Sunday, 20 October 2019

Jazz Club..Nice...20/10/2019

It's been a month. Not a funny month, an interesting, dull or an exciting month. just a month. The most accurate description I can give it is the one with which I started. It has all been rather non-descript. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I have rented a room. This is more difficult than you might imagine at this point in my life as many of the rental spaces are for young professional adults, or students, and I no longer fall into either category. Despite my best google searches for variants of "awesome but reasonably priced rooms for middle aged grumpy diabetics", the market does not appear to be awash with such places. In light of this I loosened my search criteria a little. I am now an awesome grumpy diabetic in an expensive room.

I have committed myself to staying here for the next six months. Many people my age have a different set of commitments than I find myself with. Whilst some may have things such as mortgages, marriages and children to be wary of and/or responsible for (or even the odd poker night or football match to attend) I now find myself with something far more serious. I have a pricey gym membership with it's own card and everything. So far I have been a member for just over 10 days, attending 6 times, leaving my wallet behind once and my membership card behind another. I have found in the past that losing a wallet tends to be the easiest way to lose a few pounds, however this time everything was returned intact. I'm just going to have to go about losing it all the hard way.


6 Months I thought would give me the time I need to drop 2 stone/10 kg and get myself back to where I really should be. I have dropped 2lb in the first week so I know that with my regime it's going to be an achievable target. The problem at the moment, as always, is that it's getting the diabetic control and insulin levels to a point that I can really hammer myself productively in an exercise sense. I am, maybe rather surprisingly, by no means unfit. I can go in a do 2 or 3 hours cardio in an evening when my sugars allow it. It's just at the moment my base insulin level that runs in the background is resulting in the need to drink an excessive amount of energy drink to stop myself from crashing. I would like to be less dependent on these going forward, although technically not going forward as the majority of my work is being done on treadmills and stationary exercise bikes. Still, being full up on cherry or orange lucozade sport to the point where you want to be sick just to avoid  collapsing whilst exercising is something that I could really do without right now.

I'm also hoping that these hours will help me to formulate an idea, or even ideas for moving forward. I have been working back in-front of a screen now for just under 2 months, but it's amazing how quickly working on the monitor all day whilst squinting at code has reduced my visual acuity. There are days now where I feel that wearing glasses is beneficial, where over the previous months and years that I have been away from such work, my vision had returned to a point where glasses were not really that necessary. It's clear then from the fact that things are ultimately getting unclear, that my future should probably involve something away from what I am currently doing, or maybe at least for the amount of time that I am doing it. It's a shame really as I do quite enjoy it sometimes. It's nice to be able to lovingly take the piss out of people in a safe environment, where everyone knows that's all I'm doing.

In 6 months here the winter will be almost over and whilst I have no real doubts that it's going to be (on a personal level) a long hard one (whehey?), I hope to have in that time, gained an idea about where I can go from here. The U.K it seems has gone quite mad. Brexit has divided much of the population, people wear shorts in the cold along with bobble hats at the same time to keep warm and this morning I saw people lining up to buy cheese toasties in the local market that were priced at £5.00 a time.

It's not the madness that gets you...

it's the utter, utter madness.

now back to the overly expensive beer, which is unfortunately, worth every single penny at the moment.

...and a bit of jazz.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

15/09/2019 - cataredaction (the eyes to the left have it)

With the failure to pass the visual field test ultimately being the reason behind the loss of my UK driving license, I started to wonder why it had happened now, after all this time had passed since the last bout of surgery that I had been subjected to. The only thing that I could think of which might have affected the result was the slow forming cataract that I have had in my left eye for the last several years. This was something that I had never been desperate to get removed as, until now, it had never caused me much of an issue. However, the option for it to be taken out had been touted to me by several consultants at previous hospital eye screenings. Perhaps then the time had now come to explore this option as a way of creating a chance of regaining my driving licence. At the very least though, further examination would hopefully indicate that whatever led to the failure of the test wasn't anything that was going to end up being be over aggressively negatively progressive, (I'm pretty sure that I've never strung those three words together before!)

Whilst I have been under the care of the eye hospital for a number of years, getting in to see a consultant again hasn't proved to be as easy as previous consultants have made it sound. The receptionist at the hospital informed me that I would need to get a referral from my doctors. The doctor upon referral was further informed that they would need a referral from an opticians. So it has gone from being told directly in the hospital some 8 months ago that if I wanted to get it removed then I should just get in contact with them, to having a few, seemingly unnecessary yet necessary links now added to the chain.

A trip to specsavers was step one. Here I needed to just get my eyes assessed and a referral made to the Doc. The first thing that specsavers did however was to update the records that they have on me and then scan my face so they could predict which glasses would suit my ever more rounded chops. This approach does tend to sow the seed that perhaps, your are there to be sold stuff first and be assessed second, but hey, that's astigmatism of capitalism for you.

To be fair there was little to complain about the actual assessment side of things. Eye pressures were taken, with the results showing that the pressure was higher than they would have liked in the left eye but everything in the right seemed fine. Surprisingly however, I didn't now meet the criteria for having the operation that I had been told I would be eligible for previously. Primarily the was because I am able (with glasses on) to read (with difficulty) text above the minimum level that they feel is required. The optician also went on to divulge however that if she was the person do the operation, it wouldn't be one that she would be happy doing. The process she said would be more complicated in part down to the extensive treatments that I have had to undergo in the past. Combined with the diabetic aspect, the process, in her opinion, would be far more dangerous than it would be normally. The risk is that this operation, simple and routine for many, could in my case instead of improving things, result in a degeneration or blindness in the affected eye.

A plus point however that there wasn't any sign of any active changes in the eye. Whilst good to know things are looking stable overall, this does makes the change that has occured in the vision a little bit more perplexing.

There was something else they wanted to try though to see if it made a difference. 

The glasses that I had been using have a fairly narrow lens, a little like looking through a wide screen TV with the bottom and the top of the picture missing from the picture. It was therefor suggested that perhaps it would be worth trying a larger set of glasses in order to cover more of the visual field. Then, with the new glasses on I could try the same DVLA test again with the new set on to see if it made any differenc whatsoever.

This was something that I thought was worth a punt.
The result was the however was same.

