ARMAND THOMAS photography: Blog https://www.armandthomas.com/blog en-us (C) ARMAND THOMAS photography (ARMAND THOMAS photography) Thu, 28 May 2020 17:09:00 GMT Thu, 28 May 2020 17:09:00 GMT https://www.armandthomas.com/img/s/v-12/u670231135-o670587856-50.jpg ARMAND THOMAS photography: Blog https://www.armandthomas.com/blog 120 79 Coast-to-Coast in Northern England https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2018/7/coast-to-coast-in-northern-england From the Irish Sea to the North Sea, the Wainwright Coast-to-Coast walk is an unofficial and mostly unsignposted footpath in Northern England, covering nearly 200 miles of jaw-dropping (and often grueling) scenery. This was my 14-day adventure in May-June of 2018. The Epilogue is followed by the chronological posts along the route. 

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North Yorkshire MoorsNorth Yorkshire MoorsLion Inn, N Yorkshire Moors EPILOGUE – July 2018

Up on Blakey Ridge, as steep as it is breathtaking, the old Lion Inn sits like a citadel, a remote outpost for weary hikers. Plodding into the courtyard, I slipped my backpack off with a theatrical grunt, letting my poles clatter to the ground, and said to a man having a pint of beer at a picnic table: “I don’t know why I’m doing this!”

As if on cue, the stranger leapt to his feet and blurted back: “Neither do I!”

“Aaayyyeeeeeee“ – his Scottish accent echoing against the inn’s stone walls.

He had driven here to meet friends, covering in three hours a distance that would take us 14 days on this 200-mile coast-to-coast walk.

We shared a laugh, half in earnest and half in jest, because we both knew good reasons often breed insanity. Not to suggest the beloved Wainwright trail is crazy hard; the world is filled with more daring challenges. Still, it can be surprisingly arduous, especially if the weather turns sour, especially for those who have never long-distance trekked before, like me.

This was day 13, crossing the North York Moors National Park toward Robin Hood’s Bay. You could almost smell the salty North Sea. Fatigue is refueled by adrenaline as the finish nears, the sheer magnificence of scenery inspiring each step forward.

The Lion Inn, the halfway mark of this day’s long 20-mile walk, was a splendid location to reflect on the journey, soaking in the present before it becomes memory.

Why am I doing this?

The lure of the great outdoors? Northern England is indeed enchanting, the trail varying one day to the next, from slippery fells to humid pinewood forests, flowery fields to shimmering tarns, squeezing through stiles and crossing countless wooden gates into enclosed pastures – sheep and rock walls everywhere; moorland, stony summits, bucolic dales, slate-roofed hamlets … It has all been mesmerizing, even for a city guy, gobsmacked by street scenes as much as by natural wonders. But that wasn’t the answer.

To get fit and lose weight? Fat chance. English cuisine used to be an oxymoron, but no longer. The food along the way is simply stupendous, even (or especially) for vegetarians at the ubiquitous inns and pubs, where muddy boots and paws are welcome.

Because I have blood cancer? Because I wanted a physical adventure, five years after being paralyzed with Guillain-Barré syndrome? Because I hoped to shoot great pictures? Because I yearned for a spiritual experience?

All noble causes, but again, not exactly.

I am doing this because, as comedian Steven Wright wryly said: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”

Simple as that. Yorkshire DalesYorkshire DalesYorkshire Dales

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REAL TIME POSTS

May 20, 2018

From the Irish Sea headed east, inland across fields of heather and purple bells, pastures of sheep and grazing cattle, through enchanting woods of conifer and pine, winding up atop a plateau and back down steep inclines to scraggly valleys of sedge brush and babbling brooks, day 1 of the Coast-to-Coast walk, 15 miles to Ennerdale Bridge in northern England, is a site to behold.

May 22

Every step counts. One wrong footfall can end the long walk abruptly. Day 2 of the C2C journey, 15 hilly miles from Ennerdale to Rosthwaite, was a mix of tricky terrain - strewn rocks in the fells, sharp slippery slabs of shale, boulders and climbs to negotiate... You must look down at your feet as much as up at the magnificent scenery. Still, stop, breathe in the clean crisp air, listen to the water rushing down the mountain, consider your luck.

May 23

Unless you have a GPS gizmo, compass savvy or divine guidance, it’s easy to get lost along Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, the least signposted trail in Britain (because it’s unofficial, albeit highly popular). Day 3 began with a wrong turn out of Rosthwaite. Up a clearing we went, into a humid forested hill, scooting tangled branches and mossy stones, covering a half mile in 30 sweaty minutes, a footpath for sure, only one that headed north, as we soon discovered, not east to Grasmere, our next target 9 miles away. I scrambled down and met an elderly couple out for a short hike. They were amused by our waywardness, the woman saying in her gentle motherly way: it matters not, just enjoy wherever you are. 
Words of wisdom for another day of dramatic climbs, first a constant slope up the flanks of a valleys then up a rocky ridge so steep it loomed over us like the temple of Zeus; two thousand feet high, far above the melting water flows but still amid bleating sheep, we hoisted ourselves up on hands and knees against gnarly rocks tinseled with tufts of wool. 

 

May 24

Whoever said England is flat is invited to try the Wainwright Coast to Coast trail. Starting from the west, the stunning Lake District serves up altitude - mountain after mountain for the first four days of the 14–day excursion, gifts that keep on giving over some 60 miles. Granted, it’s not like attacking the Matahorn: there is no mountaineering involved, just grueling ascents and descents on often rocky, wet terrain that’ll have your legs burning, lungs heaving and pride tingling when you raise a cold pint at the end of day. 
The views from high above never fail to awe, and the marshy plateaus are images of serenity, with shimmering lakes, stone walls extending down the dales, and windswept moors speckled white with Cotton Grass in the springtime, when everything is lush.
CumbriaCumbriaHaweswater
The exertion was tough (and perhaps underestimated) but we thanked our luck with every step as sunshine and cooling breezes prevailed each day - which is unusual.
The next 8 days are tamer in elevation, but we will have gone up and down the equivalent of Mt Everest by the end of the 200-mile journey, at the shores of the North Sea in the east.

May 26

Early morning, I stood on a rising hill, off the trail, before an old wooden gate enclosing a pasture and grazing sheep, a rustic barn to my left and green fields of the Lake District rolling beyond. I raised the camera to my eye and lingered, patient for composition, hoping for the sheep to turn just so, when I noticed a fellow hiker, an Englishwoman of about 60, standing by my side. She watched quietly, her partner (another woman about the same age) waiting a little ways off. I shot a few frames, then greeted her by asking with complicity, “Would you like my spot to take a picture?” She demurred and said, “Oh no, thank you,” and began swinging the gate open. “I’m going for a moment of comfort.” Good for you, I said, and thought: how wonderful, she chose this splendid location to rest her wary bones. She added: “It’s not that easy for us, you know.” I took this to mean ‘women of a certain age’ - it sure is a strenuous walk for anyone along the C2C walk. I said: “You have all my admiration,” and went on my way. It was many steps later that I realized, a little foolishly, that she had been talking about going to the loo.

May 28

The trail is full of wonders, but the small towns and villages that dot the northern English countryside along the Coast to Coast Kirkby StephenKirkby StephenKirkby Stephen track, like Kirkby Stephen, are simply delightful.

May 29

Leaving behind the Lake District for the North Yorkshire Dales, the hills turn kinder, the fields glisten yellow with meadow buttercup and ox-eye daisy, and the constant parade of sheep becomes more varied, some with elongated faces like llama, others wooly like carefree bleating hipsters. Every which way, dry stone walls of incredible workmanship etch the land like lines of domino tiles awaiting the first push. On the high plateaus, the wind rumbles across the grassy moors, deafening and cold, and by sheer luck of unusual dry weather, keeps the bogs from swallowing us whole. It’s a delight to the senses. In Keld, the Coast to Coast trail marks its halfway point, 100 miles from either the Irish or North Seas. Nearby, along the rocky, meandering River Swale flanked by bucolic valleys, sits Muker - a quintessential English village of stone houses and mining history, where today wanderers and tourists can have midday tea and scones (with clotted cream and strawberry jam) amid ravishing beauty. There’s ample reason to cheer making it this far, but no hubris please, there’s still a long way ahead.

May 30

Dry (no mortar) stone walls are mesmerizing, by their grace, strength, age and ubiquitousness along the Coast to Coast walk. Most in northern England were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, when land was granted to common folk, and the need arose to contain stock and create boundaries. The stones usually came from within the property, dug up by clearing the fields for grazing. The rockier the terrain, the thicker the walls. It’s baffling, if not unfathomable, how such solid structures lining the landscape were built so artfully from grunt work.

OrtonOrtonSheep and Church, Orton May 31

Like generations before me, I succumbed to the charm of Richmond, a gem of a market town in North Yorkshire. Rather than walk a relatively plain 23 miles to Ingleby Cross, the next stop along the Coast to Coast trail (through fog and rain and soggy fields as it turned out), I chose to stay put, roam about the cobblestone streets, poke through twisted alleys and soak in the quaintness and history. Richmond grew around an imposing castle built by Alan of Brittany in the 11th-century to repel the Scots. Nowadays it remains an iconic structure open for visits and offers great views from the tower of the locality. This week, alas, a roving fair with rickety rides and carnival games vulgarized the town square, like cheap trinkets in a noble house. So be it, a little color. Everyone I met was so friendly and eager to chat. Like that councilman carting off yellow cutouts of bicycles that decorated the streets for the Tour de Yorkshire, a leg of a recent road race. Like Jefferson, who served me the most savory tomato and grilled pepper soup in his grocery RichmondRichmondRichmond, Frenchgate street café, a place the size of a snooker table. Like the Turkish barber who was proud to let me photograph his shop as part of my global ongoing series. Like Edwina, who served me high tea at, well, Edwina’s, a local favorite bakery. What a fine way to take a break (and a few footsteps) from the 200-mile walk (which resumed today, I assure you).

 

June 1

Just another day for a nice stroll in North Yorkshire, across forests of silver birch, slippery terrain thick and rich brown like chocolate mousse, open moorland swaying with heather, hamlets graced with relic graveyards and climbs rewarded by magnificent vistas. Two days to go in the 200-mile Coast to Coast trek, from some hilltops we can see the North Sea.

• 

June 2

One last day, one last mountain, one last moor, and a final 17-mile push along the coast to coast trail in North Yorkshire, heading to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea, and the completion of the 200-mile walking journey. My feet will hate me for weeks, but I’ll have stories to tell for some time.

June 4

With every stretch traveled, my posts have gotten plainer, eloquence worn down by fatigue. I’m knackered. My calves are popping, my knees are creaking and my blistered toes are suing me for damages. Walking northern England’s Coast to Coast from St-Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay, 200 miles in 14 days, is a euphoric adventure and a test of endurance. You point at a farm in the distance nestled in a kaleidoscope of green pastures, or at a range of mountains jagging the misty horizon, and you exclaim out loud in mock disbelief: “We have to walk all the way there?” Because it’s funny, because humor (or at least a lightness of being) carries you forward as much as muscle, because striding for 9 hours can be mind numbing, because distance no longer matters when you’re crossing a country. 
At Grosmont, an aptly named village at the foot of a fat hill, we panted like ladened mules working our way up a hill so steep our noses scraped the pavement. A woman emerged from her yard. “You live here?” I snipped comically, implying: Are you crazy. “Oh no,” she said, “We’re just staying here.” I said: “Of course you’re staying here, because once you go in, you don’t want to go out!” She laughed. How many Coasters has she watched lumber by? “Yes, I know it’s a killer, but at least you can work off those fish and chips.” Cheeky woman, couldn’t she see my plumpness was entirely vegetarian?
It was our last day, our final push to picturesque Robin Hood’s Bay along the North Sea, where hills like a rollercoaster awaited us along the high cliff shore. We arrived disheveled from a long day of rain, through slick forest beds where the pungent scent of garlic flowers permeated the humid air, slogging across boggy moors that sank our feet to the ankles, dodging highway traffic where nature’s paths ended and started up again, into a viscous trail of gnarly roots, deep mud and slippery rocks, and yes, amidst extraordinary beauty, having succeeded out of stubbornness and joy.

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near Robin Hood's Bay, North Seanear Robin Hood's Bay, North SeaNorth Sea coast near Robin Hood's Bay

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Challenge Cumbria England Hiking Lake District Long-distance Nature northern England Outdoors Photography Travel Travelog Trekking Walking Yorkshire https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2018/7/coast-to-coast-in-northern-england Tue, 31 Jul 2018 23:14:02 GMT
2017: A Very Montreal Summer https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/9/2017-a-very-montreal-summer Montreal is celebrating its 375th birthday this year but the grand old dame is thick in reconstructive surgery. Everywhere you look things are being built up, dug out, renovated, bulldozed or just left in disarray for its turn on the jackhammer list. rue St-Denis, festivalrue St-Denis, festivalMONTREAL2017

It’s as though a whistle blew and everything, everywhere, had to be done (or redone) all at once, not just imploding freeway interchanges or excavating canyons for more condo towers, but sewer systems in the leafy side-streets, or tennis courts in the central park, or the gravelly path leading up the mountain. Entire new districts, like Griffintown by the canal, seem to have sprung up like glass and concrete mushrooms. I haven’t been back to my hometown for nearly two years and, from some angles, I couldn’t recognize the Montreal skyline. I mean, it’s always a bit crazy in the summer, when the ravages of ice and salt turn the streets into pot-holed slalom courses, making the season a boon for shock absorbers and wheel alignments. But the quantity of unfinished work this year is truly breathtaking – astounding as it is infuriating.

On the bright side, in this incredible disorder on this very special year, with a record number of people visiting, Montreal is clearly declaring itself as a city of the future, no question. “Excuse our Dust” – that should have been tourism ministry’s slogan.

or:

* Orange Coneville has Zest!

* Pylon Our City

* Detourtown This Way

Call it what you want.

Yet one thing remains unchanged, unflappable. Leonard CohenLeonard CohenMONTREAL2017

To the mess and chaos and frustration, add: Effervescence. Exultation. Exuberance.

When the warm days arrive, nothing can stomp the Montreal spirit, its joie de vivre, its euphoria.

An old joke says: “There are three seasons in Quebec: July, August and Winter.”

That’s only a slight exaggeration.

Summers are not only short, they are precious, personal triumphs over the interminable harsh winters. There is not a moment to waste. Each day seems filled with ambition, with purpose and levity, a restoration of the soul incomprehensible to anyone who has not endured the cold dark stretch of November thru March.  Summer days could be hot and humid but who’s complaining? The evening air is pierced by cicadas promising a fine tomorrow. Rain literally falls on parades.

Summer is like rapture, attained at big public shindigs or in solitary walks in the park.

You could see it on people’s faces, hear it in their voices when they stop at street corners to chat with friends, straddling their bicycles, unhurried; how they relax on their balconies on sultry evenings, lawn chairs unfolded and beer flowing; how terraces across the city overflow with hardy folk shedding cabin fever.

Montreal is a walkable city, urbane but cozy, fairly safe and very charming; it has a sidewalk culture, where unlike, say, Las Vegas, being out does not mean knowing where you’re going. Chances are there’s something to see, a festival somewhere: Jazz, Dance, Song, Fireworks, Comedy (Just Pour Rire); a festival for Beer, for Murals, for Gay Pride, and even oddly a Lobster festival!

There’s the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Film Festival, the indie Osheaga multi-day music & arts festival, the Tennis Open, pro Football, pro Soccer … but no baseball. Not any more. Honestly how can a team survive playing in a dank, domed stadium when so much indulgence, so many temptations, beckon outside?

Let it all out. Suck it all in. Time is a bubble. Blvd St-Laurent @ NapoleonBlvd St-Laurent @ NapoleonMONTREAL2017

Not surprisingly, this year, despite the inadvertent (and bungled) Construction Festival – Montreal celebrated its 375th with more pomp, particularly around the old town, with large-scale projection shows, historical tributes, art exhibits, street performances, food fairs, music concerts or some sort of revelry liable around any corner.

So happy birthday “Ville Marie”, “City of a Hundred Steeples”, my forever home! As we both age, we both change, and I continue to see you with fresh eyes.

Please visit my photo gallery here for some of my favorite shots made over a 4-week span this summer 

(NB: if you click on slideshow (top-right of page) on a computer, you also get classic Quebecois music!)

Sept 2017

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) blography celebration montreal photojournalism quebec reconstruction street photography summer travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/9/2017-a-very-montreal-summer Sun, 17 Sep 2017 18:39:56 GMT
Durango Diner https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/8/durango-diner The Durango Diner is a throwback. Long Formica counter, a dozen swivel stools, a wall scattered with picture frames, lots of stainless steel and just enough room for patrons and staff to squeeze by each other on either side. A couple of tables up front by the window, flanked by photos of cowboy John Wayne and Cheyenne Indians. A cozy place, with old-style friendliness. 
I had first visited Durango, a small town high in the southwest mountains of Colorado, in 1983 - on my first cross-country drive to discover the world. I remembered it as charming, rugged and remote. It may still be this way 34 years later, but it has also become chic, hip and gentrified.  Bright white mini-lights wrap around the tree trunks on Main Street; exotic restaurants cater to an affluent tourist crowd; the landmark Strater Hotel is remodeled; the old Woolworth is replaced by trendy shops. 
Durango DinerUta at Diner No stopping progress, I reckoned, sidling up to the counter for breakfast.
I had loaded a picture I took of Main Street in '83 on my mobile phone, which I ached to show to someone.
“Do you remember this?” I asked the silver-haired lady at the cash register.
“Oh, my, I used to have lunch at the Woolworth cafeteria,” she said, startled and smiling by the memory.
A haze of nostalgia washed over her face.
Her name was Uta, and she’s lived in Durango most of her life, after marrying an American GI she met in her hometown of Stuttgart, then-West Germany, in 1974.
“Ssscchhtutgaahdd,” she pronounced it, her voice soft and lilting with just a hint of old accent. 
“Oh, it was against my father’s wishes, but I went off anyway!” she said, trailing off with that little laugh of reminiscence. “But the marriage only lasted 5 years – one day, he just never came home.”
Her father never visited the United States, but she has never regretted her move.
“I didn’t want to go back. I stayed, and got remarried to a geologist who had studied at the University of New Mexico.”
They lived in Albuquerque for a few years until her husband retired, then moved back to Durango.
I was touched by her gentleness, how she shared her own intimate story in such a boisterous setting. 
I wasn’t pressing as much as fascinated by how an entire world unravels at such unexpected times.
In that same spirit, I told her a little of what I was up to, my road trip across America to Quebec, and now stopping here on purpose in my drive back to Las Vegas.
“There’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico too,” she said. Yes, I said, a lovely town, I’d been there, not far from Taos. “And there’s another town called Miami nearby,” I chuckled. 
“And a Cleveland too,” she chimed in, enjoying the banter. “I knew a trumpeter with the New York Philharmonic who was from there … we went to his burial a while ago.”
Oh, I thought: a conversation cooler. But not at all.
“Imagine,” she continued, lost in reverie, “having so much success in life coming form a small town like that!”
I liked this woman. I wondered if she even realized the aptness of her words.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” I said, “what matters is where you live your life.”

August 2017

Durango Diner Durango Diner

 

 

 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) blog blography colorado diner durango durango diner las vegas photography roadtripping street travel uta https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/8/durango-diner Fri, 25 Aug 2017 18:28:14 GMT
free-flowing America https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/7/free-flowing-america OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The trip is the trip. Time is ethereal when going 70 mph seated. The constant purring of tires, the hypnotic white lines keeping you honest and safe, the privacy and freedom of the open road, the American landscape whipping by like a free-flowing stream of consciousness. Heading northeast, the desert terrain becomes fertile, Navajo jewelry gives way to Hillbilly crafts, roadkill alters from armadillo to possum to raccoon to skunk the further up you go; flatlands dotted with grain silos (seen from a distance like castle turrets, like NASA rocket launch pads) give way to rolling hills and forests of lush birch and evergreens; big grim penitentiaries fenced within bucolic farmland are heralded by road signs that read “Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers”; one-horse hamlets of clapboard houses and swaying crimson barns have names like Athens and Rome and Cairo and Mexico; the slowness of village life coming to a virtual halt on the 4th of July holiday, no crush of merrymakers here but rather a deep lull — do these dusty old shops and shuttered eateries ever really open? Along small-town main streets, "Hometown Hero" banners flutter on lamp posts, honoring soldiers from wars past and present — a patriotic ode to military power ingrained in the American psyche; metro areas like St-Louis or Syracuse or even Wichita tug and tempt and intimidate all at once, places where history occurred, where the present pulsates, where culture and vibrance and maybe even a falafel sandwich can be found, but also where squalor and decay and despair too often reside.

And that’s just a start. But first, pit stop: Montreal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

route 13 PA

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) americana blography photography photojournalism roadtrip travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/7/free-flowing-america Mon, 10 Jul 2017 14:08:49 GMT
Phoenix on the fly https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/5/phoenix-fast PHOENIXPHOENIXRevolver Records If Scottsdale is swanky, a vibrant township of leafy privilege and manicured lawns, then nearby downtown Phoenix is decrepit, a steely urban grid of business and blight. At least that's how it felt, on a superficial level, on a quick weekend visit. The sunbaked streets were devoid of traffic, no major events taking place at one of the hulking stadiums clustered in the hub. Like many inner cities on the American landscape, the area felt abandoned, save for pockets of revitalization, stretches of trendiness, funky or formal.

Saturday evening I drove down a main drag, heading west by the Sandra Day O'Connor courthouse and City Hall. Gorgeous sunlight bathed barren buildings, a palette of colors jarring against the quiet eeriness. It was a scene out of the Dawn of the Living Dead. Then, suddenly, two blocks to the left at a cross street, I glimpsed a flurry of activity, a bevy of people milling about... what? A string of restaurants? An entrance to the theater? an open-air festival? I pulled a U at the next turn to check it out. As I got closer, I slowly rolled on, aghast, realizing the sad truth: this was skid row.

PHOENIXPHOENIXWindsor Hotel

 

I don't know the population of homeless and downtrodden in Phoenix, but it's not small. And this is their neighborhood. They congregate here for support, food, shelter, safety and friendship - the very embodiment of misery loving company. People spilling everywhere, like a refugee camp, like an outdoor fair. The cluster extends for blocks, shocking as it is heartbreaking. I've seen skid rows before - in LA where it's of biblical proportions, and at home in Las Vegas, just a few steps north of the dubious fantasy of the Fremont Street Experience.

What hit me in Phoenix is how so little else seemed alive in the city core.

Photos of Phoenix, Arizona gallery: http://www.armandthomas.com/p573487416#h8b4eabf6

View other galleries at homepage: http://www.armandthomas.com/

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Arizona Phoenix downtown homeless photography row skid travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2017/5/phoenix-fast Tue, 23 May 2017 19:08:07 GMT
Christchurch Mending https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2016/2/christchurch-rebounding Five years ago on this day, February 22, at 12:52 pm, an earthquake struck Christchurch. It devastated New Zealand’s ‘Garden City,’ killing 185 people – 115 of them when the Canterbury Television Building collapsed. At least half of the buildings in the downtown core, many of them national landmarks and heritage sites, were damaged and marked for demolition. Some are still standing today, ghostly monoliths awaiting their final collapse.

Container WallContainer Wall

 

Christchurch today is a mix of rebuild and relic. It’s surreal, like an enormous film set going up in one swoop, or a giant Meccano toy of cranes and girders. 

 

There are stark reminders of the wreckage everywhere; it is widespread and mesmerizing. But there’s also a palpable sense of optimism and opportunity and hope. As one local Kiwi put it: “We don’t give a toss about brick and mortar… nothing is permanent.”

 

Indeed, the recovery itself is now what visitors gawk at in this once genteel Britannic town where even the river is called the Avon.

 

Besides the new-wave glass and steel structures going up, there are shipping containers everywhere – some transformed into shopping and eatery outlets, others stacked in sturdy columns in front of beloved old buildings in case they fall before being saved.

 

Swaths of areas are fenced off in what was once downtown: banners proclaim a new Performance Arts Precinct coming here, a modern Convention Center Precinct there, A Retail Precinct, A remodeled Town Square, a refurbished riverside park – the city is a quasi-blank canvas for creativity and possibilities.

 

We’re here in this special city at this peculiar time, enduring early morning construction noise and late-night tremors, to close Quidam for good on Friday night, Feb 26.

