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.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

18/02/2019. Drying out some equipment - a short interlude.

The problem with the MacBook had returned again. Occasionally intermittent "Z"'s permeating through my string of misspelt words, occasionally a string of "Z"'s instead of any words at all. This was something I knew I had to try and sort properly. If it was moisture that was causing it either through the humidity in the natural environment or condensation through air-conditioning, it was kind of urgent to get on top of it. With personal experience I can testify that some electronic devices don't tend to cope well with the wet. Whether I was imagining it or not I'm not sure, but many of my things from the camera to my bag everything was in had that feeling of being a little bit damp.

I started a little research into where I could get a suitable silica gel packets in Bangkok without having to eat my way through several tonnes of baked snacks. There were several places on line and private adverts on local listing sites, but as I considered time to be of the essence I wanted to try and find a place where I could buy them in store. I googled "Silica Gel camera shop Bangkok" and found a link to World Camera, a chain of stores that can be found in some of the malls in Bangkok, but knowing that this was something that camera shops here might stock I wandered into a branch of "Big Camera" at the MBK, near where I was located.

Using a picture of some Silica Gel packets as a visual aid complete with thai text next to it, I asked the shop assistant whether i was something that they might have available and she took me and showed me a selection of packets locked inside a glass cabinet. With the options available all written in Thai I asked her what the difference was between the items and it came down to whether I wanted single or multiple packets of the gel. With camera, lenses, the mac and other electrical items that I had travelled with potentially in need of respite, I opted for a multipack at 369 baht. Now I know where to get them if I find that I need to get more then this isn't going to be a problem, unless there is such a thing as a "Silica Gel Junkie".

As soon as I got outside the store I ripped open the package and put one of the 3 sheets that had been inside in along with my Mac that I had in my backpack. When I returned to the hotel some hours later I places the other 2 sheets inside a airtight, waterproof bag that I had also brought with me to Asia. In here I also put my 2 camera bodies and 3 lenses and later my computer also, leaving everything sealed for the evening.

In the morning and up until now (13:40), the MacBook has been working perfectly. There has been no false keystrokes in between my letters being pressed or any moment where strings of "Z"'s fight against what my fingers are typing. Any mistakes are now of my own making and that itself I can work with. It's too early to say for definite whether the problem has actually been completely resolved, or whether as last time this is a moment of only temporary reprieve, but this time I feel a little bit more positive than the last. The damp feeling that has been perceivable is no longer so, so fingers crossed, we're home and dry.

Well, dry at the very least.

Monday, 18 February 2019

16/02/2019 - A days photgraphy at Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak Market (or JJ Market) is a place I have been before. Billed as Thailand's biggest market and also as one of the biggest in the world, its sheer scale is sure to impress those that aren't used to such places. Its website states that it is set over an area of 27 acres that has been divided into 27 sections with over 15,000 booths and stalls.  It perhaps isn't a place for the tired, weary or faint of heart. I was starting to wonder whether I should be leaving it for another day.

Whilst the market on the weekend opens at 9am, I didn't arrive until just after midday. The benefit to this is that the market was in full swing by the time that I arrived and being that it was nearly lunch time, there was going to be plenty of food to choose from. The negative side however is that by this time it was also 33 degrees c. The outside loops is a long, wide oval where it is easy to get disorientated and think that you are at a different point then you actually are. Venture inside at any time and you are faced with a confusing warren of maze like corridors meaning your chances of accurately predicting your position based off your own sense of direction is even further reduced. At each juncture there is a marking point giving you a location reference, so if there was something you were desperate to get back to you probably could with a little bit of map reading, but I have wandered around here several times in the past, and there's still sections that I am sure I haven't seen yet.

The first few moments with the camera are always a bit slow. I find it takes me time to zone into what it is I want to capture, a challenge perhaps that is a little bit amplified by my now familiarity with the place. There was little of that sense of wonder that I often feel on my first visit somewhere new, somwhere that you don't know what is coming next or what to expect. The other side to this is that this familiarity does give you the experience to ignore a lot of the side shows and distractions, the bombardment of sights, sound and smells all vying for you attention. Being able to detach from these things even a little maybe might lose you some of the energy that is sweeping you along, but it can also allow you to focus your attentions on finding the details in the chaos that you might otherwise miss.

I was asked by someone recently what kind of photographer I am, and oddly It's one of the toughest questions I have been asked of late. I consider myself a street photographer really, reacting and capturing snippets of information as I try to tell a story of a place visually. Street photography may be sneered at in a professional sense, and whilst I wouldn't want to limit myself to just one field or discipline, I have to be truthful and say there is still that part of me that when I am out, just wants to take over. Sometimes you need to suppress it a little and focus on the task at hand. Other times I just have to allow myself that little indulgence, otherwise I will go insane in a place with so much going on. With that particular itch scratched, I could then can carry on to other things.

Inside the market I looked for things to focus on, something that would show the details, capture a mood or essence. There were rows upon rows of tiny units an booths, with different amounts of lighting or lack of it, but there was very little that I felt would help tell a cohesive story. Nothing that could make a good picture or series of images that could be a interesting way to define and capture the place that I now found myself in, until I saw a mannequin staring menacingly down at me. Then another one, and then another. I decided today this would be my hook and i spent the next period of the day just wandering around looking for more. As a kid I remember finding Dr Who a little bit scary. If I had witnessed some of the things here during the same period of my life, I can only imagine how i would have reacted. I started to find these things a little bit fascinating and I make no apologies for ending up with what is a wealth of images based off of these curios. I filled my boots until I had literally exhausted all avenues.

Back outside in the blazing sun I was approached by a bunch of school kids who asked me if they could do a video interview with me as part of their school project. As always I was happy to oblige. As they set up and started rolling, they asked me a series of questions about why I was in Bangkok, how I knew about Chatuchak Market and whether I was going to be buying anything in particular. The easiest question they asked however was what I thought about Bangkok. "Hot" I stated, "yes, hot" they cheerfully agreed. It was a short 5 minute period out of my day and it's moments of interaction like this that can really add so much to a trip. It's too easy to brush off approaches in places like this as just someone trying to sell you something and if you take this dismissive approach to anyone that talks to you, you risk missing out. Incidentally buying and selling in Thailand is treated as something of a game. It's not one that I am any good at to be fair, but engagements with sellers even when you are saying no can be done in such a way that in enjoyable for both parties. It's something that everyone can have a bit of fun with and by refusing to engage with it, you have to wonder what you have actually experienced.

I left the market in the late afternoon and the station for the rail line was heavily packed with a long queue to get a ticket to ride. I then decided, rather foolishly, that as the temperature had cooled a little I would walk the 3 miles back to the hostel. Now, I like walking, especially in new places. It allows me time to take in the surroundings and notice things that I wouldn't ordinarily see. By going straight from "Point A" to "Point D" I would potentially miss out so much between, however my feet were telling me they were tired before I even started off. During the next 2 hours they forced me to stop several times, to rest and ease the burning sensation in them just a little before moving back on. Points "B" & "C" both provided moments to capture and I could have caught a train easily enough at these points but I always want to explore a little more. By the time I finally got back to the hostel decided to leave the editing of the days photographs and the write up of my experiences for another time. Besides I could do without having the mannequins of the day invading my rest and recuperation. 1970's Dr Who had nothing even close to the visual impact of these things.

Absolutely Nothing.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

15/02/2019 (Friday). Moving on, Mega Plaza and Chinatown

It had taken a week of being in Bangkok, but finally I felt like it was time to move. You can spend hours looking at maps and accommodation on line, looking at things nearby which may be of interest and scouring reviews of hostels and hotels to avoid any nasty surprises, but in the end it comes down to clicking that button and taking the plunge. The nice thing about staying anywhere in Asia on the cheaper side, is that is you do find yourself anywhere horrific there is usually accommodation nearby to which you can move without too much of a financial hit. The hostel where I had been staying had been a pleasant enough stay, and with another branch of theirs just over the other side of town I played it a little safe and booked in there at Victory Monument. This was an area that I knew to be busy, had good transport links and, with an eye on tomorrow, was only a few stops away from the Chatuchak weekend market which I have experienced before and I hope will provide me with some good photo opportunities. Before that however I just had to get over there.

