Category: Essays
Romania | The Shepherd

We were driving north about an hour out of Bucharest when I saw the cluster of sheep on the horizon. The land at this point had flattened out into a billiard table plain and the only feature besides the road and the power lines running along side was this flock of sheep. We pulled over and trudged through the soft ground. The sheep dogs came out early and challenged us and the fixer I was with, froze in fear. Lots of issues with feral dogs in Bucharest. The shepherd appeared from his shack and admonished the dogs and the dogs were still barking at us and the fixer called out that we wanted to talk to him for a bit so soon the flat plain was full of shouting and barking.

Everyone settled down soon enough.

The shepherd was happy that we were there as he did not get a lot of visitors. He did not have any tea to offer but a bottle of palinka, the Romanian fruit brandy grain. The shack where he lived was just clapboard and blankets, a small stove and pots and mugs. This was not his flock of sheep, he said, but he acted as a caretaker for two villages who pooled their sheep and goats together. He milked the goats and delivered the milk daily.

I turned around slowly in a complete circle to take in the vast plain. Except for road gutting it down the middle, there was nothing but those two villages and some hills on the horizon. The through line to the past was strong and a straight line in that moment. I asked him if there had been a shepherd here, in his role for a long time. Maybe hundreds of years? Without hesitation he said that this had always been pastureland and the two villages had been there for at least a thousand years, so yes, there was always a shepherd here.

I was taken back to all the folktales I had read, stories from when I was a kid in the states of harsh winters, woodcutters, strange visitors from the forest.

And what about wolves, I asked.

Not much anymore. Too many people, he said. But that is why I have the dogs.

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Romania; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim


Chiang Mai | The Chinese Monk

I was north of Chiang Mai with my driver, traveling to a hill tribe village in a steady and thick rain when I saw the sliver of massive stone steps cut into the side of a mountain, just visible through the jungle foliage. I asked him to stop and since the way was wet and filled with shoe eating mud, the driver said he’d stay in the car.

I climbed the stairs and saw the monk there, standing by his buckets and bowls, out collecting the rain for drinking water. He was the sole caretaker of this meager temple, a small cave and statue and run down altar. He was actually Chinese and spoke French fluently, but very little English. His cigarettes were foul, hand-rolled affairs, terribly strong and stinky. I gave him my pack of American cigarettes and we smoked in the cave, sheltered from the rain while he told me stories and lessons that I could not understand.

There were only poor farmers nearby and I doubt any tourists would stop by this tiny cleft in the mountain. This was truly a life of solitude and he was far from where he had started from. As was I but I would return to my life of cities soon enough.

We passed the time and my feet were wet and there were enough cigarettes to last us for a good while.

Hill Tribe Area, Chiang Mai, Thailand; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Hill Tribe Area, Chiang Mai, Thailand; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Hill Tribe Area, Chiang Mai, Thailand; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Hill Tribe Area, Chiang Mai, Thailand; Leica MP 0.58, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim