Thailand Dairies, Expat File#15

James King was born in Bristol, England; he lived in South Africa for 15 years and then semi-retired to Thailand in 2008. He lives in Chiang Mai having built a house (two actually) I think he is there to stay.  4-james-king-1424318595-medium

He began his blog, Jamoroki,  and also pursues his love of art and photography. James has written three witty and informative volumes on Thailand that I have excerpted from below. He is currently working on a novel.

from Volume 1 – 15 Weeks 

Between Jun and Sep 2008 I stayed for fifteen weeks on the tropical island of Phuket and it was while based there that I formed my first impressions of Thailand. I made the hour long hop by plane on the occasional business trip to Bangkok and worked remotely on my business in Cape Town, in daily Skype contact. During this period I began to learn a little of what it would be like to live in Thailand permanently. I diarised my activities, observations and some of the more amusing incidents which took place during my 15 week sojourn.

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The flight time to Kuala Lumpur via Johannesburg is approximately twelve hours and we landed on cue at six am local time. My body clock was telling me ‘It is one am.’ but my head was telling me, ‘I know, but I must ignore you and move straight into our new time zone.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Look, it will be tough for a few days but we have to do it.’ ‘OK, if you say so Boss.’ ……… Kuala Lumpur is the best airport I have ever seen. Now hear this – I’m through immigration and customs in five minutes! Throw in a smiling customs official. ‘Enjoy your stay in Malaysia sir.’ Is this real? A trifling wait for baggage because of a technical problem which was announced believe it or not.

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Kata Beach, Phuket (JK)

I planned to make a base in the south of Phuket in Kata Beach.  Kata is a medium sized and very beautiful sandy crescent bay lined with palms and a backdrop of forested hills.  Fortunately it was low season; I don’t know why because apart from more rain in June, July and August it’s great holiday weather, so it’s very quiet and I could easily work and play without any hassle.I rented a one bedroom semi-detached villa. There are 28 in the complex which is set in a delightful tropical garden with a very pleasant landscaped swimming pool right outside my door. The facilities are good, not five star, but more than adequate for my purposes. WIFI internet connection; a little kitchenette, TV, desktop and I was, well, fine and dandy.

Kata Lucky Villas

Kata Lucky Villas

I took a few hours out of the day and drove on my rented scooter bike over the hills through the little villages and tropical forest where elephants were stripping vegetation on the roadside. I found a quiet little restaurant under the coconut palms on the beach at Naiharn and tucked into a delicious lunch of Papaya salad (Som Tum), Fried noodles with chicken (Pad Thai) and a plate of fresh fruit plus a bottle of water (Nam). It was far more than I could eat so a friendly stray dog invited himself to help me out. The bin (bill) came to 120 baht, paradise was free but the dog buggered off without paying!

 

from Volume 2 – Driving Thailand               

“It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born….”   W. Somerset Maugham, (1874 – 1965)

Thailand is split into four distinct regions; North (bordering Myanmar and Laos), North-East (bordering Laos and Cambodia), Central and South (bordering Malaysia). Then you have the myriad islands in the Gulf of Thailand and off the West coast in the Andaman Sea. I have attempted to illuminate differences in the history, environment, dialect, attitude and culture in the regions I have lived in or visited.

In order to get the best aspects and feel for Thailand you must drive and walk. I suppose the same could be said about most countries. Unless you are in a hurry, avoid flying as you won’t learn anything cramped up in a plane for two hours. Drive the long distances and walk round the villages and towns. I have driven pretty well through every region, from the borders of Cambodia to Laos and Myanmar, except the deep South. Join me on my road journey through Thailand and I will do my best to give you a glimpse of my beautiful adopted home.

The Rice Nursery

Pulling seedlings and preparing for transplanting

A very good friend of mine; English actor and entertainer Martin Palmer, who has lived in Thailand for 25 years, once told me to stop trying to understand Thai people. When I asked why? He said “Because you never will. I gave up 20 years ago, realised I had to change my thinking radically and have been happy ever since”.

