People Pictures are the Best
When I’m travelling, like most, I adore taking pictures of the local people. There are some fantastic faces out there. If you travel, I know you have encountered these faces and you know what I am taking about. These faces seem to hold the essence of their country. And, I want pictures of these people. I bet you do too.
One of my favourite people pictures, is the novice monk above. I’d like to share the background behind this memorable photo and how I was gifted with more than his shy smile.
My Fascination with Monks
I remember my first monk sighting was at Siem Rep, in Cambodia. I was much like a child poking my companion in the ribs with an excited whisper, “There’s one. There’s one.” You’d think the novelty of seeing monks would have died down after 6 -months of travelling through Buddhist countries and 17-days at a Thai Buddhist meditation retreat but—it didn’t.
I remain captivated—in awe of their peaceful life style, their serenity. Even the gentle swishing of their robes, as they appear to glide rather than walk over the earth’s surface causes me to stop enthralled by their every step.
Now, I am not the only one who is charmed by monks. I have seen many tourists putting their digital cameras to good use trying to capture monks as they go about their daily routine. Whether it be on the sweltering streets of Bangkok, Thailand; chanting in a candlelit temple in the darkened depths of the Bayon Temple, Cambodia; sitting cross-legged on the back of a motorcycle on a dusty side street in Luang Prabang, Laos or reading under a shaded tree in Yangon, Myanmar. Most of the monk pictures I have taken are from a respectful distance, while others have been snapped when an individual has willing posed.
This brings me back to my point (FINALLY). Out of all my monk pictures, I have a favourite. It’s not because it’s the perfect backdrop, great lighting or a flawlessly posed subject with their eyes open. It’s perfect, because I had the pleasure of getting to know the person in the photograph.
Pha That Luang Pagoda, Vientiane
While visiting Pha That Luang pagoda in Vientiane, Laos a novice shyly approached me wanting to practice his English. He was 17-years-old, very self-conscious, lean and had a shaved head which was darker in the spots where the hair would soon require another shave. His face is almond shaped, his eyes as dark as chocolate and kindness surrounded him.
As we spoke, it soon became apparent that conversing in English required a great deal of effort. He spoke very slowly; carefully pondering each word before he released it. When he was trying to recall a word, his eyes shut, lips pursed—sometimes, both hands would come up and rest on his cheeks in an effort to squeeze out the right word. He was adamant about trying to figure it out for himself. It was only after much effort, when the desired word would not appear that he would ask for my assistance. I’m not sure if the gratification that lit up his face when he remembered or, learned new vocabulary was more rewarding for him, or for me.
His veracious appetite for the English language extended to learning about the world beyond Laos. He was interested in me. In my life. Canada. He wanted to know…if I had parents. Why did I have only one sister? Did my parents really only want two children? What was it like to be a teacher? Did I like teaching? What’s it like to live in Canada? What does snow feel like? What do you wear when it’s cold?
I also wanted to know about him. His life. How he came to live in the monastery. And, here’s what he told me. He was from the south. He used to live in a bamboo-stilted house, was the youngest of four boys and from a very poor family. He came to the monastery when he was 10; because his mother had been very sick and died and, his father could no longer care for him. He told me with tears in his eyes that he still missed his mother. He missed his father. He missed his brothers and the life they had together. “We are very, very poor. But we were very, very happy.”
As I sit here and look at his picture, I am reminded that all of the faces in my travel photos have a story. People are more than just a face who I’ve deemed interesting or intriguing—a face who is picture worthy. These encounters are a gift and what travel is all about.