Man untangling kite string, Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
I love flying kites. There’s something about the action that is inherently contradictory, insightful and yet revealing nothing. As an extension of self, the kite becomes something you give up partial control to, and you must work with the wind or else you’ll spend all your time chasing around a tangled, flaccid string.
As you can tell from the volume of string wrapped around this guy’s knees, the Chinese take their kite flying very, very seriously, and it was hard to not enjoy being surrounded by people who take pleasure in sending strips of silk and paper held together by sticks and string way up into the stratosphere.
Vendors selling T-shirts commemorating the 60th anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne, Bangkok, Thailand. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
During my nine month or so trip, I stayed in Bangkok four times, five if you count a freezing 12-hour stopover in the airport on the way to India. Although I discovered the money-saving motion pcicture experience that is Bangkok’s movie theaters from my second day ever in the city, and found myself well-versed both in the national anthem and the accompanying idolizing montage of His Highness, nothing could have prepared me for the accession celebration.
Throughout the entire city, vendors were selling gold – or yellow, depending on how deep your lines of natural skepticism ran – T-shirts. No long sleeve shirts, no jackets, no sweatpants, no shorts, no His Highness’s Knickers. Yellow T-shirts, though, could be had for about $6 each, a bit pricey for a Bangkok street vendor.
Preparing food and trying to cool off, street stall in Chinatown, Bangkok. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
Long ago, but perhaps not too long ago, it might not have been a medically sound idea to eat food cooked in Bangkok’s street stalls. There might even be a few grubby sections of town where you still wouldn’t want to eat anything unless it was cooked with a blowtorch, or some napalm.
Nowadays, though, Bangkok is far cleaner than its reputation. Safe-to-drink water is offered in vending machines in most neighborhoods, and one baht gets you one liter. The street stalls with their eclectic offerings are harmful only to those with weak stomachs for spiciness, and although it’s hard to name one stall that stands above the rest, the authentic Chinese food offered in Bangkok’s Chinatown has an incredibly dense concentration of stalls with their plastic chairs and savory tastes.
All that cooking in the July humidity probably brings stall chefs closer to their food, too. Just not in the way they intended.
Rama VIII Bridge, Bangkok, Thailand. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
It’s hard to spend more than five seconds in Bangkok without coming across the Rama VIII Bridge, as emblematic as the Golden Gate. During the invariably warm Bangkok nights, the way the light plays off the suspension cables makes the structure hum, a visual symphony against the humidity-muted honking of trucks and cars crossing the span.
Vendor girls hide behind a lion at the top of East Mebon, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
When I was looking at my Angkor Wat photos, trying to decide which one to put up today, I first thought these girls were part of a group of students the FMA and I ran into. Their Cambodian English teacher had taken them on a field trip to the ruins in hopes of meeting foreigners to interview and practice on. Then I checked the EXIF information more carefully and realized that the shot was taken too early in the day for it to be those kids; instead, they had to be vendors who waited for sweaty tourists at the top of the temple and tried to sell them water.
India quickly cured me of my surprise at school-aged kids working the streets, but the disappointment mixed with shame and hope that somehow, these kids will have a better future than their parents never went away.
Statues inside Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
Time might have decapitated these statues, but with their hands clasped it’s clear they still have achieved Harmonious Bliss. Or something.
Colonial building, Thanon Tha He, Savannakhet, Laos. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
When I visited Savannakhet, it was raining so hard that both the decrepit French colonial buildings and the newer Communist blocks darkened as they absorbed the water. Most of the streets were covered in dirt, which quickly turned to mud, and so my Financial and Menu Adviser and I were forced to observe the warm, wet days from the shelter of a cafe.
Sipping Laos coffee while making broad gestures at the dilapidated beauty that surrounded us may not have been the best thing we did in all of Laos, but superlatives can’t do Laos coffee justice, anyway.