Monday, June 29, 2015

Turn and Face the Changes

Buying and selling vegetables in the Bang Chak Market

There was a time, not that long ago, when most people in Thailand shopped in local markets. When we were growing up here, in the mid 1960s, being attached to the US diplomatic mission meant we had access to the military P/X - Post Exchange, which was sort of a department store and commissary, a grocery store. But Americans not attached to the Embassy, and most other ex-pats, had to "live on the economy," that is do all of their shopping in local markets. 
People walk through Bang Chak Market

Of course it never occurred to me that we were the outliers, that in fact most people in Thailand lived on the economy. At the time I thought living on the local economy was a mighty feat. Up there with the moon walk and jet packs (I was also only 10 years old). Now I realize that Thai markets are some of the most dazzling places in Bangkok. If you can't find what you're looking for in a Thai market, chances are it doesn't exist. 

The first "grocery store" or supermarket didn't open in Bangkok until 1974, years after we left Bangkok the first time. Even though there have been supermarkets in Bangkok for more than 40 years, and you can find some sort of a supermarket in almost every neighborhood in Bangkok, many people still shop in the markets. 
In Bang Chak market, a vendor takes a fresh batch of Chinese donuts, called patongos, out of the fryer, which is a giant wok filled with oil. Patangos are sort of like beignets without the powdered sugar

But in Bangkok, markets are disappearing as the modern supermarkets take over. This is especially true along the BTS lines, the elevated trains that move Bangkokians with science fiction like efficiency. 

The neighborhoods along the BTS lines are fully built out and new development means tearing down existing development. All through central Bangkok, there are high end condominiums and shopping malls attached to the BTS stations. 

The further out you go from central Bangkok, the more traditional it is. I don't mean rice paddies or rickshaws - those have been gone for generations. I do mean traditional three and four storey shophouses (shop on the main floor, apartments above) and wet markets. But as land starved Bangkok looks for ways to expand, those old shophouses and markets are in danger of disappearing.
A fishmonger's stall in Bang Chak Market

Bang Chak Market is the latest market to fall to the wrecking ball. It was never in the first tier of Bangkok markets, not like Khlong Toey. It's a community market that serves the people who live around it. 
Most of the shophouses are already gone. This is the only remaining block and they're being demolished as you read this

It's sad to see the old markets and the street food areas, like the one at Soi 38, disappear. I'm not just being sentimental or pining for the "good old days." These new developments are not sustainable, they contribute to the city's already unbelievable traffic gridlock and they consume huge amounts of electricity.

The real estate along the Skytrain is especially popular but the Skytrain's success is also its great failing. Rush hour trains are so crowded you sometimes have to queue up and wait for several trains to go by before there's room to squeeze into one. The new condo and shopping developments only contribute to the congestion
People go past the front of the shophouses

I'm also concerned about what happens to the people who are living in the neighborhood. I look at the  markets as a part of a self contained eco-system. Take away the market and the other parts of the eco-system whither. The families who live in the neighborhood are forced out by circumstances and the neighborhood loses its vitality.
Vendors make and sell marigold garlands in the market. 

There are more pictures of the market in my archive and 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, June 26, 2015

A Transformative Lens?

An anti-coup protestor in Bangkok. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 150mm (effectively 300mm on full frame), ISO200, f2.8 @ 1/800 of a second

There was a discussion about the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro Zoom on one of the photography web sites I visit. The person who started the discussion asked if the 12-40 is a "transformative" lens. 

I don't think it is. It is an excellent lens, a class leading lens in all ways, but not transformative. It was not the first of its type (the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 was released years ago) and similar lenses have long been popular on full frame bodies. The Canon 24-70 f2.8 and Nikon 24-70 f2.8 zooms have been mainstays in professional photographers' kits for years. 

MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lightroom 6

Part of my Lightroom library, now in LR6. I have more than 400,000 photos in my Lightroom libraries, most of them "raw" files

I've been using Lightroom, now Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, since the betas of version 1, way back in 2006. I bought a copy of LR the week it was released, in early 2007. Editing in version 1 was pretty limited and I found myself using Photoshop to finish off a lot of my edits. But with the inclusion of local editing in version 2, I've used Lightroom pretty much exclusively for my photo editing needs since 2008. I've convinced other photographers to use LR and I've taught classes on LR. 

I've been a huge fan and proponent of Lightroom for many years. 

I mention all of this to give what I am about to say some perspective. I am very close to being done with Lightroom. The decision is based on two things: Adobe's dreadful customer service ethic and Lightroom's slide in quality. 

The customer service part first. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

City Pillar Procession in Mahachai

Men carry the Lak Mueang through Mahachai (Samut Sakhon)

I went to Mahachai to photograph the procession for the City Pillar Shrine. Most provincial capitals in Thailand have a City Pillar Shrine, called Lak Mueang. The shrines are revered by the city's residents and thought to offer protection to the city. 

City Pillar Shrines are a relatively new tradition in Thailand. King Rama I, the first King of the current Chakri Dynasty, ordered construction of the first City Pillar in Bangkok, across the street from the Grand Palace, in 1782. But it wasn't until 1992 that the Ministry of the Interior ordered the construction of shrines in all provincial capitals. 
A woman prays in the shrine in Mahachai. 

The festival honoring the City Pillar Shrine in Mahachai is one of the biggest public events of the year in the fishing port. The shrine is carried by a team of men to a waiting fishing boat and taken up the Tha Chin then paraded through the town and brought back to the temple. 
People pray as the shrine is carried past them

There's a three day festival in the park next to the temple with stages (for Chinese Operas and Likay), music acts perform each night and it's generally a good time. 
People get off the fishing boats that accompanied the shrine

Hundreds of people jam onto fishing boats to participate in the shrine's procession on the river. They walk ahead of the shrine as it's paraded through town, while people who didn't get on the boats line the streets to offer prayers and alms. 
People line the street to pray as the shrine passes them.
The shrine being carried through the streets.
A school girl, in her uniform, prays as the shrine approaches her school

I covered the parade then returned to Bangkok. I've spent a lot of time in and around Mahachai. It's near the salt fields I photograph every year and thousands of Burmese migrant workers live in the town. They're the muscle that powers the town's fishing industry. This is the first time I've been there to cover a cultural event and I had a wonderful time. 

It's easy to get to Mahachai from Bangkok. A train leaves every hour from Wong Wian Yai train station in Thonburi and goes straight to Mahachai. Wong Wian Yai station is about a kilometer from the Wong Wian Yai BTS stop. If I make the right BTS connections, I can be in Mahachai about 90 minutes after leaving my apartment. 
Prayer flags carried through Mahachai during the procession


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, June 20, 2015

A Ferris Wheel in Narathiwat

A ferris wheel at a fair in Narathiwat. This is 2 1/2 second time exposure, ISO 200 at f9. 

I went to a provincial fair while I was in the south. I went to photograph the "wayang" a traditional Indonesian shadow puppet play. The wayang is also popular in Malaysia and Malay influenced parts of Thailand, like the Deep South. 

This is not the rainy season in the South but it poured that night and the wayang, which is performed outside, was rained out. 
Drummers rehearse before the wayang show, which was eventually rained out. 

I wandered through the midway before the rain started and made a couple of photos of the ferris wheel, including the photo at the top of this page. 

I've written before about some of the technical innovations in the Olympus bodies, including the in body image stabilization. This is another one of those. The photo at the top of the page is a 2 1/2 second long time exposure. Hand held. No tripod, monopod or other support. Zoom into the sign in the middle of the wheel and you'll see the type is perfectly clear. Likewise, the guys sitting on the left side of the frame are sharp. I was sitting on the ground in front of the ferris wheel with the camera cradled in my hand, but that was the extant of it. This is not a picture I would have been able to make with my Canons. 

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, June 18, 2015

Ramadan in Pattani

Women fill the plaza in front of Pattani Central Mosque on the first night of Ramadan. I think this is one of the most beautiful mosques in Thailand

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the most important month in the Muslim world. It is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. 

