Thursday, February 10, 2011

Luang Prabang and Vientiane

We started our final day in Luang Prabang by watching the monks on their daily 6 am walk through town, collecting alms (sticky rice) from residents. It turns out that across the country (and perhaps in all Buddhist communities?) monks do this, but Luang Prabang is particularly famous for this processional, either due to the fact that huge numbers of foreigners visit the area or due to the fact that 35 Buddhist temples in a small town means many, many monks.

Anyways, people unrolled mats and had bamboo-made containers filled with sticky rice to parcel out to the monks.
We waited and waited when suddenly, we noticed a flurry of activity. Unfortunately, the first thing we saw was not monks but Chinese tourists holding video cameras running up and down the street to get action shots of monks walking. It was exactly what I imagine the paparazzi do to celebrities and was so classic Chinese tourist--culturally insensitive but out of good intentions. The government just does so good a job repressing information of the outside world that its citizens don't really know how to act "appropriately" (by our standards) when they travel. (Sidenote: You can't search for "Egypt" in any search engine now since the government is worried about a ripple effect in Tibet or Xinjiang!) Then, the monks finally arrived!
There were tons of them. Interestingly, there were children who were begging from the monks, so the monks would pass over some sticky rice to them after they got it from the tourists/villagers. After a few minutes, the monks left.We returned to our hotel for breakfast. Along the way, we ran into another procession of monks that escorted us back to our hotel. That was the coolest part for me. We then went to the largest temple in the city, Wat Xieng Tong. The architecture was really cool...
...and it was also neat to see how this culture also had a lot of dragons, though these ones looked different to the ones we're used to in Beijing.
This dragon is used once a year, when they pour water into its tail. They put Buddha statues under the long cylindrical body, and water pours out, washing the Buddhas. This water is considered holy and is used to wash away impurities. I also loved the stenciled patterns on the wall.

We had to take a picture by this Buddhist tree of life as it was so similar to the Jewish tree of life.
The painting we bought is actually this multi-religious symbol: we loved how this piece of Laos reminded us of our own heritage and can't wait to put it up in our future home. It was also neat to see so many Jewish stars as in Buddhism, these overlapping triangles represent the Lotus flower, or a progression through the mud of materialism (roots) through waters of experience (stem) and into sunshine of enlightenment (flower above the water). (Our guide was awesome and taught us a lot!)

After our flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos with a whopping 700,000 residents, we went to Wat Sisaket, which is famous for having a ton of Buddhas, including smaller ones that are put in duos into triangles carved into the wall.
Our guide also taught us a lot about Buddha statues--there are 7 different poses that the Buddha has. Over time, the features of the Buddha's face have been influenced by the Chinese (more "Asiatic eyes," as the guide said) and Indians (a "
hooked nose").
(Side nose (haha I wrote that when I meant to say note!): Lao people call white people "fa lang," which means long nose, as "all white people have long noses, unlike our flat ones, and we can't tell where anyone is from by looking at them." I thought that was funny as we say the same thing about Asian people...). We also went to That Luang Stupa.
It is ENORMOUS, painted gold, and is rumored to have once held the Buddha's bones...before it was destroyed once by the king of Southern Lao, once by the French, and once by the Thai..Did we mention that Laos is the Poland of Asia?

When we were inside, we saw a bunch of nuns from a minority group in China (minority "nationalities" can practice religion).They also have an imitation Arc de Triomphe (Patuxai) that was built with concrete donated by Americans that was left over from building an airport during the Vietnam War.
We ended the day by having another delightful BeerLao on the riverside, as we watched the sun set over Thailand.

No comments:

Post a Comment