Saturday, 21 February 2015

Myanmar: fishermen at sunset, balloons over Bagan

Vendors wearing traditional longyis at a weekend market in Yangon
© Andy Brown/Myanmar 2014
In the two years since I first visited Burma, now increasingly called Myanmar, much has changed but much remains the same. Construction of the new Myanmar is proceeding apace in Yangon. Cranes and half-built skyscrapers litter the skyline, coffee shops are popping up along busy main roads, and young people are beginning to adopt western fashion.

But outside the capital, life goes on much as it has for the past several centuries. Here, roads deteriorate to earth tracks, towns and villages are largely blacked out after dark, monks collect alms in copper bowls at first light, both men and women wear traditional ‘longyi’ skirts, and the bicycle remains a common form of transport.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

People of Banglumphu sois

© Andy Brown/Thailand/2014
Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring the backstreets or ‘small sois’ of Banglumphu, where the UNICEF office is based. One of the things I love about Bangkok is this maze of alleys, just wide enough for a motorbike to get down, that exist a few blocks back from the main roads. Here, the din of traffic fades away and people sit around outside their houses chatting or playing chess during the ‘cool hours’ before sunset.

Thai people generally love having their photo taken and I’ve got bolder about asking them. As my Thai language has improved, I can have longer conversations, although I still rely on Thai friends like Kay, Nutt and Audrey for more abstract discussions about history, drama and ghosts. Here are some of my favourite local characters:

Friday, 26 December 2014

After the tsunami: Thai fishing village, ten years on

Ampai with her three children outside the family home on Koh Lanta
© UNICEF Thailand/2014/Jingjai N.
It’s been ten years since the Indian Ocean tsunami hit the Thai island of Koh Lanta on 26 December 2004, but talking about it still brings tears to Ampai’s eyes. “I often cry when I talk about the tsunami,” she says apologetically. “It’s always at the back of my mind, like a scar that doesn’t heal.”

Ampai Madsaron, 42, lives in a poor fishing village which is totally dependent on the ocean and was hit hard by the tsunami. Her home is a wooden hut built on stilts over the sea to allow easy access for the family’s fishing boat. They earn around 1,000 baht ($30 US dollars) for a good day’s catch of fish, squid or crabs.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Families shelter from Typhoon Hagupit

© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Andy Brown
Typhoon Hagupit passed south of Manila, capital of the Philippines, overnight on Monday. Wind and rain brought flood risks for slum communities living near the river. In Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City (part of Metro Manila), an evacuation centre was set up in a covered court on the hillside above a flood plain.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Typhoon Hagupit diary: into the eye of the storm

Carmela, 8, holds her brother Joshua as they wait for Typhoon Hagupit to pass
© UNICEF/UNI175840/Samson
Sunday 7 December – Yesterday I arrived in Manila, the Philippines, a day or two ahead of Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as Ruby). Looking out to sea from UNICEF’s office on the 30th floor of RCBC Plaza, there’s no sign yet of the typhoon. There’s even a narrow band of sunlight on the horizon. But everyone knows that it’s coming.

The typhoon made landfall last night in Dolores, Eastern Samar, on the eastern edge of the Philippines. Although it has weakened from a Category 5 to 3 typhoon, it could still cause major devastation, particularly as it crosses areas still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan last year, or if it hits the densely populated capital Manila (now looking unlikely).