Friday, September 21, 2012

Black Gold...

Took a break from my usual documentary work to do some product shoot for a charcoal manufacturer in Thailand...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Neither Red nor Yellow- Lop Buri

I have just completed my shoot in Lop Buri and will be proceeding to the final phase of the project back in Bangkok. So far, things have not gone the way it should and it is just going to get much tougher from here on. Access were extremely restrictive in Lop Buri and my time with the subjects were limited. Due to the subject sensitivity, the 2nd story that I have intended to cover may not be sufficient or even related to this project. I may have been too ambitious and this has caused me to lose focus on my main objective. Nonetheless, the last few days spent in the monastery of Lop Buri has been an enriching experience. The teaching of Buddhism and knowledge shared by the forest monks were extremely enlightening.

Perhaps it is time to rest, recharge and reconsider my approach for the final stage of this project. Can't wait to see how it will turn out altogether.
The 2 hrs car journey to Lor Buri.
The sacred place of detoxification and enlightenment.
After dinner entertainment in Lor Buri. 
Thai style roti prata with milk sweetener for supper. Sinfully good!!
Rough edit in hotel room. A sneak peek for those who are curious with what I am doing in Thailand. 
The 2nd temple right at the top of a mountain. Didn't really make it all the way up though.
The journey back to Bangkok with a souvenir of mountain rock lava given by a kind monk.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Neither Red nor Yellow- Ayutthaya

For the past few days, I was at Thailand most sacred land for its national religion, the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Seeking those committing themselves to Buddhism in the name of merit and karma. It doesn't take long for me to find a suitable subject. The difficulties, however, is trying to photograph what seem to be a mundane lifestyle. A lifestyle of simplicity and spiritual, going through the same routine almost everyday, it is a world different from the fast paced work that i have done on the bodysnatchers. Here, it is all about slowing down and being really observant to capture the minute details of the day.

We were extremely lucky to be accepted into the home of an elder monk and he even kindly hosted us to a meal of alms collected in the morning. For the Thais, eating a meal that has been blessed by the monk is considered an extreme blessing of good luck. Something that I really need for the next few days as I move on to the next phase of my project.

One of the many ancient temple in Ayutthaya.
Seeking the elusive monks.
Religious articles can be found at every corner of the city.
It is hard to focus on a slow afternoon in the tropical heat.
There was a flood alert on the night of our arrival but the flood never came. We were lucky.
Quite a nice and spacious 400 Baht/night room.
Either the best or worst part of the day, depending on the kind of photos I have.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Neither Red nor Yellow- Facing Death

Bangkok is the capital city of more that 10 million people. With only a few emergency services available, a volunteer group began to run its own ambulances to fill the gap. These volunteers often face gruesome situation at accident sites to rescue the trapped, tending to the injured and administering to the dead. Most are unpaid, volunteering their time for the cause. In the past, they were nicknamed “Body Snatchers” after the highly publicized fight between rival groups over body at accident scene. These volunteers strongly believe that by helping the injured and deceased, they are making merit and good karma.

This week, I have the privilege to follow a team of highly motivated individuals. A seemingly quiet day can turn into a mad rush within seconds and the traffic in Bangkok is not the most ideal situation to be in if you had an emergency. The driving skill and dedication of these volunteers are highly commendable. 

Having the freedom of access, I am able to photograph almost anything i wanted. However, some of the scene were extremely gruesome and I soon realized the problem of taste and decency of the images that I will be creating. It is important for me to highlight the fragility of life and the "dirty job" some of these volunteers are willing to do even without being paid a single cent. 
I would need to find a balance between what is acceptable to the viewers and yet strong enough to create an impact. Blood and gore is very much part of the job and this is what makes this group of volunteers so unique.  2 more nights to go and I am still hoping to get some decent shot that is good enough for the show.

