Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 29 2018

Hong Kong ’18

I felt a certain sense of unease, almost antsy, in the days before we left for Hong Kong on Friday. There wasn’t much to pack; it was just a weekend jaunt, and all I needed was some clothes, my trumpet and cameras. Though our flight was scheduled to take off after noon, we met up at Xindian Station just after 8 a.m. I’d slept poorly, waking up every hour and only sleeping again with difficulty, but I somehow made it on time. I should have been able to relax at that point, but something still felt off.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, David and I having lunch at the Mos Burger upstairs after the quick and efficient customs and immigration. The others wandered off during the time before we met up at the gate for the Hong Kong Airlines flight, a brand-new Airbus A350 waiting at the gate. “Excuse me, could you let us by?” A middle-aged white woman said as she pushed past us on the way to the gate, where nobody had even begun to line up for boarding. It reminded me of those people pelting down the escalator at the subway station, risking life and limb so that they could be at the platform in order to wait eight minutes for the next train to arrive.

The flight was smooth; a couple of hours later we were taxiing into the gate at a new terminal at the airport in Hong Kong. Vast swaths of construction constituted a theme that would continue throughout the weekend. We caught a double-decker bus into town, alighting amid the familiar canyon of Nathan Road. It had been years since I’d been there. Hong Kong, with its rough edges and agrophilic tendencies, will always feel surreal to me; I’ve lived there in relative luxury and destitute squalor, as an overseas company employee and a stateless, homeless migrant; it always messes with my mind.

We made our way to our hostel, the Hop-Inn on Mody Road, dropping off our things and heading out again. The air was heavy with smog, the view across the harbor obscured as we walked along the promenade marveling at all of the massive construction sites and new buildings. We circled around the old clock tower and then headed back to the Chungking Mansions, where Slim thought he remembered a good Indian restaurant. Though the exterior has been renovated, the interior of the building retains most of its old character, and Slim’s memory didn’t let us down; we had an excellent and filling meal at The Delhi Club.

Then we all got on the MTR out to Diamond Hill, where we made our way to an interesting space in an industrial building that Gloomy Island festival organizers Tomii and Andrew have made into their creative space. They’d bought a plastic tub and stick that we needed to try out before the show the next day. The tub, made in China, wasn’t quite up to par, but the stick, while a bit too long, thick and heavy, turned out to work well enough after I sawed a few pieces off of it. Tomii, Andrew and the other residents of the space that night are all musicians, so we jammed and talked into the wee hours of the morning before catching cabs back to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Sandman and I were the first up on Saturday morning, most likely because we’d elected to go to bed after returning to the hostel the night before rather than going out again as some of the others had. As we were waiting to cross Nathan Road, I noticed a group of photographers on the mid-road pedestrian island, all with at least one and in some cases several cameras, shooting each other. I took a couple of shots of them, and they smiled. Apparently at least one of them recognized me and messaged me on Instagram later.

Sandy wanted to walk over to the Marks & Spencer to look at the food there, but it didn’t open til 10 a.m., so he accompanied me through Kowloon Park and over the skybridge to the Pacific Place towers where I stayed during my days with ESO, taking ferries to the interior of China to inspect shoes, me no doubt boring Sandy to tears as I went on and on about those days. I took another selfie at the same place I did back then, but I don’t know if they’ll match up. On the way back, we passed a guard outside an expensive shop holding a pump-action shotgun. Then, at M&S, I bought a sandwich and a yogurt, which I promptly dropped, covering the floor with a combination of blueberries and black current. This, you see, is why I hate backpacks. Every time I need to use them, I have to take off my camera, take off the bag, open it, use it and close it while holding my camera, put it back on, and then put my camera back on. Messenger bags are much better IMHO.

After returning to the hostel, everyone had different yet equally vague ideas of what they wanted to do that afternoon before the gig, so I set out alone, walking down to the clock tower and boarding the Star Ferry for Hong Kong island. It was splendid to be on that old vessel again, bobbing and weaving across that magnificent strait. There is a smell to Hong Kong harbor that is unique as far as I’m concerned. The Hong Kong side pier isn’t the one I knew, and feels crassly commercial, but I suppose they had to move it to deal with the more-or-less constant land reclamation that will most likely result in the crossing becoming a matter of stepping over a large puddle.

I walked through Central, various sights bringing back memories. Markets, crosswalks, buildings, etc. I entered Pacific Place across the same pedestrian bridge I did back in the days when that mall was my way to escape my rather desperate predicament, and took the escalators up to Hong Kong Park, which made me sad and nostalgic. None of the frolicking tourists or kids catching Pokemon could ever know about those days.

I continued walking towards Wan Chai, stopping at another large construction site to take photos, and down towards the harbor where another even-larger one greeted me as I walked over to the Wan Chai Star Ferry pier. Another lovely trip later I was back in TST, arriving back at the hostel in time to take a quick shower, get dressed, grab my trumpet, and head with the others over to Fortress Hill, where the Gloomy Island festival was taking place. We changed trains at Admiralty and arrived for our soundcheck before 5 p.m.

The festival venue deserves special mention, as the MoM Livehouse is located deep within an underground, apparently dead shopping center. A group of men were playing cards in the hallway, and empty shops sported rent signs. After soundcheck we chilled for a while on the hill opposite, and then Cristina and I tried and failed to find a good place to have dinner, only coming across several promising restaurants after we’d already spent too much on some mediocre egg shrimp and beef noodles. Alas.

Before the show, I walked down the road to Tin Hou, at the edge of the big sports park. It was where I stayed when I first arrived in Hong Kong to renounce my U.S. citizenship. I looked up at the building, imagining that tiny, windowless room a quarter of a century ago, and then a the scar on my hand from a piece of glass that had finally worked its way out when I was staying there (I’d cut it on a window during a typhoon in Taipei years before). I thought about selling my sci-fi books for food money, running in the park to get into shape, and watching newfangled “DVD” movies in storefront windows.

And then, 25 years later, I walked back up the road to play a gig at a jazz festival. It went pretty well. The other bands were very good, including both Tomii’s and Andrew’s bands, as well as an enthusiastic Filipino band. We were last, and wrapped everything up. I lingered and chatted with some of the other bands as the place emptied out, and soon it was past midnight and we were standing out in front of the empty center, behind an old building shrouded in bamboo scaffolding.

We caught the last train back to Kowloon, put our instruments and ties away, and rendezvoused back at the clock tower after picking up some hamburgers to munch on. There we sat and drank and chatted through the night. Silhouettes of ships floated across the twinkling lights of the city across the harbor. We talked about oceans, and people, and music. We’d done what we’d come to do. I had, anyway, and by that I mean to play music and visit a few ghosts.

The sky was glowing towards dawn when we left, ferries bringing workers over the waves before the Star Ferry began service again. On our way back, inexplicably, Slim decided to traverse an alley behind the Chungking Mansions.

I woke at 10:30 and started getting my things together. Something had changed over the weekend, over the night. I’m not entirely sure what that means yet. I had a big tasty breakfast at the coffee shop downstairs, eventually joined by Cristina, Sandy and David. One quick walk to the store later, we were once again trudging up Nathan Road, instruments in hand, to catch the bus back to the airport. After three days, I’d lost that frantic edge that had built up before the trip, but it had been replaced by something darker.

The mere aroma of the Popeyes meals everyone else bought at the airport made me regret not getting one myself. I don’t know what I was thinking, but the scraps they did toss my way were delicious. The late afternoon sun was throwing lovely golden beams through the airport lounge as we boarded the plane, but someone forgot to tell them that they needed a little truck to tow them out to the runway, so we waited around for an hour while they looked for one, possibly on EBay. I sat and watched the Han Solo movie, which I enjoyed for the most part, until we managed to finally get dragged out to the runway and take off.

Back in Taipei, the flight ended just before the movie did, so now I have to rent the damn thing to see the last five minutes. So I felt unresolved as I got off the plane, waited for the others to get their luggage, and met up at the food court downstairs, where we sat down to examine the Liberty Times article about us that had hit newsstands that day. We oohed and aahed over the full-page piece, noting a few mistakes, but generally happy that it happened.

Then, because none of us could face the long journey back to Xindian via the subway, we piled into a cab. It was dark outside the cab, but we knew what was out there.

