Karma for Sale – Near Bangkok is a vast structure resembling an airport terminal surrounding a giant space age Buddhist stupa. This is Wat Dhammakaya. Often criticised for offering promises of good karma for cash donated,the temple holds Buddha casting ceremonies for the faithful. The stupa itself is covered with thousands upon thousands of small Buddha images each one paid for by donors.
Alligator Catchers – In Florida alligators are everywhere. They get on golf courses, in ponds and near stables. They terrorise the pensioners and chase the dogs. If a rogue alligator is sited it is time to call Lee and Ricky Kramer. They are the licensed alligator men and they spend their days doing what others only do in their nightmares – wrestling murderous reptiles.
Provence in Isaan – There is a burgeoning wine making industry in northern Thailand. The weather is similar to that of the South of France and the vines are imported from Provence.
The Rohingya Refugee Crisis – In 1992 a quarter of a million Rohingya Burmese muslims were driven out of Arakan Province by the brutality of the Burmese military and Burman villagers. They found themselves in squalid refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. Two decades on, they are still there.
Reconstruction in East Timor – East Timor was ravaged by Indonesian backed militias after the vote for independence in 1999. Most buildings were burned and destroyed and the people were driven into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor. Many of the returnees were faced with rebuilding their homes and their lives, salvaging what they could from the carnage.
Spirit Doctors in Phuket – Once a year the tourist town of Phuket witnesses the ‘vegetarian Festival’ when ‘spirit doctors’ from the area’s Chinese population perform amazing feats of self mutilation and asceticism.
Buffalo Racing - It’s amazing what raw eggs and beer can do to a man. What is more amazing is what they can do to a normally slow four legged beast that weighs as much as a truck whilst displaying a contrary nature. Once a year in the small port town of Chonburi in Thailand, beasts that normally amble are inspired to hurtle as they race each other in a bonanza of rustic traditional prowess. Many of the buffaloes taking part in the race never do farm work at all being trained and cherished for this event alone. The farmers raise them to be as lean and sleek as a buffalo can be.
Portraits of slavery – The chukri system in Bangladesh is a type of forced labour whereby a woman or child is coerced into prostitution to pay off debts. The system creates a workforce of people virtually enslaved to their creditors, and constitutes one of the primary causes for women entering the sex trade. Many of the prostitutes are initially kidnapped for profit by criminal gangs and shanghaied to vast bothel districts, lost to their friends and families.
Sadhus and Sages – Sadhus have been wandering India for millenia. Many of these holy men undertake tasks of religious devotion which are extreme in their physical severity. Kumbh Mela happens once every three years. It attracts millions of pilgrims and thousands of holy men from all over India. It is an event of timeless drama.
Arts in Cambodia – The ancient art of Cambodian ballet was almost wiped out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Most of the practitioners were murdered in the killing Fields. Now, with a concerted effort by the few surviving dancers and teachers in conjunction with scholars and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture, this exquisite art form is being revived and taught again to young students at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Phnom Penh.
All America Cheerleading Championships – Every year in Daytona Beach, Florida thousands of cheerleaders gather from all over the United States to compete in what they consider to be a genuine sport.
Transvestite kick boxing – Parinya Kiatbusaba is a Katoey – a Thai transvestite who wears make-up and women’s clothes. He is also one of Thailand’s most celebrated and popular Kick boxers who wins fights all over the world.
Elephant Polo – Mad Dogs and Englishman go out in the mid-day sun. If they are really mad and very wealthy they are also likely to go and play polo on elephants in the middle of a malarial jungle in Nepal. (Why?……… because they can).
The Kicking Fields - According to Cambodians Thai kick boxing originated in Cambodia and was stolen by the Thais when the empire of Ayutthaya sacked the empire of Angkor. Now the Khmer are fighting to claim back their sporting heritage.
Evangelicals in Mindanao – Zamboanga in southern Philippines is the jumping off point for the Sulu Sea and the lawless islands of Jolo and Siasi. It is also home to a considerable Christian evangelical community.
Child Exploitation – The UN believes that some 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 have to work, almost half of them full time. Millions of children suffer from poverty and violence. The countries of South Asia and South East Asia host scenes of terrible hardship for children.
The Kansas City Gay Rodeo – The gay rodeo circuit is thriving. Camp as some of the events are (goat dressing and steer decorating do not figure in mainstream rodeo) a bucking bronc or a raging bull does not care whether the rider is gay or straight, he just wants him thrown into the dirt.
Khmer Rouge Gems – The former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin in North Western Cambodia defected to the government in 1996. From then on it became a centre for gem mining and gem dealing. Now the gems are all gone.
Ritual War – On the remote island of West Sumba in Indonesia, local tribesmen battle each with lances from horseback. Fatalities are not uncommon.
Cock Fighting in the Philippines – Cock fighting is a massively popular gambling sport in the Philippines. All over the country, every Sunday, thousands of pesos will be won or lost on the outcome of a flurry of feathers.
Patrolling the Sulu Sea – The waters between Mindanao in the Philippines and Saba in Malaysia are a hotbed of smuggling and modern day piracy. Loaded magazine accompanied the Philippine navy as it patrols these dangerous waters.
Red Light Districts and Tourist Ghettos: the Sex Industry in Thailand – The tourist orientated red light districts of Bangkok and the coastal resorts of Pattaya and Phuket attract huge numbers of migrant workers from the poorer areas of Thailand. The industry is largely a hangover from the role of ‘Rest and Recreation’ that Thailand took on for American troops during the Vietnam War. It is confined to very specific areas. These districts are self sufficient bubbles separate from the ordinary life of the country – Glittering, explosive villages mixing the traditions of Isan (the rural North East) with a tawdry, neon and deafening blast appealing to the transient hordes of holiday makers. Ordinary Thai people regard the industry with a mixture of disgust, disdain, amusement and contempt.
Laughter Therapy in India – Dr Madan Kataria has Pioneered the beneficial effects of laughter. At dawn the parks of Bombay are filled with the middle aged and retired laughing hysterically for no apparent reason. LoadedMagazine arrived in Bombay prepared to be cynical but left being utterly converted. As Dr Kataria says, if we are laughing then he has succeeded.