back in bangkok for a look at the earth!

I have to be honest, despite the tag line “land of smiles” the immigration people in Thailand don’t hold a candle to the helpful and friendly officials at Fukuoka airport. It doesn’t matter how pleasant you are in saying hello or Saswasdee Kap, they don’t even look at you at Suvarnabhum airport immigration, much less return the greeting. And then there is the gauntlet of authorized and unofficial taxi services. I guess it’s the same thing in Bali for foreigners. Ironically, the more succesful a place is as a tourist destination it seems the less friendly people get. ——–Anyway back in Bangkok (where people really are friendly!) in time to catch the opening Yann Artus Bertrand’s breathtaking exhibit on the state of the earth outside the Zen/Central world department store Tuesday evening. It’s great to see the images big and Yann is in usual enthusiastic form despite just having landed from Paris that morning. All the girls (including McCann’s Monica White and Credit Suisse’s Paworamon Suvarnatemee) make a beeline: myp11.jpgSigh…. Yann cracks “too bad it wasn’t like this 20 years ago when I was younger!!” We finally get to dinner, where after a boisterous hour the jet lag finally catches up with him. ——–Tonight, Wednesday, he is giving another talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club. Despite all the hoopla Yann is definitely pushing a positive agenda: do something for the earth now. He is flying off to Paris right after the talk to be there for earth day to announce a brand new project which will reach many people. Meanwhile Marie Claude Millet finally takes a stab at photography (after years of publishing photo books with her husband Didier ) along with Yann’s sister Catherine: mc-n-cthrn.jpgAs to work, I have to say that one of the downsides of digital photography, which otherwise is wonderful in its interactivity, speed, latitude etc, is the amount of time in post production. I need to attend a super work flow workshop! For every day of shooting I seem to spend half a day editing and working on RAW files. Help!!! In the meantime my very Gallic editor at the On Asia digital photo agency, Olivier Nilsson, is being as patient as besieged French man can be, walking me thru everything. At one point, exasperated, he skypes back in French: “there are 60 other photogs who are asking for my exclusive and urgent attention..” I shut up and go back to editing and captioning. ——–Tonight, at the FCCT Yann’s film and presentation draws a lot of positive response. It is something to really think about, to turn one’s profession and capacity into something a bigger than oneself, and as a photographer it is inspiring to see how he has used the medium to get across an important message, and in a relatively striaghtforward way without becoming “a priest” as he put it. yann1.jpgIn response to a series of questions about the presentation of facts and how they can be ‘adjusted’ to one’s purpose, and if any of this really will change people entrenched in their comforts, Yann talked about how images can touch the heart in such a way that an automatic change comes into one’s way of being. He cited examples in his own life, how after seeing things he changed his behaviour automatically. This is pretty much the real heart of photojournalism. ——–Another positive note tonight, for me at least, is that Obama has come out on top. As an Asian, I think many of us are excited that he might make it to the White House. He does represent a real possibility of change in the relationship between the US and Southeast Asia specifically, and of course the rest of the world. But imagine, an American President who has lived in Indonesia in his childhood! obama.jpg Lets hope that Americans vote smart…


this a bit out of synch, seeing as I wrote about last night first, but anyway:

Chris has turned me on to Dazaifu. I catch a pretty suburban feeling local train fromTenjin to Dazaifu. When I get there and hit the main street it seems such a tourist trap I almost get back onthe train, but it is Sunday after all. I wander up the street and find a pleasant restaurant and have soba and vegetable tempura. It is the very first time in Japan that I have to explain that I am vegetarian all by myself – up to now friends and organizers have been babysitting me, spoiling me rotten. Armed with my 5 words of Japanese, which fortunately includes “Yasai” or vegetable, they quickly get the picture. In Kyushu people are so eager to help out, it is really a pleasure despite the formidable language barrier. A red bean paste bun, which seems to be a local specialty, from some crack cooks who are working a dozen double jaffle irons in super quick time (half the pleasure is just watching them crank it out), is dessert.

Eager to get away from the hordes, I go to Komyozenji temple, a Zen experience Chrishas recommended. It is a wonderfully quiet, the gardens at the back a haven. My camera’s mirror makes so much noise when I shoot I feel like throwing it away. I miss my old rangefinders, quiet, discreet. Be great if NIkon took the processor out of my D3s and put it into a rangefinder!


