Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"It's Us Against The World"


In the smoky fray of a Bangkok rush hour, Tim and Tina walk along one of the city's busiest roads, on their way to do a little grocery shopping with their son, D.J.

It's a grim task, navigating the crazy streets of the Thai capital, but the young family has the kind of steely resolve that's useful in these situations.

Why are they walking? It's not because they can't afford a car. Both Tim and Tina have well paying jobs, and could easily buy whatever vehicle they wanted. But they're trying to make a point by not being just another car-bound family slogging their way through Bangkok traffic in little air condition prisons. A point that, at this very moment, seems to be a bit hard-learned.

Bangkok's just tough that way. The heat and traffic jams and overall noise and chaos often combine to create a mind-blowing cocktail of sensory overload. But if you're able to learn to deal with it, and get through it, it kind of makes you a tougher person. If that's true, then little D.J. is going to be one tough little fellow -- just like his mom and dad.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"I don't care about getting the record, I just want to STOP"


Honey. Sweetie. Darling. I realize how much this dancing competition means to you. Really, I do. It's just that my feet are ACHING, and my head is SPINNING, we've been dancing for over four days now, and I'm basically about to pass out from exhaustion. Can we please stop dancing now?

OK, I admit, the dancing was pretty fun at first. All the people gathered round to watch us. All their cheers. The TV cameras. But sweetness, that was about 100 hours ago, and I've got some major blisters going on here, and not all of them are on my feet. So can we please stop dancing?

The worst part is, we're still only a little over halfway to the record. That couple from Mongolia who danced for 188 hours and 34 minutes back in 1964, I don't know what got into them. I bet they were on something. Although, they probably didn't drug test world record dance candidates back then, so who knows?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beginning To See The Light


Yuming had been hauling sacks of vegetables to sell the village market ever since she was a teenager, and now, at age 47, this task had become earth shatteringly mundane. In fact, sometimes Yuming would get so bored with her daily labors that she'd head down to a quiet spot alongside the canal and just scream, loudly and with surprising volume, into the empty waters. Sometimes, she had a hard time stopping.

But on this day, Yuming has been struck with a sudden jolt of self-awareness. "There are other things I could be doing," she thought to herself. It may seem like an elementary observation, one that most people have on a fairly regular basis, but for Yuming, this was a breakthrough of epic proportions.

So as the morning light bathed Yuming's face, she resolved to change her mode of employment, giving up vegetable sales in favor of a career in fishing. She'd long envied the local fishermen as they came off the boats at the end of the day, hauling baskets of wriggling fish, so she figured this would be a good new direction for her to take in life.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Forecast: Scattered Snow Flurries


According to NASA, the Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling in the Martian atmosphere, about 2.5 miles above the Red Planet's surface. Even though the flakes aren't reaching the ground, the find adds another piece of evidence to the notion that Mars once harbored liquid water, and perhaps even life forms of some sort.

The discovery came as a surprise to some scientists, but not to UFO hunters and conspiracy theorists who believe intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. Yes, even within the political sphere.

We are living in strange times. I mean, next thing you know, some random governor of some far flung U.S. state will be chosen to run for vice president -- despite having an appalling lack of foreign policy experience -- and possibly end up a heartbeat away from the presidency. Stranger things have happened!

To round out this bizarre scenario, she'll be an accomplished hunter who's able to field dress a moose -- and will publicize this ability as if it somehow makes her more fit to help lead a country of 300 million people.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What Is UP With the Large Hadron Collider?


Wow, look at this! The Large Hadron Collider has been taken offline until March or April at the earliest. Looks like they had some sort of electrical malfunction that caused a helium leak, or something like that. Hmm, I guess $9 billion doesn't go as far as it used to.

OK, so call me a conspiracy theorist, but I'm pretty sure this explanation is a smokescreen for what really happened -- a mini black hole generated by the LHC. Or, it's possible that a few scientists got sucked into a worm hole and are, at this very moment, running for their lives from a pack of hungry -- and decidedly non-herbivorous -- dinosaurs.

All I know is that this LHC really scares the hell out of me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No, Really, This Is Edible


Behold the durian, a legendary fruit throughout much of Asia -- and in some circles, legendary for all the wrong reasons.

Those spikes that cover the skin of a durian are just as menacing as they look. These aren't the wimpy, soft type of spikes that bend when you touch them. No sir, these spikes are hard as nails, and will puncture your skin in a millisecond, if you're somehow in a mood to test their sharpness by placing your hand upon them. But that would be pretty stupid, like trying to French kiss a cobra.