 

We’re delighting sold-out crowds at the Arena, as folks have both affection for our show and a longing to cheer something magical. It’s a fitting venue to end a remarkable 20-year run, providing us all an example of resilience, a backdrop of courage and a reminder that if you feel the earth shake and see the sky fall as the end comes, it’s time to dust yourself off, take a deep breath and forge ahead. Renew.

 

CHCH2016 Photo Gallery here

 

Hit the slideshow button (top-right) to rock it with LedZep.

 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Christchurch Cirque du Soleil New Zealand Photography Quidam Quidam closing Travel blograghy containers earthquake rebuild https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2016/2/christchurch-rebounding Mon, 22 Feb 2016 03:40:29 GMT
Water Dragon, No Worries https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2016/1/no-worries Having brekky on a terrace overlooking Byron Bay this morning when I was startled by a rather large reptile waddling towards me. I waived the waitress over and pointed. "Oh, that's just Jerry," she said, amused. "He's a regular." How about those Australians, completely at ease with breast-feeding in a restaurant.

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) australia blography breast feeding byron bay travel water dragon https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2016/1/no-worries Fri, 29 Jan 2016 02:11:33 GMT
Laos - land of enchanting sorrow https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/12/laos---land-of-enchanting-sorrow The Lao resemble the Buddha.

Not the laughing, big-belly Chinese type - but the elongated, closed-eye, meditative figure - the image of serenity and peacefulness.

It's a beautiful face, one that reflects a soft-spoken, sweet-tempered, fair-minded people; a Zen-like face born from years of isolation and tranquility within the secluded forests of Southeast Asia, you would think.

And you would think wrong.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic -- and the many kingdoms that once comprised its territory -- never had it easy.

Tough neighborhood, for eons.

Never strong nor populous, Laos has been dominated in one form or another, by one overlord or another. Landlocked by its powerful neighbors - Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia and (gulp) China – Laos has been the proverbial pawn on the Indochinese chessboard for centuries. When the Western colonial era began in the 19th century, followed by the rise of Communism in the 20th, the geopolitical squeeze only got hotter.

Then came the Vietnam War. And the collateral damage on Laos.

Consider this:

From 1964 to 1973, American warplanes dropped over 2 million tons of bombs over Laos in 580,000 bombing missions, the equivalent of one planeload every 8 minutes, 24 hours-a-day, for 9 years.  

You might want to re-read that paragraph, because it boggles the mind.

That’s more bombs than were dropped on Germany and Japan combined in WWII – making docile, charming little Laos one of the most heavily bombed places on earth.

Who knew?

At that time, too few.

It was called the Secret War. Technically, Laos was neutral following the Geneva Convention and the US did not publicly acknowledge waging one of the most intensive bombing campaigns in the history of warfare. The intended target was the North Vietnamese, and notably the Ho Chi Min trail that snaked through Laos into South Vietnam.

When the war finally ended, not only was Laos very literally blown to bits, but it's educated class - who in large supported the royalist anti-communists – were either neutralized or had fled. Brain drain, money drain, land drain. In 1975, Laos officially kicked out the monarchy and became communist - realizing America's fears of having the red hammer-and-sickle fly over the nation.

My apologies for this glib nutshell of history.

It’s against this backdrop that travel in Laos comes into focus – at once enchanting and disturbing. It’s a place of wonder and humility, where feelings of awe and shame tug at your heartstrings. And so while I marveled and succumbed to the mystique of Laos, I also shuddered a lot.

I loved renting a scooter and riding out across suspension bridges, following dirt roads flanked by rice fields and limestone hills, stopping at hidden temples and isolated hamlets, where homes have dirt floors and meals are cooked in blackened kettles over wood fire, where weaving looms are as common as satellite dishes and the air is pierced by the screeches of schoolchildren playing during recess.

I hated that 80 million cluster bomblets (about one-third of those dropped during the campaign) failed to detonate and remain buried in the countryside, maiming and killing hundreds of people each year, a generation after the horror ended. Bomb casings and shrapnel are so common they have been turned into artifacts, pieces of jewelry, road signposts and souvenir trinkets.

I loved strolling aimlessly in the towns, admiring colonial architecture, photographing everyday scenes that to me seemed magical, and meeting locals with a Sabaidee, which was always returned with a warm smile. I’ve rarely been among more gracious, unassuming people.

I hated how tourists, entitled and immodest, made a circus out of tak bat – the monks’ solemn morning collection of food and alms – breaking the dawn light with their frenzy of camera flashes and loud ignorance, and turning a ceremonial way of life into a gaudy spectacle..

I loved the ingrained, almost mythical beauty of Luang Prabang, a gem of city once the seat of the Kingdom, spared from destruction 50 years ago mainly because it inhabited the American allies. I regret how it has become a tourist magnet, but alas, that’s the fate of progress, and the cost of repute. Fancy restaurants, flourishing markets, adventure tours, boutique hotels – the secret of Luang Prabang is waning.

Most notably, LP is home to about 30 golden temples and one thousand monks. In there bright saffron robes, they are iconic to the fabric of the city, and are often very eager to meet foreigners in their courtyards.

It’s here, at Vat Sop Sickharam in the old town, that I made new friends in young novices: Nark, Mong-ki, Throng, and Alien, so nicknamed by the others because he was, well, a peculiar prankster.

Nark is 17 and has been at the Vat for 7 years. He hopes to stay another 5, then be accepted to a monk university, a highly competitive privilege which leads to more opportunities. Nark is ambitious, he craves to practice his English, as many do, but his eagerness is resolute.

I spent a few mornings with him over the course of my week in Luang Prabang, going over the difference between “For” and “Since”... explaining to him as I formulated it to myself.

We practiced verb tenses and read paragraphs from a book he was given by a foreigner, Nark using his busted-glass smart phone to look up new words, relying on the spotty Wi-Fi signal from a nearby hotel.

We chatted about meditation, having conviction (his word), the “merit” lay people earn by delivering food to the temple, and his wish to return to his village one day to help others learn English.

Other novice monks, young boys in orange robes, came and went about us – making jokes, carrying laundry, playing games, casual and unhurried in this morning lull between tak bat and school. These encounters brought me as much pleasure as it did them.

I asked Nark if he followed world events, through his smart phone or whatever. He did not. But he liked to watch American movies, to hear the language, if the Wi-Fi was strong enough.

I asked if he knew about the history of Laos, what had happened in a past not so very long ago. I was conflicted asking this, wondering if I was being indecent, as if sullying his purity with the dirty truths of humanity. But no, he did not know. He heard there was a lot of fighting, but not much more.

Oddly, I felt envious. Here was the very embodiment of ignorance being blissful. And I wasn’t about to upset that.

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) blography bombs buddhism enchanting laos luang prabang magical monks photography poverty tak bat travel vietnam war https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/12/laos---land-of-enchanting-sorrow Sat, 19 Dec 2015 11:42:59 GMT
Vang Vieng & Friends https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/vang-vieng-vong In the grand tradition of scruffy, shoe-lace travel, Vang Vieng is where tie-dyed young and old let their braided hair down.
On the bumpy road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, this town doesn't have a stop sign, much less a traffic light. It's picturesque alright, jagged limestone cliffs and lush greenery with the Nam (river) Song running through it. But it's far from tranquil.
This is Laos' party town, toned down somewhat since the government cracked down on the excess of debauchery, vulgarity and drugs more than a decade ago. But it's still a place which survives mainly on foreigners' frivolity.
You can go tubing, rock climbing, zip-lining and caving - all of which I'd rather pay not to do, at the moment. But for those seeking organized adventure, the promise abounds, as do the sprains and broken limbs reported at the ramshackle local hospital. In town, you can find the more sedate types sprawled out on soiled cushions at open-air restaurants, swigging Beerlao or slurping noodles while hypnotized on reruns of Friends. This is no joke: every eatery with a mounted flat-screen TV (many of them) ran episodes of that ridiculous American sitcom, which is more curious in that most latter-day beatniks in Vang Vieng were Germans, Koreans or Aussies. 
Once again, I sit back and chuckle at the notion that my friends back home are imagining I'm bathing within the womb of exoticism. It happens, yes, from time to time. But travel in our times is mostly a mundane journey of dubious busses, lumpy beds and reflective solitude. All worth it, it is hoped, for the occasional jolt of wonderment.
Renting a motorbike is great to get out of the frenzy and enjoy the outskirts. No fuss, 5 bucks a day. Laos is so lax, you'd never be permitted to do that in Cambodia or Vietnam. Then again, in Vietnam, you'd be a fool to even try. In mid afternoon, I came across une ecole elementaire that was letting out and all the kids and teachers circled a flagpole besides a giant tamarind tree to sing the national anthem and lower the banner. I found a bona-fide 10-lane bowling center tucked in the jungle - I had to go inside to believe my eyes and there they were: 10 lanes and a shimmering parquet. (oh, those Chinese tourists!).  I saw a bunch of incongruous tourism panels that made you wonder if you were in Idaho, perhaps (iPad shot here).
But what captivated my camera most in Vang Vieng was the "art" of bicycling while holding an umbrella." (No pics just yet, all still in the camera). Seemingly, everyone on two wheels is perfectly adept in shielding themselves from the hot sun with one hand, and negotiating the rubble roads with the other. It was a gorgeous image I couldn't get if I was rafting down the muddy rapids. 

~ dedicated to my friend Marvin, in my thoughts on the road - RIP

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) armand blog blog blography caving laos outdoors photography travel tubing vang vieng https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/vang-vieng-vong Sun, 15 Nov 2015 15:25:52 GMT
Laotian sun https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/sun-loasian Umbrellas were open when I departed Seoul and so they were when I arrived in Vientiane, buy that's where the similarities end. From the drizzle to the sizzle. I've soaked through 7 shirts, 3 shorts and 4 pair of undies in just over 2 days in Laos. I've taken 9 showers and tanned 2 shades of brown. And this is the dry season! But it sure feels good to be in this Asia of tuk-tuks, saffron-robed monks and easy smiles. 

Vientiane, the capital by the Mekong river, was once known as Vien Chang, but the French colonials of Indochine days changed the name and some of its culture forever. Street names begin with rue, the national Library is the Biblioteque, housed in one of the many exquisite (and faded) architectural gems of the Belle Epoque, and bakeries everywhere offer succulent croissants and baguettes. 

Off with the business suits and high-heelded fashion - hello sarongs and flip-flops. The people are sweet-natured and unhurried. Traffic is heavier than you'd expect, far too many cars, motorbikes and SUVs for the narrow streets, which clog easily and become putrid with heavy fumes, somewhat spoiling my idyl on a rented scooter the other day.

 

Even the most languid of capitals can't escape the stench of progress.

As the sun sets, the riverside comes alive with a night market, a campus of tents and stalls set up along the main strip. On an empty parcel overlooking the Mekong, with Thailand across the water, people gather for a energetic fitness aerobic class. Not exactly what you'd expect to see on your first night in this faraway land, but really, what was I thinking? A herd of elephants bathing by the shore? Agh, get real. 

 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) exercise loas tuktuk vientiane https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/sun-loasian Fri, 13 Nov 2015 00:16:24 GMT
Seoul Digest https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/seoul-digest Any nation that loves baseball so much can’t be all that bad. Ok, the passion may be as much for the spectacle in the stands as the sport on the field, but it’s still the grand ol’ game.

Seoul has a lot going for it: a humming economy, high employment, virtually no crime and no garbage on the streets. In fact, there aren’t even any garbage bins around, so if you treat yourself to a roasted ear of corn at a stall, be ready to carry the damn nub around. There are no dirty magazines either. No teenyboppers showing their undies to commuting businessmen (hello Japan!). No titty bars or porn on the Internet (hello Big Brother). Tattoos are a rarity – way too provocative for the mainstream.

A colleague of mine on Quidam was requested to cover his leg ink if he wanted to work out at the hotel gymnasium. The radical!

The last time anyone consumed drugs in South Korea was Ben Johnson in the 88 Olympics – or so it seems. I never appreciated what a scandal that truly was until now.

Seoul is literally safe and figuratively sober – even the Buddhist monks here dress in grey. But getting drunk on Soju and staggering out of bars is as much a rite of hardworking salarymen as it is for their Tokyo sake-swilling counterparts. The most prevalent vice, if it can be called that, is an unadulterated addiction to caffeine. Coffee shops abound nearly as much as Korean BBQ joints, and both are flooded with patronage day and night. It’s as if nobody cooks at home.

