My Laos Family

Discussion in 'Color' started by Lawrence A., Mar 11, 2016.

  1. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    As it turned out, my Stylus was the camera I used most in Laos, and the Leica X1 was the next most often used. The E-M5 came in a distant third. It isn't that I don't like the E-M5. I love it. But I'm increasingly loving using cameras with very small profiles more. In Laos I could go out with the X-1 and the Stylus, each in a large pocket, without a need to rummage in a bag to take a shot. I loved that freedom. My "son" in Phonsavan (a young man who lost his father when he was a teenager and who started to refer to me as father in email last June) loved the Stylus, and has a pretty good eye, so I left it with him. His wife was expecting shortly, and I figured it would be a good camera for a new mother and father. In late January I got the news that a son had been born, and I was asked to meet my grandson on Skype and name him. A signal honor that still moves almost to tears. The baby's name is Thongsouk, and he is, of course, the most beautiful baby in the world. But back to the Stylus. I've missed it and got another one delivered today. The shots below are my vacation pictures, and I see nothing in them that makes me regret using the Stylus for so much of the trip.
    At the widely considered unusable iso of 1600, gritty but certainly adequate. Neighbors who will help perform the baci ceremony for me and my travel companion. My son's younger brother-- who is funny kid -- is whistling.

    Souk, my son, and his adorable sister, Yer.

    Me and Souk

    Souk and his brother Keng

    Souk and his lovely wife, Yeng. She speaks no English; I speak not Lao (though I'm trying to learn), so we smiled at each other a lot.

    Souk and me being silly.

    Souk at the Plain of Jars site 3

    Me and my travel companion with Souk, his brother and his mother. A truly wonderful family. To have been invited to be part of it is humbling.

    Charlie me and Vong. Vong had the Hmong outfits made for us for the Hmong New Year.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
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  2. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    and a few more:
    Souk and his mother

    My friend Charlie in his Hmong outfit

    Vientiane street scene.
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  3. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    Heck of a Life Story there Lawrence - needs to be told in more detail
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  4. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    I'm off to Chimayo today to celebrate what would have been my mother's 100th birthday. (She almost made it) I'll write a bit to fill in some of the details a bit later.
  5. rayvonn

    rayvonn Top Veteran

    Jan 19, 2015
    Fantastic, that's all I have to say.
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  6. Lovely

    Sent from my SM-N920P using Photographers Lounge mobile app
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  7. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    the warmth that radiates from these photos is unreal
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  8. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    I promise to be brief, so here in a nutshell is the story behind the pictures.

    In 2011, my old friend from Boston, Charlie, who had served as an Air Force intelligence officer in SE Asia during the second Indochina war, called and asked me if I’d be interested in joining him for a long postponed trip back. He tells me my response was, “Hell, yes!”, and being a potty mouth, I’ve no doubt that is true. We spent a month in Thailand and Laos along with old college friends of his, married and traveling around the world. They met us in Sukhothai. Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Song, Luang Prabang (Where we have a nephew about to graduate from teachers training college and (I’ll bet money on it) marry his girlfriend), were all just wonderful before we arrived in Phonsavan, where two young guys were working the counter at the Anoulak Khen Lao hotel, which I can recommend. These guys:

    One (Vong) was efficient, harried, eager to practice his English skills, and grumpy. His friend and co-worker (Souk) smiled a lot. Before we knew their names and had been adopted by them, we referred to them as Grumpy and Smiley.

    Vong worked 16 hour days 7 days a week, so he had reason to be grumpy, and he proved invaluable during our stay, arranging transportation, pointing out places to go, etc. Souk, as Vong says, is embarrassed to use his limited English (but better than he thinks), and “just smiles”. (But what a smile! His entire family have these radiant smiles that could light a football stadium – meaning soccer, of course.)
    Keng, Souk's brother, in blue.

    To make a long story short, Charlie asked Vong to mail some post cards the day we left Phonsavan. We had no reason to think we would ever see these guys again. Vong mailed the cards; if Vong tells you he will do something, count it done. Charlie mailed his thanks to him care of the hotel, along with a photograph he’d taken, and included his email address. Vong responded and it developed from there.

