Ayutthaya, Thailand — February 2005


After several days of bad smells and wat‘s overrun with tourists in Bangkok a side trip was most defiantly in order! A quick read through the Lonely Planet‘s [], Southeast Asia on a Shoe String and it was off to Ayutthaya the next morning.

About two hours north of Bangkok, by train, Ayuthaya [] was once the capital of Siam []. The train ride north was refreshing, sitting in the air-conditioned second class car watching the scenery change from slums to rice fields.

Ayutthaya was hot! I mean 38 degrees Celsius (that’s 100.4 Fahrenheit) with no shade and the sun beating down on you like nobody’s business. It was HOT. Deciding to *walk* across the island from the train station to the temples was, in retrospect, not the best idea. It was so hot that after seeing a couple of wat’s it was time to go. No elephant rides thank you, just a tuk-tuk to the train station.

Because it was so hot all the pictures are from a couple of wat’s and are no where near an exhaustive sampling of what wat’s are at Ayutthaya. Since I’ve been back I have seen some pictures of some other wat’s at Ayutthaya that I wish I had seen. Oh well.

After the tuk-tuk ride to the train station there was a 40 minute wait for the next train. At least there was a place to sit and some shade at the station. Unfortunately the ticket guy gave me third class tickets—though I think everyone had third class tickets. And third class is everything you imagine it to be in rural Asia. Hot and sweaty masses pack like cattle into non air-conditioned antique train cars for a long, slow, trip back to Bangkok. And then some dude walking back and forth down the middle of the car with a cooler trying to sell drinks. Oh it was painful.


Bangkok, Thailand — February 2005


The first noble truth in Buddhism is dukkha [], which means suffering—mental and physical. Bangkok is filled with dukkha. Bangkok is the dirtiest city I have ever been to. The streets are filled with smells of decaying trash and unwashed bodies, broken intermittently by the smell of cooking food sold by street vendors. The street vendors cook the food and then set it out on their stalls for the fly’s to eat. Even if I was not a vegetarian I would not eat the grilled meat covered with whatever comes off the fly’s feet.

Bangkok was caught in the middle of uncontrolled expansion in 1997 when the Asian financial crisis stuck. Bangkok was the epicenter of the crisis and the wounds still show. Half finished skyscrapers stand like skeletons amid the, mostly older, buildings. Rusting out cranes dot the skyline, I hear one fell down recently and killed some people. It wouldn’t surprise me if it killed a lot of people. All the land around these half-finished monuments to economic growth is covered with shanties. Hundreds of thousands of them, made from corrugated steal and plastic tarps. I think most of the population of Bangkok actually lives in shanties. Traveling by train from the central station is like a journey into the ads for Christian Children’s Fund []. All along the tracks people live and work amid the shanties. Children really do play in trash heaps—in the shade of a dumpster.

Here amid the row after row of shanties the smells are overpowering. The canals that once won Bangkok the nickname ‘Venice of the East’ are little more then black water pools of trash festering with who knows what undiscovered disease. Many of the houses are built on stilts to span small canals and the rivers of trash that line their banks. In many places chicken peck at the trash for food, dogs rummage amid the plastic bags and cats sleep in the shadows.

But Bangkok has not lost all charm. Get lost a little bit near China town in all the no name wat‘s and the markets and you can still see the faces of people who gave Bangkok it’s other nickname; the city of smiles. The bigger wat‘s are filled with bus loads of tourists but along the smaller back roads you still see many saffron robed monks out begging for their daily bread.

Filled with tuk-tuk‘s and taxis Bangkok is a noisy, crowded, polluted city hiding it’s charm amid poverty, prostitution and profiteering. But hidden away amid the cheep fakes for sale on every street corner and the flashy tourist dives filled with prostitutes there is still some charm left.


Gulf Shores, Alabama, USA — August 2004


Gulf Shores, Alabama used to be a sleepy sea side town only frequented by people from other parts of Alabama and sometimes from Mississippi or Florida. A quiet alternative to the major resort towns of Florida. My grandfather owns a beach house there and when I was young my family would spend a couple of weeks there every other year. Eating fresh Gulf Shrimp and swimming all week. Over the course of my lifetime the town has become more and more commercial like every town on the gulf coast it has been invaded by the land developers. Most of it’s charm was long ago bulldozed down to make room for high-rise hotels and timeshare resorts. There’s a Super Wal-Mart and all the chain fast food you can eat.

I hadn’t been to Gulf Shores for about six years, which means I had not seen my Grandparents for six years, and before I headed over to Singapore I wanted to see my grandfather again. So the last week in August, the last week before I headed to Singapore I drove down to Gulf Shores. A 22 hour car ride on a Wednesday night. I stayed with my parents for two days and went to Axis Alabama where my grandparents house it to visit them for a day. Then I drove 22 hours back to Washington DC and two days later headed to Singapore for the first time.

Two weeks after I left Hurricane Ivan came ashore at Gulf Shores destroying most everything. I understand that the beach house is still there but that it took extensive damage. I’m not sure if my grandfather will fix it or if it will get sold. He doesn’t use it much anymore. So these places in these pictures have been washed away now. The beaches will recover and he hotels will be rebuilt but for the next few years at least the beaches won’t look like they do in these pictures.


New York City, New York, USA — October 2004


I took a one day drip to New York in October last year and of course I took the camera. I went because a visiting colleague from Singapore wanted to see New York while she was in town. I also took the opportunity to visit with a good friend who lives there—even if only for a few hours.


Metro Washington DC, USA — Summer 2004


These pictures were taken in or around Washington DC between June and October 2004. Most of them were taken on weekend walks around Dupont Circle or late at night down by the National Mall after coming back from work. The main goal was just to use the camera, to get more familiar with it.