Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rocketmen of Isaan


Another gallery, "The Rocketmen of Isaan", is available for viewing at the attached link:
The 33 photographs are another submittal for an upcoming festival in Cambodia.
It was an especially fun task to create this gallery today because I am headed back to Thailand and I will hopefully be attending a couple of Bun Bang Fei while I am over there.  It will be great to once again experience and photograph some of the unique cultural events of Isaan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Gallery

A new gallery, "Isaan Lao Loum Funeral Rituals", is now available for viewing.

This gallery is a combination of old photos and some new ones which have not been shared before.

I created the gallery to answer the call for submissions to the 8th Angkor Wat Photography Festival.

I believe that submissions are just like the lottery;  "You can't win if you don't play"  So I am submitting in hopes of getting to participate.  Unlike the lottery the odds have got to be more favorable.

Decisions and notifications will be made by the end of July.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


My 1967 Senior Class Photo

This year my graduating class of 1967 at Robert E. Fitch Senior High will be having its 45th Reunion.

The opportunity of attending this reunion has presented me with a dilemma.  Why should I make an effort to attend an event with people who I have not seen or communicated with in 45 years?  Obviously these are people that have meant very little to me and I have meant very little to them over the years for if we had, we would have maintained some contact.  On the other hand, the reunion does present an opportunity, perhaps the last opportunity for many, to express my appreciation and regards to people who shared events and experiences from a critical time period of my life.  Perhaps more importantly a reunion provides the opportunity to pay some respects to fellow classmates who are no longer alive.

Perhaps many of us did not turn out the way that we were supposed to or were expected to.  Life has a habit of presenting opportunities and challenges to the path that we start upon or the path that we prefer to travel on our life journey.  However it is our decisions and manner in which we cope with these opportunities as well as challenges that makes each life so interesting and rich.  At the events like this, we learn that we are not alone ... alone in the suffering, joys, triumphs, and disappointments of life.  We are not alone in having shared many of the world events that have shaped history over the past 45 years.

Attending a reunion is not a matter of seeking vindication for the choices that we have made or giving vindication to others for theirs. Rather it is an opportunity to share those choices and to perhaps better understand why we are who we are today and to understand better where we came from.

I have addressed the fear of perhaps being on my death bed and wondering back upon my life and questioning "What would my life had been like, if back ... I had ..."  I did not want to be in that situation, so I made a decision to take that branch off to the side of the road and discover what lay down that road.  I do not regret having done that for my life is richer and more complete.

So after discussing it with Duang, I agreed that we will attend the reunion.  I don't want to regret at some point not having attended.  It will be an opportunity to thank some people and express appreciation to some people for the influence that they had on me so long ago.  Attending the reunion will also be an experience for Duang to learn a little more about American culture, my past, and to enjoy a night out.

Duang and I have traveled many miles to encounter and interact with peoples of very different cultures.  We have enjoyed the opportunity to learn and experience what other people are like.  We have never been disappointed.  Having done that and our intention is to continue doing that, it is only logical that we would cross the river to spend some time with some people that I went to school with.

I will return to Groton from Thailand on Thursday night, so after 30 hours of travel and 13 hours of time change, it should be even that more interesting for me on Saturday night.

It is far better, in my mind, to be curious than to be sorry.  One thing that I am certain of, there will be no 90th Reunion.

Give MeThat Ol'Time Religion

Easter is coming upon us.

We recently attended a Roman Catholic funeral.

I am preparing to return to Thailand for two weeks to take care of personal business.

These three events got me to thinking about devotion, ritual, and faith.

Several times I have written about Buddhist rituals that I have attended and I have remarked how similar they were to rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.  The similarities were the importance of candles, statues, incense, chanting, praying in a common old language of the faith, and blessing with water.

Well I should clarify that the Buddhist rituals that go back over 2,500 years ago are similar to the RC Church rituals of my youth.

Changes have occurred in the Parrish of my youth.  There is a crucifix over the altar with a less formidable Jesus in front of it.  He is clothed in a long robe and does not have a crown of thorns.  There are no visible wounds, no outward signs of sacrifice on the statue of Jesus. 

The church was devoid of any other statues.  There were not any trays of lighted candles or to be lighted.  There were no prominent confessionals where people go to admit and confess their sins.  The church did not have any odor of burning candles or of smoke impregnated wood from countless prayers sent towards heaven on wisps of burning incense.

The funeral Mass was spoken in English rather than Latin of the early Church.  The old songs have been replaced by newer music.  All in all, to me, it seemed very modern, antiseptic, and lacking in passion.

Back in Thailand and other countries, some people demonstrate their faith with passion, pain, and some suffering.

Last year I was planning on Duang and I attending the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia but our need to be in the USA superseded my wish to witness one of the great religious spectacles..  The festival celebrates the birth of Lord Murugan, the God of War and Fertility.  In Malaysia and Singapore specifically. the festival is very intense with hundreds, if not thousands, of participants march to a shrine with

Some Shi'ite Muslims march in large processions in Iran and Iraq each year flogging themselves on their backs with chains, knives, and sword blades to commemorate the martydom of Hussien, the youngest Grandson of the prophet Mohammad.  I would love to witness and photograph this demonstration of faith but the realities of politics and religious sensitivities means that I will most likely never get there.

Some Christians in the Philippines and South America self-flagellate in commemeration of the Passion of Christ.  Someday I would like to travel back to Peru and witness the religious fervor and passion of the local celebrations of Holy Week.

The last of the major religions of the modern world, the Buddhists, also have a festival where adherents practice mortification of the flesh.  In Thailand, the "Nine Emperor Gods Festival" known more commonly as the "Vegetarian Festival" is a time where hundreds of men as well as women pierce their bodies with all kinds of objects in a demonstration of their faith and power of their Gods.  We have attended two of the Phuket Vegetarian Festivals.  The Phuket Vegetarian Festivals are unique and extremely interesting.  Like most and interesting things, you learn a little more, appreciate a little more and hopefully understand a little better each time that you experience the event.

The piercing of the body of the holy warriors, "Mah Song", is not exist in China so many people believe that the Mah Song tradition of the "Nine Emperor Gods Festival" is a Thai adaptation of the Hindu Thaipusam Festival practiced by Indians and their descendants in nearby Malaysia.

Duang and I will return to experience the Vegetarian Festival again for sure.

In this age where passion seems to be frowned upon by so many, I, personally am relieved and comforted to know that there are still places where and people who still practice that old time religion, no matter what faith that may apply, with passion, suffering, pain and sometimes blood.  Places and people that maintain their links to their past and respect their heritage, as different as it may be from ours.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rocket Season Is Almost Here ... Well; Actually There

Ban That Rocket Festival
May is a busy month in Isaan.  It is the typical end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season.

With the onset of the rainy season, the Lao Loum people can commence to focus on planting this year's crop of rice.  For many people this is not merely job opportunities but a matter of survival.  If they do not grow rice this season, the family does not eat for the next year.

Launch Crew Preparing A Smaller Sized Rocket

Traditionally the return of the rains is facilitated by launching homemade rockets into the sky in merit making activities called "Bun Bang Fei".  Bun Bang Fei range from launching a hand full of relatively small rockets from the local Wat on any given afternoon to internationally known  three to five day festivals where some of the rockets contain up to 350 pounds of gunpowder.

With this being Isaan, the festivals are always a great party complete with parades, morlam shows, pageants, religious rituals, carnival rides, drinking, dancing, drinking, foods of all sorts and drinking.  They are definitely culturally unique events and a photographer's delight.

The Launch Is Underway!

The biggest and most internationally known festival is held in Yasothon at Phaya Thaen Park.  This year the festival will be from Friday 11 May to Sunday 13 May.  The rocket competition will be on Saturday starting in the morning until the late afternoon.

Rocket On It's Way To Some Rice Paddy

I will be back in Thailand during that period but my wife does not want me to drive so far from our home so I am hoping and trying to determine if the Ban That Rocket Festival will be held while I am back in Isaan.  We have attended the Ban That Festival before and enjoyed it very much .  It is much closer to our home so I have clearance to go to it.

Not All Launches Are Successful But They All Make A Big Bang!
I suspect that besides worrying about me driving a long distance alone along Thailand's country roads, Duang is concerned about my personal safety.  Often people are injured at these festivals due to exploding rockets.  Sometimes people are killed at these festivals.  Yasothon Rocket Festival since it traditionally launches the largest rockets presents a greater danger.

At the Ban That Rocket Festival, a rocket exploded on the launch pad in front of me.  For me it was exciting and a chance to get a close-up photo of the fragments around me. The rocket that exploded probably had around 20 to 25 pounds of gunpowder in it unlike some of the 300 pound monsters launched in Yasothon.  Duang came running over and was quite concerned.  I was there after relegated to vantage spots further from the launch pads.

What Went Up, Came Down In Some Far Away Rice Paddy
Yeah, it can be dangerous but it is always exciting and definitely interesting.  I can not imagine such festivals being held in the USA.  How on Earth could you get permission from the Dept of Homeland Security to have such fun?  How many governmental agencies would have to review and approve such a festival? 


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