    In 2014 we made a return trip, and the guys acted as our tour guides friends, and, increasingly, our family. Vong threw a baci celebration for us, mostly for Charlie, whom he had come to consider a father. We all got to know and like each other. We laughed a lot; Souk ventured more in English, and the connections began to deepen. I met Yeng, Souk’s wife to be, and left a framed picture I had taken of them together.
    PC060362 copy2.jpg

    The day we left that year, Charlie took this shot of me and Souk’s mother. I like her a lot.

    In June I got an email in which Souk told me he considered me his father and began to address me as such. I was gratified by what I considered an honorific, but only took up my role as a father after it became clear over several messages that he meant it as more than that. I was stunned. Having just lost my mother and my nephew, to be given a son was an unsolicited, unmerited, and profoundly welcome gift.

    The trip this past December, all but a few days of it in Phonsavan sealed a deal that still surprises me joyfully each day. Vong, Souk, Charlie, Souk’s mother, brothers, and sisters, each as sweet as the other, and me are all “one big family”, as Souk’s mother said during a family meal, including the entire table with a sweeping gesture.

    As we were on the plane leaving this year, the whole family was at the fence near the airfield waving us off. Before that, during our goodbyes, Souk’s mother cried. It was emotional for all of us. I gave out my hugs, and managed to get through security before my own tears trickled down. The world is a big place, even with modern travel, and my only complaint is that tele-transport, à la Star Trek is not available to me to get beamed to Laos at the speed of light for lunch with my Lao family. Fortunately, there is Skype, and Souk, Yeng, his mother, and all the family and I have managed to meet several times since I left Laos, once, as I said, to name my grandson. Vong and Yia Lor, his wife (below with Charlie) still need to get on Skype with me!! And Souk keeps asking when Charlie is going to show up.

    And I promise I will end here, and post no more pictures. It is an amazing, unlikely story, and one for which both Charlie and I feel deeply grateful. We love these people and - dare I say? - they love us.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2016
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  9. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    This is a great story, with lovely photos.
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  10. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    Thank you, Dale. How human relationships are forged and maintained is still largely a mystery. I do know however, that culture and language are no barriers to loving connections.
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  11. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    Thanks Luke. You don't go traveling expected to gain an entire family. The warm embrace we have received (so say nothing of a grandson!) is nothing short of -- dare I say it? - miraculous.
  12. ajramirez

    ajramirez Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Wonderful, touching story and beautiful photos to go along with it.
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  13. serhan

    serhan All-Pro

    May 7, 2011

  14. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Wonderful story (and photos!) Larry. My 28 year old daughter travelled to Laos and Cambodia in January (but spent most of the time in Laos) and loved it. She didn't come back with any additional family but lots of great photos and memories. She loved the people, but I don't think she and her two travel companions stayed in one place long enough to form such attachments. And obviously didn't have anything like your history in the region...

  15. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    I'd love to get to Cambodia -- and Myanmar too -- but first I want to see and hold my grandson. The people in Laos are lovely. That, coupled with being someplace different, opens one to all sorts of possibilities. I'm glad she enjoyed it.
  16. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Wonderful story, thanks for telling it.
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  17. dalethorn

    dalethorn Guest

    I have some stories, yet my life seems very ordinary. Just a couple - a number of Vietnamese came over, to my town in Akron Ohio in the mid-1970's, and one young man came to work with us at Firestone Tire corp. I drove him and his dad and 2 brothers to Toronto, or so we planned one Saturday, and we were stopped at the border and arrested. Now at that time (1976) no passports were required, and I was normally waved through. But they asked for ID's for the 4 Vietnamese, and things went downhill from there. Eventually they let us go (back to the U.S.) and so we spent the day in Niagara Falls, with my friends showing me how to tell who was Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Korean etc., in Niagara Falls. Much fun that day.

    Years later, circa 2003, in the software shop in Irvine Cal., two of my coworkers were Vietnamese, and they had a number of small prints of their parents and their parents' friends from Vietnam from the 1960's and early 70's, and I scanned them and then cleaned up some of the problems from the prints. I still have those, and they remind me how we have lives that are much the same as people halfway around the world, despite different and even unusual circumstances.
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