Another footprint from the other day’s visit to Talad Noi in Bangkok. Capturing locals like this is always a gamble. My trick? To be extremely polite, speak a few words in Thai and smile my biggest smile.
No visit to Bangkok is complete without at least an afternoon spent wandering aimlessly about Talad Noi.
Even though I’ve been documenting this extraordinary neighborhood between Bang Rak to the south and Samphanthawong to the north, for about a decade already, I still get a kick out of just walking around and looking at all piles of used auto parts. I usually force myself to get lost while in Talad Noi.
Like anywhere in the world where it’s sticky hot and sweaty humid, Bangkok is best enjoyed during the late afternoon and early evening hours when the day’s worst heat begins to wane and Bangkokians become their friendliest. It’s also the time of day when I like to create images from this spectacular city and some of its most distinct neighborhoods.
Bangkok is one of those cities where if you do allow yourself to get lost for a while, you’ll inescapably stumble across interesting stuff. Which is how I end up discovering “unintentional urban art”. Like the piece above from an alley wall that I just happened to walk by on my way to a cold draft beer at a tiny bar on a busy street yesterday here in Bangkok.
Here’s an iteration of a piece I’ve been working on for a while. It’s made up of 10 or so photos from Hoi An in Vietnam. As some of you might have noticed, I’ve made some changes to this site. The theme here will from now on be totally focused on my artwork. All the other stuff is still online, only now it’s got an apter and a more search engine friendly URL: www.raboffphotography.com
Change is good. I am not afraid of change, nor do I run from it. Instead, I tend to embrace change. Not always without trepidation. A dash of passing remorse or angst is probably just a healthy sign. It’s part of the deal of being a functioning human. But I never fear change itself.
After 56 years, I know something interesting will always come from when I force myself to move forward. And I’ve definitely understood that only when my urge to change becomes stronger than my need to hold on to the security of the status quo, will things actually start to happen. And I’m betting big on a lot of changes coming in 2020. Like living a life totally free of social constraints – especially of the online kind of which I’ve had more than enough.
The envy, disappointment and, yes, at times even excitement, that I’ve felt while trying to find a balance of life online and offline have shown me that I don’t belong in that world. Towards the end of my presence, I felt guilty of betraying myself. Of living a lie and being a soulless fake. But above all, I hated the fact that I took it all too seriously. And while I wish I had been able to keep a safe, humoristic distance to social media, I just wasn’t able to. At least not nearly as much as I needed to in order to stay put. So I decided to unplug. Closed all my accounts. Leaving more than 17.000 followers behind felt admittedly a little weird. But I gave them fair warning and heartfelt fairwell. Then I left. All in or all out. That’s how I roll.
I love to people watch. During these last three months, I’ve seen how transfixed folks are to their screens. Even while driving cars and scooters! It’s frightening. I worry about how this comatose behavior can possibly be remedied if not through the kind of abstinence I am subjecting myself to. Thing is, I honestly don’t feel any withdrawal symptoms. And I certainly don’t miss any of my friends’ status updates, their likes or even their comments. I do miss my friends, though.
Back in Bangkok again. Feels good to be back. The city certainly has plenty of cons but is just so much more organized and easier to navigate. For one thing, not having to deal with the crazy Vietnamese traffic culture (or, lack thereof) is truly calming for the nerves. And being able to walk freely on sidewalks again ain’t at all bad. Spent the afternoon with friends Lars-Vidar and Maria from Svarte in Sweden around town, mostly near the city’s oldest neighborhood, Rattanakosin where we ate a terrific Pad Thai on the street after baking in the sun on one of the many restaurant decks overlooking the Chao Phraya River below.
There were barely any tourists or anything but Thai restaurants when I first visited Rattanakosin in 1988. I remember spending hours walking around, talking to the vendors selling Buddhist hand-carved ornaments made of wood or stone and iron-cast icons along the sidewalks. I’d on occasion visit the art faculty at Silpakorn University and shoot a roll of film in the noname park near the Grand Palace as I eventually made my way back to Khao San Road and the guesthouse I was staying at.
Today, the Rattanakosin is flourishing with hotels, fancy dining spots, cafés, and a few relatively cheap sidewalk eateries. Fortunately and surprisingly, some of the area’s original rustic authenticity that I was so mesmerized by once upon a time, is still there. The only thing now is you have to share it with a bunch of fellow tourists.
Here comes the last in the four-part series of short Tai Chi films for Instructor Garry Seghers and his studio.
For this one, I convinced all involved that we shoot at a somewhat distressed, urban location that would provide a stark contrast to Tai Chi’s beautifully fluid movements and the students colorful garb. While Nhan is wearing his Tai Chi uniform, the ladies are clothed with traditional Vietnamese dresses.
