Year 2008. “I love those who can smile in trouble…” Leonardo da Vinci
In general I don’t like to photograph people and specially without their permission. It make me feel very uncomfortable, always. Back 2008, I remember once finding myself strolling the streets of Hohhot, near Qingcheng Park. The project I was involved in the new factory of the company I was working for was not going as smooth as I wished and I was simply not in a mood, I was actually worried and carrying with me the thoughts of solving things. That was me, always carrying the burden and striving to solve them. Throughout the years photography was one way I found to concentrate, relax and keep those working problems away from my free time. Photography has been many times my solace in those moments. I am not going to lie to you by saying I always left the problems behind, in the working place, before heading home, to the hotel or to the weekend. It simply did not work with me, it was not part of my blueprint. So did I do on this day.
In the vicinities of Qingcheng Park the streets bustled with people doing business makes no difference from weekdays compared to weekends, all is exactly the same with one exception, the weekends brings even more people from the surrounding villages and it gets crowded. Only God knows why on that day I could not get rid of my working thoughts, I could not get concentrated in my photography, I simply could not find inspiration and the worrisome was bothering me, making me feel miserable.
I decided to pay a visit to a Tibetan Buddhist temple close to the old downtown where I was once and remembered to find some kind of consolation and peace while sitting inside. The temple is surrounded by many business activities and, perhaps because this area was the original essence of the city, there were allot of charcoal business since in old times the only energy available was of this black and dirty commodity and this was the area most city people were agglomerated. The business is (or was, at least) dealt mostly in open sky.
Just on the left side of the temple I noticed tis gentleman staring at me. In such environment what grasped my attention was his smile. He was covered with black dust, his shoes were made of just some leather straps, the cloths had holes and obviously this was not his business, he was just a worker earning daily a few coins that would, perhaps, not even covered for his intake daily energy needs. His smile seemed so genuine I could simply not turn my attention away by means of ignoring him. I thought that maybe my camera can make the dialogue we can’t have due to language barriers. I pointed and moved my finger between my camera and his eyes to indicate permission to take a photo which he nodded agreeing on my body language request. I took a few pictures of him and then showed to him the camera digital display so he could see himself in a photo he perhaps never had.
He was so happy! I wished a friend to be nearby and take the initiative to emulsion that moment of us. I kneeled while scrolling the display and he was so happy that, by his fingers motion, I understood he wanted me to continuous to see what I had there. I showed him all photos I had taken in the last three weeks in Hohhot and in some, while pointing specifically, he nodded what I understood to be he knew that place. When I finished to show him all the photos I closed my camera, put the camera strap on my neck and, as he was sitting in a bench to operate the hammer to break the charcoal into small pieces, I paused my right hand on his knee and asked 饿? (pronounce È) to which he nodded with a broader and brighter smile. I pointed to my clock and made the Chinese sign for ten with my fingers. I walked away by looking back to notice he didn’t took his eyes away from me as wonder if his guess was right.
I came back, as promised, with two packs. One containing a dozen of dumplings still releasing the vapour of its warmth, and another containing a generous portion of cooked rice. I also brought him some water. He was so overwhelmed that made me feel very uncomfortable because it called attention to passersby that started to approach to see what was going one with this foreigner. And when Chinese start to gather at something involving a foreigner I can suggest you that is better to leave because the confusion can be of such a magnitude that anyone on the foreground take its conclusions and it can go really wrong before it settles, and most of the time won’t settle until the police comes. Just leave at that momentum.
I walked in a direction without thinking it was the right direction or the direction I wanted, and after some 15 minutes I realised I forgot my purpose of coming to this place in first instance. I’m not going back to that area right now, I thought. Instead I decided to walk back to the hotel because me and my colleagues would have an appointment for dinner.
While I was walking back and all the recent moments were still bustling in my brain I realised that what attracted my eyes in that charcoal worker, made me forget my working burden. Yes, why should I worry with something that would not take my food and my comfort away, while so many can keep their smile even in adversity, trouble and struggle to survive….
Yes, why was that stupid way of meddling work and leisure….