In the seven days that I had been in Thailand, I had purchased a light, short sleeved shirt, an equally light polo shirt and a pair of shorts, but these things alone couldn't explain why my re-packed backpack felt so much heavier than when I had arrived. The walk to the MRT was more uncomfortable than before, the lift over the turnstiles more of an effort and whilst you could perhaps attribute this to a little tiredness from my adjustment period, I suspect that there was more at play. The only thing I can think of is that the humidity here has come into play and perhaps the reason the bag feels heavier is that it is heavier. Perhaps there is now an unmeasured moisture content that wasn't there before I arrived and if this is the case, this might also add credence to my suspicion that my electrical equipment was being hampered by the humid conditions at my previous stay.  It took just over an hour of lumping that weight to get to my destination and I decided en-route that I will probably ditch some of the clothes that I have in the bag before I move on again. I'm pretty sure that I slightly overdid it on the number of t-shirts anyway.

With the rest of the day to kill, I looked up to see if I could find any camera shops nearby, but instead got drawn towards a place called Mega Plaza near the area of Chinatown. The place was described as having a "camera zone" and a couple of highly rated shops selling vintage lenses. It would require a bit of a trek to get there, but Chinatown was a place that I wanted to look at and get an overview of anyway, to scope it out to see whether it was worth spending a period of time in that region. After several BTS stops and another ride on the MRT I reached Hua Lamphong station, the lines final stop. I then continued my walk towards the Mega Plaza, past temples and traditional structures, through Chinatown along Yaowarat Road, until I reached my destination. 1.2 miles walk over 40 minutes. It just seems impossible to walk anywhere quickly in the Bangkok climate.

Inside the plaza itself, it was full to the brim with small independent shopa and units, however unlike many of the the other plazas and malls I have visited in the past, this was a more laid back affair. You could pass by stores at ease, stop and look at the displays without being hit with a strong sales pitch straight off the bat. This place seemed to be more of a marriage of enthusiasts withsales oppurtunies , of people making money out of their interests and hobby's rather than tat to be pushed on the first unsuspecting punter who strolled in off the street. It  made for quite an interesting, and even serene experience as the noise from the street traffic outside faded further away and the brightly lit visuals took over. The first four floors consisted largely of glass displayed toys based off anime, tv and popular film interspersed with games consoles from classic to current. The 5th floor however was almost solely cameras. Nothing else was present to distract.

There wasn't much in the way of cutting edge. There was no brand new mirrorless full frame or digital medium format on display. There was however lots and lots of classic and iconic vintage lenses and camera's, with some but not all, for sale. For a moment I thought I had located a used version of the kit lens I was after, but the guy in the shop told me it was broken with the aperture not always working. He was still willing to sell it to me of course, and for me, he would do a special price of only 6000 Baht. It sounded like the fault that I had on my old copy of the lens which basically made it unusable, and for me £148.82 for a broken lens didn't seem to be all that appealing. As it turns out I may have located one in working order in another part of town for 6800 baht (168.66) which may yet prove to be an option. I thanked the gentleman as gracefully as I could and carried on around the floor, looking through the displays in the windowns with a mixture of want, delight and the occasional guffaw at things that had been seriously overpriced to my non-collectors eye. Collectors however will often have a different perspective on these things than I do.

Back down on the street the light had fallen away, and I made my way slowly back up the same street that I had wandered down earlier towards the neon lights in the distance. I told myself that if I could get myself one good picture I would be happy, something I often tell myself especially when I can feel myself getting tired. I have figured that Chinatown is an area that I will probably be coming back to as there is so much going on. It has an evening landscape that is likely to alter upon each visit and I'm sure there are things to discover and examine in daylight hours too. For now thought I had one eye on the clock. I was still a fair way from the station and further from my hostel than I wanted to be, but if I could get just one shot I'm happy with, it would have not been a wasted evening.

