Thailand has arguably the best street food culture in the world. Food is omnipresent, stalls on wheels are parked on almost every street, at intersections, and deep inside Bangkok’s alleys. The food always looks appetizing, tastes great, and is still very, very affordable, especially for Europeans and Americans.
A “trend” I’ve noticed during our visit to Bangkok is how more often I see street food stalls inside even the fanciest of the capital’s shopping malls.
The above image was captured at the ICON SIAM earlier today. Some would say that street food is a lot easier to appreciate in an air-conditioned food court. To me, eating street food is something I totally connect with visits to Asia in my younger years – when eating a leg or two of bbq fried chicken on the sidewalk was the ultimate way to round off a whirlwind, Mekong-fueled night in Bangkok.
Of the three projects presented here, with some luck, I’ve been able to capture new images for two of them while walking along the streets and alleyways in Sieng Gong. Yesterday’s visit with buddy Erik was one of those rare days where I located a couple of new artifacts for the Resurfaced project and captured one or possibly two new images that might make it into the book about Sieng Gong.
I’ve walked by this bus stop on Silom Road several times during the four weeks that we’ve been in Bangkok. There’s always a small crowd of passengers and as I pass it, I wonder how far a distance each must travel before they are home or at work.
For about three years, from 2003-2005, I commuted between Malmö and Älmhult in southern Sweden. To begin with, during the first and roughly half of the second year, the work was so creative, inspiring, and energizing, that I didn’t mind spending so much of my day on the train.
As the assignments became less and less meaningful and the internal politics took a front seat at the furniture company where I was consulting, commuting became a real drag, a pain, a strain.
If nothing else, the experience makes me feel humble about folks that need to travel long distances in their daily struggle.
Wednesday night. We serendipitously met these two guys late yesterday afternoon. Charlotte and I were on our way to the usual eatery further down Silom Road and we’d taken a new route to get there.
The sun had finally dipped behind the towering skyscraper ‘King Power Mahanakhon’, bringing the heat down to a more manageable level. It was still damn hot, but now it was bearable.
The time between the sun setting and before it gets dark is called the “golden hour”. It’s a great time to experience the local atmosphere along Bangkok’s many nameless side streets and narrow, twisting alleyways. This is when folks come out of their homes to socialize again. The atmosphere feels festive somehow.
When I asked the guys if I could take a picture of them, it was obvious that they were each other’s best friends and that both had enjoyed a lot of fun together during their long camaraderie.
The moment reminded me again why Charlotte and I like this country so much. The Thai word “Sanuk” (நாக்கு) sums it up pretty well. Sanuk means to have a good time, enjoy yourself and feel happy and appreciative about being with someone. It almost seems like an unspoken rule here. Whatever Thais do socially, Sanuk has to be part of it.
While the two buddies above were having a relaxed and delightful afternoon Sanuk together, my best friend and I continued towards our dinner where we eventually enjoyed stir-fried noodles, crunchy vegetables, and an ice-cold bottle of Chang beer.
Captured this flower pot the other day and was blown away by a. how close my phone allowed me to get to the flowers (using the wide-angle/macro lens) and b. how incredibly accurate the colors were to what I saw with my naked eyes.
– Mr. Joakim, please pull down your pants and underwear and lay back on the table. I want to feel your testicles.
That’s how weird my afternoon began yesterday, Saturday. But this story’s genesis actually began the day before, late Friday afternoon.
It was while I was in the shower, after a sweaty workout at the hotel’s gym that I felt a rather large lump while washing my undercarriage. As the hypochondriac I can sometimes be, I panicked and came close to slipping on the wet bathroom floor, likely giving myself a bad whiplash and some bruises, as I stepped out of the shower on trembling legs.
Ok, so this is how it begins, I thought.
At seven o’clock last night, after carrying this burdon for a few hours – both physically and emotionally, I told Charlotte about my discovery. We had just been served a couple of beers and ordered a few of our favorite dishes from our favorite table at our favorite restaurant along a busy soi near Silom Road.
Talk about a Triangle of Sadness; there we sat, Charlotte, me and my poor testicle in some kind of shell-shocked state. We ate our food without much being said and then walked home to discuss what to do next.
During the evening, Charlotte researched and located a couple of private hospitals near the hotel, and this morning I emailed both with a brief summary about the lump. I’ll take care of this next week, I reasoned as it was Saturday. But after only an hour, both hospitals had answered me.