Most of the people in Thailand's "Deep South" are Muslim and they flock to mosques throughout the region for services on the first night of Ramadan. In Pattani they pack the Central Mosque, the second largest mosque in Thailand. The crowd frequently spills out into the street. 
Men walk into the front door of the mosque. 

Men at prayer in the mosque

Men and women pray separately. Women pray in the plaza in front of the mosque or on the lawn in front of the mosque



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, June 17, 2015

Spotting the Crescent Moon

An Imam aims a telescope used to spot the crescent moon to mark the official start of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. 

The start of Ramadan is based on the sighting of the crescent moon and varies by a day or so around the world. If clouds obscure the sky and the moon not seen then it starts the next day. 
Looking for the moon

Sighting the crescent moon is called "hilal" and while it's not a holy day in itself, it is a day of community gathering and sighting the moon is a community event. 
Women on a motorcycle head for the mountain in Yaha district of Yala province, where people gathered to spot the moon
Men look for the moon in Yaha

In southern Thailand, the start of Ramadan is determined by the moon's visibility from a mountaintop in Yaha, a small town in Yala province. I thought the chances of seeing the moon were pretty small when we got to the mountaintop. It was cloudy and rainy - at one point a squall blew threw and most people took shelter out of the rain. 
The scene that greeted people looking for the moon in Yaha

But people persevered and after the rain blew through out the clouds parted slightly and it was announced that the moon had been sighted and that the next day (Thursday) would be the first day of Ramadan fasting. 
After the moon was sighted a group of men went to one side of the mountaintop and prayed

There are more photos of people sighting the crescent moon 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. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Deserted Beach

Boys play kick a soccer ball around on a beach in Narathiwat

It's the stuff of legend. A deserted tropical beach in Thailand where it's just you and the ocean. There aren't many places left in Thailand where you can find a truly deserted beach. But that ideal is a reality in the Deep South. White sand beaches as far as the eye can see and not a tourist to be seen.
Fishing boats on a Narathiwat beach
A fisherman stows nets on a fishing boat on the beach near Narathiwat. 

There are a couple of challenges in getting to the deserted beaches in southern Thailand though. One is that the level of political violence might put off some tourists. Thais have been fighting a Muslim separatist insurgency in the Deep South for years. Bombings and shootings happen with dispiriting frequency. It's been relatively quiet for a few months now, but no one knows how long the quiet will last. 
The beach in Sai Buri district, between Pattani and Narathiwat. Not deserted exactly but hardly overwhelmed

The other challenge is infrastructure. There are hotels in Narathiwat and Pattani, the two largest cities near the beaches, (and, in the case of Pattani, one of the best hotel values in Thailand) and there are, of course, lots of restaurants so travelers can always find places to sleep and eat. What's lacking is transportation. There aren't many taxis or buses in the south and getting from your hotel to the deserted beach, or just getting around, can be a challenge. 
A truly deserted beach. Ten minutes from the Narathiwat airport, 30 minutes from downtown Narathiwat. And not a taxi to be found to get you here

The other thing travelers should remember is that this is a Muslim majority part of Thailand and almost all of the people who live near the water are Muslim fisherfolk. They're warm and gracious and harbor no ill will towards travelers. It's also a conservative society and the hedonistic practices of tourists in some parts of Thailand would deeply offend the people of the south. 

But if you're a traveler (which is different from being a tourist) and you want to experience a truly unique part of Thailand you could do worse than coming to Pattani or Narathiwat. 

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, June 14, 2015

Back in the South

A woman picks up an iced tea from Thai army Rangers at a "hearts and minds" event in Narathiwat

I've returned to southern Thailand for the week to work on a story about the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Islam is the second largest religion in Thailand and the "Deep South" provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala are Muslim majority provinces. 
Handing out rice and staples to widows and orphans in Narathiwat

The southern provinces are frequently described as "restive" and there is, by Thai standards, a high level of political violence in the south. Muslims in Southern Thailand lived in their own world of relative autonomy for centuries. They had their own Sultanate and while the Sultanate owed allegiance to the Siamese (Thai) Kings (this was when Thailand was an absolute monarchy), they had autonomy over domestic issues. In 1902, that changed when Siam, as Thailand was then known, annexed the three deep south provinces.   

