Bangkok: How a mall was built

The start of the project

This project started when I was living in Bangkok, in the posh area of Thonglor at soi 17. Just next door to my condo, in 2013, they started destroying an old house to make way for a new construction. As I had an unparalleled view from above, I decided to follow the progress of the construction. The original was to make it a sort of timelapse of the changes on the construction site, but with time, the real interest focused on the workers. Then it became the story of how a mall was built, namely “the Commons” mall in Bangkok. And more largely, a documentation of the working conditions on Thai construction sites and the workers along with the quirks and peculiarities of work in Thailand.

The hidden actors of Bangkok’s rise

Thus, the project moved towards telling the story of those workers who have made possible the fast rise of Bangkok. In a way, it is also an ethnological study of a micro-society.

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It all starts with destroying

In Bangkok, in prime locations, new projects often start with destroying old buildings. The construction site of the Commons was no exception, as they destroyed an old restaurant that occupied two stories in the back of the land. Probably an inefficient use of space for such valuable land.

Workers climb on the roof to pull down the main beams.

Of course, here most of the work was done by hand by workers with barely any protection against the hazards (no safety shoes, no helmets, if you notice the picture).

A picture of the context and the general idea of the location:

The demolition work progressed quickly.

Laying the foundations

Once the old house was torn apart and the rubble taken away, started the extensive work of laying the foundations. As a reminder, Bangkok is built on a former swamp, and the land is foundering by an average of 6 cms a year (huge by geological standards!). Hence, before building the main structure, the construction company kept on driving into the ground huge cement stilts to ensure the stability of the final construction.

Foundations layer
This machine is used to lay the foundations for the building. Here on day one, when it was not yet built up.

The machine used to thump into the ground those huge cement rods. This alone took upwards of 4 months.

This machine pushed down in the ground huge metallic rods to stabilize the foundations.

 

Preparing the construction itself

In a second stage, the workers started preparing the infrastructure for the construction work properly said. This involved mounting a crane. On that occasion, I had the utter surprise of seeing workers climbing up in the branches of a crane without any safety gear. But this was only the start of an incredible few years witnessing how the Thai construction workers got their job done.

darevils in a crane
To build the crane, workers climb without any security.

Once the foundations were laid, and a central cemented base was solidified, the central crane was used to lift all the heavy materials on the additional stories as they were being built.

The first cement basis provided the basis for building the other floors.

The building process

The building process involves laying layers of reinforced concrete, building support columns with more reinforced concrete, then building another floor above, often all at the same time. A fascinating work but done with a happy-go-lucky stance and total disregard for safety. As in this picture, you can see how many workers wear a helmet…

 

Scaffoldings
The building process required laying a layer of reinforced concrete then building columns and pouring another layer of reinforced concrete above.

Strangely for a construction site, a lot of ladies worked there. And despite the dust and the hard work, they never failed to try to be coquettish even on the construction site.

Coquettish even on a construction site.

This did not mean that the work was not hard, for ladies more than anyone.

Binding
Workers unite to finish a portion of the armature.

Ladies had to carry metal rods like anyone else, sometimes better, sometimes worst than men…

Ladies on construction site
Ladies struggle with carrying metallic rods across the construction site.

Odd situations

Often, this construction site offered quite quirky moments. From a lady taking a rest in a hammock hung on the scaffolding… to guys playing in flip flops on a construction site.

Hamac on scaffolding
A worker hangs a hamac on the scaffolding to take a rest.

Probably the most striking was the total lack of regard for safety. The workers often came working with flip flops, almost never wore a helmet and played in a very relaxed manner around other workers. Like in this case.

Playing on construction site
Two workers in flip flops play while a third is using a circular saw to cut a piece of wood.
edge
A worker stands on the edge of the building as the day draws to a close.

Safety : Thai-style approach

Probably, the most concerning part of the whole work was the fact that workers seemed to be completely ignorant of elementary safety rules on a construction site. Furthermore, most of them wandered on the working place either in flip-flops or without any safety gear such as helmets or protective shoes.

Safety not really a concern as these workers climb on unstable rods or work directly underneath.

In some cases, a worker can be holding a metal rod with his flip-flops while another worker hammers it into place…

 

Feet in danger!
A flip-flop worker is holding a metal bar with his uncovered feet, while a fellow worker hammers by the side.