What I like about the temple, so in character, is that none of the monks are visible. You just feel their presence, in the big assembly hall in front of the Amitabha Buddha altar, in the meticulously kept garden, in an empty room designed just so…. On the viewing balconyJapanese tourist sit quietly, taking it all in in the truly zen spirit –or at least so I think: some turn out to be snapping pictures with their cell phones

Then on to Tenmangu Shrine, the Shinto shrine which is the main attraction of Dazaifu for Japanese. It is, as usual, a combination of beauty, piety, superstition and a lot of lucky charm stalls. Every kind of person is here. I happen on a small blessing ceremony at the main shrine, the priest and attendant completely formal, the family struggling to maintain posture and composure.


I am glad I went to the Zen shrine first, which is less popular with the masses. I ask Chris about the aggressive merchandising at Shinto shrines, and he shrugs it off as due to being run by committees who have big maintenance and rebuilding budgets to fund.


In the Zen temple there isn’t even an obvious donation box….


Back in Tenjin, it’s late afternoon and once again we have a parade of styles and looks. It seems the pressure of conformity and robot like work in school makes everyone into a fashion rebel once they finish their formal education!

some more pics from miyazaki – fukuoka

I will write some more on the plane and post from Bangkok, at Fukuoka airport right now. Just wanted to post some images:miyazaki-dandies.jpgthis was from the last night at Miyazaki, a couple of dandies happy to pose in the night life area!kimono1.jpgand my first image of fukuoka…. My new friend Chris, who is living in Fukuoka (since about 13 years) takes me on a little tour of Fukuoka. One night isn’t enough, and it is Sunday and quiet. We walk thru the red light district which is dead, Sunday isn’t the day. Most premises apparently are off limits to Gaijin – the benefits of having an American miliraty presence. We walk and look and talk about Buddhism (he is into Zen), life, styles. I get some new insights (no time to formulate right now in the waiting lounge!) We end up at Canal City which is kind of mall meets lagoon. There are also a few stalls, and of course the whacky young Japanese busy conforming to the rebellion, but they are easy going rebels.vendor.jpg bit of a contrast to yesterday afternoons zen temple in Dazaifu, but even that was in contrast to the Shinto shrine. OK more on this later.they are calling the flight..

Bye Miyazaki. Hi Fukuoka….

Yesterday and last night I explored Miyazaki’s entertainment and night life area again. I run into a little boutique, literally under the stair case. Although there is no sign, the owner – Tadshi-san, assures me that there is a name: Eskees, (I think). With his cat, he makes for one of my favourite portraits of my trip. tadshisan.jpgthis morning we left the hotel at about 8:45, my flight isw at 9;30. ehat a cruise Miayzaki is, I check in at 9:10, go through security straight thru to boarding, and we take off. This is how travel should be! 45 minutes later its Fukuoka. I somehow manage to get to the international terminal, drop my bags off and set out for Dazaifu. more tomorrow. dead tired!

Hashiguchi-san’s workshop

It’s clear that George (I discovered it’s actually Joji-san!) is something of a guru for Japanese photo buffs. Today he ran a workshop for local amateurs, and his soft spoken fatherly manner comes across to me like therapy session leader. He has everyone talk about their personal feelings etc about things. Amongst the adults and the teenagers, there is a little girl of 8 who also shows her pics. Kirari is quite a little firecracker, very bold and not at all your typical shy Japanese kid. Here she is telling George where it’s at:workshop.jpgThen she gets me to teach her how to count to at least one hundred and ten in English before she gets bored and rips my sun glasses off my head and does a performance of her own.. kirari.jpgGeorge suggests that I give them some critique while he works one end, so I jump in with a stand-in translator and go for it. In amongst all the ordinary stuff there are some gems, and some surprising pics. It is all film (or analog as they like to call it) which is great for people to learn first, but perhaps it also leaves them at the mercy of the run of the mill commercial printers seeing as they are just sending the images thru retail shops. Hmm, maybe I should take this up with George over dinner. If I remember. Lunch with Naomi who has shown up, a quick visit to her family home and meet her Mum, who at 78 looks like 60. Then it’s taxi back to hotel. I am sure all of you readers who have been to Japan know the japanese taxi obsessiveness, but I still get taken aback when I get into a white lace covered taxi driven by a white gloved chauffeur. Wonder how long it would stay white in Jakarta…dsc_8715.jpg