There has been an insurgency off and on for much of the time Thailand has governed the south. The level of violence ticked up noticeably in 2004, about 6,000 people, on both sides, have been killed in bombings, shootings and political violence in the last 11 years. 

The violence ebbs and flows. I've been in the south when we've gone from bombing scene to bombing scene and encountered military checkpoints in almost every town. I've been in the south when it was quiet. Right now, the South is in a quiet phase but it could change in an instant. 
A woman prays at the start of the rice giveaway

The Thai government, and most of the people in the South, are hoping Ramadan will be peaceful this year. 

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, June 7, 2015

Kuala Lumpur

Traffic in the Little India section of Kuala Lumpur. Bollywood music blares from speakers on the street which is lined with Indian restaurants and food stalls. 

I've been in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days after being in Kulai. KL is a fascinating blend of Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures. The British colonial authorities brought millions of Indian laborers here to work the tin mines and rubber plantations that financed the colony. The Chinese came here in a burst of entrepreneurial zeal. 

KL feels like a cross between Bangkok and Singapore. It's not as chaotic as Bangkok but not as ordered as Singapore. It's very spread out and I only saw a tiny part of the city. More or less the "old" Kuala Lumpur - Chinatown and Little India. 
A woman praying at Sri MahaMariamman Temple, the largest Hindu temple in KL. 

A woman waits for midday prayers to start Sri MahaMariamman Temple.

There's a very cosmopolitan vibe to KL. There's tremendous diversity on the street, from Malay Muslim to Indian Hindu to Chinese Taoist to European Christian. The diversity is represented in the cuisine. There are a lot of Malay (and other Muslim) Halal places, but the Chinese places have lots of pork on the menu along with traditional noodle soups. And the Indian restaurants run the whole spectrum of Indian food. 
The roofline of Masjid Jamek, one of the most important mosques in Malaysia.

KL is an interesting place. If you're in Bangkok or Singapore and have a day or two extra to spend, KL would be a worthy stop. It's inexpensive (my hotel was $23 a night) and the people are friendly. I had a good visit and wouldn't hesitate to come back. 

Some more photos from Kuala Lumpur. 
A butcher selling pork in a Chinatown market. 

A tourist walking past a mural near the old Kuala Lumpur Central Market. 

Making and selling flower garlands in Little India. 

Lighting incense in Chinatown. 


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, June 4, 2015

Rohingya Refugees Struggle in Malaysia

Ruhima, a 72 year old Rohingya refugee on the daybed she essentially lives in a home in Kulai. 

It should have been her “golden years,” a time when 72 year old Ruhima, a Rohingya woman living in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state in western Myanmar near the Bangladesh border, could watch her grandchildren grow up. Instead, in October 2012, she watched as mobs of Buddhists attacked her home and the homes of her Muslim neighbors, setting them ablaze, destroying their mosques and killing people. Many in her family were killed in the sectarian violence. Taking her life savings, Ruhima boarded a rickety fishing boat and fled Myanmar ending up in Kulai, Malaysia, where she now spends her time perched on a daybed, relying on the generosity of other Rohingya refugees in Kulai.

The UN says the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in western Myanmar, are the most persecuted ethnic minority in the world. The government of Myanmar insists the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has refused to grant them citizenship. Most of the Rohingya in Myanmar have been confined to Internal Displaced Persons camp in Rakhine state, along Myanmar’s western border with Bangladesh. The government of Myanmar says it’s to protect the Rohingya from Buddhist mobs. But Rohingya in the IDP camps say they face constant harassment from Myanmar security officials and that they are held, imprisoned and unable to leave even if they want to.
A Rohingya boy recites the Koran in a madrasa for Rohingya in Kulai. 

MORE AFTER THE JUMP...