In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog December 1st, 2012

In Contrast/Expectationsd USA Realized/ Paske Located at the Confluence of the Mekong and Se Son Rivers


Quick Click Links

In Contrast Expectations USA Realized Pakse Located at the Confluence of the Mekong and Se Don Rivers

Photography News of Interest

Readers Submissions Readers Questions A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Month in Review Infocus Blog, Thailand Photo Stories by Dana


In Contrast *menu

It took me forever to come up with a title for this piece. I knew what I wanted to do, my images were selected and final processed, but the direction eluded me. So I turned to my trusty black book of camera terminology and starting at the beginning searched for a word that would define my feelings. In a nutshell that word is “contrast.”

As you examine these three images of a major northwestern city in the USA, ask yourself why you like them (or not) and what major difference that makes or breaks each image holds differently from a like shot in Thailand. I’ll give you my view at the very end of each image description.

A classic shot of downtown Seattle reveals wide streets, neat orderly sidewalks free of obstacles, litter cans, a complete lack of overhead electric or other wires, less pedestrian density, buildings covered completely in paint yet to fade, light traffic, well-manicured shrubs/flowers/trees, not a billboard to be seen, and a rich clarity of air which shows little if any pollution as evidenced by the rich full colors in the sky and surroundings. In short a really beautiful inviting street which would be a pleasure to navigate in any circumstances. Heck, you could get married on this street and it contains more overall beauty than most Thai temples. You can even SEE the missing smells so familiar to Thailand.

Canon 1ds Mark 2, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5 @F16 1/80th 22mm ISO 200

A classic shot of downtown Seattle reveals wide streets, neat orderly sidewalks free of obstacles, litter cans, a complete lack of overhead electric or other wires, less pedestrian density, buildings covered completely in paint yet to fade, light traffic, well-manicured shrubs/flowers/trees, not a billboard to be seen, and a rich clarity of air which shows little if any pollution as evidenced by the rich full colors in the sky and surroundings. In short, a really beautiful inviting street which would be a pleasure to navigate in any circumstances. Heck, you could get married on this street and it contains more overall beauty than most Thai temples. You can even SEE the missing smells so familiar to Thailand.

I was going to say ‘clarity of air’ sets it apart, but the more I examined the image the more I realized that for other than the tramway car being used as a ticket booth and occupying part of the sidewalk.. not a single thing was the same as in Thailand. This is why I think most of us will register this image as ‘more in contrast’ with a like street in Bangkok than the others. Wide, open, beautiful, and well aged.

pic2

Canon 1ds Mark 2, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5 @F16 1/80th 22mm ISO 200

I love this composition because the buildings lead you straight through to the center of the image to the blue harbor. It’s late afternoon and I’d walked to the top of a hill for this shot. The sun is shining over my left shoulder and through the expanse of buildings you can’t help but notice the architecture and colors remain the same. Contrast this to Bangkok where every other building has ‘some’ Thai influence, and the rest a hodgepodge of architectural styles copied from western cities anywhere. The difference really is startling. Here you see teamwork, people working together to create a city of their own. In Thailand little thought if any is given towards long-term planning, and even less to their neighbor.

Seattle also has an above ground train. It’s silent in comparison, clean, spacious, window everywhere, and as you move through the large city you can see the green and beautiful permeates the entire city and not just one major street. Look at the floor, the white sidewalls, even the glass is clean. This is one of their cars which has been in service over 30 years and is soon to be retired

Canon 1ds Mark 2, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5 @F5.6 1/160th 17mm ISO 200

Seattle also has an above ground train. It’s silent in comparison, clean, spacious, window everywhere, and as you move through the large city you can see the green and beautiful permeates the entire city and not just one major street. Look at the floor, the white sidewalls, even the glass is clean. This is one of their cars which has been in service over 30 years and is soon to be retired.

Cleanliness is something that doesn’t exist in Thailand 10 feet from the homes front door, or in a commercial environment such as a hotel (often hotels catering to Thais are much cleaner/nicer than those catering to westerners. Ask yourself why.). Very rarely will you find a Thai citizen who cares enough about their soi/neighborhood/thanon/district/city to put any effort at all into the cleaning and maintaining. And they certainly will never vote to pay taxes for this purpose. This is in stark contrast to most Thai homes where you could eat off the floor.

The point of this exercise isn’t to compare Thailand to Seattle, though it was interesting to do. The point was to understand there are differences and these differences often require the development of a different eye then you may be used to using. I could just have easily turned the table and shown Thailand in the positive light by using my camera to point out it’s unique beauty and charm. After all, isn’t that exactly what I’ve been doing these last 7-8 years? It’s in the contrast.

USA Expectations Realized *menu

Back in April 2011 my bags were packed and I was ready to go. The last seven years in the Kingdom wasn’t my longest stay, there were others before them. Yet, maybe because I tend to be introspective to a fault I found myself still wondering if I’d ever find satisfactory answers to a list of questions I’d made up I based these questions on the grass is greener syndrome and titled them Expectations USA. They were published on this site in April of 2011.

blog1

18 months later, October 2012, Original Response followed by my new thoughts after 18 months ‘home’ in the USA.

Original – Wanted or not? One of my most significant issues as an expatriate here in Thailand is that I’m really not wanted. Seriously. The more you learn about Thailand the more you realize they’d rather we just came for a few days, dropped all our cash, and moved right on out of their country. The masses don’t want us hanging around for years. I expect to feel “wanted” and welcome in my own country. A reasonable expectation?

Hands down Americans are the friendliest and most generous group of people on the planet. I truly believe this and it’s my hope everyone can believe this about their own country.. But this is different than wanting you to live in their own back yard, buy homes next door, businesses to compete with your business, exercise your freedom of speech, vote in your elections, school your kids in the same school at theirs.. all essential components in the Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness. All present in the USA to anyone meeting the requirements and who wants to become an American, all impossible for any farang wanting to become a Thai. The answer to this one is self-evident. USA 1 Thailand 0

Original – Governmental Agencies. Doing anything with a governmental agency in Thailand is more often than not a virtual nightmare. I’ll explain some of my less than unique experiences in a separate post later. I expect the USA’s governmental agencies to not only be much easier to deal with, but more efficient, user friendly, and informative.

Since back we’ve bought a home, purchased and registered cars, dealt with several agencies in our quest to bring our one remaining parrot back to the USA, US immigration, secured business licenses, FCC renewals, Veterans Department, and more. None of these were what I’d call pleasant, and most were less than ideal. But they were as advertised, on-time, professional, knowledgeable, and for the most part friendly. USA 2 Thailand 0

Original – Immigration. During my decade+ in Thailand I’ve held education, tourist, marriage, and retirement visas. Tourist visas are the easiest, but the least useful. Education visas can be another nightmare, while the first marriage visa can resemble an interrogation at Guantanamo and subsequent marriage visas not much better. By far retirement visas are the easiest and most trouble free. You might not think it fair experiencing immigration in my own country, but my passport has more SEA stamps than leopards have spots and my wife must deal with them as well. There should be some interesting comparisons, but I expect the US immigration service to be much easier.

My experiences here in America are more limited, the visas and citizenship for my wife and my interactions through the airport. I think both countries have a daunting task handling their influxes of both legal and illegal immigrates. But where Thailand stands out and the USA embarrasses itself is when passing through the airports and various border stations : Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia for Thailand and Mexico, Canada, Virgin Islands, and PR for America, all of which I’ve used.

After a 19 hour TG flight into the Kingdom I was processed through immigration and customs by unsmiling Thai professionals in a non-hurried but efficient manner. Their spaces were modern, air conditioned, well lighted, and clean. In contrast after a 17 hour TG flight into LAX I was ushered through was seemed like miles of dark passage ways into a larger and darker main hall with lines constructed in a type of experimental rat maze reminiscent of the cold war era.. There was no Air Conditioning and I’m told this is normal.

The personnel were either acting unprofessional playing grab-ass with each other too old to walk far, smoking, or scowling. It took about 4x longer to clear US immigration and customs and I couldn’t believe how dirty and out of date the place was. I remember standing there thinking about the BILLIONS of dollars given to Homeland Security and different governmental agencies since 9/11 and it wasn’t evident a single dollar had went into one America’s top 5 international airports. Embarrassing! USA 2 Thailand 1

Original – Driving. I’ve written so much about driving in Thailand, here, here, and here. Buying a car in Thailand is expensive, insuring it is cheap, maintaining it is cheap, getting it washed cheap, and driving extreme. Law enforcement only exists to extort. In the USA I expect better roads, to be able to afford a much nicer car, laws to be enforced, rules of the road to be obeyed, less expensive cars for purchase which are more expensive to insure and maintain. I expect to fuel and wash my own car. How accurate will I be?