Durian have actually been used as a weapon on many occasions. Not just for the spikes, mind you, but also because durian is one of the foulest smelling fruits on the planet. Cracking open a durian reveals a wealth of yellow, fleshy fruit, with a creamy consistency that its lovers can't get enough of, but which is gag-inducing to just about everyone else.

The durian eating experience is the ultimate paradox, because it actually tastes good, but carries with it an indescribable stench. So much so, in fact, that durian is banned in hotels across Asia, as well as by most airlines.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Many Monks Does It Take...?


OK, so it's that time of year again, when the outside of the monastery gets so dirty that we have to drag out the ladder and get to cleaning the facade of our home. But when did this ladder get so heavy? Seems like it was lighter last year.

In any event, it's great that the new kid volunteered to be the one to climb up and scrub away the dirt and grime that has accumulated over the past year. Because none of us old guys want any part of that ladder. Mainly because that ladder is too freaking high, and once you get to the top, the thing wobbles like a teenager's commitment to chastity.

But someone's gotta do the job, so here's to hoping that the kid doesn't fall, like that one guy did a few years back. If we weren't there to catch him, the vultures would probably still be feasting on his bones!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In Your Face Festivity


What is it about balloons that make them so appropriate for parties? And why do people like them so damn much?

Is it the colors? The sometimes funny shapes? Whatever the reason, I frankly find it disgusting that human beings can be attracted and amused by something so base and simplistic as a balloon. Are we still so freaking primitive as to be shamelessly transfixed by bright, colorful objects? Seriously.

Humans have for centuries been steadily making advancements in art, literature, scientific exploration... and yet, when we see a bunch of balloons, we're somehow reduced to children, giggling and watching as they go by. That's the kind of stuff that makes me worry about the future.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Like Potato Chips With Wings


Fried crickets aren't as bitter tasting as one might think. In fact, properly seasoned, these insects are actually pretty tasty, and they're a popular snack sold by street vendors all over Thailand.

Never mind the rumors that abound that these crickets are harvested en masse with the help of DDT. Because once you put one of these crunchy critters in your mouth, there's no going back. Meaning, they're so addictive, you can't eat just one. Kind of like potato chips, but with wings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

These Shoes Ain't Made For Walkin'


Riding public buses in Bangkok affords one the opportunity to soak in the city in its rawest form. That means hearing the roar of the bus engine, feeling the heat and sweat and hearing the exasperated groans of your fellow passengers, and experiencing a sort of collective resignation to being stuck in such an uncomfortable situation.

And, on occasion, it also enables the rider to observe things that they might not normally pay attention to -- like what kinds of footwear people are sporting.

These passengers' footwear are clearly designed for the short haul, and also reflect the fact that it's just so gosh darn hot in Bangkok. Flip-flops are common in the Thai capital, especially during the rainy season when floods are pretty much a daily occurrence, and the sounds they make are something that visitors remember and identify with their time in Thailand.

But what's up with the shoe on the left side of the photo? That certainly doesn't look like a very comfortable footwear experience.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hold On Tight!


Ooooh boy this is going to be a scary motorbike ride, I can just feel it. And even though I'm just a three year old little boy, I want my daddy to go really fast! And, as soon as the light turns green, we're going to!

You see, my mom's late for work, and the only way for dad to get her to work on time is to weave back and forth between cars in Bangkok's morning rush hour traffic jams. It actually makes me dizzy, but that's OK, because I think it's fun. And my hair blows around and gets messed up too.

After my dad drops mom off at work, he'll take me to pre-school. I like pre-school a lot, and I spend the whole day there playing with other kids and learning about stuff. I like all the teachers there. Well, except Mr. Somchai, because he never smiles, and he doesn't seem to bathe much either.

Well, the light just turned green, and my dad just told me to hold on tight, so that's what I'm going to do. I always do what mom and dad say, because when I don't, they don't let me have desserts!

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Baby's Going To Be President


Every parent-to-be wants the best for their child. Well, I'm stepping that up a little bit: I want my baby to be president. President of what, I'm not quite sure. But definitely someone important; someone who brings meetings to order, and without whom things simply wouldn't get done.

Yes, that's right, you heard me -- PRESIDENT. It's a bold ambition, but why not? What am I supposed to do, sit here, in the last couple of months before my child is born, and hope for anything less than the best? I'm aiming high with my hopes, and my baby's going to rock the world, just you watch.

And so I'm performing this little ceremony here at the temple, to make some merit and hopefully ensure that my vision becomes reality. It's the least I can do for the kid who's going to change my world in ways I haven't yet even begun to imagine.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Can You Believe That Bullshit?


Did you hear about the stunt that Old Lady Zhang pulled the other day at the fruit market? Apparently she fondled all the mangos in the entire place in her search for the ripest, juciest ones. The only problem was, she squeezed them so hard that many of them burst!

