A photo captures the moments so often lost to memory. When I leave the house for anything out of the ordinary, I feel lost without my camera strapped to my side. Perhaps it’s because I don’t trust my memory to summon the details I’ll want to write about later; perhaps it’s because I enjoy the process; or perhaps it’s because the process is one that forces us to slow down and really see the beauty in the everyday mundane. It’s the photos that will linger long after the memories fade. They are the timeless representations of how a land once was, in a constantly evolving world. And they are the proof that life and death and poverty and corruption and beauty lies everywhere in this world, not just in our own corners of comfort.
As travelers, we often have to face the ethical question of whether or not to snap photos of people we don’t know. I’m guilty of shooting images without asking, for reasons that either my subject was too far away to seek permission, or the action happened too quickly or it would dissolve if I stopped to ask permission, but I don’t agree this is always the best approach. Many of us snap away without ever considering the consequences, perhaps later noticing the unhappy look on a subject’s face, or being subjects ourselves in an uncomfortable situation.
I find it interesting that culturally, some countries make our job as photographers so much easier. Like India, for example. I remember countless occasions where people (mostly children but adults too) who, upon noticing my digital camera, would ask me to take their picture. I’m still uncertain if they were more fascinated by the technology when I showed them the instant outcome, or intrigued with their own mugshot, or simply flattered that I was happy to capture their image, but their willingness made me that much more eager to snap away, and it resulted in lots of great shots of very photogenic people, one of which is below.
I was inspired by this Flickr photo exhibit, titled “Everyday Life.” So I asked a group of fellow travel bloggers who have traversed through at least one Asian country to look back though their favorite photos and select one portrait or group shot to add to this post. I was pleasantly surprised that nearly everyone chose a differenty country to represent, making this an exciting endeavor. Their photos, paired with short stories of how they came to fruition, are below for your viewing pleasure. Please let them know what you think in the comments below!
Faces of Asia
“Two friends and I were on tour at Cambodia’s old capital, Angkor Wat, when this adorable little guy caught my eye. The stones used to build the temples here towered over me, and completely dwarfed him. It was fun to see the contrast, and he looked so happy to eat the snack his parents just bought him from a vendor, I couldn’t resist catching a candid shot.” ~Jessica of MissAdventure Travel
“It’s a well known fact that Chinese people can sleep just about anywhere. Trains. Buses. On a table of raw meat at the local market… (yes I saw this happen once and was so frustrated I’d left my camera behind!)
The snap above was taken as a local attempted to snooze on a bench next to the stunning West Lake, Hangzhou-clearly the beauty was lost on him! Of course, Chinese children have no sense of boundaries (at least when it comes to going to the toilet in the middle of the street!) so this was clearly an ideal opportunity to attack him.
It may not be an artistic shot, but there’s so much I love about it and to me it is quintessential of China: it will make you cry tears of laughter (cue this picture) it will make you sigh with absolute despair (why can’t I find just one dish at a restaurant that isn’t laden with chicken feet and MSG!) but it will never ever be boring.” ~ Jenna of Healthy Globetrotting
“On one of my days off from teaching English in China, I rode my bike to a nearby village of Shiling, about a 45-minute ride on my tiny little red contraption. As always, I had my camera in hand, and I just wandered through this traditional Chinese village – the kind that are becoming rare with the overrun of huge cities – and snapped photos of the daily life. Here, a meat vendor is preparing the cuts just how the customers ordered, and the little boy was being daddy’s little helper, telling the woman what he’d like to have.” ~ Jessica of MissAdventure Travel
“I met this boy in Jaisalmer, India in January 2013. I was in Jaisalmer for the Rickshaw Run, a crazy event in which I drove a three-wheeled tuk tuk 3,000 kilometers through the country with two women I’d never met before. I was stressed beyond belief and wondering what I’d gotten myself into. This kid was hanging out at his father’s mechanic shop when we pulled in one day. He had such a calming presence. He served us chai and we spoke about his school, his life, and the deity featured in the charm he wore around his neck. What I remember now about our interaction was how open and inquisitive this child was. I remember his face and the warm glow of his eyes. He brought a bright spot to my day.” ~ Kim Dinan of So-Many-Places
“Along the ghats in Varanasi, India, it seems one can do almost anything. Two foreigners had erected a large black sheet in the middle of the sidewalk, and were asking picturesque passersby to pose for a photo. I jumped in behind the photographer to take advantage of their brilliant idea, but this sadhu (holy man) noticed I wasn’t getting a clear shot so he turned toward me when the other men were finished and held his pose so I too could share in his glory.” ~Jessica of MissAdventure Travel
“I recently spent a month in Indonesia, traversing the whole width of the country within my short trip. The last place I visited was Raja Ampat, a group of island’s just west of Papua New Guinea that are one of the world’s last paradises. As is common in Asia, local children swarmed me as soon as I got off the boat, but there was something in this one’s face that said more than ‘you’re a foreigner and I’m excited to see you.” ~Robert Schrader of Leave Your Daily Hell
“After touring the Khong Lor cave in northern Laos, we ventured into a small village to purchase snacks and water. This young girl was running around in the dirt while her grandma watched with a smile, so I asked if I could snap a couple photos. Another guy on tour did the same, and that’s him showing her the photo he captured. I think she was too young to understand what it all meant, but she was intrigued nonetheless!” ~ Jessica of MissAdventure Travel
“I took this image in Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. Richard, a local fisherman and “taxi driver” (there are no cars on the islands, so his taxi is a small motorboat which he uses to ferry people between beaches), took us out one evening for a spot of sea fishing. He turned out to be one of the funniest characters I’ve met on my travels, constantly berating us for not knowing how to fish – in spite of the fact that we told him this before we left – and complaining about tourists on the islands, but always with a big grin and laughing eyes. His funniest story, involving finding tourists using his boat for their amorous activities, was reenacted using two of the fish we’d caught.” ~ Emily of Emily Luxton: Explore. Dream. Discover.