the big day

Yesterday was the the big day for the festival. It started off with my co-exhibitor, George Hashiguchi, and I being interviewed for local tv at our exhibition. George is a soft spoken die hard documentarian who has spent years doing portraits around the world. He has done a huge series on Japanese teenagers, including portraits of some of them 10 years on. A man with a quiet sense of humor and ‘dead pan’ eye is the only way I can describe it. p1020570.jpgI get to do my little song and dance too for the tv:p1020563.jpgmeanwhile Akutagawa-san (Jin) does some documentary work:p1020573.jpgwhile the actress Akiko-san is taking in George’s portraits.. p1020577.jpgIn the evening there is a big do: George has been getting his presentation straight for about four hours in the afternoon (something on his powerpoint program messed up) plus rehearsals. A 7:35 I go on stage and deliver my long and windy speech about the philosophy of why I take pictures: zzzzzzzzzz. I have cruelly interspersed my speech with home made idioms that has my poor translator in knots – she is very concerned to get the exact meaning across. Everybody is polite and claps. What follows is fun, the composer Mera-san created a piano and recorder piece, kind of Japanese-Balinese Zenish-piano drama to go with a slide show of the Bali work that I am showing. It is really touching, and for 20 minutes I look at my pictures in a different way. Although it is nothing like gamelan music which was the background sound when I was shooting the images, there is no disconnect – it is all rather sweet actually. Then George shows his 45 minute “stills movie” including a series of portraits of teenagers in different parts of Japan, each one shown ten years later. very interesting. The subjects short monologues are read by Akiko-san, who has a wonderful voice and a great sense of timing that seems to work so well in Japanese, which always sounds to me like premeditated hesitation followed by short bursts of highly concentrated content. Even though I didn’t understand a word (some of it was translated by Naomi-san, my translator but I decided it was disturbing other viewers) it was kind of other worldly. I hope to get some pics of the evening from some of the photogs, will post them later. Of course the evening ended with a late second dinner. tons of food. Got up this morning and went for a walk in my favourite district, the entertainment district of Miyazaki. Post-revelry atmosphere, bar workers going home, maybe I will post some later. Gotta run to breakfast.

bali-miyazaki connect part two!

So today I go out with Dokyu-san, a banker who has lived 30 years abroad from his native Miyazaki, including seven years in Indonesia, but has come home to look after his parents and actualy wants to live here too. He’d like to give something back to his hometown, and he is active in JICA which is a Japan-Indonesia friendship organization.
He is on fire about bringing life back into his hometown, especially wanting to get the youth involved. We hit a painting exhibition in the Miyazaki airport (yep) by a Japanese lady, Atsuko Sasaki, who has lived in Paris and Lausanne for the last 15 years. So there we are nattering away in French (me pretending to be fluent). It is kind of surreal, especially when the big Seiko clock hits the hour, and lo and behold the Japanese version of the Swiss cuckoo clock: a 2 minute rendition, complete with 4 foot moving puppets, of a traditional Miyazaki ritual music performance.
Well somehow I was so stunned I didn’t shoot it, but after seeing a pink coke machine last night, hey what is normal anyway?

Did I mention that the governor of the Miyazaki prefecture, Sonomanma Higashi, is a famous tv comedian?
well it seems he is breathing a lot of life back into the place. Dunno if he ordered the clock though…

After that we end up at Udo Shrine, where one of the emperors of Japan was (if I got the story straight) nursed by a foster mother. It is a Shinto shrine, and I have to say there a lot of souvenirs for sale, just like any other place in the world – except that there are attendants who keep a strict accounting of all contributions. And they are busy.
Lots of things to do test your luck – if you can chuck these clay pellets into a 50 centimeter hole in the rock in the sea 15 meters away you get luck etc. Strictly speaking, according to the law and effect, the lucky one is the temple, since you have to pay 100Â¥ for 5 pellets, and men are only allowed to use their left hands (evidently left handers have an advantage here). I didn’t get lucky, and resisted the temptation to buy a tiny bag of used pellets which can also bring you luck. (Actually I might just camp out here for a couple of months and chuck pellets at that hole….). Lots of serious conversation later (Dokyu-san knows his Indonesian politics!) on the way back up the hill and thru the tunnel Dokyu-san tells me that the best quality local mangoes sell for $200 dollars a piece. I try to pretend like he has made a mistake in the exchange rate, but it doesn’t last coz I know that he is a banker, plenty savvy, and I am sure his command of the exchange rate is as good as his English, which is fluent. D..n, if that isn’t obscene enough, apparently there is certain type of melon from Hokkaido that sells for $2000 a pair. Any wonder we are chucking pellets at a hole in the rock. Who buys? People with company expense accounts, they purchase them for corporate gifts. They should send those people to Darfur for a reality check.