Whether due to diet, genes or stress, fat people are as rare as vegetarians. I, for one, am both - no thanks to the scarcity of options at restaurants. A veggie meal here can include chicken, or beef broth, and a high likelihood of being infused with fish sauce. So, bring on the bread, cheese, pizza, and pasta … and pounds.

Koreans do love their meats. Pork, Beef, Chicken, Dog. Yep, hot Dog.

“Gaegogi” is not as common today as it once was, but still part of the menu in many traditional restaurants and local customs. In the past few years, vocal groups have decried the practice, especially for its brutality and inhumane butchering methods. Legend has it that the more the animal suffers, the more invigorating the medicinal properties of its meat. 

Some 2 million dogs are slaughtered for meat each year (and about 100,000 cats, why not?).  Most are bred in farms, but some start off as pets before they're turned into stew. I’ll spare you more details.

On my last days in Seoul, I found this so appalling and abhorrent that I wanted to go out into the neat and tidy streets and kick people’s shins, piss on their sublime subways, throw mud on their cashmere coats and run a key across their swanky Hyundais.

How could they?

But my indignity for Fido turned into cold reflection – every year in America, 35 million cows, 110 million pigs, 9 billion chickens are turned into food.

Koreans, some of them anyway, don’t really see the difference between man's best friend and other animals. At least not on the dinner plate.

Should they?

Please use the link below for my new Seoul photo collection, and click the "Slideshow" button to add music

http://www.armandthomas.com/p553070895/h6f31341b#h6f31341b

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Seoul Soju South Korea baseball blog blography caffeine crime dog meat meat photography suicide travel vegetarian vice https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/seoul-digest Sat, 07 Nov 2015 17:55:46 GMT
Korean Split https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/korean-split How odd to be in this futuristic, gleaming city of fashion, skyscrapers and international pop stars, and to know that just over there, beyond a border 35 miles away from Seoul, the kinfolk are oppressed, malnourished and pretending to adore the haircut of their dictator, that nice Mr. Un.

In fact, it's only the Demilitarized Zone that's so close, a large swath of land so vacant of inhabitants that wildlife has flourished in the area. The infamous DMZ, the most fortified checkpoint in the world, where rival soldiers stare each other down with pointed rifles, is a tourist hotspot, where visitors (from the South side of course) can pay $40 to feel the tension and absorb the absurdity.

But it's no joke, sadly. The Koreas declared an armistice 62 years ago, so technically the war never ended. Hostility is as real as the difference of ideology – and while one side regales itself in the lap of luxury, the Hermit Kingdom is the embodiment of paranoia and hardship.

What did Frankie Valli croon? “So close, so close and yet so faa-arr…”

Odd. Very odd. And it’s not as if we’re contrasting neighbors like Mexico and America, or China and India. Here, we have shared lineage, ancestral legacies, brothers and sisters, family. They are one, save for the politics. Like Germans once were after WWII, only weirder.

Yet, in Seoul’s everyday life, the situation is practically invisible. There are occasional demonstrations, anti-communist rallies and spikes of protests that hit the news - but on the whole, the divide is not topical. It doesn’t command attention or interrupt the idyll. Like a lousy breakup you’d rather forget. It’s too painful to dwell upon, perhaps. At least, that how it looks like to us strangers.

 

 

 

It’s always hard to tell. Koreans can be inscrutable. Theirs is a bowing culture, full of ceremony and decorum. They are demure, reserved and regimented. Posh and proper Seoul is orderly, people conform, abide by the rules, adhere to programmed efficiency that breeds success. That same sort of indoctrination, propaganda - call it brainwashing - is at work in the North, where fear and tyranny make the populace appear in step with its leadership, united in its cause, disciplined and resolute.

 

 

 

The pandemonium fans display at a baseball game in the South eerily resembles the hysterical cheering North Koreans lavish on their Supreme Leader. It’s manic yet calculated, a way of life, of fitting in, of compliance, of self-preservation.

 

 

 

You can rip the nation in two, but you can’t split the DNA.

 

 

 

New Seoul photo gallery coming soon on this website

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) conformism dna korea korean blog legacy north korea seoul south korea https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/11/korean-split Thu, 05 Nov 2015 04:59:04 GMT
Celling Yin and Yang https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/10/celling-yin-and-yang Everyone, any place, all the time in Seoul seems to be clutching a mobile phone. It’s not just common. It’s spectacularly pandemic. And when not transfixed by the lighted screens or tapping away at the glass, they’re 

carrying the device like precious treasure, elbow crooked and hand for holster, as if plugged into a human battery pack, a life-support appliance, an extension of their very being in this futuristic world.

Trend-happy Koreans perhaps feel uncomfortable, untethered, without their mobiles - out of step, out of order. Naked.

It makes for a droll and twisted conundrum, like a Steven Wright joke (remember him? “Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways…”) – Why are folks in the best-wired city in the entire world so virtually disconnected?

The answer flutters right there on the South Korean flag (and no, that’s not the Pepsi Cola logo, you wags!)

Yin and Yang – the duality of life, the opposites that compliment, the light that gives meaning to darkness, the give and take, the sweet and sour, Abbott and Costello… ok, you get the point.

Korea, as much as anywhere else on the globe, is a culture of paradox, of profound contradictions. It’s a society at the confluence of tradition and modernity, of ancient temples and imposing high-rises, of booming prosperity and a dreadful suicide rate… And, of unrivaled broadband and a zombie-like citizenry that lives within cyber-bubbles.

There’s a price to pay for high technology beyond the monthly fees.

Crossing the street, riding a motorbike, behind the store counter, out for dinner, inside the big top … the addiction is unremitting. 

And nowhere is the mobile phonemania, I mean phenomena, more prevalent than in the sublime Seoul subway. No, I haven’t seen every metro system in the world, but good luck finding one that equals Seoul’s, in its ultra efficiency, cleanliness, citywide coverage, and meticulous design.

It must also be the quietest, most passive and orderly mass transit system anywhere, not because of soft rubber tires or stern policing, but because everyone, or just about, is enrapt, consumed, hypnotized by their very, very smart phones.

Riding the phenomenal (and tranquil) Seoul Metro - VIDEO:

 

seoul subway cells

 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) addiction broadband individualism korea mobile phones paradox seoul seoul metro smart phones subway technology wireless yin and yang https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/10/celling-yin-and-yang Tue, 27 Oct 2015 13:54:17 GMT
54 Party! https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/10/54-party Thanks to the fab Q crew for making the Seoulful night glitter!
Fast and dirty, here's a short montage.

 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/10/54-party Mon, 26 Oct 2015 13:58:57 GMT
The palette of Seoul https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/10/the-palette-of-seoul Quidam, in Latin, means an “anonymous passerby,” and that’s who I’ll try to be as I rejoin my original Cirque show on tour, first in South Korea, then Australia and New Zealand. Over the next four months, I hope to regale you with a BLOGRAPHY – a series of writing and photographs without 

any preconceived agenda. I’m also taking a personal side-trip to Loas in November, while the tour is on break.

So, here we go: prologue in Seoul.

~

It’s not something you notice straight away.

Traffic in Seoul looks fairly normal, heavy at times, yet always orderly, like so much else in this megalopolis of 10 million inhabitants. Koreans are respectful and intrinsically conformist: commuters line up on the right side of escalators to keep the fast lane open; TV sportscasters bow to each other when their program ends; spectators pick up their own trash when exiting the big top. Courtesy is a collective mentality.

The same sense of civility is true on the road. Not only is traffic tidy, it’s also strikingly affluent with its bevy of luxury cars – gleaming sedans with tinted windows, chromed wheels and winged hood ornaments. There’s nary a clunker in sight. By the look of it, you can tell the economy has been pumping on all cylinders lately.

Is that it then? Is this what’s peculiar? Is it the sheer number of Lexus, Mercedes, Audis, Porches and, of course, those high-end Equus - Hyundai's posh combination of limousine

and sports car?

 

Is that it then?

Uhhhhhm, no…

Lessee, what’s different, what’s odd with this picture?

And then, Bam!… It hits you. Like one of those pixelated eye-quizzes that slowly reveals what is perfectly obvious:

There are no colored cars!                                       

​Just about every vehicle on the road - save for the ubiquitous orange taxis - is black or white or a shade of grey.

Oh, there may be the occasional beige car, or an audacious dark blue, and every once in a while, outrageously, a maroon in the lot…

But they stand out like the lumps of coal in a snow drift.

I did a little background check.

In Korea, status and social conformity is paramount, and colored cars, it turns out, are seen as flippant and frivolous.

Henry Ford would have loved this.

Hyundai, which accounts for nearly three quarters of all car sales in South Korean, said the three shades make up 98.8 percent of its full-sized sedans sold in the first nine months of this year.

The company’s chairman was quoted as saying: "My personal theory is that, in the premium segment, it's about prestige, and when you have a black or silver car, it looks prestigious."

And in this land of reverence and abiding trends, when a social perception takes hold, it’s like an edict from the Emperor.

Koreans have much to be thankful for – riding a wave of prosperity and an enviable standard of living nearly unrivaled in the Far East.Seoul is a slick and modish capital with gleaming towers and ancient temples; a place of youthful energy and innumerable coffee shops; fashionable women tote Chanel handbags and dapper businessmen strut in finely pressed suits.  Things run hyper-efficiently, crime is quasi inexistent, commerce is thriving.

And yet…

Yet.

I’ve only been here for one month, and can’t pretend being an authority on modern Korean society - but something sure seems amiss.

For all the virtues, there seems to be a palpable sense of repetition, of numbing conformity, as if decency is programmed, clean but flat and laced with that inscrutable Asian righteousness, a sort of success bereft of warmth and somewhat monochromatic - like the cars.

~

Coming soon – a new Seoul photo gallery on this website.

Click here to view previous collections.

www.armandthomas.com

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Automobiles Cars Hyundai Korea Seoul blography conformists luxury photography street traffic https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2015/10/the-palette-of-seoul Thu, 22 Oct 2015 17:10:29 GMT
Colorful Little League World Series https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/8/black-n-white-little-league-world-series Excellent baseball being played by these strapping young boys and girls in the 2014 Little League World Series - but have you noticed the US Championship game today pits an all-black team from Chicago versus an all-white team from Las Vegas? Maybe that's a wonderful sign how racial diversity has settled comfortably in this land, where only hacks like me double-take a non-story; then again, maybe it's evidence that in some instances, whether in organized sports or the streets of middle America, skin color remains an issue of contention. new orleansnew orleans

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) america baseball black championship chicago diversity kids las little league race vegas white https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/8/black-n-white-little-league-world-series Sat, 23 Aug 2014 20:48:28 GMT
The Beautiful Game - FINAL https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/7/the-beautiful-game---final Fittingly, the series closes with boys playing in a dirt patch in Téfe, province of Amazonas, in northern Brazil.

To view earlier photographs, click on the Facebook link below.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152461061226558&set=a.10151232947406558.509238.686626557&type=1&theater

Gooooaaaaaallllllllll!!!

TEFE, BrazilTEFE, Brazil

www.armandthomas.com

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Football amazon brazil final goal playing soccer stilts téfe world cup https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/7/the-beautiful-game---final Sun, 13 Jul 2014 17:55:30 GMT
The Beautiful Game (no.10) https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/7/the-beautiful-game-no-10 EL MINYA, Egypt - No.10 of a series of soccer being played around the world.

Visit previous postings here:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152461061226558&set=a.10151232947406558.509238.686626557&type=1&theater

ANCIENT CEMETARY of MINYA, EgyptANCIENT CEMETARY of MINYA, Egypt

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Egypt Minya cemetery football series soccer world cup https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/7/the-beautiful-game-no-10 Thu, 03 Jul 2014 17:28:10 GMT
The Beautiful Game https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/6/the-beautiful-game BOGOTA, Colombia - No.9 of a series of soccer being played around the world.

Visit previous postings here:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152461061226558&set=a.10151232947406558.509238.686626557&type=1&theater

BOGOTA, ColombiaBOGOTA, Colombia

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) bogota colombia football goal soccer world cup https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/6/the-beautiful-game Sun, 29 Jun 2014 19:30:56 GMT
King of Diamonds https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/6/king-of-diamonds  

Driving home after 9 hours of poker, I thought about some hands I played. I should have shoved with those 6s when the pot was big; I shouldn't have pressed the King-Queen-suited so early out of position…
And so on…
The Golden Nugget tournament began at noon with 109 players, I was knocked out in 18th place.Six spots out of the money. 
Dang, so much work - er, I mean fun - on my day off, and no reward save for more experience.
Hmmpt.

Up ahead on the freeway, I spot a 50s Cadillac Eldorado, pale colored, beautiful curves and dramatic fins.
I pass it on the left and look at the driver, none other than Elvis A. Presley himself, black hair coiffed back, gold metal sunglasses, rhinestone jacket...
I chuckle to myself and think: Ahh, Las Vegas, you sure are something…
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Eldorado Elvis Golden Las Nugget Poker Vega https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/6/king-of-diamonds Fri, 27 Jun 2014 22:49:49 GMT
As the World Turns https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/as-the-world-turns < Last of the blogging while tripping in Vietnam and Cambodia >

As is customary at the end of a trip to an impoverished part of the world, my thoughts turn to my parents, and my eternal gratitude for having emigrated from Egypt in 1966. My parents’ risky move gave us a chance for a better life, for prosperity, education and human rights.

I adored visiting Vietnam and Cambodia, exotic and intoxicating nations, historical and cultural landmarks, but also distressed and corrupt, nations struggling to recover from tragic pasts. And I am once again reminded of my own good fortunes, and how not to take them for granted. Because there, for the love of Buddha, could have gone I.

Despite threads of melancholy in my writings, it was a trip filled with wonder, both sublime and ridiculous. How these people have such easy smiles defies their meager means. How there aren’t a thousand crashes at each of Saigon’s busy intersections defies logic.

Angkor Wat artist

So many elusive memories over three short weeks.

I chatted with a group of young monks inside Buddha school in Phnom Penh for a half hour – just walked in off the street and climbed a set of stairs to a classroom…. I had a haircut in Siem Reap in one of several shops soon to be added to my Barbers photo gallery… I had 50-cent dinners and 4-dollar cups of coffee, obviously not at the same place. I hung out with a young painter in Wat Prohm (near Angkor) and bought one his watercolor artwork… I treated myself to one cheap massage, but couldn't fathom getting a Happy Ending from a pitiable young girl… I walked in the footsteps of my all-time hero, English writer Graham Greene, whose classic A Quiet American was set partly at 151 rue Catinat (now called Dong Koi) in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). That very arcade now features art shops and a tasteful café called L’Usine… I handed out small bills like tissues at a funeral, and gave kids hologram 3-D stickers of African animals bought at the 99-cent store in Vegas… I got my legs splashed by fish so fresh at the locals market, they were still writhing in a shallow basin of water… I rode passenger at the back of a motorbike "taxi" with my heavy backpack through the dizzying Saigon traffic and for all the gold in the world, I wish I had a GoPro camera on my useless plastic helmet - terrifying and terrific all at once… I found Wifi everywhere and veggie offerings hardly anywhere, thus packing on an 10 extra pounds through a diet of rice, noodles, pasta, crackers and bread… Too Fast Too Furious blared on the TV monitor at the front of the bus as we bounced along a rural Cambodian road, swerving to avoid cattle, deep ruts and sputtering tractors from the 1950s… I bumped hard into an ancient column walking dazedly around the Angkor Wat ruins, and exclaimed "Now, who put that there?!" (but none of the Chinese tourists found this hilarious)… I bought small inexpensive souvenirs galore, not so much from the need to have as from the goal to give… Why then, at times, did I haggle over a huge amount of 15,000 dong when in the end, it amounted to 75 cents?... I was bedazzled by the sweetest 7-year-old in Cambodia who sold postcards and could recite 1 to 10 in ten languages – switched the camera into video mode in time to capture the last 5… On a Saigon city bus (yes, I hopped on those to mingle with locals) I sat next to an old man, maybe 80, who's eyesight was failing, but spirit still robust. He railed to me, in Vietnamese, with relentless passion. "He complains about the communists," the girl behind us explained, in French. She had just come back from studies in Paris and noticed my Cirque t-shirt. Got that on video too… I loved my new gear – the tidy Olympus OMD5, the Lowe Pro messenger bag and the mini iPad… all small and subdued and exceptional travel companions.

A delightful trip, yes - but one of conflicting emotions. One moment supremely awed, the next wholly disgusted. I couldn’t get the Cambodian tragedy of Pol Pot out of my head. Two million people wiped out, the quarter of the population. Just 40 some year ago. “My uncle he die from no eat,” the painter at Wat Prohm told me, a line that I wrote in dread and earnest. Vietnam too can have wrenching poverty, but there’s entrenched desperation in the Cambodia. And a more vile government, not coincidentally. Beggars, amputees, child labor, sex tourism, relentless flogging, peddling, pleading… Hardship comes at you in many ways, and if the heart doesn’t break it does not beat. That's the price of traveling in the real world. We go see not only for pleasure, but also to know, to become aware. To be of the world. To appreciate what matters.

Soon, I’ll be back home, mending my garden, watching hockey on television, polishing my motorcycle, complaining about my job, living the privileged life and trying not to feel guilty about all the disparity.

(Jan 23)

See previous blogs at www.armandthomas.com/blog

Photo gallery of Vietnam and Cambodia coming soon...

 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Cambodia Graham Greene Saigon Temples Vietnam art disparity hardship joy poverty prosperity travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/as-the-world-turns Sat, 25 Jan 2014 06:41:02 GMT
Chau Doc https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/chau-doc < Tripping and blogging from Vietnam and Cambodia >
 
Travel, if you're lucky, is half pleasure and half work. Because the pleasure is so intoxicating, we keep hitting the road like junkies for a fix. But you're constantly dealing, forever on guard - is the passport safe? Is the food clean? When's the next bus? Where's tomorrow's bed? Are the camera batteries recharged? Carry a pen knife and a small tube of crazy glue. Watch out for harassing touts, pickpockets and bag snatchers on motorbikes (I had my iPad nearly ripped out of my hands the other day); don't twist your ankle, always keep small bills handy and never stray too far afield if you have the runs. 
The basics.
It develops as second nature, and it's all worth it, every bit. 
 
But, yes, it does wear you down, and my stamina isn't what it used to be.  The trip rounding it's final bend, and having caught a cold, the temptation to zip back to Saigon fro Phnom Penh was great. 
So glad I resisted, and took a motor boat down to the Vietnamese border town of Chau Doc.  
With a population of 150,000, it's small enough to be remote and offer the quintessential Mekong Delta experience, while big enough to have a place to stay like the Murray Guesthouse, one of those pleasures mentioned before. 
Run by a worldly Australian man and his Vietnamese wife, it was one of those unexpected rewards on the the unplanned itinerary. Spotless, friendly, helpful. Plus, they provided good bicycles which I used over my 2 days, scurrying around the loud and colorful markets, finding hidden alleys to the water's edge where women in straw cone hats rowed by standing up, and taking the ferry across the tributary to explore the slower and somewhat more pastoral (ie: poorer) outlying communities. Lots of shanty homes and stilt houses perched over the waters. And, it came as quite a shock, a dozen Mosques squirting the area of Chau Phong, most notably one named Mubarak. When the muezzins blared their calls for prayers as students in their flowing silks pedaled by, I stopped to wonder where I was.
Buddhists, Taoists, Moslems and Christians seem to coexist fairly well around communist Vietnam, particularly in the south.  Go figure. 
(Jan 20)
 
Video Chau Doc Market - Mekong Delta
See earlier posts at: www.armandthomas.com/blog
Picture and video seen here are iPad quickies -
Photo gallery of Vietnam and Cambodia coming soon
 

 

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Chau Doc Mekong Vietnam boats fish guesthouse house religion river travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/chau-doc Tue, 21 Jan 2014 17:00:44 GMT
Body and soul https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/sex-and-devotion  
Angkor WatAngkor WatCambodia
 
Lots of white geezers who look like Nick Nolte in that mugshot strut around Phnom Penh with young Cambodian girls for company.
They've come to visit, or even retire, to regale themselves with concubines on the cheap.
Maybe the Beatles were wrong. Money can buy you love, at least a semblance of it.
Granted, some couples are on the up. It happens. Boy meets girl anywhere. 
But most unions are dubious, if you were to judge the look by its cover.
Foreigners are accosted relentlessly in the tourist quarters, first for a tuk tuk, then a motorbike and then, in a sly conspirator tone, "You want massage, girl?"
Every dude seems to know a girl who's simply dripping with desire.
While I was in PP, news flashed about an international bust on pedophilia and sex trafficking.
This ragged city with its corrupt government and bounty of stunningly beautiful girls was a prime target. Really? Quelle surprise!
 
Video: Phnom PenhCambodia
 
Phnom Penh is also awash in the flowing orange robes of monks.
Talk of juxtaposition. Sultry seediness and demure devotion.
Both the byproduct of destitution.
With all due respect to Buddhism, in poverty riddled Cambodia, a young man can often find salvation through religion.
It's no easy task. And no easy life, by any measure. But at least it provides purpose.
To a stranger, Monks are colorful anomalies of Western life. They add a visual vibrance to the daily scenery -- robes flowing from back of scooters, big shiny orange umbrellas catching a ray of sunlight in a dingy market, the serenity amidst the clutter of a monk reciting a mantra in front of a shop in exchange for a little food or money. I walked into a Buddhist university where young students from the countryside had come to complete their entrance exams. I stood at the threshold of the class, snapping pictures of the marvelous scene, feeling privileged. No one made a fuss, on the contrary, they were enthralled at seeing the images on my small monitor, and were eager to know where I came from, where I was going and to answer my own queries about their lives. 
The mantra of street photography is universal: make a connection and you can make art.
(Jan 19)
 
See earlier posts at: www.armandthomas.com/blog
 
Picture and video seen here are quickies shot on iPad
Photo gallery of Vietnam and Cambodia coming soon on this website
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Penh Phnom buddha cambodia concubines despair monnks pedophilia photography poverty school sex street tourism tuk https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/sex-and-devotion Mon, 20 Jan 2014 05:34:54 GMT
Ancient Ruins https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/ancient-ruins-post All right, roll out the superlatives.
Angkor Wat is everything it's cracked up to be - magnificent, glorious, colossal, beautiful.
It fully merits it's place in the pantheon of the world's great wonders, along with the Pyramids, Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, etc.
 
 
It's sheer size is breathtaking. Angkor itself is but one wat (temple) among a series that span an area of some 5 miles. Thousands more a scattered for hundreds of miles in northwest Cambodia.
And they weren't only places of worship. Angkor was the hub of the ancient Khmer kingdom that reached far into present-day Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. To put things in perspective, in its heyday which was somewhere between the 9th and 13th centuries, Angkor's population was more than one million inhabitants, at a time when, say, London was a town of 50,000.
 
Fast forward about 500 years when Western adventurers in the early 20th century "discovered" the hidden civilization and began clearing the jungle and scrubbing the walls, so to speak, for all the world to see.
Cambodians were filled with national pride, and revenue from tourism wouldn't hurt either. The terror years of Pol Pot killed this venture, along with 2 million countrymen,  and it wasn't until the 90s or so that peace broke out and the ruins became a worldly destination.
How's that for an abridged overview?
You can't just walk into Angkor, and you can't stroll from one wat to the other.
It's a protected area a few clicks from the feeder town of Siem Reap and once inside, the distances are too great.
I'd be damned if I joined an organized tour, and with my gear and the heat, renting a bicycle was also out. So I hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day. From my hotel, he'd drop me off from one location to the other and wait patiently from my return. Sun up to sundown, 18 bucks. My guy Phoeung was so good and caring, I tipped him $10 each of my 2 days, and picked up the lunch tab too. Hordes and hordes of visitors and busloads of Chinese tourists assaulted the place. Thank goodness it's so big.
And there's also a large population of locals, many living within the confines, who hawk souvenirs at each stop. But none of this alters the fact that Angkor is truly an exquisite relic of the ancient world.
 