The first hospital’s email was your basic auto-reply. The second mail surprised me. In it was a proposal for an examination for later the very same day where I would be seeing both a urologist and a radiologist. In addition, the email contained an attachment that specified how much the various procedures would cost me.
A five-minute walk to the hospital. In through a magnificent entrance and to what looks like the lobby of one of the city’s more luxurious hotels. Registration and guidance to the waiting room in the adjacent Surgical Department where a dozen or so nurses, most of them wearing small, white hats, are busy at work. They’re cruising smoothly between waiting room chairs where patients are either dropped off och or picked up and chaperoned to one of the many examination rooms next to the reception counter.
After just a few minutes, I am taken to the hospital’s on-call urologist. We don’t shake hands or fist bump, but he asks me kindly to sit down and tell him about the growth in my right testis (no, doctors don’t seem to have time to read much of the journals before meeting patients here either). It was immediately after I told my story that he asked if he could feel my balls.
Gloves on. Cold hands. Cold hands that only get marginally warmer from thin rubber gloves. It’s okay, just as long as he doesn’t decide to check the old prostate as well, I thought. He leaves my anus alone.
– Okay, Mr. Joakim, I think you have something abnormal here. I’ll call the nurse and she’ll take you to the Radiologist and he’ll use an ultrasound system to identify what the lump is. Then you’ll come back here to me and we will discuss a strategy. How does that sound?
A strategy? WTF? Ok, I guess I’ll have to wait a bit before letting my latent hypochondria run amok.
A nurse gently knocks on the door and with a warm smile below her little white nurse’s hat, asks me to follow her to the Radiologist. A new waiting room. A smaller one, but with nice illustrations on the walls. Yes, I guess this is how it begins. Gently and sensibly. Just before being hit with the hard truth about…
I put on a slippery, silver robe given to me by a new nurse. Then I walk into the new examination room where I am once again asked to lie down on an unnecessarily hard table.
A new nurse, (the fourth or fifth?) steps into the room and greets me softly. She then abruptly pulls apart my skimpy robe and places several strips of green surgical cloth so that they frame my now exposed genitalia. I’m pretty sure the pattern forms an almost perfect square. Like an old TV where my soon-to-be sixty-year-old crotch has the involuntary leading role of this increasingly intense drama.
When the nurse (without the white hat) is finished with the arrangement of strips below my navel, the doctor of radiology walks into the examination room. Behind him, two women and a man, all clad in chalk-white scrubs, gloves, and masks. Med-schoolers?
– Mr. Joakim, would it be okay if we have the company of these students during your examination? They are from a nearby medical school here in Bangkok.
What do you say in that situation? I’m already there, preparing for what I am assuming is going to be something much, much worse. I am convinced the ultrasound will show that I have a large, malignant tumor and/or that both the scrotum and my pee-pee are now full of small, aggressive metastases. That I’m already a goner.
But instead, I hear myself say,
– Sure, no problem whatsoever. The more, the merrier!
While my last comment likely flew a bit over their heads, the gang seemed to interpret it as, “It’s a Go!”, adjusting their protective masks, and, with an almost comical synchronization, the trio stepped into the room.
Now five adults are standing close, close, close to the table where I lay, defenseless, exposed, naked where it counts. They’re crouching over the doctor, unabashedly peering straight at my private parts
While I’m lying there, staring up at the ceiling, hoping that the examination will go fairly quickly so that the audience can be dispersed, the Radiologist moves his plugged-in microphone slowly, slowly over my genitalia. He is possibly being extra methodical for the sake of the students.
The students are whispering eagerly to each other and I wonder what their conversation is all about. Are they impressed by the Radiologist’s skillful microphone movements? Or, do they see something on the screen that they’ve never seen live before?
Meanwhile, I’m just hoping, praying I won’t get one of those rare unwarranted erections.
Back in the waiting room. I feel slightly sticky between my legs after the Radiologist’s smear, which I tried to remove with a small towel, given to me by a nice nurse once the ultrasound was done. A sixth or seventh nurse steps up to me. She’s wearing a tiny white hat.
– Mr. Joakim, the results have already arrived and the doctor will see you now.
The Urologist looks tense. Is his diagnosis that burdensome? Does he want to feel my balls one more time? Maybe there will be even more candidates now? Is this a friggin’ freak show, or what?
