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The Ironies of Thai Selfie-Culture: Social Semaphore Over Smoothies
Old 02-05-2016   #1
Chromacomaphoto
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The Ironies of Thai Selfie-Culture: Social Semaphore Over Smoothies

Every genre of photography exists for a reason and fulfills a role. By far and away the largest genre prevalent in the world today is the smartphone-facilitated snapshot taken specifically for sharing on social media. Who could have known that this genre would have had such a significant impact upon not only photography but also the way people live their lives as a whole?



Sure, this is old news, but it still never ceases to amaze me how witnessing examples of its impact on social behaviour first hand can bewilder, amuse and sometimes even sadden me as the observer. There’s a version of these events and stories for every city and town in the world. This is what I witnessed in Bangkok recently:



I had been shooting street, it was a day when I was pushing myself and I had got up to maybe my third roll with a 35 Summaron on the M2. Nice weather but hot and I needed a place to sit down, sort through some films in my pocket and replenish my body with fluids in a cool place. I had sat down in a nice cold fruit smoothie establishment in a pretty slick part of the city. I was sat at the back but next to the window with Leica bits, Kodak cannisters and a light meter strewn in front of me on the nice wooden butcher style table top. I was unwittingly announcing to the world that I was probably odd or eccentric, if the world were bothered enough to pay attention to me, which of course it wasn’t. Times like these you might get a puzzled smile from an older person or a Klingon hipster trying to shoot you that knowing look.



Through the large window I notice a young couple advancing toward this place, they were doing the annoying self-important walking whilst smart phoning and not looking up thing. People engaging in this practice are basically relying on other people’s good will in getting out of their way. This is a classic ignorance and arrogance combination that has never sat well with me. Although it can sometimes be amusing when you see two people bumping into each other doing the same thing from different directions. I saw a guy drop his uncased IPhone to the floor once from such an affair. The jerky fumble dance that ensued as he tried in vain to catch it on the way down was almost Mick Jaggeresque. Upon hastily reclaiming his beloved device from the evil terra firma, his face looked like he had just lost a kidney. Talk about crash test dummies. I wonder what happens if a pedestrian crossing whilst texting gets hit by a motorist who is texting and driving? Would the universe have some way to just kind of let the two cancel other each out and chalk up another couple of strikes for team Darwin?



Although I don’t always admit it, I sometimes gain twisted satisfaction in being deliberately ‘obtuse’ to these kind of offenders in public, I say the word in much the same way that Andy Dufresne did, although hopefully without such dire consequences. I refuse to side step them, I stop short of actually speeding up and barging them head on but NO, I will not sidestep for thee. It’s on you. But that wasn’t what had really caught my attention about this pair of trendy lookers, they were both really quite photogenic and I was fervently hoping that they wouldn’t suddenly create the perfect street scene photograph right before me now in great light as I was sitting there with no film loaded in the M2. These ‘the one that got away’ moments haunt all photographers, especially those who shoot street with film cameras. The young girl was really very pretty, although she probably didn’t quite believe this herself as she was caked up in far more make up than was needed. Her boyfriend was quite the good looking young chap. It’s always a hallmark of a good looking bloke that even straight men notice how good looking you are. It’s probably a gold standard.