I was the last in the cab, after Slim and then Cristina were dropped off at their respective domiciles. It was a quiet, empty drive across the bridge, as was the climb back to the Water Curtain Cave. Things have been revealed on this trip, some good things, some ugly things, but all real things. Maybe I will sleep well again, but maybe I won’t.

posted by Poagao at 9:10 pm  
Oct 22 2018

The real source of good photography

“Going out to take photos?”

“Get any good shots?”

Even though I’m often asked one of these two admittedly innocuous questions, my first reaction is usually puzzlement: Do they know something I don’t? Then I realize that the questioner is looking at the ever-present camera on my shoulder and thinking that today is special, that I’m going out today to specifically capture certain images that I already have in mind. Or that have just returned from doing so, mission accomplished.

“Not really,” I say. Usually I leave it at that, and watch as the puzzlement volleys back into their court.

“But you’re carrying a camera-”

“This is true.”

“Are you not going out to take pictures?”

There’s not much I can honestly say at this point without causing them to look around for escape routes: “Maybe!” or “We’ll see!” or “Ya never know!”

Mostly I just lie, because I realize most people are just making small talk, and talking to a person who is obviously going out shooting but steadfastly refuses to say so can’t be a pleasant experience.

And I can’t blame them. Photography has in recent years become so wrapped up in itself at the expense of its very purpose that such conversations usually end up going nowhere fast. I also suspect it might be much worse if I were a Real Photographer.

So many people are looking through the wrong end of the telephoto lens, so to speak. These conversations might continue on to things like “So what camera/lens do you use?” followed by endless listing of specs and the kind of loyalty statements usually reserved for sports teams, then moving eventually, perhaps, to “Where/when/what do you shoot?” and almost never to “Why do you shoot,” much less “Who are you?” Ironically, mall security and cops tend to be the ones asking this last question, though I’m not sure if they’re really interested in the answer unless it involves letting them arrest me.

Whether it’s out of politeness, caution, social mores, or simply an unspoken fear that one hasn’t even bothered ask oneself these questions, the result is that we rarely actually communicate on this subject. Photographers are often so ill at ease with social navigation that we resort to photography as a primary means of communication. That, of course, doesn’t excuse resorting to a similar amount of shallowness when working in one’s chosen medium.

In a nutshell, who you are determines what you notice, the questions you ask, your doubts and inspirations. All this is constantly changing, and simply saying “I’m going to shoot different photos now” is an oversimplification of that process. The photography is incidental, more of a result than a cause.

People often express a desire to improve their photography, their desire to take “better” photos; that means taking different photos than the ones they’re taking now. Changing the location or equipment involved will most likely not result in fundamentally different photos; you can’t take different photos until you see different things. And that, in turn, won’t happen until you are different than you are now in some fundamental way. You see the things you see because of the person you happen to be at this moment.

And you are always changing. Some say travel changes a person, some say switching jobs, some say switching partners, some say limitations engender creativity…when it comes down to it, life changes you constantly, by definition. At some point, some that youness might intersect with photographic expression for an undetermined length of time. Or it might not.

So try not to distract yourself with the superficialities of gear and travel. Photography, as Jay Maisel once wrote, is about everything else. The most vital variable in the mix is you. You are the genesis of your photography; start with that, and everything else will follow.

posted by Poagao at 11:45 am  
Sep 18 2018

Photography and Personing

Are you into photography? Do you like to person? Do you like to do both at the same time?

When I say “into” photography, I don’t mean someone who has/desires a great deal of gear, or someone who knows all the best places to find the best birds/orangutans/fire escapes, nor am I talking about dudes who take thousands of photos of women models in studios and random parks. I’m talking about people who are afflicted with the condition where they can’t not see photographs everywhere they go, even if they don’t have a camera at hand.

Another group I’m not talking about: Those who “got into” photography when it became the hot thing with the popular kids a few years ago (featuring skateboarders, that oft-used demographic every large corporation knows is perfect for bringing “the youth” into the fold for effective consumerism). I won’t waste my time because soon enough you’ll be saying things like “I just haven’t had time to go out shooting” and “There’s just nothing going on here” when something else comes along. Whenever I hear those phrases, I recall my ophthalmologist’s advice that I really need to stop rolling my eyes. Just admit it: You are not really into photography. But hold up: That’s great! It’s not an insult; it’s a compliment. Congratulations, because, as it turns out, being really into photography (as opposed to being a professional photographer, which is often a different thing), can be rough.