This is from last night’s “Burrito, Salsa and Guacamole Workshop” at our favorite café, Puna Coffee, eloquently captured by Charlotte. I enjoyed being in their tiny kitchen, chopping, slicing, and frying. Above all, it was great working together with the owners, sharing my recipes, listening to some of their histories and getting a glimpse into their lives. The veggie burritos, guacamole, and salsa were all-around appreciated. A little disappointed that the only tortilla chips I could find were of the horrendous Doritos kind. Even when saturated with my homemade salsa and guacamole could I get the artificial favoring to subside a little. As a kid, I loved munching on Doritos. Now, knowing how chock full of chemicals and unnatural ingredients they are made of, I feel ashamed to buy, let alone consume them.
After three months here, I have mixed feelings about Da Nang (and the neighboring town of Hoi An). It’s definitely an interesting place. Much more so than I was expecting. And except for those on the roads, most folks here are friendly. It’s certainly been easy living during our stay. For sure. None of the stuff we wanted to leave behind us in Malmö has been missed. Well, I do actually miss the cooking a little.
Conveniences aside, there’s always been a looming awareness of our stay’s provisionality. Maybe it’s because of how we’re living; in a fairly fancy “aparthotel” that perhaps makes it impossible to feel like you’re anything but just another ephemeral expat.
I don’t think I’ve come to any groundbreaking conclusions about the future while we’ve been here. But I do think the soul searching I’ve undertaken has been healthy. As has the Tai Chi training, almost daily yoga classes and laps in the gym’s pool.
One thing has become incredibly clear to me during the fall here, though. The awareness level of the planet’s health or even a rudimentary understanding of what environmental sustainability entails, doesn’t exist individually, or, as far as I can tell, anywhere in the collective consciousness. It’s a bit frightening, but I also get why this is, though.
Most folks are way too occupied with trying to create a reasonably comfortable life for themselves and their families to be able to accommodate such a complex and controversial narrative as, for example, the one Greta Thunberg represents. And herein lies the most challenging intellectual dilemma of our times; explaining to folks in both developing (and developed) nations that if the prognosis is even partially correct, in order for human existence on the Earth to survive long-term, we need to redefine what is essential to our lives and the lives of generations to come – and then strike a balance in relation to the environmental costs and debts involved. A tall order, I know. Heck, I haven’t even come close to figuring how to fit these thoughts into my life. So it’s no big surprise that nobody here has a clue. Sadly, everybody (myself including) seems either oblivious or way too busy glooming and dooming to even ponder changing. Is it just like the metaphorical deer caught in the headlights at night? Is reality so paralyzingly blinding that a collision is just unavoidable? I certainly hope not.
So it’s Christmas Day here Vietnam. It might be a bit quieter than usual, but for most locals, it’s business as usual. After last nigh’s Christmas Eve dinner, we’ve not been up to much today. We ate a tasty breakfast at a popular western café called Six on Six and then zigzagged our way back home through alleys and narrow lanes. We took the above shots in one of them.
Love getting a glimpse of everyday life and greeting folks on walks like today’s. While perhaps shyer than Thais, I find Vietnamese to be just as friendly and easy-going. And I thoroughly prefer the color palette and architecture here.
We’ve seen plenty of pimped-out Christmas trees and heard more than enough of the classic tunes these last few weeks. I wonder if it’s not the emperor’s new clothes at play here. Because most folks I know flee to faraway lands like Vietnam just to avoid the Christmas frenzy, not be immersed in it.
The Vietnamese do seem to have embraced the colorfulness of the Christmas holiday. I get that. And I think they just enjoy celebrating – regardless really of why or where the tradition comes from.
But if someone conducted a survey, I’d wager a pretty penny that few Da Nangers could explain why westerners worship old men with fluffy, white beards, plastic trees with little balls hanging from its branches and yearn to listen countless times to songs like Jingle Bells and Last Christmas.
Here’s from Garry Seghers Drop-In Tai Chi Practice on My Khe Beach that I’ve been attending every (rain-free) morning for a little more than a month. Not there today, though. Our buddy Tommy Sahlin is in town now and together with some friends from Hoi An, we ended up celebrating Christmas kinda late. The above was entirely shot with my iPhone. One of the advantages of shooting in 4k and publishing in HD is that the high resolution allows you to “zoom in” on the footage without losing quality.
For about a month, we’ve been pretty much alone on the beach during our early morning Tai Chi practice. As the weather is slowly improving, producing one spectacular sunrise after another, there’s a considerable influx of photographers, joggers, surfers and as seen from the shot above from this morning, a bunch of yogis. As great as it looks and as much as I love practicing yoga on a daily basis, sand is certainly not my preferred yoga surface. For the past month, I’ve practiced yoga 6-7 days a week. The gym doesn’t offer any classes on Sundays, but there’s a couple of spaces on the roof of our building that almost seem purpose-built for yoga. Plus, you get a marvelous 360-degree view of bustling Da Nang below. The shot to the right is from yesterday afternoon’s session.