“This photo was taken at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a very important site for the Hindu religion.
Batu Caves is home to the largest Hindu festival each year, the Thaipusam festival, which celebrates when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel “spear” so he could vanquish an evil demon.
Upon entering the caves, we were overcome with the sound of chanting and traditional music. We followed the sound and came upon a ritual taking place. Worshippers carried pots on their head all the way up the 272 stairs and delivered them to a Hindu priest. From our vantage point, it looked as though the priests were “feeding” a spear by pouring a dark, muddy-looking liquid over it and then washing it clean with water.
This process repeated over and over while worshippers chanted to the music. Even though we had no idea what was going on, it was a very special moment to witness.” ~ Josh & Liz of Peanuts or Pretzels
“These precious kiddos aren’t just adorable, but they are also the reason why thousands of westerners have jobs in Taiwan. Buxibans (cram schools) are located on every corner in Taiwan, and I would safely bet there are as many buxibans as 7-11s.
A common day for a Taiwanese student consists of 6 hours in a primary school, followed by English classes in a buxiban. For older students, more tutoring follows in subjects such as math, French, and music until 9 pm.
As a result of all of the intense learning crammed into one day, these kids are pretty smart cookies; I’m constantly impressed by their ability to focus all day long from one subject to the next.
And English isn’t the only party trick in my students’ bag; they also take lessons in French, Spanish, and Japanese. In addition to being extremely intelligent, they are also polite and friendly. I have taught in Honduras and Indonesia, and Taiwanese students have by far proven to be the most respectful.
I’m proud to say these kids are my students, as they make it an absolute joy for me to walk into work everyday.” ~ Jenna Longoria of Nomad Notions
“Perhaps the most famous temple in Thailand is Doi Suthep in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Two friends and I rented motorbikes and rode to this temple on top of the hill, then walked the hundreds of steps to its entrance. These dragon statues sat near the bottom of the steps, and one of the temple’s monks was dutifully repainting the intricate pattern. He knew a hoard of tourists were snapping his photo, but he worked without a care in the world from his throne on the dragon.” ~ Jessica of MissAdventure Travel
“These were some of the kids I worked with at the government-run camps in Colombo, Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. So cheerful and bright and happy even in the wake of horrendous tragedy.”~ Moriah Kent of Global Girl Gone
“I took this photo in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam during my 6 month world travel adventure with my significant other. We were staying on a junk boat for the night, touring all of the many beautiful islets. I remember it being so peaceful and serene. We saw a whole village of families living on their boats as we floated along. This man in particular stuck out to me. He stood on his boat so stoically, watching us from afar, with the beautiful scenery behind him and it was such an eye-opening experience to see someone else’s world and reality. This man, living a proud and simple life, seemed to capture the essence of the locals there in Ha Long Bay.” ~ Michelle of Mish Lovin’ Life
“Wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City early one morning, I came across this gentleman sitting in front of a picturesque hem (alleyway) near the French Consulate. I took a few photos of the gnarled Banyan tree swallowing the stone archway behind him before he looked up from his newspaper and we exchanged glances. With a smile and raised eyebrows, I pointed to my camera and then pointed to him. He grinned broadly, straightened his back and smoothed his jacket as he waited for me to snap a quick shot. I showed him the result, and he responded with a heartfelt cảm ơn (thank you) and a firm handshake. More than almost anywhere else, people in Vietnam thanked me for taking photos of them, which always felt so odd, considering how grateful I was to them and how much I treasured the photos that they would never see again.” ~ Tony & Steph of 20 Years Hence
“The featured photo above was also taken in Vietnam, in the coastal town of Hoi An, home of all things tailor made, from shoes and swimsuits to dresses and suits. I snapped these old guys after asking them for a photo, and they both fixed their hats to sit straight and gave me their biggest, toothless grins. I still smile every time I see this image.” ~ Jessica of MissAdventure Travel
If you haven’t been to Asia, does this make you want to go? Which photo strikes a chord with you? Comments make a blogger’s heart sing, so leave your words for these fine photographers and storytellers below, then check out their sites!