Instead of being in the opticians for a 30 minute appointment, I had now lost 5 hours of the day, the vision would still be a fail, I had become stressed to the max and thanks to the investment in new glasses, I was now £160 worse off. Glasses that I didn't particularly need. Glasses I didn't particularly like. Maybe that was just my fault for wanting to try almost anything I could to get an answer to one of my particular ills. I haven't been to pick up my second set yet. I really don't feel the need.

So where do I find myself (apart from in a rather nice cafe having breakfast and coffee)?

In truth, based on the information currently to hand, I probably won't go for the cataract removal. The risk vs the potential (not likely) reward just isn't worth it in my opinion. There is no guarantee that any operation would improve things, but at the moment there is no other route. I do not know how long the eye will be useful, how long it will take to decline or whether it actually will. It's difficult to get across how this realisation makes me feel. My head went a little bit light and I certainly felt more than a little nauseous. I started to feel like I needed a nice cup of tea.

It was a very British response I guess, but an old school British. Not the post Cambridge Analytica, falsely outraged, brexity, everyone else's fault “British”.

Just an “I need a cup of tea” British. The type of British I tried to be. The Michael Palin type of British.

The best kind.

sub note - (ping)

Originally on completion of my studies and with my newly completed degree to hand, I had planned to work for a couple of months in the U.K before heading away in search of work, adventure or both. My old employers initially welcomed me back on that basis, but let it be known that they would be keen for me to stay longer and, with the eye situation as it was, I told them that I would give them as long as they needed me around. As always I have been straight with them about everything. In my mind I was thinking any operation would have a waiting time of at least 6 to 12 months so would be happy to commit to at least 6. To their credit they have just turned around and taken me back on permanently in the knowledge that some point future I was likely going to leave again. 

I don't think that this is solely down to me being an amazing employee in the past however but probably does have something to do with it being less paperwork for them to complete their end.

It's hard to get enthused about sitting through another cold, wet UK winter, especially one in a place with shitty public transport and devoid of a car or my own. This is going to be a winter of riding my newly purchased pushbike with handle bars to steer wider that those of any steer or bison. I do so in the hope my eye doesn't deteriorate to the point that future travel or work becomes something that is a more daunting prospect. Time, of course will tell. These are challenging times for sure, but everyone has them don't they. Its at times like these when its useful to remember the words of the great Rocky Balboa, who once eloquently quipped that "it's not (mumble mumble mumble) you can hit, it's (mumble mumble mumble hard (mumble) can get hit and get back up" Perhaps that's not quite up there with his previous "if I can change, and he can change, then we all can change" speech after he tussled that big Russian guy, but it's pretty damned close to be sure. It's pretty damned close.

sub sub note.

I found myself looking at a map of Asia again recently as I wanted to see how close Phuket (that I've never been to) was to Krabi (that I had). I was soon drawn to looking at where I had been again, and perhaps more tellingly, where I hadn't.

So perhaps it's not all over yet.

Perhaps it's time to try something new.






Saturday, 17 August 2019

17/08/2019 - Well the world turns...

But mine is taking a long,  deep breath.

I had been writing a blog post recently that was detailing the baby steps that I was taking towards formulating a plan for further travel. I covered things off such a the hunt for a new bag to replace the one that failed on my last trip to Bangkok (replacement found and brought), the search for a pair of shoes that match the Merrell's that took me around Asia and in between from 2013 - 2016 (nothing coming close) and the renewal of passports, bank cards and the like that would be close to, or be set to expire if I left these shores for more than a few months.

I had been looking at potentially embarking on doing a CELTA course in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand in November and this would have fitted in with the small things that were starting to take shape. Moves had been made to return to my old place of work for short period, providing them with a couple of months holiday cover for my old department whilst affording me a little breathing space to sort out everything that I would need to sort out before departing, The CELTA course would give me a good grounding in the fundamentals of teaching English abroad and even if this form of teaching wasn't something I carried on persuing, then I'm sure that it would provide transferable skills that I would be able to make use of in one way or another.

And then I received the letter.  During the process of renewing my driving licence I had been subjected to a test which checks the field of vision left in your eyes. I have had extensive surgery on both my eyes, but for the last 10 years or so everything has been stable with no changes detectable or signs over this time that things were going awry. I have successfully renewed my licence maybe 4 or 5 times since the last bout of surgery took place, this time however, I received a letter telling me that I had failed and therefor, my licence would not be renewed and I would no longer able to drive.

It was as though time just stopped as I read the letter through. It still seems a little unreal. With Diabetes you kind of live with the risks, and perhaps the knowledge that things can go wrong, but you do what you can to  keep going along, trying to stay fit and healthy.  You hope that you can go on as long as possible without it chipping away at too much of you. You just do your best, but as my old doctor once told me, It's liking running a 4 star engine on 2 star fuel. "It will run for a bit" he said, "but eventually..."

So now things are on pause, maybe indefinitely so (although I obviously hope not.) 

I need to get my eyes checked thoroughly to see if there is an underlying reason for the visual change. I do have a slowly forming cataract in my left eye, but that may or may not be the root of the problem and it's something that in itself, doesn't cause me too much of an issue in my day to day life. It may even have proved to have been a benefit over recent years as it allowed my right eye to become dominant and take control. The laser treatment that I had some years before in both of my eyes meant there was a conflict between what that left and the right eye saw, the image no longer perfectly marrying up, and the process of deciphering that information could and would often lead to dull headaches, intense headaches and the flashing spotted migraine.

There's nothing I can do now but wait, have a beer and suck in some deep breaths, obviously hoping that it might turn out o.k

But time will tell of course.


Friday, 5 July 2019

05/07/2019 - Something old. something new

It was over five years ago that I first thought about teaching English in a country other than the one that I had been born in, or had the experience that would eventually lead to that idea.

That day (Sunday 27th October) I had been recovering after travelling through Cambodia on a group tour. I had been spending some time just wandering in Ho Chi Minh city with my camera in hand, taking in the sights and the sounds of somewhere new before being approached in one of the parks by a few people who wanted to practice their English. What started out as a small group turned into something a bit larger in only a short period of time. I helped them with their pronouciation of words, and they passed on tips about staying safe in Saigon. It was an enjoyable experience and one that seemed like a worthwhile use of time and it was great to feel that I was helping people directly for a change.

It was very different from the jobs that I had been used to doing up to that point. It wasn't being worked to meaningless deadlines, ticking meaningless targets off a meaningless spreadsheet. It wasn't closing off a project ready for the next almost identical project to start immediately after. It wasn't work to me obviously, I was travelling at the time, just experiencing new things and heading towards the big Four Oh, but that wasn't to mean that it couldn't be work at some point. It was enough to get me thinking about the future.

Back in the U.K early the following year I settled back into a job and went about saving up for another trip away. During this time I put my life on hold, spending an inordinate amount of time in the gym on evenings and weekends in order to stay fit for the next adventure. I completed a 120 hour online TEFL in order that I could at least try a short teaching break when I was away to see if it an I were a decent match. I would travel for three months before in order to acclimitise to the different environment before embarking on my evaluation period, but unfortunately just before this was due to take place, I suffered a fracture in my foot whilst in Myanmar and upon getting it checked in Bangkok, decided it was better for me to withdraw from the placement and rest up for a bit to try to let things heal.

After I returned I carried on thinking. In order to work in some of the countries which I had been drawn towards, a degree qualification would either be deemed to be beneficial or a a legal requirement. To this end I embarked on one in a subject that followed my interests, a tool for storytelling and one that I found a little dark humour in given my eyesight issues in the past. At the end of this period I have now achieved a BA (Hons) qualification in Photography. It's taken almost 3 years, but I am now a Bachelor of Arts.

The problem is now is "what do I do with it?"

Five years has passed since that original encounter in Vietnam, a lot of water has passed under that bridge. I would be lying if I was to say that I didn't feel that passage of time. I feel older, perhaps less energised than I was and I am no longer sure of the path I should take.

The other thing that has muddied the water is that I have turned into a bit of a photographer. The final project I completed on my course was undoubtably the best module that I undertook and it is one of which I am a little bit proud, receiving positive feedback on it overall. I feel that I should be trying to carry this forward also, but again I'm not entirely sure the best way to go about it.

There could be a way to marry the two together somehow of course. Perhaps there is a job out there that would benefit from my particular set of skills. I will have to see if anything that fits, and if so find a route that can be taken to it.

I still feel I need to go somewhere. There's still stories to be found and perhaps re-told.

And if it happens you can all come for the ride.


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

18/03/2019 - 19/03/2019 - Bangkok - UK (via Bahrain)

I awoke early on my last day and sat at my desk one more time in order to get some work done. As my flight in the evening wasn't due to leave until about 9pm there was going to be no great need for me to rush off to the airport, however I didn't want to be just sat around clicking my heels all day either. Noey on reception had been kind enough to give me a later than usual check out time and said it was O.K for me to leave some luggage at the hostel for a few hours if I wanted to go out and collect it later. After a short period of work I began packing and organising my bags ready for the journey home, ditching some items that were longer key requirements and were just adding weight. Jettisoned  items were several tops that had seen their fair share of miles and a large, lightweight travel towel. My "Rough Guide to South East Asia" book I gifted to Noey, who dutifully placed it amongst the other books in the communal area of the hostel, hoping it would be of use to someone passing through in the future.  

At just after Mid Day I decided to take one more trip to the food court at Terminal 21. I don't mind admitting that one of my favourite things about Bangkok is the food and I am still unsure as to when or if  I will be able to return again to get some more. The food from Terminal 21 had become a mainstay of my diet over the previous few weeks and I was sad to be leaving it behind. Nothing I have found in the U.K quite matches the flavours that you can find across places in Asia or in Bangkok itself. Nothing seems as vibrant in colour or taste no matter how much authenticity they claim. That's not to pour scorn on the food in the U.K itself, but somehow, for some reason, something is getting lost in the transition from the East to the West.

I had originally planned to get to the Airport a few hours before departure, but brought my times forward when it dawned on me that it was mid week and travelling at that time would sit me bang in the middle of the rush hours. I returned to the hostel to collect my things, removing my portable charger from the plug where it had been charging up to give it maximum juice to cover the upcoming hours, organising and re-organising my bags ready for when I arrived at the airport. At just after 3pm I said my final farewell to my hostess, took the elevator to the ground floor and stepped back out into the blazing heat to begin the overly long journey back home.

I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport just after 4, and in the departures hall folded the straps of my rucksack into position, ready to be zipped away into the bag ready for transit. It was here that the zip of the cover failed which meant that I had to find other means to stop the straps from flailing about. Firstly I wasn't sure if the airline would accept the bag in the condition that it was now in, and secondly if they did, I didn't want the straps to get themselves caught up anywhere which might result in the bag being lost or delayed en-route to London. I tied everything close to the bag the best that I  could using the strands or strap ends available and when the gates opened an hour later, made my way gingerly to the check in staff to enquire whether my lacing efforts were successful enough to allow the bag to travel on it's own.

Luckily the two slim, impeccably dressed ladies on the business side of the counter were satisfied with the results of my endeavours and over the condition of the bag was still o.k. For me however the day was now taking it's toll, and having hauled the bag up and down the arrivals hall for the last hour looking for the Gulf Air gate, I struggled a little to lift the bag onto the weighing belt for its confirmatory 19.4 kg reading. On the other side of the counter the taller of the ladies then lifted and carried the bag from the belt like it was full of nothing but air and feathers and placed it easily into the awaiting tray. "Wow" I said, flexing my arm up through 90 degrees at the elbow and pointing forward, "very strong". It wasn't meant to be patronising and luckily wasn't taken a such. Both the counter staff seemed to see it as a light hearted acknowledgement of both their natural strength and my obvious weakness, the manner it was intended, and refrained from kicking the hell out of my checked in luggage, at least until my back was turned and my focus was moved onto getting through to the duty free area, and getting a bite to eat before the now imminent flight out.