What could I possibly mean by this? Isn’t “everyone a photographer” these days? Don’t most people have a capable camera in their phone or around their neck? How do these people people, as it were?

Let’s say you are with other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, eating, in a car, on a bus, in a meeting, having sex, or paragliding, or all of those at the same time (which admittedly sounds like one hell of a party). Do you remain committed to maintaining your interaction with them, or do you remain open to all of the potential photos happening around you?

Most normal people opt for the former. Obviously. Even in the unlikely event that you can engage with your companions as well as paying sufficient attention to your surroundings, what happens when a photograph become apparent to you? Do you maintain eye contact? Try and keep the conversation going? Think up an excuse to leave suddenly?

Again, for most people, the conversation is their literal focus. Most non-photographers, regardless of the photographic machinery they may have on hand, aren’t even looking. Of those who are looking, most ignore it. Of those who can’t ignore it, most watch helplessly as the photograph disappears while they try to keep their attention on the other people. Of those who make an attempt to socially disengage in order to make the photograph, most will be too late as well as flustered from resisting the ancient DNA-level code of Not Being an Asshole to one’s tribe. And those who just go take the damn picture are of course rude, self-centered malcontents who think their so-called “art” is more important than the actually important matters their companions are earnestly discussing with them at the time of the aforementioned abscondment.

“But TC,” you say, “I’ve found the Perfect Friends/Significant Other who is perfectly fine with me shooting anything I want at any time!”

That’s great! I’m sure they’re very nice, lovely, accommodating people who are really into you, and willing to put up with this behavior in order to be around you. I’m jealous, truly I am. Perhaps they even point out little scenes they think you’d be interested in, even though you aren’t because they can’t actually know what you see, and by the time you’ve followed their pointing finger and excited, slightly patronizing tone that of course has alerted the denizens of said scene to your attention, it has vanished. But I’ll bet a reasonable amount of money that they in fact hide their dismay when you display in a most abrupt fashion how much more devoted you are to some imagined, phantom scene than you are to really being truly “with” them.

That they’re willing to go through that for you is admirable. But perhaps, just perhaps, they’ll eventually get to wondering exactly why you can’t deny yourself this stupid photography shit in order to be with them. It’s not like you’re exactly famous or really any good at it. Which is most likely true, because in their eyes you can’t be good until you’re famous, and becoming a Famous Photographer is not only nearly impossible, it almost by definition disallows continuing to be into photography, because you need to person. If they don’t want you to give up photography for them, they will almost certainly try to steer you into a more lucrative, “useful” form of it. Again with the personing, extreme personing in this context, because lucrative photography is generally more about the lucrative part than the photography part. Can you schmooze? I mean, are you really good at it? Here, I’ll just take that camera; you won’t be needing it. Your attention is elsewhere. Go person.

This condition, of being disconnected enough from the tangled skeins of social obligation in which most people are ensconced that you are able to readily observe the things around you, can wear you down if you let it. Someone is always in the way, if not physically then mentally, assuming that you are engaged in the conversation or whatever else that may going on. People see you as off in the clouds somewhere when you are actually as present in the world as they are, just in a different way. They don’t notice the man quietly sobbing in the corner, the cat perched precariously on the railing, the estranged couple maintaining an awkward distance in the park, or the factory lazily polluting the river. And you don’t notice the latest gossip, that thing we have next week, or that horrible insult someone said that might mean something else. You’re there, but not in the “right” way. Not for personing.

Some extremely talented photographers in the past have obviously been the kind of “difficult” individuals I’m talking about, but by definition and due to survivor bias, the ones we know of are the ones who had special ways to deal with it. Many, such as Cartier-bresson and Eggleston, were independently wealthy when they started out, and just DNGAF. Others like Robert Frank, Eugene Smith and Garry Winogrand failed spectacularly at maintaining the relationships in their lives.

Of course there are many successful photographers who are friendly, engaging, well-adjusted individuals with happy friends and families. That’s great. I’m happy for them…mystified, but happy. The rest of us are left with a sense of not quite belonging to the world we are so intent on observing because, were we capable of belonging, we would no longer see it. Some of the photos resulting from this state might happen to be interesting, but nobody will know or care because we cannot person*.

