Al Joseph's Blog



On the Streets of Chiang Mai   (DEC. 2, 2015)

I was photographing the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong parade when it began to rain. Some of us ran for cover under the overhang of a nearby cafe. I stood there with my heavy camera pack strapped to my back and my tripod leaning on my legs for a while before I found a place in between two motorcycles to set my tripod, resting my pack on one of the seats, my hand still clinging to the strap making sure no one would knock my camera and lenses to the cement floor. In time the rain slowed and people began walking the street again. I decided it would be safe, pulling the plastic cover out from underneath, and then over the camera pack, returning to the street. I was already near the end of the parade,   I could walk the last two hundred meters and decide whether any of the floats were spectacular enough to justify exposing my camera to the small amount of rain that was still falling. Perhaps it was time to return to the sanctuary of my room. I did find, however, that I really admired the last float and soon began photographing again, working my way back up and past the cafe. A hundred meters past the cafe I suddenly realized that I no longer had my tripod with me. Two emotions rushed forth at the same time and dualed each other for the space that was in my chest: 1) panic, that just that easily, I had lost a very valuable asset of my work 2) optimism, that I might still recover this critical tool. I raced back only to find a very deserted looking cafe. Instead of people crowding under the overhang dodging the rain, it was closed and one lone lady stood holding a baby. She hadn't seen my tripod, so off I raced down the street to where that last spectacular work of art had been. Immediately my prospects looked bleak. If a crowd of people had still been here I would have had a better chance of recovering my "ka dang", but the street and sidewalk were disappointingly empty, and it was easy to see there was no undisturbed tripod resting anywhere along the way. Many participants in the parade had seen me photographing their floats, some of which I had photographed extensively, and at one of the beautiful displays an assistant had even held my tripod for a few moments while I snapped away with both hands on my camera. With a sense of extreme urgency I hurried up the parade route, from float to float, talking to anyone who was available, explaining my situation and handing out my phone number. I hoped that perhaps one of the participants had seen me leave it behind and had stashed it away for me. I also stopped and reported the incident to a policeman. He said that if anyone had found it, they would turn it in at the table on the corner, and after getting on his radio and checking with a few fellow officers he reported that there was no sign of a tripod. A mile or so later the parade was fizzling out and it was getting late. I slowed down to take a few last photos and headed back to my bed. Now I had a dilemna. I had already paid 1,100 baht for a tour to Doi Inthanon first thing in the morning. Should I go, or should I stay in town and try to find my tripod? I was scheduled to be picked up at 8:15 a.m.      Sky LanternSky LanternSky Lantern   At 8:00 a.m. I returned to the little cafe and found an elderly lady outside the door. I explained that I had lost my tripod and asked if she had seen it. She said she hadn't, and when I tried to ask her husband, she seemed irritated and blurted out that he hadn't seen it either. I wondered why she was so easily irritated and why she didn't let her husband speak for himself. Should I be suspicous of her? Ten minutes later I did climb into the van for Doi Inthanon, but immediately pulled out my moblie phone and called the Tourist police reporting my loss and answering a whole sheet full of questions. That evening, after my trip, I returned to the cafe, but found it still closed. I made up some flyers with a photo of a tripod and had 200 copies printed. In the morning I visited every open shop along that stretch of road, talked with the owners, and left my flyer with it's offer of a 1000 baht reward. At about 2:00 p.m. I returned to my room for an hour. My pack, which included a heavy telephoto lens, was punishing my back and shoulder muscles and I needed a break. By 3:00 p.m. I headed out again to three different police stations and at the end of the day returned past the cafe again...still closed. Sky LanternSky LanternSky Lantern  Let's face it, either my tripod had been picked up by a benevolent person trying to keep it for me, or it had been picked up by a thief hoping to sell it. It had been two days now, and it still hadn't showed up in the municipality's lost and found, so Sunday morning I decided to check the used photography shops to see if a thief had tried to quickly unload it. I walked to a nearby internet shop and Googled and searched until I found that most of them were closed until Monday. I did nevertheless catch a songtaew to a few stores, and seeing what they had there reinforeced my fear that replacing a tripod as big, sturdy, and versatile as mine wasn't going to be easy here in Thailand. Sky LanternSky LanternSky Lantern  I just finished recording my first original song, and I have already started creating a video for it. I desperately needed my tripod to finish my music video. I needed to get this song moving. Should I wait long enough to see if my tripod shows up? If I can't find a good tripod here in Thailand should I order one from overseas and pay the 100 percent import tax on it? Or should I pay money for a lesser tripod knowing I won't be happy with it and will replace it when I get to the U.S, anyway?   Sky LanternSky LanternSky Lantern   I needed to check out of my room by noon. I couldn't extend this another day. There are one million people in Chiang Mai. A few hundred flyers wasn't likely to reach the person who had my tripod. And who reads posters on electric poles anyway? Certainly not the people driving down the street. And it seems that people walking down the street are either looking at merchandise, looking at their phones, or talking to their friends. I planned to return to Bangkok and plaster the Chiang Mai papers and web sites with postings, but even that would only be a small drop in a huge sea. At 10:00 a.m. I decided to say a little prayer. I didn't know if it would help me find my tripod, but I knew it certainly couldn't hurt. And at the very least it might do me some good. I found that the simple little prayer helped me change my attitude, and made me realize that I needed to shift my attitude even more. I had gotten myself into a state of mind that that I'm sure many sales people will find quite familiar, after so many people had responded to me with "No, I haven't seen it." I found myself over and over thinking "I'm wasting my time." However, I needed to be positive. I needed to reach out to my tripod, call it to me, visualize it coming to me, magnetise it to me. Psycocybernetics would teach me that, metaphysics would teach me that, and if indeed their is a super consiousness that we are all connected to, I needed to reach into that consciousness. At 11:45 a.m. I began walking to the coffee shop for one last try, and on the way there I posted more flyers on electric poles. As I came in view of the coffee shop a new ray of hope reached toward me...the door was open. Indeed I entered and found a different lady than the elderly one I had spoken to outside two days earlier. This lady was quite friendly and cordial as I explained the loss of my tripod and handed her a flyer. Unfortunately, however, she had not seen or heard anything about it. As I left I found one last pole to post a flyer on and while I was brushing glue onto the pole a young man called me and motioned for me to follow him. I wondered if he had heard something about my tripod, or perhaps he and his father wanted to scold me for putting up a poster in front of their business. Honestly, I am not a litterbug. I never throw even the smallest piece of paper on the ground or out the window. But in the cities of Thailand every power pole is already covered with posters, and under the circumstances one more seemed quite justified. As we headed back in the direction of the cafe I exhaled a breath of emphatic elation as he clarified that he not only had seen my tripod but had it in his possession! He said that he did not know that I was looking for it until his mother had just now showed him the flyer. So yes, there it was stashed away in the cafe which had remained closed for two days. I handed him the 1000 baht I had advertised on the poster, which seemed small compared to the joy of getting my tripod and tripod head back fully intact. I could return home with this burden lifted, no more looking, no more wondering what to do next, and best of all, no more treking all over the city in the heat and exhaust with a camera pack weighing heavy on my shoulders. Do you believe in the power of prayer? Some will say this is evidence that prayer works, others will say that the timing was merely coincidental. But what I do know for sure is that most people are kind and will be helpful in your time of need. I realize that some of you won't believe me, perhaps growing up in a culture where things are different. I, on the other hand,  have been lucky during the course of my life to live in some good places that are full of benevolent people. Thailand certainly is one of those places. If you would like more evidence that most people are honest and helpful, below I am conveniently reposting some of my earlier stories so that you don't have to search for them.


Pay It Forward!  ( JULY 23, 2014 )

A couple of my Bangkok friends went back to the states to get married. They were eating dinner in downtown Oakland, Califonia, when she lost $1600 in wedding money. She describes the next day as a "brutal day of panic and sadness" until the restaurant called to announce that the night manager had found her money and locked it up for her. She writes, "What sort of a beautiful, honest, lovely human being finds $1600 in cash and returns it?!? Well, his name is Reid and he is amazing. To say that my faith in humanity has been restored is an understatement. I think I cried more from finding out about this truly good deed than I did when I lost the money. If you ever go to Luka's, please find Reid and give him another hug for me (he is probably worn out from all the ones I already gave him.) THANK YOU. I will honestly pay it forward." In answer to her question, she doesn't have to look far to find that kind of a person. One of her friends writes that Mary does so many good things for others that her good deeds were bound to come back to her one day. I like to believe that there are a lot of people who would have returned her $1600. I once lost my wallet and a Budweiser driver called me to return it. Several times I have left my bag behind in Bangkok restaurants and each time I have returned to find it in good hands. One morning years ago, while I was still studying at the university, I left my tennis racket inside the front doors of a 13 story building. It was probably the busiest spot on campus. Yet, when I returned in the evening my tennis racket was right where I had left it... on a coffee table next to one of the sofas, emerged in all of the traffic! A  thousand people must have walked with arm's reach of my racket that day, and yet not one grabbed what belonged to a struggling student trying to work his own way through school. (And there were no video cameras or securtiy guards.)

Honesty in Bangkok  (July 31, 2015)

Today I road my bicycle to the basketball court. I haven't used my i-pad for quite awhile, but I still carry the bag as a convenient place to keep my reading glasses,  a few notecards, a little money, and a few other items. This thin little bag I hung on the frame that supported the basketball rim, not likely to be stolen because even if I were to play a game it would be pretty easy to keep an eye on. It turns out that the most likely culprit to steal my bag was my own inattention to detail. After finishing up on the basketball court I stopped in a grocery store to buy a coconut and as I reached for my bag I suddenly realized that it must still be hanging on the basketball court. I ran out the door and raced my bicycle the kilometer back to the basketball court to see the basketball standard bare...no little black bag. No! It had disappeared so quickly! A man walked out from under the shade trees toward me pointing to the open door of the house across the street and telling me that they had kept the bag for me. As he approached with me he woke the elderly lady who had started to fall into a mid afternoon nap on a cot just inside the front door. She must have been sleeping with my bag, as she didn't even need to get up to hand it to me. I felt a sense of relief as I thanked them profusedly and rode off again with a confirmation of how good people can be. We always hear so much about the bad, but I still believe that most people are quite good. I have had many experiences that confirm this.

Honest Again  (Nov. 3, 2015)

The other night I found a real fine looking leather coin purse at the night market, which I bought for mere baht on the dollar. I immediately slipped my keys and key card into the purse and into my pocket, and continued strolling through the market. One of the merchandise owners in front of me called out "Hey, you!" which has always rubbed me a bit rude, but he was pointing behind me, and when I looked, the woman who had sold me the coin purse had run me down and was handing me my wallet. I hadn't even realized I had left it behind. I'm usually pretty careful about my wallet, and this night it had my driver's license, credit card, and more than the usual amount of bills. It would have been more convenient for her to wait for me to come back, although who knows how many hours that may have taken, and perhaps the market would have closed in the mean time. Leaving her shop she chose to run me down and return my wallet immediately. Once again Thais demonstrated to me that most people are honest and helpful.














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