Monday, December 29, 2008


I thought about trying to write a short story or book based on the "Simple Man" character I wrote about on here before. I started writing it while I was in China but then got busy with other stuff and never got very far on it. I don't know if I'll ever finish but I like the introduction I wrote and thought I'd post it for you. It is titled "THE GOLDEN HOUR":

Photographers call it “the golden hour,” the last hour of sunlight before the dark robs them, for a time, of the ability to do what they do best: capture the pure beauty of nature. For this brief moment, the vast contrast between light and dark on God’s canvas provides a unique aesthetically pleasing effect that has so rightfully coined the phrase, “nature in its finest hour.” It is a race against time.

Vang Kai runs the same race each day; though, his hands have never held anything so technologically advanced as an SLR camera. He has never even seen his own image on anything but the broken piece of mirror hanging in the northeast corner of his hut, a treasure he found stuck in the muddy banks of the Mekong River next to his farm after the devastating flood of 1966. Each day when the Laotian Sun poses at the pinnacle of the mountains West of “the Mighty Mekong,” Vang has exactly one hour to return home from the fields for supper – a humble meal of rice cultivated by his own hands and what piece of fruit he could find amidst the day’s labors – after which he privately enjoys the last moments of daylight in the same traditional manner his father taught him oh so long ago.

You see, Vang is alone now; he has been since his family was swept away in the raging flood thirty-nine years ago. Being the conventional man he is, he has never left the farm, not even in ’72 when traders passing by asked him to fill an open spot on their boat. “I’m doing just fine on my own,” was his only reply. This is all he knows. This is where his memories are. More importantly, this is the only place where the nightly routine of song and story telling has the power to summon spirits from his past, at least that’s what Vang believes. He, too, is in a race against time, for the spirits are put to bed with the setting of the sun. The quicker he shovels down his evening meal, the more time Vang will have to create new memories and re-live old ones in the company of those he loves. This is his golden hour.

After fifty-six years, long days in the fields are finally beginning to take their toll. Today is no different. As he feels the cool evening breeze roll across his neck, Vang stands upright to give his back a rest from sowing seeds. His thin stature tells the story of endless years with meager rations of food. The calluses on his hands have calluses of their own, an inevitable result of his countless days on the farm. Since the age of eight, when Vang first stepped into the fields, up to now, the dirt on his clothes has never seemed to fade; how could it when each day’s labor is tended to with the entirety of his wardrobe? When he smiles, it is hard to distinguish between the dark gaps where teeth are missing and the dirt-covered, cavity-filled teeth that somehow still fulfill their role of breaking down his daily serving of food.

Yes, this humble man still smiles. There is no questioning why years and years of hardships have been laid on his plate instead of juicy steaks and fries. He does not ask why survival is solely dependant on his own will to fight. The simplistic story of his life has bred the philosophy that, “that’s just how things are.” What rationale has he to frown when his viewpoint on life stands true in his eyes? He has it figured out. He is happy; and the scene across the river in front of him suggests that his happiness, like the Sun, will soon reach its pinnacle.