So what can we do? Don’t worry; all is not lost. While we may not be able to ignore the draw of photography, we might be able to control how much we care about superficialities, things that are on the surface at least tangentially related to this Thing We Can’t Not Do, but in reality just drag us down…things like social media addiction to likes and faves, trying to be noticed and published, things like gear obsession and one-upsmanship. Take that time and use it better; instead of clinging to the impossibility of being universally adored, try to make friends with a few like-minded souls instead of just anyone you think will advance your social status. Recognize, explore and embrace your own instincts and inclinations. Be there for yourself. Person for yourself.

If we simply value being as open and genuine as possible, we might stand a chance of getting through all this with some semblance of sanity. And maybe, just maybe, collect a few good shots along the way.

 

 

*Of course, if you’re “lucky”, after you’ve died someone might buy your photos at an auction and “discover” you, now that your difficult ass is safely beyond having to deal with.
posted by Poagao at 10:46 am  
Jul 17 2018

Bangkok, return

When I woke up this morning, I lay in bed, thinking it would be nice to walk over to the train station, have a donut and spend the morning shooting, then meet up with some people…but no, we had to leave. Rammy was nice enough to offer us a ride to the airport, so after saying good-bye to Barry in the lobby, we trekked over to Rammy’s car, which happened to be the site of a monk overseeing the painting of a building. It would have been a good scene to work, but we had to be on our way. On the way, Rammy informed us about Thailand’s recent political issues, which was fascinating. By the time we reached the airport I’d learned a lot about the situation. But we had to go.

We scored some exit row seats, though we had to check a couple of pieces of baggage after Chenbl’s mass shopping spree last night. I just managed to avoid the Rapiscan machine when they turned the infernal thing off just before I reached that part of the line, and we had a leisurely lunch at a Japanese place while other people on our flight ran past us, hollering “Wait! For! Us!” But Chenbl was serene in the face of potential tardiness, a trait I assume has rubbed off on him from me, and an encouraging sign. We shooed away some hopefuls from our seats, sat down, and were soon jetting back to Taiwan. Most of the flight was filled with another viewing of Kung-fu Panda 3 (“Now with Real Chinese Producers!”) and Batman vs. Superman (“Face it: You’re not here for clever dialogue”).

Down on the ground, immigration and customs (Chenbl got held back so they could look through Tavepong’s new book and make sure he exposed everything correctly, I assume), we hopped on the train back to town to meet one of our students at Main Station for dinner. After I took the MRT to Bitan, I found it was raining, and after almost no consideration I elected to take a taxi across to the Water Curtain Cave, which I’ve spend the last couple of hours airing out as I unpack.

It’s been a bizarre ten days or so. I’m glad I went. I’ll have to go back sometime.

posted by Poagao at 2:07 am  
Jul 16 2018

Bangkok, part 8

We met at a McDonald’s this morning, the final day of the workshop. Everyone seemed happy and eager, at least after coffee. We set out into the cloth market, which was actually kind of boring itself, but the alleys led off into far more interesting territory. Alas, the students had disappeared by that point, and Chenbl and I got lost before meeting back up with the rest of the group at a Starbucks (Are you sensing a theme here?) and then splitting up into two groups. Our group walked with Job to an interesting canal-side community that seems to be predominantly Muslim, judging from the calls to prayer to be heard there. We walked through the alleys while taxi-boats sped down the canal, occasionally whipping up spray onto the fragile railings on the banks.

We came upon a Muslim school; inside a woman was teaching English family terms to a group of kids. I admired one man’s hat, and he offered it to me off his head. I said no, of course, but he went home and came back with two other new hats. Hand-woven, he said, insisting we take them and refusing any money. Muslim people are awesome.

Lunch was at a riverside stir-fry place, and we browsed a local gallery featuring a film shop run by a fellow trumpet player. Alas, I didn’t get to meet him as he’s off playing in Japan. But it was time to return to the classroom and look at what the students had done that afternoon. Again, it was instructive to watch them shoot, and it was gratifying to see them implementing some of the methods and approaches we’d talked about the day before.