I’m sorry, this isn’t even a contest. The driving experience anywhere I’ve been in America since: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, St. Louis, Chicago, all some of the busiest highways this country has, were all better by far than even the best highway experience in Thailand.

The physical roads in Thailand aren’t in that bad of condition for the most part, it’s the drivers who make the difference. In Thailand it’s a free for all every man for himself fight to stay alive. If you put the nicest sweetest most smiling Thai behind the wheel of a car, something terrible happens. Evil even. It’s like it’s their chance to finally fight against class warfare, corruption, and so many other things they’ve no control over.. they’re now in the driver’s seat and YOU had better watch out. Law enforcement? Emergency services? Surely you jest.. they exist only to extort or for show.

My wife won’t drive in Thailand. She has a license, we have a car, but she NEVER drives. She’s just not comfortable doing so. This is much more common than the few accomplished women I know who brave the jungle just to drive to work each day. Here in the states she drives everywhere. She states its comfortable and I reckon that’s the best way to sum up the experience. All but the rare driver abides by the laws, the only time someone pulls out in front of you too close is by accident and they quickly apologize, and the streets and especially the parking spaces are big enough so you never feel cramped. Parking is almost always available in the states. There are parking lots connected to every establishment who hopes to do enough business to stay in business. Carparks are being phased out as a bad idea from the 60’s. Driving in America is a pleasure. USA 3 Thailand 1

Original – Restaurants and Groceries. With few exceptions I find western food in Thailand to be of a low quality and vastly more expensive than in my own country. I’m not fond of Thai food, but in Thailand I find excellent Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, and other Asian restaurants at reasonable prices. Thai food ingredients my wife purchases should be much cheaper in Thailand. Once in the USA I expect to find inexpensive but good western food everywhere, plenty of Asian restaurants but at higher prices, and some of the best produce, dairy, and meats available anywhere in the world. And at great prices.

Some of this is easy, other parts difficult. Without a doubt America’s produce, meats, and dairy far exceed Thailand and I’d guess most places in this world. It’s healthy, safe (checked by health department personnel), and relatively inexpensive. If you cook for yourself then America is hard to beat. The same goes for franchise and chain restaurants. Or even one-off specialty restaurants. But where America falls short is in having a variety of affordable independent restaurants serving more healthy fare. There’s no doubt America is better overall, or even in most individual areas. But boy do I miss the affordable variety of Thailand. USA 4 Thailand 1

Original – Clothes Shopping. I get great custom suits and dress shirts made here in Thailand at decent prices, and my seamstress regularly makes me two new shirts a month which I promptly add to my closet while removing the two I’ve ruined. I don’t expect this in the USA, but I do expect off the shelf clothes of the styles I enjoy to be much more plentiful, and in the right sizes.

Women might have a different opinion, but I far prefer to have my clothes custom tailored in Thailand for less than I could buy off the shelf equivalents in America. For instance, I purchased a Banana Republic shirt I liked at retail, went to China Town and found a variety of colors in like material, and then I take them all to my tailor who turns out a dozen shirts at a total cost of $10 per shirt. Do I use a dozen of the same style? You bet, this is Thailand and I sweat a lot, often changing my shirts three times a day. USA 4, Thailand 2

Original – Retail shopping. Home improvement supplies, a new lamp, televisions, picture frames, Thailand has always struck me as having only two types of retail. Ultra-expensive for the uber-rich, and cheap merchandise for everyone else. There’s not much in the middle, and what there is, is oddball stuff marketed at odder stores like Tesco/Lotus and Mackro and most isn’t current. Product lineups are just a fraction of what you’ll find in the west, and way outdated. The USA is the biggest market in the world with the best prices to match. Most everything is released first in the USA, or shortly after another western country. I expect vastly superior retail experiences in the USA, and not only availability and prices, but consumer protections, return policies, and knowledgeable salespeople. What do you think?

This one is easy too. Amazon and other on-line retailers have made America the place to shop, and with the largest industrialized marketplace in the world, and the competition, you’ll always find more variety and better prices in America. Yes, I know Amazon has spread all over the world and I’m glad to see it, but the numbers show Amazon in America to be far larger. Which means more variety and cheaper prices. For those of you who don’t know, go to www.amazon.com and you will find nearly everything and anything. Both new and used. For $79 a year you can get Prime service which includes free two day shipping (upgradable to overnight for $3.99 per item) , and this includes their movie and TV series a well! I reckon they’ll soon take over the world. USA 5 Thailand 2

Original – Vacation experiences. My favorite activity/time in Thailand is to load up the truck with camera gear and take off to places previously unknown and meet interesting people while experiencing an exotic culture. Islands, mountains, farm lands, fishing villages, craft villages, Thailand offers so much. How will the USA compare? Without a doubt the USA has more variety in geographical features, lakes, oceans, coastlines, mountain ranges, valley’s, deserts, cultures from all over the world, and national forests like the Redwoods, Yosemite, Crater Lake, Death Valley, The Badlands, The Sierras, Yellowstone, there are hundreds if not thousands of national forests and monuments. I’m curious how the overall experience will compare.

If you haven’t done so lately look at a map of the USA. The USA is huge with roughly the same land mass as the entire EU. We have about the same number of time zones, multiple mountain ranges and deserts. Natural harbors, forests, rain forest climate, one of the deepest lakes in the world, and then some of the biggest. You can choose to live in a location that provides year round cold, or year round hot weather. You can choose to live in a high desert of low canyons. There’s very little the USA doesn’t offer.

And because of the makeup of our country, heavy immigrant populations from different European and many other countries give a real ethnic flavor to many areas. And of course this means we have our own set of dialects and accents. When you consider the natural wonders like Yosemite, Redwood Forest, Grand Canyon, Mojave Desert, The Badlands, Death Valley and much more.. there’s nothing quite like the USA anywhere in the world.

And in the USA we have traveling options not available in Thailand such as recreational vehicles and many parts to support them. Motorcycles with enough power (virtually all but mopeds and scooters) can use any road a car can. We have gas, hotel and food franchises along all our highways. And it seems like every state has refurbished their rest stops in small beautiful parks where you can eat lunch at picnic tables, wash up, use the facilities, take a nap if you’re tired from driving, and most even provide free wi-fi so you can check your email!

You guys know me, I’ve always said that my favorite activity to do in Thailand is to load up the SUV/Truck and head out for weeks at a time to places previously unknown. I’ve done this for years while in Thailand and really enjoyed myself. And while I enjoyed visiting different temples, rural areas, and whatever else you find within Thailand.. Thailand doesn’t hold a candle to the US when directly compared. Thailand’s best feature is it’s more affordable to travel if you take the time to learn some basic Thai. But the USA is a far better experience on just about every level. USA 6 Thailand 2

Original – Educational Opportunities. I’m a permanent student. I have degrees earned both in the USA, and in Thailand. I ‘might’ want to earn another, and for sure my son will be attending university. I’ve maintained contact with institutions here in Thailand. I expect to find USA educational facilities much superior in every aspect. I’ll let you know.

Thailand offers some good degree programs like the one I completed where you can earn a MBA. There are others. They have language schools, massage schools, and cooking schools. All fun if you’re on vacation or can afford to live overseas while pursuig your MBA. But compared to the states? I’m sorry, there is no comparison. I’m intimately familiar with who many consider to be Thailand’s best university Chulalongkorn. I can’t help but feel they’ve lost their main focus of education well before I knew them. The USA is where people from other countries come to be educated in the most advanced fields. They compete for our medical and dental schools. We have some very fine state university systems, and some great private systems. There just isn’t any comparison . USA 7 Thailand 2

Original – Employment Opportunities. No worries, this kid won’t be taking a greeter job at Walmart. But hopefully I’ll be running the same type of business in the USA as I do in Thailand, and I expect all regulatory aspects of doing business to be far superior in the USA. Yet, I’m not sure about my clientele. My clients here in Thailand typically come from western countries and I greatly enjoy meeting these people and learning about their own countries. How will I feel with a mostly American clientele? I suspect I’ll be disappointed.

I’ve arrived back in the USA’s worst time in nearly 50-60 years where it comes to the economy and employment. Yet, probably 75-80% of our citizens have had no issues with their jobs or their wages and benefits. Where things have tightened up is employment for those under 25, in some cases this exceeds 25%! And for people who’ve been out of a job for a while, you will probably find it difficult to find a job like you’re used to.