Anyway, today, I thought I’d share a breakdown of my daily routine:
05:10 am – first alarm rings
05:20 am – second alarm rings
05: 30 am – out the front door and on the street with my computer under one arm and accessories in a beige canvas bag across my shoulder. At this early hour, there’s very little traffic, which makes it safer to walk directly on the streets instead of on the sidewalks, where potholes, cracks and a general unevenness can easily become life-threatening hazards.
05:45 am – Qigong warm-up exercises before Tai Chi practice begins at…
6:00 am – Instructor Garry Seghers and his dogs Moose and Prince arrive. As soon as Moose is tied to “her” tree, we’ll begin an hourlong Tai Chi session while the sun rises.
07:00 am – walk back from the beach to My An Gym, get undressed and swim 1000 m, half breast and half freestyle. I swim every other day.
8:00 am – showered and ready for breakfast, I head either to Puna Coffee or, Bread ’n Salt where I order an avocado toast and soy milk cappuccino.
8:20 am – the day begins. I’ll typically do a bunch of different things in the course of the next 5-6 hours. Editing footage, sorting photos, writing a post, replying to emails.
04:00 pm – pack my stuff and walk back to the apartment and get ready for the 5:00 pm yoga class.
06:00 pm – I either meet Charlotte at the gym after the yoga class or, we’ll Rendez-Vous at a restaurant for dinner.
08:00 pm – return to the apartment, watch a movie.
10:00 pm – usually sound asleep or dozing off.
From earlier today after a short, afternoon surf session when I “slomo” filmed a tourist from the States rising up after being buried in the sand by his teenage kids on My Khe Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam.
I met this fellow earlier today just before my Tai Chi class on the beach. Not sure if he was on his way from a late party or on his way to work and just needed a brief workout before the day began. This weekend, which, incidentally, is our last in Vietnam, I’ve been participating in a workshop called the Happiness Program. It’s designed by a local Vietnamese chapter of the global organization The Art of Living and is primarily focused on breathing exercises, including ancient Pranayama and the So Hum mantra.
The premise behind the proclaimed benefits of So Hum meditation I find very interesting. When practiced with “So” on inhale and “Hum” on exhale, both at various intensities and intervals, the combination not only regulates our breathing pattern temporarily, it’s also supposed to make it easier to take considerably deeper breaths and thereby achieve a level of calmness that can have all kinds of physiological and psychological benefits.
While the benefits might sound like hyperbole, at its core, the effects of these breathing exercises seem perfectly logical to me. Basically, rapid breathing, if not too shallow, will naturally oxygenize the entire body – without demanding much physical exertion. And as our brain is preoccupied with maintaining and adjusting to the breathing mantra’s variable rate, once the session is over, you can’t help but feel really, really relaxed.
An equal measure of theory on how to pair the breathing methods along with a “Happiness mindset” is also part of the workshop’s curriculum. Some of it I’ve heard before, but all of it makes good sense.
Tomorrow we’ll be provided with a version of the breathing technique recommended to practice for 30-40 days in order to see tangible and lasting results.
06:35 AM: The usual suspects at a Tai Chi shoot the other day during Garry Seghers’ morning sessions on My Khe Beach. I’m behind the camera for this still shot, but will be prominently featured in the footage. Mostly because I’m the dude clearly out of sync with everyone else.
We met this beautiful cat in the hat while having dinner at a great little food court near our apartment here in Da Nang.
I don’t remember anyone reading Cat In The Hat or any other children’s books when I was a kid. I’m sure that it happened, I just don’t have any memories of who, when or what. Curiously, I do recall owning several of the Dr. Seus books and that they were among a bunch of other things I had in my room, including a windup Evil Knievel motorcycle, a bunch of busted-up Hot Wheel cars and possibly even a Raggedy Ann doll – all collected in a huge, brown wicker basket stored in a closet. My four year younger brother Tyko and I shared that room, so I’m sure the basket was emptied regularly on the floor.
When Elle was about 4 or 5, I ordered the entire Dr. Seus series and we’d read them together on nights when we didn’t make up short stories about a girl named Isabel and the adventurous life she led.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Cat in the Hat…it’s a children’s book written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel under the pen name Dr. Seus.
This is Miss Tran Mai Huong, a student of Senior Instructor, Garry Seghers at Tai Chi Centre in Da Nang, Vietnam, practicing a series of Tai Chi fan form movements at a construction site near My Khe Beach. Except for the angle above Ms. Tran’s head, the film was entirely shot on my iPhone.
