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Life in Chiang Mai  


Photography and Chiang Mai

By Christopher Sujarit
Recently, Chiang Mai appears to be the center of the world for photographers and people who take photos. Scores of kids come to this ancient city to cover their Facebook pages with shots of temples, mountains, and street children. Even the scraggliest backpacker or the most fiscally conscious NGO volunteer will be armed with enough DLSR packing power to capture, with serendipitous clarity, the gleam in a bird’s eye perching on a distant tree during a dark, dark night.

My dear friend Courtney Cheatham just won the Adobe Lightroom contest and will be returning to Chiang Mai in October (from Illinois) for a second time and is to be mentored under the amazing Steve McCurry. If you check out her contest- winning photograph of the Bund on Facebook, you will see some very harsh critiques, deriding everything from her apparent lack of composition to the subject matter being too “rice- cracker Asian.”

There is an eleven-machine laundromat right outside my door off Huay Kaew road (8 small washers, 2 big, and 1 solitary, threadbare dryer). The first time I left my laundry there was with Courtney in February (on her first trip to Chiang Mai, one stop off her SE Asia tour after teaching in Korea for 3 years). The sweaty, impetuous proprietor of the laundromat informed us that he would take care of our loads in 4 hours time. We returned that night to all our clothes, soaking wet, waiting outside in the baskets we had put them in… in the rain. So, the next time I explicitly asked for my clothes to be dried, which he then quoted as 80 baht per load. I had no choice but to suck it up and pay.

Another time, he volunteered to take care of my clothes and said he would leave it with my building’s hotel front desk staff (just next door), freshly dried and ready for me to pick up after work. Instead, he decided he would leave it in the lobby, outside the front desk office, unattended. Let’s just say, half of my laundry was surreptitiously stowed away in the janitor’s closet. Week after week, nothing went smoothly when he was there; he would always try to sell me his stock of powder detergent, and somehow manage to shove me across the room with his elbows – his sweaty elbows. However, after 6 months he finally figured it out. Not only does he ask me if I want to pay extra to have my clothes dried, but he also stores my finished laundry behind his desk, safe and secure. Last week, I think he even returned my smile.

Week after week, we are all trying our best (hopefully). As an event photographer, I am constantly finding mistakes in my work, but I have to muster the courage to go out there and keep learning. I know some of these Chiang Mai-ers don’t know auto-focus from aperture, but this city gives all of us the opportunity to learn. It’s easy to be a snob, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere, does it?

Link to Courtney’s photo with comments (Facebook): fbid=10151155486583464&set=a.117703788463.98904.5850453463&type=1&relevant_count=1.

The Chiang Mai Mail is publishing a series of articles on residents’ experiences of life in Chiang Mai. If you would like to contribute please email [email protected]

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Photography and Chiang Mai