The morning came. As planned, I woke up early. I’d set my alarm at 5am to see what it is like out there. I fumbled with the beeping mobile phone on the bedside table and finally opened the window to let in the fresh morning air. There is little sound out there. Maybe people sleep in. In Bali, I remember, it was all buzz at 6am. Siem Reap in Cambodia was a town of early-riser, too, I think. It is hard to say whether people were not up and about yet, or doing something that do not use their motor vehicles. For example, what if it was a bit like Luang Prabang where people line up the streets to greet walking monks with their offerings? Driving around in such an hour would be a bad idea, wouldn’t it? I finally left at 6am, and walked to the large Siriwatthana market nearby.
I somehow got talked into buying a pack of meal. It looked quite delicious, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a local meal for breakfast. Who cares about the hotel food anyway? As I was receiving the plastic-packed food on a tray with a glass of water, I was given a very specific instruction on where to go. Was there a table where I could sit down and eat at? A young couple just bought a pack a few minutes ago and left, but they were still about, so the auntie asked them to show me what to do. As it turned out, the pack I bought was an offering pack, to give to a monk/novice on their morning walk. I knelt down in front of a monk that was on the parking lot just 5 metres from the food shop I was at, and the girl who had just bought a similar pack earlier told me what to do with water, etc. I had to pour water into another cup that was placed on the ground at his feet. Then the prayer came. I had my palm together, head hang low. After the prayer, he walked off, and the girl told me that the water was just to go to a potted plant nearby. I get the idea of those symbolic water offering practice that might have come from the times when monks and novices actually walked a long way for their training and received offering of food and water that they consumed to keep going. But now, we pretend he’d had it, and the water goes to a good use. Well, that’s my understanding of what happened.
A bit about photography: I was saying in my posts, but I want you to be aware of the basic ground rule of photographing people on a strange land. We, as visitors, tourists, travelers, or whatever you are, do not have a license to shoot whenever we wish. We got to be respectful of the people who have kindly opened up their doors to let us into their homes (their town, their market, their workplace). There is nothing cool about photographs of beautiful girls in a strange city taken with a long zoom lens. (Sure, I do notice some really pretty girls around here, too!) They look like photos taken with long lenses. In photography practice, they are pretty much up there with ‘shooting from the hip’. You are not engaging with your subject. There is no harm in asking. If you are finding something totally inspiring and would like to record that inspiration, then why not? Don’t just point a camera and shoot people. Definitely no, please do not shoot people in the middle of their prayer or private moment… though street photography people (myself included, actually) may argue otherwise. Walking around town in the morning with a camera down my shoulder, sometimes people notice me in the corner of their eye while starting to put an offering in the basket hanging from monk’s shoulder. They’d say things like ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘no’ before I even reach for a camera – they just assume. Why? Because so many of us walk all over their private moment without regards. That’s not cool, is it? Sooner or later they will no longer smile at us visitors (if that has not happened already) or find other source of income beyond tourism and take everything behind a wall of private courtyard…
Let me talk you through my version, say, in that market photos above. I love local markets! It just tells you so much about how people live. I would always try to learn ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in the phrase book section of the guide book. ‘Sawatdii khrap’ I’m bending my head low, with palms together in front of me. Those aunties in the market may respond with just ‘kha’ (or I only catch that bit), or young pretty ones may return the same polite greeting, quickly putting palms together to mirror mine. (You realise that this is a country with clear distinction between roles of men and women – with different language, different styles, somewhat similar to Japan.) I smile as my bent head comes up, and make a few jokes about early morning, or something they were just talking about (guessing or sometimes it is quite obvious), or about how yummy the food looks… Maybe I ask about certain food I’d never seen before – how do you cook this? Steam, stir-fry? What you eat this raw in salad? And they may peel a piece off for try… Then once you have connected, they offered to buy some food, this one is fresh what and what, etc, and I reply with ‘maybe tomorrow’ (actually the auntie in one of the shops taught me how to say that in Thai, but I was too lazy to take notes!)… or I buy a small portion of that sticky rice, there is absolutely no harm in asking,
‘Would you mind if I took a picture?’
my finger pointing at the camera. Some people say ‘no’ or just hand up in front of them, the universal sign of refusal. I smile, ‘okay, thank you!’ or ‘sorry’ (depending on the level of refusal, obviously!) and look at a few more products and walk away. Never, ever will you photograph people in their home, work, or private space or even to a degree in public, capture snaps like that without asking. If you are a traveller, not a coach-bound tourist (or even if you are a ‘tourist’), I hope you think how you would like to be treated if that was your work place where dozens of strangers every day come with a camera. You are a traveller, not a tourist, because you are genuinely interested in the place and people and how they live. And you speak to them, tell them about you, and you find them absolutely attractive. That auntie has a magic smile, or that girl there has a perfect make up or beautiful dress. So make comments, we all love to be recognised for the effort we make, things we like about ourselves. And once they know your interests are genuine and about THEM, not trying to add pretty pictures on YOUR travel album, they are mostly okay to play along.
