The Bartender – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

I’m in Burlington, Vermont. In a couple of days, a very close friend of mine gets married to a lovely girl. I approve, not that it should matter if I didn’t.

Anyway, that’s completely irrelevent to this post. Before landing in New York City, I spent a month back in Thailand, a land previously very close to my heart (7 months, straight out of high school, will do that to a person). There have been other returns to Thailand, and specifically Bangkok, where I was based in 2006. However I found this trip to leave a different impression. Things changed, for the country, sure, but mostly in myself. My values and beliefs no longer seem compatible with the lifestyle found in Bangkok, Thailand. Also relatively irrelevant to this post.

Now, relevantly. I had to get out of Bangkok. Bangkok had always been the one city I always claimed I could move back to in an instant, if I was offered a job there… but this visit proved completely different. I wasn’t enjoying my time there, I felt stagnant, and uninspired in the capital, so I left. I found myself in Kanchanaburi and made some friends. One of whom was Jeejee, the bartender at one of the 10 baht shot bars. 10 baht is roughly 30 cents. We spoke, became friends, and through her and the other friends I made, I broke my 2 weeks of sobriety at that same 10 baht bar. The bargain was too good to refuse. And she and her bar made a nice subject to shoot.

So, this is Jeejee.

 

I’ve had a few beers tonight. It’s a reunion of old friends, deal with it.

The Net Mender

His name was Ali Ibrahim. It probably still is. In all honesty, I know virtually nothing about the man.

But, I was in Malindi, walking off the beach, and saw him sitting in a rundown shed, mending his nets. I started to walk off, paused, knowing he would make a good subject. Approaching random people to ask their permission for a photograph has been my biggest weakness as a photographer, and I have missed many opportunities because I wasn’t comfortable asking the question (the problem is magnified by my oft-inability to speak local languages). This time, however, I was with Wawi Amasha (more on her later). Wawi is a constant inspiration to me, and her presence coaxes me to push myself to achieve more.

I almost walked off, but I knew I would be disappointed in myself, like every other time it happened. Instead, I asked Wawi to help me translate, and I entered this rather ramshackle wooden shed. This Ali Ibrahim, in our brief encounter, had one of the warmest, most genuine personalities I have come across in a long time. He granted me the courtesy of shooting while he worked, and I only stayed for a few short minutes, before he gave me his address, for me to send some prints to him.

Walking away, I reviewed the photos, and felt I could see his gentle personality in the eyes of this portrait. I was so grateful to him, for allowing me into his personal workspace, and to Wawi, for unknowingly forcing me out of my comfort zone, in my endeavour to become a good, if not great photographer. That’s the goal, anyway.

When I return to Kenya, I must return to the red wooden Malindi Co-op Fishing building, and if I find him there, I can hopefully have a real conversation with him. I’ll probably need Wawi to translate again…

Battling Travel Burnout in Bangkok

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please” – Epictetus.

I’m here in Bangkok, Thailand. A city I have, many times, said I could gladly move back to in a heartbeat. But, this time it’s different. There’s a multitude of possible explanations for this feeling, but regardless of the reason, the end-product is the same. I’m uninspired, unenergetic, and uninterested. I know there’s a multitude of interesting destinations within easy reach, yet I simply don’t have the desire to go.

I know I’m not the only long-term traveller who has experienced this feeling. I also know that most of my family and friends won’t understand this, and certainly won’t sypathise. They would all be of the opinion that: I’m travelling, and have been. virtually carefree, for the last 2 years, while they have been back home, working and what-not, so what right do I have to feel flat about it? In truth, the only people who could truly relate to this concept of travel burnout are those who have done something similar. There’s stories scattered around the internet, touching on this issue, but they’re all self-help articles on “How To Avoid Travel Burnout” and similar, all stating basically the same obvious tips.

I have my suspicions on what has caused this fatigue. The obvious cause is that I have been doing this for 2 years. That’s 2 years of consistent exposure to interesting situations, cool people, and beautiful sights. It takes a lot to take my breath away now. Extended long term travel has made me a little jaded, and I think I need to either revitalise that interest, or take a break and find a real routine for a while. My visit home no doubt had a role in this also. I was reminded of the comforts of family, and my brother, and the prospect of having a job to go to, and actually making some money, the chance to get back in shape, learn boxing, set up a makeshift photo studio. I want to put time into really developing my photography, and that would be easier if I was stationary. Don’t get me wrong, I would probably get over the stagnancy after 6 months or so, then be on the road again, with a fresh, open mind once more.

More immediately, after spending the last 6 months in Kenya, and exploring snippets of East Africa, Thailand is lacking impact. In a few ways, it feels like a G-rated version of East Africa (apart from the sex tourism). Flame me all you want for this comment, but this is my opinion. After East Africa, Thailand, specifically Bangkok is just too easy, there’s too much technology, too little to get me out of my comfort zone, too familiar even, considering the cumulative total of 9 months I have spent here, over 3 separate trips. But these are just excuses to justify this mood.

It seems contradictory then, that I’m very eager to get to the U.S.A. But I’m excited for my birthday in New York City. I’m excited for my mate’s wedding in Vermont. I’m excited, yet skeptical, about my required $17/day budget, but I’m excited for my intended hitch-hikingĀ  trip across the country from New York, to Big Sur, CA, where I will be meeting up Wawi, the girl most responsible for Kenya having such an impact on me. I’m very excited for that.

