Friday, January 27, 2017

Happy New Year, Take 2...

Lion dancers perform at a Thai-Chinese business on Lunar New Year. Many business people hire lion dance troupes to perform at their businesses to help ensure a prosperous new year. 

Thailand is in the midst of celebrating its second of three New Years. The legal New Year is celebrated on January 1. The second celebration of the New Year in Lunar New Year. Thailand is about 14% ethnically Chinese and Lunar New Year (also called Chinese New Year or Tet) is an important holiday here, especially in ethnically Chinese communities. If you were wondering, the third New Year celebration comes in April, when Thais celebrate "Songkran," their traditional New Year.  

Chinese entertainers walk through the EmQuartier and Emporium, two of Bangkok's most upscale shopping malls, during the malls' celebration of Lunar New Year.

Bangkok has a sprawling Chinatown district and many Thais have a Chinese branch of the family tree. Chinese are assimilated into Thai society and several aspects of Chinese culture are woven into Thai life. We live in a Thai part of Bangkok, far from Chinatown, but it's not unusual to see Chinese style lion dancers walking through our neighborhood. Lunar New Year celebrations here are an authentic expression Chinese identity, not a marketing gimmick like they are in many Chinatowns in the U.S.
A woman lights prayer candles on Lunar New Year at a family altar in a Bangkok alley in Chinatown for Lunar New Year. 

Chinese family prays before their New Year meal in the family's pharmacy in Bangkok's Chinatown. 

This year's Lunar New Year was a fairly subdued affair. Thailand is about 1/3 of the way through a year long mourning period for the revered Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Late King of Thailand. Large public celebrations are discouraged (they were completely banned for the first weeks after the King's death) and the Lunar New Year celebration in Chinatown was a very large, very public, very boisterous celebration. Less than a week before the celebration was supposed to start, business leaders in Chinatown announced that this year's celebration in Chinatown was cancelled. Instead the Tourism Authority of Thailand organized a ersatz Lunar New Year celebration in Lumpini Park, as a part of their Thai Tourism Fair. 
A dragon dance performance in front of a Chinese shrine on Chareon Krung Road in Chinatown. 

The dragon dancers in the shrine. 

I went down to Chinatown earlier today knowing that Chinese New Year was cancelled but not really expecting that to be the case. I discovered that it was completely the case. Yaowarat Road, the main street in Chinatown was deserted. There were no lion or dragon dance troupes working the streets, like there have been for every previous Lunar New Year. 
A woman lights prayer candles at a Chinese temple in Chinatown.

In an alley in Chinatown, a woman burns ghost money in front of her shop. 

To be sure, the spiritual side of the New Year was still being celebrated. There were crowds in the temples, people were burning ghost money in front of their homes and shops and people were having their expansive new year feasts. But nothing New Year related was happening in the streets. 
Monks at a Chinese temple lead a New Year prayer. 

I walked up and down the streets and alleys of Chinatown all day looking for dance troupes. I was pretty satisfied with the pictures I made in the temples and shrines and people's spiritual observances of the new year, but I needed the lion dance photos to complete the package. 
A man lights incense in a Chinese shrine while lion dancers enter the shrine. 

I had given up and was walking back to the subway station to go to Lumpini Park for the ersatz celebration when I stumbled upon a lion dance troupe performing at a shrine. 
Lion dancers in a Thai-Chinese fabric shop. Business owners pay the dance troupes to bring them a prosperous new year. 

I photographed the dancers while they were in the shrine and then went with them when they went to dance at a business near Chinatown. 
Dragon dancers relax after a performance in Chinatown. 

When the dancers finished at the businesses I went home and edited my photos from the day. 


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 25, 2017

Flirting With Disaster

The main window of my Lightroom archive. 

I lost a hard drive recently. The 4 terabyte drive that holds my recent work stopped powering up. I'm pretty sure it's a problem related to the drive's internal power supply because I tried swapping out the power cables that came with the drive on nothing brought it back. I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to flaky hard drives. A drive that gives me problems is immediately taken out of service. My data is too important to me, I won't play Russian Roulette with a hard drive. 

There are two kinds of computer users. Those who have had hard drive fail. And those who will have a hard drive fail. Even before this episode I was in the former group. I've had four or five hard drives fail through the years. The remarkable thing about is that this was the first hard drive failure I've had in years, since moving to Thailand. 