When you know you got a few good shots, show the photos on the back of camera. If they want it sent to them, email to them as soon as possible. Showing on camera usually makes them giggle and creates more opportunity for more candid shot, now that you are ‘allowed in’. All my photos of people are the ones who have either given me permission or actually asked me to come around and take pictures (often happens in temples if you show that you are genuinely interested in what they do).
Talking about good looking pieces of pork with the auntie with big bone crasher knife, I ended up talking to one of her two customers, a senior lady who was planning on going to Japan on holiday with her husband. This customer spoke a perfect English, sounding more like somebody from Singapore. Some people love to go to pubs and talk to strangers after hours on Friday (and during the week too). This is my favourite social life.
The red fishes were jumping up and down in the basket as they were now out of water… Looks very fresh. Yummy!
I found a small cafeteria at the end isle where two men were having a chat over a cup of coffee. Coffee looks good. I ordered a nescafe with spoonful of powder milk and 2 spoons of sugar. Yum! And they serve a cup of weak Chinese tea of some kind. Good idea. It really wakes up my system! The man next to me left shortly. Then a motor bike pulled up and a middle-aged man walked up and produced 2 pieces of print outs. Security footage snaps. Some hotel lobby, from the look of it. The lady behind the counter did not seem to know the girl. He showed the printed photos to the younger man in black jacket who was at the counter having his coffee. He compared 2 pieces of paper with 2 photos each, took one that clearly shows the face and returned the other. They talked about something for a while and the senior guy left. I asked the black jacket, ‘are you with the police’? He pulled up an ID from his wallet – public relations police. Hmm… I wonder what they do. He’s well dressed; black t-shirt with black jacket, jeans with white puma sneakers. Latest or recent model iPhone. Slick. Perfectly combed hair. He could be a star from a TV show. I love waking up early. You bet I’ll be there again tomorrow for my morning coffee!
Two kids with the mother came up to the shop down there, having porridge or something. While they are having their breakfast, mother combed the girls’ hair and tied up 3-pieces. Tough job isn’t it, being a mother.
Back inside the market, asking more questions. I thought they might be onion fries, but actually they are made of pork skins, deep fried. Is that what Chinese crackers are made of? The guy let me try a small piece. Crispy. Tasty.
(Actually, could they have said ‘potato skin’, not ‘pork skin’? :p Help me out here, anyone who knows what this is!)
It was well after 7am, which means the hotel cafeteria started serving breakfast. So I walked one block back to the hotel and told my room number. It was not a buffet, but water, coffee and milo (and maybe some tea bags) are the only ones on offer, with the meal fixed in the kitchen. You know what, I don’t care this is included in the meal, really.
Yeah, that coffee and hot tea really got my system going. After returning to my room to use the bathroom and freshened up, I’m back on the street again. Oh, hello gorgeous! Love this place – there are so many beautiful cats everywhere!
Along the street into old town, there were lines of food sellers and street vendors. This lady was just knitting a hand bag. Yes, she was ok for my photo.
Sweet sticky rice in banana leaf. Only 5 baht! And it was very nice.
And her friend, who is telling me to buy something else, too. Good sales women, these aunties!
Without bothering with the map, I follow the general direction now into the old city (inside the moat). I am passing by some temple, whose name I do not know.
Inside one of temple’s buildings I walked in to be faced by 4 men, 3 of them had their eyes open and staring. I swore that one of them was actually real, waiting for the perfect timing to suddenly make funny sound and make us all freak out.
Inside another temple I met another photographer who is focusing his attention on the wall art. He and his friend are novices studying (Buddhism) art in university. We sat down and talked a while, before we parted our ways.
Outside, I could not resist this friendly face, though I did not need a taxi today. Mr Isa and I talked maybe for about 15 minutes about Chiang Mai (he and his family are from this city, while there are a lot of people who came from outside, etc.) We were talking about genuine, not for greedy money, work, and all that jazz… I got a rough quote for a day trip to one of the temples in the country, but his rate did not sound particularly impressive. Still I kept his number, just in case…
In one of the temples soon followed, I was caught by the girl in blue talking to me in Japanese. She and friends were from some tourism organisation looking for a feedback from Japanese visitors. Since it is a relatively quiet time for tourists from Japan (that’s what everyone say), they were relieved to find me.
Switching on the pro photographer mode…
And of course, one had to eat and drink lots of water to keep going. 60 baht for Hainanese chicken rice. A bit expensive for such a simple meal…
Yep, I hear you, big guy.
Lots of gold.
Buying more water and topping up some vitamin…
Then I came across this… and the doorway just after that had a sign. It makes sense – US Consulate General.
Ping River to the east of the old city. This is one of the main venue to view the floating lantern.
Now, I ended up spending the rest of afternoon in a template that was getting dressed up for the Pi Ying (lantern festival). Let me aim at putting another blog post on that. I took lots of photos, and I think I earned myself a free accommodation in return for my professional photography work at this temple… more to come!