The city of Phitsanulok, (Pits-NOH-loh) in central Thailand is a workaday, very “normal” city, a capital of sorts long ago, now known for some famous Buddhas (where isn’t?) and a University.
I spent time at the excellent hospitals in the city and also, frankly, because its not on the tourist circuit of party beach towns and ex-pat enclaves. I can be comfortably and obviously anonymous – Its just normal.
I travel there by train and sometimes leave by plane from the smallish airpot (where i Boeing 747 sits in disassembly on the tarmac. I usually stay for week or three at a time, undergoing medical tests, as well as receiving traditional Thai “royal court” massage and other natural treatments.
I wander through the markets (usually buy seasonal fruit), stay at the same guest house, and eat at a family-run noodle stand or the outdoor hot-pot restaurant across the street from the aforementioned Hip Inn.
What follows are unedited snaps taken by a Lomo La Sardina (sardine can) camera loaded with expired film. I take photos “from the hip” to capture the hazy, vaguely watercoloured impression i feel there when wandering the lanes, streets and markets. This is all.
When i visit Thailand, i fly into Chiang Mai – a bustling olden city in the north area, rather than Bangkok which is just too much city for countryboy me. Then i head for the city of Phitsanulok, (Pits-NOH-loh) in central Thailand which is a workaday, very “normal” city for medical treatment (Phitsanulok life is detailed elsewhere in a similar fashion.
I travel by train – either a 1960s era Japanese model or a new Chinese-built machine with folding beds for the nighttime journey. Along the way, i write poetry and gaze out the window (poetry series Towns and Trains is – or might be – elsewhere in this archive).
What follows are snaps taken by a Lomo La Sardina (sardine can) camera loaded with expired film snapped from a moving train for no particular reason aside to see what happens and capture the washes of colour fleeting by as i roll, as well as a few folks i encountered along the way and a few places i slept or soaked.
Riding the Rails in Japan: Various trains (including shinkansen and futsu-densha) from KIX (Kansai Airport) to Shin-Osaka to Okayama to Zyoto (Joto) – stitched together as-is for your meditative enjoyment.
Disappearing, invisibility, loneliness, depression, anxiety, being lost, trying to not be found, trying to find white space to invigorate… Sometimes these weave together, other times (perhaps) each remain exclusive.
Gord Downie, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski and me all try to figure out the nuance in different ways atop Turkish street music, trains from Kerala and Moncton, and various ephemeral music snippets.
A classic train rolls through a rather insignificant (generally speaking as it is important to the community of course) train station called Tripunithura in the state of Kerala, India. That’s all. I do like trains. I made a painting of this station as well.
Exactly how hard is it to cross the U.S. without getting in a car or on a plane? For those traveling to and from bigger cities, it’s fairly easy to find transit options, like Amtrak or bus routes. But that’s not really true for the entire country, as this map from Michael Buiting shows.
Buiting put together the map when he realized nothing else like it existed. “I just love data, and I love transportation, and I care about reaching deeply rural America that is not currently connected,” he says. “It was stunning to me how much of the country still is not.”
Take the little town of Tonopah, Nevada. “You either drive there, or fly there, or if you want to go any other way you’re going to have to go 100 miles to the nearest bus or train station,” he explains. “These rural communities have sizable enough populations, but they’re severely isolated.”
A few years ago, Buiting started making a detailed inventory of all the major routes in the country. He had noticed that it was hard to find information about routes online—sites like Greyhound don’t list routes from other carriers, and just buying a ticket can be such an arduous process that Buiting believes it’s hurting ridership.
He launched a website to share his growing database. Though it’s called the American Intercity Bus Riders Association, Buiting freely admits that he’s the only member. “I’m not a marketing guy,” he says. “I just wanted to get the information out there.”