The doctor shows me an educational illustration, a kind of map of the male reproductive system. Looks quite advanced. Definitely more “points of failure” than what I remember from biology class at high school.
– Mr. Joakim, you have what is called an Epididymal Cyst. It’s a pretty big cyst, but the ultrasound shows a structure that tells me it’s benign, just like most cysts in this region of the body. Still, you do need to keep track of it. So it doesn’t grow, you know?
– So Doc, you’re telling me that I have a goddamn, testicle-hugging Alien hanging on the inside my scrotum? How the heck am I going to get rid of that sucker? That’s what I thought. But instead, I said,
– Ok, so what do I do now? Wait and see?
– Well, Mr. Joakim, as I said, you need to keep an eye and a hand on the cyst’s growth. I suggest you get a new ultrasound in four to six months. If it has grown larger than its current size, let’s say beyond 5-6 centimeters, you should have it surgically removed and analyzed.
And if it gets even bigger, well, then I’ll actually have three testicles! Yayyyy!!!
Out of the urologist’s office. Sitting now in one of the waiting room’s comfortable armchairs. A sturdy woman in a power suit approaches me. She smiles broadly. In one hand she’s clenching a bundle of papers.
– Mr. Joakim, how would you like to pay for your examination?
Charlotte and I have a couple of different insurance policies, (corporate + private). If the deductible is roughly the same as the healthcare cost, then we usually pay ourselves. Not least to avoid arguing with the insurance company.
I pay the bill with cash. It comes out to about $150. I’m very content with how smooth this whole process has been. From email to the exam in approximately six hours. From being deeply worried to feeling somewhat relieved, in no small way thanks to the hospital’s super nice and competent healthcare team.
When my receipts are neatly tucked away in my wallet, I step out into the street, bask a moment in the late afternoon sun, and then head off to Villa Market to buy a couple of cold beers, a bag of pistachio nuts (lime, and chili flavored and ridiculously good). Then home to tell Charlotte that my new body part is unfortunately here to stay. At least for a while.
In some strange turn of events, I have thus become a foster parent to a four-centimeter-long cyst hanging on my right testicle. And there’s not much I can do other than wait and hope that the Alien doesn’t grow.
All said, it feels good to lighten my…er…heart and to have shared this strange episode from my life on the road.
I read that of all the world’s food cultures, Thai cuisine is considered one of the five healthiest. Mexican, Korean, Japanese, and Greek food was the other four listed countries. I’ve not had much Korean food aside from the occasional Korean BBQ and Kimchi, but the others are long-running favs.
Thai cuisine’s wide variety, both regional specialties and national classics, is famously rich and flavorful. It also has the added benefit of being made from a lot of anti-inflammatory ingredients, including ginger. As someone with arthritis, I’m always keen on eating foodstuff that at least doesn’t exacerbate my illness.
Though I’ve taken 3 or 4 hour-long cooking classes in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Koh Samui, I still know next to nothing about Thai food. Like most “Farang”, I tend to play it safe and eat variants of some of the country’s classic albeit less adventurous dishes, including, Tom Yum, Tom Kha, Massaman, Khao Pad, Panang Curry, and, of course, Pad Thai. I certainly should be more courageous than I am, but I don’t really feel like I’m suffering much from just eating the aforementioned courses.
I have a vivid and significant memory of what one of the cooking class chefs said to me. He pointed out that Thai food is often misconstrued for being ferociously spicy and that it’s instead about marrying the country’s five flavors: salt, sweet, sour, spicy, and creaminess. Though coconut milk is ubiquitous, primarily used as a sweetening thickener and texturizer, Thai food doesn’t typically contain any dairy products.
The above was captured at an open-air market just five minutes from where these words were typed.
To my American readers, wherever you may be, Happy Thanksgiving!
I just went through about two dozen images stored on the Fuji x100v. I typically don’t download and sift through photographs from that camera on a daily basis. In fact, I hadn’t seen any of the images since we arrived here three weeks ago. On the other hand, I am fussy about reviewing all the stuff I’ve shot on the iPhone. I don’t use iCloud Photos as that service tends to create a seemingly infinite amount of duplicates, triplicates and quadruplicates.
Among several new Resurfaced candidates that I had on the Fuji, which, incidentally, I have assigned for two of my art projects, I noticed that I’d captured the undercarriage of the diesel driven beast that had pulled our train from Ayutthaya to Krungthep (Bangkok) this past Sunday.
