Little girl and black volcanic sand on Saba Beach | Bali, Indonesia 2011.
Canon 5D, EF 17-35 f2.8L
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been lucky to have travelled to a multitude of places and met countless amazing people. This collectively has played a huge role in shaping my world view and making me the person I am today. What I’ve come to realise is that despite differences in our skin colour, language, socio-economic status, we are all united in our common humanity, that we by and large dream the same dreams and seek the same things in life: Love, security, friendship and a purpose to wake up in the morning.
From the archives is a celebration of people, places and travel, and its limitless potential to open eyes and shape minds. From time to time, I will post a photograph I’ve taken from my archive of 43,000 photos from this period, with a brief description. Some photos are taken on film, some on digital, and I will include any camera equipment details if I have them. Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts!
View the other photos of the ‘From the Archives’ series.
Roadside food stalls at night, Bangkok, Thailand.
As the lyrics to the Murray Head song go …
“One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me”
It is probably pretty unfair, what people don’t realise is that Bangkok is a pretty safe city (if you discount the maniacal driving that you sometimes encounter) and for the most part, there are no issues with walking around the streets at night in whichever part of the city.
The City of Angels (no, not Los Angeles) seems to grow up at night, if Bangkok in the day is akin to a flamboyant teenager, its more like a seasoned worldly-wise forty something at night. Amid the glow of neon, the smells of the street food and the constant throng of people, there’s a certain magic that begins to appear. With the scorching sun that beats down on the streets gone for the day, everything cools down and people start hanging out outside of the malls and other air conditioned havens. The smartly dressed office workers and day tourists also slowly disappear from the scene, to be replaced by a more colourful breed of Thai and farang roaming the streets.
Some of the offerings of the night.
Couple sharing a moment.
Nighttime reveals a different character to the city.
Click here to read about my experiences in Bangkok with the Sony NEX 5N with Leica and Zeiss lenses.
Tourists in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
When most people think of Mongolia, they are actually thinking of Inner Mongolia, which is actually part of China. Mongolia is a sovereign nation, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south. According to Mongolians I’ve spoken to, Inner Mongolia is about as ‘Mongolian’ as a Pizza Hut pizza is Italian, having a majority of Han chinese forming its population, and having the traditional nomadic, common ownership culture of the Mongolians already diluted by the capitalist zeal of the Chinese.
I spent 11 days in Mongolia in July 2011 and it proved to be a complete eye opener. Coming from ultra urban city of Singapore, with a constant shortage of space and being surrounded on all sides by the sea, the landlocked nation of Mongolia, with its vast, vast open spaces and endless steppes was the complete polar opposite. It reminded me greatly of the nation of Rohan, and the Mongolians, the Rohirrim, ‘horse-lords’ from the Lord of the Rings. In fact, I reckon Tolkien modeled his mythical Rohan on Mongolia, with its fabled horsemanship amongst its people and its endless rolling steppes.
I’ve always taken the sea for granted, the beach is never more than a half hour drive from any direction in Singapore, being a small, connected island, imagine my surprise when I learnt that most people in Mongolia have never seen the sea, and hardly anyone knew how to swim. I don’t know why that surprised me, as it is obvious to anyone who looks at the map of Mongolia in relation to its neighbours, the nearest access point to the open sea would be the Bo Hai Sea, past Beijing and to the port city of Tianjin, thousands of kilometers away. Nonetheless, its still such a surprising concept that it took quite a while to sink in.
Most visitors will arrive via Ulaan Baatar, the capital city of Mongolia, which literally mean’s ‘Red Hero’, in honour of Mongolia’s national liberation hero Damdin Sükhbaatar.
Damdin Sükhbaatar’s statue stands in the middle of Sükhbaatar Square, Ulaan Baatar.
Zaisan Memorial, built by the Russians to commemorate fallen Soviet soliders in WWII.
Ulaan Baatar is quite a rapidly modernising city, with shiny glass facades of new office blocks standing alongside crumbling Soviet era buildings, and construction going on in many places. Much of the Mongolia economy has in recent years, been propelled by the great surge in mining related revenue, with Mongolia sitting on massive deposits of copper, coal, iron, uranium, zinc and other natural resources, with the world increasingly hungry for natural resources, and the Rio Tintos of the world falling over themselves to set up mines in Mongolia, the economy is set to keep growing. My hope is that the influx of investment and money coming into the country will translate to more favourable socio-economic conditions for the population at large, and not just line the pockets of the dealmakers, and throughout all this development, the traditional nomadic culture of its people will not be lost, replaced by rampant consumerism and Starbucks (which thankfully, hasn’t yet arrived in Mongolia).