From what I hear, she ruined a couple hundred perfectly good ones. And mango juice was running all over the place, covering the fruit stalls with stickiness and making them veritable fly magnets.

The fruit sellers at the market were understandably upset. I heard that one of the guys called Old Lady Zhang an annoying, high maintenance bitch! Well, she didn't take too kindly to that, and word has it that she immediately turned to a cart full of watermelons and kicked it over! Can you believe the gall? Who does she think she is, some kind of freaking blue blood?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Good Thing We Brought These Blankets


I'm happy to have jobs doing road repairs, but man, what kind of bad karma did I have in the past life to get sent to work at Khardung La, the world's highest motorable highway? At 17,500 feet, the air is thin up here, and it ain't exactly balmy either. And this is in the middle of August!

I must have done some seriously bad stuff in my previous life. Maybe I was a serial killer or something. Or a Neo-conservative.

Still, working in such an inhospitable place does toughen me up, which is a good thing, because when I head back down to sea level, I can basically kick anyone's ass in a fight. I just wear them out physically and mentally. Not that I go around looking to fight, but hey, sometimes the fight comes to me.

Speaking of fighting, I'm actually fighting to breathe right now. Does anyone know where a guy can get some hot cocoa around here?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hazardous Place For Nesting


Viking Cave on Thailand's Phi Phi Island is home to thousands upon thousands of nests of the cave swift, a bird whose nest is actually edible. It's the main ingredient in Bird's Nest Soup, a dish that inspires shockwaves of gustatory delight all across Asia, and is one of the more expensive delicacies on the planet.

That's why the bird's nests of Viking Cave are under 24-hour watch from local security guards, some of whom are believed to be packing heat. It's an odd juxtaposition to consider in such a peaceful, visually beautiful place, where the loudest sound one hears in the lapping of the waves against the limestone cliffs.

If it weren't for the waves, one might be able to hear the tinny shrieks of 300,000 cave swifts asking "Who the F--- stole my nest again?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pluto Is Still Pretty Upset


Pluto -- the celestial body, not the cartoon dog -- is still pretty upset about losing its planetary status a couple of years ago. If you didn't hear about this, Pluto, which since its discovery in 1930 had been considered the smallest and most distant planet in our solar system, in 2006 was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet', a new category that includes similarly-sized bodies like Eris and Ceres.

Not surprisingly, being relegated was pretty upsetting to Pluto, as well as to Charon, its moon, both of which had grown accustomed to their planetary status, mainly because it gave them access to the best parties. And to be frank, Pluto and Charon's melancholy still hasn't subsided, although the heavy drinking and compensatory late night carousing have tapered off.

To help forget the pain, Pluto and Charon are actually planning on taking a pottery class, and they've even been entertaining the idea of doing a little traveling -- perhaps to Earth, in order to exact some revenge on the astronomers responsible for the demotion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Searching For Meaning


This is a face that has never not known a world of instant communication, that has never not known email, or the Worldwide Web, or an existence that doesn't include being able to pick up the phone and have a pizza delivered to your place in less than 15 minutes.

But the thing about kids is that they're always inquisitive, and long before the Internet arrived, they were making the best out of their situations, finding intrigue in the most mundane things.

For proof of this, you really don't have to look any further that the phenomenon that happens when a kid gets a gift, plays with it for 15 minutes, and ultimately ends up spending more time playing with the box, or whatever packaging comes with it. This is insight into the human mind, and a wonderful window into our tendency to always -- always -- look for meaning in the most ordinary things.

I Have Something To Tell You...


Hey, I bet you're wondering why I've asked you to meet me way out here in the middle of nowhere. Well, it's because I have to tell you something, and I didn't want to say it in front of everyone else.

I'm going to leave the village and start a new life in the city. I know, I know, it sounds like a rash decision, one that I might later regret. But frankly, I'm kind of bored up here, there just isn't enough going on to satisfy me. And there's a whole big world out there that I'd like to catch a glimpse of.

What's that? I've been watching too many Hollywood movies? OK, fair enough, you may be right. But it's more than that, it's about me wanting to learn more about myself, and while it's peaceful up here in the Himalaya, I want to challenge myself more, and the city sounds like just the place to make that happen. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Landing At LAX


Runway 24R and 24L at Los Angeles International Airport are actually two of the most frequently filmed airport runways in the world. This is due to fact that there's a public park less than a football field away from where the runways begin, which allows people to stand and gawk as giant aircraft go screaming overhead. So next time you're watching a movie or TV show which includes a landing scene, it was probably filmed right in this little park.

