Chicago is the home of the blues, jazz, and the Chicago hotdog. It is one of the centers for comedy and the essence of the skyscraper. Here, the age of railroads found its center, and airplanes followed soon after. Butcher of hogs and believer in progress, it is one of the world's great cities, and yet the metropolitan luxuries of theater, shopping, and fine dining have barely put a dent in real Midwestern hospitality. Known as "The Windy City" not for heavy winds but for politicians with a knack for lengthy speeches, it is a cultural center for business and politics.
by Michael Tirone
For the four hours that I was near her, we didn’t exchange a single word. Not a “hello” or even a traditional Balinese greeting. But every time that I think about Indonesia, our interaction is the very first thing I recall.
I didn’t know her name or how old she was. All I knew was that the beautiful appreciation of life that she possessed at such a young age was glowing. Her entire family demonstrated such poise that to this day I use them as my standard of how I reflect on Balinese culture—but also family in general.
I met her as we sat together on the dusty brick grounds of the local Balinese temple in Nusa Lembogan, a remote island off the coast of Bali, known for its seaweed farming and minimal amount of tourism.
I arrived at this temple through personal invitation of a friend that I had met just hours before while cooling myself off from the tropical sun. A casually dressed man, much shorter than I, came walking into the water, in his linen pants and shirt. He called me in to shallower waters from my time enjoying the clear cobalt water. This was my first time meeting the aptly named Sunny. Our discussion consisted of quick introductions and then him asking if I had a “sarong” to wear for the temple’s ceremony (called an Odalan), which was to celebrate the anniversary of when the temple was consecrated upon the full moon. The event was happening in a few hours. I told him yes, but would need some assistance in putting my sarong on properly for such a formal occasion. His large smile, which pushed up the sunglasses from his darkened cheeks, assured me that he was going to take care of me.
Not sure of what kind of event would take place, I realized immediately after stepping through the temple’s threshold that I was the only westerner invited. The other sect of white tourists were secluded to sitting atop an exterior wall outside the temple grounds, in their shorts and cut-off t-shirts, snapping pictures of the event.
Instead of feeling out of place sitting on warm bricks in a sarong surrounded by devote Balinese people whom I could barely exchange conversation with, I felt incredibly comfortable. The energy around the grounds was similar to the anticipation that surrounds large parks before Independence Day fireworks, but with more respect for the area and vastly more spiritual meaning.
As the sun began to set on the roofless temple grounds, the hundreds of attendees sat quietly around the central deity, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Typically, like anything in Bali (or Southeast Asia for that matter) waiting is a large part of life. Fortunately for me, waiting has always been convenient to let my camera’s lens distract me. Staring through the viewfinder, I became infatuated with the contrast of my surroundings. The fading light of the sun glistened upon the amber skin of the attendees, while their colorful outfits made for a particular level of beauty I had never seen before. I photographed the terrific structure of the temple and the massive amounts of offerings for the temple’s deities being celebrated, though most of my attention fell upon her, my new favorite subject.
My very first sighting of her immediately brought a smile to my face and intrigued me to learn more about her through my camera. Her Chicklet-sized, pearl-colored teeth and the whites of her eyes pierced my heart as she giggled her way between her mother and father’s laps. The level of happiness she conveyed was beyond every other individual there (and probably the entire level of happiness every young child in the western hemisphere could conjure up during a regulatory religious ceremony).
I fell in love with her genuine laugh and her proper attire (in miniature size, compared to her caring and attentive mother who sat beside her). But mostly it was the little girl’s aura that struck me. A four-hour ceremony filled with very sacred and traditional processes, yet it seemed like she had decades of experience. Her maturity matched her cuteness; her correct way to have the sacred rice placed upon her forehead; giving a subtle giggle to her father afterwards; the proper way to prostrate in front of the holy men; and then a quick, blushful smile to my camera as her mother fixed her hair.
In that moment in time, I was not nearly as fascinated by my first Balinese Odalan ceremony, but rather I was focused completely on my new friend. And she was focused on me, the stranger with strange skin, hair, and device covering up his sweaty face.
I’ve spent years documenting the youthful faces hailing from dozens of countries around the world, each of them making an impact on me more than the next one. But no child was more profound than my new friend.
Years later, after looking at pictures of her and inspecting the true magnificence of the young girl, I see new beauty in the images. They continue to show her adorable nature but also the ever-present love of her parents. That’s the great thing about photographs, no matter when you look at them, your emotions and connections with each one changes each time.
With Mother’s Day just behind us and Father’s Day around the corner, it’s important to know that with every person on this planet, there is a beginning of the next person and it stems from the mothers and fathers of our lives. There is nothing more beautifully moving and impenetrably special than the human result of loving, caring, and thoughtful parents.
Be sure to remember that everyday, not just on the allotted two days of the year.
Michael Tirone is a wanderlust jet-setter, passionate photographer, writer, and marketer based out of Baltimore, MD. He intertwines global issues with personal experiences through his images and writing to paint a more complete view of the world. His work varies from sports and music to charitable ventures and social awareness. As a lover of all things adventurous, spiritual, delicious, genuine, and spontaneous Michael expresses his opinions through various blogs.
Hong Kong (香港), whose name means "fragrant harbour" in Cantonese, is a place with multiple personalities as a result of being both Cantonese Chinese and under a more recent contemporary ex-British influence. Modern Hong Kong is an important hub in East Asia with global connections to many of the world's cities, including Chicago. It is a unique destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from places as diverse as Vietnam and California and proudly proclaims itself to be Asia's World City.
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