 
By stark contrast, Siem Reap is anything but the dusty provincial capital of old.
Think Cabo at Spring Break. New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Gaudy tourism with an Asian flare and a Third World underbelly. Siem Reap is swanky restaurants and massage stables, nightclubs and markets overflowing the tidy quarter around Pub Street. 
It's the height of party decadence, neon lights and incessant hawkers.
The air fills with thumping traditional music of Whitney Houston and The Who.
Siem Reap is the debauched Yin to Angkor's sublime Yang.
It provided an interesting distraction, but a stone's throw from the mayhem, I walked the grounds of a serene Pagoda and befriended a young monk in saffron orange robe feeding pigeons in front of his tiny cinderblock room.
His name is Pheayum. At 22, he's been studying at the Buddha school for 2 years, and hopes to one day move on with scholarship to a university, become a lawyer, or a doctor.
Monks are numerous in Siem Reap, but are usually furtive and steer clear of foreigners.
Pheayum was eager to talk, to practice his English, to learn more about the outside world.
How long are wedding ceremonies in Canada? (They last 2 days in Cambodia). How do people live in your villages? How many countries have you traveled to?
He spoke softly and had clever eyes.
He told me how difficult it was at first not having dinners, as monks eat only in the morning and at lunch. Nothing more is permitted. 
He has 4 siblings back in the village, and he said he chose to become a monk because, no, his English is not good enough to explain.
His arm gestures and facial expression suggested a calling within his heart.
I asked him about girls. Does he ever think about being with a girl.
Angkor WatAngkor WatCambodia
"Yes," he said, unabashed. "But I am a monk."
Simple as that.
We sat for nearly an hour as dusk settled over the stupa.
He posed too formally for a picture, and I also snapped a selfie two-shot.
I gave him a couple of dollars and, somewhat stupidly, wished him a blessed life.
 
Back at the hotel, I had a massage appointment.
Dash your filthy minds, my body ached and it was just a massage.
Slightly pricier than on the street, but that's because these girls were professionally trained.
It was awful.
On a twin bed, both of us fully dressed, she twisted my limbs in directions they shouldn't go, pressed on my organs until I grunted and pounded on my backbone in no particular manner.
Still, it was nice to feel the hands of a girl on me.
It brought back, um, ancient memories.
 
(Jan 16)
See earlier blogs at www.armandthomas.com/blog
 
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) angkor buddha cambodia massage pagoda reap siem souvenirs temples tourism travel tuk wat https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/ancient-ruins-post Fri, 17 Jan 2014 06:41:51 GMT
Maudlin in Cambodia (repost) https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/maudlin-in-cambodia-repost It's surreal to be reminded that in 1975, the city of Phnom Penh was evacuated, as in emptied out of its citizenry, by the brutal regime of Pol Pot. Everybody out, so decreed the revolution in ridding itself of everything western and colonial. So the people were forced to abandon their homes, trucked out into the fields, and most capital's educated class were killed. Executed. Phnom Penh for five blood-soaked years was occupied by some 50,000 cronies and supporters of the Khmer Rouge madness.
 
That's less than 40 years ago, straddling our generation. The years of terror affected every single family, through loss of life or ingrained trauma - physical, emotional and spiritual. Two million people died, a quarter of the nation's population. It's unbelievable to know this and not be astounded by what the "Pearl of Asia" is today - a city booming of sorts, buzzing with activity, snarling traffic, abundant markets, industry and tourism. The boulevard running along the Mekong is commonly known as Riverside - and looks for all intents like a stretch of South Beach with its hip cafés and flashy eateries.
Only difference is, the first-world terraces crammed with foreigners swigging iced drinks spill out onto a very third-world sidewalk.
Misery abounds in Phnom Penh, as in the rest of Cambodia, and no where is it starker than on Riverside.
As tourists lounge in rattan chairs stuffing their faces with oversized dishes, children weave between the tables selling handmade bracelets or other crafts, looking to make a measly buck for what took an hour to fabricate.
Child labor. 
My heart breaks to pieces every time. I'm not naive to the world's ills and I've seen this scenario play out in Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, and so many impoverished nations. But it never gets easy, and neither should it. Seeing kids toil in drudgery should hurt. I feel guilty by association, seeing a group of European men say something droll in their own language to a young girl hawking travel books and burst out laughing as they shoo her away. I intercept her to look at the titles in her basket, and give her a couple of dollars without buying anything. Her books, knockoffs, cost 3 bucks.
(American currency is commonly used in all Cambodia, along with the national Riel)
Back on the street, headed to my cozy hotel with hot shower and crisp linens, I stopped at a corner where a woman sold books of all sorts from a cart parked in front of a construction fence.
I looked idly at the choices, some pirated others genuine. I was going to Angkor Wat the next day and thought a little background reading wouldn't be a bad idea.
The woman saw me palming a guide to Angkor and raised six fingers.
Traveling with an ipad makes getting my information so easy, so I hesitated.
Just then a girl, a young woman really, comes toward me from around the cart.
"This one very good, with color," she said, pointing at another Angkor book.
"Not copy, original."
She unsheathed the plastic wrapping and flipped the pages to show the quality.
Oh oh, I thought, I'm being reeled in.
I said: "It's very nice, but I don't think I need it. I read things mostly online."
The young woman sighed. "Yes I know. Everything now on internet. Nobody want to read paper no more."
Her English was broken but it flowed easily from her lips. She spoke with confidence, even fierceness, but in her voice was fatigue.
Her name, I later learned, was Seryan. She was the older woman's daughter.
She was short and pretty, with hair pulled back tightly into a bun that stretched her dark almond eyes. 
She wore a knitted sweater curled at the neck that seemed far too hot for the steamy night.
"Maybe you read something else, like this, The Killing Fields," she offered, picking one of the main tourist draws from her country's tragic past.
Before I could catch myself, I uttered, "Ugh, no, not that!"
Seryan said, sizing me up, "Oh, okay, you want a fun book? We have books to make for fun good."
To which I recoiled further, eager to show her that's not what I meant. I was no Lance from Arizona State. I wasn't a tourist prowling for a party scene.
"I don't want fun books, no," I said. "I know about the Killing Fields and what your country went through, but I'm just not in the mood to be reading about it. I mean, I don't even want to take the tour to the Killing Fields. It's just too sad."
Seryan nodded that she understood. 
And then, suddenly, at a crowded sidewalk squeezed by motorbikes and pedestrians jostling around a muddy pothole, a real conversation began, a real connection with a local.
She grew up on this street, Riverside, pretty much at this corner or the next, shilling books and trinkets since the age of 5.
She's 22 now, with a little girl of 3, born from a fleeting marriage with an American.
The father keeps no ties with either of them, especially since she caught him cheating the last time he was in Phnom Penh.
They've since divorced, but not before assuring the baby got her US passport.
"I don't want my daughter to grow up like this, like me," she said, looking at me straight in the eyes. "I hope she go to America when she 18, and after that I join her, maybe."
But that's a long and difficult ways off.
Seryan gets up every day at 5 in the morning to deliver newspapers that sell for 1000 riel (25 cents) and makes 200 riel profit from each.
She also looks out for her little sister who's 8 and goes to school by day, and sells woven bracelets to tourists by night.
Her mom makes the bracelets, they go 3 for a dollar.
Mom works the book cart every night, and dad is back home in the village, a one-legged man who stepped on a mine two decades ago.
There is no shortage of amputees in Cambodia. There is no shortage of live land mines in the fields, still.
A few years ago, an kind Australian man sponsored Seryan with a year's worth of schooling. "Two thousand dollars!" Seryan said, her eyes open wide. "This is why I can speak English a little now, not good, but with no school, we can not be talk."
I became still as the intimacy of her life unfolded.
"How do I thank him? What do I do? I cannot repay money. So I say sthank you, sthank you."
I said, "That's all you can do."
"Yes," she continued. "I say sthank you."
 
Up the street, a row of shops with garish neon signs welcome visitors for drinks and girls. They have names like Pretty Lady and Apocalypse Wow. Girls inshort dresses and too much makeup  wave hello and bait all white guys walking by.
"Some people want fun only, look for young girls and good time in Cambodia," she said. "Me, I used to think life easy before, just sit back and let money come. But now, I older, with little girl, I know life is hard, and family more important."
The conversation paused and I could see her eyes well up.
She stared in the distance now, looking far into her memories.
"Children, they don't know," she said. "They don't know when man want to give something if it is good. When I was ten, a man take me and give me money and tell me stories, but after..."
She fell silent. Tears ran down her smooth face.
"I'm sorry," she said, as if needing to apologize. I placed a hand on her shoulder and said, sheepishly, "Don't be. I'm sorry."
Sex tourism, child predators, abuse of wealth, it makes me sick.
I often recall that line from The Year of Living Dangerously: 'Starvation is a great aphrodisiac.'
Seryan has remarried, to a tuk-tuk driver. "He poor, but he is good," she said.
Thirty minutes went by and I was filled with myriad conflicting thoughts.
Her daughter had arrived with an aunt. She was stunningly gorgeous, bright, carefree and bubbling with energy.
She swung on my arm like from a tree branch giggling all the while.
I bought a book, any book, and 3 bracelets for 6 bucks. I gave her 10.
Then I handed her another $20, because this was no tourist trap, this was not a concocted story for money. This was her reality. I felt compelled to help, however small.
"Here, buy your daughter something nice," I said.
She pressed her palms together, bowing slightly. "Thank you," she said gently.
Namaste.
 
I returned the gesture and went off, dazed with emotion.
 
A couple of street kids had hung around and tagged along as I left.
They were both maybe 10, the girl witty with a smokey voice and sparkling English.
She carried a basket of scarves and floppy silk purses.
The boy was tall and slightly more reserved. She was the leader of this duet.
"You buy me a t-shirt too?" the girl said. "Please mistah, you buy me something too?"
I said no, I had spent all my money.
She looked at me with such disappointment, made me think what a wuss of a father I would have made.
"Ahh, I don't believe you," she said. "Look, there's an ATM there. You have more!"
I did, but where does it stop?
"I don't need anything dear," I said as sweetly as I could.
"So you buy for your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter," she continued as we walked.
I didn't dare say I had none of them, because they had nothing.
She melted my resistance with her lively intelligent banter.
"Where did you learn to speak in English so well," I asked, changing the subject.
"At school. You buy something from me?" she stayed the course.
Her scarves were two bucks each.
I was hooked again.
"Here," I said, pulling out a five dollar bill. "I don't want to buy anything, but you two share this, ok?"
The smiles on their faces were priceless. I'm such a sentimental weakling.
So little represents so much to them.
I wished I could have showered them with gifts, or new clothes, or hope.
 
I was overwrought and needed a drink, but I settled for a can of coke.
Coming out of the store, they were still there, leaning against the frame of a tuk-tuk.
"Another five dollars!" the girl exclaimed, her hand out. And the boy also chimed in, "Me too, five dollars!"
But before I could object, they both laughed and said, "Joke, only joking!"
Like teasing among friends. We relaxed in each other's company.
The girl let drop her business tone and asked softly: "When you go back to your country?"
I began to blabber some answer when she interrupted me, looking up at me in sweet alarm.
"You cry? Why you cry?"
This tough wonderful kid with soiled bare feet and tattered clothes asked me why you cry, concerned and surprised. 
I thought I had wiped my face of tears but she noticed my swollen eyes.
Because I'm sad was the only thing I found to say. 
(Jan 11, 2014)
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Cambodia Penh Phnom begging child foreigners industry kids labor poverty sex street tourist https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/maudlin-in-cambodia-repost Thu, 16 Jan 2014 00:12:43 GMT
School Bike https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/school-bike Traffic in Saigon is a dizzying, unceasing wave of motorbikes. There are 100 bikes for every car on the road, mostly scooters no bigger that 150cc. They move clustered together in a swarm, swerving and billowing like a school of fish in the flowing water. The wonder is how they don't collide. But they do, just not nearly as often as one would expect. The Saigonese are born on their bikes. They go to school on them, date on them, shop on them, surf the internet on them, sleep on them, and sometimes, yes, they die on them. They are parked inside living rooms, next to the television or by the bed. Motorbikes weave the fabric of this society, for better or worse.
Video - Saigon
 
In Cholon, Saigon's Chinatown, negotiating the traffic is even trickier. Mercantile activity is a breakneck pace, and there's less awareness of foreigners stumped at intersections. Best advice in crossing any street is to step resolutely forward and make no sudden stops or hesitations. That game of Frog. It's the only way. 
I ducked into a small snack shop to rest my feet and guzzle a bottle of water. A group of kids from the nearby school gathered around a table to tease and rabble each other, sending the occasional english word my way to get a reaction. That worked, but I was much more stunned in  seeing these 13-year-olds buy soda pop, chips and cigarettes from the lady running the place, They puffed away like pulmonary veterans, with nary a sign that this was illicit or uncommon. 
Alas, smoking, like riding, is learned yoyng.
(Jan 8)
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Chi Cholon Ho Minh Saigon Vietnam cigarettes motorbikes school scooters travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/school-bike Fri, 10 Jan 2014 15:50:29 GMT
The Cyclo of Life https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/the-cyclo-of-life He greets me from afar, big outstretched palms like an old mate at a reunion. What good fortune to see each other again! Only problem is, I've never met this beaming cyclo driver before. 
"One hour 200,000 dong!" he exclaims.
Oh dear, I can't help sticking out like a fat tourist on the streets of Saigon.
Usually, I brush off the hawkers by turning quickly away, but this guy had charm.
 