With the exception of a very small number, the only employment opportunities within Thailand which pay a competitive livable wage are those awarded from outside the country. These would be those you hear who are on “expat packages” which pay for the schooling costs for your children, a decent place to live, the more expensive western foods, and more. Single guys willing to live on a teachers pay are not what I would call properly employed. There is no salary growth to speak off, no real career opportunities, nothing but the quiet assurance from the school owners that they’ll never have to pay you retirement as you’ll be moving on well before. And even those who manage to be self-employed myself included: I only personally knew one person who made ‘almost but not quite’ what they would in the west. USA 8, Thailand 2

Original – Television. No contest, the USA produces the most quality shows available anywhere. I enjoy US news more, and US sports. I have access to these in Thailand, but I must download torrents or use my Slingbox which is twelve hours out of sync with the states. I expect to have access to the most programming choices in the world, on-demand HD movies through various services, and the content I enjoy most. I also expect commercial breaks which I haven’t had to suffer in quite some time. I think I’ll hate that part.

Without a doubt television shows and movies are more available in the states were most of them originate from. They’re available on broadcast over the air, cable, satellite, by internet with Netflix, Hulu, and many others. Despite my paying a hefty cable bill and having the latest TIVO digital recorder.. I find myself still downloading my torrents to my home NAS where my Western Digital TV Live media server queues my shows just because it’s easier, there are no commercials to deal with, and in 2-3 minutes a day I can mark for download the entire days files. And if nothing is on I can flip on the cable and enjoy whatever is on live. Through torrents television becomes almost global, but through cable and satellite there just more available here in the states. USA 9 Thailand 2

Original – Internet. These last few years I’ve enjoyed a love/hate relationship with True Online. My 16mbps download and 1mbps upload is actually pretty decent. Yet, it cuts on/off regularly, speeds slow for weeks at a time, and outages are the norm. At baht 2345 monthly it’s not exactly cheap. In contrast I just signed up for Comcasts 105mbps download and 10mbps upload cable service, and expect very few variances in line speed and even less outages. Will I be right?

I was right. And I’ll try not to rub it in too much. I have my inexpensive 100mbp download and 20mbps download connection that has it’s full speed up/down available 24/7. In 18 months I’ve had an issue twice where I needed to reset the router. I can click on and instantly view any video, a movie downloads in 2-3 minutes, maybe 5 minutes for a 1080p Blueray movie. The freedom and time savings a proper internet gives you can make a grown man cry. I really can’t remember the last time I’ve had to wait for anything. There have been times all three family members are downloading torrents, watching movies, surfing the net, and still no issues. USA 10, Thailand 2

Original – Entertainment. This is a big one as everyone has different preferences for general entertainment. Some love golf, others drink for a sport, and some like bird watching. Me? I like to read, see the occasional movie, and of course I enjoy photography and related travel greatly. Now that I download books from Amazon to read on my Kindle. I suspect there will be a difference in movie theatres. For photography I expect both places to be equally full of artistic and fun photographic opportunities. I’m not sure about this one. In the states I can also renew several hobbies unavailable to farangs in Thailand, like IDPA and High Power shooting competitions.

With the exception of low price massage there’s very little I can do in Thailand which I can’t do in the USA and there are many things I can do in the USA that I can’t in Thailand. In fact the list is very long. I suppose if your life revolves around bars and bar girls, then you won’t need a list and nothing I write here will make a difference because bars and bar girls overrule all else. It’s funny, we like to think we’re mature men of the world, but what we really are is stupid silly boys who just became aware of our penises.. with the exception of 2-3 good friends who can from three different places, they came here for the availability of women, massage places, bars, bar girls, etc, etc.. With all that said I’m married. USA 11 Thailand 2

Original – Exercise. Here in Thailand I have a pool, weight room, squash court, sauna, and misc exercise machines all here in my building. Unfortunately even though I live in an upscale resort complex, the machines are ill maintained and downright dangerous, the sauna has never worked, the table tennis table is held together with rubber bands and popsicle sticks, and the pool is so over chlorinated it would turn Shamu white. And I swear I’ve seen several white whales in that pool to support my case. Health clubs are very expensive here in Thailand. I only maintain free weights and an upper body cycle machine at my home in the states, but I do expect the local health clubs to be nicer, better maintained, and more reasonably priced in the USA.

I have all this stuff here in the states. But I rarely use it. While in Thailand I do. Thailand gives you that feeling to exercise, it’s almost always warm enough to swim. Thailand just makes me feel like keeping fit. USA 11 Thailand 3

Original – Weather. This is tough, which do you prefer? Frankly I’m sick and tired of being hot and sticky all the time and needing air conditioning to sleep comfortably. I use air conditioning at least 50% of the time. This is a lot of time to be breathing in cycled air. I run my air conditioning in my car 95% of the time so I don’t need to breath in the poison street air. But mostly I don’t enjoy working up a sweat standing still, and then having to wear the same shirt for the rest of the day. It gets old. My photography equipment is caked with a white salt residue. On the other hand while I expect the Midwest weather to be far preferable 6-7 months of the year, I think I’ll find the sub-zero winters to be much less desirable.

Surprise, I like having 4 seasons. I didn’t think I would. I’m tired of the severe heat and high humidity and of being wet all the time while in Thailand. Here we have weather which changes, weather which prefaces the changing of the trees. I get to wear all my seasonal clothes. There’s something about Christmas that goes very well with snow and cold weather. Yet, what beats a soft warm breeze on a tropical Thailand night. USA 11 Thailand 3 Draw 1

Original – Environment. I never thought I’d be so concerned over my environment. But I am. Thailand, especially Bangkok does that to you. From my 16th floor apartment enough particle pollution works its way into my home to require twice daily dustings. I can’t imagine what my lungs look like. It’s a well-known fact that particle pollution is some of the worst in the world, behind only parts of India and Beijing. With seasonal field burns, a huge amount of vehicular pollution, building projects which never quit, and the particle pollution I talked about above, my guess is I’m severely hurting my health being here. In contrast Midwest USA is very clean in all aspects. Not that many cars, no big cities close to where I’ll be, no field burning, no trash burning, and even the coal fired power plants are strictly regulated and very clean. I expect a much cleaner environment in the USA.

Growing up in the Santa Monica beach area we were always hearing about the smog alerts very close to our locations where they’d advise residents to not go outdoors and not exercise. We’d hear this while sitting on our boards waiting for the next set of waves, going indoors the last things from our minds. As I grew older and wiser environment took on this for a meaning and more. In Bangkok we had similar warnings about going outdoors and at times Chiang Mai with their slash and burn farming is much worse.

I lived roughly 20 floors up with beautiful views of Bangkok in all three directions off comfortably sized balconies. A wonderful breeze blew from one end of our apartment to another, making the use of air conditioning optional all through the night and well into the next afternoon. Yet, 2-3 times I day we were dusting. Particle pollution is very bad in Thailand and with all their concrete construction, dirty streets, the proximity of the toll way, a huge international airport operated nearby, and you could add a slick oily JP5 scented feel to the air which the particles could stick to!

Opening up the computer I’d see inches thick layers of dust within months, where you could go years in the states without such issues. And so it came to pass that at least twice daily dustings, and weekly cleanings of filters, air conditioning condensers, and constant worry of later in life learning I had a lung or respiratory disease. It really is that bad.

And how about that noise? My gawd is Bangkok a noisy place! My wife is showing signs of hearing loss at 35. While watching television in my home where we have a quality set with great clear speakers, Thai listeners will almost always turn it up to levels far exceeding that which I’d choose. Why? The streets have high levels of noise with their blaring horns, diesel buses, and thousands of racing vehicles in every city block. Personally I’d wear hearing protection while outside unless I was in my own private vehicle which was of a high enough quality to provide hearing (and particle pollution) protection.

The malls are atrocious. They’re bare brick structures build with no thought to sound dampening (or proper parking0 and invariably you’ll have young hawkers plugged into super powered PA (public announcement) systems. If you’re hearing is good the noise in this city will drive you crazy. The nightlife is legendary for its blaring music so loud the guy next to you has to shout directly into your ear to be heard. I could go on and on with examples but I won’t.

Instead I’ll talk about the lack of affordable hearing aids. My uncle who has visited my home in Thailand for months at a time and a client who lives in Hui Hin half-time both require hearing aids, without them the television must be uncomfortably loud, and shouting through the buildings passageways routine. Both have experienced great difficulty finding service for them in Thailand and they say the price for new ones is several times the price in the states.