To be fair the choice of "Seafood and Vegetables" before flying could be seen as risky at best, foolhardy at worst, but with a hand in the bowels of both good fortune and bad, what arrived in front of me bore little resemblance to what I was expecting to see or taste. Instead or succulent, fresh fish there was the occasional hint of something that perhaps, once, caught sight of water, encased in a thick blanket of overly greasy batter. Instead of a medley of fully flavoured vegetables, what arrived was a possibly a distant cousin to a British potato chip, hard and undercooked and coated again in yet more batter. On the plus side there was little or no fish present that was likely to make me ill over the coming hours, but on the other the distant cousin and sickly batter was probably what caused me to feel uncomfortable and off colour for the first flight from Bangkok to Bahrain. This was the worst food that I have ever experienced away from British shores, but perhaps, just perhaps it was their way of readying me and my innards for what to expect when I touched down again back on the other side.

The wait at Bahrain felt longer than the 90 minutes it actually was, probably because it is for an international airport at least, rather lacking in things to see or do. After arriving from the first flight I went through the obligatory mid journey stop over baggage scan before taking the escalator up a floor walking past the Duty Free shop and the McDonalds where I had eaten 6 weeks previous, and plonked my "slightly slimmer than before" arse down at Costa. In that one sentence I have probably described half of the places that were present in the departure hall, and all of those that are of any note.

Before boarding the next flight out we again had to go through another baggage check process. Wallet, phones, injections, watch, medical bracelet, laptop and belt out into trays, bag and self through separate scanners before redressing myself and repacking my bag. Sometimes it feels the other way around. Next time I might not wear a belt when travelling internationally. Perhaps given that it was 02:20 by the time we boarded the next plane, it might have been more fitting if I had been wearing a dressing gown and pair of slippers anyway. If I had possessed the foresight to dress as such  and been carrying my now discarded towel as a prop, I may have even been mistaken for to a modern day Arthur Dent.

The flight to London took over 7 hours and with the chair in front of me not in use, I was able to stretch out my legs under said chair until my feet had appeared from out the front of it. In what has become unheard of for me, I managed to get snippets of sleep during this time. 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there might not sound much, but that's only because it's not. With a few hours to go before we were due to land I was as uncomfortable as I recall ever being on a flight and now completely convinced that this was going to be my last trip, if not forever, than certainly for quite some time.

But here's the rub.

As much as I bemoan the lack of comfort and increase of physical toll that the more recent trips have seemingly taken on me, the fact still remains that I have seen and experienced things that many people wont, either through their own choice or through a lack of opportunity. It's important I think to remember that, and luckily there are still moments that present themselves, reminding me and reinforcing that sentiment.

It was in this moment, with the morning beautifully lurching over the horizon as we flew over Germany and Belgium that my I found tears were beginning to trickle. I thought of the people gone who would never see these things, or those with whom I could not experience it with. Travelling on your own certainly has its perks. You can move to the beat of your own drum, travel when you feel you are able to do so, and likewise slow down and rest when you feel that is something you need also. But by the same measure you are unable to recall many shared, personal moments in time, because as there is no one else there to share them with, those shared, personal moments just simply don't happen.

And that, in a nutshell is the danger of tiredness, and how it affects me. 

Luckily though, as we flew over the English Channel towards London, the cloud underneath began to obscure the country below until it was no longer visible. The change from the picturesque, bright morning sunshine from over 30,000 Ft to ground level blanket grey and rain were enough to dispel any and all sleep deprived over romanticised notions that may have been lingering. The smackdown and rumble of the Heathrow tarmac came with not only the relief to have landed at last, but the reality that now it was back to life underneath grey, wet skies. It couldn't be further away from the climate of Bangkok that I had been working and living in.

Coming through arrivals was a relatively quick and painless experience, with the exception of the over complicated and non functioning passport readers. This meant that almost everybody who tried to use the machines was rejected and then had to go and be processed manually by a person and turned what is an efficient, one step manual process in many other countries where they still trust people to do a job,  into an inefficient two step one thanks to the fallibility and reliance on technology in situations where perhaps it isn't really needed.

The last meal that I had eaten in Bangkok had tried to prepared me a little for my first meal back home, attempting to soften the blow between the previous Thai culinary experiences that had been both visually appealing and full of taste, and any expections that I had for the food that I would now be returning too. 

But even with low expectations I still wasn't quite ready for food with a complete lack of either.

That flight away again might not be at such a distant point in time after all


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

15/03/2019 - 17/03/2019 - Wrapping up the project

I spent the last few days of my time in Bangkok running around trying to get some final shots to wrap everything up, as well as watching a few more lb's drop off my weight on the scales. It had taken over a month for me to finally get a boost of energy in the conditions I was in, and now it was here I only had a few days left to make the most of it.

I didn't want to just run around taking pictures for the hell of it though. I had a few ideas for trying to translate the sensation of the city into visual form and wanted to revisit a couple of places to try and get more images of people and night markets but I was happy overall with the images I had. I wanted to make the most of my last few days in Bangkok on a personal level. I went to restaurants I hadn't visited yet, walked more places to see things away from the subway and MRT and took up jogging around the local park during the cooler bits of the last 3 days.

The park was close enough to the Hostel to be able to crawl back if needed, as even the cooler parts of the days were now still creeping over the 30 degree mark. The circumference around the lake in the middle was a measured 2k and I split my time between jogging, walking and drinking water. 3 or 4 laps around here at any time of the day was enough for any session, seeing the same faces multiple times and coming up with something witty each time on passing is tough work at the best of times for anyone gifted with wit. For someone like me without such a talent it was just impossible, but luckily the park itself was stunning. In itself it was pretty enough and interesting enough that it was hopefully able to distract attention from my lack of comedy prowess. No international crises's caused this time.

The night markets as ever were busy and I found that it only took a short period of time in quite intense surroundings before I was ready to leave them behind, bathed in sweat frome the heat of the environment and the heat in the food. Luckily each trip I took to any of these places had proved fruitful with multiple short visits building a good body of work between them. The 35mm lens I had purchased before I went to Vietnam had been worth the money that I had paid and had yielded some interesting results, responding well to what I had been asking of it. I had got intentionally blurry shots, motion shots, sharp shops and everything between. I had been going out with the intention of just getting a few more images before returning, but ended up with enough to spend a few more hours editing down after each trip out. As the saying goes though, you make hay whilst the sunshine's, and it turns out there was a hell of a lot of hay.

