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|Hello Kitty ~ Ayuthaya, Thailand||Slide 1 of 200 | Next >> |
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Despite its simplicity and lack of cultural flair, this is one of my favorite images from Southeast Asia. This beautiful child made my day - and quite literally provided the photographic inspiration for my trip.
I began my 2003 trip knowing photography would be an important part of the journey, yet I left home with no idea what my theme might be. It was in Ayuthaya, a few days into my trip, when this child provided some direction. I was wandering the ruins with several Thai natives (including a friend who gave up much of his vacation to show me around - thanks, Artich) when I spotted her walking across the street. While she was probably forty or fifty meters away, somehow we connected. I'm not sure whether it was the bulky lens that caught her attention - but for whatever reason, she acknowledged me and waved. I snapped one frame - and then returned her gesture. When I saw the image later, I found myself in awe of her beauty and radiant happiness.
Yes, she's just a child - a child like millions of others out there. But what, really, is there more beautiful than a happy child? Her warm eyes, engaging smile - the unsolicited wave. The necklace had almost certainly been her choice that morning. Likewise, the "Hello Kitty" shirt. The more I stared at the image, the more I pondered who she was and what her life might be like. I was moved by the warmth of her greeting and the joy I saw in her eyes. It was this warmth, this sense of simple happiness and kindness, that I would encounter again and again throughout the region. And it slowly provided the direction I'd been seeking.
While "Hello Kitty" wasn't one of them, there are millions of people in Southeast Asia who live in poverty. Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam - these are some of the poorest nations on the planet. Yet everywhere I went, I encountered smiles. Not that there weren't uncomfortable moments or encounters with unhappy, struggling human beings. What I found, though, was an appreciation of the simple things in life that is often lacking at home in the States. Happiness? Children don't need toys to be happy. Adults? Wealth and status not required. We say the words quite often in America, yet our actions - our lifestyles - indicate otherwise.
What I found in Southeast Asia was truth in those words. I found people who embraced life despite great suffering, children who relied solely upon imagination for fun. I met adults who lived through war and genocide - and cling to family as if there's nothing else in the world that matters. While I experienced beauty of all types on my trip, nothing compared to the warmth and spirit of the region's wonderful people.
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