After a closer look at the photograph, I noticed the locomotive had a small, faint yet familiar logo of the Swedish bearing, seal, and lubrication company SKF (Aktiebolaget Svenska Kullagerfabriken).
I never worked at SKF in my younger years. Instead, I spent a summer employed as a longshoreman in the import/export area of Göteborg’s docks where I (in total) unloaded hundreds of thousands of boxes filled with unripe, South American bananas grown by Del Monte, Onkel Tuca, and Chiquita. However, I did live within just a few blocks of the company’s main factory located in the neighborhood of Gamlestan and several friends of mine from that era worked there.
A friend loves to tease me about my passion for Mexican and Japanese cuisine, and how I seem to circumvent local cuisine in my tireless pursuit of bean burritos, fish tacos, spicy tuna rolls, and teppanyaki fried salmon. He’s not entirely wrong, especially in countries where the food scene consists mostly of boring or fatty, meaty dishes.
In Thailand, great-tasting, lean food of all kinds is omnipresent and Charlotte and I eat a wide range of local specialties at least five days a week. Street food is still ridiculously affordable and we rarely spend more than SEK 120/USD 12 for both of us, including a tall, cold beer each.
Last night, after a 3-year hiatus, we returned again to ISAO on Soi 31, arguably one of Bangkok’s most well-known Japanese restaurants with consistently high quality. When we rented an apartment at the Oakwood on Soi 24 back in 2014, we probably visited ISAO twice monthly. Often, but not always, we’d order the above dish, ISAO’s signature Sushi Sandwich with fried rice and pouched salmon captured with available light with the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
On the way back to the Skytrain to get home to Silom and Saladaeng, we stopped by the iconic Villa Market for breakfast fruit and nuts. So glad to see that some of our old favorites are still around.
I am currently editing a short film from my many visits to Sieng Gong/Talat Noi. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that I had so much useable footage. This is great since it’s less appealing to film there today when everyone is more or less masked. Once finished, the film will be added to the Sieng Gong Art Project page.
Not sure if it qualifies as an ASMR calming film, but apparently, this batch of vegetation floating so rhythmically near a pier in the Chao Phraya River, grabbed my attention as something I found oddly satisfying to watch.
Last night, I captured this long exposure scene using the iPhone’s “Night Mode” while sitting on the hotel’s rickety jetty, sharing a can of local beer with Charlotte as we watched riverboats float by. Up here in Ayutthaya, the Chao Phraya River is about 1/5th of the width it has in Bangkok. Which makes it more approachable, somehow.
Shocking as it may be, for whatever reason, neither Charlotte or I had ever been to Old Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. So, in order to remedy this, we took a northbound train this morning and arrived in Ayutthaya about midday, after two hours.
The ride itself was smooth, but the two blabbering old German dudes in front of us, along with the locomotive’s pounding diesel engines made it hard to do anything but hope the train was going to be on time. It was.
On our way to one of Ayutthaya’s many temple ruins, we met this chef who generously let me capture her wonderful, big smile.
So I’ve been working on three vastly different art projects for several years, giving a lot of love to each, but not all at once. At first glance, the first project about Sieng Gong, the subdistrict in Bangkok’s Talad Noi area, is slanted more toward classic documentation. But when given a proper look, there is so much more than meets the eye within the project’s collection.
The second art project is focused on surfers captured in action at varying beaches, from Asia to America, that I’ve explicitly overexposed, creating silhouettes where the surfer and his/her board become a unique and graphic composite.
Finally, the third art project is unreservedly dedicated to the Resurfaced series of images captured in urban environments around the world. I should have a link to the Art Project Page by tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Update: The new start page with my most recent art projects is now up and running. Click here or just click on my signature logo.
This film was shot from our bedroom window. I think it gives a wonderful peak into Bangkok’s widely diverse architectural scene. I’ve spent about an hour assembling various shorter clips into this longer timelapse. Time well spent, I think, and commercially valueless.
This morning at the gym, my 9th consecutive workout in as many days, as usual, I listened to the BBC’s Global News Podcast. In one of the segments about a writer, the novelist herself talked about how insanely focused western civilization is on commodifying everything. That we always need to feel like we are productive and define as well as measure all our awake time in commercial value. Her thoughts rang true to me in a profound way.