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Misty morning and a yellow hue pervades the valley north of Chiang Mai

Thailand is unfathomable, baffling, inexplicable, magical, perplexing, puzzling, veiled, enigmatic and secretive; in a word ‘mysterious’. If you stay for any length of time in Thailand there will be many times when temptation hooks you up to the internet in search of the cheapest air ticket to anywhere. You will feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall and then fall into the trap of making incomparable comparisons with your country of origin as you become bewildered by the aesthetic discord, pretence and hypocrisy. Everything seems to be broken or is about to break and whenever a workman fixes something it ends up worse than before. You will hear that people are electrocuted in showers ….because most electrical installations are not earthed and the ‘electrician’ (I use that word loosely) is perfectly content to connect several old bits of wire with tape to make up the required length. You wonder why and then you find out that he has saved the customer twenty baht in materials and charged him an extra fifty baht in labour! You are desperately trying to understand a new culture, new customs and a new ‘sign’ language.

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Thanks to James for his beautiful photos and letting us glimpse his Thailand Dairies. To read more visit his blog, Jamoroki. He will let you download Volumes I and II free!  (Volume 3– “Thailand in Perspective” explores the Thai culture, “de-bunks a few myths,” and delves into a “myriad of contradictions…and ancient traditions.”) I’ve never been to Thailand, but it is on my bucket-list.  Please leave your comments or questions below.

Old Doors – photo “challenge”

Every week Norm Frampton’s blog has a photo “challenge” to share your favorite door photos from around the world. As it happens I have a collection of photos of doors, gathering dust – so to speak – in my computer.  So here are a couple from Europe.

This first one is an ancient wooden door from an old Norman tower in the Alsace region of France.  It is within 100 ft of a small river and you can see some apparent flood damage on the bottom of the wood (there may also have been a moat). I’m amazed and rejoice that it has survived through the centuries.

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Door at the base of a Norman tower. CCM

 

The door below is from the last century (Art Deco maybe?).  I found it on a shopping street in Budapest.

Elegant shop in Budapest. (photo by CCM)

Elegant shop in Budapest. (photo by CCM)

Thanks Norm for the forum!

If you would like to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it : https://miscellaneousmusingsofamiddleagedmind.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/thursday-doors-june-2-2016/

 

The Hidden Door in Budapest

I just found out about Norm Frampton’s Doors challenge from writer/artist JT Twissel’s blog. As it happens I have a collection of photos of doors, gathering dust – so to speak – in my computer.   So thanks Norm for the forum! These two were taken at the Budapest Opera.

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Hidden door at the opera

As a foreigner I was too chicken to try to see what lay behind it.. a boudoir? broom closet? What do you think?

And this is the lovely front entrance (one of three doors if memory serves). The building was apparently modeled after the Viennese Opera House.

Budapest Opera House. CCM

Budapest Opera House. CCM

A TALE OF TWO LILIES

In spring, my blog becomes a forum for my “wildflowering.” On a hillside in northern California grow two rare Mariposa lilies, listed by the Native Plant Society as endangered.  Why are they so rare?  Why do they occur only in limited locales?

This one is Calochortus umbellatus or Oakland star-tulip. The species is found almost exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area, although there are a few isolated populations to the north.  The flowers are tiny usually less than 2 cm. (about an inch) across.

Oakland star tulip - C. umbellatus

Oakland star tulip – C. umbellatus, CCM

C umbellatus_recm 762 I’ve been trying to get a good photo for years, but enlarging to that size requires perfect focus, no wind and steady hands (or a “ground” tripod).  That assumes I’ve driven to Ring Mountain at the peak time.  Happily this year I found dozens of them.

Ring Mountain lies north of San Francisco, on the Tiburon Peninsula of Marin County and is really more of a large hill than a mountain.

Map of SF Bay showing the location of Ring Mt.

Map of SF Bay showing the location of Ring Mt.

What makes it rather unique is its serpentine soil, derived from ultramafic metamorphosed rocks that have been brought to the surface by mantle driven tectonic activity.  Serpentine soils are chemically harsh and toxic to most plants, so that the plants that evolved there have developed a tolerance – or even a preference – for the minerology (high in metals like magnesium, but low in calcium and nitrogen).

 

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Calochortus tiburonensis, Tiburon Lily. CCM

Several species occur ONLY on Ring Mountain and no where else on earth for this reason. Calochortus tiburonensis is an example.  This can be a difficult flower to spot and not only for its small size (little more than a centimeter across). You can be looking at it, and not see it.  (If you visit the mountain be careful not to step or sit on them!)  The gold-greenish-brown colors are camouflaged against grasses and rocks.

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C. tiburonensis, CCM

Aren’t they unique looking? I love their funny “beards.”  A fire or some other disaster and the whole species could be gone forever.  So I visit them every year and admire their view of the Bay.

C. tiburonensis overlooking SF Bay. Photo@ by Mary Gerritsen

C. tiburonensis overlooking SF Bay. Photo@ Mary Gerritsen

 

 

DEATH VALLEY – SUPER BLOOM

Late in the season there was a most unusual storm that brought twice the normal annual rainfall to the northern desert in a matter of days. The silver lining in this dark cloud is that it bode well for wildflower season. (The bad news was a flash flood destroyed or damaged roads and buildings in the park.) Rain occurred again in early 2016, but I only heard that there was a “super bloom” after it was well underway.

DVNP 2016 by Diane Miliard

DVNP 2016 by Diane Miliard

Being that this this is known to happen in Death Valley only once or twice in a lifetime, we started looking for tickets to the nearest airport (Las Vegas, Nevada-  a two hour drive to DV), lodging (not easy), car rental etc. Having accomplished that, we arrived a couple of days later, just in time to catch the last phase of the flowers. It was worth it.

 

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Yellow primroses, purple phacelia and chicory. CCM

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Desert primrose ( C. brevipipe), by CCM

The most common wildflowers in the park were Camissonia brevipes or desert primrose (shown carpeting the desert in the first two photos and a close up above) phacelias and chicories. Wednesday we got off the main road, checked out the middle of the park and found those flowers.  Two different species of Phacelias  are shown below: the top row is P. calthiflora (based on the short stamen and color) or possibly  P. campanularia (based on leaf form and white spot in corolla); bottom right is P. crenulata and the last photo shows the two species

side by side.

DesertChicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana)

DesertChicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana) by CCM

 

Thursday we drove to the north only to find Scotty’s Castle Road closed by the flood. Not to be deterred we walked up the now dry wash into the canyon and were amply rewarded with a wealth of species. My husband discovered our first “Five-spot” and then we saw many more after that.

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A baby Eremalche rotundifolia

I spotted this red plant (above) up the wash, assumed it was a flower and walked over to discover it was an infant 5- spot;  the red leaves discourage predators from eating tender shoots.

 

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Friday we woke up to high winds- anathema to photographing delicate flowers.  I had to make wind breaks with my body and jacket, but even then had to patiently wait until the wind subsided for a moment and quick: click!  I did capture a few macros, but soon gave up and just hiked around and decided to try my hand at landscapes.  But that’s next week…(It took me too long to go though my many photographs and longer to  identify the species of those I didn’t know – i.e.most of them!)

While I would never visit the desert in summer – or even winter – it is a whole different landscape in spring if the area has received some rain.  Have you been there?

Natural History Photographs by Clay Bolt

When I saw these insect photos I had to share them along with Clay Bolt’s tips for how to photograph. He says “As a natural history photographer who specializes in photographing insects and other small creatures, I sometimes wonder why everyone isn’t as obsessed with the little things in life as I am. When I peer through my camera’s viewfinder and look into the eyes of a jumping spider, or marvel at the amazing structure of a bee’s wing, I am transported into an incredible, miniature world that is more marvelous than anything that has crept onto the pages of a science-fiction novel. ”

An immature Widow Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) rests by a creek on a cool morning in the mountains of South Carolina

An immature Widow Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) rests by a creek on a cool morning in the mountains of South Carolina. C Bolt

The process of actually making decent images of these small creatures is quite a challenge. Not only will your subjects object to sitting still for very long, but they were also shiny, or nocturnal, or very shy when approached by a bumbling giant. Clay has some some helpful tips:

1. Become a Better Naturalist

The most important tip that I can give you for improving your insect photography is to spend as much time as possible getting to know your subject. Most species have certain times of the day when they’re most active, seasons where they perform elaborate mating rituals, and preferred habitats. The more you understand these things, the greater the chances are that you’ll have successful images in your future.

2. Capture behavior for more interesting pictures

The wildlife images that capture the public’s imagination above all are those that feature dramatic action and behavior. In many ways, an incredible moment—frozen in time forever—is at the heart of what photography is all about. What’s more, although we all get lucky sometimes, top nature photographers will tell you that to really capture special behavior requires planning and research, along with many failed attempts, to pull off that truly spectacular image.

