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” Did you feel like a voyeur?”

Viet Nam
North Vietnamese father and child

Didn’t you feel like a voyeur?

“Didn’t you feel like a voyeur?” my friend asked me a couple of nights ago when I gathered with a group for a chat, glass of wine and some lovely nibbles. I had shared some of my recent India adventures.

I described visiting small remote villages in Punjab and Gujarat, going into people’s dirt floor homes taking pictures capturing every day life.

Child in her home in India

Her question was appropriate and one that has plagued me a bit on my travels. As I thought about her query, these experiences came to mind.

INDIA

On that recent trip in India, I never felt like I was intruding. First, our Tour Leaders on the Jim Cline Photo Tour paved the way asking if we could take photos, sometimes with sign language. Some times this meant taking one photo and then showing what the person looked like on the screen on the back of the camera. Judging by the expressions of delight, this was often a new experience. Soon the comfort level would rise and we’d gather around, putting view finders to the eyes and clicking away.

If someone indicated a “no” we never pushed or forced.  Frankly,  we had so many photo opportunities that we simply moved on, understanding and enjoying the experience.

Curious and shy

We were a total novelty to the people in these villages. Some of the children had never seen people with light skin. You can imagine how strange we looked with our pale faces, western clothes and cameras hanging around our necks or on belts at the hips.

This little guy kept swiveling his head around to stare at me. India
Once comfortable with us, the children liked to pose for photos.
A young mother and her child in her doorway.

Yes, we asked permission to take photos. I quickly learned how to tap my camera and smile with a question on my face?  Then if I got a yes or a head bobble (people who have been to India will understand what I mean by that) in response, I’d snap a shot and then show my new friend the image on the screen. This often evoked smiles and giggles and remarks among the crowd now gathering. It was clear they thought it was fun.

Karl Grobl sharing an image with a book seller.

The big surprise was that cell phones would appear and we’d be asked to pose and smile for Selfie Time. This happened frequently. Some times the paparazzi moment in the crowds at the festivals made it hard to make our pictures as we became the center of attention.

Taking a selfie for the Indian woman

We all agreed though that being gracious about having Selfies taken with complete strangers was fair and the right thing to do. I think it is a hoot that my image is now on a lot of phones all over northern India.

North Vietnam

In North Vietnam five years ago, I also felt a bit uncomfortable at first when we visited Sapa, a remote town near the Chinese border.

On that trip I wasn’t with a tour group, instead I was traveling with my husband and a guide.

We traveled out from Sapa to remote hamlets of the Hmong tribes. Wandering through little gatherings of mud huts, sometimes on stilts, our guide would ask if we could see their homes explaining that we were interested in their way of life.

Curious child in North Vietnam
Curious about us in North Vietnam

Once this resulted in being served tea. We enjoyed  demonstrations of their weaving skills. I’ll always remember an elderly lady showing me the ancient practice of teeth blackening. When appropriate we left a few coins behind or purchased textiles if so offered.

Teeth blackening in North Vietnam

 

Welcoming us with tea in North Vietnam

We took apples to school children and enjoyed seeing them learn to  jump rope with the ropes we brought.

North Vietnam
North Vietnam
Learning to jump rope in North Vietnam
Learning to jump rope in North Vietnam

Juan, our guide , chuckled when he explained that we’d be dinner time conversation for multiple days as they marveled and puzzled  at these strange people (called Frankes) who came to visit.

North Vietnam

BHUTAN

And as I thought about my friend’s question I also remembered being in Bhutan with a GeoEx group two years. I was particularly fascinated with the young monks we’d see at the temples. Often they’d stare and look at us so intently and seriously I wondered if they were annoyed at our presence. Were we somehow intruding?

I asked Sha, our Bhutanese guide, and he said he’s talked to monks and the young men in school at the monasteries asking this very same question. He explained that their expressions are one of confusion. They didn’t understand why we’d want to visit their monasteries and temples.

Bhutan
Young boys at the monastery school.
At a monastery in Bhutan

“They have no idea what your world is like and they really can’t understand why you’d be interested in them, “ he said.

As I was looking for the images to accompany this blog post I came across these.  They are favorites.

School children in Cambodia
Little boys peeking around the wood pile at our small group. Curious and shy. Bhutan
This little girl seemed to enjoy my taking her picture. Lots of laughing and giggling and peak-a-boo. Bhutan

If you’d like to read more about my adventures in these countries, simply go to the pull down menus at the top of this blog post or utilize the search option at the top of the right hand column.  I’d love your thoughts and comments.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

10 Comments
  1. posted by
    Julei
    Jul 17, 2017 Reply

    Your photos are just amazing Susan! Also a great message!

  2. posted by
    JoAnne
    Jul 18, 2017 Reply

    I’ve always wondered about this very thing and loved how you handled this issue in your travels. Great post. I also enjoyed the gorgeous, life-filled pictures, some of which I recognized from our Bhutan trip!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Jul 18, 2017 Reply

      Thank you, JoAnne, It is an interesting question. Thank you for your nice comments. and yes, Bhutan was a wonderfully photogenic experience

  3. posted by
    Marie Preston
    Jul 18, 2017 Reply

    What beautiful, thoughtful adventures in photography and culture you have!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Jul 18, 2017 Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Marie.

  4. posted by
    Kathy
    Jul 19, 2017 Reply

    I have wondered how you have managed to get such beautiful pictures of the natives showing their faces, outfits and surroundings in such wonderful detail. Great explanation!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Jul 20, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Kathy, I appreciate your comment.

  5. posted by
    Richard Edelen
    Jul 26, 2017 Reply

    Hello Susan , Just read this one and really enjoyed the story , you did a great job with the photos.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Jul 26, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Rick. I really appreciate your comment.

  6. posted by
    Visiting the villages near Kavant, India | DesignDestinations
    Oct 2, 2017 Reply

    […] tribes in the area. I worried a bit about intruding and discussed this in a recent blog post called “Did you feel like a voyeur?” Quick answer is no. Our local guide told us that we provided more entertainment for the local […]

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