It was a long afternoon, but eventually we wrapped things up and had dinner with Kabir, Tavepong and several others joining us downstairs. Then Chenbl and I caught a car to the Big C and spent an inordinate amount of time shopping as I wandered around rather wanting to go to bed. Then, thankfully, it was back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we fly back to Taiwan. It’s been interesting.

posted by Poagao at 3:33 am  
Jul 15 2018

Bangkok, part 7

We met up once again and for the last time at the train station this morning, and got everyone started before the national anthem pulled everything to a standstill. I followed the students and watched how they were shooting, making notes, and we met up again at intervals. Mid morning we switched things up and walked back to Chinatown for some more shooting in alleys and the like. During the noon break Chenbl and I made the latest of our many questionable meal choices by trying out the brand-new Dominos in the neighborhood, which turned out to be basically Thai food on a pizza crust, and then we took the subway back to the workshop to find the students hard at work editing their work from the morning. Barry wasn’t feeling well and needed to rest, so I took over the review part until he showed up later.

Some of the work was quite good, while some…wasn’t. But it was all instructive, which is what we were there for. My voice was a bit raspy by the time we left for the arts center, where I was happy to finally meet Noppadol Maitreechit and Enamul Kabir, both of whom I’d only known online before. The awards ceremony was strange, because as judges we of course knew who had won what, but it was fun to watch.

After that, Barry and I did an interview/Q&A session, and then we talked with Tavepong about his upcoming book. By this time it was late and we had to get back to the hotel. Tomorrow is the final day of the workshop, and we’ll be someplace different, but I have no idea what it’s like; I guess we’ll find out.

 

posted by Poagao at 1:17 am  
Jul 14 2018

Bangkok, part 6

I still felt tired this morning, even though I was kind of able to actually sleep in after several days of getting up early. Perhaps there is something to this “Early to Rise” thing after all. After a lackluster breakfast in the alley, we walked in a random direction and after a search for coffee came across the Green Bakery, lured there by the smell of freshly baked cake cooling on the counter. The cake was delicious and yes, we paid for it and the coffee. The owner was a young woman who was holding her six-month-old son as she worked. We also had some delicious banana bread muffins, and she sent us off with our ice coffee cups full of water for the walk. Very considerate. If you’re in Bangkok, I highly suggest stopping by for some of that delicious cake.

The weather was threatening to turn nasty, clouds rolling in as Chenbl did some more bag shopping at the riverside mall and I stewed at being stuck in a bag store while the whole city lay at my feet. We then we set out along another unfamiliar road and were sent the wrong way by a woman of questionable sanity before finding the metro stop we sought. We caught a series of trains to “Terminal 21”, a mall where people pretend they’re traveling, with signs and airport schedules and the like, and the place just put me off…I’m usually just fine with pretension, but something about this concept rankled me, and I was grumpy all through our fake Mexican lunch.

Chenbl bought out the entire Happy Happy Fun Fun Squid Treat shop, and, laden with packs of this delectable dish, we took another series of extremely full elevated trains though the city canyons to the workshop space, which is located in in the penthouse suite of a hotel, swimming pool and all. Fancy. The students assembled as Barry meditated on stage, and we started out with introductions. The class went well…we’ll see how and what they shoot tomorrow.

posted by Poagao at 2:22 am  
Jul 13 2018

Bangkok, part V

After an in-room breakfast of coffee, yoghurt and a Kit Kat mini bar I bought at 7-Eleven last night (I continue to be seduced by the promise of a decent Kit Kat bar after some good experiences with interesting flavors in Tokyo circa 2008 for some reason and have always…ALWAYS been disappointed), we headed out, minus a few of my Taiwanese students, who were preparing to board flights back to Taiwan. We walked back to the train station, where ABC was shooting, and smiled at a large family sitting on the floor of the station hastily getting up for the standing-ovation-only national anthem that plays every day at 8 a.m. They did the same thing before the show last night, reminding me of the days in Taiwan when the audience was expected to stand and sing along to a video of the national anthem before each and every movie at theaters.

Train stations here apparently feature monk service quarters, but I didn’t venture inside to investigate, not being of the monkly persuasion myself. Instead I walked along the last platform, where the cars are in for repair, and members station staff sit inside, eating, smoking, talking on phones, etc. Back on the proper platforms, trains came and went while station police roused sleeping families from seats.

It was fun, but we needed to be moving on, even though Barry had just arrived. I bid ABC farewell, our remaining students went off on their own, and Chenbl and I walked through Chinatown towards the river, where we boarded another boat to the Grand Palace. There we followed the large crowds and, after some lunch, proceeded inside, where we amazingly ran into Barry again.