Here’s the film of Tai Chi Senior Instructor Garry Seghers I mentioned I was working on a few posts ago. Shot midday at the Chùa Bửu Đài Sơn Buddhist temple here in Da Nang with the Fujifilm XT3 using primarily two prime lenses: 80mm (56mm) and a 23mm (16mm). A few sequences were captured with a GoPro Hero 7 Black where its terrific onboard stabilization feature came in handy.
I’ve owned and operated several different electronic gimbals over these last few years. Now that both optical and digital stabilization on both small and large cameras have improved so radically, I can’t say I miss having to own or operate them one bit.
After an hour of slow but energizing poses, postures and flows on the beach and then a 1000 meter swim at the gym, I’m now at Bread & Salt – our choice of workplace here in Da Nang. And since I get here by 8:00 am, I get to pick the ultimate “poker seat” on the cafés’s spacious second floor.
From the spot above and with the help of a maxed out 2015 Macbook Pro, I edit films and photos, write more or less cohesive thoughts and watch a bunch of lectures and Netflix flix. And I’m just a few feet away from where I can order healthy, terrific tasting food and drinks, or, confer with Charlotte about this or that. What’s not to like about this setup?
Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d be nearly as comfortable (or productive) working from a café on a laptop as I have been – despite all the bugginess that arrived with macOS Catalina. Not that I don’t miss my 27″ iMac with its brilliant, 5k display, 64Gb of RAM and supersonic, 2TB SSD drive. But in all fairness, while that machine is certainly a lot speedier than what these words are being typed on (even Charlotte’s new Macbook Air is arguably faster than this old clunker), the mobility factor compensates far and beyond the speed loss. Plus, I’m probably spending less time on this smaller screen. Which however you slice it, is a good thing.
I don’t remember exactly when I shot this photo of the Öresund Bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark. It’s a late autumn or early winter scene, for sure. Infrequent reports from friends and news outlets in southern Sweden keep me aware of how shitty the weather is there now. Yes, I feel thankful for not being part of that scene. No, there is no Schadenfreude involved here. It just feels like I’ve filled my quota of “bad weather living” for a spell.
The last time we had a fall without a fall was back in 2013-2014 when we lived in Santa Monica, California for 8 months. I tend to romanticize about those intense months in that small, crummy apartment, perfectly located about a block from the ocean. Most of my days there were spent either surfing in the Pacific or photographing life on and off the beach. After some Kakfka-esque beauracratic wrestling with the state department to get Charlotte’s Green Card processed in due time (apparently, she can now pick it up whenever she wants at the embassy in Stockholm), we shortened our stay and left the apartment on Idaho Avenue and 2nd Street mid-February 2014.
After a short and freezing stint in Vejbystrand, the Raboffs ended up living for about four months in a comfy corporate apartment smack in the middle of sweltering Bangkok.
Creatively, both 2013 and 2014 were unusually productive years for me. And maybe I’m ascribing too much here, but I really want to believe that the reprieve from the cold and dark Swedish fall and winter that year had such a significant positive effect on me, that the benefits spilled over onto several of the following years, even though we, for the most part, stayed put and endured the six, seven months of DDR season in Sweden.
Meanwhile, here in Da Nang, the sun is slowly but steadily returning. The chilly weather Is also finally on the retreat. Not a day too soon, either. We’ve had a surprising number of cold and dreary weeks here. It’s like a blanket of drab, sunless weather that isn’t dissimilar to what in Southern California is referred to as “June Gloom”. Only here, this can also mean that a giant cloud of smog from somewhere in China sails in and hovers above us for a few days, sounding off alarms about severely poor air quality.
Now with the climate improving, my morning Qigong/Tai Chi practice with Garry and Niayn on the beach is a more consistent happening. Yet every time I see someone walking past us with a longboard under their arm, the urge to join in on some daybreak surfing is almost irresistible.
Regretfully, I didn’t bring a board with me (it’s neatly tucked away on top of a load of stuff somewhere in our storage room in Malmö) and the rental places here don’t open until 8:00 am-ish.
Want to catch at least a couple of more waves before we leave South East Asia in a few weeks. Worse case, I’ll have to wait until we get to Malaga and venture on an excursion to the beaches of Tarifa.
Here’s one of the films I’ve recently delivered to my client Terranet in Lund, Sweden. The technology behind VoxelFlow is phenomenally interesting and can potentially save the lives of millions of people worldwide. This is the first of two info films I’m producing for the company. The second will likely never be published publicly. At least not in an un-redacted version.
This is the young Tai Chi student Ms. Huong during today’s filming. Her teacher Garry supervised the fan form routine she performed and I shot at what turned out to be a most formidable location – one of many, many construction sites here in Da Nnag – somewhere in an alley a few blocks from our favorite breakfast place, Puna Coffee.