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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31,562 Practice Sessions

31,562. According to my primary photo editing software (Apple’s Photos for Mac) that’s how many photos I took in 2017. That’s an average of 86 photos every single day but that mean masks a huge range and there are very few “average” days. When I’m traveling I take closer to 300 photos in a typical day. On a regular day here in Saigon I might take just 5-10.

During the roughly 12 years that I’ve had an advanced camera and consciously tried to improve my photography, I’ve spent some time thinking about how we get good at things in life. Photography, cooking, making music, our jobs etc. – with any practical skill, how do we steadily improve from absolutely no ability to the peak level of competence we are able to achieve?

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Why is Beauty Beautiful?

One of the attractions of living in Southeast Asia is that you can wear shorts and a t-shirt every day of the year. Here in Saigon it’s typically between 30-36 C (85-95 F) during the day. Last week though there was a rare cool spell and the temperature dipped into the low 20s C (low 70s F). My Vietnamese friends moaned about the “cold” all week and showed up to our coffee and dinner dates in sweaters and jackets. Trust me, they aren’t being melodramatic – to natives of Southeast Asia 22 C (70 F) is cold and they don’t bear it well. When my friends complained I googled the weather in Boston on my phone to show them what real cold is!

If you don’t live here, it’s probably difficult to imagine how exotic snow, fall colors, cherry blossoms and other charms of temperate climates are to natives of this part of the world. Most of my local friends have seen none of these things and several have told me they dream of seeing them sometime in their life. I usually tell them that snow is highly overrated (cold, wet, dangerous to walk and drive etc.) but I always recommend that they see fall foliage and cherry blossoms. I sometimes miss these things myself. After four years of living in Barcelona, Spain and three years here in Southeast Asia these joys of temperate climes have receded into distant but very pleasant memories.

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On the Trail of Phantoms – Photos of Saigon at Night

Has anyone noticed that the characters walking city streets at 2 am are usually not people you would bring home to meet your mother? After law-abiding and tax-paying citizens have gone to bed, cities take on a darker mood and the boundaries of rectitude are relaxed, sometimes by alcohol and other times by just an intoxicated yearning in the human soul. Gone are the fresh faced office workers and smiling shopkeepers who ply the streets by day. Yoga studios, organic grocery stores and other family friendly shops shuttered long ago. The young couples who picnicked in the park that day or drove their children to private school have long ago put their happy but tired tikes to bed.

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¿Long Live the Butterflies?

Has anyone noticed that the future depicted in recent science fiction movies never looks like Yosemite National Park? Instead it’s generally some version of a poisoned dystopian wasteland. I think the creative minds behind these films may be onto something.

In some of the most visually stunning scenes in the fabulous new Blade Runner film, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) pilots his flying car through a toxic smog filled atmosphere that glows a radioactive orange by day and a bleak bluish gray by night (trailer included below). Sometimes a black poisonous rain falls. (Of course cars will all be autonomous then but Agent K/Ryan Gosling is always cool, and kicking back with a slurpee and watching YouTube videos while your car does all the driving is not cool, so he drives.)

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A Sky Full of Wishes

Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try. No hell below us,  Above us only sky. Imagine all the people, Living for today…

Aha-ah…

Naaaah, just kidding. I fear that sublime little ditty set the bar too high for us.

Imagine instead tens of thousands of the world’s citizens, forgetting for the moment both personal woes and cares about the endless problems of our planet, and coming together for a lively party on a Friday evening in early November. The location was Chiang Mai’s main bridge and we were there to celebrate the annual Lantern Festival (Yi Peng). We released tens of thousands of paper lanterns into the night sky while enjoying the giddy, festive atmosphere of a soiree under the stars of a perfect autumn evening in northern Thailand.

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First Day in Chiang Mai (a photo essay)

Last week I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the annual Lantern Festival in which thousands of lanterns and candles are released into the sky and floated down the river. I had a full day to stroll around the city before the festival started and the best photos from that first day of the trip are below. I’ll share photos of the festival itself in a future post.

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