A Study, The Faces Of Asia
Prepared by Harold Stephens
Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International
When I travel around Asia there are times when I wish I was a painter rather than a writer. I become overwhelmed with the striking faces I see in my travels. I don’t mean pretty faces, like Miss Thailand (although I do admire their beauty) but the faces of the ordinary people¬¬—hawkers, policemen, school kids, sales clerks, tuktuk drivers, river boat captains, hotel doormen, monks, wharf laborers, waiters and waitresses, sidewalk sweepers, and the faces of those from every walk of life. I want to capture their images but I can only do it with a camera.
My artist friend, Theo Meier, was a master at this, having lived in French Polynesia, on Bali for 22 years, and the last twenty years of his life in Chiang Mai. It’s no small wonder his paintings today sell in the many thousands of dollars. He captured the faces of the people of Asia, frozen forever on canvas. He taught me that the human face is the pent-up drama of man wanting to be released. It is the artist, and sometimes the photographer, who can do this. You find this true in the faces of the people you see and meet when you travel. Faces want to tell you something.
It’s a fact, the greatest excitement of travelling to unfamiliar places is meeting people and seeing new faces. It's the people of a country, more than the landscape that makes the place interesting. I recently made a motor trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Sot with an America couple from Minnesota, USA. We stopped at one scenic view spot and the woman remarked, “Why this looks just like Minnesota.” Just at that moment a group of hill tribe people sauntered by. I wanted to tell them you don’t have faces like that in Minnesota, but I could see that I didn’t have to. They understood.
The environment, certainly, molds the people of a country. Mountain people clearly differ from people who dwell in the lowlands and along rivers and seaboards. Mountain men, for some reason, stand tall and straight, and their women are bold and look you right straight in the eyes. These are the characteristics of the Bhutanese people as well. They are handsome and bold and look you right straight in the eyes.
Sea people differ as well. And, of course, people who live in the cities of Asia are all in a class of their own.
Photographing the people you meet is an art in itself. Some people don’t want to be photographed; others love it and are willing to pose for the camera. But not always. In Russia I found it most difficult to photograph the people, and even was in threat of having my camera ripped away from me. In fact, I was arrested for taking a photograph of a bridge. At the police station I had a hard time explaining Russian bridges are a work of art. Convinced, the officer-in-charge agreed to let me go. But first, he wanted me to take his picture and send him a copy. I did.
Many primitive people are reluctant to have their photos taken. They believe that their image captured on film also captures their soul. And people of different religions pose other problems. I have never had any difficulty with Buddhists or Hindus; Muslims are the opposite. It wasn’t always this way. It seems only in recent years have the Muslims become defensive, especially when it comes to photographing their women in veils. Muslim men especially don’t like someone to photograph their women. I did have a chuckle when I was in Rabat in Morocco. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A Muslim man was photographing what I assumed was his wife. She was standing in front of a mosque. She was wearing a black, ankle-length robe and her face was completely covered. Does he show the photograph to his friends and say, “This is my wife. Nice robe.”
On a trip to Bhutan, I fell in love with the people, their habits and customs. I even bought a Bhutanese kho and wore it when the occasion called for it. The Bhutanese loved me for it. And I was able to click madly and furiously without difficulty. In fact, my problem was everyone wanted to get into the picture with me.
On the Australian Outback I ran across drovers herding cattle and asked their boss man if I could take their photo and he agreed. When I began taking a second photo he stopped me. “You took one; what d’ya want another fur?”
I wanted to tell him about faces but I don’t think he would have understood. He had probably never looked in a mirror.
William Shakespeare caught it so well in his play “Hamlet” when in reference to a face—“I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” Isn’t it so? It’s all there in one’s face.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q. Dear Mr. Stephens. After reading your article last week offering a free copy of Return to Adventure, I got a copy. I was reading the first chapter about the Lost City of Atlantis, when news of the disaster caused by tsunami in Japan broke. Now I just read there is news that a U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, as you mentioned in your book. This new search believes Atlantis may have been swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain. At first the team was ridiculed saying how can a city be wiped out 60 miles inland?
It seems, to solve the age-old mystery, and to quote them, “The team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain. There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multi-ringed dominion known as Atlantis.”
Thank you and I certainly recommend everyone to get one of the free copies of yhour book. Helen Margate, Seattle, WA
A. Dear Helen. Your e-mail is most welcome and I will certainly mention it. I will also remind readers they can get a free copy of “Return to Adventure” by contacting www.wolfendenpublishing.com. –HS
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.