Halictus sweat bee

Asweat bee (Halictus poeyi) prepares to land on an aster next to a metallic green bee (Agapostemon splendens),  Photo © Clay Bolt | www.claybolt.com

3. Don’t hit snooze

I’ll confess that I’m definitely NOT a morning person. To all you fellow snoozers: let go of those fading dreams and get outside. Insects are ectothermic, which for many species means they aren’t able to move about very much until after sunrise. A walk along a pond’s edge in early morning will likely reveal beautiful dew-covered dragonflies and other insects that you can walk right up to. To make a nice, sharp photograph,  bring a tripod to take long exposures to compensate for the low levels of morning light. Also, keep in mind that not long after the first rays of the morning sun hit your subject it will be flying or hopping away.

4. Look them in the eye(s)

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

One of the best ways to create an image that your audience will connect with is to make eye contact with your subject through the lens. This forces you to get on your subject’s level, which is essential when photographing small creatures. No one would photograph street musicians in New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, and yet we find it acceptable with small creatures. Getting onto your subject’s level brings an entirely new perspective to the viewer and makes possible to connect with the small species that we share our world with. If you can make it possible for the viewer to lock eyes with an insect or other small animal that they would typically dismiss, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll begin to think twice about using pesticides or other methods that are harmful to invertebrates.

Seepage dancers

Seepage dancers (Argia bipunctulata), laying eggs in cataract bog, Cleveland County, South Carolina. Photo © Clay Bolt

5. Your friend, the flash.

When I first began my journey into the world of nature photography,  I only shot in available light, and that typically meant shooting in the early morning hours and just before sunset. It’s common knowledge that the light during these times of day is beautiful. (The reality is that when you’re trying to capture insects in motion, you’re likely to be shooting all throughout the day and even into the night.) Adding flash photography to my toolkit was a real game-changer. It allowed me to shoot during any time of the day, create dramatic portraits, and freeze the motion of my subjects in mid-flight or mid-action.

Fill flash is the best place to start if you’re interested in taking the plunge. This is the process of adding just enough light into the scene to fill in the shadows and freeze the motion. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by how much flash to add into a shot, think of it like cooking; you start with your basic ingredient—natural light—and from there, add one flash at a time to taste. Once you start shooting with flash, your biggest question will be, why didn’t I do this sooner?

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Photo by Clay Bolt

Clay Bolt is a Natural History and Conservation Photographer specializing in macro photography with an emphasis on invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians. He has worked with  National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation and many others.  In 2015, Clay moved to Bozeman, Montana to take on the position of communications lead for WWF’s Northern Great Plains Program. Visit www.claybolt.com to learn more.
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Clay holds a garter snake Golden Gate Nat’l Recreation Area, California

Thank you Clay! It was time I had another nature post.  For the complete text and more photos see: http://www.xerces.org/blog/5-insect-photo-tips/.

WILDFLOWER SEASON! A Preview of Spring.

Spring is coming to the desert and my once a year hobby – photographing wildflowers – takes up all the time I can give it.  I’ve been a bit remiss with blogging recently and I’m afraid this will continue for a couple of months.  Last year the display was disappointing due to the drought, but this month we had some rain and the flowers are starting to bud.  I’ll give you a preview of what’s to come.

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Butterfly in wild “garden” in Central California.

Dodecatheon clevelandii, shooting star, Mines Rd (by CCM)

Dodecatheon clevelandii, shooting star, Mines Rd (by CCM)

California is probably the best place for wildflowers in the U.S. (with Texas coming a close second) – perhaps the best in the world.  Early explorers and settlers said the grasslands were carpets of color.

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A desert species -Mentzelia invlct. (by CCM)

 

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The blooms usually start in the southern California desert in March and flowers slowly open up in April as they “march their way” north with the warmer weather.

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L. parvum (leopard lily) – Sierra Nevada Range (by ccm)

Finally the lilies and clarkias come out in May – and even later in the mountains. This is all dependent on precipitation – so pray for more rain!  …..our reservoirs and farmers need it too.

If you go in search of wildflowers – take only photographs (each flower contains the seeds for next years blooms), and leave only footprints (but not on the flowers!).

For this global nomad, botany buff and blossoming novelist, a picture says…

The Displaced Nation

Cinda 1000 Words CollageWelcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is Cinda MacKinnon, an American who grew up overseas and is the author of an award-winning novel set in one of her former homes, Colombia. Called A Place in the World, the book was featured almost exactly a year ago on the Displaced Nation.

Cinda shoots mainly “macro” (extremely close up) pictures, a habit she developed because of her interest in nature and plants—especially wildflowers. A writer, former university lecturer, and environmental scientist, Cinda is trained…

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