Tag Archives: east

Bangkok Street Scenes

These street shots come from my day of running around Bangkok with the camera. This is only the first post in this series, as the city makes for endless opportunities.

Above and top: Two forms of public transportation. On the top is a common city bus, on bottom are monks on a Chao Phraya River Ferry.

  

These were taken in the side streets near Wat Pho, an area I returned to after wanting to explore the variety of life beyond what the tourists see. You don’t need to go far at all to escape the tourists.

These stores with eastern medicine supplies are common near Wat Pho, home of traditional Thai massage.

  

This sign was hanging on a vacant lot’s gate – I thought the crest for the city agency was interesting.

  

  

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Apsara Dancers, Siem Reap

Apsara, the traditional Cambodian ballet which dates back thousands of years, is a dance form which is a bit of a mainstay of southeast Asian culture. Many people associate the dance form with Thailand, but Cambodia and Thailand probably share this form as a result of their Hindu-influenced strains of Buddhism.

We saw this performance in a pretty luxurious hotel (which we didn’t stay at) which offered a dance and a dinner for about $25 – a fortune for a meal in Cambodia. Also included was a form of Cambodian folk dance.

While we were seated near the front and I soon noticed photos were OK, I had trouble with the stage lights being unpredictable, not wanting to use flash (though others did), and the movement of the dancers being much quicker than I had realized.

  

  

Left: I included this image from Angkor Wat to show you how similar these dancers are. They could be apsaras or devatas, and I’m am not 100% certain.

Above: a representation of the killing of a demon. I believe this relates to the Hindu story of the Ramayana, detailing the stealing away of an Indian princess named Sita and the rescue of her by Rama, an avatar of Vishnu.

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Cambodia’s Dark Past, Part 1: S-21 Prison, Phnom Penh

This is the first of two posts relating to the darker side of Cambodia’s history. Tomorrow, I will be making a post about the landmine epidemic and an organization that plays a big part in educating people and cleaning up Cambodia one mine at a time.

In August, 1975, after the Khmer Rouge pushed into Phnom Penh victoriously, a high school in the heart of the city was converted into a concentration camp and security prison. Chao Ponhea Yat High School became known as Security Prison 21, or S-21, and housed an estimated 17,000 – 20,000 inmates during its existence.During the Cambodian Genocide, intellectuals, monks, teachers, soldiers and members of the Lon Nol regime, doctors, and engineers were systematically killed with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rogue regime attempting to create an agrarian utopia. The purges would not stop there, and an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people lost their lives. This all took place in a country with a population of about 7.3 million in 1975 and an area a little larger than the US state of Oklahoma.S-21 served as a security prison tasked with interrogating “enemies of the revolution” – basically any and everyone with some form of speciality even if their politics were neutral. Like the Nazis before them, the Khmer Rogue provided very detailed records of the prisoners, including photographs which are still on display at the museum today. In addition to these photographs, torture devices are still in existence, as are hooks bolted into the ground to hold people down. When the prison was liberated in 1979 by the Vietnamese Army, only eleven survivors were found and the guards had already left.

While visiting Cambodia, it is important to remember the scars that these wars – which only really ended in 1998 – have inflicted upon the country. This was something that is very apparent – visiting the country gives you an awkward sense as this developing country has seen so many struggles. Years of war has taken its toll on the people and the economy – even today, the average income based on GDP PPP per-capita is $2,100 per year in US dollars. Keep in mind that for many of the poor of Cambodia, this is a huge number, as these statistics don’t take income inequality into mind when they are calculated.

Good news exists though, in the burgeoning tourist industry centered around Angkor Wat. One man my wife Yuling and I got to know was our tuk-tuk driver, Thean.  Tourism supports him at about $20 – $30 per day plus extra tips and expenses. He worked very hard and being tri-lingual (he is working on his fourth language, Russian), I would hope that he has a very bright future ahead. His dream is to become a tour guide, but cannot fulfill this yet as the fact that he grew up in a town controlled by the Khmer Rogue until 1997 in Western Cambodia halted his pursuit at a high school diploma. I’m about his age and will complain less when I have some barrier to my next life step.

In addition to tourism, more businesses are bringing factories into the country, though any visitor to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will be skeptical about this happening quickly as the infrastructure in Cambodia is still “developing” at best. When you have a country with dirt roads for “national highways,” it is difficult to build industry. However, cheap labor is always an attractive option as globalization spreads the marketplace around the world, so it will be interesting to see how things continue.

You can read more about S-21 and the Cambodian Genocide throughout the Internet. One useful article is the Wikipedia entry for S-21, which includes more photographs and personal accounts. Another useful link is this article about Cambodian artist Vann Nath, one of the eleven survivors. His eerie work is hanging throughout the museum, and graphically portrays what happened in each of the rooms.

