This series of travel blogs from February 12th to March 1st is made possible by WIEGO. Georgia Street Media is proud to partner with Director/Producer Lori McNulty (http://www.lorimcnulty.ca/) to produce a short documentary for WIEGO and help tell the story of informal workers around the world and their health care issues.
We set out with the dawn on Monday to try to beat the morning traffic on our way to the outskirts of the city. Bangkok’s iconic motorcycle taxis whizzed by our van as commuters made their way to work, children walked to school, and all manner of street vendors pulled their carts into position. I stuck my 135mm f/2 lens out the tiny window of our vehicle and got what photos and videos I could. These kind of “drive-by shootings” are never ideal: High speeds, bumpy roads, a rickety ride, and CMOS sensors don’t make for the sharpest or steadiest images. But even in different timezones, we’ve got a schedule to keep and a story to tell!
After about an hour of fighting our way through the congested streets, the concrete jungle gave way to expansive green fields of rice and we pulled into the little community of Salong Koon. We spent that morning talking to a couple of home-based workers and capturing their stories. These women work long hours in poor conditions to sew clothes for their employer. One makes the sleeves while another does all the shirt fronts, while yet another does the back – then they all come together, assemble the pieces, and do their best to meet their quota.
Pictured above is Koon, one of the workers we interviewed, along with her grandson. She is currently battling stage 4 breast cancer, a terrifying predicament in any case, but her situation is made more difficult due to her working circumstances. Because she is an informal worker, Koon can’t take paid sick days, but rather has to spend her entire day travelling to and waiting at the hospital to deal with her illness, and then coming home too exhausted to work. Even though we spent hours researching WIEGO and their cause like we do for any client project, it wasn’t till we were on the ground with people like Koon that we could totally understand the severity of the issues.
After we finished filming, they invited us to stay for lunch. We sat down with Koon’s friends and family on a blanket in the front of her house and feasted on papaya salad, sticky rice, rosewater apples, and dragon fruit. I think I earned some street cred when I handled the extra spicy dish with literally no sweat.
After lunch we decided to explore the neighbourhood for a bit. It was high noon (or should I say Thai noon?) and so the roads were mostly empty as most of the town seemed to be inside resting or eating. It was very much like the Wild West as I walked the dusty, deserted streets; gear holster attached to my hip, and occasionally shooting things. It got a little too real though when an aggressive dog chased me down an alley before I turned around, stared it down, and called its bluff. Other than that, however, it was a very quaint area full of friendly people and beautiful, rustic scenery.
We eventually left the village and next came across a waste sorting facility. Waste pickers, another type of informal worker, literally sort through the garbage and separate items that are worth recycling for money. The smell was unbearable as I clambered over piles and piles of garbage, and it got even worse when a garbage truck and its crew pulled up to deliver more “goods.” The whole time though, one man was silently working on loading up a large truck filled with the sorted trash. He couldn’t have been over 30, but his face had hardened into that of someone’s twice his age. His once white shirt, now stained a dull grey from sweat and refuse, clung to his wiry body as he worked in the hot sun, never saying a word.
Not more than 30 seconds after we climbed back into the breathable air of our van, Chon, our translator, leaned over the back seat and asked “So, are you hungry?” I have never said “No” to food so vehemently before in my life.
Later on that night, I decided to venture out into Bangkok on my own and explored a sort of back alley canal. There were narrow walkways on either side (more than once I almost got hit by oncoming moped traffic) flanked by houses and restaurants. It was smelly, crowded, and strange – and therein lies the beauty.
And finally, I stumbled across a muay thai kickboxing street fight…comprised mostly of eight year old kids. It was pretty intense until mom swooped into and dished out the real beating.
And with that, I say goodbye to Thailand, and hello to Ahmedabad, India! But that’s a story for next time…