It's a pretty humbling experience when you see a 747 materialize in the distance, growing slowly larger and larger as it approached the runway, until it eventually fills your entire field of vision, not to mention your ears. After the WOOSH of its passing, the next sound you hear is the squeal of the dozen tires that a 747 needs to cushion its 100 ton bulk.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dreaming Of The Grandkids


Meet Mei Ling, a 57 year old seller of notebooks and other stationary items. She's been playing her wares on the streets of Shanghai for the past 17 years, and has made a pretty decent living from her toils. The job isn't exactly exciting, but Mei Ling does enjoy watching people, and there are no shortage of those in the teeming markets of China's most commercially crazy city.

Right now, though, Mei Ling is taking a little sidewalk siesta. She's actually recoveing from what ended up being a pretty late night. Her daughter is in town from Shanxi province, and brought the 2 year old grandkids for a visit. Those little devils crawled all over Mei Ling's house, and she found herself continually running after them to avoid different disasters, particularly ones involving her treasured China collection.

That's tiring work, and is a big reason why Mei Ling is snoozing. But she does adore her grandkids, and hopes her daughter stays in town a while.

Friday, August 1, 2008

You Want A Piece Of Me?


Wait, am I understanding you correctly? You want to fight me? You want a piece of this?

You CANNOT be serious. I beg you to reconsider. You have absolutely no idea how badly you would get beaten in such a scenario. All's I know is that you are asking for trouble, and if you really want it, I will be happy to oblige.

What would happen, you ask? First I would peck you with my razor sharp beak. I actually file it every night before I go to sleep. Then I would stomp the hell out of you with my scaly claws. These puppies are pretty rough, like sandpaper! Sharp, too.

Anyway, are you sure you want this? If so, let's do this! I'm so down for it. Right now!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rainy Strolling


It's a Thursday afternoon at the Shwedagon Temple in Yangon, Burma, and the skies have just opened up, drenching the devout with buckets of rain that even super strength umbrellas can't stop. But no one really minds, since they're strolling in one of the most ornate, colorful -- and for Buddhists, most sacred -- temples in the world.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Just Minutes From The Glitz


This little patch of developing suburban joy is situated east of Las Vegas, Nevada. It probably has a name, since it's far enough away to not be part of the city, but I just shot this from a plane, so don't hassle me, man.

It must be strange to live here, just far enough away from the big neon glitter of Vegas to not have to participate, yet close enough to sense its throbbing Hedonism. It looks like there's one big road, the rest are itty bitty little roads that have more tumbleweeds than cars.

Some gamblers who've had some moderate success at the tables might even keep a condo here, just so they can catch a breather from time to time. Y'know, to get away from the glitz.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Careful Dude, She Might Notice You're Staring


Wenyan had been watching the young lady selling trinkets in the little waterside market for weeks, but had yet to muster the courage to say hi. That wasn't unusual for Wenyan, because even though he'd already reached 34 years of age, he still hadn't... y'know. Why not? Because he basically had no game. Zero.

Wenyan is, however, very skilled in the art of staring. He's pictured here staring down at the pretty girl, completely unaware that this kind of behavior freaks girls out. And that this is true in China, and pretty much anywhere.

In fact, once Wenyan's friends told him that girls equate such behavior with freaky stalkers they hear about pretty much daily on the 11 o'clock news, he decided to take a different approach: He joined an online dating service.

But after a couple of weeks, Wenyan realized that his one true love was right there beneath the bridge. So he stopped staring, and started talking, and despite his lack of game, she ended up falling for him. I wonder, though, if she just wanted to get this freaky guy to stop staring at her from above?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Heidelberg Man's Old Stomping Grounds


This alley in the old town of Heidelberg, Germany, looks like a quiet, unassuming place where nothing much going on. OK, maybe that's true now. But between 400,000 and 500,000 years ago, a Neanderthal called Homo heidelbergensis, also known as "Heidelberg Man", roamed this region.

Heidelberg Man came to light in October 1907, when a worker digging a hole found a piece of fossilized jawbone in the dirt, which was later confirmed to be that of Homo heidelbergensis. That remained his name for several years, until one night, the ghost of Homo heidelbergensis visited a professor at Heidelberg University and begged him to petition for a name change.

These days, Heidelberg Man keeps a low profile. You might see him darting furtively between buildings at night, but he's had his time in the spotlight, and prefers to avoid it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Three More Trips To Go"


Anil and the boys had been hauling away dirt all afternoon in the 100 degree heat of a Calcutta summer, and by his estimates, they had about three more cartloads to go before the job would be finished.

It was dirty work (obviously), and after three months, Anil was getting sick of it. But with all the construction going on, piles of excavated dirt were appearing all over the city, and companies kept calling Anil and asking him to move it. At least the money wasn't bad... wait, actually, it was bad -- a paltry few rupees a day.

