In January and February of 2012 we travelled through the 4 countries France, when they had occupied them, had called IndoChina. We started with a couple of days in Bangkok, Thailand, then flew north to Luang Prabang, the capital of Laos where I spent 5 days. This included a boat trip up the Mekong River to a large cave where for centuries statues of The Buddha have been placed by Buddhists. The river is lined with houses on stilts or on rafts. The reason is that the seasonal fluctuation in river level can range up to 27 feet! The most amazing thing to me was the character and expression in the faces of the children. I've dedicated a gallery to photos of the children of IndoChina, representing less than 1% of photographs taken of them.
In Cambodia we visited a hilltop temple overlooking the Mekong, whose grounds are used as a park, and it was teaming with school children and their parents, picnicking. We visited a government sponsored school for traditional dance where classes were in progress, and in an open theatre, students were demonstrating their skills to a large group of tourists. In villages the children came running expectantly when they heard there was a camera, and they made wonderful subjects, with expressions ranging from shyness and distrust to bursts of joy.
We visited an orphanage and made a contribution toward its operation. we learned the children there cannot be adopted, because of abuse of the system not too long ago. Couples from Taiwan were adopting children at an unprecedented rate, and were putting them to work in factories at home. The Cambodian authorities have yet to produce an effective way to prevent this, short of prohibiting adoption. These children are trapped, and I saw them parenting each other. You will see this in some of my photos. Love prevails, and children adapt. They are survivors, and the hope of their country.
The Mekong River is easily as polluted as the Ganges, although I have not seen statistics. What I did see, and photograph in Viet Nam, were women regularly draw water to cook and wash with, while overhead a man stands urinating past her into the river. Along one stretch of stilted houses I photographed children swimming in the river and playing under the houses. When checking focus after downloading my photos, I zoomed in on a single child, and saw I had two consecutive shots of this possibly 4-year-old girl clinging to an angled beam while she squatted on a stout horizontal pipe, her pants down, eliminating. She was smiling toward our passing Pandow boat, feeling no need for privacy. Our culture is very different, but for them theirs works. Their greatest need to improve things like infant mortality rates and general longevity is a clean water initiative. They will not find clean water in the Mekong River!
Something I recently learned that shocked me was that, although most children are born near and spend a great deal of time in a river, the leading cause of death of people between 4 and 24 in Asia is drowning. They do not live in a safety-concious culture, and few actually learn to swim. A new but not well funded initiative is to provide swimming lessons to pre-school children, and to put into use small plastic swimming pools. This program has just begun, and is at the moment sparse.
Their story is in their faces, and it is diverse. The one constant I see is optimism and hope, which provides for them the first step in becoming contributors to the success of their society, and their growth as people of our world.
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