Phrae, Thailand: Yes, There Are Ghosts

We arrived in Phrae at 5am this morning on the overnight bus from Bangkok. Since then I’ve circled the town at least twice. It’s not large. But it is nice. Some of the best weather I’ve witnessed in recent memory. I’m finding the nearest rooftop as soon as I’m done typing this entry.

The photograph above is one of the first I’ve taken on this trip, for my Some Girls project. We were chatting with a local hairdresser and looking through some of her old photo albums when I came across this spread. There was something immediately striking about the juxtaposition of the pictures–the fantasy beach vacation and the reality of small town life, even within the local transgendered community. It was sad and strange and completely normal all at once. We all want the same things out of life, and we all return to the same homes.

When I asked about the images, I was told that the girl’s name was Ning Nong, a ladyboy who had grown up in Phrae, and that she had passed away over a decade ago of AIDS, at the age of 40. The album, open as such on the table, became even more saturated. It was life and death. And it was still sad and strange and completely normal. To the left, a head thrown back in a bikini, putting on a show for the photographer, maybe her lover. To the right, a different person behind the camera, a mother or father or brother or niece, shooting a cold bored gaze beneath a slate gray sky. Both horizons flat and infinite and unknowing.

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