And here in Midwest USA it’s so quiet you can direction find the fireflies with your ears, or hear the wind whistling through the corn fields. There is hardly any traffic to speak of and local noise regulations provide a nice quiet environment. Maybe the worst our biggest cities have to offer could compete, but ultimately the lack of regulations and enforcement puts the noisy ball back in Bangkok’s court.

And how about the sewer smells, rats, rotting garbage, dumped trash, and dengue fever carrying mosquitoes we face daily in the Kingdom? You can’t walk down a street anywhere in the city without these smells. It’s terrible to the extreme.

And there’s safety to consider. Hostile shouting citizens. High volumes of loud vehicles and much more. I was always happy I lived so high up in Bangkok where I could come home, go for a swim (6th floor), and sit back sipping an iced tea to unwind from what I escaped from below.

Of course the environment in Thailand is “high energy” unequaled anywhere in the world I’ve been. It’s why many if not most of us choose to live here. I’ve only experienced this level and type of energy a few other places such as Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, and some others. And there’s a different type of energy here in the states, but it’s not Bangkok. USA 12 Bangkok 3 Draw 1

Original – Medical Treatment. I enjoy top notch medical treatment at Bumrungrad Hospital, Thailand’s finest. And I must admit the “hospital” is a showcase, great presentation, nice food places, nice shops, nice big screens everywhere, it’s pretty nice that way. And my doctor is first rate as well. I can’t get my preferred medications however because corrupt officials tightly control pharmaceuticals for profit. I expect “hospitals” in the states to be not so nice in the common spaces, but better equipped with better trained personal where it actually counts. I also expect all medications, treatments, and services available.

I have great insurance in the USA and they’ll even pay for my treatment at Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand which ‘on paper’ has just as good of care as a USA facility. However, there is only 1 Bumrungrad in Thailand and one place almost as good, and the next place which is almost good as that. So yes, there are probably a solid dozen hospitals in Thailand I wouldn’t hesitate to visit for care. In the USA all the hospitals are that good, with some standing out as great in specific specialties.

Anywhere I go in the USA I can get say a 90% level of treatment. In Thailand I could only count on a 20-30% level. It’s just the reality of comparing a first world country against a third world country. But probably the biggest difference in medical care comes down to how candidates for medical school qualify, how they make it through, and how they think of themselves when once a doctor. Most Thai doctors accustomed to treating westerners will answer our questions and “tolerate” us better. Don’t expect a doctor in a rural hospital to encourage your questions by asking them. USA 13 Thailand 3 Draw 1

Original – Women. No such discussion on Thailand would be complete without touching on this subject. I’m probably going against the norm, but I don’t do the nightlife and I’ve no issues with western women. I’ve never had problems finding interesting and pretty women to date in any country. Thailand of course offers a younger more target rich environment, and there’s no doubt some of the local women are beautiful. But I find many western women just as beautiful. My guess is that if I was looking for a younger more traditional wife Thailand would be the place to go. I’m convinced there are also highly educated women available who speak English as well as you or I. Yet, we shan’t discuss this more lest my wife inject her two cents worth.

I almost deleted this topic from this submission after reading the “Do Westerners Hate Thai Woman” trash and the boatload of responses in the same theme. Seriously, I can’t relate. If you find yourself thinking or having to debate or discuss if you hate women and dignifying the topic with a response, then maybe you’ve lost the plot and need to return home for treatment with the best mental health care professionals you can find.

There’s no secret to Thai women and they’re not different than any other women from other countries. It’s just that in your country you’re probably not dating a girl 20-30 years your junior, or one that works in the sex industry. Or dating a girl from the poorest part of your own country without the benefit of a basic education. But now you are. And you think the problems you’re experiencing are because they’re Thai? NO.. Them being Thai is just the easiest difference to see. There are plenty more to focus on. That’s why things rarely improve. Because you’re not looking at the dynamics of an adult sexual relationship based on economic disparities with a woman young enough to be your daughter.. or granddaughter. Somehow you’re ignoring that part and telling yourself it’s not a problem like it would in your own country because she’s Thai..

When I read the submissions on Stick I feel really lucky, or maybe I look like Brad Pitt, or I have a foot long.. But I have none of that. I’m an average looking (yet with rugged good looks..;o)) guy of average height who could be 20 pounds lighter. I have a full head of brown hair being chased by grey. Oh.. and I’ve been severely injured and walk with a limp and manage several disabilities.

Yet, I’ve dated quality women from those who’ve earned their masters and Phd’s in the USA, MBA grads, young nice ladies who just want to be mothers to professional models, to news anchors, to pretty women with very rich fathers, and probably most things in between. And I don’t mean dated once. I mean I’ve dated routinely. Like whenever I’ve wanted. When not attached I’d guess would be twice a week.

I used to say I don’t know Thai and I’ll stick with that, but I have increased my vocabulary and more importantly my ability to be understood. I’ve cued in on the culture and learned small things that make big differences. I’ve never once dated from a bar, an on-line dating site, or anything along those lines. I either meet women while out and about my normal activities or I’m introduced which means so much for both parties.

But you know what? I’ve done the same in the USA, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and anywhere else I’ve lived. And I’ve been married a few times to women from these countries and I find them no better or worse than Thai women. They’re all still my friend and I’m a firm believer of fixing yourself first It’s like “build it and they will come.” “Build yourself and they will come..” Build yourself and you’ll be successful with women from any country. Stop looking for the easy way out. USA 13 Thailand 3 Draw 2

Original – Friends. I’ve been lucky and made some truly good friends here in Thailand. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time here nearly as much without them. They’ve been great friends, always there when I need them, coming through when I least expected it, and I’ve done my best to give more than I took. I feel so fortunate and will be forever thankful. I don’t expect to do as well with friends in the USA. I find I have less in common with the average American than I do the average expat. I suppose after 23 years in Asia this is understandable. I hope I’m wrong about this.

Unfortunately this is showing itself to be true. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m very slow to make friends and I probably put people off because my background is not typical from any of the common directions. I’m also more critical and choosey than most. So when I find myself becoming friends with someone, or a couple.. it’s probably because they put forth more effort than I did myself. Which in turn earns them my undying gratitude because next to my family no one is more important.

As I watched my son ‘detach’ from his high school town and friends I was reminded about friendship, what it means to me, and how the definition often evolves. I’m sure we all remember the times of our youth, those high school years where we’d have that special friend or group of friends where we’d share life’s most difficult moments, from our parents divorces and family dramas, to maybe the loss of a treasured family member such as a brother. Or someone involved with drug issues. These were our “seasons in the sun” friendships where we were growing our fastest and sorting out life our fastest.. these were friends who will always hold that special place in our hearts and against who all new friends will be judged, at least in some ways.

But as we reach adulthood and attend university or the military, have families, start our careers, have children, “friendships” take on a new and some say more mature flavor. We go from spending every minute together and sharing everything and not making a major decision without their counsel.. to trying to remember to make that holiday phone call or return that last email. Our mentors from work, eventually our wives, perhaps our siblings have grown closer.. all filling the holes left by lost childhood friends.

Today as a crest 50 years I try not to expect anything, but what a great feeling it was when after being out of town well over a year I make a phone call and an hour later I’m sitting across from a good friend in Bangkok enjoying conversation and catching up on the prior 18 months like it was nothing. During my last visit this June/July I met up with several good friends and of course there’s always that one impossible connection where life gets in the way, or in this case street food and the resulting bacteria, where you really regret the lost opportunity.

The main problem I have with friends in the states is we have little in common. I’ve lived overseas most of my adult life. I find it very hard to find common ground for discussion with someone without at least some of my experience sets. For the most part their views and experiences are so limited I find myself really gasping for the necessary patience to finish out the evening.

Occasionally I run across someone with like experiences, say the military, or someone involved in the competitive shooting sports, or an ex-cop, someone involved with SCCA racing, or even photography and writing.. or maybe I should say especially photography and writing.. and we find common ground. But with so much more missing there’s not enough interest. It’s a tough area and one you should think about before committing yourself to an expatriate lifestyle. In the end I have my life –long friends I’ve managed to stay in touch with throughout my life, my friends in Bangkok, and perhaps a possibility or two of friends to come in m new area. USA 13 Thailand 4 Draw 2

Original – Family. My wife’s family is here in Thailand, my family is in the states. I think this will be a simple matter of taking turns, but of course I’ll enjoy the states more because my family is there. On the other hand, relatives can be too close. Yet, I’ll be living very close to my sons and I can’t hope for more than this. I want nothing but this. Family is why I’m returning.

This might be different than for you because my wife favors my family over her own. She’s never held that deep responsibility thing for taking care of her family. I’ll leave it for you to think about what might have transpired with her family to have reached this position. All I can say is it’s not pretty. So when first meeting my family she really didn’t feel she had a family of her own and I think this enabled her to latch on and enjoy my family as her own. She has deep significant relationships with my Uncle and his wife, two of my sons, my mother prior to her passing, my other uncle and his son, and just about anyone she comes in contact with. They think she’s great.. so much so the one uncle decided to find a Thai wife of his own at 70.. so far they’re doing fine.

So our positions are reversed, and because they’re reversed they’re aligned. Our relationships with our families are strong and centered in the USA. USA 14 Thailand 4 Draw 2

Original – The pursuit of success and happiness. I’m of the mindset that success is endemic to the individual. In other words, it’s the person and not so much the environment that determines how successful an individual makes a location, job, vacation, business venture, or even relationships. In that regard I expect Thailand and the USA to be equal. I’ll be equally successful in both places. Yet, I do think the USA offers more opportunity for specific types of success such as running a business, education, and even health.

A broad topic to be sure. This is where I’ve come to realize our constitutions, rule of law, protections under the constitutions, and all dealings with officialdom provide either a deep seated sense of ease, or a deep seated sense of fear within us. This feeling we have about our governments and the likely treatment and outcome in any given instance is what determines if we live under the blue skies of freedom or the dark clouds of oppression.

You tell me, have you ever been advised not to get in a heated argument or even fist fight in your own country for fear everyone not of your nationality or kind will pile on and likely beat you to death? I haven’t. I’ve been warned there might be charges, I might get sued, or the other guy might be more than he seems, but I’ve never been warned an entire populace of people I don’t know will set upon me based on my nationality alone. And do so viciously and without regard to human life or decency.

Have you ever been told to not speak your mind about a local business and their lack of service or faulty product because if this damages their reputation they can and will sue you as harshly as possible and win? Have you ever been told that if you hit and seriously hurt or kill someone to keep driving is possibly your best option, that the outcome will almost always be found in favor of the local? Or that a foreigner doesn’t have a real chance to compete in business unless they’re very rich and can pay the right bribes and be as ruthless and violent as their Thai competitors. How many other such instances can you think of?

Yes, there is corruption in all countries, but not of the type that will/can routinely cost you your freedom. If I ask a westerner “do you have faith in your legal system” (and the person isn’t a convicted felon with a chip on their shoulder) I’ll get a BIG YES most every time. In Thailand you will to, the locals will tell you they have faith their system will be unfair and corrupt. It’s so ingrained they take it as normal. And this is exactly where and how oppression starts and properly fed it lays right beneath the surface waiting to raise its ugly head and swallow anyone not playing by the rules.

If in the absence of absolute faith you’ll be treated like anyone else in your system, you have oppression. Thai people have lived under this cloud for centuries and there’s no hope for change on even the far horizon. It’s so normal for them that it’s mostly the foundation of their class structures. Their only faith rests in that they will absolutely be treated differently than someone in a different class, of a different financial status, different skin color, etc, etc.. Their faith is in knowing and hopefully manipulating this system of inequality. USA 15 Thailand 4 Draw 2

Original – Cost of living. So much depends and I’m sure this is highly personal. But I will go out on the limb and say this. If you want to ‘go native’ and live as the average Thai’s do, or even several steps better, you’ll live much cheaper in Thailand. However, if you want to live a western lifestyle, live in a western quality home, eat western quality foods, drive a western quality car, take western quality vacations, and participate in western quality activities, then I expect to pay far more in Thailand than I would in the west. I realize this is one of the areas that heavily depends on the individual and their circumstances, and that few will ever agree. But I do intend to see if my expectations for lower costs are realized and I’ll get back to you.

I’ve lived in the highest cost of living areas in Thailand, Japan, S. Korea and the USA. I’ve lived in several middle class areas in the states and one each in Japan and Korea. I’ve visited literally thousands of low class/income areas in the countries I’ve lived and more. I reckon the disparity in Thailand while not the worst by any stretch will shock most westerners who are not indoctrinated. More, I’d bet anything the disparity between these poor areas and the refugee camps along the Myanmar borders will shock even seasoned expats. Sure, we have disparity in the USA but nothing of the type that exists in Thailand.

We’ve had a high number of submissions with westerners detailing to the last baht how much it costs for them to live in Thailand. We’ve seen the comparisons of life styles with westerners telling us they can live as well as they did back home for under baht 30,000. Some claim to spend over baht 500,000. I know what baht 30,000 buys you in Thailand so when I hear this I can only surmise they didn’t live well in their home country.

The fact is the cost of living is relative to each country and is in fact listed on many national and global scales. Look here for cost of living indexes among USA towns and cities, it’s hosted by the US Census Bureau. Here’s another from CNN Money. Financial Facts with global indexes. Or the EIU Worldwide cost of living Indexs. There are hundreds of them if you look. I maintain you’d be far better off learning well 2-3 of these indexes (find places where you have knowledge, then compare to those you don’t using their indexes to set your own frames of reference) than paying attention to what some anonymous submission writer wants to convince you of for whatever reason.

My take? Rural area for rural area Thailand is cheaper. Big city for big city area Thailand is also cheaper. But while I can easily be happy in a rural area in the USA I cannot at all be happy in a rural area of Thailand. For me to enjoy “living” in Thailand which is different than “traveling through”, it’s going to take a really big city such as Bangkok to keep me interested. I can easily be happy in much smaller towns and rural areas in the states. As a sort of final analysis I’m living in a mid-west university town and spending less money to live, to own my own home, drive two cars, eat better, enjoy better services, all costs that we talked about above in this submission.. for less than it costs me to live in Bangkok. USA 16 Thailand 4 Draw 2

Original – Overall quality of life. This would be the aggregate of all of the above and much more I haven’t mentioned. Again, it’s personal. Some will weigh one area more than another will, and so on down the list. Some put 90% of their perception into available women, others will put it into their car, and still others into their home. Weighting is individual. With all that said, I expect overall quality of life to be better in the USA FOR ME. We’ll see. But how about you? What’s important to you and how you’re take on the individual areas differs from mine.

It’s true as predicted. I’m living a much higher quality of life here in the USA. When I consider everything we’ve talked about in this rather length submission, my overall quality of life is significantly better than when living in Thailand. And yes I realize, if I was a single man with a limited dating pool here in the USA then I might very well be willing to give up many of my comforts for the promise of female companionship in Thailand. For many it’s a no-brainer. But what I didn’t talk about in this submission which I did here is“Opportunity Costs” which I’d highly recommend you read. USA 17 Thailand 4 Draw

And one non-original area brought to my attention by Dana who simply said “Steve, you should include and talk a bit about the level of service and customer service we should expect in both places.” Dana, I’m happy to do so.

I’m sure we’ve all been someplace where service has been great, where they seem to have assigned someone just to keep your glass full. Sure, if you eat out in the more expensive areas catering to tourists you’ll find such service all the time. But this is far from the real Thailand. In Thailand the level of training for wait staff is largely mixed. Some will be good, some bad.

How about customer service? If you go to a department store to buy say a new refrigerator you’ll find yourself with 4-5 customer young and pretty sales agents who will bring you water, smile a lot, and try to find the answers to any questions you may have. Once I went back and forth on a particular model of refrigerator for over an hour.. it was a big double door with indoor ice, etc.. and when I finally told them I’d take it they checked and found out they haven’t had them in stock for weeks!

Thai wait staff and customer service reps are there to look pretty, smile, bring you refreshments, and very rarely for their product knowledge or expertise. These are not considered good jobs to the Thai’s as they only pay minimum wage which is quite low. They do it until they can find something better. This suits management just fine because they want the youngest cutest personnel out there possible. All across Thailand from camera stores to restaurants to department stores this is what you get. It’s part of the Thai business model. And oddly it extends to call-in reps who you can’t see!

In the USA it’s different. A waitress can make very good money and sales staff reap significant commissions. Not everyone goes on to college, so many make a career of these positions simply because they pay enough to do so. In the USA your wait staff will get your order right the first time, she’ll know when to refill your glass and how to do it without disturbing you. They make their tips based on good service, though in some industries looks help as well. Hooters, cocktail waitresses, and others do get paid more to fall out of small uniforms while keeping the customers happy. They tend to be younger, but I’ve seen plenty in their 40-50’s doing just fine.