It is not all drama and action, for us, the day started with a delivery of donated goods to the Thais Navy.
The kind volunteers of Ruamkatanyu Foundation.
The green volunteer t-shirt. Kindly given to me by a celebrity volunteer, Bin Banloerit. 
 Thai muslim cuisine for lunch,  can't decide if it is chicken rice or nasi bryani but it is really good!!
Thai glutinous rice with mango for desert.
With the chef and lunch buddy, Yok, a volunteer turned regular of the foundation.
At a private function to receive an award on behalf of the foundation. Their charity work are highly recognized by the government and private sector.

One moment we were having dinner at a nice restaurant, the next minute we were rushing toward an accident scene. Just as I thought my day is going to end without any actual work done, I was wrong. (Travelling in a pickup truck)
After covering the body of the victim in a hit-and-run accident, the volunteers have to wait for the police to arrive to investigate before removing it to the hospital mortuary. 
A fellow photographer and volunteer medic with her own ambulance.
The day started at 10 am and by the time we got home, it was 2 am the next morning. The heavy rain had flooded the road on our way home. "A long day" is an understatement.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Neither Red nor Yellow- Ruamkatanyu Foundation

Demonstrated by the notion “what comes around goes around”, karma is no stranger to the western world. Christian expressions similar to karma include reap what one sows (Galatians 6:7), violence begets violence and live by the sword, die by the sword. In Hinduism, God plays a role and is seen as a dispenser of its version of karma.

Here in Thailand, this belief is taken more seriously and some would go to extreme length to generate good karma. There are many organization in the country that allows people to accumulate good merit and as part of my project, I had the opportunity to visit the Ruamkatanyu Foundation, a well established charity organization in Thailand. As i prepare myself to join a team of volunteer "body snatchers" going around the street of Bangkok saving life and generating good karma. Check out some of the images from today visit. 
A charity booth located outside a foodcourt seeking donation for a local temple. A receipt is given for every donation.  To the Thais, making a donation is not merely about clearing those loss change but more for making good karma. They strongly believe the notion of what goes around, comes around.
The foundation headquarter in Bangkok. Located within the building is a well organized call centre working around the clock dispatching the volunteers during an emergency.
Another ingenious and charitable way of generating good karma. Stay tune to find out more!
 All the "need to know" information about the foundation and their work. A good read on a journey back home.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Neither Red nor Yellow- Buddhism, Karma & Thais

For the past few months, I have been busy preparing the final thesis for my MA degree. Apart from the practical submission, we are required to submit a critical report for the project. Therefore, i will be updating this blog more regularly with the progress and hopefully it will effectively reduce the burden of writing at the end.

The magnitude of the research and difficulties in getting contacts amplified when i decided to do something half a world away, in a country that speak a different language. Since this is also my first overseas documentary assignment, it is not going to be any easier even though I have been to that country a couple of times. Knowing someone that is native to the place is extremely important and can be really helpful in getting the project started. I am lucky to have a family member based in Thailand who can almost effortlessly get in touch with all the contacts needed for access. Having the storyline set and all administrative details sorted, the flight to Thailand is finally booked.

Why Thailand then? I am often fascinated by the history of Southeast Asia. As the only country in Asia not colonized by the West, the Thais are naturally proud of their heritage and culture. The Kingdom of Thailand is well known for its generation of highly revered monarchy from the famously known King Mongkut (featured in Anna and the King) to the current serving King Bhumibol AdulyadejOften described as the "Land of Smiles", Thailand is also a popular holiday destination known for its good food and shopping. However, in recent years, these peaceful facet were tarnished by its political dissentients. The country were divided into colors, mainly Red or Yellow and the once peaceful country of a moderate Buddhist majority was turned into a society of extremist and anarchy.

6 years after the military coup that ousted the then Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra, peace has seemingly resumed. Being a predominantly Buddhist society, I have decided to explore, through Buddhism, the unique qualities of Thais in their karmic pursuit and beliefs, the one thing that unites the country despite its political turmoil.

I will be updating the progress of my project on this blog with "behind the scene" images, so stay tune. Here are some images taken on the day of my arrival.

London - Singapore - Bangkok

1 hour transit @ home, Singapore.

Arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok and was greeted with portraits of the highly revered King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. He is also one of the longest serving head of state in the world.

This is where i will be based for the next couple of weeks.