Ulaan Baatar is reputed to be the coldest capital city in the world, with the average annual temperature freezing up the mercury at -1.3˚C. I was there in the height of summer so it was rather pleasant, -40˚C in winter would not be my idea of fun.
The capital is a base to get started in the country, but of course, no one comes to Mongolia to hang out in Ulaan Baatar, and it is when you leave the city that the magic begins.
The rolling hills surrounding Ulaan Baatar.
The South Gobi and beyond.
The Gobi desert is the largest desert in Asia and the 5th largest in the world, covering parts of northern and northwestern China and southern Mongolia. We caught an early morning internal flight on Aero Mongolia from Ulaan Baatar to Dalanzadgad, and then driving a number of hours before reaching our base in Khongor.
Outside of a vague halo around the capital city Ulaan Baatar, roads are pretty much non existant in Mongolia, much of it is crisscrossed by tracks and even more, just the wide open plain. We were in 4x4s speeding across the sometimes featureless landscape, sometimes without even a track but across the grass plains. I marvelled at the ability of our drivers to figure out where they were and where we were heading, they were of course, working without the luxury of modern navigational aids like GPS. Our driver would sometimes make a turn right in the middle of nowhere and continue heading in that direction, leaving us clueless as to how he knew when or where to make that turn. We would eventually meet a track a bit further on so we know he wasn’t just making random turns.
Another thing that struck me was the complete lack of trees, we could go for days without seeing a single tree, the climate was so extreme that all it could support in many places was just grass and small, low, hardy shrubs, sometimes not even shrubs could exist. I certainly have never been to such an extreme climate in my life.
The sheer ruggedness and beauty of the landscape was breath-taking, it was probably somewhere between the Scottish highlands and the moon. But the amazing thing was that throughout the journey, no matter how hostile the landscape, right in the middle of nowhere, literally hundreds of miles from any form of cabled electricity or civilisation, we would find traditional Mongolian gers (a Monglian version of the yurt) dotted around the landscape, representing nomadic families living off what little they can eke out from the land. Without doubt, a sheer testament to the hardiness of the Mongolian nomads. Everything is mobile, the ger can be packed up and put on the back of donkeys or horses and the family could move within a day or two, leaving the landscape pretty much untouched, just as it had been in the time of the legendary Chinggis Khan. The nomadic lifestyle does not have any concept of land ownership, all land is common, and you take what you need from it and move on. The Mongolian nomads are famously hospitable people, in part, necessitated by the barreness of the landscape and a livetime of travelling. It is just not possible to be completely self sufficient on long journeys across such an extreme landscape and nomads know that they will receive a warm welcome at any ger they come across in their journey, with the provision of food and shelter, and would likewise offer the same hospitality to other travellers and visitors.
See more photos and read more about my Mongolian adventure here.
Passengers boarding the plane at the crack of dawn.
Bangkok. This was to be S’s surprise trip for my belated birthday present. I had spent my birthday (as well as her’s!) in Hangzhou this year working.
We woke before daybreak, making our way to the airport to catch the early flight out. Its always exciting to be going off somewhere, in my opinion, the only legit reason to be waking up at that time of the morning. This was to be my first trip without my trusty Canon 5D mark II, in its place, was the Sony NEX 5N, with my Leica 50mm f2 Summicron, Zeiss ZM 35mm f2 Biogon, Sony 18-55mm and Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake. The whole package probably weighed less than my 5DmkII with 24-70mm f2.8 lens attached, which was the whole point of this exercise. I love the Canon but lugging it around all day whilst traveling is not my idea of fun. For the first time (in my opinion), there is a viable ‘small camera’ package that compromises little on image quality.
Portraits of the King throughout the city.There was a festive spirit in the air as the country had just celebrated the King’s birthday a couple of days prior, and throughout the city, there were portraits of the king, large and small, both in public spaces as well as private, with numerous stands set up for well wishes to write a birthday message to the king. The only monarchy I was familiar with was that of England, where the royalty seemed out of touch and for the most part, rather irrelevant to the general population, not so in Thailand, where the king is revered, especially by the common man. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest serving head of state and has been ruling the country since 1946, through the political careers of many a prime minister and government. In any case, the next 6 days was going to be a riot of colour and sounds and a proper culinary adventure!
Children seeking a cool respite from the heat at a fountain by a mall.