Spirit of the Village by Oliver Klink

Un-numbered homes are the norm, as everybody knows each other.Streets wind in un-orderly fashion over streams of running water, sometimes fresh often as open sewage.
In Myanmar, parents want to give a good life and good education to their children. As life is truly harsh, some parents opt to give their children up for adoption to monasteries, where they become monks. Their life then becomes dedicated to Buddhism with daily prayers, food gathering, and focus on respecting others. As an outsider, I felt that their life is like a Swiss clock, regulated, with a heart beat that never stops and never surprises. The murals were critically damaged during the 2016 earthquake. Temple has been closed since.

Entering a village is stepping back in time; Narrow streets, sometimes paved, most of the time dirt paths. Un-numbered homes are the norm, as everybody knows each other.

Streets wind in un-orderly fashion over streams of running water, sometimes fresh often as open sewage. Early morning feels like a metronome wakes up. Few words are exchange among neighbors, prayers and chores get on the way, people leave to go farming, build roads and structures. Late afternoon, the center of the village gets busy as daily stories are shared over many types of beverages, as kids are playing. People retreat to their home when darkness approaches. Description might be symbolic but the feel is pretty accurate. 

My interest was to capture the inner belly of the Village, what happens inside people’ homes, how they think, how they feel. Spirit of the Village is changing, mainly affected by the modern world innovation. Rapid changes often come at the cost of old-world customs, rituals and social relationships. This is especially true in Asia, where a search for new opportunities in urban areas has led to a mass exodus of the middle generation in rural communities. Those left behind are balancing a growing tension between the cultural diversity of the past and the homogenized present. 

Villages are populated by those on opposite ends of the generational divide — grandparents and children. The net result often creates a situation where those desperately looking to preserve tradition are caring for those most-willing to embrace change. From a western perspective it may look like time stands still in the Village, and it some ways it does, but below the surface there exists a struggle between old and new, tradition and modernity that ultimately must come into balance as villagers hold onto their Spirit while coping with the reality of a modern world. [Official Website]

This general shop is located in the middle of nowhere. However, it is a popular place, as it is also a bus stop. Right from the onset, I marveled at the setting. I felt like I was watching an opera. The villagers were the audience seated in their luxury boxes, the performing actors the two goats. The play could have been called “The Advent Calendar.”

XXXXThis was a school in Myanmar. All girls. They were intrigued by my presence but it didn’t deter them from continuing being who they were. Their desire to learn was infectious.

I am the only Westerner who has had the honor to sleep inside this private monastery. It was fate. On my return flight from a previous trip, I sat next to a known Buddhist painter, Mr. Nima Dorji, who had been commissioned to paint this monastery with his dad. To my delight, he offered to become my guide on subsequent trips. It not only gave me special access to the place, but also the opportunity to witness how Nima paints personal and spiritual stories.

Agriculture is a vital industry in China, employing over 300 million farmers.
The government prides itself in providing food, shelter, and a good life to all its citizens. However, the reality is grim, as the younger generation would rather work in a factory then tend the land. Nevertheless, the elders work to keep the traditions alive.

In this deeply religious country, people give up their bus seats to monks, bow to them on the streets, and give them daily alms. Nuns, however, live in the shadow of the monks. The society has wrongly presumed that nuns do not deserve the same respect and support as monks just because they are women. In fact, both monks and nuns are living strictly in accordance with the instructions of Lord Buddha and deserve an equal amount of respect.

XXXXXThe delicate touch of the man’s hand shows how harsh their life is. Their daily chores are extreme. And there is no stopping otherwise the weather will overcome them. The burden of survival for the long winter is in this man’s hands.

In 1960, the good-looking young girls in remote villages of Burma were tattooed. The Khmer Rouge militants were brutal when they pillaged the villages and spared nobody, except when they were deemed ugly. The tattoos therefore served a purpose at a time, but were not reversible. I had a chance to talk to a tattooer and he mentioned that it took him a full day to ink a face of a 10 years old child.

XXXXXI was in awe to discover the bond between the mom and daughter as well as their connection with their machine. They worked in unison, the rhythmic noise was pleasing to hear. The quiet voice of the little girl added to the symphony.

Dong parents see their children only a few times a year, when they return to their villages. During the Spring Festival, they especially go all out and pamper their kids. Traditional outfits are passed down from generation to generation, and the kids are proud to display them. In this small village, the parents parade their kids for hours. They carry them on simulated horses. It is cold and the parade takes much too long for a child to enjoy.

When I first saw these two teenagers, I was captured by their look, their confidence. While Tenzin is not in school and Rinchen is in primary school, they are still friends. They were quiet and unassuming. I followed them around and the path they took revealed much about who they were, their living condition, and the lack of family support. Even on the happiest place on earth, alcoholism is an issue that can’t be taken lightly.

Until very recently, Merak, a village in Eastern Bhutan, was accessible only by foot. Villagers were totally self-sufficient and on rare occasions made the one-day walk to the nearest market. Construction of a private road has made their life easier and brought teachers to the village. These Merak Villagers are easily recognizable as they wear unique cloth and hats, all handmade from material of the region. There are no crimes, kids are safe. This is life at its purest.

These are the children of the road workers. The Bhutanese government hired their parents to build roads through what seems to be impassable terrain. The kids are raised on the side of the road in basic camps with no schools, no playgrounds, no sanitary amenities. When they see visitors, they are intrigued and can’t comprehend that you could have traveled from the opposite side of the world. They are curious, but also streetwise.

Yeewong Dorji Selden is the daughter of the school superintendent. She is one of 25 preschoolers in the town. Even at her young age, 5 years old, she has already learned the etiquette of cleaning her dishes after lunch. Such a simple task made for a magical moment, when combined with the elements of water, light, harmony, abundance, and happiness.

Candlelight is an important element of rituals in all cultures and festivals around the world. In every culture light triumphs over darkness, and inspires miracles and hope. Candle lighting is a time of healing, reflection, contemplation, and meditation. The shrine next to the monastery contains hundreds of Buddha statues in red robes placed in niches along the walls of the corridors. Lighted with numerous candles, the shrine offers a holy atmosphere for the meditation activity of the monks.

Despite China’s economic boom over the past decade, rural life has changed little in remote villages, except for the weather. In coastal China, stronger and unpredictable winds are causing damage. Villagers are loading their roof with rocks, held with cement. Even thought the pitch of the roof is an optical illusion, their worries are real, and they feel almost helpless in the wake of this climate change.

India can be rough during the dry season as water is a precious commodity. These stepwells were built all over Northern India to gather the water during the rainy season. As time goes by the water level lowers, requiring the women to climb down steep steps to reach the water. They work like clockwork getting the water at the same time each day. Their pace walking down the stairs is brisk with their jar carried on their hip. On the uphill, they carry their jars on their heads.

This was a typical day: Older people went to the fields to tend to the crops, younger people headed off to the city to work, and children went to school. The old men gathered in the center of the village for endless retellings of fighting the Japanese and to watch or play games of Chinese chess. Nothing felt out of place.

I felt that during my stay I had met everybody in the village, either during the nightly celebrations, when visiting the local school, or when walking in town. But on my last day, I went above the village and met a family who were the caretakers of a small, unassuming temple. It provided me with the last opportunity to embrace the simplicity and pure life of the Merak villagers.

My wife’s parents are first generation Chinese immigrants to the US. I have known them for years and I am always intrigued by their relationship, loving but not visible. When I ran into these couple in Coastal China, they reminded me of my in-laws, well dressed and proud. But there was something so special about them, the tenderness for each other and the subtle touch of hands.

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