TAIWAN, thank you!

Capital of Taiwan
Taipei, capital of Taiwan.

Earlier this year I visited Taiwan, an amazing gem of which I have to share with the world.

Along with some amazing stories…


# Steel Workers

Last week I was pointed upon the steelworkers in Athens who are on a strike now for 7 months. They fight against the changing climate and especially against the opportunity their boss sees in this situation. Since the crisis there were 120 people fired from the factory were 500 men worked on hard labour. But now the people who stay even have get cut backs around 50%, so were they did earn 1000 now they should be satisfied with around 500 euros a month.

In the meantime this strike has been a battle but with some success. They managed to cancel the cut backs through the legal system. Which is a great result but sure enough also fair, while with 500 euros you cannot pay for your house, your car, transportation and the food. Let alone sending the kids to afterschool while the normal school system is not sufficient enough. This break is a big achievement but not enough for the workers, they also want their fired colleagues back.

You can wonder if that would really help, while there is probably less work to do so how can this be possible. After questioning this I got an unexpected answer. Business wasn’t bad at all, and actually they were working more and more the past few years. He noticed this of course because he was standing at the production line. The production since 2007 till the moment we went on strike increased with 40%. But the management did some bookkeeping where there profits wouldn’t look so big. Like buying a yacht in the company’s name and spending money on security all this would make the earnings of the company go down and thus you would not have to pay as much taxes as you should. All together you can say that more over where there are people in charge is seems more common to them to commit fraud. Which goes at the cost of people who don’t take the initiative of setting up a business.

The day before I visited the factory they workers became some good news, there strike was declared legal. This breakthrough means they wont have to expect the police cleaning up the place and forcing them anyway to work. This is a major breakthrough according to the President of the Workers Union of the factory (George Sifonios); we put up an honest and fair fight, this time the judge ruled in our favour. But we must not forget that we have hard labour and on average 7 people die during the work at the factory. So the conditions are so harsh that it is unjustified to have major cutbacks even more while the management is still taking the fruit of the company.

Besides all these issue’s George tells me that the company got a big sum of money to invest in improvements for the factory from the European Union. This happens not only here but in more companies around Greece, but while the money is send with the intend of improving or investing into the company. But more over it happens that the money will disappear into the pockets of the directors. The steel factory became money to invest into a cleaner way of producing our products. We have to make our factories cleaner and there is nothing wrong with this, unless the money is not used for its purpose.

From the start of the strike they workers formed a committee, which in its order informs the public about there fight. They organize a lot of happenings, like strikes and gatherings, to inform them about their fight. Despite this it seems that the mass media doesn’t want to sell this story, probably because of the fear that it will happen at more places. But they wont give up until the end although George admits that they are getting tired. When you live of the generosity of other people giving you money and food to survive is less then ideal. And especially since they started at 31 of October 2011, now they can feel the pain in there families.

For me my heart goes out to these people, I can see that they suffer. Always when families get hit by a fired family member or due to strikes don’t become an income it wil reflect in the end onto the next generation. The psychological effect is more severe then most people would understand and even when the workers would go back to work you will have the same management above you. The factory was doing right since they had an increase in production, that is the thing Greece needs, but the salaries should at worse be frozen since it is a crisis. But never should the crisis be an excuse for the company to treat their staff bad, your company is as good as how well you treat your own kind! Lets hope the workers can find the solutions which is most satisfying to them and there family’s and that they would be able to support them selves again and don’t have to live with there family’s at there parents places.

(Portrait of George, president of the Workers Union of the steel factory)



# Red Cross

To get a better view of the problems that the Greeks are facing I visited a homeless shelter from the Red Cross in Athens. Here they see an increase of homeless people since one and a halve year, al the time they were already at there maximum capacity, but now they have to set the priority to Greek families. Because of the lack of jobs they see more and more families coming into trouble, and so for them it is the focus for the residents to get as fast as possible a new job. There are some pc’s donated with a connection to internet this is one of the possibilities, next to that there is a paper stand with all kinds of papers with job offers or giving information on to interviews. The goal for the shelter is to find together with the clients a job and hopefully they will leave the shelter within a half a year. Nowadays this goal seems more and more impossible to achieve.

Most of the visitors had a job in the past and some even have degrees even though because of the crisis they notice over here the real problem. In doors the term “new homeless” comes to the conversation in which they see that any person can end up coming here. After talking to the administration, I was led to an men who was willing to talk about the trouble they face. He has been in the shelter for almost a year and shows me around the place. Through fellow visitors he came to know that the Red Cross shelter is a “Hilton” between all the shelters off Athens. He was happy to tell that they have running hot water all the time and air-conditioning. This man had his own businesses in Germany and in Arkansas, but because of his Greek roots he decided to go to his home country. Unfortunately, because business is bad here since the crisis. After asking him about how this developed, he was quit clear. The problem seams to be within the government, while working there you cannot be fired and there are just too much people working for the government. While this costs so much money, that’s where a big part of the loans went when Greece joined the Eurozone. And no it is kicking back, while they have to fire people it means less currency in the market and so less spending too all the small businesses.

Now with the cut backs where pensioners had to live off 700 euros a month it was still possible for them to spend a little bit of cash for a coffee at the corner. But nowadays these possibilities shrink for everybody who is depended governmental money. In the meantime all the effects of the government is noticeable for the common man, while the politicians can continue misgoverning there country and getting rich in the meantime.

In the meantime the atmosphere in the shelter is good, the people who are able to do something will volunteer to help. The man I met is specialized in repairing TV’s and pcs and he even gives lessons to people who don’t know how Internet works. His roommate is a painter and did some jobs, this way they will save already a little bit of money so that in the end when they do get a job, they will be able to immediately go out of the shelter.

The things that’s strikes me is the positive atmosphere here and the willingness to help, its seams to be a small community on it self, of course depending on funds but trying to they best with every euro they get. Next to that the volunteers will try to get some sponsor, so did HP sponsored some printers and other people gave them some old pc’s. In this other side of society it is nice to see how willing people can be to share, my honest believe is that everybody can be like this. But next to that I can’t stop wondering who could be the next victim. As like the man I interviewed told me that the middle class is disappearing in Greece, it will be only rich or poor class in the future. So who is next?


# Press

Last Tuesday there was a small demonstration organized, and of course i had to visit it. The interesting part to see is the ratio of press versus citizens, and this day there was a nice balance. Although when on a normal day in Athens you hardly see any photographers, like the ones on the photograph. So what you could say is that these are the journalistic photographers, where they are send out to make pictures for their bosses. Interesting enough for me is the fact what is considered news in these circumstances, for instance this photograph.

There was a small fire at Syntagma square (main square where the government is hosted). The fire started at a pop up box office for some political party. Off course it was on fire because the public dislike their government and that is not without any reason. The moment of the detection of the fire the police force were told to protect the fireman while doing their jobs. But because of the policeman, these vultures of the press, the photographers especially in this case went to the fire. There was actually nothing going on, but just the effect of the firing could bring another perspective to the day of the demonstration. The negative perspective to which the media is so addicted. Even though the demonstrations were quit and peaceful, this image will rule the newspaper because they are designed to frightening the public.

The question is what is the news of today aim to inform us about? Is it really in the best interest for us to be overloaded with bad news? And how accurate is this news?

While being in Athens I also follow the news back home, there was this topic about under age drinking. Now the record for coma drinking is for this 11 year old boy and the media sketched a very negative imagine about the Dutch drinking habits. A couple of days later, the same news channel said that actually the drinking habits under the younger people are getting less. We are actually one of the country’s in Europe where till the age of 16 the boys and girls drink the least amount of alcohol.

This makes me wonder how credible the news still is, because anyhow it will be the reflection of some people who are encountered with experiences and we as an public can never know the whole picture. Of course there has to be said that also the media cannot create a full image about what ever situation, but nowadays it seems that it is now about accurate information but just about speed. Who is there the first, even though they could mislead the general public? And what if the journalist are mislead on purpose?

In the end I cannot stop thinking how powerful the media is, how big parts of it is in the end just based on opinions anyway and how now it is evolving to create mass fear and hysteria so that in the end we would buy more and more in case of protection? Coming to think about it, this sounds like we are going after the American lifestyle.

Somehow that is the thing I do respect over here, that the encounters I had with Greek citizens they mostly respond relaxed. Wondering if it’s the climate or not, it is charming and nice that they treat each other more humane!


# The police force

So during the weeks I tried for my research to get in contact with the police officers to eventually make a photographic documentary. During this quest I saw more and more the difficulties that the Greek public probably also will encounter in some other way. While I spoke to a couple of policeman at the street, most of them don’t like to even talk to a photographer, but when you then tell that I want to tell a story from there perspective they open up. At my local police station the street officer said that I should talk to his chef, and once entering his office it became all some sort more official. Through my Greek translator I explained what I wanted to do and after explaining I Saw a friendly face appearing on the head of the chef. He was delighted to hear that I wanted to visualize the point of view from a police officer and it seemed he wanted to help me, but all he had in his power was to give me the email address from the press office of the police force.

After repeatedly emailing to the poor English press office I became the illusion that they wanted me to join the police force as a volunteer. I was shocked but partly also excited it seemed there was some progress in my project. Then a week later they replied that there was a misunderstanding and they asked me from which part of the police force I wanted to have a volunteer for my project. The final email I received today after starting to write them on the first day of March. “Unfortunately there is no police officer willing to take part to your photo documentary, from any department of Hellenic Police.” This sounded so strange after the experience that I had with the policeman at my local station and so I cannot stop wondering if they actually tried to find some one, and if so how effective there search method was.

This process gave me the feeling that they just don’t want to take responsibility of taking on this project, and so every person will tell you have to go to some one else…


# Daily costs

Last week I did some groceries, I went to the Lidl because I am most familiar with this supermarket chain. So after getting al the stuff I needed I went of to the cash register. While waiting in line I always guess how much it will be. When everything was all packed the cashier told me it was almost 30 euro’s, my heart skipped a beat… Ok I had the money but I was expecting 15 to 20 euro’s and this was a bit more.
Of course they have cut backs and the taxes are increased on food, normally nowadays in Greece you pay a tax of either 13% or 23% depending of course if it is considered luxury food or not.
Anyhow I couldn’t help myself to be curious towards what I should pay at home, knowing that The Netherlands is the second cheapest groceries country in Europe.
I asked my mom to take a look at my products and what the prices are there, without her knowing what I would pay here. Here are the results:

Espana – original Jamon serrano             100 gr      NL 1,89   Gr 2.69
Chene d’argent Brie (produit en France)  200 gr      NL 0,89   Gr 1.85
Maribel strawberry marmelade                450 gr      NL 1,09   Gr 1.69
Marlene Honey                                        500 gr      NL 2,29   Gr 3.89
Rivercote baguette                                  2 pieces   NL 0,95   Gr 0.99

In total just for these 5 products there is a difference of 4 euros at the cost of the Greek civilians. And then to think of that next to that there are also the severe cutbacks…


# glory of the past


In 2004 Greece hosted the Olympic games, while the buildings were just in time completed the expenses rose above budget, even more when just a couple of days before the opening ceremony a plastic bomb package was discovered. Because of this they had to secure the games by installing 70.000 police officers.

Now almost 8 years later I visited the Athens Olympic Stadium complex to see how Greece maintain this costly investment. I expected to visit a place with beauty and pride because of the bond between Greece and the Olympics, but during my visit I got more disappointed then I would have expected to be. The place isn’t well maintained and you can see that nature is trying to get back the land. While wondering around I came across the swimming area of the complex, where it all looked abandoned. You could tell by using the wood for the tribunes that or it should has been build in a rush or they wanted to lower the building cost. Anyway after 8 years you start to see how unsafe this is, and how Greece nowadays is struggling to maintain its property. The interesting thing is that Greece has lost it course to prosperity while having this huge history from which the whole world of today is created. Which in it’s turn has an effect that those times can never be reached again anyway…


# Frappe


Being some time in Greece one of the things you will notice is the frappe 🙂 the typical Greek cold coffee. You can order this at one of the many many many café’s in Athens or of course any other decent place.

Here in Athens I noticed that when you will go for a coffee that this is different from home. Going for a coffee can mean as much as taking one coffee and sit at the place up to 5 or 6 hours without ordering anything more… Where as back home definitely the waiter will come in the meantime and wants you at some point to order something again or after a couple of hours definitely ask you pleasantly to leave. The mind-set back home is more focused on making money and so time at a table is equal to a certain amount of revenue.

Here the policy is quit the opposite, when you will have clients, they can stay as long as they want. Because this will attract more people to come while you don’t want a coffee in an empty place. Maybe this is even enhanced in Athens by the enormous amount of coffee places, next to that the experience that Greeks have about time is different. There focus I would say is less on making money, and more about having quality time.


#Runner Up – Koudelka facebook competition, Athens house of photography

On 25th of March one of my photographs participated into this competition from which the concept is new to me. Even when I participated I just forgot about the whole competition and just last Friday I reminded myself about this. I checked the website and without doing anything I already got many likes on my photograph. Although it sounded strange to me just to get as many likes as possible in order to win I started to share my post. Saturday evening I saw I had 98 likes and then it came to my mind that I actually had a change of getting into the prizes, while there were just 22 participants. Not all the photographers were so active at Facebook, so it was just a matter of getting you photograph into the publicity. In which the winner was quit good by asking a radio channel to help getting him votes, wish I thought about this.

Anyway on last Sunday realizing that I just needed 20 more like to win a prize I called some friends back home to help me out and so they shared as other people did on Saturday my post and so just before the deadline of 1800 I had enough likes (votes) to win a prize.

In the meantime I cannot stop wondering what this exactly has to do with photography, in a way it doesn’t really matter which photograph you send in. Quality is not the main thing, which made me doubt this competition, while it was all about getting as much votes as possible. I discovered that Facebook changed there website in a way that it is very hard to send a post to the big mass of people, there is some real anti spamming policy going on. In which I am always in favour, but just of course of wanting to win I disliked this fact for now and even saw how much harder it is nowadays to mass deliver a message. Because of this I made an email and sent it to some of the people I know, from whom I know they got quit some network going on or they are close friends of mine and actively on Facebook of course.

Then I start to see in a way this definitely has everything to do with photography since making photographs is not enough nowadays anymore. Just a good photographer cannot exist because the flood of existing photographers forces you to network, making contacts and so on getting on your way of becoming somehow a name/famous. Even though this is a thing I don’t want to pursue, since I just want to make good photographs of experiences I had and doing this try to tell a story of the place where I am at this particular moment. Because of this I should travel which I love to do and think about where I will be for the time being so that the story I have to tell is interesting for a wider audience, in which case I can hopefully survive while selling my work.

So in the end I want to thank all the people for linking my photograph in this competition but way more important of liking my work! There fore I hope that this will lead to more visits to my website and who knows what else more….

For now I will continue my focus on my Greek research project in which case you will be informed through my blog.