Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Travels’ Category


Kid X’s grandmother shocked him with a car battery if he didn’t pull in enough cash to support her opium habit. She had no choice – she had no wheels, she was old, she was decrepit, she was addicted. At least that’s how she would put it. But Kid X did have a choice – beg, be thrown out, or find a better life.

This is NOT Kid X. But this is how is story started - as street beggar in Myanmar. You can see that his life depends upon the day's take

This is NOT Kid X.    But this is how his story started – as a street beggar in Myanmar.  You can see from the tension in this boy’s face that much depends upon the day’s take

Kid X had heard about Kru Nam from a VCDF worker in “The City of the Golden Triangle”, the Myanmarese border town across from Mae Sae, Thailand. Another VCDF worker in Mae Sae, he heard, was feeding kids under the bridge that connected the two countries. He would have to swim the brackish river to get there, but that was hardly a hardship in his circumstances.

Augusto_the boys

photo by Augusto Rosales ©2013

You might find him in the picture above if you knew what you’re looking for. He has deficits, but you can’t see them in a photograph. Photography has its limits. In fact, you can’t tell by meeting him either – he’s a born leader with an incredible facility for math and language. I do have a photograph of him, but i promised at the beginning at the project that I would identify no child with their misfortune.

You can only tell by his desperation to connect, to find humanity, to matter to someone. Which is exactly what he did, thanks to Kru Nam and her amazing orphanage in Northern Thailand (you can read more about that in a previous post). He mattered so much that I needed to tell his story. And as editing on our documentary is a long, drawn out process, I decided to keep his story alive this way.

Boy, Thailand

A child in the library (not Kid X!) finds time to be, to relax and to wonder about what knowledge lies in the books inside.

Today he’s being rehabilitated through his connection with more than 100 brothers and sisters, and through relationships with adult staff members and volunteers he can trust. The process of healing is not an instant one – not the kind of “fix it” approach we seek in the West. Not the bi-weekly sessions aimed at coming to terms quickly.  Kru Nam’s approach allows for the time it takes to undo the damage of the past. There’s time to play, to learn, to find solitude and connection. Time to trust and, most of all, to belong.

Kids Playing soccer

There’s plenty of structured and unstructured time for the kids at the orphanage

The young man in the photo below is not Kid X either. This was Kid Y, or he used to be. Now he’s Adult Y, one of the dedicated staff members who work with Kid X. And he has an incredible and inspiring story of his own, which he related to us at the home.

This is David


David lived in a garbage dump in Myanmar until he decided at age 8, (after several aborted attempts to make it on his own) that he “did not want his children to live like this.” When he was eight, mind you.

Garbage dump Myanmar

Sadly, this garbage dump in Myanmar is the best chance for survival for the people who live there now.

Now, at 18, his healing has begun by healing others, alongside Kru Nam, her husband Pot, and their team.

And he is only one person, as Kid X is only one, as Kru Nam is only one.

As I am.

And you.

Augusto_VCDF balloon

photo courtesy of Augusto Rosales ©2013

Special thanks to Augusto Rosales, dear friend, companion on the Thailand trip and august photographer :)

All photos  protected by copyright







Not For Sale

I wear a ring on my finger that says Not For Sale. Actually, it  falls off in the shower and I have to keep reminding myself to put it back on. So my favourite strategy is to put it on my keyboard, where I found it a moment ago.

Not For Sale Ring

All of which reminds me of our trip to Thailand in May, where we worked in a Thai orphanage and filmed the people who run it. This video, embedded from Not For Sale’s current campaign, is a wonderful introduction to the amazing kids, staff and organizers who we worked with:

To call it  a memorable trip is a cliche, perhaps a masterpiece of understatement. The chief organizer, Kru Nam, founded the orphanage with children she rescued out of the brothels 0f Chiang Mai. She also made my ring, all of which is a story well worth telling.