Saigon
I said no thanks, I wanted to walk. He insisted the price was fair and that I'd see all the sights. 
The cyclo is a reverse rickshaw of sorts, the pedaler seated behind a bucket seat where the passenger sits. Granted, 10 bucks for an hour was very reasonable, and probably negotiable, but did I want to be the front bumper in this frenetic chaos of traffic of Saigon? Not sure.
"Everyday I polish this," he said, pointing to the shiny chrome fender. He's been a cyclo driver for 27 years, to feed his 7 children, he says. I asked his age, guessing fiftyish. He looked haggard but strong and wiry. He said 63, rather proudly. We chatted at a street corner, without fuss or insistence. His name was Tran, mister Tran. He had an easy smile and unforced an laugh that I soon discovered was typical of the Vietnamese. They come unadorned and unrestrained.
 
 
He used to be in the South Vietnamese army, like many among the motorbike taxi drivers and other street workers who were stigmatized, if not brutalized, after the fall of Saigon in 1976. That's barely 38 years ago. I graduated high school that year. Montreal hosted the summer Olympics that year. I have a motorcycle that old. 
Vietnam, and Saigon in particular, may be pulsating in growth and shedding its past, but in the aging people like mister Tran, the scars of war live forever. (Jan 6)
 
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Chi Ho Minh blog cyclo hawkers peddle saigon street travel vietnam war https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/the-cyclo-of-life Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:04:29 GMT
Saigon or bust https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/saigon-or-bust This is a quick and nasty post to see if I've gotten the hang of blogging from my ipadmini right now, from Vietnam and Cambodia. Just a stupid picture from a street corner is attached, again to test if my website links with Facebook. If it all works, well, expect some "Random Thoughts from the Bumpy Road" in days to come.

 

Saigon

 

Fly Long Time -
The tailbone is the first to throb. The pain first numbs the buttocks then runs down to swell the legs. The neck soon stiffens into a knot. The window seat at the back row, upper deck, of the jumbo 380 Airbus, capacity 506 souls, is no Lazyboy, that be sure. More like a hi-tech lawn chair with less recline and a bit more woven padding. Unless you're in first class ensconced in a private cabin in the shape of a bed, the15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Guongzhuo in China decries the old saying: "What's important is the journey, not the destination." Phoowee. Maybe true once, but now, FALSE.  Not with that nice Chinese countryman next to me aromatizing the air with his continuous pungent farts. No, just get me there already. (Jan 4)
 
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Chi Ho Minh fish motorbikes peace pho saigon sauce travel vietnam war https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2014/1/saigon-or-bust Wed, 08 Jan 2014 03:59:06 GMT
BLOOD RELATIVES https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/11/blood-relatives MayoMayoArizona Two women took seats in front of me at the Mayo Clinic waiting room.
"Did you bring any candies like I said?" barked the younger one.
The older one shook her head.
The younger one huffed and twitched.
"You still don't get what being diabetic is?" she said, too loud. "Is that why you lied to that woman at the desk?"
She glared at the older woman.
Under her breath, the older woman said: "I didn't lie."
"But you didn't say anythin’ neither!" said the loud one. "Omission is a lie!"
The older one kept still.
The younger one continued: "Did you hear what she said? She said you’re lucky to have such a nice daughter taking care of you!"
She shouted "LUCKY," her mouth throwing a punch.
"I bet you hate it when they say that!" The younger paused, letting her venom sting the air.
"No," the old woman finally said.
"Ohhh yes you do!" the daughter continued. "You do because you're a bitch, and you don't listen, and when you die I won't come crying at your funeral."
The harangue was relentless for another 5 minutes or so.
I pretended to be reading my ipad, but kept an eye on the seething daughter.
Finally, I said: “Wow, maybe you can relax a bit.”
It was like waking the Minotaur.
“And maybe you can mind your own business,” she blurted at me, eyes flaming wide. “Go sit somewhere else and mind your own goddam business!”
I offered: “I’m not moving and you should not talk to your mother that way.”
Steam came out of her ears.
“Don’t you tell me what I can’t do! I’m going to report you to security for meddling in private affairs… Twelve years I’ve had to deal with this! Goddam! You must be a Scottsdalian or New Yorker or something… telling me what I can’t do…!”
Just then my name was called and as I got up, I brushed by the old woman and gently said in her ear, “Good luck, ma’m.”
The daughter continued to rant like a banshee as I headed for my blood draw, curdled by having witnessed such blatant abuse of the elderly.

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) ABUSE ARIZONA BLOOD BULLYING ELDERLY MAYO https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/11/blood-relatives Mon, 18 Nov 2013 20:09:15 GMT
KOH SAMUI - 1983 https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/9/kah-samui---1983 On this very day 30 years ago, my erstwhile friends on Koh Samui gave me this birthday card - a caricature of myself at 24.

me at 24me at 24

A jolly stickman, rather fit, bearded and bushy.  It's one of my most prized possessions.

I was in paradise, with coconut palm trees, smiling sunshine, a bottle of Mekhong in one hand, a volleyball in the other.

Oh, Lordy, how we loved our daily volleyball games.

Koh Samui is an island off Thailand. 

Back in 1983, it was reachable only by ferry boat, a rusting bucket of a ship spewing diesel fumes over a slippery deck of passengers and cargo alike.

The ferry pushed off the coastal town of Surat Thani thrice a week, on a 6-hour voyage across choppy waters that made the South China Sea look like captain Ahab's ocean of lore.

It was fabulous - a fine way to separate the travelers from the tourists.

Samui (Koh means island) was the heralded mid-point destination for hardy backpackers doing the South-East Asia trail, from up high in the jungles of Chiang Mai, to down low to the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, and onto Singapore, Indonesia, and onward to Australia, if the time permitted.

And time is what we had plenty in supply.

It was a well-beaten road, most young travelers toting Tony Wheeler's original Lonely Planet guidebook – the legendary, yellow-covered South-East Asia on a Shoestring.

Koh Samui had white sandy beaches, fine like Turkish coffee. Family-owned "bungalows" dotted the coastline, rudimentary and sometimes ramshackle huts with frond roofs and bamboo walls.

The “villages” had names like Joy Bungalows, Liberty Bungalows, Moon Bungalows and Big Buddha Bungalows. Each ran about a dozen huts, none with electricity nor running water. I stayed at Sunshine Bungalows, with a startlingly beautiful view of the bay.

Granted, they all did.

KO SAMUIKO SAMUI

The main house up the hill served as the owner's domicile, restaurant, lavatory and communal hangout. We'd while away the days by lounging, reading each other’s novels, writing long letters of self-discovery or short postcards we couldn’t yet send. We played with pet monkeys and hiked the leafy forest on the other side of the main road. We lived in idyll.

We made fast friends from all parts of the world, sharing remarkable stories of adventure and distress. There was Dolf from Denmark, Toby from Vancouver, John and Hanna from Tasmania.

I went by "Tom", to keep things simple.

Local Thai women in sarongs would stroll by each day on the beach, selling rambutan, lychee, coconut milk and trinkets.

We ate like fiends, acquiring exotic tastes that still linger with nostalgia on my tongue’s memory buds.

By mid-afternoon, we'd be freshly roasted, both by the blazing sun and the ganja cookies so dutifully prepared up the hill, and on the menu.

Then came the ritual of volleyball, as the day cooled and players from all surrounding bungalows gathered around the net.

me at 24me at 24

The games were ridiculously competitive, and fun beyond reason – an exclamation point to the splendor of each day.

It was hilarious, like being intentionally stranded on fantasy island, no worries, no fears, no connection to the outside world.

Or, at least, not much.

Tragic news did somehow drift our way about a Korean jet shot down by the Soviets over the Sakhalin Islands. I couldn’t forget the airline number if I tried: KAL007.  Hearing about this, 2 weeks after it actually happened, standing in salty surf running through my toes, looking beyond the horizon, the world was distant, surreal.  

We were detached, like Lords of the Flies without the ambition. A nation of ephemeral travelers sharing a bubble of time.

The volleyball games ended with just rewards. We plunged into the luxuriant sea, washing our sweaty, sticky bodies and refreshing ourselves for lovely evenings of eating, sitting by bonfires and reading by candlelight.

Times have changed. Koh Samui now has an airport, big-chain hotels, newspaper delivery and crime. 

It's a popular getaway destination for weekend merrymakers, I think there may even be a Club Med where once stood tin shacks.

KO SAMUIKO SAMUI

I've never gone back. I don't imagine I could.

I spent one month on Koh Samui exactly 30 years ago.

And, somehow, I don't think I ever left.

Sept 26, 2013

see the gallery at:

http://www.armandthomas.com/p65248846/h70154a26#h70154a26

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Koh Samui Thailand beach birthday card fantasy island serenity. travel volleyball https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/9/kah-samui---1983 Thu, 26 Sep 2013 19:29:44 GMT
Egypt - revolution swirls https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/7/egypt---revolution-swirls The chaos in Egypt is not sectarian.
It does not pit Moslem against Moslem, as in, say, Iraq and Syria.

my family in Heliopolis, circa 62my family in Heliopolis, circa 62 The vast majority of Egypt is Sunni Moslem- to almost 97% of the population.
In Iraq, Saddam was Sunni, but the opposition and majority was Shiite... and old rancors led to the vicious civil war.
In Syria, Assad is a Shiite, and the rebels are Sunnis - different ideologies and different backers vying for power.
Assad cheers the fall of the Morsi government - not because he's supports popular uprisings (ha!), but because he has disdain for the Sunnis.

No, in Egypt, it's about fundamentalism, the rule of law versus the rule of the Koran, and an articulate, sophisticated opposition to demagoguery and autocratic rule.
Simply said, the modern, connected and well-read Egyptians -- even as a minority mainly in Cairo -- were sickened at the thought of overturning a dictator like Mubarak in order to promote a fundamentalistic religious ruler like Morsi.
Egyptians was willing to give the Muslim Brotherhood a fair shake in the last elections, preferring this well-organized and long-oppressed group to finally prove its mettle.

But after one year, it was clear that promises were being ignored and hope for true progress was a delusion.
The world's most populous Arab nation was heading down the revolutionary road of Iran (a Shiite nation) - where Islamic Law primed over a legislative constitution.
That may have been celebrated by millions of devout supporters of the Brothers, who blame the hardships of the past half-century on the secular rule of military leaders: Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.
But for more liberal Egyptians, the free-thinkers who abhor the dogma of religious rules (in the footsteps of my own parents' generation), the revolution continues in the name of human rights. The struggles must continue if the future will improve.

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Age Egypt Family Golden Heliopolis https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/7/egypt---revolution-swirls Thu, 11 Jul 2013 23:50:55 GMT
pachyderms https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/4/pachyderms

A boy, maybe 9, sat by a window overlooking the tarmac in the departure lounge at the Gerard R Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He looked forlorn. A young man, maybe his father, sidled up next to him and gave him a big hug. They wore khaki clothes, the boy's camouflage cap matching the man's t-shirt.
In the background, CNN aired more Boston Bombing specials. The despicable acts. The senseless violence. The inhumanity.
The man says to the boy: "Maybe, one day, we can go to Africa... and shoot Elephants!"
The boy looks up and beams, as though hearing there'd be marshmallows at the campfire.
A relative seated nearby pipes up: "Hey, you can't shoot elephants."
The man scoffs back: "Sure you can; you can shoot anything in the African jungle."
He then turns back to the kid, still excited, and says: "Or maybe shoot hippopotamuses, or do you say hippopotami? Whatever, they're nasty animals!"
Ah, America.