The issue of electric shocks and elementary safety precautions, such as wearing shoes when climbing on tight surfaces seemed totally lost on these workers. A soldering iron was used, for example, with the wire hanging partly in water in the picture below.

Casings
The workers prepare casings where they will let the cement flow. Acrobatics in flip-flops? nothing to shudder about. Nor using soldering irons with the wire hanging in water.

Then, let us not forget about the acrobat climbing metal rods in flip-flops…

Flip-flop worker climbing
Flip-flop workers climbing metallic rods.

 

An incredible pace

Thanks to the breakneck pace and the extended hours (7 AM to 10 PM), the construction site moved very quickly, and as can be seen in this picture, where three different floors are being built simultaneously. Sometimes, this breakneck pace ends tragically, when structural issues cause a collapse of the construction.

Construction
Construction progressed quickly and simultaneously as can be grasped from this picture..

 

Good humor

Foreman
Foreman makes a sign to his workers as they leave the construction site

Despite the difficult working conditions and the heat, most of these workers had a good-natured disposition, having fun when they could and often joking among them. And at the core, it had to be a teamwork.

Supporting columns of the building
The workers group together to bind the iron rods that will make one of the supporting columns of the building.

The final stages

Towards the end of the building, the main crane was dismounted in favor of a small roof-mounted crane. In order to pour cement, the crane carried a worker who had to action the lever allowing the cement to flow.

This was the occasion for some spectacular pictures of the worker on the sunset.

Life in the balance
A life in the balance: the construction workers in Bangkok

Of course, even construction workers have smartphones, so these guys dismounting the crane did not miss taking some pics of the scenery.

 

Dismounting crane
Busy with dismounting the main crane, these two workers still find the time to take a picture of the environment from their high-perched observation point.

As the construction neared its end, it was time for a nostalgic picture closing the story. Here, the building was basically completed and the roof was already installed.

Nightfall on construction site
The end of the construction nightfall

The end result

Of course, we are in Thailand, so an important part of the buildup was… installing a spirit house on the roof!

how a mall was built: Spirit house
After the Commons was almost completed, first thing they did was install a spirit house on the roof.

I visited the Commons immediately after it was opened, and it was really remarkable to contrast the finished product with the years of work that preceded. Today, the Commons is a very posh mall and open-air restaurant. Nobody has any idea how this mall was built, nor of the efforts of the workers in building it. It is highly likely that any of the workers of the construction site will never be able to experience this mall, given its steep prices.

 

interior of the commons
Interior arrangement at the Commons

 

The Commons
The years of dangerous work were all for this: a fancy eating place for Bangkok’s elite.

If this project interested you, please leave your comments and/or feel free to share it.

 

 

 

Sunset at Suicide Cliff

Once again, I was back up on Kowloon peak. After previous visits with the photography meetup, with the hiking meetup at night, and solo during the day, I joined a hiking meetup that was passing through suicide cliff. I abandonned the group once at Suicide Cliff, mainly because hiking meetups are focused on covering as quickly as possible the most distance, whereas I prefer to focus on photography. In this case, I was aiming at shooting the sunset at suicide cliff.

A long wait

As the hiking meetup climbed Kowloon Peak at a breakneck pace (I was last and dragging with 15 kgs gear, yet broke my own personal record), we arrived up there at around 14.00 to 15.00. As you can imagine, 3pm is not exactly the time for sunset. So, I shot  all the members of the meetup who wanted their pictures taken at that picture perfect spot.

Hikers on suicide cliff
The HK Hiking Meetup team posing for a picture on Suicide Cliff.

Later, I broadcasted a periscope (unless I am mistaken, the first one ever taken from up there) https://www.pscp.tv/w/1ypKdNDAALdJW .

Shooting people

Of course, to occupy the long wait, I tried to shoot some pictures right and left, and obviously, the most interesting were the people posing for selfies on the suicide cliff. A Filipina who had been already taking shots on the rock above emerged as the winner…

Filipina selfie
A Filipina takes extra risks for a selfie on hazy background.

The other surprise of the day was seeing a Japanese family bring their kid along for the hike. I guess that it is generally considered as pretty “safe” despite the steepness of the mountain and the rock clambering required.

