Sunday 24 November
It was a truly amazing birthday.
At dawn, I was out with friends watching the monks on alms go by. I met a family of three, from Bangkok. Auchariya had been to Luang Prabang couple of times before, and wanted to show the beauty of this town to her mother. I took some photos of them offering rice to the passing monks. Towards the end, the mother has kindly offered to use her rice and offer to the monks. I put down my camera, took off my beanie and the shoes and was on the mat on the ground. Head down, I offered rice and put my hands together when I was out of stock.
Did you notice a little girl sitting to the right of the family? She is a beggar. Some poor kids would sit along the street. Instead of offering food and money, they would be there with an empty basket, waiting for monks to share some. She did not even have a mat to sit on. But she has the respect and dignity to not sit directly on the floor. I could not help capturing that newspaper she left behind.
This is how the community works. Poor village send their kids to temples in the city. They walk on the street and have the community offer help in terms of food and money. Temple teaches them the way of the world, the city, the internet and perhaps the world. They meet foreigners who look different and act differently. They get free education while with Buddhism. Some of them have the path in their life opened up. One of the kids at my familiar temple in Chiang Mai had secured Thai Queen’s grant to study law to become a lawyer.
If you did not know the way the community works, you may only see the surface and dismiss it as a show for tourist. It is true that a lot of visitors come to witness this, without even hearing why they do this, in a mass scale here. But one aspect of it is this thing called tourism. If the country was badly destroyed in years of wars, and there is no industry left to make it competitive, would it be a bad thing to keep the old things alive, even if that means a bus load of tourists with cameras capturing your every move? I am a photographer. As much as I try to focus on the people I meet and my impression, I am a part of those who consume that industry. Next time you go to South East Asia, please read up a bit about their society. Pick up more than a Lonely Planet. Talk to people who offer food. Talk to monks who are cleaning their temples. Ask them where he/she is from, why he/she is away from home, what their dreams may be. Maybe your next holiday journey will become a lot more meaningful than just a collection of photographs that look exactly like the guidebook’s. And please, let’s respect the basic rules of respect. If you want to photograph people, let’s ask. Or take a candid photo from a distance, not getting in their way or being ‘in your face’.
Martina and Ethan had worked out the plan of this half-day trip to the Kuang Si water fall. We ended up with the tuk tuk driver who is like the brother-in-law of the guesthouse’s madam (I stayed in the guesthouse next door last time, which was run by her sister, apparently!) We were joined by a couple from UK, David and Amy. 40,000 kip per head (AU$5.60 at the time of writing). We arrived relatively early in the morning when the air was pretty cold. Fortunately there were not many visitors there yet, so we could walk more freely and photograph without many pictures in our frame. The multi-level waterfall created pools, some of which are open to visitors for a swim. It was still a bit chilly so the three of us did not try, but David and Amy did. Maybe in the afternoon it would have been warm, but as we were coming back towards the car there were bus load of people coming in, so it’s either the quiet and few people in photograph, or warm and chilling swim. Up to you, I guess. Admission to the park was separate 20,000 kip.
The driver of course insists on stopping the commission-earning spots, or maybe this is the directive from tourism bureau, so the tourist money is dropped in poorly-developed triable community. Tribal village looks authentic, much better insight to people’s lives than what you see at hMong village in that hill region outside Chiang Mai. But every 5 metros along the half-loop path was dotted with a stand selling hand-craft, many of them attended by very little kids. There’s got to be a better way of doing this, while giving people more dignity than making themselves look like eager sellers or beggars. But I don’t know what that answer looks like.
Coming back to town in the early afternoon, we grabbed take-away food, while I stayed online at guesthouse to discuss how/where to meet my friend’s friend, Dith. We managed to soon meet, as he was around, and we decided that my friends and I would join the wedding reception later in the evening. I had a birthday drink organised already, but I decided it would be worth checking out the local wedding, and Martina and Ethan agreed. So we decided to do both in one evening – drinks first, then off to the reception. Good plan.
I copied photos from the morning to my Mac’s library as backup, updated some stuff online, and had a short nap before heading out to the drinks at Lao Lao Garden on the other side of the Phu Si hill. It was the place David and Amy told us about, and it really was a great venue. Some local and Thai food, beers all around, and we had a relaxing evening, talking about traveling, living in different cities, cultures, ethnic conflicts…
At 8:30pm, Dith arrived at the front to pick us up. The guys paid for my evening. Thank you for a beautiful birthday evening, guys. Really really really appreciate your friendship!
Dith drove us towards just outside of town where the roofed sporting gym of a sort was converted into a function venue. About 500 seats might have been set up for the reception. Dith was the youngest of the 11-child family. He is still in his mid-30s, while the oldest brother is over 60 already. I photographed some action and couple greeting around tables, and sat down to enjoy some food and water (while working – i.e. photographing) and beer (later on). Dith had recently returned from his first visit to Japan in Fukuoka where he stayed for about a week. He and his wife has a kid about 21 months old. Good looking boy, eating a lot of the food.
Dith drove us back to the guest house. We waved good-bye. We’ll see if we can catch up before I take off in a couple of days.
It was a great birthday. But I can still try to make contacts with those monk and novice at the temple, the ones I met in the last trip…