influence on my own photography. 
Bill, in the white hat, talks about gestures and one of his Montana photos during the workshop.

Participating in a workshop as an instructor is completely different from participating as a student. This week, it wasn't about making my own photos, but rather about helping students make their own photos better. I think this is the longest break from my own photography I've taken since coming to Bangkok. Now that the workshop is over and everybody safely home I plan get back on the streets to make my own photos. Chinese New Year is just around the corner! 

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, January 17, 2015

Another Day, Another Opera

Performers with the Sai Yong Hong Opera Troupe get into their costumes before a performance at the Chao Mae Tubtim Shrine

I've photographed a lot of Chinese opera in Bangkok and last night I photographed another one.

As the Lunar New Year (also called Chinese New Year or Tet) approaches, Chinese opera troupes throughout Bangkok find themselves in demand. Chinese (or Teochew) opera doesn't exactly have a high season, but there are times of the year that operas are easier to find. Around Lunar New Year is certainly that time of year. Chinese operas are pretty common in Bangkok during this time of year.

One of my favorite places for Chinese opera is the Chao Mae Tubtim Shrine on the Chulalongkorn University campus. I've been exploring the neighborhood for years. Taxis and tuk-tuks frequently use it as a shortcut between Hua Lamphong train station and MBK shopping center.
A performer ready to go on stage

The shrine, in the heart of the neighborhood, is tiny but busy. It hosts several operas through the year. I like going to operas here because they're the way I always thought a Chinese opera should be. The stage blocks the street, people come and go into the shrine to pray during the performance, food vendors set up on surrounding streets and people from the neighborhood come out for the show. It's not exactly a party but it is a good time. 
Performers help each other put their make up on. There are no dressing rooms, performers get made up on tables on the sidewalks around the stage

But change is inevitable, especially in a city like Bangkok, that seems to reinvent itself every generation. The land in the neighborhood is owned by Chulalongkorn University, one of Thailand's most prestigious universities. Thousands of people used to live in shophouses in the neighborhood. They lived above their businesses on the ground floor. It was blocks and blocks of shophouses. Chula U has decided they can make more money with high end housing and retail space. Block by block, the old shophouses are being torn down. The neighborhood is being gentrified. 
A woman gets ready at her make up table, which is on a sidewalk near the stage.

A performer uses a small hand mirror to put on her make up

This maybe the last year for the operas at Chao Mae Tubtim shrine. In years past there were two operas at the shrine, performing at the same time. They had a sort of battle of the bands vibe going. This year, they could only set up one stage because all of the shophouses north of the shrine have been destroyed and the people forced out. It is now a construction site for high end shopping and exclusive apartments. There is already a nearby restaurant complex (which houses a Starbucks, Au Bon Pain and Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream). 
The opening of the show.

A performer dances across the stage.

One of the male leads

This is the third opera I've photographed at this shrine. Every time I go to an opera here, I expect to be the last time. But this year is different, it feels final. Last year there were two operas and a movie being shown all at the same time. This year just the one opera. 
People walk into the show. 

There are more photos from the opera in my archive or available from ZUMA Press. If you're in Bangkok and would like to attend this opera, it's at the corner of Chula Soi 7 and Chula Soi 28. It's scheduled to run until January 24. 
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, January 15, 2015

Discovering Thainess

A woman takes a "selfie" with a Hanuman figure at the "Discover Thainess" parade Wednesday night

The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Thai government are trying to kickstart the country's struggling tourist industry. The annual tourism fair, normally held in a convention center in July, has been moved to Lumpini Park and pushed up to this month. The fair kicked off Wednesday night with a parade that went from Pathum Wan, in the center of Bangkok's shopping district, to Lumpini Park, across the street from the Dusit Thani hotel and Silom, the center of the city's financial district. 
The parade goes up Rama I towards Phloen Chit. 

