Photos of Chinese New Year

Here are my best photos from Chinese New Year (Feb. 5-19). The first set is from Bangkok Chinatown and the second is from around Em Quartier, an upscale shopping center.

Bangkok Chinatown

This man and his granddaughter were watching a traditional Chinese New Year dragon dance (below)

This monk was blessing passers by with holy water
New Year’s prayers at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, the largest Chinese temple in Chinatown

(Above two photos) Votive candles at the same Chinese temple.
An attendant lighting votive candles at another Chinese temple
In the years that I’ve been living in Bangkok I’ve noticed that the police are getting stricter with street vendors…but only a bit – there are still lots of areas where vendors can set up their cart or plop down their wares on the sidewalk and Chinatown is famous for this. With the huge crowds I assume the Chinese New Year period is a busy time of year for street vendors.
A lottery ticket vendor

(Above two photos) Buddhist amulet vendors.
This woman is making Chinese dumplings
One of many vendors selling balloons to young children on Chinese New Years Day
Chinatown is full of old Chinese food shops like this
Traditional beauty treatment. This was out on the sidewalk on a busy street.
Another street vendor
A Thai doughnut vendor
Another street food vendor
Chinatown is famous for Thai Chinese seafood

(Above two photos) Lanterns decorating Chinatown for New Year
A final shot before taking the subway home – light trails in front of Hua Lamphong, Bangkok’s main train station.

 

Around EM Quartier

(Above two photos) This upscale shopping center invited customers to paint their own lanterns and displayed the best of them. Chinese New Year decorations appeared as soon as Christmas decorations came down (which wasn’t until late January).

        

We Are All Migrants

As I followed the recent news of the large group of Central American migrants making their way toward the US border I’ve felt a sense of identity and affinity with them. Like them, I’ve crossed borders and changed countries to improve my life. If you’ve ever packed up everything and changed cities or countries in pursuit of educational, work or personal opportunities perhaps you’re a migrant as well? In an age in which information and ideas move at the speed of light and in which we can become aware and take advantage of opportunities almost anywhere on the planet, perhaps we are all migrants. Far from being something to fear, I think the migrants possess qualities we should embrace. To start, I think that their desire to improve their lives, their openness to change and to thoughtful risk-taking are among the qualities critical to thriving in the 21st century world.

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The World’s Biggest Water Fight

I’ve found a promising solution to my biggest weakness as a writer –  I’m not good at being concise and limiting myself to my thumbs seems to help.  (“You write on and on,” one Vietnamese friend said after asking for the link to this blog.)

I’m writing this post from Tikhedhungga, a tiny village in the Nepali Himalayas where I’m trekking this month and my phone and camera are the only tech I brought with me. (All I’ve taken with me on the five day trek is a small day pack). In the near future I’ll share my photos of Nepal but for now here are some shots of Thailand’s New Year (Songkran), the country’s most important holiday.

 

Traditionally, at Songkran people poured water over the heads of family, friends and neighbors to wash away the misfortunes of the past year. Over the years this custom has evolved into a giant water fight, especially in Bangkok and other major cities, and boisterous revelers soak each other with large water guns, which I was dismayed to discover are often refilled with ice water at numerous  refilling spots in the main areas of the festivities.

Needless to say bringing a camera to the world’s largest water fight is out of the question so while I was really looking forward to experiencing the festival for the first time I had no expectations that I could photograph it. I was delighted to discover though that inexpensive waterproof phone protectors  are sold everywhere during this festival.

In a sense these photos are possible because of the global affliction of mobile phone and social media addiction – wherever I am in the world lots of people cannot be without their phones! And thanks to some ingenious Thai entrepreneur and a factory in China there’s a solution (which costs only $1.5O). (The ability to write this post from a village in the Himalayas is another sign of our dependence on our phones – many of the streets in Kathmandu are unpaved and the air is choked  with dust, but up here in the Himalayas, at least so far, the 3g and WiFi are strong.)

With far from ideal photography conditions – my four year old iPhone inside what’s essentially a glorified zip lock bag – here are my best photos of the mid April Songkran festivities.

It’s no surprise that this festival is popular with children…
…but it brings out the kid in everyone. In fact, in the more crowded areas there are relatively few children, probably because it can be a bit raucous. Quieter streets and neighborhoods offer plenty of more family-friendly ways to celebrate.

Many participants wear Hawaiian shirts or costumes. The above photo is from a Songkran party at a gay bar my friend and I stumbled upon.

Children at a refilling spot. Did I mention ICE WATER!?

(Above three photos) Some water guns are attached to water tanks which are usually worn on the back

During the festival many streets vendors sell supplies – water guns, smartphone protectors, goggles etc.

Tears at Winter’s End

The photos below are a minor miracle. That’s not to say they are any good – only readers can be the judge of that. But these photos wouldn’t exist if things had flowed normally on the day I attended Bangkok’s winter festival “Love and Warmth at Winter’s End.” But in lots of different ways that day was unusual and it’s thanks to the compounding of several quirky happenings that I have these photos to share.

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My Tail, in Two Cities

It’s been a great two years but my time in Saigon has come to an end. Vietnam is a lovely country and I recommend travel there to anyone, but for the last few months I’ve grown weary of the traffic, pollution and general chaos of the city. Vietnamese people are wonderful and I already miss my friends there, but Saigon isn’t a particularly livable city, and recently I sometimes asked myself if I wanted to be living there when I’m 60. When I kept answering “Hell no!” I realized it was time for a change. Just last week I moved back to Bangkok, where I was based before I moved to Saigon. 

Bangkok, Saigon, what’s the difference? If you haven’t traveled in this part of the world it’s easy to imagine that I’ve moved from one crowded and chaotic Southeast Asian city to another. I completely understand that – before I traveled and lived in this part of the world these and other developing Asian cities blended together in my imagination.

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