Ten years ago, according to Chenbl, you never saw any Chinese people there, but now it’s mostly Chinese tourists. We played with little mirror shots til we were bored, and then took another boat down the river. Well, first we went up the river mistakenly, and then down again, before switching to the metro to go look for a massage place. The place Chenbl had read about, coincidentally close to where Rammy lives, was full, so we went next door, figuring how different could it be?

Vastly, as it turns out. Our mistake in this respect realized, we again took the now-incredibly crowded metro back to Hua Longphong, where we met Rammy and Nong, and took a taxi down to the riverfront complex where we’d met them for the riverboat ride. There we had dinner before walking back.

Tomorrow night we’re starting the workshop, so get ready everyone!

posted by Poagao at 1:02 am  
Jul 12 2018

Bangkok, continued

We awoke early again on Tuesday and met in the lobby at 7 a.m. before heading out, this time accompanied by ABC and Barry and their respective flashes. Breakfast was a proper Bangkok alley breakfast this time, although still followed by Starbucks coffee to wake everyone up. The sun was doing that already as we walked towards the river with every intention of and completely failing at getting there in a reasonable amount of time. Students lagged ahead and behind, of course, and it wasn’t long before we were again behind schedule. Eventually everyone reached the ferry building, where a small boy slept in a bed amid all the hubbub. We bought orange flag boat tickets and boarded the vessel across the river, and I was happy in that way one is when one likes boats and rivers and photography and is crossing a river in Bangkok shooting people on a boat, mostly with the Ricoh.

We toured through some of the city’s landmark temples and were joined by some other photographers, foreign and domestic, before heading back across the river towards the palace. There we had some nice lunch and conversation before heading into another temple, this one featuring an inordinately long reclining Buddha, which, along with the muddy old river, gripped me just fine. More than the game, even.

Then it was time for us to head clear across town for the cabaret show Chenbl had booked. I feel asleep in the Grab car and thus was not in the proper mood to dispute the extra tax we were levied at the end. We waited for the other car and then headed into the Golden Dome for the show, which featured mostly, from what I could tell, were transgender performers lip-syncing to a variety of songs. The audience was mostly poor mainland Chinese tourists, and they were louder than most of the songs. The comedy bits were funny and well-done, anyway. Chenbl, who had seen it ten years before, said it was greatly changed, and not for the better, by the new demographics of the crowds. Apparently the part at the beginning where mediocre calligraphy was auctioned off to the highest bidder is new.

After the show we walked to the subway station along roads I could have sworn I’d walked down in Hangzhou, got on the metro and got off again near our Chinatown hotel. Then it was a nice walk along a dirty canal to the riverside once again, where we met Rammy and boarded a lovely wooden vessel for dinner and another show, this one featuring some very balanced dancing and a surprise performance by Thai Panther. I was stuffed by the time we returned to the dock, and we bade Rammy farewell and walked back towards our hotel. ABC messaged from a nearby bar, though, so Barry and I walked over to meet up with him and Daniel and some other photographers, for drinking and conversation and 80’s hits from the DJ. It was a lot of fun.

My head was not quite as fun when I got up this morning, however. Nonetheless, we headed out early again, this time to the train station where the subject of Rammy’s book, Platform 10, is located. Apparently they’re going to make the whole place into a museum next year, which kind of sucks as the place has a metric shit-ton of atmosphere. Monks and soldiers, oddly enough, comprised most of the passengers, probably because they both get great travel deals. A group of men were getting their hair cut nearby, and ABC and I hopped into a stranded dining car to do some shooting. Every so often a train would arrive or depart, and the scenery and light would all change. Men walked on top of the trains, washing them, and I had a Dunkin Donut because, well, I was curious if it tasted the same as elsewhere (it mostly does, except I couldn’t find the chocolate-filled variety that has been my benchmark over the years; I had to settle for Blueberry).

We caught a series of cabs to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center where the main photo events are being held. I say a series because the first one got the destination wrong, and the second one nearly refused to let us out at the BACC because he was afraid of being arrested. It seems that Grab is actually illegal in Thailand. Who knew? I didn’t.

