3 Feb 2014

Amazing Sangkhlaburi. Part II: the people

It's all about the people. The memories that stay longer in our memories almost always revolve around people: that short conversation in the bus stand waiting for the rain to clear; the brief question for help that ended up in an intimate, casual talk; a photography that lead to a drink, or even a dinner. Or even those unspoken conversations where only the eyes met each other, silently, in the distance. The remembrance of a face, a smile, a gesture that touches us is much sharper than the most beautiful of landscapes. And, as gorgeous as Sangkhlaburi landscapes are (you can see all those pictures here), they are not the images that consistently appear in my mind, whenever I think back about my days there. Instead, random faces of people who I talked to and who I didn't present themselves to me, vivid as if it was yesterday. Like this man, who was quietly washing the dishes after lunch while I waited for the local bus to depart. We saw each other, smiled, and each of us went ahead with our own tasks. No more than that. But I can't get rid of his image, crouching down under the only ray of light that past through an opening in the roof.

Light and water, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Or these little girls, who were apparently skipping class while I happened to walk past the school, early morning. I slowed down; they looked at me from the distance and, as I approached them, they gathered and started smiling, obviously curious to see a foreigner in those grounds, and with a camera. The first girl seemed to summon other girls and, in no time, 4 or 5 of them were climbing up the banister to look at me, some braver than others. We didn't speak the same language, though gentle eyes and sincere smiles are all that's needed to feel connected.

Curiosity, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
A world of her own, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Playfulness, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
And then there is the temple. The grounds where it sits are quite vast and they comprise a few buildings, 2 of which are the most outstanding: first, the temple itself, bright, colorful and under a well deserved rebuilding at the moment. I could see lonely novice monks walking from one building to another, unhurriedly enjoying a breeze walk under the canopy of trees. And I could also see the workers who, with total dedication and care, were manually and carefully repainting, refurbishing, repairing step by step the old building. They acknowledged my presence but there were no words spoken; I didn't want to disturb and, as they continued they work, I walked around the corridors taking a few pictures, bowed in gratitude, and left.

The end of the road, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Repair works I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Repair works II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
And second, the community center: a broad, all wooden building where not only monks but also the neighbors from the village gather daily for lunch together under the careful watch of a golden Buddha. This place alone kept me in awe for as long as there was people eating, all of them in total silence, unperturbed by my discreet presence. Rituals against intrusions, I guess, though I tried to be as respectful and quiet as possible, merging into my surroundings the best I could. The atmosphere of respect, calmness and communion was so thick that I could feel it sharply even though I'm not Buddhist. Young and elders together, man and women, each one following the conventions and traditions, all in absolute harmony.

Lunch I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Lunch II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Silhouette, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Empty bowl, , GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
On top of the stairs I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
On top of the stairs II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Mouth wash, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Once the procession of monks returned to their dormitory and the rest of the people magically vanished, it was time for me to resume my walk, as well, so I descended the staircase that crosses a small forest, linking the temple with the main road, and reached a vast ground field that seemed to be on the way to the village. As I crossed it, sweating under the fierce afternoon sun, a few people came and went, and all I could see were curious gazes, timid questions, friendliness and empathy.

A path through the forest, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Silent wondering, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The offering, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
And finally I reached the Mon village, the place I intended to visit all along, so I spent the rest of the early evening wandering around the narrow streets of the village, seeing how the villagers were going ahead with their daily tasks and routines, how the kids returned from the school, how the sun started to fade and how everyone, old and young, ended up in the lake, sooner or later, to clean the dust of a long, tiring day.

Gracious walk, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The bath I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The bath II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The following morning I hit the street before sunrise. I wanted to see the village waking up and stretching itself gradually, I wanted to observe how life unfolded naturally, though as soon as I reached the bridge I realized that my effort was in vain, for I was a bit late. There were already neighbors returning from this side of the lake, loaded with goods, while others were crossing the raft at that moment, ready to start a new day's journey. I roamed the misty alleys and I saw shops already open, fishermen returning with their capture, families having breakfast together, and kids. Boys and girls in every house getting ready for another school day.

Balance, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Somewhere in cool Thailand..., GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Ready for school, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
A boundless gaze, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The intruder, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Conversation without words, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
My time in Sangkhlaburi was about to finish, but my finger was relentlessly pressing the shutter, for my eyes were seeing so much beauty right and left, wherever I looked at there were photographies awaiting to be taken. I had never felt like this before, as I already explained in a previous post (you can check it out here), so I kept walking and capturing until the very last minute, and again all I got in return were more smiles, more charm, more sparkles. 

Awaiting, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Resting, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
There is someone who needs special mention before we wrap things up, though. It all started exactly in Saphan Mon, the bridge that represents all about this village: late evening, the last lights of day fade on the horizon, Sangkhaluri village falls in darkness, I cross the bridge back to my guesthouse to have dinner, but one of those chance encounters happen, and it all changes for the rest of the night. Two Mon boys are having a drink in the bar by the bridge. An inviting glance is enough to make me approach them, greet, and the rest is lots of talk, and drinks, and laughs, and dinner at their house with all their friends from the Mon Youth Progressive Organization, an association created some years ago by Mon and Karen people from Myanmar to ensure a democratic future for their communities and country. It was a real pleasure meeting you all. My deepest thanks, though I cannot thank enough your kindness and care. Hope to see you soon again!

Mon Youth Progressive Organization (MYPO), GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Last, but not least, there is another place that needs mention in Sangkhlaburi, and that is Baan Unrak School, a school where volunteers from all around the world come to teach kids belonging to many different ethnic origins, such as Mon, Karen, Burmese and also Thai, many of them orphan, refugees or from impoverished families, that thanks to this school have the chance to learn through a neo-humanist approach. It was a revelation getting to know the woman behind all this project and having a short talk to her, as well as seeing the kids learning with absolute attention all the different subjects in the classrooms and in the courtyard, where I could grab the last picture of my trip, one picture that I believe encapsulates very clearly the atmosphere and soul of this school. I will try my best to come back again as a volunteer myself!

Baan Unrak School, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm

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