Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Southeast Asia

After being in Southeast Asia for the last three months Southern California seems a bit strange. The experience was life changing, and photographically it changed me in ways that I will never be able to explain. The following is a collection of images and journal entries I have compiled throughout my adventures. I am planning my next documentary trip as we speak, and hope to continue my career photographing people affected by conflict and poverty in the developing world.

03.06.06 – Ton Sai

The time at the beach was amazing. I obviously got sun burnt because the sheer power of the sun near the equator is incredible. Some highlights of the week – stepped on a large scorpion the first day, went swimming in the Andaman Sea, snorkeling with a beautiful Swiss woman, kayaked for an hour to get to another island, found coconuts in the jungle and proceeded to pound them on rocks until I could get at the goods, and spent a lot of time in my hammock. It was amazing.

02.23.06 – Friends and Acquaintances

I woke up this morning with a stuffy nose, a fever, and an upset stomach, and couldn’t bring myself to go run around the streets of Thailand today. So I decided to stay in. I quickly fell back asleep, woke up, read a little, and then fell back asleep again. I checked my email, ate an amazing salad with avocados on it and sipped on a cup of coffee while I thought about the people you meet throughout life. Most of them are fairly uninteresting, and do more complaining than anything else. Unfortunately I have grown tired of hearing English teachers bitch and moan about their troubles in Bangkok, or how bored they are doing the same thing day after day. I also grow tired of hearing about “Dude, man the islands were so cool...”, or “Dude, like, the full moon party was so radical.” Frankly, I just don’t give a shit. But once in a while you meet someone on the road who really sticks with you and seems more than momentarily interesting. These are the people that matter, and if we could all get together in the same place at the same time it would be a giant party. Unfortunately the kind of people who seem more than momentarily interesting, are usually on the go and hardly ever in the same place at the same time. Such is life.


Bad days lead to good days. Tense situations always lead to calm situations. Chaos transforms into tranquility. Bangkok has been an interesting place to stay for awhile. There is so much happening throughout Asia and the Middle-East, but as a student, I cannot travel to where the action is, which is fine, although it makes me want to finish school and move closer to the Middle-East. There is a strange concept, which I am grasping more than ever before. People fear what they do not know, and especially when it comes to unstable places throughout the world. Many people think that Cambodia is a dangerous place, Pakistan is where people get their heads chopped off, but in fact, walking through downtown LA might be more dangerous than either. What we do not know scares us the most. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I want to cover as a photojournalist, and I know now more than ever before. I want to cover conflicts and humanitarian issues throughout the world because this is where people are most vulnerable and most passionate. These seem to be the stories that matter the most. Even throughout the past few months I have discovered more about myself than ever before. This is the beginning to something wonderful that I hope to share with you all for years to come.

02.06.06 – Stung Meanchey

At four o’clock on Monday Vuthy and I headed out to Stan Meanchey. I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect at all. When we crossed over a small creek on the outskirts of Phnom Penh I started to realize the situation that I was about to be involved in. Suddenly the paved road transformed into a potholed dirt road with people living in shacks. Speeding through the slums of Phnom Penh we saw a moto with 50+ live chickens attached to it that were being taken to the market, naked babies running through the street, and then we turned the corner. The stench was overwhelming, and the size of Stan Meanchey is indescribable. It can be likened a mountainous landscape, except made entirely of garbage. We stopped the motorbike and Vuthy talked to one of the workers in Khmer, while I organized my camera gear and donned my new rubber boots. I left Vuthy at the main entrance, and began to make my way through the mounds of garbage. I had purchased a facemask earlier in the day, but did not want to wear it, and thought it might affect how close I could get to people photographically. At the entrance of the junkyard is where all of the trucks dump their new loads. Hundreds of people gather around the trucks and scavenge through the piles of garbage looking for recyclable materials that they can sell. They use sharpened metal hooks to grab plastic to put into their garbage bags. When the jaws of the dump truck open the workers crowd around to stab at plastic bottles with their long metal hooks, and move aside with the truck bed begins to rise and all of the garbage falls to the ground. The workers negotiate around trucks and bulldozers that unearth the ground so that new treasures can be found.
A narrow road winds its way through mountains of smoking and burning garbage that children walk on, sometimes barefoot, to look for bits of sellable material. I walked up into the smoke, following a barefoot little boy. He didn’t have any shoes on, and the ashes on the ground seeped through his toes as he scavenged for another piece of plastic. After twenty minutes my boots were burning my feet, and I wondered how anyone could be forced to work in these conditions. I am heading back in a couple of days to “smoky mountain”.

02.04.06 – The Kiss

I spent the evening with my friends Phil, a photographer who is working on a book about contemporary spiritual art, and my two new swiss friends, Annette and Julia (unsure of spelling). Anyhow, the evening was going great. We went to the Blues Bar, which has some of the best blues I have ever heard live. The band consists of a mixture of Thais and farang (tourists), who jam out for two and a half hours every night. Afterwards, we moved to a rooftop bar, where my first international romance started with Annette. As the night wore on, and the bars closed, Phil decided to leave, and Julia didn’t seem too keen in her friend’s new interest. After an intense conversation in Swiss, Annette and I walked back to Khao San to continue the evening. Khao San Road is not the same as it was four years ago. The bars shut down, and the part moves to other parts of the city that aren’t being patrolled by police officers. After a couple of attempts to find beer, we succeeded in obtaining two forty-ounce cans of Heineken, which we purchased for a mere 80 baht. We talked about pretty much everything, and nothing at the same time for the next two hours, holding hands and smiling like teenagers, while the lady boys called out at potential customers, and the street sweepers prepared for another day of obnoxious tourists. Once 4AM rolled around, we decided it was time to part ways. We shared a long kiss in front of the 711, smiled at each other once more, and then disappeared into the depths of Bangkok. She was off to Switzerland and I was off to Cambodia the next morning⎯that was the story of my first kiss on Khao San Road. There was nothing fancy about the evening, but there is something very romantic about kissing someone and then not knowing if you will ever see them again, but knowing you probably, also, will never forget about them either.


The lines on her hands are the same as mine. If she was to have her palm read, the outcome would probably be the same as mine. The Indian man who sat me down about a month ago and said, “You have two siblings, you have two women in your life, and February is going to be a very very lucky month for you my friend, very lucky. You have been hurt in the past my friend, that’s why you have no girlfriend, but don’t worry my friend, soon you find life partner. Now, put money in my book and you will be very lucky my friend!!!” Her hands are small, mine are big, but hers might not get much bigger. Does she know she has AIDS, or just knows something isn’t right? She smiles at me and then puts her head on my lap as I try not to dose off myself. As I close my eyes and think about those two hands, I am jolted back into reality by a ball that bounces off of my head and two giggling children running away. I gave the small child a hug and walked out onto the street to catch a moto taxi back to my guesthouse.
Riding on the back of a motor taxi on a daily basis makes you appreciate the life you have lived. Weaving in and out of traffic, maneuvering onto the sidewalk to get ahead of the gridlock, and then weaving back into the traffic just as the light turns green. The helmets are worthlessly small, and would probably do more damage in an accident than not wearing one. Anyhow, so far the skills of the motorcycle taxi drivers haven’t failed me.

1 comment:

fulanita said...

Your photos are beautiful and moving. More, please.