They enter the scene stage left, not looking up from their phones and yet still somehow managing to both get through the door and into the establishment. There is a long high bar and stools along another window. She sits at one stool and he automatically sits two stools down from her. This immediately piqued my interest as they were clearly a couple yet it was a given that this space was needed between them and you could just tell that this was a regular and well rehearsed drill of theirs. The young guy ordered smoothies of their choice without entirely looking at the menu at all; his eyes still never left the phone. As they waited for somebody to bring their order over, both of them anxiously tried several different positions on the seat to see which angle and light worked the best. They had both decided at the same time and without any communication between them, that their entry to a humble smoothie outlet was an event that they needed to be broadcast to the world. The young lady in question briefly applies either lip balm or lipstick of some kind and then warms up with a few shots. I am only two metres or so away and her smartphone is a newer, jumbo screened affair. I can see that she has already taken at least six photos but none of them have yet met with her approval. The smoothies arrive, now she needs to include this in the frame and proceeds to take another ten frames with her mouth sucking on the straw in a goofy manner but she’s still not happy. Pretty > Goofy, try again. She takes yet more frames with the smoothie on the bar top and her pretty head at just the right angle next to it. Getting closer now, she’s honing in on the desired result but I can see that she is less than thrilled to have me in the background of the shots. I can just make myself out in them. She moves a fake potted plant very slightly (and slowly so as to not make it too obvious) with her fingertips jus a bit at a time until my unfortunate middle age has been perfectly blocked out of the frame by a fake cactus and that’s when I realize why they have sat so spaced apart. This lady needs her own ‘selfie-zone’ studio space everywhere she goes in which she can move herself and all the props within it to represent her own perfect, trite, saccharin sweet, artificial version of reality for just 1/500th of a second to show the world.



Don’t fear that her other half is getting his feelings hurt by accommodating such a requirement, for he himself is making full use of the space to take similar selfies of note wearing his sunglasses indoors. He’s less concerned with including the smoothie in the frame in case it compromises his high-maintenance, fragile, new-found masculinity. Yet nailing the perfect angle of the sunglasses and their reflection is an issue which seems to be challenging him somewhat. He has made at least twenty to thirty attempts at this shot despite being sat in good light with a very capable camera in his late model, high-end smartphone with huge display.



Already five to ten minutes has passed. Not. One. Word. Not so much as a non sequitur.



I watched on. I couldn’t quite decide if it was great that they were so comfortable together that they could be like this with each other or whether it were in fact such a terrible shame that they were wasting their wonderful young days of love away uploading pictures of fruit smoothies to people that they haven’t seen since kindergarten. Desperate to plug into the grid and the hive matrix, real life was passing them by as their youth and good looks slowly melt away like the smoothies. Too busy updating the world to actually be in it. Authors of their own irony. 'Virtual reality'…the first word means almost. This situation was almost real, but not quite. Something occurred to me now that I’m entering middle age. I’m glad that in my first days of adulthood, a photo was something I took quickly with a compact camera and then got developed later on. I’m glad not to have missed out on that part of my life, love and relationships with others in the world due to being sucked into the matrix. I love technology but I also love life and wish to appreciate it with technology in it, not the other way around. Maybe that sounds like an old man saying “Get off my lawn”, I honestly don’t know. I’ll go one further, younger people should have their heads up more to see and enjoy the world instead of their heads down like the old people playing bingo who have already seen it.



The two young lovers continued their routine, not once interfering with each other’s flow or (im)personal space. I have to admit, it was seamlessly done and as smooth as their beverages. There was almost a sense of choreography to it, all which unwittingly revealed just how often they had practiced this rendition. All it really needed was Ravel’s Bolero in the background and it would have been bordering on a performance art piece in its own right.



My M2 was now loaded, the light had changed, and my cup of tea was done. I took a reading with my Sekonic, wound on and shot the first two blank frames out of the way and I was ready to go. As I stood up and got ready to leave, handsome boy had finally just about got his sunglasses to be exactly as he wanted them. By looking at him posing in his screen, I could see exactly where his eyes were gazing and he was completely oblivious to my new position or recent movement. I came in close and fired off a shot of both of them from the side. He didn’t flinch, relentless in pursuit of the ultimate selfie for the day. The M2 is a quiet machine so I went for broke and stepped in closer still to test the minimum focus range of the Summaron at around eighty centimetres, literally less than meter away from the guy’s face almost exactly square on from him at ninety degrees. I knew that he would probably catch me in the act but decided that I wanted the shot and would just smile and leave the premises as planned upon being busted. Amazingly, I took the second shot and still neither of them cottoned on. I was the invisible man. The shot is on my website/blog in the "E = Siam Squared Part II" gallery (click on link in my sig) if anybody wants to see the scene. I went on my merry way. Never did hear them speak. They didn’t even see me leave despite my doubling back around and walking past their window on the way to the next stage of my photographic jaunt. They were just so wholly consumed by sharing with their legions of adoring devotees. Were Lennon still alive today, he might have said “ Life is what happens while you’re busy making other fans.”



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Old 02-05-2016   #2
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Great story - the elements of which I'm sure many will recognise from their own experiences. Thanks for posting.

I must say that your comment "Too busy updating the world to actually be in it" struck a chord with me - so I guess that confirms my 'grumpy old git' status!
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Old 02-06-2016   #3
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"Mick Jaggeresque". Brilliant! Very enjoyable read.
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Old 02-06-2016   #4
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Very nice writing, thank you!
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Old 02-06-2016   #5
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Great story .
Reminds me of my daughter,husband,and two girls immersed in i-pad/i-phone with no communication..
It's really getting weird.
I was content with my Minolta SRT / 50mm but now ... ?
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Old 02-06-2016   #6
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CCP: Great piece of writing. If you eventually create a photo book, this essay should accompany that image.

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Old 02-06-2016   #7
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excellent writing

nice photo
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Old 02-06-2016   #8
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Enjoyed reading. First thought, another of stupid-youth rants but it's not.

Years ago when that craze started it were interesting to take pictures of online connected people. Now it's almost challenge to find offline people in bus.
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Old 02-06-2016   #9
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great read, very good photos, thank you
no need for talking, they are in a higher form of communion far beyond mere words, joined in a blissful state of a shared vision
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Old 02-06-2016   #10
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Is social media not the just current whipping boy previously occupied by television, rock music, pop, jazz, cinema, and books?
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Old 02-06-2016   #11
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Good to see a young couple so dedicated to their photography! Wife and I both enjoyed your story, thanks.
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Old 02-06-2016   #12
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I like your style.

More please.
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Old 02-06-2016   #13
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Yes, I like the fact that they seemed to be trying for some aesthetic goal. Kept working it until they felt they had achieved something. Laudable effort, from the way that you describe it.

I wonder if one of them, or both, perhaps, is deaf.

"The kids are alright..."

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Old 02-06-2016   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobbyrab View Post
Is social media not the just current whipping boy previously occupied by television, rock music, pop, jazz, cinema, and books?
Apparently so...
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Old 02-06-2016   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chromacomaphoto
I watched on. I couldn’t quite decide if it was great that they were so comfortable together that they could be like this with each other or whether it were in fact such a terrible shame that they were wasting their wonderful young days of love away uploading pictures of fruit smoothies to people that they haven’t seen since kindergarten. Desperate to plug into the grid and the hive matrix, real life was passing them by as their youth and good looks slowly melt away like the smoothies. Too busy updating the world to actually be in it. Authors of their own irony.

CCP

This couple clearly pushed your buttons and activated the judgement engine. I would reserve judgment about them and their lives until you actually took some time to actually get to know them. Start a conversation, speak with them. Where are they from? Are they students? What kind of work do they do?

Don't want to do that? Then consider what your assessment is really based on. What do you really know about them and their lives? Think that they're wasting their young lives? That's mighty harsh based on no evidence.

Quite a bit of imaginative fiction in this writing. Not much reality.
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Old 02-06-2016   #16
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Thanks. I enjoyed it.
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Old 02-06-2016   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ellisson View Post
This couple clearly pushed your buttons and activated the judgement engine. I would reserve judgment about them and their lives until you actually took some time to actually get to know them. Start a conversation, speak with them. Where are they from? Are they students? What kind of work do they do?

Don't want to do that? Then consider what your assessment is really based on. What do you really know about them and their lives? Think that they're wasting their young lives? That's mighty harsh based on no evidence.

Quite a bit of imaginative fiction in this writing. Not much reality.
I'm kind of inclined to agree with this, to be honest.

Also, I'm not sure I see this on the gallery you mentioned? I'm not sure which of those photos correlates with this story.
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Old 02-06-2016   #18
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Great story, but here is the thing - I remember the silly things I did as a young person. Some to my eternal regret but some not.
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Old 02-06-2016   #19
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Having live and worked mucho in Bangkok, kudos to the OP for telling it exactly like it is.

Trust me, O Open-Minded Preeners, he writes it as it was.
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Thanks all
Old 02-06-2016   #20
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Thanks all

tbhv55, Rayt, 13promet,dee,Joe V, Marcr1230, btgc, kuuan,Doug (and his missus!), Lestele (there's more every week on my blog), nlubis Thanks very much for the kind responses and general feedback.

Calebarchic: I'm early 40's, not quite old enough for bitter rants really, it wasn't meant to be though in all honesty!

Darthfeeble: Yes, quite and my mistakes were significantly worse!

bobbyrab: Indeed, you may have a valid point.

photomoof: Tell me about it, fair comment.

Oscuro: In all honesty, they did look quite happy!

ellison: I think there may be some disconnect between how it was intended and how it might be read by some, and perhaps yourself. The whole thing was firmly tongue-in-cheek, nothing more. In my defence, I work with young people every day and talk to them a lot about this and many, many other things. Smartphone abuse is off the hook here though compared to most other places I've seen in the world, it was just my perception of the situation, that's all. As for 'fiction', well a key hallmark of realist prose is that it encourages the reader to make moral assertions and judgements without necessarily being aware that they were guided to do so. Your response certainly shows a good degree of that. Maybe you're on to something. In Thailand, people DO judge a book by its cover, I have lived here half of my life and so it would be optimistic at this point to say that I'm not becoming a product of my environment, as we all are I suppose. Perhaps I do have judgmental issues, I think you might well have a fair point there. I respect your reading of it and I also fully respect your response.

Colin: See above , and below :-)

Including pic here now, not for 'pic or it didn't happen' reasons, more because a lot of people took the time to read and comment and so it seems fitting. Joking and sarcasm aside, I'm sure they were (and still are) very happy!



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Old 02-06-2016   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kinch123 View Post
Having live and worked mucho in Bangkok, kudos to the OP for telling it exactly like it is.

Trust me, O Open-Minded Preeners, he writes it as it was.
how about Hong Kong? Saigonese easily beat Bangkokites When in a highly enough respected shop it has become an expected act of courtesy to wait with the first sip / bite until some pics of the highly decorative drink or expensive looking plate has been taken, possibly also to wait with any communication until the upload and checking of first comments and likes will have been completed.
The chance to get run over by youngsters absorbed in self importance is much higher back in Vienna though, I believe that CCP will agree that generally Thais are very, very respectful.
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Old 02-06-2016   #22
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how about Hong Kong? Saigonese easily beat Bangkokites When in a highly enough respected shop it has become an expected act of courtesy to wait with the first sip / bite until some pics of the highly decorative drink or expensive looking plate has been taken, possibly also to wait with any communication until the upload and checking of first comments and likes will have been completed.
The chance to get run over by youngsters absorbed in self importance is much higher back in Vienna though, I believe that CCP will agree that generally Thais are very, very respectful.
Given that I'm now living in Hong Kong (and have totalled more time here than Bangkok), I'd have to say that Hong Kong people aren't quite as appearance and self-branding obsessed as Thais. They certainly *are* of course... but rather more down-to-earth and pragmatic, mostly.

Having said that, I've been sternly told not to start eating until the food pics have been taken on many occasions.

The selfie craze must be having some big effects on interior design. It becomes more and more important to make venues immediately identifiable from a few design elements in selfie backgrounds taken from almost anywhere inside. I suspect this underlies such things as the interior design of (e.g.) Water Library Restaurant in Bangkok.
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Old 02-06-2016   #23
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I think Hubertus Bigend would be fascinated by this.

Kisses,

Mme. O.
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Old 02-06-2016   #24
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Great story CCP. I have studied some Buddhism recently, and it feel that its philosophy of mindfulness and ego-less nature is the exact opposite of the western multi-tasking and mega-me culture. But it looks like that, even for a nation with a Buddhist culture, the immediate gratification of the western gadgets and ways is winning. They are such shiny and desirable gadgets!
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Old 02-07-2016   #25
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Hope you don't mind my take on it...

Las Vegas, in The Venetian's Piazza, he went about this self-portraiture with great determination. He spent a lot of time trying different expressions, with and without sunglasses, and then checking the effect. M8, C-Sonnar
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Old 02-07-2016   #26
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haha, the mouth pointed as if for a kiss is real big with teenage girls, usually paired with too big Bambi eyes, cute how is trying
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Old 02-07-2016   #27
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Great story CCP. I have studied some Buddhism recently, and it feel that its philosophy of mindfulness and ego-less nature is the exact opposite of the western multi-tasking and mega-me culture. But it looks like that, even for a nation with a Buddhist culture, the immediate gratification of the western gadgets and ways is winning. They are such shiny and desirable gadgets!
I lived for some time in Bangkok. A close relative married and moved to Sri-Lanka. She is *far* more politically correct and inclined to believe the best of people than I am.

After two years living there, I asked her for her thoughts on living in a supposedly Buddhist society in practice as opposed to in theory.

Suffice it to say that we both agreed that theory is one thing, quotidian reality is most definitely another.

Now this is true for all philosophies and religions: we are more alike all of us than we realise.

This is somewhat obfuscated in the west where 'Buddhism' is more a highly idealised and fetishised (from afar) forbids nothing / judges nothing, 'Anything But Christianity' religion-lite for people who have an inchoate urge to be spiritual so long as it's got nothing to do with their own cultural and historical roots

There are such things as Thais being mindful and ego-less, but I wouldn't walk down the street holding my breath until I met one.

I would also describe 'Thai Religion' as being more Hindu-Buddhist God-King worship at one end, and shamanic spirits/ghosts to be placated at the other end... But the official story everybody tells themselves is that they are Theravada Buddhists. It's more respectable, after all .

Some people may think that Japanese are Buddhist. In the Japanese and Chinese worlds, the main (unstated) purpose of Buddhism is 'disposal of dead people and their vengeful spirits'. There are other religions for other things. Of course I oversimplify, but it's roughly the reality on the ground.

Funny old world.
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Old 02-07-2016   #28
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Thanks for the clarification from experience, kinch123. I noticed in Bhutan on my brief visit in 2014 that local practice was different to my western interpretation of Buddhist ideals. But I did enjoy traveling with our small group greatly. My web page from that visit if you want to have a look:
http://members.iinet.net.au/~fingon/...14/bhutan.html
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Old 02-07-2016   #29
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Old 02-07-2016   #30
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We are extremely unsuccessful at understanding other people just by watching them. One of my favorite quotes, "We live in a house full of mirrors and think we are looking out windows."
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Old 02-07-2016   #31
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Quote:
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The selfie craze must be having some big effects on interior design. It becomes more and more important to make venues immediately identifiable from a few design elements in selfie backgrounds taken from almost anywhere inside. I suspect this underlies such things as the interior design of (e.g.) Water Library Restaurant in Bangkok.
This includes the presentation of food. Big article in the paper recently about restaurants hiring designers to re-do their table settings, plates, cups, silverware and even the placement of the food to make it ever-more-so inviting when seen online in social media.
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Old 02-07-2016   #32
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when diving into a foreign culture first people might seem quite different, then very similar, later again it will dawn on us that we haven't understood anything yet and slowly will start to grasp

..
Buddhism being idealized by some Westerners might be partly due to Buddhism rather being a way of life than a fixed set of believes or even dogmas they may want to liberate themselves from.

In Thai popular Buddhism the idea of "what you do is what you get" seems very strong. Important monks teach in detail which thoughts and actions will cause what kind of results, specially in next lives to come. They make a strong, fixed set of believes
Discipline is an underlying prerequisite, keeping control under adverse circumstances a recognized and aspired quality, so are humility and very importantly creating light feeling and fun.

For us Westerners, at least for someone where I come from where blaming circumstances and complaining are rampant, substituting those with taking responsibility and lightheartedness may be empowering and liberating
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Old 02-07-2016   #33
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^^^^^
Thank you for that Andreas
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Old 02-07-2016   #34
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Originally Posted by kinch123 View Post
Having live and worked mucho in Bangkok, kudos to the OP for telling it exactly like it is.

Trust me, O Open-Minded Preeners, he writes it as it was.
I've spent extended time in BKK (as well as all over China), myself.

I actually notice more of it here in North America. Plenty of areas to go in any big city where life is more focused outwardly...a photographer just has to go looking for them, is all.
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Old 02-07-2016   #35
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Thank you for posting, I enjoyed that. The mental picture you created in my mind with the writing didn't match the shot though, not your fault at all. Just shows, the narrative great, the picture great, the match up didn't work isn't that odd? If I'd seen the picture with the write up, above or below like newspaper article, remember those, it would have worked, I think. I wouldn't have created my inner world, but would I have clicked through and been disappointed anyway from just the text?t
On Winnogrand, his star waxes and wanes. I take Churchill on Russia as the guide: he is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
It is good he is/was there though as an example to draw on when I get my obsession accusations.
Finally hat tip for the John Free link, appreciated, good stuff.
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Old 02-07-2016   #36
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Thanks for the clarification from experience, kinch123. I noticed in Bhutan on my brief visit in 2014 that local practice was different to my western interpretation of Buddhist ideals. But I did enjoy traveling with our small group greatly. My web page from that visit if you want to have a look:
http://members.iinet.net.au/~fingon/...14/bhutan.html
Loved your photos, John + the Royal Enfield. Just added what you guys did to my bucket list!
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Old 02-08-2016   #37
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^^^^^
Thank you for that Andreas
oh, glad that you like it Andy and that you say so

Studying Buddhist philosophy or practicing meditation of course is distinct from Buddhism as practiced by a society at large. The organized religion that will have set forth rules and fixed believes and will be practiced through traditions:
Yesterday was 'Tet', Vietnamese New Year. People set up offerings in front of their houses just before midnight to say farewell to the old and invite the new 'spirits', then we went to the Buddhist pagoda to pray, today I joined a group of people setting free some 40.000 fish in a local river, typical 'merit making' as is very popular in Thailand too: ( not to plaster this thread with my photos, only links ) https://flic.kr/p/CXThie https://flic.kr/p/DSXsp3 https://flic.kr/p/DVzRt4
cheers, andreas
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Old 02-08-2016   #38
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Very much like train riding todays, all young people keep quiet listning to their music and handling their smartphones while I with camera and book compainon get a very silent ride in every wagon.
Don't overrate their know how, they don't have time to tell you!
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Old 02-08-2016   #39
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Social rituals and practices that evolve in a similar fashion often seem alien, their meaning almost unassailable and out of reach to outsiders. The irony of it: how odd must seem to a disinterested party the taking/sharing of photos of strangers, the incessant talk of gear, the forum posts, the usual paraphernalia that make this business (and by extension its pracitioners) unique/distinguished. Selfies -- don't we have two or three or four threads with self-portraits here?

Also, I 'll be surprised if some young lad/lass doesn't pull off dead serious work of some kind based on selfies. I bet someone is working on it right now.

.
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Old 02-12-2016   #40
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This couple clearly pushed your buttons and activated the judgement engine. I would reserve judgment about them and their lives until you actually took some time to actually get to know them. Start a conversation, speak with them. Where are they from? Are they students? What kind of work do they do?

Don't want to do that? Then consider what your assessment is really based on. What do you really know about them and their lives? Think that they're wasting their young lives? That's mighty harsh based on no evidence.

Quite a bit of imaginative fiction in this writing. Not much reality.
CCP, I enjoyed the read. It is I think where we have landed today. But also, the picture did not look like my mental image from the story! :-)

Ellisson's comment goes a completey different direction. Sure, you can also reduce this to an argument of everybody should just do his own thing and be happy. Fits completely into the another trend of our modern PC culture.

I have no qualms about the fact that your subjects would probably look at me the same way, if they noticed me.
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