25 Aug 2013

My first group photo walk: multireligious Surasak

Since I started my regular photo walks and created this blog at the beginning of the year, I have always been shooting alone. I have already posted 27 entries of varied lenghts (roughly one per week), and absolutely all of them have been lonely walks. I think it was necessary for me to learn and experiment with my camera and with myself for a while first, before I could feel confident enough to meet other photographers and dare a group photo walk.

Queen umbrella, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
During these 8 months I have definitely learnt many things, but I recently started feeling that there were things I could probably only learn by interacting with others, so I decided to join a local photography club. I was expecting to meet other people with similar interests, to expand my social circle, and to share and improve skills and knowledge. I'm very brave when I'm on my own, but somehow I become shy in larger groups, so I was a bit hesitant at first. But the willingness to try new things was ultinately stronger, and the day of meeting them finally arrived today.

Hunters, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
We met at Surasak BTS station, a neighborhood that I had never visited before, which was an added bonus of interest for me: everything was going to be fresh today, both people and places. I brought along my small backpack (a Lowepro Flipside 200 that can fit my full, small kit of one camera body and three lenses), a bottle of water, comfortable clothes, and piles of expectations. I arrived early, introduced myself to the group organizer, met some of the other early arivers, and quickly I relaxed and felt at ease: they looked all easygoing and friendly. So once we were all there (a group of around 30 people and surprisingly on time in a city like Bangkok), we started the walk.

The watcher, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
First we left the main road and walked across some narrow alleyways that led gradually to a small neighborhood of low houses and quiet passages, in sharp contrast with the roars of traffic and the skyscrapers where we met just a few minutes before. It was late afternoon, the sun was starting to decline and walking amidst silent, uncrowded sois while chatting with new friends felt like a breeze of fresh air. We advanced idly, gathered in small sub groups, each one focusing their attention in different spots along the way, until we reached the first landmark of the walk: a Muslim Cemetery.

Straw on wood, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
We spent around half an hour there, regrouping, switching partners, talking some more, and of course taking pictures. The cemetery, enclosed by a fence, was not very big, but it was extremely well maintained; the grass was nicely cut, the tombstones clean and tidy, the flowers beautifully arranged. However, what caught the attention and the focus of most of us was a gravedigger who was digging a deep hole, bare hands, bucket after bucket, with the help of another two men.

Digging, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Emptying, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
We resumed our walk and this time we went through a wider road, which meant more opportunities to find, and capture, people. Although we were quite a big group of people, all walking with a camera in hand, the local people we encountered on our way didn't look very surprised, and they rather continued doing thir things, unperturbed, but friendly and welcoming, as most Thais usually are. 

The last survivors I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The last survivors II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
A few hundred meters down the road we reached the second stop of our walk, another religious place, but of a diferent nature and worship: a Hindu temple. Wat Witsanu, built of white and golden stone and tiles, stands on its own, robust and sober, very different from the Thai Buddhist temples that populate the city. We spent another good half an hour idling at our own pace inside the temple and around it, capturing the atmosphere of a place so different yet so similar to any other religious shelter: all you could feel here was respect and quietude.

Symmetries, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Not far from the Hindu temple, actually just a few minutes walk along the same road, we arrived at the third stage of the journey and, to continue the theme of the day, it was yet another religious place, and of a third different religion: Wat Prok. This Buddhist temple is known because it has become the home for a big group of Myanmar migrants and refugees over the years, from very young to adults. The temple not only serves as a religious space but also as a school for most of the younger kids who stay at their grounds, providing shelter and education to them.

Afternoon break, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
And the final stage of our group walk finally arrived: in the back of the temple, occupying a very broad space of land, what looked like a park, full of trees and grass. But, as we approached it slowly, we started to realize that it was not exactly a park (though tens of people were jogging around the lanes, enjoying some games or pastimes with friends, strolling around or simple sitting and having a refreshment) but something, again, of religious nature: a big, old, Chinese cemetery.

Graves and bikes, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
In the middle of a busy area such as Surasak, it's surprising that a spacious area like this has been preserved in its integrity and has not succumbed to the speculation of urban construction. Only meters away from the hubbub of the big city, Tae Chio Cemetery remains an oasis of green and serenity, perfect for sport lovers and idlers alike, though in the evenings it gets a bit busy with kids, joggers, aerobics and even portable karaokes. It's a mixture of ages and activities, but the place remains interesting and charming nevertheless, so different from everything around it.

Lanes, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
This was the end of the group tour, and everybody got together at the entrance of the park for a photo, some number exchanging and even for some drinks or dinner together. But, guess what? I was carried away by the place, the old graves, the varied people populating it, the settling sun behind the trees and, when I realized I had been strolling alone for a while, it was already too late: everyone was already gone, and I had not swapped phones with any of them yet. Well, there will be more meetups, I told myself, and so I left the park, I mean the cemetery, all by myself.

Tiles and flowers, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Only then I realized it was already night. I was a bit disorientated, because I left the place through a different gate, and I had no guide to lead the way like before, so I walked ahead, trusting my sense of direction. I though I was on the right way, because some places seemed familiar, but it turned out I was totally wrong. I was going in a different direction, farther from the BTS station where I wanted to go. But, as I said a few posts ago, detours can be very rewarding and surprising, so I just went ahead, asked a few people, captured a few nice candid scenes, and finally saw a bus number that would bring me back home.

Sacks pyramid, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Busy clerk, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The accountant, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Thanks everyone for the nice atmosphere and company today, I will definitely join again next time, and I will try not to miss the goodbyes and drinks again!

10 Aug 2013

Koh Kred, the meander that wanted to become island

Last week I moved to a new condo and started working at a new place, though I haven't left Bangkok, city that I plan to keep on walking and capturing for a while longer. I will need a bit of time to adjust to both beginnings, but the perspectives ahead are motivating, and I really feel this is going to be a great year, full of new people and experiences. As part of the "preparation week" at my school, all the teachers were invited to join a 1-day-trip to get to know each other before the start of the school year and the arrival of the students, next week. The place chosen was a small island in a meander of Chao Phraya River, a few kilometers north of central Bangkok: Koh Kred (also spelled as Ko Kret).

The bridge, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Rebuilding I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Rebuilding II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Koh Kred was simply a meander in the Chao Phraya River, but some 300 years ago a canal was dug to save the long curve and what started being just a shortcut, grew in width and ended up creating an island. Its size is not very big, but it accommodates a few small villages where most of the inhabitants belong to the Mon people, a community with a long history who live in different areas of Thailand since centuries ago.

Lady with straw hat I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Lady with straw hat II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Lady with straw hat III, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Koh Kred survives due mainly to 2 industries: rural activities, such as agriculture and fishing, and tourism, as it has become a usual spot for local tourism during the weekends, thanks to its deserts and other food specialities that are very appreciated by Thais. There are also a few temples and even a leaning Chedi for those who want to visit some cultural landmarks. However, for me, the most interesting aspect of the island was strolling leisurely the narrow roads, observing how people live their routines in a relaxing, unstressed way.

Pushing, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Lunch time, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

The bait, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Today, Friday afternoon, there were not many tourists, so I could just walk around at my own pace, and stop whenever I wanted to take a picture, observe the people performing their daily tasks, and even practice my limited Thai with some friendly villagers. Suddenly I realized I was alone, when I was supposed to be socializing with my new colleagues, but we were going to have dinner all together in a few hours, so I could make up for this small lapse then.

Hungry I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Hungry II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

The atmosphere is very peaceful at the island, all the roads are very narrow, spacious only for a motorcycle or a cart, so there are not many cars around; everybody in the island gets around by foot, bicycle or motorbike, and this sets the rhythm for all the activities that happen there: no hurries, but plenty of smiles.

Private matters, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Public matters, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow, winding alleyways makes you feel like you have stepped back in time a few decades, when houses were made of wood and built on top of pillars, when vegetable gardens were the main income of a family, when doors were always open and all neighbors knew one another, when the community was as important as oneself. Eventually, signs of modernity have made its way inside the island, but it pretty much remains still a rural environment today.

Kitchen in the open, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Old and new, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Before sunset, all of us reunited again at the pier; some small groups had been wandering around the food stalls, trying the local specialities, others had been more adventurous and had been exploring the neighborhoods, while others had been spending their time talking with the new colleagues or visiting the temples. I spent my last minutes in the island enjoying the elegant and delicate flight of a group of butterflies searching for nectar, an exercise on precision and beauty that granted me a lucky shot, perfect to close the visit.

 Small shrine, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Mid-flight, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

We took a last boat ride to the other river shore and, after a few minutes' van ride, we reached the resort where we would have dinner in an hour. It was drizzling, so most of the people preferred to sit indoors to enjoy a drink before dinner, but the resort was located at a very beautiful environment, and it was simply too tempting for me to ignore it. Thanks to the weather sealing of the camera, I could walk around the gardens unconcerned, and the small raindrops conferred the vegetation a lush glow that made it look even more beautiful.

Forgotten pottery, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Drizzle magic, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

Family gathering, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

If this get-together is any indication of what is to come this year, I'm very much eager to welcome it!

5 Aug 2013

A weekeend at Salaburi in 2 stills

For the third consecutive August, I have been invited to spend one weekend as part of the Triamudom Suksa School Spanish Camp, that brings all Spanish students from the school outside of Bangkok for a weekend. We were around 10 teachers and roughly 100 students, and we had to organize plenty of activities to cover 2 full days, morning to evening, from cooking to watching movies and other playful activities. We were quite busy most of the time and, in the few breaks we could find, having a nap was always top on my priority list. All in all, I had not many chances to take my camera out of the bag, so there are not many pictorial memoryshots from the weekend. Only 2 stills have made the cut to reach the blog, as a very condensed summary of a pretty intense couple of days: a moment of salivation, and a moment of relax when the kids were supposedly sleeping. See you again next year!

 Buñuelos, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Reflections and frames, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm