Sunday, February 14, 2010

Professionals,

colloquially known as BAMFs, have invaded my learning these days. Nevermind that the head of my program is a major scholar of Thai history, especially lèse majesté (comdemnation of the king) laws and persecutions and just finished a book on the subject. He and another KKU professor lectured us on Thai history and politics and Thai social structure, respectively, which gave us a great context for the work we are going to be doing. Crazy fact of the day: Since 1932, Thailand has gone through 18 different constitutions and 11 coup d'etats. Constant fighting between two politically charged groups, the yellow shirts and the red shirts, has caused many shifts in political power.

Yesterday, Friday, the most amazing woman came to speak to us regarding human rights. She is a professor of human rights at a university in Bangkok, the only university in Southeast Asia offering that area of study. Her thoughts and opinions, both sub- and objective, intrigued us all to the extent that we chose to limit our break to 3 minutes. She is a human rights consultant to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and spoke on issues regarding the universality of human rights, conflicting "Asian Values", and rights that she believes are absolute and cannot be compromised, including the right to life and the right to torture. She defined humans rights as life, stating that because all human rights must be interconnected to one another, human rights is singular, and should be thought of as one entity as opposed to a list of separate statements. We prodded her for her opinions about what to do when rights are conflicting, such as the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate, so relevant these days in American society. It was such a great opportunity to be able to hear someone so revered in the academic world come and talk to us about a usually vague and broad topic, human rights. Somehow, the issues became so much clearer after she spoke.

Today, a journalist, orginally from Sri Lanka, who has worked in Mexico and currently, Bangkok, conducted a writing workshop with our class. We prepared by reading stories, news articles, and op-eds, the angle, theme, event, and conflict of each we discussed in class. We spoke about why we may have preferred one article over the other, which ended up being mainly due to the intrigue of events and personal stories as opposed to facts. We were then given an assignment for the day: to write 300 words about Thanksgiving. Since I have such strong feelings, memories, and traditions surrounding Thanksgiving, finding inspiration for my piece was no problem, controlling its length was a different story. He then asked a few of us to share our stories, so we could all hear the variety of different responses we all had to the same word. We were then all able to meet with him one-on-one to discuss our own stories, at which I received some criticism about making sure that I knew what I wanted to say and stating it clearly. I can see where he was coming from. This journalist will be working with us over the semester, helping us with and grading our op-eds and profiles.

After our writing workshop, we heard from a whole different professional entirely. Technology, Entertainment Designs (TED) Talks host conferences for thinkers with "Ideas Worth Spreading." Each speaker gives around a 20 minute talk on their area of expertise, and these talks are uploaded to ted.com for the public to see. This evening, over pizza!!!, we watched a Ted talk about synthetic happiness, which you all need to watch immediately:
http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

We had an amazing day today with Nic Dunlap, a world renowned photographer who, through his work, addresses issues of oppression in Southeast Asia, especially of the militaristic government in Burma. After reviewing some of his pieces and discussing what makes good photographic stories, we were sent off to the streets of Khon Kaen to tell a story of a person, our subject. We had to get wide shots, close shots, details, portraits, but at the end of the day, we were only allowed to pick the five shots we felt best represented our story. Our subjects weren't allowed to be children or monks (too easy), and we weren't allowed to use a zoom lens. We had to get out of our comfort zone by getting up close and personal with our subjects. I chose to photograph a family who owned a Chinese noodle restaurant that Gianna, Ben, Cyril and I stumbled upon a few days ago. The father speaks great English which made it easier, but I found difficulties interrupting our conversation to take pictures. In all, I spent about 2 hours with the family and took about 200 pictures. I chose 5 that told the story of the restaurant, where the father is the social overseer, talking to everyone who walks through the door, while his wife and daughter run the kitchen and drink stand. Talk about gender relations. Anyway, below are the five pictures I chose to represent that. The rest of my pictures, edited, are in their own facebook album. I learned so much from Nic, especially about composition, as well as breaking out my comfort zone in an unfamiliar country and language.

 

 


 


 

 

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