Japanese on Suicide cliff
A Japanese family brings along their daughter on Kowloon peak.

 

Finally the sunset at suicide cliff… and an “Apocalypse Now moment”

After three long hours of wait, the sun began to descend on the horizon. It was the occasion of starting to shoot, and obviously, the big issue was that everybody wanted their picture with the sunset, while I was hoping for an empty cliff. However, the addition of a human element allowed to provide a size element for a sunset at suicide cliff, so that is the picture I opted to keep.

As the sun kept going down on the horizon, I was gifted with my very own “Apocalypse Now” moment. A Government Flying Service helicopter decided serendipitously to fly into the setting sun allowing me a wonderful shot (obviously, as I was shooting with an 80-200, I had to crop to the max to isolate this picture).

Apocalypse now pic
A GFS helicopter decided to fly into the setting sun as it reached the final moments of sunset.

After the sunset took place, suicide cliff looked barren. I did not stay for a night picture, as you can see a previous attempt here. Instead I wanted to move up, away from suicide cliff before nightfall. Incidentally, I wished to take a pic from the rock above.

After sunset
Suicide cliff after sunset

Night at suicide cliff

Obviously, the view from Kowloon Peak is majestic and impressive, and even more so during the blue hour, immediately after sunset. I got the occasion of using my tripod there, as I had been dragging it for the whole hike (I think my combined gear was around 15 kgs). Fortunately, after sunset, the haze that had been worrying me before sunset dissipated greatly allowing some interesting shots of the sunset.

View over Kowloon
View on Kowloon from Kowloon Peak.

I took several pics, but chose to focus on a general view of Kowloon and this other picture, which focuses on Kowloon Bay.

Kowloon Bay
Kowloon Bay at night

Epilogue

After these pics I headed down through the stairs leading to Fei Ngo Shan. I must have been pretty tired, as I tripped once, grazing my right knee. My ankle also kept buckling, so my guess is extreme tiredness. I was wearing low-cut Reebok trail running shoes (ideal when climbing, contrary to my hiking shoes, whose sole is too rigid). While good for climbing, the shoe does not support your ankle when buckling.

I ended so tired coming down, that I took out my shoes and walked the rest of the way barefoot (thus enjoying a free massage too).

There is one point on which I would like to call your attention, if you are planning on going to Suicide Cliff. A helicopter of the GFS had to come again and rescue hikers from the mountain today, around sunset. This is becoming pretty usual now, and that testifies to the inexperience or callousness of many hikers. When you don’t know the way, take the stairs on Fei Ngo Shan. When you are inexperienced, don’t go through Jat’s Incline route.

If you are tired or prejudged from your strength, you should have thought about it beforehand. Helicopters are used on important rescue missions, not to help wary or lost hikers. So, please, please, do be careful and don’t be too adventurous when tackling suicide cliff. There are well-marked trails which are adventurous enough without going on dangerous paths.

The Nahim Café: an instagram cafe in Bangkok

People start a business, then try to make it instagram-worthy. Nahim cafe started the other way around. It was originally an instagram handicraft business, before becoming the Nahim café: an instagram cafe in Bangkok.

The decoration and the handicraft exposed in the café alone, do justify a visit, and while the food and coffee are nothing to write home about, it has a lovely atmosphere.

A familiar sounding name

The name “Nahim” rang a bell with some of my previous readings, but it was only because it sounded strangely similar to “Nahik“, which is a key plot point in the French comic series the “Decalogue”. Which is the occasion of recommending that series, written by Jean Giroud, for the depth of its themes and its elaborate scenarios. The main idea being that a bone piece contains a new set of religious prescriptions written by the Prophet Mohammad which are at odds with today’s Islam. The whole series is based on the people trying to silence that message from getting through from AD 622 to 2001. I am not sure on whether it has been translated in English, but if you can read French, you should definitely give it a try.

Handicrafts and selfies

Returning to the main subject of this post, the handicraft is the main reason for being for this cafe. It is also what gives it a uniquely quaint atmosphere and warm tones. Let us say that this cafe is clearly more pleasing to girls than to men, but nevertheless, it has some lovely items.

handicraft and coffee
Nahim café offers these items for sale so the coffee and food side is just one part of their business.