My job as I had seen in was to give a representation of Bangkok away from the idea that is often presented or thought of by those who have never been. There are seedier sides to Bangkok obviously, and as limited as these places are, at times it can be hard to ignore the areas which lie on main streets. when you are walking from point "A" to point "D".  One occassion a few days before I returned had me rethinking my entire project. I had chosen not to highlight this particular aspect of Bangkok as it's something I don't like and don't want to promote in anyway. When walking through one area lined with bars, well known food chains and expensive shops I was approached by one lady who looked at me said something to me I didn't hear initially. On removing my earphones I asked her to repeat what she said and she just repeated "I come with you?". This wasn't your "Pretty Woman" idea of a prostitute. There was no glamour. This was a plain, normal everyday looking, perhaps middle aged lady asking to come with me, but it's hard to describe the look in her eyes. Part desperation, part lost. As I told her sorry, as pleasantly as I could, I walked away wondering what else it is I could do? I left her to her own fate past a smiling thai chap who was sat against the railing watching the seconds events unfold. I thought about whether after all I had done, my project was being true and I still think about this. Above this though I still think about what I could have done differently and I still don't know.

I'm not sure I ever will.

There's still a lot to like about Bangkok and Thailand. But this moment changed everything for me and I don't know how to present this, or whether it needs to be presented at all. But I fely I was pretty much done now.

Friday, 15 March 2019

9/03/2019 - 14/03/2019 - Summary of the week

The cold I brought back from Vietnam has been a pain. The odd sniffle and sneeze aside (which is more a distraction that a hindrance) it is it's ability to absolutely sap the energy from you in even moderate heat which is frustrating as hell, even if it is also slightly admirable.

In between these bouts of lethargy however I have still been putting in a shift. I am walking more places, investigating side streets and alleyways looking for photographic opportunities. Some days I tell myself that I wont take photographs that day and try to leave thc camera back at the hostel, but this never works. Most days I take a day pack with me as it's an easy way to carry what I need without my pockets rammed to the brim forcing me into a John Wayne walk. With a bag I still have my wallet, phones and insulin pen fitting into my pockets comfortably, but I can more comfortable accommodate things like an extra insulin pen, some dextrose tables and a blood testing meter for the day. Sunglasses, hat and perhaps a light shirt in case I find myself in a place with overly efficient air conditioning are also now easily accommodated, and I might as well throw a camera in there too, plus an additional lens or 2. Would be easier with a second  camera body in there also and some spare batteries and a portable charging set up just in case. Travelling light isn't easy or even possible it seems but on the plus side if anyone tries to run off with that bag they aren't going to be getting anywhere fast.

One of the things I have tried to do the last few days is get images that I like rather than just those I thing are correct or fitting, although sometimes these things do marry up. There have been times recently when images I have taken must have had a big element of luck to them, but at the same time you do wonder whether there is an element of just being almost embarrassingly well tuned in or hyper aware. There is the colour matching situations where a certain colour or colours will match with others in the frame and too often to be purely chance, but at the same time I can't claim to be actively aware 100% of the time that that is what I am picking up on. But I think when you get into the right frame of mind there's a chance that it becomes second nature. On previous travel trips I have often remarked that for the first month, photographically I get very little of note. After that however something seems to click. I think here, there are occasions where things have just fallen into place and clicked when i have. This might be a landscape visible through the window of passing car, a gate on a van passing front of your subject at a particular time, or an eye looking though a minute space that has passed between the camera and the subject, however unlikely this might seem.

This of course could be for multiple reasons. It could be because I have found myself enjoying everything more again in recent days, but that enjoyment could just as well be derived from the fact that stuff just seems to be working. After reviewing some of the images I had taken in the 3 previous weeks I could see what had worked and what hadn't, and whilst it's still not clear how I'm going to get  everything working for maximum effect, I think it is clear that a lot of work has gone into getting a lot of workable images which I should be able to sculpt into a strong body of work overall. Everyday I edit the images from the days before, shortlisting the best and then working on those first in Lightroom and the Photoshop to get them to a certain standard. This process takes anywhere between 2-3 hours depending on the number of images I've shot over a period. On many days I overshoot, take too many images and give myself a larger workload than perhaps others would. But the cost implication on this run is time alone. I am not paying for film or the number of clicks that I have used in a day and the number of images is perhaps a reflection of my fear of not having a enough images to flesh out my final project significantly.  With Bangkok being over 6000 miles away from home, there will be no chance for re shooting after I leave here.

But I'm 80% confident of what I have shot and that's 80% in the bag already which might yet be enough.  It is a deceptively large bag after all.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

06/03/2019 - Short break in Vietnam before into the Bangkok home straight

I had spent a week in Vietnam just trying to clear down everything mentally. Before I had left Thailand I had felt the images I was getting were stuck in a bit of a rut, like nothing new was happening. I felt like I was just treading old ground, hitting the same shots over again and I reasoned and hoped that a break away might help end this repeating cycle that I was seemingly stuck in.  I needed to go away so that I could come back fresher, with new ideas, vigour and fresh energy. It was a good idea, but  instead I came back into a stepped up 37 degree heat with a cold virus in tow.

The flight back on Wednesday was early, leaving Da Nang international at 9:35 and arriving back at Don Mueang international in Bangkok an hour and a bit later, although I wouldn't arrive back at the hotel until 2pm which is the default check in time. Any ideas that I had about going out and looking for photo opportunities were quickly put to bed. I had struggled to stay awake on the 30 minuteminu ride from the airport to Victory Monument. On the BTS and MRT lines I had struggled to lift my bag high enough to clear the gates, instead having to ask the guards on duty if they could open the wider barrier at the edge of these obstacles to allow me to pass through unhindered.  I was caked in sweat, partly through my new found illness of course and compounded by the heat that had elevated noticeable during my time away. As soon as I found myself in an air conditioned room my body and mind urged me to lie down and resr for a moment. That moment pretty much ate up the rest of the day.

On Thursday I decided I had to get going and packed up enough camera equipment to carry me through the day. I intended to go to Silom, a place I have stayed in the past and easily accessible from my current location using the MRT subway line and have some breakfast before moving onto to the Khao San Road area to scope it out in the day. Khao San is a place that comes alive at night, but I wanted to do a test run when it was quieter, so get a feel for the layout and try and identify the areas worth returning to. Before that however there was Silom.