So much of my creative output has zero or, at least negligible commercial value. And for the most part, I feel perfectly fine with that. I’m always appreciative of people that buy my art, and it does give me a boost of confidence when something I’ve created out of joy and enthusiasm is sold and eventually hung in a home or public space. Much more so than when I’m hired as a filmmaker or photographer. For even if I am fortunate enough and thankful to be able to earn a living from my creative output, the level of superficiality in my commercial work is gradually suffocating my creative spirit.
Among both professional and enthusiastic photographers, the genre “Street Photography” is widely popular. Essentially, this kind of photography is focused on recording everyday life in a public space. Hardcore street photographers live by the “rule” that subjects should have no knowledge of being photographed. All in accordance with the Godfather of the genre, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer and filmmaker known as a pioneer of street photography. I for one can both abide by and easily disobey that rule when needed.
I’ve photographed folks on the streets of Asia every time I’ve had the opportunity to visit the continent since 1988. Generally speaking, people in Asia, especially South East Asia (but also in Taiwan and Japan) are less uptight and above all, seem genuinely generous when asked politely to be visually eternalized.
By mere happenstance, I spotted this tall wall of jars, all filled with some kind of color, at a department store earlier today. We were heading to the famously intense Chatuchak Market (aka Weekend Market) to see if things there had changed much since our last visit some 3 years ago.
The simple answer? Not really. Sure, it’s a market, so obviously some of what’s sold there goes out of favor and is no longer available. That’s how it’s been since my very first visit in 1988 when finely woven t-shirts with Keith Haring’s artwork silkscreened on them were all the rave.
I knew of Haring from his design of the logo for 1983’s Montreux Jazz Festival, as I was there for a few crazy nights with a couple of American friends that I’d met in either Rome, Brindisi, or Corfu. Anyhow, I bought a Haring t-shirt during the Swiss festival and I want to remember paying about $20 for it. Then, five years later, I got a dozen different motifs by the same New York artist at Chatuchak for less than $2 a tee. That’s kinda how the market works. Right now it’s the bucket hat that’s selling like hotcakes.
The most striking difference and something I would argue is going on at a lot of places in Bangkok is a kind of upgrade. And when it comes to Chatuchak, if not the world’s largest open-air markets, at least one of the top three, the upgrade is more than welcome.
Yes, it can still get ridiculously hot, humid, and, above all claustrophobically crowded. But now there’s more physical space, more cafés, more places to rest, more public toilets, and as far as I could tell, generally speaking, a higher quality of wares on sale. It just feels like Chatuchak offers an overall better visiting/shopping experience.
But hey! What about them color jars? Well, since I didn’t have a great image from our visit to Chatuchak, I figured the jars would just have to suffice to illustrate today’s rant.
After a short hiatus, primarily due to jet lag-induced creative paralysis and a quick wrestling match with the existential demons that I once again amazingly conquered, the search for Resurfaced artifacts can continue unobtrusively. Here’s one interesting composition captured the other day on a wall, in an alley not far from the Christian graveyard that sits along a soi between Silom and Sathorn.
This is the Original Resurfaced Vehicle in Bangkok. This old wrecked and abandoned car which I saw for the first time more than 10 years ago in the capital’s Talad Noi neighborhood.
The car (Fiat?) is one of the very reasons why I initially started looking at what happens when a surface becomes so dilapidated that it offers me something new, unexpected and, if I’m lucky and catch it, an interesting composition with potential artistic value.
Just back from our local 7/11 where a friendly barista (only on duty in the AM) can conjure up a perfect Americano. On the way home from getting my morning java, I bought a small bag of fresh, sliced pineapple. I’m pretty sure the price has doubled from 10 to 20 baht since 2019, but it’s still ridiculously affordable. Despite feeling a tad hesitant about buying coffee from a corner convenience store, I wholeheartedly support street vendors as often as I can.
Like most mornings during our first week in Bangkok, today began with a 20-minute run on the gym’s rickety treadmill followed by weight lifting reps and some rowing. In all, my morning workout regimen takes about 30 minutes, or, as long as the BBC’s early edition of the Global News Podcast. I find this is the perfect combo to kickstart my mind and body.
The above bowl of red and green chili was taken during last night’s dinner at the colorful, lively market across Silom Road from where Sri Maha Mariamman, an over 100-year-old Hindu temple, is located. As in most cases whenever I enjoy chili here in Thailand, you eat it once, but it burns twice…