If you go to a department store to buy an appliance or something big, you’ll normally find a salesperson who knows not only the price and features of this years line-up, but last years and any news about the coming years. She’ll know all about sales and incentives and lending rates, and whatever helps you choose the best piece of equipment for your needs. She works on commission and she wants you bringing back your MIL, your brother, father, and more to buy from her. And if you save her card and call her six months later when that new refrigerator needs its first water filter replacement, she’ll know the answer instead of just passing you off to the repair department where you’ll have to explain your needs/questions all over again.

I could write books of examples and highlight different industries, but you’ll find what I said mostly holds true across the board. I love walking into a hardware store in America and showing them a rusty piece of whatever I just tore out of a wall say “yes sir, you need a standard 3/8 inch NTP (national thread for pipes) elbow fitting, some Teflon tape, and do you have a spanner wrench to reinstall that?” Sir? Sir? Are you alright? “I’m sorry miss, I was just imagining I was back in Thailand trying to explain what I needed to their reps..” Tears form, an undying feeling of gratefulness ensures, and an orchestra plays when the final total appears on the register.. you don’t care what she looks like, you care you didn’t waste yet another hour of your day. USA 18 Thailand 4 Draw 2

Thank you for bearing with me through this rather long submission. I wanted to finish it many times, but ultimately I felt I should wait at least 18 months to form solid and fair opinions. Where ever you choose to live, as I’ll do in my own future, I hope this submission helps you at least a little.

Until next time..

Pakse Located at the Confluence of the Mekong and

Se Don Rivers *menu


Khunklit has been a regular contributor to our Infocus Weekly and Bangkok Images. His images often give that “raw” feeling you get from actually being there. If he shows you an image or a beach you’d swear you can feel the sand between your toes. Real images you can’t help but enjoy. Working in Southern Germany as an engineer he can’t wait to get his few months of vacation each year to travel SEA.

Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Se Don rivers, Pakse derives its name from the Lao for 'mouth of the Se'. Pakse is the capital of the southern province of Champasak,with a population of about 80 thousand making it the third most populous city in Laos. Pakse is growing as a tourist destination as its ideal for visiting Wat Phu, Si Phan Don (four thousand islands), the Bolavan Plateau and Cambodia.

The city was founded by the French in 1905. There has been rapid growth since the opening of the Lao- Japanese bridge in 2002 with a brisk trade with the neighboring cross-border province of Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand. All of these images were taken with a Canon EOS 50D,the lens used was a EFS 15-85mm for the majority of the shots and a Sigma 30mm 1:1.4.

Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Se Don rivers, Pakse derives its name from the Lao for 'mouth of the Se'. Pakse is the capital of the southern province of Champasak,with a population of about 80 thousand making it the third most populous city in Laos. Pakse is growing as a tourist destination as its ideal for visiting Wat Phu, Si Phan Don (four thousand islands), the Bolavan Plateau and Cambodia.

Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Se Don rivers, Pakse derives its name from the Lao for 'mouth of the Se'. Pakse is the capital of the southern province of Champasak,with a population of about 80 thousand making it the third most populous city in Laos. Pakse is growing as a tourist destination as its ideal for visiting Wat Phu, Si Phan Don (four thousand islands), the Bolavan Plateau and Cambodia.

The city was founded by the French in 1905. There has been rapid growth since the opening of the Lao- Japanese bridge in 2002 with a brisk trade with the neighboring cross-border province of Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand. All of these images were taken with a Canon EOS 50D,the lens used was a EFS 15-85mm for the majority of the shots and a Sigma 30mm 1:1.4.

Pakse offers some fine examples of colonial era architecture. The pink Franco-Chinese style Chinese society building is a good example.

Pakse offers some fine examples of colonial era architecture. The pink Franco-Chinese style Chinese society building is a good example.

Pakse offers some fine examples of colonial era architecture. The pink Franco-Chinese style Chinese society building is a good example.

Pakse offers some fine examples of colonial era architecture. The pink Franco-Chinese style Chinese society building is a good example.

In the evening I would visit the riverside restaurants and food stalls to eat and drink beer Lao. There was a new floating restaurant and places on the riverbank being built.

In the evening I would visit the riverside restaurants and food stalls to eat and drinkbeer Lao. There was a new floating restaurant and places on the riverbank being built.

In the evening I would visit the riverside restaurants and food stalls to eat and drinkbeer Lao. There was a new floating restaurant and places on the riverbank being built.

In the evening I would visit the riverside restaurants and food stalls to eat and drinkbeer Lao. There was a new floating restaurant and places on the riverbank being built.

In the evening I would visit the riverside restaurants and food stalls to eat and drinkbeer Lao. There was a new floating restaurant and places on the riverbank being built.

In the evening I would visit the riverside restaurants and food stalls to eat and drinkbeer Lao. There was a new floating restaurant and places on the riverbank being built.

Sigma 30mm 1/500 sec at f/1.8 ISO 200

The vast Talat Dao Heung (Morning Market) is on of the largest in Laos,it is situated near to the Lao- Japanese bridge.There are many stalls surrounding a large roofed building. Inside this building I did not take many images,as some of the vendors said 'photo photo' when they saw the camera in my hand and gave me some ggressive stares, when I slid the camera behind my back they seemed to relax. I guess it must be the bear paw and endangered species images on many of the photo sharing sites on the Internet.

The vast Talat Dao Heung (Morning Market) is on of the largest in Laos,it is situated near to the Lao- Japanese bridge.There are many stalls surrounding a large roofed building. Inside this building I did not take many images,as some of the vendors said 'photo photo' when they saw the camera in my hand and gave me some ggressive stares, when I slid the camera behind my back they seemed to relax. I guess it must be the bear paw and endangered species images on many of the photo sharing sites on the Internet.

The vast Talat Dao Heung (Morning Market) is on of the largest in Laos,it is situated near to the Lao- Japanese bridge.There are many stalls surrounding a large roofed building. Inside this building I did not take many images,as some of the vendors said 'photo photo' when they saw the camera in my hand and gave me some ggressive stares, when I slid the camera behind my back they seemed to relax. I guess it must be the bear paw and endangered species images on many of the photo sharing sites on the Internet.

Thirteen kilometers from Pakse in the middle of the Mekong river lies the island of Don Kho. There are no cars,just a track leading around the island. The islanders live from farming and are known for their silk weaving, I saw a few looms underneath some of the houses. The few people that I did meet seemed very nice and friendly. These images show the main road around the island and some monks or novices washing their robes in the river.

Thirteen kilometers from Pakse in the middle of the Mekong river lies the island of Don Kho. There are no cars,just a track leading around the island. The islanders live from farming and are known for their silk weaving, I saw a few looms underneath some of the houses. The few people that I did meet seemed very nice and friendly. These images show the main road around the island and some monks or novices washing their robes in the river.

Thirteen kilometers from Pakse in the middle of the Mekong river lies the island of Don Kho. There are no cars,just a track leading around the island. The islanders live from farming and are known for their silk weaving, I saw a few looms underneath some of the houses. The few people that I did meet seemed very nice and friendly. These images show the main road around the island and some monks or novices washing their robes in the river.

Thirteen kilometers from Pakse in the middle of the Mekong river lies the island of Don Kho. There are no cars,just a track leading around the island. The islanders live from farming and are known for their silk weaving, I saw a few looms underneath some of the houses. The few people that I did meet seemed very nice and friendly. These images show the main road around the island and some monks or novices washing their robes in the river.

Thirteen kilometers from Pakse in the middle of the Mekong river lies the island of Don Kho. There are no cars,just a track leading around the island. The islanders live from farming and are known for their silk weaving, I saw a few looms underneath some of the houses. The few people that I did meet seemed very nice and friendly. These images show the main road around the island and some monks or novices washing their robes in the river.

These shots were taken from the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel at different times. The Lao-Japanese bridge can be seen as well as the Mekong and Se Don rivers.

These shots were taken from the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel at different times. The Lao-Japanese bridge can be seen as well as the Mekong and Se Don rivers.

Sigma 30mm 1/20 sec at f/2,8 ISO 400

These shots were taken from the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel at different times. The Lao-Japanese bridge can be seen as well as the Mekong and Se Don rivers.

Sigma 30mm 1/50 sec at f/2,0 ISO 800

I was walking around in the evening looking for an excuse to use my Sigma lens.

I was walking around in the evening looking for an excuse to use my Sigma lens.

I was walking around in the evening looking for an excuse to use my Sigma lens.

I was walking around in the evening looking for an excuse to use my Sigma lens.

The last three images were taken on the Se Don river, wherever you go in Laos thereare always lots of people fishing, from sunrise until sunset.

Photography News of Interest *menu

Photography competition winner disqualified for too much Photoshopping’ Where to draw the line with Photoshop? The winner of this contest didn’t intentionally cheat, but they determined he did.