I wanted to get some use out of the 135mm lens that I had been carrying, the Carl Zeiss Jena. This is an old manual lens and I have said before that it can be a little bit testing to use sometimes, the 135mm and lack of Autofocus meaning that it can be difficult to hit the mark a lot of the time. The pay off however is that if that mark is hit, it is my opinion that this lens can give results that few others are able to match. In Vietnam I had been looking at the work of Saul Leiter and had been inspired by some of the work that I had found of his. He had his own style and it was his personal work that came to light later in his life which was kind of my penny drop moment. I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the shots that I though that other people would like as well as pleasing myself. Shots that I could build a either a single body or multiple bodies of work from in order to get the best mark I possibly could from my final degree module. Maybe I needed to go back to what I do naturally. Wait, watch, identify, react, shoot and perhaps even more important than anything else, do something I don't feel I have been doing with my photography for a little while, enjoy. I spent an hour in the sweltering heat of Silom, in and around the Sala Daeng BTS. By the end of this period I was feeling physically drained, the Zeiss however had proved itself yet again to probably be one of the best lenses I have ever, ever (and one more for luck), ever used.

I contemplated not carrying on to Khao San Road at this point. Even though it remains one of the most popular tourist spots in Bangkok there is no direct line on either the BTS or MRT. In order to get there from my location I would need to get the BTS to the river and then catch one of the ferry boats up to the area of the Grand Palace. From here I would then have to walk the rest of the way in a place that I wasn't all that familiar with. At the front of my mind however is that ticking clock, the countdown is on and ever encroaching so I pushed on.

The river boat trip takes about 20 minutes and even even under the beating sun, the space and air of the river provides a degree or two drop over the confines of the city. after that however it was back to the drain. My legs were heavy as hell, my energy levels were flat and it seemed that if I could find any little imperfection on the walkways to trip or stumble over I would do so and there are very few perfect surfaces in Bangkok. I found areas where there was little shelter to hide under and walked routes I had been before, getting flashbacks in certain places from events I had witnessed in the past. The familiar areas were still similar enough for me to recall bits in parts, but enough changed had happened that I never found myself completely sure of where I was. But after 5 years this change could just as much be down to my once reliable memory being less reliable also.

Khao San Road itself was wide, with enough people musing up and down to make the trip worthwhile. I walked up, and then down as the afternoon drew to a close and the vendors began setting their stalls, politely declining the advances of the many smartly turned out tailors that want sell you a fitted suit, looking up and around to familiarise myself with my surroundings for a future visit before returning to the river to begin my way back to the hotel before the light had dissipated completely. Again though the lens proved its worth. It's old manual functionality getting the most out of my part working a7ii. Who needs to worry about the inability to control the aperture with the rear dial on the camera when you have a mechanical wheel on the lens that will do this just as well.

The ferry boat ride just after 6pm coincided with the sun setting over the city, and this provided the perfect backdrop one last opportunity that presented itself. As the boat gently rocked against the choppy river waters, we past some of the sights of the city baked in the evening glow, but my eyes weren't being drawn that way. For me it was how the light was catching the young monk who was watching the riverside pass him by, the orange of his robes occasionally highlighted through the lens, occasionally muted by flare and optics. Religion  is a big part of Thai life but I had only seen a few monks up until this point, and few of these made good images. Here however, this changed.

The next day (Friday) I found myself feeling completely wiped out. I had over done it the day before obviously so the was no real option other that accept this and retire myself for the day, only breaking cover from the hotel a couple of times to get food before returning to the to room to do photo editing and the like. The effort on the Thursday had been worth it though and had been productive in a few ways, but it was mainly that it had produced a good number of usable images in a relatively condensed period of time, and I had started to enjoy myself again.

very short vietnam clip

Thursday, 28 February 2019

24/02/2019 Shutter Island. Something is missing

I had been getting some good results with the lenses that I had been using, but I still feel like I was missing out by not having the kit lens (28-79))with me on this occasion. This was a lens that had served me well previously when in this part of the world and this time I felt it would have nicely filled the gap between the 24mm lens and the 50mm I am carrying. The kit lens (despite its criticisms) I personally found to be sharp as anything at the 28-35 range which is where I utilised it, but it's Achilles heel was low light. It had a variable aperture of 3.5 - 5.6 which meant it was definitely better suited to daytime situations where it did really well.

I had looked into getting a replacement whilst in Bangkok but there wasn't much that was jumping out at me and grabbing my attention. Brand new the Sony 28-70 was still around the £450 mark and second hand versions were proving to be elusive. Previously listings had shown used lenses to be going for around the 160 mark which I would be happy enough to pay if I could find one.  Frustratingly this is also around the price that Sony charge on top of the body to include it brand news as part of the kit. I'm sure that if they sold it for slightly more as a stand alone unit rather than over double the cost, then maybe more people would pick one up and realise that it's actually got more merit to it. But with a tin hat on, you could probably find an argument to say that maybe Sony just want people to buy the more expensive lenses out there anyway.

Looking at alternative options there were a number of cheaper solutions, The cheap cheap way would involve buying a 28 or 35mm manual lens for around 4000 baht, but truth be told if I was going to get hold of anything I would rather it be autofocus. The 50mm that I have I love to bits, but in a fast moving environment such as Bangkok, it can be frustrating when you miss something that the autofocus might have caught. Speed obviously isn't everything, but the nice thing about having an autofocus lens is that you can always switch it to manual. The reverse scenario just isn't so.

A slightly more expensive solution was the Samyang 35mm 2.8. I had looked at these when I was considering replacements for my kit when it broke, but ultimately plumped for the 24mm as time at that moment was of the essence and I needed to pick up something quickly before getting some protest photography in London. I knew from the reviews that I had read at the time that this was a lens that optically wise at least was held in high regard, but missed out on some features that a more expensive lens might benefit from. Namely these are weather sealing and perhaps a tougher shell. The advantages to this cheaper construct though are a lesser price and lighter weight, and both these things are beneficial. The Samyang weighs less than 80 grams and is, it has to be noted very, very compact.

The Samyang has a retail price in Bangkok of 11900 baht (£284.16), making it ever so slightly more than the £279 price point back in the U.K and this the price across the board. Which ever camera shop you go in here prices do not tend to fluctuate greatly, 11900 baht in one is 11900 baht in another and 8390 in another. This was new. I had checked this shop only a couple of days before and this was a fresh drop in price as indicated by the hand scribbled figure under the previous price that had been struck through. A quick conversion of this price brought it in at £200.34, this was around the price you could expect to pay for a second hand copy back at home. It was now at a price that I thought was worth paying and after a quick check with the waiting assistant who allowed me to look over the lens itself and take some sample shots, I brought the lens. I presume that this was the ex-display model as the one on view is what was packaged up for me to take away, but it had been kept inside a glass case away from fingers and the store itself was deep inside one of the malls, so it was unlikely that it had been exposed to any elements during its short life. I hope that this can just get me a little bit closer that the 24mm would allow in some of the tighter spaces that I have been photographing in and maybe capture some of the images that I have been missing out on with the manual 50.

First impressions is that it seems like it's something that I will enjoy using and will be able to get good results from. I probably can't really ask for, or want anything more than that.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

22/02/2019 - Lumphini Park

As with the case in a lot of places, you sometimes need to revisit more than once to get images that do it justice. To see and record what wasn't visible or present on the previous visit.

I have been many times to Lumphini Park, one of the larger parks in Bangkok which sits just outside of Silom and is bracketed by 3 busy roads. despite this it is still a place of calm, and in places can be a visual treat.

I got here i the late afternoon an hour before sun down to give myself a little time wandering and looking for lizards. In the heat they can be quite illusive but as the intensity drops I suspected that they may become more active, and so it proved to be.

As the both the light and the temperature dropped down a level or two, the park once again came to life with joggers, cyclists and all other manner of people from young to old seeking activity either on land or water. But despite all this, the star of the show is often just the park itself, the nature, the green scenery against it's stunning city backdrop. Something which I am more and more convinced is appreciated by almost everyone that visits or uses the area.

Monitor lizards perhaps less so, but I'd be lying it I were to say that i don't find them fascinating, even if I am wary of getting too close, These animals of a seemingly bygone age can be found in good numbers in Bangkok, and they are particularly visible here in Lumphini. Thankfully, unlike their big brother the Komono Dragon, Monitors are a bit smaller and seemingly not particularly dangerous. They still look cool though.

A bit later as the sun dropped further you could here the bass heavy sound of music emanating from elsewhere in the park and by following this audible trail to it's source I was faced by the spectacle of a mass aerobic session taking place. It was seemingly open to everyone I would guess that there was in excess of 200 taking part along the wide path from left to right. There's only so much you can say about this, to witness it in action is much more awesome. Lumphini Park is something special and so are the people who use it. They have an energy that is infectious as I found to my detriment 3 years ago (I ran 3 miles when I wasn't really in the condition to do so). I will return here again I'm sure as every time it is a pleasure to be there. Next time however I will only do 1.5 miles...


22/02/2019 - Asiatique revisited

The images from the night before hadn't been as bad as I first thought.  Lightroom had been taken it on itself to over sharpen my images on import and the result was images that were disappointing at best, unusable at worst. However after realising that this was the case, I was able to reprocess the  the images that I had taken previously, and bring everything back under control. It's easy to miss the obvious sometimes, especially when you are tired.

I was convinced there was more still to get at this location however so I decided to return. This time I would forgo the 90mm and the 24mm and instead go with the 50mm Voigtlander 1.5 which has always proved itself at low light, and for the first time this trip I dusted off the old Carl Zeiss Jena 135. This latter lens has also managed to get me some images of incredible quality in the past, but with low light not it's forte, it would have to remain to be seen exactly how it fared. 

As with the night before, it wasn't until the sun began to dip that the waterfront came to life and even then, initially, it wasn't providing me with the type of imagery I was after.  It doesn't take long for the sun to drop in Bangkok so the time to get these kind of shots is pretty limited, but even so I still came away with enough to make the trip again worthwhile. before the sun had gone completely I had jumped back on the ferry and was on my way back up the river to make my way back to the hostel  My energy levels were dipping severely over the days and I was spending as much, if not more time at the computer editing and writing as I was exploring and photographing. I love Bangkok but for some reason it does tend to drain me a little bit more than I would like and I'm not sure if it's just the heat, the pace or the air quality. Whatever the reason I began to think that perhaps it was coming to a time where I would be better served taking a week out somewhere and getting re-organised. 

It's worth noting here that both lenses performed well in the conditions, and I may comeback to Asiatique one more time to see if I can capture some more of the place away from the waterfront area. 

Monday, 25 February 2019

20/02/2019 - Asiatique

Asiatique is an attraction. It is a relatively new one that sits on the main river that runs through Bangkok and offers a mixture of shopping and food outlets as well as scenic views over the south of the city. It is a popular destination for both the Thais that live here and a good number people visiting the city and I was hopeful that this would provide me with the opportunity to get some images that could be used on my ongoing project. Rather importantly also, it is really, really easy to get to from where I was staying, and therefor really easy to get back from late at night.

There is a free ferry service that is operated from the ferry point directly under the Saphan Taksin BTS station and from my Victory Monument locale this would be about a 15 minute train ride with a simple switch over at Siam. The ferry point when I arrived in the late afternoon had a small number of people waiting for the boat to arrive, but it was nothing like the elongated queue that greeted me when I visited here 3 years ago. I started to wonder at this point whether this visit was going to be productive or not. I had decided to visit mid week in order to avoid the worst of the crowds, but perhaps this decision was going to prove to have been a mistake. Only time would tell, and if it turned out to be such, it would be something I could put into the "learnt something" bag and I still had time to come back and re-shoot anything if necessary. The ferry ride took maybe 10 minutes from leaving to putting us back ashore, a welcome trip that also had the benefit of providing some much needed cooler air that danced off the water.

As I had feared the place wasn't exactly teeming with people, but it was early and I decided to have a little walk around the area, wide avenues littered with shop units and restaurants, but nothing that I found inspired me. At the back of the premises I found a few small shrines and sat by some fountains watching the visitors come to them and interact. Some took time to take a moment in silence by one, others visited each in turn as they took time to worship in their own personal way. Some made small offerings in appeasement, and then others ate said offerings and threw their contents on the floor. Pigeons it seems are anarchic wherever they are to be found in the world.