Anil was bored with the work, but he had a plan to save up and one day buy an air conditioned cart to haul away the loose dirt. "Yes, that would make the work a bit more bearable," Anil thought to himself. "Maybe I could even get these guys to push the cart, and I could read while they worked."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Car Stereos Are Way Too Loud Today


Well, there goes another one of those damn noisy cars again, with the vibrating bass that you can hear from 5 blocks away. Who needs to listen to their music that loud? I can't imagine that these kids are going to have any eardrums left by the time they're 30.

Why does everything these days seem to be trending toward louder, more obnoxious, and more annoying to us old folks? Are kids just trying to annoy the hell out of us? If so, it's working really well.

I'll tell you, if I ever get my hands on one of those young kids, I'll... well, I don't know what I'll do, but it'll be pretty bad.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I Am So Not Giving You A Ride


Oh, look, it's a tourist! Wow, you came all the way up here in the mountains -- must have been a bumpy trip. I hear those Land Rover seats are a real pain in the ass, no pun intended.

Wait, what's that? You've always wanted to ride a camel? Well, forget about it pal. Too bad.

First of all, I'm on break. Second, I don't give rides to tourists -- it's in my contract. Just ask my handler. He's the guy selling bags of pine cones, which happen to be my favorite food.

I'm not in the mood to go traipsing around the dunes with some brain dead idiot on my back taking photos, so he can show all his friends back home how cool Jammu & Kashmir was, and how he rode a camel.

Go ahead and buy me a bag of pine cones though -- I'll eat 'em right up. However, just be aware that your gesture will in no way help convince me to give you a ride. I might spit on you though -- hey, that'd be something to tell the guys about, wouldn't it?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Godfather Of All Hangovers


Godfather is one of the few beers available in Jammu & Kashmir, the northern most state of India. And even if you don't like beer, it's so "super strong" and "high powered" that you won't notice what it tastes like after just a few sips.

Note that the label says this bottle was brewed in July 2004 and is 'good' until January 2005. Pretty short shelf life, huh -- wonder why that is?

It's unclear who the guy on the label is meant to be, but it looks like he's having a pretty good time, so I guess that's reassuring. However, after drinking a few bottles myself, I'd have to say that this guy might not be smiling the morning after.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"This Traffic Is Getting On My Nerves"


"This is ridiculous. I'm pretty used to being stuck in traffic jams in the Pahar Ganj district of Delhi, India, but today, it seems even busier than usual. What's really annoying is that no one has hired me in more than an hour!

Why is that, I wonder? Is there something wrong with my rickshaw? It's got a nice new seat, I just replaced it a couple of months ago. So what gives?

In any event, I've about had it with these people wandering aimlessly into the street right in front of me. I'm going to ring my bicycle bell so loudly at the next person who does that! Damn, I really need to find a new line of work.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Off The Wall


Hi, I'm an alleyway in Amsterdam, and I just got spray painted -- again -- by some young punks who stumbled out of a nearby coffee shop and decided to let loose with some mindless scribblings. And this cartoon face reflects my own feelings about the situation.

Now, I'm no crotchety old alley -- I actually like graffiti, provided it's tastefully executed and serves a purpose. But lately, all these kids can do is just write their names, or spray paint cartoon 'thought bubbles' with nothing meaningful inside them. And to me, that's just a reflection of the dumbing down of the global society that's all too apparent these days.

I remember back in the day, when I first came into being as an alleyway. Kids back then would spray paint their graffiti thoughtfully and carefully, and it always had a message. Never would you see some moron spray painting his name -- the other artists wouldn't allow it.

I remember one time many years ago, Vinny Van Gogh himself came down and painted an early rendition of 'The Starry Night' on one of my walls. That was cool. I wish the kids these days could bring that kind of passion to their work.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ice Cream Related Tantrum


Zihao had been having a pretty good day for an 18 month old. He'd been on his best behavior, only throwing one tantrum earlier that day, which his mother admitted was way less intense than usual.

But around 2 p.m., as Zihao and his mom were strolling along The Bund in Shanghai, Zihao spotted an approaching ice cream vendor and demanded -- in a shrieking high pitched tone -- that his hunger for sweets be satisfied.

The problem was, he hadn't eaten lunch yet. His mom had fed Zihao a late breakfast, and they'd gone out immediately after his nap. So when the ice cream man came, Zihao's mom refused to buy him the frozen treasure he'd requested. Unsurprisingly, this led to an epic tantrum.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Watching The Procession Of Life


This golden Buddha isn't the biggest Buddha at the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Actually, he's not even close. Last time I checked, he was 437th.

