Monday, March 20, 2006

Phaya Thai Bridge

On Phaya Thai Rd., after the BTS station Ratchatewi, when coming from Victory Monument, the road rises to pass the khlong that runs behind the late Jim Thompson's famed home.

Beneath the bridge, one can do a u-turn. Driving in Bangkok is all about u-turns since turning right at intersections (one drives on the left) is often forbidden. Hence, one goes beyond where one wishes to turn right, u-turns, returns to the intersection, and turns left.

decorative column on the bridge. White Elephants are the symbol of the Thai royalty.

mechanic beneath the bridge

this is my first shot at taking a portrait with my new wideangle lens.

Khlong Banglumphu with bus-boat. Jim Thompson's house is on the left bank, further down.

last light

Mona Lisa Massage

Mona Lisa Massage, on New Phetburi Rd. I'd spotted this amazing building weeks ago and vowed to return with a wide angle. There was a lot of Photoshop perspective control required to get this "flat" view of the front.

every, I mean EVERY, building in Thailand has its security guard(s). This is Mona Lisa's. He was kind enough to explain what goes in behind the polka dotted wall: bathing and masage. That, in Thailand, is a bit of a euphemism. Yes, the girls here will bathe and massage you but they're available for anything else that crosses your mind. One tourist who thought I'd taken his picture hovered silently, paranoid but shameful, around me for a few minutes. I think he had taken the euphemism to its limit.

Just by Mona Lisa was your typical Isaan (that's a region in Thailand) restaurant on wheels. The wheels are to run away from cops who get greedy and slap them with fines for occupying the sidewalk. Of course the fines go straight into the cops' pockets. The woman has just finished the signature Isaan dish--Somtam--which is shreds of green mango (on display) squashed up with chilis in the earthen pot just in front of her. The rest of the food is grilled and doesn't represent what your average Isaan farmer gets for lunch because it is a very poor region with a very low protein intake diet. In Isaan, people will eat insects, dogs, frogs and lizards. The most important part of the meal is the sticky rice, served in cylinder-shaped boxes made of weaved bamboo (see next picture).

Pedestrian bridge across from Mona Lisa Massage.

This man was selling Buddha amulets. I asked if I could take his pictures (I always do, except when the subject is sleeping) and he asked for 20 or 50 baht. Nobody ever asks me for money to have their picture taken but he asked for it in such a convulated way that I figured he both needed it and was trying hard not to be a plain begger. I mean, I can speak some Thai now, but he lost me there. Anyway, it didn't look like the amulet business was going too strong so I paid for his picture (50 and luckily, I didn't screw it up.

across from Mona Lisa Massage

There are still quite a few skeleton buildings like this in Bangkok but they are an endangered species. They date from 1997 when the Southeast Asian financial crisis destroyed Thailand's economy. Those buildings that haven't been finished or razed are still locked in legal battles over the bankruptcy of owners or contractors.

There's an alley, still across from Mona Lisa, that goes down to a university's pier (to catch the bus-boats). And when you have students, you get art. Plus they ARE across from a massage parlour called Mona Lisa. Color backgrounds and two-tone prints: Warhol has made it to Bangkok.

Hua Lamphong station, in color this time

Everybody is crazy about Fuji Velvia slides (transparencies) but they're so contrasted I can never get the light right on them. So screw the pros, I switched to low contrast Fuji 160S color neg and I've got much better dynamic range with colors that come out just as good in the scans. I think the dark brown skin tones you get from Thais who spend a lot of time outdoors come out better as well. Plus, color neg is cheaper, both rolls and processing.

tuk-tuk drivers

motorcycle taxi driver

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Visa Run

Hua Lamphong Station: I need to go to a Thai consulate somewhere out of the country before my visa runs out. I also needed to try out my new wide angle. The result was a trip to the train station, a few pictures, and tickets to Nong Khai, on the border with Laos and a short drive from the capital of Vientiane.

I tried a red filter on this which was supposed to give me a dark sky but it failed miserably. I could add a polarizer but they don't work too well on wide angles (I hear). That or move to a city with a less hazy skyline.

in front

ticket masters

the platform

what the siamese revolution looks like in my neighborhood

How it all started, Thanon Rachawithee: deregulated telecom markets make for lots of different phone booths, juicy deals for the prime minister, and mass demonstrations calling for his resignation.

Soi Rachawitee 4

Lonely Candidate: with opposition parties boycotting the coming parliamentary elections, number 2 will be the only box available for ticking on April 2nd or 9th.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Santi Park

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Boys with Toys

There isn't a quiet place in Thailand. Construction work, mosques, roosters, dogs, loudspeakers regularly drive Farangs to self-mutilation, murders most foul, or plain sobbing. My place was actually quiet for a whole month before construction work started on the neighbouring house. They tore it down and are now digging foundations so deep I might not even have a view from my balcony in a few months time.

I decided the only way to fight back was to hang out on the construction site, be a part of it, you know. I can't really describe what they're doing because it's so complicated, uses so many cables, consists of so many steps, and yet is performed so quickly and seamlessly. It's a ballet of relative grace considering they're playing around with machines the size of trucks that swing about bullet-shaped things that probably weigh close to a ton, drop them, pick them up again, all this as the workers rig and unrig the "bullets" to pencil thick cables. All the "bullets" have different shapes, and they look like they're going to crush some guy any moment as they drop and roll about.

living on-site

a shower and a clean t-shirt makes a construction worker human after all

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Rooftop Boxing

Kru Peter Home was a Thai boxer for nearly ten years. His last three fights, at Lumpini no less, ended with KOs--only he was the one to go down. One elbow to the front teeth, one elbow to the head, and I think the last one was a plain old punch. At which point, he decided it was time for a career change.

He's now teaching Thai at American University Alumni but this month, he dons the gloves once more, from four to five, on AUA’s rooftop, to instruct a handful of students in the art of Muay Thai.

“Last week, so bad,” he commented last night, shaking his head. “But this week, ok.”

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Old Custom's House Lane

Soi 36, or the "Old Custom's House Lane" takes you to that very place, after passing the French embassy. At the gigantic building's foot flows the Chao Praya, a fleet of navy grey speedboats moored on its shore. Behind them, fire trucks that unfortunately, ressemble the ones in France, not their superb American counterparts. The Custom's House is now crumbling apart and looks all but abandoned. But I wandered inside and food neatly lined up rows of firemen boots. Bangkok's firefighters live here.

The thick stucko and brick walls, the wood floors and staircases, the wide rooms, all called for a tripod and wide angle and I had neither. Moreover, I soon got kicked out by a man in uniform.

Behind the Custom's House is a maze of streets that surrounds Haroon Mosque. A maze so tight, I never found the mosque and neither did the other tourist that asked me for directions (I must have the look of someone who knows where he's going). To the right of the custom's house, when facing the river, is Wat Muangkhae. To me, all Thai temples look alike--too new--but this one has an interesting backdrop of towering skyscrapers. The homes in this area are mostly clapboard, with corrugated tin roofs. But some are more elaborately crafted villas surrounded by yards and picket fences. You'll have to get on your toes if you want to get a glimpse in color of the Bangkok in black and white photographs.