Kru Nam with my wife Annette and two of my photography students. NB: These girls did not come to the home via sex trafficking

Kru Nam is an artist. She had only just graduated with a degree in fine arts when she started working with street kids. She wasn’t prepared for the disturbing content of the art they made, and yet her response was extraordinary. She began walking kids out of brothels. After getting 25 kids out, brothel owners threatened her life. She moved north of Chiang Rai, and began building an extraordinary village and an organization called The Volunteers For Children’s Development. She all but left art. But lately her work has been underwritten by the Not For Sale Foundation, which has given her a little time to get back to her jewellery practice. The ring pulls all parts of the story together.


Belonging is the idea that most touched me during my stay. Rather than “fix” kids, Kru Nam’s genius is to let them be, surrounded by 125 brothers and sisters.

We expected to find wounded kids. We expected trust issues, in particular. And we did see kids like that. But we were entirely unprepared for the vast majority who showered us with affection and honour. I miss them to no end today. These are the kids we met, taught, loved and learned from. And if you feel the urge to help them, check out Not For Sale’s current campaign. I gave today because of the lessons I learned watching Kru Nam at work. Here it is: You can’t change the world; but everyone can contribute to picking up some of the pieces.

Lorbea, Aka, Brothers

Three of my favourite little rascals, proudly showing off in front of the library.

If you’d like to learn more, check out “Not For Sale”, David Batstone’s exciting book that launched a global movement.


Our Poet in Space

If you’re following NASA or the International Space Station, you probably know who Chris Hadfield is. He’s been in space since December 12th, and will soon take over as Commander of the ISS. When that happens, he will add “first Canadian commander of any ISS” to his CV, which already lists him as the first Canadian Astronaut to walk in space.

We love an astronaut with a maple leaf!

We love an astronaut with a maple leaf!

If you look him up on Wikipedia, you’ll find out that his interests are skiing, writing, running, singing, playing guitar, and playing volleyball. But that page needs updating. Almost since he got up there, Chris has been collecting and tweeting an awesome group of photographs; photographs accompanied by some great text. Just 2 hours ago, he tweeted this one:

st. laurence ice

“People ask if I see aliens. If sci-fi has taught me anything, this St. Lawrence ice is what they’d look like if I did”

Chris is a mind meld of scientist and artist. We tend to think that those worlds are poles apart, but they’re not. They’re both essentially creative, exploratory fields. After all this is a man who decided to become an astronaut at the age of nine – guess why – because that’s when we landed on the moon. Chris’ career is the result of a lot of work, and a lot of dreaming too.

The Sahara

“Arid fingers of sand-blasted rock look like they’re barely holding on against the hot Saharan wind”

I love this one in particular, composed of powerful forces giving no quarter in an ancient struggle. His writing is equal to the task, never mind that he’s limited to 140 characters.

A Valentine in Space

A Valentine in Space

Those in long-distance relationships take note: Just because you’re away doesn’t excuse you from keeping in touch on those important occasions. Commander H sent his wife a series of Valentines from a couple hundred + miles above. This heart-shaped hole in the clouds was my favourite, accompanied by the tweet “The clouds are quickly fleeting, but the heart continues beating”. If you think that’s romantic, he also sent a shot of a lonely iceberg to describe his solitude that day. It had it’s very own hash tag too: “Without you my heart is a lonely iceberg. #ValentineFromSpace”

BDQqHpYCAAAryap.jpg-largeHow often do you get to see something like this? It’s a thunderstorm bulging out the top of cloud cover above Malaysia.

Fault Line in the Andes

Fault Line in the Andes

And how cool is this? A picture of tectonic plates creating a fault line in the Andres. Now that’s amazing.

BENh74HCUAAc93M.jpg-largeAnd finally, this poetic approach to sand and sea. Chris describes it as the “The Sea playing with the sand” off the coast of Pakistan.

It’s a big world out there for an Astronaut poet, and I wish him many more days of great shooting in the sky.

Chris uses a Nikon D2X and D3S. Photo credits: Chris Hadfield/NASA. He tweets @Cmdr_Hadfield


Looks Like Smoke, Smells Like Earth

Vacation time. Bleary-eyed from the sun, I make my way back to the cottage in the late afternoon only to find the ground moving in my periphery. When I look more closely I realize it’s not an earthquake: The grass is just on fire.

Or so I thought. Staring into the smoky ground I finally, truly make it out:  a grouping of spider’s webs, lit by the low-slanting light, moving in the wind like smoke.

