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day 3 - myanmar visas, markets and thai cooking lessons

I'd decided that Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was at the top of the list of destinations to visit whilst in SE Asia. Somewhat untouched and cut off from Western influence since the days of British Colonialism it is a country at a fascinating turning point in it's history. After a brutal military government ruled with an iron fist for such a long period of time a leader emerged in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi who stood up to the government and helped to introduce sweeping democratic change after being release from house arrest a couple of years ago. The tourism boycott lifted, this is a land where people are happy to see you, talk with you and hear about the world beyond their borders.

To get there however, is challenging. We had to first obtain flights to get into the country. The airlines are pretty behind the times with essentially the deal being that you have to email them at a hotmail address and wait for them to call you back. No online booking or e-ticketing. This is old school paper ticketing and talking with a customer service rep. You can get a sense of the difficulty we were having from this rather amusing exchange between Cameron and the ticketing office below.

Somehow we eventually ended up with tickets for the following day. The only snag being that in order to actually enter the country we had to get a visa....and to get that visa you need to get up at 7am, get to the Myanmar Embassy, and present photos, passport, application and entry fee. We had to have all in place by the end of the day and so headed to the Embassy to be greeted by a massive line of similarly eager tourists lining up outside in the baking sun.

 The line grew to about 200 people by end of day.

The line grew to about 200 people by end of day.

Enterprising mobile visa application assistance

In theory we'd be able to collect our processed passports with newly adorned visa's at the end of the day and so had booked a fun activity to spend the day. Next stop Chef Leez, a wonderful Thai chef who over the course of 3 hours would take us to the market, show us how to shop and what to look for in our ingredients before creating a variety of dazzling Thai dishes.

Check out some of the scenes from the market below:

Back at the kitchen we started working our way through a number of incredibly tasty thai dishes. All made from scratch. The ingredients making all the difference was abundantly clear as we tasted things like store bought vs. hand squeezed coconut milk, ginger and peppers. If you're curious, here's the venerable Phad Thai as demonstrated by Chef Leez. 

After picking up our Myanmar visas, it was time to head home in a Tuk Tuk, grab some food from the lovely ladies around the corner and get some rest before the early flight into darkest Burma!

day 2 - rivers, street meat, pagodas and people

Day 2 - Rivers, Street Meat, Pagodas and People

Walked out the door and into my new reality. The heat is pervasive, Cameron’s hamming it up with the laundry lady and street vendors whom he’s come to know over the last couple of months and I’m starving. We sit on the sidewalk at a stall and have a delicious bowl of noodle soup while watching a crow swoop in and steal raw chicken from a nearby bowl. The soup is delicious and while some had warned about not eating street food while here I’m not really feeling concerned at all (knocks on wood). Bottled water I get but as long as it’s hot and not covered in flies I’m going to go for it. 

First stop Wat Arun Pagoda, a short ferry traversal across the river on the BKK ferry system. An extremely efficient if not chaotic way to go up down and across the giant  Chao Phraya river that flows through central Bangkok. Much like a floating metro system there are multiple short stops and trains running up river and down river. Cameron had made a smart move when arriving in hiring a guide to not show him the sites but to show him how the city ‘worked’ from an insiders point of view and expertly traversed the city using the ferry system throughout the day. 

War Arun Pagoda (Wikipedia)

282 ft tall, the corners are surrounded by four smaller satellite prang. The prang are decorated by seashells and bits of porcelain which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China.. This was the first of hundreds of Pagoda’s and temples I’d see on this trip and it was impressive. It’s easy to get confused between the two but a good rule of thumb is Pagoda’s are typically solid and built around a relic such as a monk’s bones or hair or ashes, a temple you can go into after removing shoes and socks and covering your legs if bare below the knee and invariably has many statues of Buddha and beautiful works of art. 



A short but steep climb led to the top with great views of the river and surrounding city. The porcelain work was dazzling and while there were some repairs going on it was in great shape despite being exposed to the elements and tourists for so long. 95% of Thais are Buddhists and throughout all of SE Asia it's amazing to see how pervasive it is in everyday life. Note something I’d internalized before I left America. While I’m still learning each day something new and there are a lot of regional differences you quickly go from being intrigued by the novelty of seeing the orange and red robed monks both young and old around you to it being something quite blaise. They can not touch money and rely upon everyday people to provide them with food and any other basic necessities on a daily basis. People do so in order to earn ‘merit’ in their life with the bigger the gesture the more merit earned. 

Here you can see a quick-e-mart version of merit earning with a bucket of necessities that can be bought for a novice monk for a few dollars. 

Kind of like a KFC Chicken Bucket but with more Monk stuff instead... 

Pagoda-ing is hard work so we hopped back across the ferry to a small bar on the river which was run by a hilariously aggressive burly woman and her daughter. She kept stealing my camera and taking pictures of us whilst shouting incoherently at us and other locals.


Crazy Thai Bar Owner / Amateur Photographer

There are many private boat owners up and down the rivers who have gorgeously decorated skiffs known as 'long tails' with giant truck engines powering a propeller at the end of a 15-20ft prop shaft. These things are quick and maneuverable and after managing to articulate we were looking to explore the back canals of Bangkok our hostess with the most-ess shouted at a local and a boat appeared for us. $10 Later, we’re winging our way through the canals for an hour with a couple of cold ones and getting a glimpse into the simple, everyday life of the people who live on the river. 

Brightly colored river taxi's and their outrageous motor / props.

Water Monitors hanging outside homes on the Chao Phraya River are a common site.

Next stop the Wat Kalayanamitr Temple, a hidden gem with a giant golden Buddha as it’s center piece hidden away in the middle of the city. The size of the statue was awe inspiring and there was a real serenity to the place as monks, nuns, and everyday people prayed, lit candles and incense and rang the bells in the temple grounds.

A Buddhist Nun rings the bells in the grounds of Wat Kalayanamitr

A pup relaxing in the sun just outside of the temple

Another offering that is common at temples is buying a small piece of gold leaf and rubbing it on to various statues to keep them brightly adorned.

Pay your respects by adding a little gold leaf

The final stop of the day’s foray into the city was heading back through one of the many supplier markets. Giant halls of tightly packed stalls selling every food imaginable. Pikes Place Market on steroids. Bikes whiz through the same paths as pedestrians carrying loads of goods to smaller vendors and markets. Vendors busy shucking coconuts, sorting peppers, chopping meat, and creating flower arrangements (yellow is apparently big in Bangkok) it’s hard to take it all in but fascinating to people watch and see the laughter, working, sleeping and banter that is universal to any market around the world. 

I think he could have managed one more box....

By now it’s rush hour and rush hour is particularly bad in Bangkok and even worse when there are some pretty serious protests, riots and violence going on multiple parts of the city as is the case at the moment (more about that later). To get in a car would be a fools errand and so it’s time to hop on a bike taxi, hold on really, really, really tight and take the ride of your life through Bangkok at hyper speed where traffic rules are practically nonexistent and only the strong survive. I loved it. 

Manic Bike Taxis on the lawless streets of Bangkok....Wat could possibly go wrong?

 

Exhausted it was time to chill out a little bit and get something substantial that wasn’t fried. The Millennium Hilton nearby was beautiful inside and has an amazing view over this city of 16 Million people at its roof top bar. Grabbed a cocktail and shot a couple of Panoramas to try and capture the scale of this place before heading down to a new restaurant named ‘Neverending Summer’ which is a new interpretation of the owners mid century high society (Hi So) food he had growing up. Could very well have been sitting in NYC or San Francisco and we were clearly surrounded by some of the wealthier folks around but the food wasn’t particularly great and everyone seemed a little dazed and confused. Tomorrow I’d get the chance to learn to try a spot of cooking myself.

 Incredible Rooftop Bar at the Millennium Hilton, Bangkok. PhotoCredit: Millennium Hilton

Incredible Rooftop Bar at the Millennium Hilton, Bangkok. PhotoCredit: Millennium Hilton

Photo Credit: Never Ending Summer


day 1 - bangkok arrival

Arriving late at night, I flew 12 hours with Air Korea from Seattle to Seoul with a short 2.5 hour layover before the final 6 hours to Bangkok. I was dreading being stuck in a flying tin can for such a long time but it was surprisingly painless and managed to sleep a good chunk on the overnight to Seoul, soak in a little of the cultural differences and food of the pristine Seoul airport and plow through most of the new House of Cards series on the last leg. Cameron had AirBnB'd a very cool pad above an art gallery in Bangkok from Thomas a Frenchman living in Thailand in the heart of a residential neighborhood, and by residential neighborhood I mean more ‘illegal gambling den’ outside the door, washing clothes in the street and motorbike repairs to be stepped over as opposed to the typical American suburb.

While I’d been on business to Beijing & Tokyo before this was a whole new experience. The 90 degree heat, noise, smells and bustle were intense and after a catch up beer I was ready to hit the hay and get ready for Cameron’s 2 day Bangkok 101 tour the next day. 

 The fantastic loft that was our home in Bangkok above http://www.speedygrandma.com

The fantastic loft that was our home in Bangkok above http://www.speedygrandma.com

travels through se asia

This is the year I turn 40 and like any good self abiding mid life crisis guy I’ve been increasingly looking out for ways to get out of my comfort zone and ‘do’ things I’ve been putting off instead of just talking about doing them. My plan had been to take some time off from the business at the end of April and maybe visit Cuba or the Nordic countries but work had been busy and I’d just not taken the time to research and get organized. My good buddy Cameron had been staying in Bangkok since New Years day and had been raving about the sites and places he’d been visiting for the last 2 months with just a few weeks left before he returned to NYC. I’d just wrapped up a big project with work and he suggested why not hop on a plane and spend a couple of weeks visiting Thailand and the surrounding countries. It was just the nudge I needed to decide that this would be my big trip for the year and I booked a flight to Bangkok for the following weekend. So this is my photo journal from the road (wi-fi gods permitting) of the sites, sounds and people of SE Asia. Primarily Thailand, Myanmar & Laos. 20 Hours and 7440 miles from my home of Seattle, WA.

oh the humanity

When I was a kid I made a 10ft long blimp from plans alone that was constructed with balsa wood and an envelope of plastic where each segment was hand soldered. It had a small meths burner underneath that provided the heat required to inflate and keep it aloft.

Unfortunately on the inaugral flight on my parents top garden the wind got a hold of it and the burner swung erratically catching the plastic alight and literally recreating a scale version of the Hindenburg tradgedy...

Looks like things are a little more sophistimicated nowadays. This thing moves through the air effortlessly like a giant Fin Fish.

 


Air Art from flip on Vimeo.

things I have yet to grasp...space

I spent over a year working with NASA on a variety of projects involving Photosynth. It was probably one of the highlights of my career to just be around the people who truly are at the cutting edge of human understanding of our place in the universe. I got to visit almost all the *known* installations, crawl around the space station mockup that they use to train astronauts and watch repairs in the Orbiter Processing Facility as they prepared for a mission. In effect a boyhood dream come true.

One of my favourite sites to visit each day is the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day. It forces you to remind yourself how infinitesimally small we are in this strange universe we find ourselves within. I don't profess to understand everything they highlight each day but it's always inspiring to get a glimpse into their world.

Check out an example that illustrates the measurement of the inflation of the universe here.

now

Starting to see a trend emerge here with a reinvention of the portal into a kind of personalized dashboard. Will be writing more about this on 8ninths.com but here's a little sample widget from Sprints 'Plug into Now' site. 


See All CardsSprint.com/now

Eerie Adams Infra Red Experiments

I've been very interested in trying some Infrared photography after seeing some beautiful examples at sites like http://irbuzz.blogspot.com/. Jerry, has a wealth of information to get you started with this medium and for less than $60 I was able to grab a Hoya R72 filter and headed out to the mountains to try and catch the turning of the leaves.

Jerry has a great introduction to IR photography here, but in a nutshell, IR is in the spectrum of light beyond the range where humans are able to see with the naked eye.

 

Graphic courtesy of: www.maxmax.com

Most digital cameras have what is known as an Infrared Block or Hot Mirror Filter that allows visible light but prevents IR light from reaching the sensor. If you're a serioues IR nut you can open up your camera and have the filter removed. However, even with the block a small amount of IR light reaches the sensor. Therefore a much less daunting alternative is to buy an IR filter for your lens (Hoya are a recommended brand) and use a tripod and long exposures to capture static scenes.

While I was a little late to catch the leaves turning in the mountains (most of them had fallen already) I was able to take a few shots which ended up with an eerie quality that was quite apropo for halloween.

You can see them here as well as a couple I added from wandering around my local neighborhood of Fremont, including a combined 5 image HDR 3 regular lens / 2 w/IRFilter.

Hope you enjoy them, it's great to add a new technique to your repertoire and I think this opens up a whole new area to explore.

Face Jam

Check this out for a little innovation...synchronized face muscle spasms to Electronica. I've always thought that the use of ultra low frequency beats could be used to greater effect to induce more physical responses than one typically feels at a concert....this is a more direct example of stimuli and music coming together. 

Wonder if the ravers of the future will be controlled by algorithms and hackers peering through their webcams...

 


Thanks to Tim Reha for surfacing this via facebook.

perforated bottle

Saw this interesting link on digg and then realized that it's actually on display in Seattle. Will have to pay a visit. Essentially the artist used a drill to create thousands of tiny holes in a plastic water bottle. The net result is an object that is more air than solid.

Source; Seattle Weekly
 

welcome san francisco examiner readers!

  Barbara Michaels of the San Francisco Examiner got in touch asking whether she could use some of my pictures for an article about Burning Man. Quite flattering for an amateur photographer with larger aspirations! If you ended up here from Barbara's post, thanks for stopping by and be sure to leave a comment and say hi!You can see more of my work by clicking on the 'photography' link in the main menu at the top. There's also a link to my latest book containing all the imagery from my burning man gallery. Sorry it's a little pricey but I'm using 'Blurb' a custom book printing service which is fantasic but a little expensive for the size, quantity and quality I wanted. I think you'll be happy with the results though!

Thanks again and also be sure to check out 8ninths, our new Seattle based R&D Lab...Lots of good things to come from us here soon, you can subscribe to our bi-monthly mailer here.

Oh, and if you didn't see the blog post over at the examiner you can find it here.

      

Haboob Sandstorm

Just saw this amazing video that was posted on CNN of a giant sandstorm that's blowing into Sudan. This thing is a like a giant monster engulfing the city in minutes and turning day into night. I had my first experience of sandstorms at Burning Man this year (pics) where we couldn't see more than a foot or two in front of us but this looks far more ominous... 

slow down a little...

 It's amazing to see the difference that a change in perspective on the passage of time can make. This is a simple video of an iron ball being dropped into sand, recorded using a slow motion camera. Something that would be almost imperceptible in realtime takes on a very unique beauty when slowed down.


sacha baron cohen invades catwalk

 


Sacha Baron Cohen appeals to my inner subversive. His comedy is so out on the edge and so well done. There really isn't anyone else out there who can even come close to the intelligence and bravery of his style. Sure,  Borat was a fun movie with lots of little skits and a somewhat weak storyline but when you look at it a little deeper and think about the work that went into pulling off each of those uncomfortable moments and the fortitude it takes to go through with it, I think they're a lot more than just funny movies. Cohen holds a mirror up to the world and shows all our idiosynchricies, vanities, prejudice and more without the sugar coating. Can't wait for the release of the new movie in May, "Bruno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Male".
 

 See more about the incident in The Telegraph.

this is hardcore...

   

One of the most bizarre tales I've heard in a long time...from the ever brilliant BoingBoing. I almost don't care if it's true or not...


"One of the cultures you celebrate in Light at the Edge of the Worldis the Inuit. What do you most admire about them?"

Davis: The Inuit didn’t fear the cold; they took advantage of it. During the 1950s the Canadian government forced the Inuit into settlements. A family from Arctic Bay told me this fantastic story of their grandfather who refused to go. The family, fearful for his life, took away all of his tools and all of his implements, thinking that would force him into the settlement. But instead, he just slipped out of an igloo on a cold Arctic night, pulled down his caribou and sealskin trousers, and defecated into his hand. As the feces began to freeze, he shaped it into the form of an implement. And when the blade started to take shape, he put a spray of saliva along the leading edge to sharpen it. That’s when what they call the “shit knife” took form. He used it to butcher a dog. Skinned the dog with it. Improvised a sled with the dog’s rib cage, and then, using the skin, he harnessed up an adjacent living dog. He put the shit knife in his belt and disappeared into the night. 

 

politics

As I'm not currently a US citizen and haven't yet decided on dual citizenship I often keep my political views to myself. It just seems inappropriate to me for what is effectively a guest in a nation to be spouting off about what the citizens of the country should or shouldn't do. I obviously have my own opinions, I'm just selective about when and what I share.

Having said that the recent Palin interviews have just blown my mind...I really can't believe that this woman was actually selected for such a critical role and is so clearly out of her league. At the same time I'm still amazed by how the US media gives politicians such an easy time. UK politics is by no means perfect but the public demands that these people defend their actions and decisions in a very open way and the results lead to a much more engaged dialog between those in power and the public at large.

Check out the two videos below and let me know if you see a difference.

 




I'd give my right arm to see Paxman vs Palin...


An update...Jack Cafferty I take my hat off to you sir! At least one of you is willing to speak your mind...