the bali – miyazaki connection

Yesterday Terasaka-san, a furniture maker who volunteers for the festival, took me around to see some spectacular nature, and some ancient sites including burial mounds from ancient times and other things. This side shrine at a Shinto temple caught my eye. It really took me back to Bali:
on the way we also passed some tea plantations. (Kyushu, and it seems Miyazaki prefecture in particular, is famous for its agricultural productivity). I was struck by how neat the rows were, and somehow was trying to imagine the tea workers in Bandung (West Java) trying to keep rows like this instead of those clumpy bushes. Then I saw the machine!
Yet despite this agricultural success, it seems the easy going life here has its price: Tera-san tells me that out of the 48 odd prefectures in Japan, Miyazaki ranks 45th on the economic scale. But he would rather be here than Tokyo: after two years studying there (sculpture and print making? I think thats what he meant!) he decided he’d rather be in Miyazaki. As he so disarmingly put it: “I discovered that I really truly had no talent!” (But he makes great handmade furniture). As he is telling me this we come to a cross road, a couple of cars in front are queuing up, and to our left a middle aged gentleman in a toyota sedan is coming out of a gas station, waiting to enter the road. Tera-san stops and waves him in. The gentle man declines and waves us on with a smile. They kind of bow to each other and finally we drive on. When I smile, Tera-san comments that “outside drivers” meaning non-Miyazakians, often berate the Miyazakians for being so unhurried, whereas they themselves just find it a natural politeness. Reading a commentary on the Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna’s “Seventy Stanzas” this morning regarding the Buddhist view of “selflessness” it strikes me that in reality there are no “true” nationalities either. Japan is a mix of its own, from the freezing, 3m deep snows of Hokaido to the subtropical Miyazaki (and even warmer Okinawa), to the hustle bustle no-time-for-anything temperament of Tokyo to the warmth and relaxed tempo of the people here. National traits seem to be the fictional caricature of our times.

The rains are here!

Well here I am, post monsoon Bali, early monsoon Thailand – and the rainy season hit Miyazaki today. urgh. But now I know why they have umbrella locks in this town – felt like grabbing an umbrella myself!!!dsc_8339.jpg

the view from my window this morning (29th):

Miyazaki – big small city

How does a town (ok they call it a city) of 300,000 get to have such a big museum and art centre? Apparently the previous governor (or whatever the title is) had a thing for the arts, so they have this amazing facility with, in amongst their permanent collection a Picasso, a couple of Magrittes, a Klee. Interstingly enough they have a painting by Man Ray but none of his much more famous photographs. dsc_8345.jpg
Akutagawa-san tells me they don’t think of photography as art – I wanted to donate one of the prints. Well maybe we will talk to the museum authorities.
Yesterday Akutagawa (Jin-a) takes me to Aoshima island – a tiny islet with a natural tropical forest and a Shinto shrine. It is surrounded by this very strange rock formation. Jin, in his usual white linen suit is carrying his rolleiflex (that’s twin lens dinosaur that shots film, for anyone under 40).

funny thing about this town is that there are lots of crows, particularly in the night life area which I have cruised in the early morning (after sunrise, please) for interesting snaps.
When Jin and I were walking around Aoshima there were some more crows. I was looking at them and flashing back to Spain 2 years ago when a friend of mine had taken me to Toledo, it was the day that she had discovered her cancer was back – a kind of raw day. We saw a bunch of crows, and she asked me if that was a sign of death in Asian cultures. I told her that for the Tibetans crows are the bird of Mahakala, the wrathful emanation of Chenrezig, Buddha of compassion. She has since passed away. I guess Jin must have sensed me thinking about it, he asked if crows were good or bad sign. I told him that crows were linked to Mahakala. Between my non-existent Japanese and his very broken English, I have no idea if he understood. But we both agreed that it is all in the mind!