Jeremiah Rogers

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Thu, Jan 28, 2016

Apsara Dancer. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 2015.

One year ago.

One of the things most amazing about Cambodian culture is that women do this apsara dance so frequently, almost casually. My Cambodian friends would bend their fingers back constantly so that they could do the dance better – and anyone I asked would be able to bend their index finger back far enough that it touches their wrist. Try it – it’s really hard.

This woman by the river had almost no idea I was there. She was I think on drugs, dancing to herself, wrapped in a carpet. It’s really sad, but in black and white it becomes this very elegant scene showing a bunch of contradictions from modern Cambodia.

Sun, Dec 27, 2015

Airport, Dhaka Bangladesh.

Arriving at the airport in Dhaka was so intense. The men at customs interrogated me: how long will you be here, what are you doing here, why have you been to so many countries, why do you have so little luggage? There aren’t a ton of tourists visiting Dhaka, and my usual “only two weeks” excuse meant I got exactly 15 days on my visa instead of the usual 30. The man selling visas sensed my frustration at paying a $7 tax on top of a $50 visa fee and handed me a $1 coin from the USA. “I have no idea what this is. Is this your money? Take it.”

I exited the airport by foot. Since my Canon 6D had drowned in Chiangmai, I only carried the tiny Ricoh GR. My first photo was of family members of people arriving clinging to a fence outside the airport. But there were so many police around, seemingly everywhere, that I was afraid to get close. The photo didn’t work, but this second one of a man also exiting the airport in front of me did.

Tue, Nov 24, 2015

Photos via iPhone 5S. Rest coming on film later.

My Thanksgiving plans fell through, so instead of going home I hopped a last minute flight to Bogotá, Colombia via Mexico City. 24 hour layover in Mexico City on the way in, 24 hour layover in Guadalajara on the way back. It’s an excellent itinerary to go through customs three (or four) times within a week.

(Guadalajara was the first city I ever visited outside the USA — traveling alone at age 18 — and I’m excited to go back in two days.)

Bogotá is my first city in South America and it’s actually fairly intense. More than I expected. I’ve been warned repeatedly to not go out at night. I’m pretty hesitant to believe these things, but I’m also alone in a foreign country for the first time and want to learn the rules before I break them.

Some data points:

  1. One of the guys working in my hostel is from North Carolina. He told me that everyone here thinks he’s from Argetina, which was great, until they tried to stab him.
  2. There’s a great hill to the east of town everyone tells me to walk up, but only on Friday, Saturday or Sunday when the cops are around. Otherwise stay away. Also don’t go up after 2pm.
  3. The second hostel I’m staying in drew a very careful map of about a 10 by 10 block radius and told me not to carry cash or a camera outside of that radius.
  4. The hostel also has a sign telling me not to take a left after 5pm, only a right.

Am I just a scared foreigner? Probably. It’s hard to tell if I’m being a wimp sometimes. I’m sure that a few bad things have happend. I’m also sure that the city is marvelous and has a reputation worse than it is. Your mileage may vary.

Daylight photos: sadly there aren’t many people in the streets during the day. So my main pictures have been panoramas of buildings. Shot on film and to be uploaded later. Will try early mornings.

If you do come to Bogotá, check out La Candalaria — the basis of old Bogotá — which is a backpacker, food, and hotel haven. It’s gorgoeus and a lot more fun to walk around (in the day!) than Zona Rosa.

The art here is fantastic. South American art remixes reality in ways I find very interesting and uncomfortable. Lots of nudes, demons, sexual references, animal references. The graffiti all over Bogotá is just fantastic. My plan B is to hit all of the museums. Exhibits are in Spanish but I can generally make out what people are talking about. Art transcends language anyway…

The meat here is also fantastic and very cheap. That steak at the top cost $12.

A few other miscellaneous travel notes:

  1. Bring a chip and pin ATM card, surplus cash, or setup your credit card for cash advances. My ATM cards don’t work down here.
  2. Much less English is spoken than in Asia and fewer concessions are made for tourists. This really feels like a proper city that exists in it’s own right completely independent of tourism. It’s cool, but it’s different.
  3. From the USA your best bet might be to use LAN airlines. They seem to have the cheapest fares on normal days. My flight was with AeroMexico.

