Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting By With Less and the Value of Fit For Purpose

A Monk Donates Excess Sticky Rice to Young Boy
Luang Prabang, Lao People's Democratic Republic
As we approach the last few days and the crescendo of this year's Christmas shopping season, I have been reflecting upon recent events and past experiences that, for me, puts the whole commercialization of this season into a different perspective.

One year ago, my wife and I made a return visit to Laos, more specifically the former royal capital of Luang Prabang.  We had gone there to document the celebration of Hmong New Years in early December.  I have previously written about the journey but there were some scenes which I photographed which made a strong impression upon me.  The photograph above is one of them.

Each morning, the Monks go out early from their Wats and walk along prescribed routes.  They are carrying their their alms bowl in which people will place donations of food for the Monks.  The morning walks are called "Bin Tha Bat" and the the act of making offerings of food to the Monks is called "Tak Bat".

Luang Prabang is a tourist destination and the street where our hotel, actually more like a B&B, was located is used by many of the high priced resorts that are located outside of the central district.  Early in the morning you can hear and see vehicles of all types discharging tourists on the south side of the street where they set up on woven reed mats, sahts, awaiting the arrival of the Monks.  Even though there can be as many as 30 to 40 Monks passing by, the Monks are far surpassed in numbers by the tourists as well as local people wishing to make merit by making offerings of food to the Monks.

The alms bowls are rather large and the Monks are allowed to eat only one or two meals a day by noon.  The number of meals is set forth by the order to which the Monk belongs.  No matter the case, a filled alms bowl is too much food for two meals let alone one meal and I am referrring to a Westerner's capacity to eat.  Monks are not allowed to store food or to cook so there is an excess food problem.

A Monk does not cover his bowl when he deems that he has just enough food for his meal(s) for to do so would be to deny some people the opportunity to earn merit by offering food.  When the bowl is filled, the Monk covers the bowl.  In Thailand, the excess food is made available to the people after the Monks have eaten.  Typically in the smaller villages, the people who brought  food to the Wat for the Monks, will sit down and eat the surplus food as the Monks eat.  It has a festive air and a nice social gathering for all involved.  In the larger towns and cities, poor people will go to the Wats to be fed after the Monks have taken their food to eat.  Any food remaining is fed to the Wat dogs and cats.

In Luang Prabang, as the photo shows, the Monks periodically as they walk along their route, will stop and give some of their excess food to young children who are either waiting along the route or tagging along with the Monks.  This act is good for all parties involved; the Monks have the food that they need, the people are able to make merit, and poor people obtain food for their families.

The photo above is not a new photo and has been posted on this blogsite before.  But as people often say in Thailand:  "It is same same but different".  "Same same" in that it is the photograph that I had used before.  Different?  It is different in the way that I post processed the original file.  The original photograph had a dark and very distinct shadow around the boy as well as around the clump of sticky rice that is on its way into the boy's plastic basket.  When I first posted the photograph, I had used Photoshop Elements 7.0 to eliminate the harsh shadows that I believe were a distraction from the tone of the photograph that I wanted to convey.  For this revision of the photograph I used different techniques that I learned over the Internet to eliminate the distractions in the photograph to, in my opinion, better convey the spirit of that moment.

Since that time, I have received notification of a new version of Photoshop Elements - Photoshop Elements 10.0.  Oh my gosh three versions more advanced than what I have and I am using!  I was also considering getting a full version of Photoshop.  A full version of Photoshop would cost me around $700 - OUCH!!  However IF I were a student or even a teacher, I could buy the program for around $179.   ????  Don't ask me why but that is how Adobe has decided to market their software - great if you are a student or a teacher; terrible if you are not.  In my research as to how I might obtain a copy of the latest version of Photoshop for a great deal less than $700, I came under the impression that if  I knew what I was doing in Photoshop Elements 7.0, I could do the things that I NEEDED to do and could do with the full current version of the $700 program - just not as easily or quickly.  The big thing was the ability to use a mask on the photograph.  A mask greatly facilitates the manipulation of a great variety of effects and adjustments to an original photograph.

Three weeks ago, I found a free plugin on the Internet that provided for the easy as well as effective creation and use of a mask in PSE7.  Someone with the knowledge and skill had created a program that made the creation of a mask quite easy.  More importantly that person had the generosity to share with others their work.  I now have an essential tool for free to edit some of my photographs.  For more traditional portrait type work and glamour photography masks are essential tools for producing a finished product.  My documentary style of photography will remain unchanged but for my development of traditional portrait and glamour styles, I will be utilizing the mask.

I no longer am considering the need to purchase either the full Adobe Photoshop product or the latest version of Photoshop Elements.  My old program and the training to use it that I have found on the Internet is all that I really NEED.  It is sort of like a car ... a faster, sleeker, and more technically advanced vehicle would be nice.  There is no denying that.  It would make an impression on family and neighbors but it would not serve my needs of grocery shopping, taking my parents on their errands, or picking up my wife at the airport any better and definitely not any cheaper than the 7 year old car that I have now.

Lately, I have been able to see my wife and my Thai grandson on the webcam over the Internet.  Part of the ritual involves my grandson, Peelawat, showing me either his toys or his clothes.  He is just as pleased with all of them.  Peelawat is an ethnic Lao Loum child.  He does not have all that many toys.  In fact at one time he was playing with peanut shells as a substitution for toy cars.  He is now going to school with the assistance of Duang and I.  We pay for his school and there is no limit to the joy we have in seeing or hearing of his enthusiasm each morning as he heads off to school.  My wife had to leave school after four years to work in the rice fields for the family.  Her children were fed each morning at the Wat in the city.  We can make a difference in Peelawat's life; not in the number or type of toys or clothes that he has but in ensuring that he has food as well as the opportunity to obtain a good education.  We hope that he has the opportunity to be all that he can be or that he chooses to be.

Today, through Facebook, I received a kind note from a former teacher of mine.  She has read some of my blogs and remarked that I have seen more of the world than most of my teachers.  She shared the link to my blog and I was impressed that she is still teaching others after all these years.  Since I have returned to America, I have spoken with three of my former teachers.  I am pleased that I can "pay forward" the tools and passion that they instilled in me years ago by writing and photographing some of the places and people that I encounter.  In sharing my experiences and observations with other, I see myself as commencing to pay back some of my debt to them as well as all the other past and present teachers in my life.  Although some of us do not have the certificates or collect a paycheck for teaching, we are all teachers in some way.  We through our words and deeds instruct those about us and around us.  We decide the subject matter as well as the perspective that our teachings will have. It is a power that is often misunderstood and sometimes abused.

Ok.  This blog has now dealt with Christmas shopping, Monks, Photoshop Elements, grandchildren, and teachers.  What is it all about?  What does it all mean?  No, I have not started drinking Christmas cheer too much or even already.  These things have a common thread of "getting by (not buy) with less and the value of fit for purpose"

Many people will work themselves into a frenzy or go more into debt looking for the "perfect" gift this week.  Perfect most likely being defined as expensive and impressive either in quality or quantity.  Materialism and commercialism dictate so much of our behavior here in Western world and it is never so more apparent than during the Christmas Season.

The truth of the matter is that these gifts are more likely than not will be excessive and not fit for purpose.  What is the purpose of a gift?  Is it to impress,  iintimidate, or humble the recipitant?  Or is a gift merely an expression of love, appreciation, or respect.  Is a whispered "I love you" any less valuable, sincere or meaningful than "I love you" flashed across a stadium scoreboard?

Today's expensive gift will soon become blasse and perhaps forgotten while the gift that we all want remains cherished and valuable for all of time.

The gift that we all want and cherish is to have others share of themselves with us.  Be it sharing resources, caring for the physical or emotional needs, or teaching through instruction or by example the gift is always fit for purpose.  The purpose is to let others know that they matter, we care for them, we respect them, and that they can make a difference in this world.  It truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

I have learned this from all my teachers past and present.

Merry Christmas.


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