Walking back the the riverfront as night fell, I walked up and down looking for images that might work in line with the themes I was working towards, I had the Tamron 90mm and the Samyan 24mm at the ready but as much as I wanted to get my game on, I just felt I wasn't firing on all cylinders. Sometimes this just happens. I depend on my mood a lot of the time to direct me, to motivate me, but if that fails to spark then as much as I may try, there is a chance I won't be satisfied with anything I get.

But then there is usually something that you can take from somewhere.

As the sun dipped away over the city skyline, and over the bridge that spanned the river, I was struck by the colours and the majestic nature of the scene before me. There is something about scale that always grabs me and it's something that perhaps isn't fully transferable to a picture. I found it the first time that I was confronted by Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, and here I was undone my a similar effect. It wasn't the type of shot that I had come out to get, but it was something that I did my best to confront and capture. The magic however might not just be that it visually magnificent to witness. It was perhaps this moment that I decided that it would be no great hardship to come back on another night and try again.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

19/02/2019 - Parks n' markets (train night)

Getting from one place to another is rarely as straightforward as it would seem to be on a map. There is always things in the way, roadworks, diversions, floods, traffic and things of that ilk. You can plan around these if you know they exist before time and one of the things I was getting used to in the city was where the places were that may cause either a challenge or frustration. Talking to the receptionist in the Hostel I enquired as to whether there were any good night markets within easy reach for the evening and she pointed me towards either Asiatique on the river, or for a more local experience, Rachada Night Market, also known as the Train Market. I chose the second option.

Looking at a map it's apparent that the shortest route to get to Rachada by public transport from my location at Victory Monument was to take the sky train down and around to Asok. Here I could change to the MRT subway system and then catch the underground train a couple of stops up to Thailand Cultural Centre. The problem is that Asok is at a very busy section of town, and as such, at the time I was going to be travelling, it would be an absolute nightmare to navigate. The alernate route was slightly longer by distance, but potentially less of a hassle at the interchange  between BTS and MRT. I would head up from Victory Monument to past Phaya Thai to Chit Lom before changing and completing the arc back around to Rachada. The other benefit to do it this was that I could stop at the park at Chatichak and see if there was anything there that could help tell a visual story.

The Bangkok parks I have found so far are pretty peaceful places. In this often hectic city,  they provide a needed escape from the hustle and bustle and it's quite noticeable how quickly the sounds of the city are absorbed almost as soon as you get inside the parks grounds. You have to wonder why whether he grass and the foliage are acting in the same way as carpeted walls might in a recording studio, or whether the large lakes that feature prominently also have some kind of sponge like sound filter. Whatever the reason, it's not really that surprising that so many people want to spend time in the, At Chatuchak park the runners were again out in force, engaged in running around said expansive lake in a clockwise fashion. The lake was spanned by 2 bridges and between the water and the runners lay a good amount of grass for people to sit on, talk, read, sleep or take time to photograph the pigeons, feed the fish or watch the squirrels as the go about squirrelling. The amazing thing for me is why we expect Bangkok to be so different. From what I gauge, we as a nation seem to hold a very narrow view of what Bangkok is like, and these views are often different than what I find here. There's always going to be differences between different countries, and of course different cultures, but what may be surprising for some is how much of what you would recognise from the way things are back home. Some of these similarities can be welcomed, other, unfortunately, less so.

Today I noticed a Jamie's Italian restaurant had arrived in Bangkok.


I stayed at the park until the sun had set and I was roundly stewed before I embarked on the trip to the night market. The main road outside was busy, with barely enough space on the pavements to allow people to pass in both directions. The one thing that can trip you up in Bangkok is the pavements, usually quite literally. You will see people often trip and stumble forwards as a pavement either dibs away under its foundations subsidence, or has been pushed up for reasons unknown. It might be a reason why people shuffle as with smaller steps you are less likely to come undone. I shuffle because I'm knackered. It still doesn't stop me tripping.

The first couple of avenues I explored were unerringly quiet. As I walked down past clothes and apparel many of the sellers were sat just back a little, consumed by whatever entertainment was being provided on their phones. This wasn't the Bangkok I remember from a few years ago, and it wasn't how I remembered night markets being in general. Where were all the people, the vendors engaged with their potential customers? Was it just that I had come on a week night rather than at the weekend? It turns out I wasn't a million miles away from the truth however. That lay just 2 aisles away, as soon as I hit the food stalls.

It can be quite unerring for a westerner who finds themselves in these kind of situations. Space can be at a premium and if you leave an extra step ahead of you when things get tight, inevitably it will either be filled or you will be pushed forward.  I was aghast at how often someone could catch my elbows when they were tucked right in, or someone would just barge his way through with a face full food, concentrating more on getting his carbs than navigating the crowds. This is however how it is, and you either roll with it or you don't. I hadn't travelled 6000 miles to not roll.

The first couple of passes through the crowd was tough going. Shooting in manual mode on my 50mm gave me very little time to get my shot in, and even if I managed to react in time and get my subject framed, more often than not no one was going to stop to make my life easier. I adapted the best I could, framed things in a way that the constantly changing environment would either allow for or even be enhanced by. Sometimes it's the coming together off all these elements that make a shot worthwhile. You can't always control perfectly the situation in which you are photographing, but sometimes you can use and incorporate said situations into making a picture worthwhile.

Whilst the 50mm was always going to be tight in the narrow spaces in which I was found, the 24mm provided me with the opportunity to get back in amongst everything with the AF allowing me to  photograph the situations that were practically impossible with the manual lens, rarely having 2 hands free. Whilst the type of shots were different than those that the longer focal length and slower overall process allowed, the provide perhaps a more truthful interpretation of the situation at hand. Whilst the shots with the Voigtlander can often be still with a deceptively still quality, this would not have been common place in the market itself and is a result of how I was having to slow everything down during my process. The 24mm allowed my to react quickly and capture a situation almost immediately as it unfolded before me reulsting in images that were much more "now", prehaps much more immediate.

Personally I like both sets of images and I have to deem the evening there as a bit of a success 

I just with I hadn't spent so much time looking out for a certain British chefs Italian stall.