I have a solid feeling that once startup life is done and I’m unemployed again I’ll end up back in South America. I want to refresh my Spanish and learn French, which will open up vast areas for travel.

P.S. If you haven’t seen it yet watch Salt of the Earth about Sebastiao Salgado. That will make you inspire to take pictures!

P.S.S. Don’t let this scare you away from Colombia. It’s a nice place. Bogotá may just not be the best place for wandering around with a pricey camera. Medellin and Cali are supposed to be fantastic and I do wish I had time to make it out to the Amazon.

Thu, Oct 15, 2015

Dog on the beach. Northern California, 2015. You can see recent photographs from California here.

Being back in the United States is still weird but has very quickly started to feel normal.

The most shocking thing is probably the portion sizes. More than the actual food contents, which seem mostly fine, the amount of food you get in a restaurant here is insane. A bowl of pad thai in San Francisco might be a liter in volume. In Thailand you’d get about half a liter. I still go to my favorite restaurants and order what I ate before I left. It’s just that now the end of a meal my stomach feels like there’s a brick in it and I have trouble walking.

Americans also seem so very wasteful. We feel like we’re struggling to distinguish ourselves with cars, clothes, and extreme sports.1 I’ve got a lot of bias here: I don’t think marathons are healthy. I also still own and plan to own relatively few clothes going forward.

How people distinguish themselves is an interesting topic for me. I think that we subconsciously buy products that make us feel like part of a group. I doubt we really consider how those purchases read to people in vastly different social circles. (Otherwise why would anyone wear a $40,000 watch?)

In Asia those distinctions are kind of straightforward: a wealthy person drives a big car, wears a nice watch, and wears expensive clothes. In San Francisco a wealthy person might have no car, no watch, and dress like they’re intentionally trying to break fashion rules. The distinction in San Francisco is more dependent on what’s scare here: time and social activity. The most powerful people2 take the best vacations and go to the best parties, but they might not drive a BMW or even a Tesla, and they might not dress like an adult.

In Asia I was part of a tight knit documentary photographer group. Everyone knew everyone and everyone saw everyone at the same restaurants and parties. The atmosphere was undoubtedly competitive — people talk shit about each other’s photos to their faces and behind their backs — but it was also far more relaxed.

In San Francisco you need make a calendar entry to meet someone for lunch. You have to push it back a few times as schedules evolve. Most good restaurants have a waiting line. Most self respecting people refuse to eat at a place without a line. It’s rare to just text “Hey, want to come over?” and have someone who’s actually available. I don’t even try.

Conversations felt normal very quickly. The human body and mind adapt really fast. My old routines: eating this meal, seeing that person, walking from here to there — they all came back instantly. But keep these old habits for a while and I end up exhausted and not remembering why. So I’m careful with social activity and staying out late.

My job is amazing. Working all day sucks though3. Being on a shared group schedule and needing to be in the office for many hours per day so that we can collaborate is difficult. My body rebels. I’m not used to waking up at the same time, committing my mind to a problem for a predictable 8-10 hours, and then going home and relaxing. I’m used to working on problems until they’re solved — that might be all night — and then resting until the next problem comes up. I don’t blame my boss or my team for this at all, it’s just a side effect of where collaboration technology is that everyone being in the same office for the same predictable hours per day is still the best solution.

Why am I working again at all? The easiest reason is that I was short on cash. The harder reason is that I got tired of waking up in different cities all the time. I wanted to have my own life again, to have my own goals and aspirations, and to fit those into the stories I make. Wandering for so long I felt remarkably detached. I’d see people in the street and think “What are all these people doing hustling back and forth from work? What could be so important?” It was time to break that habit and rejoin society.

  1. And photography and writing, of course. :) [return]
  2. Had a great conversation with my friend Sam about how money was very important during the industrial revolution but maybe not before or after. Before the revolution we didn’t need money and could trade or borrow. During the revolution we needed money to buy new factory products. After the revolution products have gotten so inexpensive that most people in the USA can live comfortably with much less money than they earn. [return]
  3. We’re getting a permanent office soon and once we’re in there I hope that it will be practical to leave my laptop at work and maybe even bring a hammock into the office and sneak naps. [return]