It takes a while to sometimes get any kind of result. At first the shots weren't coming naturally and again I blame the tiredness I was feeling. I was standing back and watching, but not getting myself in close enough to take anything worthwhile. The manual 50 seemed slow and was not producing images of the quality I know that it can and I was starting to feel myself getting agitated in the crowds. There are sometimes a million reasons to not get that shot, a million excuses as to why it isn't going to happen, You can find fault and frustration in everything that doesn't go right, but then, if you do land that first one, then every single one of those is put away and forgotten. You only need that one shot to get rid of the excuses, reasons and faults that were putting the brakes on the moment...

and once you have that one...

Friday, 15 February 2019

14/02/2019 - My bloody valentine (aka just one of those days).

I woke up this morning with the laptop facing me, on the desk where it had serenaded me to sleep with the night before with short, sharp youtube clips. I could instantly tell something was wrong.

The screen was already awake and sat at the password input screen and the usually blank field where the password should get typed was itself already filled in. I hit delete, the box fought back. I highlighted all and deleted and as soon as it was empty, the box started to fill up again. This wasn't the start of the day that I was hoping for. Last night I had tracked down a camera store on line that looked like it might be in possession of a second hand Sony 28-70 lens at a reasonable price and it was here that I wanted to get to a take a look. Instead it looked like my plans were about to change again. Perhaps I should have brought it flowers.

It was hard enough to get past the password screen. Every time I tried a letter, an extra one or two more would appear, blanked out in password screen fashion meaning that in order to get past here I would have to pay attention, and count the number of dots along I was before hitting the next key. This is a challenge without coffee. One in I could see that the problem was the "z". Perhaps it was still asleep which is why the "zzz" kept filling in the gaps. I did my best to wake it. I googled the problem, tried a few "solutions". none of which worked. I struggled through booking a room in my next port of call, removing extra zeds from "jazmzesz aitzkzenz" as well as my credit card number which for some reason was now being shown as incorrect. With my solutions limited and with a final throw of the dice, I decided to reinstall the Mojave operating system onto the mac with it's initial 18 minute estimated time soon doubling to nearer an hour.

It didn't help.

After wasting the morning and nearly 3 hours of effort, the macbook was still suffering from visual narcolepsy. I had run out of ideas and patience. This was something I could ill afford to lose. Without the mac I would be unable to process photos, write up blogs and note down my degree findings. I would also be unable to fall asleep to late night youtube clips which should perhaps be higher up on that list of inconveniences.

I looked for solutions on my phone, nearby places that I could take it and get a professional to look it over. I know that there are apple stores here in Bangkok, but unfortunately my budget wasn't going to stretch to that kind of thing, not without persuasion. Instead I found a place just an MRT stop away, about 20 minutes and I would be there. It had glowing reviews on line from those that had used them which gave me a little more faith than just turning up in one of the malls and taking a chance. The company sounded professional too. I mean, who wouldn't want to take their poorly apple to see "Dr MacBook"?

Dr MacBook was apparently located on the 5th floor in a place called the Fico building, but rather than being in a shopping centre or shop as I suspected it would be, it was located in an hi rise office complex. This threw me a little and I obviously looked thrown because it wasn't long before the guard on traffic duty at the entrance to the building asked if he could help. I asked him about Dr MacBook half expecting to get a blank expression back, but to my surprise he acknowledged that I was in the right place, I just needed to go in an talk to lady on reception. This was good. They just needed to see my passport.

errr...bugger...about turn.

It wasn't the longest trek in the world back to the hotel. The MRT is an air conditioned network that runs underground to various points of the city. The walk on each side of the stations I used was only 5 minutes each way, but still when I got back to the hotel I decided it was time for a costume change. It may have been only 32 degrees but sometimes it's the humidity that bites. At ground level it can get quite intense fairly quickly, they perceived lack of air and the heaviness of it all can occasionally cause someone coming from a single figure climate to perspire a little. I put on a lighter top, chucked the passport back in the bag and got myself back to the Fico reception lady.

With my passport exchanged for a building pass I caught the opulent lift to the 5th floor. Here, down narrow walkways were a number of enclosed, self contained units and I followed the corridor along, scouring the signs above the doors for the one that sported the name of the one that I needed.  At the end I got to a wall, physically and mentally and as I turned a young lady from one of the other units asked me if she could help me find what I was looking for. I told her, she politely laughed. I had walked straight past the door with "DR MACBOOK" scrawled upon it in giant, bold coloured letters. Sometimes as a photographer I get into the habit of looking away from where the eyes are naturally led. Sometimes as a person, I feel like an idiot. "Sawadee Krap" I replied, bowing thankfully and a little sheepishly.

Inside the doors I explained to the lady what the problem was that I was having, unsheathing my Macbook from it's case and laying it down on the desk. Something had happened in the last few hours. No matter what I tried the fault didn't occur. boot, reboot, notepad, keystrokes, tap tap tap, nothing. The good Dr had seemingly cured it just by her presence. Before I left she flipped of the "z" key and just cleaned a little inside it, there was nothing obvious that seemed to be a problem. No chuck of food or small mammal came dropping out. Lost for words I apologised and thanked here for her time and left by saying that i still have a feeling that I'm going to be back. Sometimes an intermittent fault are the worst kind of problem. Sometimes you just want someone to conclusively say "that's the problem and this is how we fix it". now however I feel like there is this problem hanging over the computer which may rear up again at any point. It may not have cost me any money at this point, but you just get that feeling that nothing is resolved either so the cost may be deferred, whether that be in monetary value or time when I can ill afford to lose any in a few weeks time.

Outside the building I noticed a couple of shrines that I wanted to get photos of so I pulled one of the cameras from the bag and lined up the with the 90mm to take a shot, adjusting the shutter speed, ISO and aperture as appropriate. Adjusting the aperture as appropriate. ADJUSTING THE AP...oh ffs.

Some days.

It seems that whilst my Macbook had sorted itself, the rear dial on my camera had developed it's own problem, perhaps feeling that it wasn't getting enough attention. I have the camera set up for shutter speed on the front dial, ISO on the back wheel and aperture on the rear dial for full, easy control. by flipping these around it was easy to diagnose that the rear wheel was the problem rather than the aperture on the lens. This was my older camera. It is the one that was mortally injured in the great adventure of 2016 and was been deemed irreparable by Sony itself. I have joked in the past is that it is coming back to Thailand to die and perhaps this process has started, For the time being though I will use that body with my 50mm manual Voigtlander which has the aperture control on the lens itself. If I use a auto lens I will shoot in shutter speed priority and keep an eye on what the camera is doing with regards to the other settings. It's why I brought 2 cameras with me. It's a little bit of contingency planning and whilst you hope that everything gets through the trip unscathed, with me I have learnt that this is pretty rarely the case.

*I woke up in the middle of the night to see the MacBook filling itself in with z's again. I quickly shut the laptop down and put it into it's case and into my backpack. I am suspecting now that perhaps the humidty is causing a problem with the Mac, and prehaps this has also caused a problem with the camera also.  It is also possible that this is being compounded by the air conditioning in the room.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

13/02/2019 - Bangkok reacquainted

or Aitken's Blog: Supplemental, Thai date 13.02.2562

I have been back in Thailand's capital for 5 whole days now and it would be accurate to say that I haven't bedded back in as quickly as I had hoped. My initial hotel stay which I had booked for 3 nights until Monday quickly got extended to Wednesday as I realised I was taking longer than I anticipated to adjust back to the pace of life here. On Monday night I extended this further until Friday by which time I would have been here a week. a nice round figure on which to move on. Unfortunately I have felt much the same way I did the first time I travelled here. Fortunately I have the experience to know and expect that this will soon pass.