Seeing new things is my favourite thing. I love to explore. I couldn’t believe that I’d never seen this before, and yet we nearly always miss what’s there. It’s not like this is a surprise.

Contrary to our bias for peering deeply into things, nature has placed our most important perceptions on the periphery. Survival depends on the motion sensors at the edge of our sight, not so much on what we deduce from deep analysis in the centre of our gaze.

Absurdly, daily life has us obsessively engaged in focusing out the periphery (walking down the street with our faces in our cell phones), while vacationing allows us to just let go and observe from a broader range of vision.

It’s a great time to meditate, so keep an eye out on your vacation – or, better yet, let
new visions and vistas find you!

Chicago Blue

The famous skyline is always changing

It was 103F when we arrived, so we decided to jump into the river – well, onto a boat – for the architectural tour. It was just a shade cooler there, especially after I found a perch to shoot in the shadow of the bridge. Make sure you get the tour offered by the architectural society. It was guided by a wonderfully well-informed volunteer whose calm manner and gentle humour stood in marked contrast to the screeching wannabe comics we encountered later on the double deckers. Some of the photos here are from the boat, some from the bus, but  most were taken from my favourite perch: standing still.

Chicagoans, knowledgable about architecture and proud of the international style, are divided over post
modernism, shaped buildings and decorative accents

The skyline is as magnificent as it is famous, and its functional purity, derived from the school of Mies van der Rohe, has really leaked into Chicago’s mindset: things work for people here. That’s the simple rule. But time passes, and the simple skyscrapers of yesteryear are now taking a back seat to neo-classical, neo-deco and new-neo, many of which play dramatically off the black boxes of the Chicago school. Not everyone is happy, but I am.

Staggered balconies reflect the sky and mirror the lake

We spent most of the rest of the day at the Art Institute, a museum whose lighting, openness, coolness!, photo policies, layout and quality of the collection make it my favourite – ever. Did I mention how cool it was?

Griffin Court, with Frank Gehry’s Millennium Park Bandshell in the background, outside

Flooded with light, the modern wing boasts a brilliant collection of American, Impressionist and Contemporary Art. I have to admit that it’s difficult to get around in, but its simple grandeur more than makes up for it – and makes bumping into things more fun. That’s not how a Chicagoan would see it though. Shusheela Bhat, writing in Chicago Art Magazine says of the airy, Church-like feel: “You get over that fairly quickly though, as you wonder where to go”. That’s that functional mindset at work again.

One of the things we bumped into was this massive Paris street scene by Gustave Caillebotte – I had never even heard his name, though he was the primary financial sponsor and a major exhibitor at the first impressionist exhibition. He became wealthy enough to retire at 34. (Not from art). You can find a lovely video of the first exhibition here.

A young visitor enjoys the brushstrokes of Caillebotte’s masterpiece

The highlight of the day, however, was the Lichtenstein exhibit, an artist who I only sort of liked in the past. But the breadth of his work is truly fantastic. I miss the fun he brought now, his amusing play on the comic strip and his pop art take on pointillism.. His ascent into the world of high art was a breath of fresh air in the rarified art world of his day.  In retrospect that now seems more important than ever as the art world seems once more to be sinking back into academic irrelevance.

My favourite piece was Perforated Seascape #1 (Blue). Using a top layer of punched metal in his signature dot form, he created this fantastically kinetic sculptural piece for the viewer.

Perforated Seascape #1(Blue)

Just looking at it as a still object is dizzying enough. Have a seat before you look at the iPhone video below. Apologies in advance for the vertigo and the camera work!

As we staggered our way out of the Art Institute (failing to find the Richters were were after)  we found another Chicago masterpiece: Millennium Park, a lesson in urban planning that topped off our first day in Chicago.

Pure anarchic joy is a draw for every kind here

Read more about our day there in my previous post, My Kind of Town. After a wonderful anniversary dinner, we headed off to dreamland. Night fell over the river, with four more wonderful days yet to come.

The view from our hotel, Hotel 71 on Wacker Drive

—————————— MORE TO COME  ——————————–

%d bloggers like this: