The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

For semi-retired expat blogger James King, a picture says…

Welcome back to our series “A picture says…”, which we created to celebrate those for whom photography is a creative outlet—who rely on a camera to register the look, character, and ambiance of the people and places that capture their fancy as they move around the globe.

Today’s guest is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King. From December onwards, James will take over the hosting of this column from Andy Martin and publish it monthly.

As James plans to ask his interviewees to provide a selection of photos that help to tell their personal travel stories, it seems only fair that we require him to undergo the same exercise. What pix would he use to illustrate his peripatetic life of the past 25 years?

Indeed, “peripatetic” seems an apt descriptor for James. Semi-retired and now living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he has traveled to over twenty countries. He lived in South Africa for a couple of decades and Thailand for the past five years. Here, in summary, are his vital travel stats:
Place of birth: England, UK
Passports: UK and EU (British citizen)
Resident in: UK (Bristol): 1942 to 1995; South Africa (Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town): 1995 to 2008; Thailand (Chiangmai): 2008 to present.
Main countries visited: France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Gambia, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, USA, Thailand, Malaysia, West Indies.
Business interests: Majority shareholder in WestJewel (Pty) Ltd., a Cape Town jewelry wholesaler he founded in 2004.
Social media coordinates:
Twitter: @JimKing28265666
Facebook: Jim King
Linkedin: James King
Google+: jamoroki@gmail.com
Blog: Jamoroki.com

* * *

A bloomin’ late bloomer!

Hi, James. I see you were born in England during World War II. When did you actually start traveling?
Life was pretty austere after the war, we had rationing and people lived a fairly simple life. There were very few restaurants and I don’t actually remember ever going out to eat with my parents. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t on the “bread line”; but it just didn’t happen in those days. We had TV for the first time in 1953, and it wasn’t until I was 24 that I first traveled overseas; to Paris in fact. When I got into my thirties, then I really started to spread my wings but I was very busy trying to make a living so I didn’t have the freedom I gained later in life. Only then was the adventurous side of me given wings, so to speak. Eventually, at the age of 53, I packed my bags and emigrated to South Africa after a few sorties there in the three years before.

SouthAfricanBeach_JK

Photo credit: James King

Okay, time to see your first photo. What’s the story behind this one?
This guy wears many hats and makes a living selling his wares on the beach at Bloubergsands, which is close to the house that I bought (and am now trying to sell!) in Table View in Cape Town. Generally these traders are not South African. They often travel a very long way from neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Many of them dodge border posts by hiding in the back of goods trucks. They all hope to make a new life in South Africa after escaping from oppressive regimes or poverty. Some of them are intelligent, articulate and well educated, as I remember this guy was.

What do you like most about this shot?
I like that it highlights the harshness of Cape Town light. The ozone layer is so thin there—I had to be far more careful of the sun than I do in the tropics. I also like the photo because at that time, I wasn’t into photography at all and had even less idea about what I was doing than I do now. I always have to be aware of what harsh light can do to my pics.

Okay, let’s move along to another photo that speaks to your South Africa experience.
Can I have two shots, please? One of the Cape of Good Hope and the other of Table Mountain, with Cape Town below.

EndoftheEarth_JK

Photo credit: James King

TableMountain

Photo credit: James King

For me, these photos bring back memories of how wonderful the landscape is in that part of the world. So overwhelming, you really have to experience it in person. Just think, we are at the Cape of Good Hope, the bottom of Africa! And, despite how beautiful it looks, you don’t want to know how cold that water is. Naked you may survive ten minutes in there!

What particularly appeals to you about the Table Mountain photo?
I love how the clarity changes as soon as you hit the shore line below the mountain. It really is like that and not a cock-up on my part. It won’t win awards, but it is very personal so I love it.

How did you end up in Cape Town?
How long have you got? Things went a bit wrong for me in England after I got divorced, and then I met a guy who used to live in Durban and still had some business interests there. His wife had died the previous year so we were both single and hit it off. He had to go to South Africa again, so we decided to go and work together. That’s the “nutshell” version.

Semi-retirement in the Thai tropics

And now 20 years later you are in Thailand. How did that happen?
I’ll have to get the “nutshell” out again. In 2004, with some backing, I bought a jewelry wholesale business. Most of our silver is sourced and manufactured in Thailand, and I took on the responsibility of buying overseas. So I started traveling to Bangkok to meet suppliers and go to the Gems and Jewelry Fair in March and September. I met so many new people and also took a couple of holidays in Phuket before going back to Cape Town. Gradually I got a taste for SE Asia and, after a few years, decided to stay for four months getting to know more whilst still working remotely. That was it. Semi-retirement in the tropics beckoned and I was hooked!

I imagine it’s all been plain sailing since you moved to Thailand. Just kidding! I see from your blog you’ve had your struggles.
It is very difficult to précis my life over the last four years. I wrote my first book, the memoir MASK, to try and show the different sides to Thailand, its people and their culture. The book isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it was a cathartic exercise and helped me a lot. I should add that I didn’t include everything in it. The rest may come out later. But now I have a new lease of life and am so pleased I found blogging and photography because I believe the two go hand in glove. Writing, which has been a passion of mine for a long time, can embellish the photos and photos can enhance the writing, so in blogging you have the best of both worlds.

You say that photography gives you the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again. What brought you to this realization?
I have always admired great photography while not having time to pursue it because I was working. Now, through my blog, I am learning how to incorporate photos into my posts. It’s fair to say my appreciation is growing as I hope will my knowledge. Writing is still my primary passion, but I now have another tool in my observation box. Although late in life for me, we are so lucky to be living in a technological age where we have the tools to enable us to express ourselves like never before. Sorry to take over the interviewing, but don’t you think it is so amazing?

Thailand2_JK

Photo credit: James King

But of course! Getting back to you and the photos that capture special memories: what do you choose next?
Actually, on my “to do” list is scanning some of the photos from my pre-digital collection, beginning in the 1970s, a number of which carry powerful memories and should help to create some rather interesting blog posts. In the meantime I have selected three of my more recent favorites for you.

The first one shows this guy and his wife who live in their little house at the end of Kata Noi, a beach on Koh Phuket. Every grain of sand is polished every day, they welcome everyone whether you want a drink or something to eat or just to say hello. They have a few beach loungers as well if you want to relax there. If you can have a more simple stress free existence, I’d like to know about it. On this particular day, I visited early one morning before the tourists woke up, and they made me feel most welcome.

Thailand3_JK

Photo credit: James King

This little seven-year-old boy lives in my village in Chiang Mai. As you can imagine he is very naughty and the older children tease him unmercifully. So he comes to my house at weekends to annoy me and get chocolate and biscuits. He always wants me to take his pic, and on this occasion I caught him waiting for the school bus. He felt very proud.

Let’s not get technical

What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
Please don’t ask me anything technical. It says on the bottom “Canon PC1130” and on the front “Power Shot S2 IS”. One fixed lens 12x Optical Zoom with lots of numbers on it. It has lots of settings but I don’t know what they are for so I leave it on auto-pilot and hope for the best. Oh, and most importantly, the rechargeable batteries are held in with an elastic band. I haven’t got a clue whether it is any good or not: I just shoot and ask questions afterwards. But sometimes I do worry that my photos are not so good when I see many accomplished photographers blogs. I just console myself I must work extra hard on the subject matter.

ThaiWhiteTemple_jk

Photo credit: James King

I think you have one more Thai photo?
Yes, this one: the white temple in the forest, which can be viewed from my village. This is very special because most of the time, although I know it is there, I can’t see it for mist or haze. Then one evening it was there and so was I with my camera!

Where have been your very favorite places to take photographs?
On safari in Kenya, Mykonos Island in Greece, and here in Chiang Mai where, even though I say it myself, I’ve managed to capture some beautiful morning and evening landscapes.

MykonosTown_JK

Photo credit: James King

Do you have a shot that’s your all-time favorite?
I pick this one, of a house in Mykonos Town, taken in 2005. I think it will always be one of my favorites.

A few parting shots

Do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
It’s a very good question because I am always conscious that they may be shy and so I try and make a quick judgement call. But I do have an aversion to posed photos in the natural environment, so getting the balance right is important to me.

Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
I just try and feel how they feel if they are aware I want to shoot them. I prefer to take them when they are unaware, then smile and say thanks. Otherwise I don’t get the naturalness I want. Look, I’m not experienced so I am not over-confident and I need all the advantages I can get. I find people will show you pretty quickly if they don’t want their picture taken.

But how do you get around problems of language?
Funnily enough I find not speaking the same language gives me an excuse not to ask. I have a smattering of Thai so the people here know I’m not a tourist, which definitely helps a bit.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
In a nutshell (there I go again!), here are two pieces of advice:

  1. Never leave your camera at home or you may miss the shot of a lifetime out of nowhere. (Up until recently I have regretted not taking my camera on so many occasions. Now I hardly go anywhere without it, so much so that I often feel like a Japanese tourist. Believe it or not, most of my best shots were taken when I forgot to put in the SD card!)
  2. If, like me, you are not proficient, use other skills such as writing and storytelling or bizarre scenes, so that the photos don’t have to stand alone, to be judged naked.

* * *

Thank you, James! Readers, what do you make of James’s experiences and his photography advice? And do you have any questions for him on his photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments! (If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please let me know: ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

Once again, if you want to read more of James, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.com. (Hmmm…I suspect there’s a story in that name!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with November’s featured author, a novelist!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Main image at top of page: Camera lens from Morguefile; James King at the Khao Panong Rung Khmer Temple near Buriram, NE Thailand. All other images by James King.

11 responses to “For semi-retired expat blogger James King, a picture says…

  1. jamoroki November 14, 2013 at 1:49 am

    Reblogged this on JAMOROKI and commented:
    So, I am now officially a ‘Displaced’ person

  2. BeluChi November 14, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Interesting interview!
    I love James’ blog, I learn a lot about different cultures.

  3. cindamackinnon November 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I love James’ response “Please don’t ask me anything technical.” I too dabble in photography and am embarrassed when people ask me what setting, speed etc. I used for a certain shot. I have two cameras: an “auto” Canon powershot and SLR CAnon Rebel with all the dials – the simple camera “wins” just as often as the SLR. The lesson? It’s mostly in the eye

    • jamoroki November 18, 2013 at 1:41 am

      Hi Cinda. Thanks for the complimentary comment. I’ve got a 50/50 chance of guessing which of your cameras is the simple one without Googling but I’m sure to get it wrong. You must be quite professional because if I had two cameras by the time I picked the right one the shot would be gone!!!! PS. Do you have a blog? regards James

      • cindamackinnon November 18, 2013 at 2:10 am

        As a writer I do have a blog :cindamackinnon at wordpress dot com – but you should arrive there by simply clicking my gravatar (book cover at right) and then “A Place in the World”.
        I use the SLR with a close-up lens (I like to shoot wildflowers – I sound like a hunter…) but love the little powershot for sticking in my pocket and traveling.
        I also have a Pinterest site but “pin” (steal) most of the good shots from others! http://www.pinterest.com/CindaMac/boards/

        • jamoroki November 18, 2013 at 6:31 am

          Thanks Cinda.
          I like to shoot wildflowers too but I only wing them so they keep still long enough for a good pic!! I’ll have a rummage around your blog soon. Thanks for the fun communiques. By the way you or your husband must be of Scottish descent. regards
          James

          • cindamackinnon December 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm

            Husband’s name is MacKinnon from the Isle of Skye – long ago. It is on our “someday “ travel plans.
            My maiden name is Crabbe which is English and we (think)we have traced it back to an 18th century immigrant from Cornwall. Like to go there also ( meanwhile I occasionally view Doc Martin).

            • jamoroki December 18, 2013 at 12:16 am

              By Tre, Pol and Pen ye will know Cornish men. But I don’t know about Crabbe! Cornwall is pretty near, if not top of, my favourite places in the world. It’s actually like a country and not a county to me. They don’t really speak English! Doc Martin is great. I lived in Falmouth before I emigrated to South Africa in 1995. Make sure you go before you die and eat Ann’s pasties from the Lizard. Enjoy Christmas.

            • cindamackinnon December 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm

              No kidding – I wondered if you were South African or British. Will make a note of “Ann’s pasties from the Lizard” in Falmouth. Funny Doc Martin is popular all over the world in spite of the main character being more “jerky” rather than just quirky. I hear they had to Anglicize the dialogue so people (probably Americans) could follow it! It reminds me of when we lived in New Zealand, the Kiwis had to act as translators between us Yanks and our Scottish friends.

            • jamoroki December 19, 2013 at 12:12 am

              I am an international Englishman who almost learned to be a Cornishman. Anyone outside of Cornwall is an Emmett and I didn’t want to be one of those! I never thought about it but can easily understand how they would have had to Anglicise (notice the s?) the Cornish accents.

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