Photography competition winner disqualified for too much Photoshopping’ Where to draw the line with Photoshop? The winner of this contest didn’t intentionally cheat, but they determined he did.

Photographer becomes the ‘focus’ of a large and ferocious mako shark I’d call that an undesirable turn of events. Did the photographer become fish food? Read on and find out.

Photographer becomes the ‘focus’ of a large and ferocious makjo shark I’d call that an undesirable turn of events. Did the photographer become fish food? Read on and find out.

The Girl With The Photoshop Tattoo. This girl is a computer based design expert and after Adobe Photoshop for a significant period of her life thought the tattoo appropriate.

The Girl With The Photoshop Tattoo. This girl is a computer based design expert and after Adobe Photoshop for a significant period of her life thought the tattoo appropriate.

Untouched Victoria’s Secret Swimsuit Images. Well, this confirms what every photographer competent with RAW images was always curious to learn. Victoria’s Secret Models need hardly any retouching at all! Looks like a bit of levels adjustment and a tad of white balance reveals her natural beauty.

Untouched Victoria’s Secret Swimsuit Images. Well, this confirms what every photographer competent with RAW images was always curious to learn. Victoria’s Secret Models need hardly any retouching at all! Looks like a bit of levels adjustment and a tad of white balance reveals her natural beauty.

Photos found at flea-market merged with modern-day views depict haunting images of war. Oh my, people will do anything in the name of their art!

Photos found at flea-market merged with modern-day views depict haunting images of war. Oh my, people will do anything in the name of their art! Photos found at flea-market merged with modern-day views depict haunting images of war. Oh my, people will do anything in the name of their art!

Does Christina Aguilera’s Fragrance Ad Whittle Her Down? Well, is she or isn’t she? Read on to find out.

Does Christina Aguilera’s Fragrance Ad Whittle Her Down? Well, is she or isn’t she? Read on to find out.

Readers Submissions *menu

The only readers submissions this month were some nice future articles from Tom Tweedel and this month's look at Paskse I used as a feature from Khun Klit. Thank you! We sure could use more though. Please look through your files at whatever you have you think might be interesting and send them in!

I’d like to mention that everyone, myself included, is really enjoying the current trend of readers submissions. Everyone loves them, but remember we can really use more. I have only another week’s worth in my queue, so please take the time to put together a few images and words if you can and send them in. Thank you. [email protected]

Readers Questions *menu

Dear Steve –

I want to buy a WD media player for my friend as I have had one for nearly

3 years without problem. Can you tell me where in Pantip Plaza I can buy and how much it costs now?

My friend does not have any TV network at the moment other than the internet. She has a 50 inch LG Plasma about five years old and watches TV from her computer on the big screen. She would like to know if she can connect her computer in conjunction with the media player.

Thank you for your help

David

Hello David –

I couldn’t tell you what store exactly, but I remembering seeing them in a number of places the last time I was there. Depending on the model you’re looking from 2000 on the low end to 6500 on the high end for the one with the built in hard drive storage.

About your friend. One of the biggest advantages of a media box is that you no longer need to hook up a computer. You can take the computer out of the equation. You put the videos you want to watch on a thumb drive, an external hard drive, and then plug that device into the media center directly.

What I do, is I use the Western Digital 1tb TV Live Hub. This includes a 1tb hard drive. Then, I download my torrents (movies/shows (legal ones of course)) from the internet using my laptop, but instead of having them saved in my laptop I have them saved to the Western Digital 1tb TV Live iHub directly. It’s not hard, if you need help setting this up ask and I’ll help you set it up.

The one stick in the mud is if someone is still buying movie DVD’s from Pantip and needs their computer to play the disk. The solution to this is don’t. Instead, of buying them at Pantip download them for free via torrents.

Once you’re set up using the WD Media device you’ll be amazed how much better the picture is, the color, ,all of it will look “right’, just as if you’re watching it on live broadcast.

Good luck.

Steve

G'day Steve, How do professional photographers carry their equipment when travelling the world on assignments?

I ask this because until recently I've been travelling Jetstar from Vietnam to Brisbane and return. Not anymore. 22 months ago I flew out of Brisbane the day the floods peaked, 13th of Jan. 2011. I was 3kgs overweight on my check in luggage and while the staff were in discussion as to what to charge me I rested my camera bag and my computer bag on the conveyor. Almost dropped dead when I saw the weight, 23kgs! I was very fortunate to get back to Vietnam without being severely penalised.

I took my wife over for a 4 week holiday in June and was surprised when asked at Brisbane airport on our way back if I had a computer in my check in luggage. It was the first time in years that I didn't and I can only assume you can no longer carry computers in your check in luggage.

We got to Singapore, stayed a few days then went to catch the Jetstar flight to Ho Chi Minh City. For the first time ever they weighed the carry on luggage and any one that had more than 10kgs in the required 2 bags had to put the extra in their check in and pay the extra if they were over the 20kg limit. Fortunately for me I was able to offload 1 laptop and some camera gear to my wife and we came right in on the 20kg, 10 each, maximum. I purchased an extra 20kgs for both of us (40kgs each) both ways and that was very expensive because for what ever reason we had to do the trip in 3 legs and pay the extra on each of those 3 legs. Needless to say I won't be travelling with Jetstar again, but it did get me thinking, if you can't put your laptop/s (I carry 2) in your check in luggage how can you carry on your camera gear because they say not to put valuables in your check in as well? I bought a good sturdy suitcase to put some camera gear in but when I weighed it, it was 4 and a half kgs empty! How do professionals get on with their big lenses etc? Of course its not only the laptop, bodies and lenses, its all the accessories as well. Kevin. Vietnam.

P.S. Have attached 2 cropped copies of the same photo. (Sent Stick a copy as well.) Went out on the roof of our apartment building last year to bring in the washing and was confronted with this monster coming straight at me. Rushed inside and grabbed the 5DM2 and as I rushed back out realized I'd taken off my 16-35f2.8L II earlier in the day and replaced it with the Samyang 14f2.8 manual lens. It was spitting heavily and I was only able to get 2 shots. I didn't even have time to check the settings. Anyway thought you might enjoy having a look. Its given me an interest in storms. I converted it to black and white and cropped it using elements. Looks really menacing full strength and on the HDTV.

Kevin.

I ask this because until recently I've been travelling Jetstar from Vietnam to Brisbane and return. Not anymore. 22 months ago I flew out of Brisbane the day the floods peaked, 13th of Jan. 2011. I was 3kgs overweight on my check in luggage and while the staff were in discussion as to what to charge me I rested my camera bag and my computer bag on the conveyor. Almost dropped dead when I saw the weight, 23kgs! I was very fortunate to get back to Vietnam without being severely penalised.

P.S. Have attached 2 cropped copies of the same photo. (Sent Stick a copy as well.) Went out on the roof of our apartment building last year to bring in the washing and was confronted with this monster coming straight at me. Rushed inside and grabbed the 5DM2 and as I rushed back out realized I'd taken off my 16-35f2.8L II earlier in the day and replaced it with the Samyang 14f2.8 manual lens. It was spitting heavily and I was only able to get 2 shots. I didn't even have time to check the settings. Anyway thought you might enjoy having a look. Its given me an interest in storms. I converted it to black and white and cropped it using elements. Looks really menacing full strength and on the HDTV.

Kevin –

How do pros carry their gear – There is no single right answer It depends. It depends on what we carry, where we carry it, and a lot more. This is where the experience of a professional can rarely be duplicated by someone who hasn’t been there and done that.

Sometimes I’ll pack my gear in military grade hard cases with stout locks and ship them to my hotel via Fedex or other premium carrier. Sometimes I take the same hard cases as checked luggage, sometimes as carry-on. I have several lighter weight hard shell carriers for carry-on, and then the soft sided cases.. Sometimes I’ll get my gear to a country in one type of case, and then use another type for travel within that country.

Don’t lock yourself into just one method. Bags (good ones) are very expensive so it might seem wasteful when I tell you I have a closet full to select from.. But its not, its good business. If someone hires me for their wedding or a journalist assignment then I need to be there on time, properly equipped, and ready to work. “My gear got lost” will only fall on deaf ears.

