Thursday, September 19, 2013

Portraits at a Thai market

One of the many things I enjoy about living in Thailand is its profusion of open air markets. One can hardly travel more than half a kilometer without seeing at least one local market (often several), with customers swarming about buying clothes, hardware, fresh fish, coffee, hot and spicy Thai dishes, sweets, or fruits and vegetables. No two are the same. They reflect local resources and culture, sometimes a merging of several, especially in the melting pot that is Bangkok.

For this essay, I concentrated on the faces of people I met in a single day at one of Bangkok's largest local markets located in the easternmost district of Bangkok province. My intent is to have these portraits speak for themselves, to show the personalities of the hard working vendors, who put in very long hours but remain positive and fun-loving, or "sanuk" as the Thais call it.

Notes about the cameras used are at the end. All photos by the author, all rights reserved. Do not use without permission.




For this photo essay, I used two Canon digital cameras, an EOS 350D SLR and an Ixus 115 HS pocket camera. No telephotos were used, but I did crop a few to make the images bigger in the frame.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Work and relaxation on Phuket Island, Thailand

Islands near Phuket, on approach to Phuket International Airport.

Even if one has never heard of Phuket, Thailand's largest island and one of the country's top tourist destinations, it is apparent upon approach to the airport that this place is special: beautiful jungle-clad mountainous islands thrust out of the Andaman Sea all around the "Pearl of Thailand". Phuket itself is covered in thick tropical forests that blanket the island's many mountains.

(Photos by the author, all rights reserved. Do not use without permission.) 

Most people who come to Phuket (Be careful: it is pronounced "poo-ket") do not wish to venture into the forests with its dazzling waterfalls or the many pineapple and rubber tree plantations: they come for the beaches and nightlife, as well as exploring the many other nearby islands in the Indian Ocean that lure snorkelers and divers.

This beach, far from the hustle and noise of the more popular spots, is tranquil by comparison. One comes here to relax. Note the few occupied chairs. This is not where you go if you want the young beach scene: those are farther south along Phuket's west coast.

The end of the beach that is frequented mainly by westerners has an array of casual bars and restaurants, as well as inexpensive (US$15, 500 THB) motels. There are also two upscale hotels (US$45+, 1500+ THB) with swimming pools.
Since the tragic tsunami that smashed into Phuket in 2004, evacuation signs are seen everywhere. There has been no effort to minimize damage from the next one, however. New bungalows and shops are being built right on the beach, exposed to any deadly wave that comes.

Once paperbacks, now kindles are read on the beach.

Kite boarding has become a popular recreational past time. Thankfully, no annoying jet skis (yet), like other beaches in Thailand have allowed.

The bars and restaurants offer relaxing breezy spots at night. Unfortunately, as in many other places in Thailand, this once quiet beach now has music blaring from speakers; for some reason this is typical of the country's beaches, where it is thought that patrons prefer electronic music (of the owner's choice) to that of the ocean waves.
At the other end of the beach, next to a national park, are the "salas" where mainly Thais go. No music, no kite boards, no beach signs or people calling to sell something. If one wants quiet, this is where to find it.

Fresh seafood on the grill.

Friendly beach dogs patiently await a handout.

A beach vendor seeks customers.

Casual is casual: No lifeguard ever occupied this chair. Come to think of it, there is no chair! This is an example of a good idea never completely thought through. This is the only life guard stand on the entire stretch of beach.

Offshore storm clouds help create beautiful sunsets.

Sometimes the most beautiful sunset scenes are not where you might expect. This is looking east on the other side of the island during a sunset.
Although most of Thailand has a variety of delicious seafood, Phuket, due to its location, is considered by many to have the best.

Beach pub

Bath time!
Pickup loads of workers, many from Burma, come to work on construction crews each day. Despite long hours and low pay ($5 a day), they remain surprisingly cheerful.

If you have never experienced the aroma of durian, you will not understand this sign.
The main reason for my trip to Phuket was to teach a three hour biology lesson on animal behavior to 10th graders (M4 in Thailand) at a high school's English Program division for a video series on teaching inquiry science. While I and three colleagues flew down, the camera crew drove for 12 hours with the equipment.
Here, two students test the response of insect larvae to different grains in an experiment they designed. I used the same animals for lessons at three different levels: Primary 4 (4th grade), M2 (8th grade) and M4 (10th grade). The content differed according to the students' experience, scientific skill level and content knowledge.

Phuket town is an old seaport that once saw lots of commerce between the east indies and China. Located just north of the mouth of the Straits of Malacca, it still retains much of the Portuguese architecture which now houses mainly Chinatown shops and Thai businesses.

Traditional Chinese altars are seen on the sides of buildings in the Old Town.

These altars are believed to bring good luck to the inhabitants.

In a Thai "spirit house" sits a serene figure with a pleasant smile. According to one Thai I spoke to, this is probably a well-loved village elder from a past era who now watches over the restaurant where it is located.

If you don't want to pay US$22 (700 THB) for a trip to the airport in an air conditioned minivan ($30, 1000 THB TO Phuket FROM the airport), you can hop one of these "songtaos" (two benches) for $3 (100 baht). It takes longer, and you have to share with other passengers and their bags of groceries, including a bag full of durian that was placed right next to me, but it is the "real" Thai experience. You may have to ask around to find the right one, though.

Many buildings of colonial-era Portuguese design can be found in Phuket Town. Because it overlaps Chinatown, colorful paper lanterns are often part of the decorations.

Motorcycle side cars not only offer ways to transport produce, but families as well. Not safe (although more stable than four on a motorcycle, which is seen often throughout Thailand), but economical.