Michael's Dispatches

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Morning alms at Luang Prabang, Laos

09 April 2009

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

This morning some monks performed a ritual under a tree near my door.  I did not want to intrude upon their tranquility with a camera, so I modestly enjoyed the moment, knowing that in just a few days I would walk into another, very different land.

In Laos, a few days ago, I awoke before sunrise to photograph monks collecting morning alms in Luang Prabang.  Perhaps a hundred monks from the local temples collected alms from the people.  After the transaction the monks and the people dispersed into the cool morning.  In the great book of days, people were busy writing the pages of their lives.

That’s when this flower and the sun caught my eye.  I had to wait a few minutes for the sun to rise into the frame, where a flower blossom formed a partial eclipse.  For an ephemeral pause, flower and sun danced together, accentuating one another, and creating a simple splendor.  Then the sun moved on and the moment was gone forever.

The event was not overwhelming, just a simple glimpse of beauty, there for anyone fortunate enough to enjoy, and another simple sentence was written into the great book of days, “Stopped to photograph flower and sun.”

Then it was off into this day, out of Luang Prabang to a couple of simple villages, where the children don’t wear shoes.  Shoes are a funny thing.  Up in Nepal, countless porters walk during the heat and in the snow.  They walk over stones and through leech-infested terrain.  Mile after mile, high and low, the porters often carry more than two-hundred pounds.  Yet many never wear shoes, not even once in their lives.  Sometimes rich travelers buy shoes for these silent, strong men.  The porters thankfully accept the gifts and then sell the shoes and walk barefooted through every step of their lives.  In the mornings their wives clean the mud floors of their smoky homes with cow dung.

On my first trip to Laos, I traveled two days by boat down the Mekong, and took some time in various towns and villages before landing in the capital of Vientiane.  One afternoon in a café I saw a man speaking with the locals, and I thought to myself, ‘American military officer.’  In fact, he was an Army officer, leading a team to recover American service members who were lost there during the war.  It’s difficult to convey the scene of all the bomb craters I saw that time in Laos.  To get an idea, just stare at a full moon on a clear night.

Many Laotians are simple people.  Their babies walk around naked, and their homes are made of what grows nearby or can be collected within a short walk, yet the world comes to visit them.  Along the tourist migration routes, they live in a perpetual sort of virtual travel that I experienced in a much different way growing up in Florida, before pushing off on the great voyage.  In some places, like Florida or Laos, if you sit still, travelers from around the world will come to where you are, and you can learn.

After a day in the countryside, it was back to Luang Prabang, where I spotted these monks and asked the driver to stop.  They reminded me of Tom Sawyer.

Then it was off to the l’Elephant restaurant, which had been recommended by a Swedish medical doctor and her husband.  After the juicy and tender duck, I settled the bill and began walking to my room.  The sun was melting into night.  That’s when the young monk appeared in a window and I photographed him from the shadows.

Another short day had ended, and a long night begun.

Had folks at home not asked for more images, these photos would have been among the many thousands of scenes absorbed by my cameras, but never published, and unlikely to be seen again.  Thousands of such images, from dozens of countries, remain locked in the silence and darkness of archival catacombs.  One day I would like to tell about the secrets of the cannibals and other travels on the trail of great mysteries, but I must first survive the war.   In the great book of days, one entry might read, “Six times around world interrupted by Iraq war, then Afghanistan.  Can’t wait for war to end.”

The monk closed his book and shut the window and disappeared.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barb Mungovan Koch · 9 years ago
    During this Holy Week, it is wonderful to think of you absorbing the colors of Spring. That eclipse of the flower and the sun is extraordinary. I can't wait to see what your treasure trove of archives holds in the way of other colors, hands, eyes, other simple truths, frozen forever in time through the lens of your camera. Your journey has much to teach all of us. I'm grateful to be a 'student' in your virtual classroom. Those who know you and love you, though, would also love to see your face once in a blue moon, so, I think a quick, turn-around self-portrait would be very welcome by your readers.....about now. Happy Easter, Michael. You're in our prayers, as always....
    Lovin' you,
    Barb
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DJ · 9 years ago
    Thanks so much, Michael, for the poignant, enchanting pictures of your travels. Still mostly land-locked at this point in my life but your travels uplift and transport and remind me of my favorite poem... 'and miles to go before I sleep ... and miles to go before I sleep'
    Godspeed, sir.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Betsy · 9 years ago
    Thank you so much for the sensitive photos from your travels. You honor the Creator who resides in each of us- ehh
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken · 9 years ago
    Great shots Michael, keep them coming! What camera are you are using?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Olavo Ferreira · 9 years ago
    Michael, We??re down here preparing to the eatern.
    This photos your sending to us just show us the qorld can be healed
    Good luck 4 you in your new trip to "another" country.
    Send us photos as much as you can.
    thanks a lot
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Olavo Ferreira · 9 years ago
    Michael, We??re down here preparing to the Easter.
    This photos your sending us just show us the world can be healed
    Good luck 4 you at your new trip to "another" country.
    Send us photos as much as you can.
    thanks a lot
    Olavo - Brazil
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gerard-Jacksonville, · 9 years ago
    Michael, your writing is fantastic and in its own right; pictures of what you are seeing. By sharing your great photograpy, it just adds another element to tie it all together. The reader has one picture in his or her mind of what you are describing and then can actually see about that which you are writing. It just makes everything you do that much better!

    Keep up your great work!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley, CDR, · 9 years ago
    Evocative of David Douglas Duncan, maybe "Yankee Nomad"? Your "eye" is good enough to go B&W. Would like to see some in that format.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kim McAllister · 9 years ago
    It's true - for every picture you take, a thousand words are written. These are stunning and of places and people I would never have known about. You must publish these photos.