It hasn't been a complete waste of time so far. I have ventured to a few places to try and get myself familiar with things once again. In Lumphini and Benjasari Park there were the usual runners doing their thing and on streets, in and outside of buildings I found small temples and shrines which I may use as the background theme, the thing that runs through this Bangkokian photo project. Just by walking around and being back here I am still getting ideas about what I can photograph and ways I can do it. So as long as I am thinking about ways to capture and portray the life that goes on here, something is going to happen. Eventually the Baht will drop.

The food in Bangkok is still amazing and whilst I am still yet to fully regain my appetite since arriving, the bits and bobs I have sampled have not disappointed in the least. I am aware however that my with my medical condition I need to ensure that I eat and drink regularly. My blood sugar levels have proved themselves to be adequately robust and stable, so sooner or later I'm sure that everything will fall into place nutrition wise.

I have been using a combination of 24mm, 50mm and 90mm focal lengths and the 24mm Samyang in particular is a funny little lens. When reviewing the images in camera you can easily be misled into thinking that it isn't doing a good job, and if I was basing the quality of the images solely on these in camera previews then I wouldn't be using it. It becomes clear however when post processing the images, that they may be far better than the previews would have had you believe. With the 2.8 aperture it can be a useful low light lens and when combined with the focus tracking in the a7ii it is a net little compact lens for street photography also. I have however found myself missing the old 28-70mm kit lens more than I thought I would. It was a lens that travelled with me extensively before it developed a fault some months ago, and for that reason it isn't with me here.  Despite some peoples negative perception of it because it has been sold with Sony bodies as a kit lens, I found that the 28mm end of the lens could provide me with outstanding results. Extending the range slightly to around 35mm led to no noticeable degradation in performance or quality or image, and it was a focal length with which I became quite comfortable. I have been looking for one here but as yet, unfortunately, I have had little luck on that front.

The 50mm and the 90mm have also provided a mixed bag of results, although any faults with the images are more likely down to my mishandling of my gear that anything else. I have yet to get that "hell yeah" moment that I have had in the past. That feeling where you know everything is clicking into place, I really start enjoying myself and everything just comes together. If I'm not being wowed by what I'm taking, it's probably fair to assume that other people aren't going to be either. This is just a period I have to work through and I half anticipated something like this might happen. It was why I allowed myself more time, a little contingency planning to allow for such occurrence's and allow for time to settle in and sharpen up. Now I just need my images to do the same and let any negativity jog on.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

07/02/2019 - Bristol - Heathrow - Bahrain - Bangkok

By the time that  I got onto the National Express coach in Bristol at just after 3:30 am, I had already been up for 20 hours. The previous day had been spent running around in a mild panic, making sure that I had gotten hold of everything that I possibly needed whilst I was away. There were a few things I brought which perhaps weren't essential, but they fell into the "might come in handy" category, the bag for which was now over full, so a little culling took place in the final hours. I ejected the flash and LED lights, stuff that could be acquired in Bangkok if the need arose but found room for all my lenses and both camera bodies. I definitely went overboard on t-shirts.

On the coach I finally started to relax. You get to the point where you stop thinking about "have I packed this" and "have I packed that" and resign yourself to the fact that it's too late to worry about it. I know I had been thorough with my packing. Worries about whether my insulin was in the bag or whether I had all my blood testing equipment were niggles only, I knew I did. I had physically packed and repacked that bag about 10 bloody times, and maybe double that figure in my head. I had everything I wanted to take, end of story, or hopefully more like, just the start.

I closed my eyes a couple of times on the coach and would hazard a guess that over the course of the next 2 hours of bouncey, swaying travel I probably managed 30 or 40 minutes of 5 minute naps. It doesn't sound like much, but when your desperately tired, those few minutes can go towards making you feel a whole lot worse that you did originally. By the time I got off the coach at Heathrow I had that early morning, head hit by a cricket bat feeling but I knew had to run with it and get checked in and get hrough the baggage checks which have been a little bit of an effort on previous occasions. Probably because of the time of day that it was, this proved to be the quickest and easiest I have ever encountered. Within about 30 minutes I was sat in the Pret at the Terminal 4 departure lounge, eating breakfast and drinking a coffee. 20 minutes of that had been deciding at which cafe to roll with.

As a testament to me not just feeling battered, but looking it as well, the lady in the Pret decided to give me my coffee for free. It's perhaps a little thing, but it's those little things that can go about setting that day back on the right path. In hindsight maybe a coffee wasn't the smartest idea.

The plane left Heathrow after a short delay at 9:50am, luckily I was on it. The flight itself took just over 7 hours and it felt like double that. I had got to the point where all my muscles felt numb and my back and legs had a dullish ache. The leg room afforded was standard economy leg room, which meant that I spent the duration sat bold upright with no space available to slump a little, get comfortable and shut my eyes. I perused the in flight entertainment, which is best described as limited, played hangman on the screen until I guessed "Brisbane" for the 3rd time and watch the clock tick by. Bahrain could arrive quick enough. It felt like it arrived late.

There wasn't much to see in the airport during the stop over. It was just over 2 hours of twiddling thumbs for which I decided to use my own. I had a flat white in what I think was a Costa, which cost some money and with time still dragging it's heels, I opted to grab a McDonalds. It has been one of my small pleasures of recent times to try different McDonalds in different places over the world and it is usual for there to be slight variations in the menu. Hong Kong you could have hot sweetcorn in stead of fries, in Bangkok there is curry and rice dishes on the menu. In Bahrain airport they had the McArabia chicken which was chicken in a light pitta bread. Doesn't sound overly exciting and it wasn't really, but it's another one off the list. How many left to go?

Back on the plane I got ready for leg 2. I had nabbed myself one of the front seats with the hope of getting a little more leg room but as usual things didn't work as hoped. The front seats were fairly close to the dividing wall, which although giving the illusion of more space for the sitter, again meant that leg space was not at "stretch out and get comfy level".  As it was warm and this was only going to be a 6 hour overnight flight I turned down the offer of a blanket and reasoned that i could just use my hoodie as a light cover if the need arose. About 2 hours into the flight I was chilly, after four hours I slipped into a state of hibernation for 5 or 10 minutes. This was another flight where the perception of time was misaligned with time itself. When I got off the plane at Bangkok Airport at 8:40 am on the Friday morning I had been travelling from Bristol for just under 23 hours but it felt double. Barring a couple of very short naps/blackouts I had been awake for around 39. 

I was now borderline nonfunctional.

I managed to write something on my Thai immigration card which even by my standards looked barely legible, but even so I got my passport stamped without problem and got some Thai baht from the cashpoint, forgetting briefly to collect my bank card after the cash was dispensed. Usual frustrations at the baggage wheel with people just standing so close to it that no one can see their bags coming, and even if they do they need to call a scrum in order to grab it before it whizzes by and escapes into the wild. None of this was a problem. I think I had just got to the point where I wasn't able to get annoyed about anything. I collected my bag, clipped on the carry strap, escaped through customs and headed down to the subway for a Subway. I needed more coffee than could ever be available.

The trip by train to my first port of call was as straightforward as it could be. I had purposely booked a place that was close to one of the stations off the MRT transport system in Bangkok and this itself interlinks conveniently with the Airport train with just a short walk above the roads in between. The temperature was steadily rising and when I arrived at this juncture just after 10am it was already up at 31 degrees c, and I was still in tshirts and jeans. Remarkably, it seems that I was also now just too tired to sweat as well. 

Cures all ailments (ish).

I arrived at the hotel early and requested whether there was somewhere that I could put my bags and come back later, rather than lumping them around longer. As my room was already prepared they allowed me an early check in and it was a relief to get into some an airconditioned room just briefly before ducking off and taking a much needed shower. As much as I could have slept right there and then I decided to battle through it. If I slept now then my body clock would be out so I needed to get through to the night at least. I got myself changed and headed out for the afternoon for more coffee and a much needed haircut. 

When I crashed at about 8pm in the evening, i was out for around 12 hours, and when I woke up I felt as bad as I had done the night before. It looked like it was going to take more than one decent sleep to get over the previous 3 days endeavour. It was good to have finally got here, but it's impossible not to think and already start to dread the flight back to the UK in just over a months time.