Women in the parade

There were more than 30 marching units in the parade, representing all parts of Thailand. Dancers from central Thailand, oarsman from the Royal Barges, figures from Thai legends and folklore. The parade route was only 3.5 kilometers (a little over two miles) but it took more than two hours from start to finish. 
Women who performed Thai dance, take a selfie before the parade

The tourism fair continues through the weekend at Lumpini Park. There are more photos from the Discover Thainess Parade 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. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Children are the Future

A boy handles a M16 during National Children's Day activities on a Royal Thai Army base.

Children's Day is a big deal in Thailand. Government offices throw open their doors so youngsters, and their parents, can see how government works. Shopping malls schedule activities for their littlest consumers. Buses and trains offer free rides to kids. And the military puts their tools on display. Children get to handle the latest assault rifles, machine guns, mortars and tanks. A good time is had by all. 
Children pose for photos with a life sized cardboard cutout of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha. Prayuth took power in May when he coordinated a bloodless coup that unseated the elected government.

At Government House, the office of the Prime Minister, there was a full slate of activities including photos with cardboard cutouts of the PM, a puppet show, hosted by the PM, and Thai pop songs, sung by the PM. 
Prayuth puts on a puppet show for the little ones.

And a few minutes later did a live TV broadcast with teenagers. 

Children's Day in Thailand though is not without controversy. This year, Kong Rithdee, an editor at the Bangkok Post, one of Thailand's two English language dailies, wrote a blistering editorial critical of Children's Day huge military presence and the link between the Army's generals and Prime Minister's office, saying, "from tanks to prime ministership, from the barracks straight to the dignified, unelected chair...if that's the official message being sent to children, maybe they should just stick to Pokemon and cosplay."

There are more photos from Children's Day 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, January 9, 2015

Impeachment

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra says goodbye to journalists and supporters as she leaves parliament after defending herself against impeachment charges. 

Former Thai Prime Minister returned to the Parliament building Friday for the first time since her elected government was overthrown by the army back in May. She came to defend herself against impeachment charges leveled against her by Thailand's National Anti Corruption Commission.

The charges are related to the rice price supports her government offered farmers in 2011 and 2012.
Yingluck makes her case

Yingluck pointed out to members of the National Legislative Assembly (the military's hand picked legislative body) that since she's no longer head of government, and has in effect been removed three times now (twice by the courts, once by the military), she can't be impeached. She added that she did nothing wrong and that government's role is to support farmers and all citizens. She pointed out that other countries, including Japan and the US offer price supports to their farmers. She said her government's rice scheme was administered openly and honestly

If Yingluck is impeached she could be banned from politics for at least five years. The NLA may take up legislation that would make impeachment a lifetime ban. If that legislation is passed before her conviction, she could be banned for life. The NLA is expected to vote on her verdict by the end of January. Since she's already out of office, the real purpose of the impeachment would be to metaphorically drive a stake through her heart; to ban the still popular former PM from running in the next election, whenever that might be. 
Yingluck talks to reporters after her appearance before the NLA. 

Whatever the outcome of the impeachment trial, it does not mark end of Yingluck's legal woes. The NACC is said to be forwarding their case against her to prosecutors. They are expected to seek a criminal trial against her. If convicted she could be sentenced a long prison term.

There are more photos from her impeachment hearing 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. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Life's a Beach

A tourist on Pattaya Beach

Pattaya is both the most famous and infamous beach in Thailand. Fifty years ago it was a lovely stretch of sand southeast of Bangkok. Then the US military started using it as a R&R destination for soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen fighting in Vietnam and modern Pattaya, with all that has made it notorious was born. 
A European vacationer gets a pedicure on Pattaya beach. 

Pattaya has been in the news in Thailand a lot in the last few years. All beaches in Thailand are supposed to be public property, but vendors have claimed much of the beach as virtual private businesses. You could hardly sit on the beach without being harangued by vendors selling you food, offering pedicures or massages, and, perhaps most aggressively, trying to get you into beach chairs and under umbrellas. 

The military government has cleaned up other Thai beaches, like Patong on Phuket, but they've left Pattaya alone, primarily because the local government has promised to clean up its own mess. 

All of that is about to change. The government is zoning sections of the beach to be vendor free. One day a week, reportedly Wednesdays, vendors will not be allowed on the beach at all. 
Chinese tourists get off a speedboat after a tour of islands near Pattaya.

All of this comes at a difficult time for Thailand and Pattaya. Tourist arrivals in Thailand are still down, a lingering effect of political violence that gripped Bangkok in 2013-2014. The imposition of martial law and resulting coup in May stabilized the situation but has not restored tourists' confidence in Thailand. The bright spot in Thai tourism, Russian tourists in Pattaya and Phuket, has been hit hard by the collapse of the Russian Ruble.

It's not clear if the efforts to clean up Pattaya will actually bring families back to the beach. 
Pattaya beach

There are more photos of Pattaya 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, January 4, 2015

Fellow Travelers

Thai students returning to Bangkok after the long New Year's break get off a train in Hua Lamphong station

Thais hit the road during their long holiday breaks. New Year's Day this year fell on a Thursday. A lot of people took off Dec 31, Friday January 2 was a holiday and then we rolled into the weekend. New Year's Day in Thailand turned into a 4 ½ day long weekend. Bangkokians left town en masse. Some went north to enjoy the slightly cooler weather in northern Thailand. Others went to the beaches and many went back to their home provinces to visit family. 
Boarding a bus to go back upcountry after coming to Bangkok to see family. 

It was nice being in Bangkok during the New Year holiday. The city felt abandoned. The Skytrains were empty, traffic was very light, and sidewalks were clear. 

Mo Chit bus station. 

But all things must pass. By tomorrow things will be back to normal. People will go back to work, the Skytrains will be packed and traffic will be the stuff of legends. 

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, January 2, 2015

Starting a Long Walk

Monks leave the meditation hall at Wat Phra Dhammaya at the start of their 450 kilometer pilgrimage through central Thailand. 

More than 1,100 monks from Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a huge temple and meditation center north of Bangkok, set out on a 450 kilometer walk this morning. The monks are passing through six provinces in central Thailand. 
Monks walk into the grounds of Wat Phra Dhammakaya to start their long pilgrimage. 

They will be on the road until January 28, when they return to Wat Phra Dhammakaya. During the trip they will sleep at schools and temples and eat food prepared for them by Buddhist lay people along the route. 

This is the 4th year of the pilgrimage, it's become a New Year's tradition for people from the Dhammakaya movement. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to pay homage to the Buddha, preserve Buddhist culture, welcome the New Year, and "develop virtuous Buddhist youth leaders."
Monks on the march. 

I will only be able to photograph the first day of the pilgrimage this year. I have a busy January coming up and, while I might have some free days this week, I know I'll be fully booked late in the month, when the pilgrimage ends. 
A person places marigold petals on the monk's footpath. Laying marigolds on the monks' path is a form of making merit. 

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, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015!

New Year's revelers in Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok. 

Bangkok rang in 2015 with its usual festiveness. Tens of thousands of people gathered Ratchaprasong Intersection next to Central World for the now traditional New Year's countdown. This is the third year I've photographed Ratchaprasong party. It's a fun party.

The Erawan Shrine, a very popular and important Brahmin shrine is across the intersection from the party, people stop in there all night to pray and make merit. Wat Pathum Wanaram, an important Buddhist temple, is about two blocks away from the party. People also go there to pray and make merit before the New Year. Then there's the actual party, where people neither pray nor make merit but do celebrate. 
People pray at Wat Pathum Wanaram. 

Monks at the temple.

People in prayer. 

I photographed the party but I spent most of the evening photographing people at the shrine and the temple. It was more interesting to me and, as Thailand enters what could be a difficult year, a better way to mark the New Year. 
People pray at Erawan Shrine after spending time at the party. 

The obligatory "selfie" photo in the lights of Ratchaprasong. 
Happy New Year!

There are more photos from Bangkok's New Year 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.