But that’s the future, and this is now. I feel I should do something drastic, to really change it up, and shock myself out of this burnout state. Maybe I’ll leave behind the laptop, and go to Songkhla Buri (on the border with Myanmar) for a week, to disconnect from everything. Maybe no internet or phone will let me just experience the moment, and appreciate it. Or maybe I just go laze around an island.

I wonder if this has anything to do with my self-imposed alcohol ban. Coming up on 7 days without a drink now…

Simple Plan, We The Kings, The Never Ever. Wollongong, Australia

Aside from seeing my younger brother for the first time in nearly two years, one of the main things I was looking forward to on my (brief) return to Australia was the opportunity to shoot some concerts back at my old venue. Before I graduated university and left home, I was shooting concerts most weeks at the University of Wollongong. Once I had booked tickets back here, I checked with the venue to see if there were any bands playing during my visit. Sure enough, Simple Plan was lined up. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of their music, they are still a pretty big name, and as such, I was keen to have a shoot.

I was kind of also meant to cover Anti-Flag, and wish I did, but had certain reasons not to… which turned out to be the wrong decision, but such is life, and I won’t make that same mistake twice.. in the near future.

As for the concert, Simple Plan, from what I saw, appears to have a very teenage fanbase, most of whom were queued outside the venue an hour before doors opened. The bar was also closed off before the concert so I couldn’t get a beer before going in. Not happy. The opening band, The Never Ever, surprised me, with a ridiculous level of energy, and ridiculously photogenic band members. Shooting them was some of the most fun I have had behind a camera… Unfortunately they only played a 20 minute set.

We The Kings, however, just didn’t do it for me. The crowd loved them, and they seemed to love the crowd, calling out to “all the sexy Aussie girls in the crowd” (all-ages gig, remember…). I’m sure they just go along with it to keep the fans keen on them… But yeah, music was a bit bland for my taste. I can honestly say that I can’t even remember what they sounded like, they had such little impact on me. That may just be because they weren’t anywhere near as easy to shoot as TNE, but let’s not get pedantic (yes I googled the definition and spelling).

Finally, Simple Plan. As I said, not a fan of their music, but they put on a very decent show, full credit for that. With each chorus, the photo pit started shaking from the crowd’s jumping. So full credit to the crowd also. Noone rocks out at a concert like teenagers. And yes, the band played their hits, whatever they are called. So if you like their music, or like live music with a good atmosphere, go see Simple Plan at an all-ages show.

I’m not in Nairobi anymore

Boarding ticket stubs. Ergh

I have actually been back in Australia for a month now. I planned for this return to let me catch up on writing and editing, but instead I have squandered my time here. But I’m ok with that.

The decision to return sprung up quickly on me. I had been staying at my mum’s house in Ngong, Kenya, for most of the last 6 months. She was returning to Australia to see the family, and she wanted me to come back too. Being a mother, she realised that the only way she could guarantee that her, me, and my little bro would be in the same room again, was if she offered to pay my ticket back.

I almost declined, I thought about it, but then I got continually more and more excited about the idea of seeing my brother (20 months since I had seen him last). So, I agreed, and about 2 weeks later I was flying out, on a different set of flights to my mum (it was cheaper when I booked). Nairobi – Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi – Bangkok. Bangkok – Hong Kong. Hong Kong – Sydney. Sydney – Albury. So 5 flights, 6 planes (one plane had a mech issue), 6 hours sleep, 6 beers, 7 meals, and about 48 hours later, and I surprised my unknowing brother by walking off the same plane as mum.

That was a month ago. In that time, I have gone drunk camping, thrown out/given away/prepared to sell half of my belongings, gone boxing, eaten far far far too much western food and desserts, gone boxing more to try and counter the food, hitch hiked to Wollongong, visited friends there and in Sydney, photographed Simple Plan, caught a ride back to Albury, and gone snowboarding. I did succeed in doing some editing, and I do plan on writing about my backlog of adventures in East Africa, but they will no longer be in a chronological order, because:

Tomorrow (was meant to be Thursday but I pushed it back twice) I hitch hike to Melbourne, and on Monday I fly to Bangkok.

TED visits Nairobi

I’m completely backlogged, and have too many awesome things happening lately, so forgive the potential lacklustre writing in spaces, I just want to get all the photos out… Deal with it. Anyway:

Sometimes things just fall into your lap when you aren’t expecting anything. You just need the right attitude, and to be ready for anything. Often I’m not ready for anything, and go into town for what is meant to be an afternoon before saying yes to a multiday trip somewhere without “necessities” like spare clothes, or a toothbrush.

While not as extreme as that situation, I did find myself in a position a few weeks back where I was in Nairobi central to meet some mates, who wouldn’t be there until later. I made some phone calls, and was told by my mates with the What Took You So Long Foundation, that they were shooting the TED Auditions at some fancy private school that night. If I had my camera they could pass me off as crew for the night Did I have my camera on me? Yes. So I decided against my other friends (photography always trumps dinner, especially with snacks on offer).

If you don’t know TED talks, they are, in my own words, a bunch of inspirational talks from people with innovative ideas, or outlooks, or just interesting things to say. They are worth a look of your own, because I don’t explain things well. Anyway, here’s some photos. The event also gave me my first real chance to test my new lens for the DSLR. So here’s results.

Oh, and I slept on another couch that night. No toothbrush, no spare clothes.

"I swear, it was THIS BIG!" Had to

The undercover journalist. Awesome