    Amazing.

    Thank you
  • This commment is unpublished.
    submandave · 9 years ago
    I had forgotten until Barb mentioned Holy Week, but yesterday was the Japanese celebration of the Buddha's birthday.

    I would guess that Laos tradition is similar to Thai in that all young men are expected to serve time in a monestary performing service as a monk. Do you know if this is so?

    WRT the monk in the window picture, have you done any post processing on it? A little burining in the window area could dramatically restore lost detail to this great shot.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dean Hendrickson · 9 years ago
    Was in Chiang Mai in 01 for Song Kron and I am sure you are enjoying it. I didn't hear even one fire cracker. But everyone gets wet from the water from the mote around the center of the city. As one of the few western looking people around I was the target of everyone near. All in good fun. They were even selling blocks of ice to cool the water. It was quite a shock in that heat. One of the police didn't even get angry when his clean and pressed uniform got drenched along with his paperwork. Your pictures are great. Send more. The people are even better. Have a little fun. Dean
  • This commment is unpublished.
    LaVerne · 9 years ago
    I love the pictures you make and send. God Bless You!!!! LaVerne
  • This commment is unpublished.
    LaVerne · 9 years ago
    I love the pictures you make and send. God Bless You!!!! LaVerne
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marjorie · 9 years ago
    You have done it again, Michael! The beauty you captured is wonderful. I lived in Florida for 8 years back in the '80's and I remember the first time I walked through the trees and foliage on Sanibel Island and stepped on the white sand into the sunlight. The sky was so blue and the water so blue and it absolutely took my breath away. I cried from the sheer beauty. I felt the same way when I first saw the Grand Canyon after rounding a corner and there it was! In Japan I saw many things that caused me to pause and take photos - a formal Japanese wedding, the little children in their uniforms walking quietly behind their teacher, the rice paddies in the mountains and the faces of the little old ladies ...Memories are as fresh now as then. Thank you for sharing your wonderful photographs with us. Stay safe! Marjorie in NC
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Possum · 9 years ago
    Thanks, Michael. I was in the "secret war" in Laos in67-68 advising Royal Lao Air Force.
    Had a base at Luang Prabang. They flew T-28 trainers modified with guns and bomb racks. Looks peaceful now.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CJ · 9 years ago
    Michael,
    I have tears in my eyes thinking about all your beautiful photos waiting to be seen, and your upcoming travels into war territory again.
    Please stay safe in your war efforts and return to bring us all those glorious stored photos and your wonderfully picturesque words.
    I will wait in the inevitable long line for your next book. Or rather, your next books.
    God Bless you, Michael.
    CJ in NY
  • This commment is unpublished.
    gus · 9 years ago
    michael,

    i was wondering, as a fellow photographer, if you capture your images in raw or jpeg?

    God be with you,

    gus
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barry Sheridan · 9 years ago
    Magic picture of the flower and the sun Michael. That makes it a good moment for me to sign off after a long day, where-ever you go tread lightly and look out for yourself.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fred · 9 years ago
    Your work has a magical quality. You make photography an art form. Bravo.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fred · 9 years ago
    Your photography has magical qualities. You make it an art form. Bravo.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rick · 9 years ago
    You have captured Laos as I remember it as a Soldier deployed through out the early 90's in SE Asia. Have fun in Thailand my wife is Thai and been married for 14 Years not a more wonderful place to spend some time
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 9 years ago
    Michael,

    The photos brought back many memories. I spent a great deal of my Army service working in Laos in the mid-90's as a translator on the POW-MIA issue. I worked closely with the Lao every day. I was always amazed at the warmth and friendliness of the Lao people. I plan to return someday. Until then, I will simply enjoy your photos and remember.

    Take care and safe travels.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Walter Whitaker · 9 years ago
    Congratulations on a great set of photos. Your writing in great so are your pictures. Keep up the good work and thank you.

    W. H. Whitaker
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Garner · 9 years ago
    Mike

    Thanks for the photos and the memories of many years spent in Southeast Asia. Khop Khun Mak Khup!!!!!

    Paul Garner
    TSgt, USAF (Retired)
    Southeast Asian War Games, 1967-1973
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cor · 9 years ago
    Great photos Mike, thank you
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ben · 9 years ago
    Thank you Michael for the awesome beauty that you have captured for us to see so many miles away. I don't know that I will ever travel to Laos or Thailand, though I hope to. You make it possible for us to imagine what other people like ourselves, perhaps in different circumstances, definitely different cultural backgrounds, see, talk about, etc. If it weren't for the ravages of war and civil unrest, this would trully be a paradise. But I know that the true paradise awaits God's children in heaven. You enable us to see what some of that might look like. Thanks!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sherry Davis · 9 years ago
    Michael,

    Your photos are appreciated and fabulous. Thanks so much for sending them.
    I just returned from Turkey and a 21 day trip. It was awesome to see the ancient world. Ephesus was the most thrilling to visit. Hope you can make it there one day. God bless.

    Love,

    Sherry Davis
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marilyn Lindquist · 9 years ago
    Thank you, Michael, who is not only our photographer and excellent reporter, but a great friend. I am always eager to immerse my focus on your commentaries. I don't bother with the newspaper now. Your descriptions of what you witness ALONG WITH YOUR INCREDIBLE PHOTOGRAPHY keep me up to date.

    Michael (Michael with the M-flying dot-Y autograph :-), one day I do hope that you will write another book in which you concentrate on the "secrets of the cannibals and other travels on the trail of great mysteries." Yes, first you must survive the war.

    Much love and prayers always with a wish for a joyous Easter,
    Marilyn from Pasadena CA
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Rainey · 9 years ago
    Love the sun and flower shot. Good shooting!
  • This commment is unpublished.
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