In September 2014, Richard and I traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia. He has always been good at capturing people along the way. These photographs will be part of the Arts Festival at Littleton United Methodist Church April 17-19, 2015.
It’s hot, humid and the workers are doing the type of hard work that none of us would want to do. Making bricks manually, with hand-made molds, stoked in spark-spitting furnaces, lifting heavy-laden wooden carts, moving from unbearably hot place to another. The workers, mostly barefoot, scurry around us as we meander through the open-air factory. One lady stops to tip her hat and give us a kind smile of welcome.
We were brought to this remote village so we could see the daily life activities of the Vietnamese people. We ventur over a rickety plank, down a small muddy path to a larger muddy road until we come to the family home of Ong Nam. He is quite proud and greets us as honor his honored guests. And then he invites us to walk through his home…to walk through his home…who of us would invite 30 tourists to traipse into our home just so they could see how we live?
It’s the humble, gentle, hospitable people that I’ll remember most. We see and experience how they live and work, not the typical tourist sites and activities. These people are poor — and happy. At every village, the children run to greet and follow us as we pass through their lives. They giggle and laugh and practice their English, “Hello!” “Hi!” They clamor for ‘high fives’. When we stop to listen to the tour guide, the children go and play or respectfully wait on the sidelines. But as soon as we start to move, they return to talk and play and keep us company until we wave “goodbye.”
Punleu, our tour guide, tells us that under Communism there was no meditation, there was no faith. “We couldn’t even control our own breath.” Today, the Buddhist faith again flourishes. It’s a meditative life as one strives to relax and find calm. We’re told that many of the people are able to move on from their difficult histories because of Buddhism’s philosophy of forgiveness. “We would rather forgive than seek justice.”
Punleu tells us the story of the Man & Woman’s Mountains. Once upon a time, a long time ago, men and women couldn’t decide who should pay the dowry when it was decided that they should marry. So, they held a competition to see who could build the tallest mountain before sunrise. The women didn’t want to pay the dowry so they tricked the men by building a huge bonfire which lit up the sky. The men thought the sun was rising, stopped working and returned to the village. The women won. Still in Cambodia today, men have to pay a dowry to his intended wife’s parents.
The ancient walls of Ankor Wat are adorned with thousands of Apsara dancers. While stone in structure, each dancer has little sparks of life in her expression and gestures. Through the centuries, the Apsaras’ purpose is to please the Hindu gods and man with graceful mesmerizing moves. They represent the ideal of feminine beauty, elegance and refinement. Each movement and gesture is part of a story that the Apsara is telling. The dancer here tells of the start of a tree rooted, yet growing as the leaves start to open and beckon for future life.