But no matter, because this golden Buddha has one of the best vantage points at the Sule Pagoda, which is situated right in the busy center of the city and gets a constant stream of foot traffic. From this position, the golden Buddha likes to sit and watch the people walking round the circular path of the temple, stopping sometimes to shower him with praise and devotion. Not bad work, if you can get it.

Dueing much of the year, at about 4 p.m. each afternoon, dark clouds gather above the city and the skies explode with torrential rain, lightning, and soul-gripping thunderclaps. But the golden Buddha is never phased by any of this. He likes to sit there and watch the chaos and take it all in, because it's all part of the deal.

And after some time, the rains stop, and the people come back, and the cycle begins again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Labor Of Love


Baozhai, a 34 year old boat taxi driver, was one of the few women plying the waters of Zhou Zhuang, a small water village on the outskirts of Suzhou, China. That's because the local boat taxi ranks were, like many things in China, dominated by men, and that had been the case for hundreds of years.

As a child, Baozhai developed a borderline pathological interest in boats, and by age 16, had begun hanging out by the docks of the town looking for chances to work as a boat taxi driver. But the drivers laughed at her, and refused to give her a shot, even as they taught the tricks of the trade to local boys her age.

So Baizhai resolved to take matters into her own hands. One day, when a fisherman was on lunch break, she snuck onto his parked boat, cut the lines, and headed off to pick up some passengers. She figured she'd borrow the fisherman's boat, make a few passenger runs, and be back before he realized it was missing.

In the end, Baozhai ended up being faster than any of the other boat drivers, and she made a tidy sum in the 30 min the boat's owner was away. When he came back, Baozhai confessed to her misdeed and showed him the money. A huge smile crossed his face. It turned out that he was sick of the boat taxi trade and was looking to get out.

And that's how Baozhai became a taxi boat driver, doing what she loves best.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dog Days Of Summer


Think summer is hot where you live? Try hanging out in Thailand in April, which is the hottest time of the year in the capital, Bangkok. Of course, the term 'summer' is a relative one in Thailand, where even in the cool season, temperatures are often in the low 90s F.

Chalermchai, a 38 year old factory worker who lives on the outskirts of Bangkok, seems to be enjoying the April heat (he's the guy passed out with his mouth open).

Not long after this photo was taken, some of Chalermchai's friends played a really nasty trick on him and spooned a bunch of Nescafe instant coffee into his mouth while he was still asleep. It took about 10 seconds for him to wake up, and for the next several minutes he spat and cursed and vowed to exact revenge.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time To Go Home


At 18 months, Asha's patience was less than fully developed, you might say. So although she'd enjoyed riding on her father's shoulders the past few hours, taking in the sights of the street festival, Asha was starting to get a bit tired.

And when you're 18 months old, getting tired isn't a gradual process: It comes on like an approaching 747, only the effects can sometimes manifest themselves in louder fashion.

Fortunately, Asha's dad could sense the signs and knew it was time to start heading home for dinner, and then bedtime.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Incomparable Starkness Of Trees


Why is it that everyone likes taking photos of trees? Part of it probably has to do with how the branches look like tentacles reaching out into the sky, reaching blindly into the unknown. Some people probably draw parallels between tree branches and the seemingly random twists and turns of life itself.

Or, maybe part of trees' allure to photographers is the way branches look like roads, and represent, in a symbolic way, all the infinite number of possibilities there are in everyday life. That could be it, too.

Generally speaking, dead trees, and trees that have shed their leaves for the winter, are way more photogenic and picturesque than live ones. That's another strange paradox related to trees.

You'd think that at their leafiest, trees would be perfect symbols of health and robustness, and they are, because without them, life would never have evolved beyond slimy lizards crawling out of the primordial oceans.

But somehow, the naked tree, framed against the sky, is far more of a poignant symbol.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Calling All Polar Bears


There's something about waking up and looking down from a position 40,000 feet above the west coast of Greenland, with a clear view of the entire landscape, that makes you realize how being in an airplane is very similar to space travel.

OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, since 747s can only fly between 8 and 9 miles above the Earth's surface, and the atmosphere extends to about 100 miles high. But this could just as easily be a view of Saturn's moon Titan, or Jupiter's moon Europa, both of which have been compared to Earth in terms of being rocky, icebound worlds that may have one day harbored life forms of some sort.


This is a photo taken about 20 minutes later, where we'd reached the end of Greenland's land mass and entered Baffin Bay, at about 62 degrees north latitude. That's not steam, it's where the warmer water is welling up beneath the ice and apparently creating breaks in the ice. The water here is probably around 30 degrees or so, and the cold air mass coming off Greenland, the world's largest island, is probably in the -30 to -40 range, which explains why this looks like a large hot tub.