The site has been popular with transportation planners, but Buiting thinks there’s still a need for an interface that makes it simple for the general public to get where they want to go without driving. Because of his own obsession with the routes, he can rattle off where bus lines cross each other. But for the average person, he says, the information is so difficult to find it’s a deterrent. “Let’s say you want to go from McCook, Nebraska, to Nashville, Tennessee,” he says. “The only thing serving McCook is Amtrak, the only thing serving Nashville is Greyhound. Right now, there’s no simple way to find your route and get a ticket. There should be a single stop where you can type in ZIP codes and get a trip plan. We have the technology, so there’s no reason that isn’t there.”
Despite the challenges, in a few areas bus service is starting to grow. And Buiting thinks it’s starting to lose the stigma it once had. “It’s less and less being viewed as the filthy, dirty domain of homeless people and convicts,” he says. “It’s fun. You will never ride an intercity bus and not have a story about your journey.”
“Have you ever ridden an intercity bus?” he asks. “You’ve got to try it.”
Getting settled in to train life, Uncle Weed and friends ponder the meal schedule, sleeping schedule, timezones, awesome showers, random rules, and what staff must think of them. With Grant Lawrence interviewing Adaline, she shares how she has used road rage for a musical muse. She also fills us in on what Tracks on Tracks has been like as an artist, comparing it to other events with many artists such as the Peak Performance Project where competition vs collaboration comes into play.
I was interviewed (and used loquacious quotes like “super lame”) for an article about train travel in the Vancouver Courier.
I am including my quotes and a few other snippets about my pet-rant – inadequate train travel between here and points south as well as the photo by Dan Toulguet so it doesn’t disappear into the internet tubes like my previous photo appearance in this local newspaper. By the way, if someone could pick me up a paper copy, i’d be very pleased.
Slow train coming
Robert Alstead takes a journey north by rail from California and wonders if Canada’s vanished passenger trains will once again carry us from coast to coast – Robert Alstead, Vancouver Courier
Published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Dave Olson, who works in marketing for Gastown web design company Raincity Studios, travels six or seven times a year by train, on business and pleasure. “I don’t care for jet travel because of the incredible hassle and huge eco-footprint,” says Olson. Like many, he would take the train more if he could. “I like the pace and not having to drive, I like the rhythm and the scenery you normally don’t see, the rail yards and seashores and forgotten neighbourhoods. I find the train-riding experience somehow charming, even poetic and certainly creativity stimulating,” he says.
However, he complains Amtrak’s evening train south is hardly convenient for trips to Olympia or Portland, seeing as travellers must make an overnight stopover in Seattle. The Amtrak Cascades is also infrequent and often booked up. Amtrak does offer several “train buses” which Olson has found “super lame” with long border waits. He’d rather take the car if there are no seats on the train, although it did mean a $124 parking bill and a chipped windshield on a recent three-day trip to Seattle. “I know we would’ve enjoyed some work or playing cards or meditating on the train,” he rues.
However, the Amtrak Cascades offers a good example of the difficulties faced in enhancing rail services.
For years, Amtrak has wanted to add a second roundtrip train between Eugene and Vancouver. However, congestion due to heavy freight movement on track this side of the border meant that a new siding needed to be added to allow trains to pass. For six years, Canadian and U.S. officials and railroad owners Burlington Northern Santa Fe had been unable to hammer out a deal over who should pay for the upgrade.
That means that a second Amtrak Cascades has been running only as far as Bellingham. Then in March of last year, spurred on by the onset of the 2010 Olympics, B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon announced that he was committing “up to $4.5 million” (reportedly 57 per cent of the upgrade cost) to build the siding.
In June last year, Premier Gordon Campbell marked the new service on the platform at King Street Station in Seattle by exchanging a large symbolic train ticket with Washington Governor Chris Gregoire in a photo op.
The siding was completed months ago. Amtrak is ready to go. But the service hit the buffers due to complications with the Canadian Border Services Agency, which reportedly wants $15,000 per day to clear the train.
Graham says the matter is in the hands of the B.C. government. A spokesperson for the province says it’s a federal government issue. Faith St. John, spokesperson for the CBSA, said she could not comment on the matter “because we are in discussions.” But she did say that “decisions to provide CBSA services at a new location or to expand current services take into account human resource requirements and the ability to provide security and service to the public.”
She could not say when the matter would be resolved.