Because I've had experience with hard drive failures, I am absolutely maniacal about backing up my data. My backups are an exact duplicate of my data drives. The last thing I do when I finish a daily Lightroom session is copy the folders holding my photos over to the backup drives. The backup drives are organized exactly the same way my data drives are organized. Theoretically, I could use the backup drive as my data drive, but then it would no longer be a backup. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Getting Ready for the New Year

People watch a calligrapher draw Chinese New Year greetings for customers on Chareon Krung Road in Bangkok. 

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Tet (in Vietnam) is a huge cultural celebration in Chinese communities around the world. Thailand has a very large Chinese community and Lunar New Year is celebrated with gusto in Bangkok and Sino-Thai communities throughout the country. 
A calligrapher draws a greeting. 

Lunar New Year comes early this year. It will be celebrated on January 28 in Bangkok (it's usually in February). Lunar New Year provides a huge shot in the arm for the Thai economy. Restaurants are fully booked the weeks before and after the holiday period, Chinese opera troupes are fully booked and perform through out the country and people buy New Year supplies, like dresses and lanterns.

One of the most traditional things to do is to go to a calligrapher and buy New Year's greeting. 

In Bangkok, the calligraphers line Chareon Krung Road in the heart of Chinatown. They set up on small tables and hand paint the greetings that customers buy. They use an oil based gold paint. Sometimes the put gold flecks on their work. 
A woman calligrapher (the only woman calligrapher I've seen on Chareon Krung) finishes a greeting for a customer. 
A detail photo of a calligrapher at work. 

I don't know what the calligraphers charge for their work or how much they make during the New Year season. They are busy though. When they're not working on customized calligraphy for customers, they're drawing spec pieces that they hang near the stand. Passersby, in too much of a hurry to wait for a customized piece, buy the spec pieces. 
The woman calligrapher works on a piece. 

This is my fifth Lunar New Year in Thailand. I photograph the calligraphers of Chareon Krung at least once a year. Chinese New Year is a loud, crowded, incredibly fun holiday. Photographing the calligraphers is sort of how I mark the beginning of the Lunar New Year period. I'll be spending a lot of time in Bangkok's Chinatown over the next couple of weeks. 

There are more photos of the calligraphers in my archive

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Children's Special Day

A boy plays with TAR21 assault rifle during Children's Day activities in Bangkok. The Royal Thai Army hosts a popular Children's Day event at the 2nd Cavalry Division headquarters. 

The second Saturday of the year is Children's Day in Thailand. Government offices hold open house type events so the kids can see what goes on in government, malls throw parties for the kids and parks sponsor big events. 

But all that pales compared to what the Thai military does. Military bases throughout the country open and host events. The latest military hardware is on display, from little things like assault rifles, to big things like tanks and jet fighters. The kids are given the chance to play with and on most of the military hardware. 
Military medical personnel use theatrical makeup to paint faux battlefield injuries on the kids. 

Although this looks more like a cry for help than a battlefield injury. 

Children's Day has been celebrated in this overtly militaristic way for years - way before the 2014 coup that deposed the elected civilian government. The military is deeply woven into Thai society. They control banks and industries and the generals are important members of society. They're seen by many as the ultimate protectors of the Kingdom's values and culture. 

When an oilspill fouled the beaches of Koh Samet in 2013, a lot of the manpower for the cleanup was provided by the Thai Navy (although the cleanup was supervised by oil industry experts). When there are floods, the military leads relief efforts. During the drought of the last two years, it was the army who prevented farmers from stealing water but they also drilled boreholes, dug wells, built reservoirs, and hauled water to rural communities. In the US, people may go years without interacting with an on duty member of the military. In Thailand people interact with the military every week.
Soldiers supervise a firing line of AirSoft type BB guns. 

In the last couple of years, a few writers in Thai media have been critical of the militaristic celebration of Children's Day but, at least the 2nd Division Army base, crowds are still huge and enthusiastic. 
One of the displays included a demonstration of the use gas masks. Kids put the masks on and stopped into a sealed room that was filled with fog (from a dry ice fogger). As the kids left the room a soldier gave them packets of instant Mama Noodles, Thai style ramen noodles. 

I was a little taken aback by the overt militarization of Children's Day the first time I covered it. After years of covering Children's Day though, and photographing the Thai military involved in daily life here, I try not to read too much into it.