Home Features Family Ties: The traditional social care system

Family Ties: The traditional social care system


Over the past five years, my wife and I were fortunate enough to travel to Asia every year thanks mainly to our neighbour, a Lao refugee we have known for 30 years. He fled his country in 1973, swimming across the Mekong River under fire.

We had once been in Sri Lanka, but our neighbour kept telling us we should visit his home country while there was still time — before it was transformed into a hydroelectric factory, providing electricity to neighbouring Thailand and China. Indeed, some trips we took on the Mekong and the NamOu rivers would be impossible today because of the dams. I won’t comment on the human and ecological catastrophes those dams represent as you may have heard or read about them. However, having finished paying for our children’s studies, we felt that the time was ripe to travel there.

Although some people may object that by going there we are supporting corrupt political regimes and dictatorships, I guess we would not go anywhere if we took that into account. We truly enjoyed the countries we visited, and I appreciated taking photos of people, an exercise that proves much more difficult here in France. Although people are quite subdued and very quiet, they were always happy and sometimes proud to have their image taken with their children or grandchildren.

When I look at or work on the pictures I took there, the photos of mother and child or grandmother and child are recurring time and time again. 

I guess it comes from family ties which are different from our western world. I can hardly imagine a European family with grandparents, parents and children living under the same roof, in the same house. Of course, there must be exceptions. There seems to be much more respect between the generations. In some ways, children are a sort of retirement pension since tradition demands that children will look after their elders when they are too old to work. Moreover, no retirement schemes exist in the countries we visited. Children are a blessing.

What is striking in their attitude is the trust in children’s eyes as well as the pride and the benevolent watch of their elders that pervade through every photo. I’ve never been able to capture these outside family down here. Surpassingly, you don’t see many fathers or grandfathers looking after or even carrying their children as the caring of children seems to be a woman’s business.

Of course, I guess some shots would not have been possible without my trusted Ricoh GR, which was my go-to camera for every trip we made. The camera looks like a point and shoot but is loaded with a good pack of pixels, just like the X2 I bought last year.


  1. Really good to see another post from Asia by you! Your people shots are so natural, even when it is clear that people are posing for some of them. Is it right to conclude you are happier with your GR than your X2? Do you work all the time at 28mm with your GR, or do you sometimes use the in camera cropping function?

    • Thanks John. As to your question the simple answer is that I did not have my X2 when I went to Asia. I bought it later. I did have a M8 in the past with two lenses (elmar 24 asph and 35 cron asph) but It did not work for me when travelling. I have sight problems and could not focus properly with the rangefinder and the M8 and the lenses had to go. I invested the money in a GR and another trip to Laos. (I had a ricoh GXR in the past and still own a grd 3 and 4 which I always took when mountaineering as they are so light and good quality. Now the X2 and Gr are kind of different tools. I love my X2 and have taken it as my only camera when travelling but that has been in France and Europe. The image quality is to my eye far more pleasing, warmer and the images look more dense than with the ricoh. As a travel camera I prefer the ricoh as it is the camera that works for me. I’ve customized all the Fn buttons to my taste and I can almost change everything with my eyes closed. I think it also has to do with the relation you have with people when you take pictures of them. I’ve never own a lens over 50mm. I like it that way and like portraying people that way. The ricoh doesn’t look like a serious camera, it works fast and between the time the person you want to picture has agreed and the time you take the photo the ricoh is the perfect tool for me. As far as cropping is concerned yes I use it when need be. I shot most images with the 28 but 35 and 47 come handy at times. Although I’m always close to my subject, I think there’s that invisible distance in thin air (which is your privacy line) that you shouldn’t cross to my mind. I couldn’t be like streetshooters who only use the 28mm and take photos a few inches from their models so the crop mode is just perfect for me.

      • Thank you, Jean, for giving me such a detailed reply. Will contribute to my thinking whether to get a GRiii in due course or whether to be content with using my X2 some more and leaving 28mm to my X Vario. Basically, it comes down to already having what I need, but as they say: the grass is always greener in the next field!

  2. Nice trip thanks for sharing, the X’s are wonderful wouldn’t give mine up, just something about the output like John Shingleton photos mesmerizing.

    • I won’t give up mine either and I intend to post some of my shots the X2 will be posted in the future. It’s a truly amazing camera. As for John I remember the photos he took in Myanmar 6 years ago and has posted on his flickr account and they were truly amazing.

  3. Very moving narrative, Jean. What a revelation such proximity to family life on foreign shores releases. Setting politics aside, you met real families who place their love and bonds above all else to preserve family cohesion. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Jean, these photos are amazing, not only because of the composition but also because of the emotion and stories you were able to capture here. Beautiful work, dear friend!! -Nicole in Vegas


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