One of the eerie effects of this prison is the fact that its architecture immediately reminds you of schools in Asia. Nearly all schools here have classrooms which go to the outside – effective before air conditioning was always available. The parts of S-21 that still look like Chao Ponhea Yat High School are immediately noticeable to teachers especially.

  

Above left: a memorial at the front of the entrance sits to the few people who are buried at the complex. Their 14 bodies were found when the prison was liberated. Most of the killing was done in the rural areas of Cambodia. On the right is another memorial in a rear courtyard.

  

Above right: a sign which reminds visitors not to smile. There was a certain religious element about this place – it seemed more sacred than even the Buddhist sites I visited.

This Khmer-French-language chalkboard kind of creeped me out. I’m not sure if it was left all these years or placed here for the sake of the museum – either way, it’s very effective at getting the point across.

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Monks at Angkor Wat

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be processing and posting shots from my recent trip through Cambodia and Thailand, which took us from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to Bangkok and Ko Samet. It was an exhausting yet rewarding trip, though we definitely saved time for the beaches of Thailand at Ko Samet near the end.

I’m still trying to contemplate how different the two countries are. Both are based in the same lines of cultural, religious, and historical ancestry but are bitter enemies. I will consider some of these differences in future posts, but should start off with something both countries have very much in common: Theravada Buddhism.

These monks were wandering around Angkor Wat on  our third day in Cambodia. The older monk was showing about eight or nine young monks, boys around the ages of 8-10, around the temple complex. In Thailand and Cambodia, monks are not always dedicating their entire life to service in the monastery, so I’m guessing these boys may have recently entered service and will remain living the lives of monks for a few months at most.

While an obvious language barrier existed, it was interesting to see them explore the temple almost as tourists themselves. They were nice enough to stop for some photos as another tourist took a photo of the group with the eldest monk’s cameraphone.

   

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Hip Hop Dance Competition, Hsinchu

I have to say that I’m starting to like Hsinchu City a lot.  There’s always a lot going on and unlike a large city like Taipei, everything worth doing in the city is within walking distance.  Combine that with some underground pedestrian tunnels that are quite convenient and some nice shopping districts which include camera stores for gear I might need and it’s even better.

In addition to the Cosplay event last weekend, I also saw a hip hop dance competition.  This gave me a great chance to practice with the SB-600 as it was getting quite dark outside.  I put the white balance on cloudy (which works well with the tone of the lights at night) and also took the time to practice the multiple-releases on my flash.  Also, some of these do look better in black and white, and I liked the emphasis it gave on the movement of the subjects.

Below are the best shots from the hip hop competition.  You might also have seen some photos from when these teens were practicing this in the park in an earlier post.

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Breakdancers in Hsinchu City

I’ve taken a lot of photos of the East Gate of Hsinchu City (more) and mentioned before that teenagers frequent the spot to practice hip-hop dancing.

Last weekend, I dropped by just passing through as the gate is the center of focus for a great underpass that lets you bypass the aggravating roundabout if you are walking through.  A group of kids noticed my camera, and started showing off.  I started taking some shots, and they were pretty excited to see these on the back of my camera.  Overall, it was pretty impressive.

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More of the East Gate

I like the East Gate in Hsinchu City, so much that I’ve featured it on this blog plenty of times.  It occured to me one night that I’ve never taken a night photograph of it, so here it is below.  The first is during a concert, taken with the 35mm f/1.8.  The second is a bit further away, with the 18-55mm VR, which was needed to keep the camera in place while I got these lines.

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More from the East Gate

I’ve previously posted an HDR photo of the East Gate of Hsinchu City, but revisited last weekend while exploring Hsinchu after a scooter ride around the area.

These shots were taken around the East Gate, a famous landmark of the city.

The first is a tonemapped image taken with a single exposure and processed in Photomatix.

I found a good spot to try the longer shutter speed.  I turned it black and white after the longer exposure bleached out the sky since it was a partially overcast day.  The last one is further away and is not tonemapped:

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HDR: Hsinchu City East Gate

Today, Yuling and I went to the Hsinchu City Glass Museum to check out a culinary festival.  There were a few photo opportunities there and while we didn’t eat enough (we stupidly had lunch before we went!) I did get a chance to check out a gate I alluded to at one point in the past in this blog, the Hsinchu City East Gate.

The gate was built when the Chinese began heavy colonization of Taiwan.  Hsinchu is actually one of the oldest cities in Taiwan, dating back about 400 years.  Before the Chinese took control of it, the city was a Taiwanese aboriginal settlement.  In 1827, it was completed by the Qing dynasty, though the Japanese colonizers later tore down much of the wall when they redesigned the road system.

I liked how this shot shows not only the gate, but the other things that have sprung up around the roundabout that surrounds the structure.  The advertisements and signs of an affluent 21st-century city contrast in an interesting way with the structure.

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