I wonder if any members of any Polar Bear Clubs around the world have ever taken a dip in these waters?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What Are You Laughing At?


Max is a 3 year old herring with big eyes and funky teeth, and he's just been caught by some fisherman off the coast of China, and been brought to a fish market in Shanghai.

Max is still alive, which is surprising, as he's been out of water for over 2 hours. But Max comes from a long line of hearty fish, and he reckons he's still got a couple more hours before everything fades to black.

Max is actually pretending to be dead in this photo, and he's wearing that goofy smile in order to further that illusion. (Man, that Max sure does have some seriously funky teeth, he looks like a poster fish for the Invisalign company!

Max knows that if he even flinches or shows any sign of life, he'll be clubbed by one of the fish processing guys. And Max is saving the last bits of his strength so that he can be in a position to bite off one of his oppressors' fingers, or maybe 2 or 3 if he's lucky.

You see, Max was pretty happy before he got swept up in the fishermens' net. And while Max realizes that as a fish, he probably shouldn't be able to engage in any sort of cognitive analysis of his situation, he isn't ready to ditch his free will and become part of the food chain just yet. Unh-uh, not without a fight.

Max is a firm believer in the old saying, "He who laughs last laughs best", and I can almost hear him chuckling to himself as he prepares to relieve a fish processing guy of one of his fingers.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What's Behind The Door


Doors are kind of funny. Everyone's got 'em. Doors to your houses. Bathroom doors. Car doors. That Doors album that has been stored away collecting dust in your garage for the past 18 years. And, of course, the locked doors in some peoples' pathetically closed minds.

Some doors, when you look at them, seem to taunt you and dare you to wonder about what's on the other side. These doors seem to say, "Yeah, I know you want to know, and believe me, there is some really cool shit on the other side. But no, you can't see it. Now get out."

Other doors are more kindly and benevolent. These doors seem to say, "Don't worry about it, there's nothing interesting on the other side, you can come see for yourself if you want, but I don't want to get your hopes up."

Still other doors play somewhere in the middle, acting all coquettish in their attempts to catch the eye, but in the end, leaving it up to the viewer to imagine what's inside, and making no attempt to sway the viewer either way. In fact, these doors don't say anything at all, they just stand there silently, leaving the viewer to ponder their next move.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Merit Maker Or Bird Lover?


The concept of merit-making is a prevalent one in Buddhist societies, with the main idea being that if you do something nice for another living creature, that kindness will come back to you. Other cultures have different terms for it, and this concept can often be seen when people perform small, ritualistic acts of kindness for animals.

Yangon, the capital and largest city of Myanmar (also known as Rangoon, Burma), is a slightly dingy city with a subdued, melancholy air to it. This is surprising, because unlike other Asian cities, Yangon is full of greenery, with trees, bushes, and grass springing up just about everywhere you look.

Amidst the grime, citizens have to look for creative ways to brighten up their moods, and many have found that purchasing bird seed from roadside vendors and feeding the city's large pigeon population is one way to achieve this.


Pigeons aren't the most popular creatures in the world; in fact, they probably rank just a few notches above rats in the minds of most people, and they've even been referred to as 'rats with wings'. But that doesn't seem to matter to this woman, who appears deeply engrossed in her task of offering some small comfort to her winged friends. Is she making merit, or simply a bird lover?

It would actually be quite funny to see peoples' reaction if someone were to try this in downtown New York. Just imagine a New York cop's reaction to someone throwing birdseed to a gathering group of pigeons. It'd be something like "Whadya think you're doing, this ain't Disney World, now get the hell out of here!"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moon Temple


Taking photos of the moon is mostly an exercise in futility, and a great example of how the human eye can catch sights far more crisply and accurately than any camera ever will.

Shooting the moon is even more difficult because the damn thing is 240,000 miles away and is moving quickly through space, which means it jumps around the camera viewfinder, especially if you're trying to zoom in on it. This squirrelishness suggests that maybe the moon doesn't want itself to be photographed, and prefers to retain an air of mystery.

This shot was taken just after sunset in Jaisalmer, India, a small city in the desert of western India that sits about 50 miles from the border with Pakistan, and can't be reached without a long, exhausting car or train ride. The moon was rising over this temple in the way it has for centuries, and as I aimed my camera, I could almost hear the moon taunting me and saying, "Yeah, go ahead, try and shoot me, but you KNOW the snapshot won't come close to depicting the actual scene."

And, if the moon saw this photo, it would probably shrug and say "Hey, not bad, but it doesn't even come close to capturing my sublime magnificence -- and you know it."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Taking A Breather


Tuesday morning started out pretty quietly for Sanjay, a 26 year old taxi driver in Calcutta, India. A few short range pickups, a trip to the airport, but otherwise, pretty quiet. But around noon, that changed in a big way.

As Sanjay pulled up to a market, he noticed a commotion just outside the entrance. Several people were assisting a young woman and leading her to the street. Sanjay immediately realized what was going on -- she was pregnant. Very pregnant, in fact, according to the people who were screaming and shouting into Sanjay's window and urging him to rush her to the hospital. The only problem was, the woman hadn't been loaded into the car yet.

Always cool under pressure, Sanjay got out and helped the woman into the car, and jumped behind the wheel. The nearest hospital was 25 minutes away, but Sanjay knew of a shortcut through a nearby series of alleys. And it was the right time of day -- no traffic.

The woman wailed as Sanjay's cab bumped and lurched its way through Calcutta's pothole scarred streets, and it was obvious she was in the later stages of labor. Just as her cries reached the level of screams, Sanjay pulled up to the emergency room entrance, and a group of nurses whisked the woman away to an operating room.

It was a pretty intense half hour, and afterward, Sanjay's heart was still racing. He decided to hang out and catch his breath before continuing his shift. "Never a dull moment in this line of work," Sanjay thought to himself, and chuckled.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

San Francisco: Night And Day


The southern San Francisco skyline is a sweeping panorama of hotels, apartment buildings, bay views, and, on clear days, a glimpse of the mountains that frame Silicon Valley, some 50 miles away. It's a side of the city that's often overlooked because it lacks the high profile sights for which San Francisco is known, but the southern view crackles with its own energy and motion.

It's quite relaxing to spend a few hours watching planes approaching and departing from San Francisco International Airport, which is about 6 miles south of the city. The only drawback is the jealousy one feels as they think about the passengers on those planes, being ferried to exotic, faraway lands.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't Monkey With My Monkey


SITTING MONKEY: "How many times do I have to warn you? You know how tequila affects you, and frankly, you shouldn't have taken all those shots. I'm sorry you're in pain right now, but I have to say, you kind of deserve it!"

RECLINING MONKEY: "Wow, thanks, that's very helpful, I feel better already."

SITTING MONKEY: Well, you embarrassed the hell out of me last night, and I'm pretty pissed off about it. Do you remember wearing the lampshade? And doing that dumb little dance? I mean, come on, that's a trick from the 1950s, and not very original. People were laughing, but not laughing with you, but rather, AT you.

RECLINING MONKEY: Oh, please stop, my head is POUNDING, and you're making it worse.

SITTING MONKEY: Yeah, well I hope it pounds, maybe you'll think twice next time about getting into a tequila shot contest with the boys.

RECLINING MONKEY: There won't BE a next time -- I'm never drinking tequila again!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Dancing Eyes Of Mischief


It was a favorite childhood game of Ping's: She'd ask someone to take her photo and then, at the last moment, run away giggling. And as a result, in the digital cameras of many of Ping's family and friends, there were partial images of her very similar to this one.

Ping was a big fan of the Peanuts comics, and she equated the photo game with the old football game in which Lucy would pull the ball away just as Charlie Brown was about to kick it. Ping didn't know what a football was, because they didn't play it in Thailand, but she did love the expression on Charlie Brown's face when he realized he'd been had, again.

Later, Ping would grow up to become a fashion model, and she learned very quickly that professional photographers didn't like to play this game. But from time to time, Ping would still giggle and run away during photo shoots, and photographers would sigh with resignation and wait for her to come back. They put up with her games because Ping was one of the most charismatic models in Thailand, with intangibles that quickly catapulted her to international fame.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Surfing Life's Uncertainties


Zhao had had a busy afternoon as a crew member aboard the Harbor Princess, a 112-foot ferry boat that transported passengers between Hong Kong and Lantau island. That morning, a typhoon had passed by to the south, several hundreds miles away, but close enough to cause a pretty sizable chop that rocked the boat had several passengers heading for the rail. And then, the customary late afternoon summer thunderstorm had kicked the water up even more.

Even Zhao, who'd been working on ships for more than two decades, started feeling the effects of the large, ocean sized swell. So after his last run to Lantau, he decided to stop by his favorite crab restaurant and have a relaxing dinner before heading back to the city. But halfway through the meal, Zhao's attention drifted over to a nearby television weather report. Another typhoon was on the way, only this one was headed straight for Hong Kong. It wasn't due to hit until evening, but Zhao had a feeling the next day's ferry trips would be rough ones.

"Why didn't I just get a cushy office job like my mother always advised me to do?" Zhao thought to himself as he finished eating and hurriedly prepared to head back to his flat in Hong Kong.