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) america bombing boston elephants guns violence https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/4/pachyderms Thu, 25 Apr 2013 21:45:52 GMT
Egypt 2011 https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/4/bbdd March 15, 2011

Three photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser hang at the entrance of a small pharmacy, one block off Tahrir Square. Like the shop itself, they are dusty and unchanged in some 50 years. Nasser, the general who led the 1952 coup that overturned King Faruk’s monarchy, is a national hero - a symbol of Egyptian pride and self-determination. He nationalized industry, broke the yoke of colonialism, and gave pride and identity to a new republic. To my father, for one, he embodied the reason to leave the country. “Do you know who that is?” asked the young man behind the counter as I snapped a picture of the photographs. “Most foreigners don’t.” I feigned surprise for a moment. But with a single word in my mother’s tongue, I revealed my Egyptian roots. “Tabhan,” I said. Of course. The young pharmacist smiled back knowingly. We were instant brothers. “My parents were fond of him,” said Sarek, who now runs the shop after his father retired. “Nasser was a strong man. He meant well. Most of the world doesn’t see him that way; he was not always clean. But compared to who we have today…” He let his sentence trail off into an awkward pause. It’s not advisable to criticize the government in open public – particularly its president. So I went for it: “You mean the Mubarak regime?” I asked. Sarek sized me up and said, “These men in power today, they are not good. We the Egyptians, we don’t deserve this shabby life.” Shabby. The word was perfect.

 nasser frames

'nasser frames' • cairo, egypt


This was December 2, 2010. It was my second visit to my native land since immigrated to Canada in 1965 at the age of 6. I was born into a middle-class Christian family; my father wore a suit and tie to work as a manager of a suburban movie house. My mother wore fashionable Rita Hayworth dresses and dabbled in local theatre. We had a Nubian nanny and often went swimming at a private club up the street from our apartment. Life was good. By the middle of the last century, downtown Cairo had been built with elegance and splendor, its architecture rivaling any European capital in style and grandeur. Old timers still call them the “beautiful years,” an era of pride and panache. Of course, not all classes of society shared this viewpoint. Privilege belonged to the few, and the masses itched for reforms. With Nasser’s overthrow of the monarchy came changes. Nasser may have been a heavy-handed bully, pushing for land reforms and expropriation of industry. But his regime promised to benefit the swelling populace, and was welcomed with optimism and support. But Egypt’s first modern-day revolution was destined to fail. Year by year, the principles of fairness eroded, giving way to the usual scars of a military dictatorship: corruption, autocracy, repression. A large swath of country’s intelligentsia left (or fled) in the decades that followed, taking with them not so much wealth as knowhow. The Egyptian diaspora in such places as Australia, Brazil, the United States and Canada abounds with engineers, doctors, scholars and entrepreneurs – a brain drain that stunted Egypt for at least two generations. For many Christians, it was a growing sense of religious discrimination that prompted a desire to leave. My mother recalls waiting in line to buy vegetables at the market, and when her turn would come, the Moslem vendor would ignore her – a petty slap in an ingrained grudge. The Moslem masses had grown weary and defiant; the pendulum had swung. And although the new regime remained secular on paper, Islamic power was on the rise “We emigrated to give you and your sister a better life,” my parents reminded me. “What you will see today, it’s not the Cairo we knew.”

'tahrir square' • cairo, egypt    © armand thomas all rights reserved

'tahrir square' • cairo, egypt

Their words of caution rang in my ears during my first visit, back in 1994. I understood immediately. Cairo is a crush of humanity. There were some 3 million inhabitants in my parents’ days – there are now nearly 20 million. It’s a beehive of activity, a cacophony of sounds, a dizzying array of sights and smells. The bustle verges on apocalyptic – no traffic lights to speak of, a mad frenzy of bumper-cars squeezing into every nook and cranny of pavement. And yet, nary a fender-bender – it’s as though everyone is accustomed to the mayhem. Egyptians are accustomed to dealing with frustration with the patience of Job. That’s what struck me 17 years ago. There was a sense of humor in the air, a kind of quiet acceptance that underlined the sweet nature of the people. Egyptians are, by and large, exquisite in their hospitality, convivial, charming; a theatrical lot who enjoy whimsical turns of phrase and a good joke. This is true whether in the old medieval quarters of the city, or in the luxurious upscale neighborhoods, whether in traditional galabeya or Western wear, they carry on with steady poise and cleverness that defies the daily grind. They make do. Visitors to the capital suffer mainly from the sensory paradox of being utterly flummoxed one moment, to being wholly seduced the next. That, besides being the cradle of civilization, is what makes Egypt great: its people. And it’s in their eyes that I noticed the marked change when I returned last December. Gone was the glint, replaced by fatigue, anger and disgust. The city itself had aged badly in such short a time. Black soot on the gorgeous buildings had caked thicker; facades were in shameful disrepair, sidewalks were broken, parks were crumbling, traffic went from heavy to infernal, litter blew and garbage reeked and an alarming sense of indifference seemed to have taken hold.

 'pretty in pink' • cairo, egypt    © armand thomas all rights reserved

 

'pretty in pink' • cairo, egypt

I befriended a 60-something man in front of his dry-cleaning shop. He had returned home to Egypt a few months back from Kuwait, to be close to his grown children. To his regret, they hadn’t wanted to leave with him. I shared my personal story with him, and lamented I had nearly lost all my Egyptian growing up in Canada. “Good!” he chided at me. “You’re better off there. And if you ever come back here, I’ll strangle you myself!” He was sharing his sorrow in typical dramatic flair. “This country is ruined,” he said, kicking a discarded plastic bottle into the gutter. “It will never be fixed.” Signs of such despair were many. Playfulness was replaced by grumble. There was an undertow of irritation that I sensed, but could not imagine the extent. Deference to authority, and to the police in particular, colors the social fabric. I wasn’t surprised to be scolded with yells of Mamnouh! (Forbidden!) by officers for pointing my camera at seemingly innocuous subjects: statues, churches, university grounds, museums, the Metro entrance… The Police have always liked to flex its muscle in public. What surprised me was how jumpy they appeared; that, and how fed up the populace had become, and how the simmer felt like it was coming to a boil. Or was that merely my wishful impression in hindsight? The events that began last January 25 were nothing short of exhilarating. And the uprising that swelled the eyes of the world was nothing short of mesmerizing. 'watchers' • cairo, egypt    © armand thomas all rights reserved

'watchers' • cairo, egyp


Nasser perhaps meant well at the start of this sorry saga; Sadat may have done better had assassination not stopped him; but Mubarak, now there was a soldier who mistook himself for a Pharaoh. Like typical tyrants, his dyed-hair portraits watch over the country not from devotion but from megalomania. When the world thinks of Egypt, it thinks mainly of the Great Pyramids and scenic Nile cruises – not a totalitarian police state where free speech is banned, human rights are trampled and corruption runs rampant. But beneath the tourist brochures, that’s exactly what it was. Surely, there are geopolitical reasons why this scourge flourished, why it was allowed to thrive. Mine is not to elaborate on that here. Certainly, the earlier overthrow in Tunisia emboldened the Egyptians. The alarming price of food flamed the anger. And the social media of Facebook and Twitter allowed unprecedented connection, even planning. The uprising on January 25 had been scheduled for weeks. But above all, the spontaneous solidarity that ensued stemmed from a visceral need for decency. This revolution was organic not dogmatic, secular not clerical, born out of the need for dignity, not ideology. There were no American flags burning at the centre of Tahrir Square. Long coerced into quiet acceptance through force, lies and fear, Egyptians had had enough. I was never more proud of my motherland. It was as though Egyptians snapped out of their collective stupor, seeing that true change – unimaginable for so long – was indeed possible. Liberty can be infectious when an entire nation catches the bug, uniting the rich and poor, Moslems and Christians, young and old to stand side by side in the name of justice. Such a great heritage deserves no less. And that’s not so shabby, after all.

 

'our daily bread' • cairo, egypt    © armand thomas all rights reserved

'our daily bread' • cairo, egypt

© ARMAND THOMAS  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

[click images to enlarge]

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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) Arab Cairo Dignity Egypt Sping Tahrir Uprising revolution https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2013/4/bbdd Thu, 25 Apr 2013 21:09:01 GMT
SKIRTING DEATH VALLEY https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2011/11/skirting-death-valley  

NOVEMBER 16, 2011

There are date farms in Tacopah, just inside the California border, that rival any yield coming from Iraq. I picked up a bag at a place called China Ranch, a secluded oasis down a dirt road cut through soft rock. Legend says it’s so named for a fella named Ah Foo, who first settled in the area in the late 1800s to grow fruits and vegetables, and provide prospectors a respite along the Old Spanish Trail... until a whitey ran him off his own land around 1900. The succulent dates simply melted in my mouth as I headed toward the entrance of Death Valley, 50 miles north. Splendid and enormous it is, but Death Valley never really took my breath away. Too jaded by living next to Red Rock Canyon, perhaps. Lots of motor homes in RV campgrounds, more like parking lots really, orderly complacence amid random wilderness.

Rabbit Brush

'Rabbit Brush' • Death Valley, CA

when, suddenly, the heavens shook and nearly yanked me out of my socks. The bucolic tranquility was shattered by a fighter jet shearing the blue sky, a terrifying visceral shaking of my innards. Sonic boom is an acquired taste. Instinctively, I pointed my camera up and shot without motor pause...  Wouldn’t you know it? The nation’s spiritual oasis is also the military’s training grounds. Lovely. The jet flew over another time, and again, I shot 10 pics a second. And then, I began to wonder... was this prudent? Was it prohibited to photograph a military exercise, me, alone with my bright red car in the middle of the dead valley... I kept on the lookout for black sedans and suited men in dark sunglasses to descend upon me. I could be eliminated and no one would be the wiser. Thankfully, I was near the western exit of the park, and conspiracy theories be damned, it was good to be heading to small towns up route 395. In Lone Pine, a hamlet flanked by Mt Whitney and the Sierra Nevada range, clouds of dust blew so hard it looked like fog. A storm was rumbling in, I was told by the cowpokes at the Film Museum, where I stopped to gawk at old western posters and memorabilia. Hundreds of movies have been shot in this vicinity, from Tom Mix to John Wayne to Gladiator. In Bishop, the big town of the region, I found a motel run by an Indian family (think Ghandi, not Sitting Bull), with a descent shower and working TV. It was grand. The town was more quaint than smart.

The backdrop of mountains gave it a regal air, but in truth Bishop is rather drab and derelict, as though the failed prospectors, progeny of the legendary 49ers, never wholly dusted themselves off from the end of the gold rush. Main street features the usual thrift shops, antique stores and coffee houses. Up the road sits the Palace Casino, run by Indians (think eagle feathers, not lamb korma). Stuffy and smoky, I had a look-see and split. Wasn’t going to waste my time toying with lady luck away from home.  Had dinner at a Mexican joint called Amigos, a local favorite with nary an empty table. Good sign. The nacho chips came with a home made salsa that resembled Campbell’s minestrone soup, peas and onions and watery. Bad sign. My Veggie Burrito was cold and tasted like boiled cardboard. I ate half and packed the rest for bear bait. Had better luck at Jack’s (since 1946) for breakfast on day 3. My waitress was the quintessential Alice, calling me Kiddo at every turn. “More coffee, Kiddo?” “Too much butter on your bread, Kiddo?” “Have a good day, Kiddo!” Drove back east skirting the top of Death Valley, through the frosty aftermath of a heavy snowfall in the upper elevations. Hardy Joshua Trees stood stoic in the fresh white wintry blanket. Ice crunched beneath my wheels, the road as treacherous as it was scenic. Montreal driving had taught me well, but I was weary of other desert interlopers.

Sierra Nevada, CA

 

Soon enough came the intersection of highway 95, the road south through the town of Beatty, NV. Eight years living in Las Vegas, I’d always heard of Beatty, but never been. Finally saw why. Beatty is not so much a town as a collection of trailer homes, cinderblock dwellings, junkyard lots and a ramshackle casino sitting at another entrance to Death Valley. I gassed up and sped on, brooding skies and a cheery heart laying before me as I headed home.  a. Nov 3, 2011. ~ visit my photographic gallery at http://www.armandthomas.com/ ~

 

© ARMAND THOMAS  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 
 
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(ARMAND THOMAS photography) California Death Desert Mountains Nevada Sierra Tecopah Valley camping travel https://www.armandthomas.com/blog/2011/11/skirting-death-valley Thu, 17 Nov 2011 00:57:00 GMT