About Airlines – Any airline worth its salt ‘should’ not quibble about 3-4kg’s.. but they do and they do so more often to their regular customers as crazy as that sounds. Don’t hesitate to fight fire with fire. Let me give you a few examples:

1. I show up at a gate knowing I’m going to request to bring TWO 35kg military hard cases (but within size) aboard as well as my regular carry-on. I’ll make a plan. First, I’ll dress the part. Does a guy carrying $100,000 in gear dress and look like a bum? (I do it all the time but that’s another ploy) Usually they dress professionally and I’ll deal with this while checking in. I tell them I’m a journalist on assignment, or a photographer on assignment. Watch their face, it’s easy to change this to “I’m a photographer on a once in a lifetime assignment and I’m really trying to make a good impression.” (or anything to that effect)

Tell them you know you’re over weight but you promise to do all the lifting into the overhead by yourself (this relieves the worry a crew complaint will come back to bite them), and that the gear is extremely fragile and must be handled with care. Did you know that most every airlines have an “exempt from restrictions” sticker ? These are what you want. If they agree to let you go through as “can you give me a note to stick on the bag?” Help them remember what tools they have to help you. Keep smiling, talking, complimenting, until you get what you want. Once when I’d almost given up I said “I haven’t written an article on airline customer service in a long time”, and then I looked at her name tag as I wrote down her name.

2. Something that rarely fails “I have many students flying your airlines to take my classes next month, is this airlines friendly towards photographers where it comes to luggage and carry-ons?”

You’ll need to learn how to read your ticket agent, how to talk with them, and to make your needs known.

Someone mentioned to me “don’t you feel bad lying to them?” I never lie to them. There is always truth in what I request. Even if there wasn’t I don’t feel bad. And when I have to wedge myself down in that tiny seat with my shoulders touching the guy next to me I feel even less bad.

Airlines have spent millions learning to cut costs and get more from their customers. Many charge for pillows, blankets, meals, any checked luggage at all.. it’s getting bad out there. So I have no qualms reminding them that I’m carrying expensive gear, or that my job requires me to be there ready to work, or that I write articles which influence the choices people make. After all, if they were really doing their jobs they’d be doing these things automatically. It’s called customer service, it’s just been so long since it’s been properly done that we forget what it looks like.

Computers not allowed in checked baggage? – Computers are fine. What the problem is, is ANY DEVICE WITH LITHIUM BATTERIES. They’ve learned that when subjected to the environment of a baggage compartment along with everything else, they can very rarely catch on fire. If you’re holding it in your carry on and this happens you’ll know to stop the fire. But not if it’s unattended in checked baggage.

We have airlines like this in America too. But be sure to do all your research. I recently booked with my least desirable carrier because their first class upgrade (which came with 3 free checked baggage allowances and one carry-on) was cheaper all in total.

Again, it’s the batteries, not the gear. And some airlines have been slow to acknowledge cameras also use lithium batteries. But you’re right, we have a lot to carry and it adds up. In short, we become experts at packing and shopping for the best deals. We know for instance if an assignment will at most require 500 images.. then we will bring just two batteries (one to shoot with, the other for a spare) and leave the other 4-5 batteries and chargers at home. Most pros I know carry far less than most amateur photographers I know.. because they travel often and they only take what they need.

Steve

Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Month in Review *menu

It’s been a slow few months with not much in the way of material being submitted so I”d like to ask you to look in your files and see what interesting stuff you might have. If you need help building a feature I’d be glad to help, or maybe you have a few loose pics for Readers Submissions or a question or two for Readers Questions? Send them all in and I’ll do my best to display them well.. I’m really keen to keep this column going, but I can only do it with significant reader support.

Here in the mid-west its December already! Temps are down in the low 20’s at night which makes me miss Thailand that much more. In another 2-3 weeks we’ll get our first snow storms as the temps dip a further 10-20 degrees. What fun!

Are there any topics you’d like to see in future columns? For December look forward to a Thai wedding special, some nice product reviews, and more.

With almost two full years here in the states under my belt, there are only a bit over two more years to go before I return to full time in Thailand.

Tell us about your Christmas plans and share some pictures with us here!

Infocus Blog, Thailand Photo Stories by Dana, Thinking and Pondering *menu

blog2

It is my first trip to Thailand and I have booked myself on an 8 day tour of western Thailand through an international trekking company out of Melbourne . I did this because Thailand and Asia were new things to me and the cocoon-like safety of the tour allows me to reconnoiter the whole situation with reasonable stress levels. Who knows? Maybe I won't like Asia or be charmed by Thailand. So it just seems prudent to keep the safety issues in hand, and the expense low, and the logistical hassles reasonable. It turns out to have been one of the good decisions I have made in my life. The tour has been just exactly what I should have done. One of the nice things about controlled environments is that they allow time for reflection. You are not constantly being internally peppered with problems of too much decision making with too little information. Adventure is when things are going wrong. I am on vacation.

One day we were bolting down a dirt highway in the back of a truck when the guide pounded on the roof and made the truck stop. Across the road was a bunch of Buddha statues. Probably about 50 feet tall and I think I remember four of them. It's a photo opportunity. We get out and walk around. Up close you can see typical Thai Buddha statuary lack of maintenance. The statues haven't been repainted or re-gold leafed since day one. The paint is chipped, and everything is dirty, and the plaster is falling away in pieces. Thailand. Around the statues is high grass and trash. The trekkers line up and start taking pictures.

There is appreciative oohing and aahing. I am not a picture taker. I don't believe that the act of taking a picture or the later act of looking at the picture necessarily delivers more information. In later conversations with picture takers, I am almost always struck by what they didn't see and by what they didn't experience. I think in some way the act of bringing the camera up to the eye may actually remove you from the direct experience. Maybe that is why picture taking in strange places is so popular. It acts as an insulator. Sometimes I think I see detail that others miss.

Across the road I see a monk. He is aged and he is smiling and he is directing his gaze at me and he is holding something in his hands and showing it to me. I walk across the road. He is smiling in a winning way. His teeth are black stumps. Probably 50 years of chewing betel nut. A mild sedative. No wonder he is happy. Probably a smoker also.

Another mild sedative. Let's see: Don't work, free food, mind numbing substances, community respect, philosophic high road: no wonder he is smiling. But I am wrong. That isn't why he is smiling. He is smiling because he is a salesman. He is holding in his hands a Buddhist brochure open like a book and tucked into the right hand side for me to see is an American $10.00 bill. He is begging.

And like all good salesman he is using props and a smile and he is priming the pump with a sample donation. All I have to do to feel good about myself is match the size of the bill. I am a salesman also. It is how I make a living. I know the game and I know the drill and I know a player when I see one. I smile and laugh a little. He thinks I am smiling and laughing because I am a rich farang on vacation and my guard is dropping on this dirt road in front of these unloved statues under the hot sun. He is mistaken. I am smiling and laughing because it is the only way I can deal with the disappointment of life. Here I am half way around the world anxious to be seduced by new enthusiasms: and it is the same old hustle.

I'm not being critical or negative. It is too soon for that. I am too new at this. Innocent. I am just doing what tourists do best.

Traveling far from home. Open and generous to new experiences. Hoping something or some idea or some person will be able to negotiate around my critical faculties and wow me. Slap me and seduce me with a new point-of-view or a new valued memory. But so far it has been dusty roads, and plastic bags of spice poisoned rice on elephant trips, and village girls with crooked teeth and motorbike scars and sores on their legs, and rural adults hampered by post-malarial-bout lifetime lassitude. I am like an open wound of hope. Please get my attention Thailand. So far, nothing. Normally, this time of year I would be in a Virgin Islands paradise: sailing!

I turn and leave. We pile back into the truck. I look at the monk as we leave. My tour guide has to worry about schedules and charm. Not me. I can just think and ponder and reflect. That has value too. If you listen to the backpackers and trekkers tell their stories they are rich in the detail of adventure and misadventure, the action and experiment of youth. But I wonder if they had time to ponder. Simple things like "What am I doing here?" and "How much value can there be in associating with rustics?" and "On what level could I ever interact with that old monk: and if not, what's the point?" and "Why don't these religious people clean and pick up around the objects of their veneration?" and "What would my $10.00 donation have been spent on: more betel nut and more cigarettes?" and "What has his life been like: was it a life well spent, or only the best of several poor choices?"

It's been years since I crossed the road to see what that monk was holding towards me. I am still thinking and pondering. Maybe that was his purpose. Not one of the picture takers, not one of the camera people noticed the monk! The world of cameras and picture taking is fun, but the world is always bigger than our personal interests and activities. The picture taking experience gives focus and detail, but it is also limiting. Maybe before you start compulsively taking pictures of things that can't move, or talk back, or fight back; maybe it would be a good idea to look around. There may be a more interesting story across the road. Imagine how many hours that monk logged across from the big Buddhist statues. Now imagine how few times his picture was taken or his name was asked.