Shan Portraits 1: Octogenarian

  1. a person who is between 80 and 89 years old.

Ywangan, Southern Shan State, May 2018.  There was a festive mood in the village as visitors from foreign lands (we) have arrived to consult with the villagers.  Men, women and children took a break from their work at the vegetable fields and came to the village center in their best Danu traditional costume to meet the foreigners.  There was dancing and traditional music, traditional Shan food was being cooked and served at the assembly, and there was lots of fun and awe as visitors mingled and talked with locals.


“Octogenarian 1” / Shan State, Burma / May 2018

For some reason, he arrived late, propping himself slightly not with a proper cane but a wooden stick, and the first question he asked was, “What’s happening?”. With the help of an interpreter, the occasion was explained to him and then, after a few more introductory exchanges, he told me that he was now 88 years old and was once a hard-working farmer thus the obvious energy despite the age.  Except for some missing teeth and the need to carry a walking stick, he said he doesn’t find much difficulty in life at all.

old man from Shan State

“Octogenarian 2” / Shan State, Burma / May 2018

I instantly liked him and his positive attitude in life as somehow evidenced by the heavy lines on his face that seem to have permanently etched a slight smile at the corner of his lips no matter how serious the story he was telling.

old man from shan state

“Octogenarian 3” / Shan State, Burma / May 2018

And, for the next hour or so, my lens stalked him as he chatted with other villagers, tried to talk to the foreigners, or smoked a tobacco in one corner.

old man from shan state

“Octogenarian 4” / Shan State, Burma / May 2018

By the time our group left, I had a dozen or so photos of him but, beyond those images, I brought home a valuable lesson: life does not have to be depressing even when you are in the late 80s. JP