The Tattooed Women of Myanmar’s Chin Tribes

I’m excited to announce that my new travel photography project is out! Called “Tattooed Women of Myanmar,” it showcases portraits of ethnic minority women with facial tattoos.

Though these women are now elderly, they were just teens when it was decided that face tattoos would enhance their worth. A week of intense pain and a lifetime with these markings made these few women immensely beautiful, and thus easily married off. While in Myanmar I was able to work on a project with several members of a remote tribe. In fact, I was the first person ever to photograph some of the women in remote and off-limits areas of southern Chin State.

I’m posting a few photos here, but you’ll get a better sense of the project’s scope by seeing it in its entirety.

To view the project, visit http://www.KathrynCooperPhotography.com/tattoos

Hello’o from Hawai’i!

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As you all sort of perhaps probably may not know yet, I accepted a short-term job in Hawaii (Big Island). I’ve always wanted to live here, so when a photography opportunity came available and I was able to make the contract fit my spring/summer schedule, I said yes. Not to the dress. I’m not getting married. Geesh.

This is just an all-too-average blog post letting y’all know I made it here alive–despite having medical emergencies on both my flight legs. I was not the victim. It was a bloody long schlep from New York, but now I am watching people live in paradise! I am living in a semi-pigpen, renting a room from a creepy middle-aged man (he’s actually nice, but it’s a gross place), and working at two resorts right now taking mostly lifestyle photos and video. But more to come on that soon, along with facts about Hawai’i, extra apostrophes, how this state affects your senses, ridiculous signs, and more.

In-post P.S. I took the photo above on a gorgeous hike my first week here. I mean, come on! Too bad the place I live in Kona looks nothing like this.

Until then, remember to pronounce it “hu-VIE-ee” so you truly fit in with the folks pretending to be locals.

 

Life in Malta, Part 2: Malta vs. the World

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Whenever I work, live, or travel outside of America, I notice many differences from country to country. I mean, obviously, I notice whether I’m cooking on an electric stovetop or peeling an unidentifiable edible to cook over an outdoor fire in the middle of rice fields. But so it goes for underdeveloped countries…well, what about Malta, I asked myself? Part of the European Union since 2004, I figured it would be a mix of countryside and vibrant city life. It is, but it’s also a unique mix of somewhat recent technology mixed with centuries-old practices. A lot of folks don’t change. Fisherman still go out in their little boats. Older men walk around barefoot on rocky cliffs. Women dress up in their pearls and I-can’t-believe-people-still-wear-horrific-curtain-print-dresses-this-eepin’-bad‘dos. Guys go out with their guns and sit in tiny shacks all day to shoot tiny birds. It’s such an odd little country when you step outside of the city that you can get lost trying to figure out why things are done the way they’re done, but you’re better off just accepting it. So while I’ve had almost no free time to write on this site, I have been taking quite a few photos for work and studying the differences between Malta and other parts of the world. A few of those thoughts, along with non-related photos, are posted here.

 

In other parts of the world, there are unique foods people eat as part of their diet. Locusts, snake, unicorns, dog,  you name it.

In Malta, they go to the horse races and then eat ‘em. I mean, not necessarily in that order. Is that why there are fewer and fewer horses racing every year? Anywho, horse meat is very popular. Tastes like jumbo chicken.

 

 

In other parts of the word, the “illegals” are commonly referred to in a derogatory manner, and range from Mexicans and Colombians (USA) to Indonesians (Malaysia) and everywhere in between.

In Malta, the “illegals” are referred to in the same way, but are usually Ethiopians, Libyans, or Tunisians. In the two months I’ve been here, I think every single immigrant has stared at me, wondering how albino I am in such a sun-drenched country. They also, I suspect, want to make me their 3rd wife.

 

In other parts of the world, prescriptions are (somewhat) strictly monitored so that medicines and necessary drugs are doled out appropriately.

In Malta, where I had to extend the meds for my Lyme Disease/random Asian life infection, I can walk into a pharmacy with my old prescription bottle and sweet-talk my way into getting more of my cold, hard drugs. Or really, I just show the bottle, have them see I’m not an (obvious) drug abuser, and get my medication. It’s fine, too, because it’s for my own use. I did get tangled up in a gang here in the midst of all this, but they’re super nice people as long as I kill off anyone onto us. So far that’s only happened around 17 times, so no biggie.

 

In other parts of the world, there are bussed tour groups of (almost always) Japanese tourists with their incredibly expensive cameras whipped out every time a squirrel appears.

In Malta, instead of leading Japanese folks on tours, they lead dead people. I mean, they’re not actually dead yet, but they might as well have been. On the last tour group I saw yesterday, as far as the eyes could squint was a sea full of the eldest of the old, and some could barely stand with their full weight on their canes. I’m quite sure that by the end of the day, a few remained in their bus seats. Permanently.

 

In other parts of the world, men use cat-calls, whistles, stares, and catchy opening taglines such as, “Are you married?” to hit things off.

In Malta, old men who are 4’ tall are your constant source of amusement. The conversations go exactly like this:

(Scene: I’m walking along a street and an old man pulls up in his truck)

Old man: Where are you going?

Naïve me: Oh, just walking, thank you.

Old man: You’re going…?

Naïve me: Just walking to my home!

(I smile and pray he drives off. He does.)

 ———–

(Scene, 2 minutes later, same old man driving in the opposite direction. Pulls up and halts traffic.)

Old man: I’m sorry I didn’t offer you a ride.

Naïve me: Oh, no problem, I’m right near my house.

Old man: Well do you want a drive?

Naïve me: That’s very kind of you but I’m just five minutes away.

Old man: No, I mean, do you want to go for a drive somewhere? Around…?

Naïve me: Thank you but I must be getting home and packing.

(Runs like never before.)

Oh, and how did I know he was 4’ tall? Because just 2 hours prior to this incident, another old man (literally 4’ tall) had found me AGAIN (oh yes, he’d already taken me and a friend out for drinks, then cornered us just a few days before) while I was sitting alone in a park with a view. I mean, crikes, I’m on an island with 30,000+ people, and the same old man finds me? Anyhow, the truck driver looked like this guy’s brother, so by association, I’ll assume he was also 4’ tall. Age? Both were approaching 70. I know I’m old, but must I be hit on by senior citizens? I think they belong on bus tours at that age.


I’m wicked tired since I recently got back from working on the Maltese island of Gozo (photos to come sooner rather than later) and haven’t had a day to…well, catch up on sleep. In the past 30 hours, for example, I worked, felt ill, went out to dinner where snails, horse, rabbit, quail, and cheese pie were served, hung out with a former professional clown, woke up at 2:30 to measure and document dead sharks at the country’s fish market, drove out to the salt pans to catch the sunrise at 6 something a.m., filmed and photographed around the capital city and small villages, slept a wee bit, worked, went out for free food with friends, and crashed around 4a.m. this morning. No, life is not boring here. I need sleep. Enjoy the photos. 

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My Trip Comes to a Close: Thoughts on Sarees, the Caste System, and Things Crawling Up Your Leg.

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I know none of you want to hear a long-winded summary of how amazing, trying, tribulatifyingtasticnessish, and rewarding my trip was. So I’ll make this a fairly short-winded rundown about my adventure-seeking superiority. Duh.

Yes, really, I did have quite the trip. I had some nasty illnesses and have learned to never again smooch so much with water buffalo. Of the 6 countries I was in–India, Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand–I also can’t stop thinking about 3 countries in particular: Thailand, Nepal, and India. 

India isn’t a terrible country at all; had I been traveling through it and not lived in it, I probably would have liked it a lot more. They just have so many problems there, and as one friend pointed out, they DO have the technology and resources; they’re just unable to spread those resources correctly and have even more corruption than we do here. They’re a country out of control: They believe that their massive population equals massive power. They’re beginning to understand and accept more in terms of marrying outside one’s religion, living with those outside one’s caste, even picking who one can “court.” To me–and this is only my opinion–I almost feel that those in love with India are actually in love with what’s on the surface: Unique and cheap food, beautiful colors, history, kindness, and tradition. I loved that part too. But unlike loving those same things in Thailand—a third-world country that’s happy with that status and has just millions, not billions, of people— India believes it is pushing into the modern world successfully. It’s not. Nothing real can change when the large majority of this billion-plus-member country refuses to even let someone of a lower caste co ok for them. Or how they separate their buses into the female and male sections because men can’t keep their hands to themselves. Or how women aren’t allowed to show skin because of how men may act. And it’s not just me complaining; these issues have real and measurable consequences when that rule means you can’t really exercise, farm, or do things “normal” men do (not that they exercise either). Come now, do you even remember seeing anyone from India in the Olympics? When the population is more than one-sixth of the world? The people were, as I mentioned, some of the most delightful and helpful people ever, and I would quickly rush to try to repay them with the kindness they showed me. But I also know that with a suffering economy, pollution running rampant, and a society that’s never been taught how to deal with strangers, there’s no way they can move forward. It breaks my heart to see such intelligence, corruption, and poverty (not that I even saw near the worst of it) juxtaposed in such a way, and simultaneously makes me feel so afraid and disdainful of what this country is doing to their own people—and to the world. When will it stop?

In other news, I still think about Thailand, Nepal, and India every day. Thailand still has horrible food but incredible scenery and situations as always. Nepal had great food AND incredible scenery. And India was great when I was visiting its people and enjoying the surface instead of working and understanding its many pitfalls. How very hypocritical of me, right?

It shocks me at how easy it is to travel in seemingly foreign and faraway places. To those who have never ventured beyond (your local big city), Paris and Cancun, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur probably sound scary and full of the unexpected. Well, they are, but too many never get that far. There are always hoards of young adults—many wearing “PUB CRAWL 2012 PHUKET – AN EXPERIENCE I ALREADY FORGOT” wife beaters—who hop from city to city, often in groups, visiting monuments, drinking on the cheap, hooking up with other foreigners, and looking exhausted and hungover at border crossings. Is this travel? Sure it is, though it’s not travel I’m a fan of. It shocks me how I can actually be working with someone in a foreign country who is so ignorant to what’s going on right outside our windows, or how you can live for years in an unfamiliar city and still elect to go to the local Starbucks every day. Is travel about comfort? I guess for most it is. For me, I seem to brag most about the uncomfortable situations.  I will never forget how crazy it was to be yelled at for having the wrong bit of stomach flab show in my saree, feel scared and lost while sick and seemingly alone in the mountains, get assistance while literally stuck in the mud during rice planting, and be judged by Indian neighbors for wearing shorts in my own home. How could YOU not want to experience THAT?! Those experiences are what I’m most curious about, at least, and I think it’s a lot closer to real adventure than tour guides. Why travel halfway around the world to do the same old when you can have be standing on a rubber tree farm, weilding a dangerous tool of sorts, unsure of what’s about to come next because something is biting your leg and no one around you speaks English?                          

I guess that’s enough from me this time around, but I’m always, always happy to share stories. Best of all? I have an amazing adventure coming up…well, in 2 days. You’ll hear about it soon! Until then, over and out. It’s been real, crazy, and absolutely unforgettable.

Coop

 

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[Here are some of my favorite new photos from throughout my trip. Enjoy!] 

1. (Top) My friend’s sister, a nomade living in Nepal’s Himalayas

2. (Above) The wind catches a woman’s saree

3. Crazy, awesome, magnificent bugs in Thailand

4. A student’s family in India, or the guessing game of Who Is Out Of Place In This Photo?

5. Teaching in Thailand, or the most set-up looking photo ever (it wasn’t)

6. Looking out in southern India

7. Showing neighbors my photos in Thailand (my friend translated for them)

8. And then there was that time one of the greasy locals grabbed me, put his arm around me (I was laughing uncomfortably), and proceeded to…BITE ME?! Stay away from this guy.

9. I can dress up. Sort of. Me and my first roommate, Claire, on conference day

 10. Being blessed by the locals

11. Learning to play the sitar

12. My usual posse of men. Kidding, kidding, they’re my students. Oh come on, stop being nasty!

13. Women of the woods

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