So many of you might know that I’ve been keeping myself busy with my other project, Strange Tiny People (www.strangetinypeople.com). If you haven’t been following, make sure to head over to the site and like us on facebook at facebook.com/strangetinypeople .
Side note/shameless plug: The project is in danger of ending due to lack of funding. If you want to see more of these photos and support creative education, head over to the STP Project indiegogo fundraiser.
But it’s high time I shared some of the photos and stories I’ve been taking while on the road. While most of the project involves creative education, I am still a photographer. The STP project has me doing a lot of traveling so I can connect with children all around the world (As of now, around Asia). Since my funds are limited and I am trying to stretch every dollar/yuan/dong/baht/etc, I had to figure out a cost effective way of hitting these destinations.
But back to the travel stuff. I decided the most cost effective (and coolest) way was to go as long as I can via motorbike.
So I bought an old Chinese bike in Saigon off of friend, fellow photographer, and advertising Jedi Aaron Johnson, (go check him out at www.explosionmediagroup.com). I’ve been traveling the past couple of weeks from Saigon through the Mekong delta on my way to work with some organizations in Cambodia. So far she’s held up pretty good, plus or minus a few screws..
There’s lots of photos still waiting to be sifted through on the ol’ hard drive as we speak (I carry two 1TB hard drives, Optimus and Megatron) that I will post in the near future, but I really couldn’t help taking a few moments to share one particular story:
The delta is, well, a delta. Which means it is covered in rivers and tributaries, and I found myself on a very skinny island cut off by gaping rivers to the west and the ocean to the east. While I only meant to stop over for 5 minutes between ferries, I thought I would take a quick look around.
At the risk of sounding somewhere between Kipling and Thoreau, what I found was a bombardment of natural beauty and folky charm that will make your southern grandma give up and throw away all of her chicken decorations. These people have obviously never seen a foreign face. I would wager that the last American foot to step on this ground was wearing a combat boot. Children ran out of the school to look as I past, old ladies gave puzzling stares, and other bikers rubbernecked themselves into near extinction.
This little island (which I am choosing to not name so it can continue to be small and beautiful) is about 10 miles long with only one main road running down it, with some small farmer’s trails running off each side, as if the island had a spine. And it did. This was the backbone of the island. This is where life happened . Along this “main road”, which wasn’t even wide enough for two trucks to pass each other and the craters littered every few feet leads me to assume it hasn’t seen maintenance since the birth of Communism, one can pass thatch-roofed supply shops, kids running round the school, stone bridges over creeks of fisherman, old ladies sitting in lawn chairs gossiping, and fields of 10ft sugar canes.
The “ribs” held all of the farmers houses and tons of little streams where boats rested and waited for dark to go night fishing. Speaking of dark. I got a little carried away with all the sites and spent a lot more time on the island than I had meant to. Rushing to get back to the pier before the last ferry leaves, I ran across what looked like, and all good sense would say isn’t, but it’s way cooler this way, so I’m choosing to call it, a guard tower. I used the last waning moments of light to quickly snap a couple of shots when, looking on the back LCD (I chimp, there I said it.), I noticed a small black object dropping from underneath. When I looked up, I noticed more and more falling until the sky was filled with fruit bats, just waking up for their nightly foraging.
I kept shooting and shooting as the night sky filled with bats. Wait, night?
Crap. it was dark.
I go bumping along this minefield of a road trying to head back up to the pier, when a crater of a pothole took me by surprise, and jarred my headlight loose. On the island, you don’t see many street lights.
So now I’m late for the ferry AND I can’t see 5 feet in front of myself. Well, fudge.
There aren’t exactly any hotels on the island either, so I start walking my bike until I come across what looked like a hammock coffee-hut (more on these next time. Just understand that you will never think up anything as awesome as these places). I make motions for a screw-driver to the man and his wife sitting in the hut. After a couple rounds of charades, he brings me one, and we fix the light. Thankfully, cheap Asian bikes are as easy to fix as they are to break.
After that, I noticed that there are some tables around, so a pantomime food, in hopes that they also serve dinner. Another few rounds of charades brings him to pull me over to where he and his wife were eating their own dinner with their 2 kids.
“No no, I just wanted to buy some dinner.”
Then I realized what was going on here. This wasn’t a coffee hut. This was this dude’s house. All of the houses were open-faced, both for cooling reasons as well as welcoming ones. Every house has about 10 chairs and a dozen hammocks, just for people to come over and hang out. I wasn’t a customer, I was a guest being invited to come eat dinner, even though I was a complete stranger (and one that might as well have come from Tatooine).
As I was eating with them (fresh caught fish from the stream beside the cottage), I noticed that the family had grown 5-fold since I sat down. While some were just stopping in to hang out for the evening, it become quite apparent that I had become the big news of the village for the night. Everyone in the family had been on the horn telling their cousins and nephews to come look at their pale-skinned visitor. Soon I had a couple dozen people shaking hands and laughing with me, to which none of us could understand what the other was saying.
The children had multiplied from two to about ten, and they were all awesome. It reminded me how much easier it is to communicate with them than the adults. The bigger ones looked after the little ones, and the little ones found everything the met absolutely hilarious.
After some pull-up contests, re-answering the question “where from?” (the only English words spoken and understood of the night, thanks to one kid) for the 400th time, and more high-fives than I can count, it became quite apparent that these are exactly the kinds of kids I started the Strange Tiny People project for. It was driving me crazy that I didn’t have an interpreter with me, because these kids could have made some awesome stories. I will come back and teach these kids, and make portraits of all of them.
I had originally planned to just ask if I could sleep in one of their hammocks for the night, but to be honest all the socializing had left my poor introverted brain worn and in desperate need of a night alone. Lucky for me, I always bring a tent. I rode around for a little while looking for a place that didn’t directly appear to be squatting on someone’s land, until I decided to go off on one of the “rib” roads of the spine. Here I found a tranquil-as-f**k bridge (and the only one to actually have lights) next to a river with an old broken boat floating near. It would be a crime not to set up camp in such a picturesque spot, so I did. Don’t let the long exposure on this image fool you; I could barely see my hand in front of my face.
And it also provided a great chance to get this shot:
I had a nice nature-boy evening in my tent, then woke up before sunrise (and yet still the last one to get up on the island. Stupid farmers…) to greet all my new friends and get a couple of good sunrise shots. It’s worth noting that all of these shots are single-shots, no HDR. It appears that the Mekong Delta has a natural HDR setting:
After some “chatting” with some more villagers, I finally got back to the pier, and decided it was time for lunch and a beer, then I realized it was only about 9am, so I decided to have a vietnamese coffee and breakfast while I waited on the ferry. But rest assured I will come back and bring the full force of the STP project. New item on the bucket list: Come back with two things: an interpreter and 4-wheel drive.
If you’d like to make sure these adventures keep happening and I can afford things like interpreters so I can give awesome kids like this a voice and an image, go support the project at strangetinypeople.com/indiegogo.
That’s the end of today’s story, kiddos. Come around next time and I’ll tell you about uncle Josh getting hammered before noon on coconut moonshine. True story..
Now, off to the floating markets..