As this is an instagram café in Bangkok, it is obvious that part of the reason for being there for most Thais is just to have their selfies taken. Obviously, you can see a a “no photo please” as an instagram café attempts to control its own image, but that is self-defeating. Such places have only value for people because of the possibility of taking selfies and pictures of the stuff. No pictures = loss of branding on Instagram.

Decoration

The decoration is also quirky and attempts to make it instagram-worthy. While the food and drinks are comparable to other numerous cafes all over Bangkok, prices are not that cheap (around 100 THB for most dishes or drinks). You are obviously paying your selfie along with the drink.

If you are not too much into handicraft and taking a moment off, then, you can give it a miss. Otherwise, don’t hesitate and take a look. It is interesting to see a place evolving from online business to the real world.

 

Selfie corner
Obviously, the place looks set up for selfies…

Where to find it?

The easiest way is to head to the Hua Lamphong train station and walk from there.

You can also visit their Facebook page here. And of course, for an instagram café, here is their instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nahimcafe.handcraft/ .

Street Photography: Bangkok girls

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Bangkok girls over the years

Having lived for several years in Bangkok, I must say that I was gifted with a nice opportunity to take pics of pretty ladies almost at every turn, if we may speak this way. For street photography, Bangkok girls are a gift that keeps giving.

Girl with clogs
A girl walks past Dusit Thani while checking her phone.

If you ever felt that you were limited by subjects, Bangkok is an incredible trove of subjects in terms of street photography. You do not need to go in red light areas to find interesting and pretty ladies – on the contrary.

Girl waiting
A girl waits near the MBK mall in Bangkok, while a bus rushes past.

Candids or interacting photo?

Ah, that’s an eternal question of the photographer. Let me give you two examples of pictures taken with an interaction with the subject:

Flea market girl
A vendor at a flea market in tones which reflect the linen which she was selling.

If I did not ask this young lady for her permission I probably would not have had her look into the lens, nor her lovely smile which is just as warm as the surrounding clothes.

Beautiful flower vendor
A beautiful vendor prepares lotus flowers for sale.

In this case, it is a bit different, as I did not ask her consent, but I was very close (shot with a 20 mm), and she was happy to have her shot taken. Afterwards I thanked her for the picture. As the goal was to show her work, it was useless to have her pose. Of course, afterwards, I thanked her and she kindly acknowledged.

Compare and contrast with this picture, where the lady poses for the picture.

One of the vendors with the most colorful stands at Pak Khlong Talad.

In short, there is no single answer. It will depend of the scene and what you are shooting. As much as possible, avoid being creepy though. Respect and appreciation of your subject is the key word in street photography.

 

 

Mid-Autumn Festival in Shatin Park

As yesterday was a full moon day, it was also the occasion of heading to the New Territories to see the mid-autumn festival activities.

In this case, I headed to see the mid-autumn festival in Shatin Park.

Shatin being a relatively new development on the outskirts of Hong Kong has a quite young population. At the same time, there are long-standing traditions in the local population which make it an interesting place to visit out of the city.

The moon

Obviously, it would not be a mid-autumn festival without the moon. As the sky was clear I managed to see a full-moon and even to take a picture of it.

Full moon
The full moon as seen from Shatin Park on 5th October

Somehow, we were lucky, as this moon was not visible in some areas of the new territories.

Attractions

The animations at Shatin Park were of two natures for this mid-autumn festival. Firstly, there was a number of stands with traditional activities, ranging from calligraphy on fans to hakka embroidery. For those who don’t know, the Hakka are a major component of Chinese immigration abroad, a population originally from the areas near the Yellow river.

But the most attractive stands were probably those where you could have a calligraphist writing your name in Chinese on a fan.

Calligraphist
A calligraphist writes a name on a fan while a long queue of people awaits for their turn.
Details of calligraphy
Details of the calligraphy

Other similar activities were the art of painting on snuff bottles.

Snuff bottles
Snuff bottles painter

Traditional Chinese Shows

Another component of the mid-autumn festival in Shatin Park was the showcasing of traditional mandarin shows. This brought up some question by hongkongese as the performers were exclusively from mainland… A way by the government probably of fostering an increased cultural integration of Hong Kong with the mainland?

Singer
Traditional mandarin singer

Acrobatics took another part in the show, pretty much typical of mainland China for the degree of mastery which the performers showed.

Acrobatics
An acrobatic performer performs in Shatin

But however, the most appreciated show was probably the umbrella dancers who were extremely graceful and artistically irreproachable.

Umbrella dancers in Shatin Park
Umbrella dancers in Shatin

 

Finally, I also filmed a periscope of the whole show which you can watch here:

 

Where was this?

In the little city of Shatin. You must take the MTR East Line to get there.

Street Photography in North Point

Why to do street photography in North Point?

Last week-end, I decided to explore with street photography in North Point. Always located on Hong Kong Island, this area offers some quite interesting architectural gems.  It is also an excellent location for street photography and on the tram line. Another example of street photography in Central instead was posted here.

Architecture

The interest of North point is probably first and foremost the architecture. While walking there, I came across this wonderful place called “State Theater”, which is now a derelict cinema. Originally built in 1952, this building has as peculiarity the exposed arches on the roof.

State theater of Hong Kong
The building, although old and badly maintained still provides an impressive view.

Seeing and photographing this building is all the more important as there are rumors that it might be destroyed in the coming years.

For photographers, State Theater provides a very interesting perspective on cityscape, especially when associated with the passing trams.

State theater and tram
A tram passing on the road before the state theater.

Compression

Similarly, North Point is also the location of several examples of “architectural compression”, such as Montane mansion. Other examples are present anywhere you walk into, such in this case, sun shining through these shades in a side alley.

emergency stairs
In a side alley, sun shines through the emergency stairs.

But all over North Point, the architecture is really striking. Here, for example a building just near to the State theatre building.

Compression facade
Another of the buildings whose curved surface shows the compression efforts at work.

Another form of compression observable, is the geometric compression, where structures are decorated and organized in forms that rely on geometry. Here this stairway is just near to Fortress Hill station.

Compression
Another form of compression suggested by tight lines contained in a frame.

Markets and shop owners

North point has also a number of markets with very friendly locals who will take great pleasure to explain you their history if you take the time to start a discussion with them. Here a butcher kindly posed for the picture.

Butchers
A butcher poses at his shop in North Point
Butcher shop North Point
The butcher’s shop in North Point

The beauty of street photography, especially in North Point is the communication it makes feasible with people. For example, I asked permission to take the portrait above… And later, I talked to the shop owner of a sewing shop just next door. He was extremely proud to tell me the history of his shop, which was set up by his parents over fifty years ago. Somehow, testament to the age of the shop, they kept the same boxes, which makes for an excellent picture too. He also kept over 50 years old buttoning machines.

Button boxes
Button boxes (very old ones too!) in a button shop.
Buttoning machines
An over 50-year old buttoning machine.

Along the way, you can also find typical scenes such as the featured picture.

The tram

Last but not least of the beauties of street photography, just taking the tram around can deliver some interesting pictures.

Here, for example, a tram carries a publicity for Sansiri, the Thai condominium developer. These ads are not astonishing as Thai developers have been trying to tap (with some success) into the Chinese money and attract investors.

Sansiri ads
A tram with ads for Sansiri the Thai property developer

From a photographic point of view, the tram rails and the lines allow for some easy photography in terms of composition.

Like here, a variation on “why did the cart cross the rails” using the lines and the pattern on the street markings.

Why did the cart cross
A man carries furniture across the tram rails.

And when you are bored, you can try some easy panning shots. Here, a tram with an ad for China Daily a mainland English-language newspaper.

Tram with panning shot
Tram with panning shot

If that’s not good, you can still try the minibus which also rush by.

Minibus
Minibus rushing at night

If you prefer more static photography, this building offers some nice texture at night.

texture
Nice texture at night for this local building.

 

All in all, doing street photography in North Point allows to see that mix of modernity and tradition which makes Hong Kong so attaching.

I will leave the last word to this little message stuck on a window of the tram:

Deserve some rest
You deserve some rest

How to get there?

The easiest way is to take the MTR to either Fortress Hill or to Taikoo Place or Quarry Bay and walk from one station to the other.