The photography on display there was nice, with several interesting projects upstairs. The center is located on an aggresively 3D traffic circle, with overhead expressways, metro lines and elevated pedestrian walks. We had lunch and walked down the line a bit and back, meeting Job on the way, before heading out again for another show, this one a Thai history themed affair that was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen on a stage. They had a river. And elephants. And goats. And thunder and lightning. All on stage. The music and dancing were great, although I’m not entirely sure how accurate to the actual history it was. We’d invited Barry but he got lost and couldn’t make it in time, which is a genuine shame.

After the show the others left, and Chenbl and I went shopping at a large store called Big C before catching the last train back to Chinatown.

posted by Poagao at 2:44 am  
Jul 10 2018

Bangkok, part 3

We got up early this morning and explored the area around the hotel, i.e. Chinatown. It’s a very different place than it is late at night, full of different kind of energy and people…the only constant, it seems, is the ubiquitous cats. We walked down alleys, through markets and into temples…it has a great vibe. We spent so much time exploring we forgot breakfast and ended up suffering the ignominy of consuming a Starbucks breakfast in the van after William arrived.

Our destination today was the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, about an hour north of Bangkok. The first stop was the summer palace, an immaculately groomed piece of land where half the historic buildings were under renovation.  It was Royal, so everyone had to wear long pants and cover themselves, and one of our group had to buy a skirt. They had electric golf carts for rent but the place wasn’t really all that large. William said I would find a lot of photos there, but I think he doesn’t really know what kind of photos I like to take…or maybe he does, because I did actually take quite a few photos of the workers repairing the buildings as well as the soldiers armed with M16s in various states of not being ready to be photographed.

We woke William up and continued on to a temple full of an enormous Buddha statue and many smaller ones, some of which, according to Chenbl’s delicate sense of such things, contained actual deceased monks. William said it was a lucky temple, and it did have a nice vibe to it, including the Chinese temple next door, which featured some kick-ass door gods.

Next was more old capital stupas and a reclining Buddha where devotees could haul fabric over it, which is, uh, nice I guess. Although it was quite hot and I’m not entirely sure that removing fabric wouldn’t have been more appreciated. Signs warned of pickpockets and thieves, and at the top of the main building was a well you could toss coins down. At the bottom a couple of people were picking up the coins, even as they were raining down on them. I wonder if that hurts.

Lunch was a delicious affair on a dock along the river, rocked every so often by passing boats. Some of the boats were long chains of huge barges full of rice. Everything was good, but the lime slushies were the most popular drink.

We then drove to some more old ruins, but then someone said we really had to see the Buddha head in the tree because it closed at 5 p.m. I don’t know who started saying this, because it didn’t actually close til 6:30, but we all packed into the van and rushed over there, and it was actually fortunate we did because as soon as we reached the tree-wrapped Buddha head, the weather began to change, a wall of dark blue approaching over the ruins. The clouds became an ominous combination of colors, and we all stood atop walls trying to get the right combination of tourists, clouds and headless Buddha statues. Some Chinese tourists tried to duck out of my shot, but I just said, “Don’t worry, you’re all in the shot; it’s a really wide lens.” This was apparently not the most reassuring thing I could have said.

A sudden gust of wind picked up all of the long-accumulated dust and thew it in our faces, causing a certain amount of spitting and wincing as the weather front passed over us and the pelting rain sent us rushing back to the van. William suggested visiting a nearby reclining Buddha, but it turned out it was reclining outside in the rain, so we returned to the original ruins we’d abandoned to see the tree buddha, but when we approached, we found the temple there, which supposedly contains a really large Buddha, closed and bereft of people save for a little girl on the steps trying to sell toy turtles. We gave her some money, and she walked away through the downpour under her large pink umbrella.

So clearly it was time to return to Bangkok. The drive back was pleasant; William is really a good driver, and it was pleasant watching Thailand through the rain as night fell, wondering what kind of people were living what kind of lives out there in the Thai countryside, along the canals and in the fields now drenched in rain. Back in town, we ventured out for some dinner of spicy pepper soup in an old movie theater lobby while roving bands of German models made videos in rainy alleyways nearby. A cat slept under our table, providing the chaotic scene with a measure of calm that only a sleeping cat can provide.

Back at the hotel we met up with Barry and ABC, both of whom just got in. Tomorrow we’re going to hang out and see what happens.

posted by Poagao at 12:49 am  
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