March 25, 2007

191206 poppy, postcards & party - poppy

Main street:


Empty save for the women who stake out guesthouses & restaurants along the main street peddling bracelets, scarves & opium, who have earned their mention in just about every travel guidebook's writings about Muang Sing's notoriety for opium (Muang Sing & Luang Namtha's positions along the opium route - upper right). The cat first spotted them from the songthaew as it arrived from Luang Namtha, & saw them each time it walked along the main street - always in a group, tailing & approaching tourists, & sitting down by the road to share lunch or to rest.

For there to be a supply, there has to be a demand?

Muang Sing & Vang Vieng are right smack on the 'opium tourism' map for those seeking 'happy meals' & 'happy shakes' to go with treks & river tubing. & way before backpackers came to town there was the CIA - the cat was told that the whole Golden Triangle thing came about when the CIA supported the drug trade in order to fund their anti-communist operations during the Indochina/Vietnam wars (see The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade by Alfred W. McCoy)...somehow many of the big fat problems that Indochina countries face today can be traced back to the USA? e.g. flesh trade & 'Amerasians' - American GIs, UXO/Agent Orange - US bombing, Laotian Hmong flooding Thai refugee camps - CIA trained & armed & then abandoned...& likewise for Afghanistan (Golden Crescent), Iraq, & wherever else USA is meddling...

For hilltribe people who can only dream of access to medical facilities, opium is for pain relief & their palliative care for the elderly sick (& also for use as offerings to spirits in rituals)...not as if the average hilltribe person who has toothaches, arthritis, or rheumatism can afford to see a dentist or doctor, or have the option of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy if (s)he has cancer?

If it were pharmaceutical giants negotiating with hilltribe people to buy tonnes of their opium crop to manufacture drugs for medical use, instead of backpackers buying grammes for cheap thrills or warlords using it to fund their armies, would hilltribe people cultivating opium be seen so negatively? In Tasmania the cat saw beautiful fields of red & pink opium poppies stretching as far as the eye can see, all perfectly legal.

The Akha women closed in on the cat, saw the Lahu shoulder bag made by Nasa that the cat was carrying, heard the cat say 'ma geu' ('don't want' in Akha), & an exchange of smiles later, left the cat alone for the rest of its short stay in Muang Sing =) The cat has (too many) Akha bracelets from Ban Apa, & would be receiving even more in two weeks' time =P

March 20, 2007

191206 Wat Sing Jai puzzles

If anyone knows the answers or has any clues, kindly leave a comment! The cat's 'consultants' are busy with exams, hiding indoors from the haze currently suffocating Chiangrai & Luang Prabang & keeping them from venturing out to internet cafes, or simply have no idea & have to ask their parents/elders on their next trip back to their home villages...

SK: there are many small flags in side of the temple it's flags of many people make earn merit for ask blessing from the god.

[1] What is this called, & what is it used for? Reminds the cat of something used for funeral processions of important figures...
TI: This is the บุษบก Budsabok, for using on songkran festival, Inside of it keep image Buddha.
cat: During Pi Mai in Luang Prabang, the Phra Bang Buddha image will be moved from Ho Prabang to Wat Mai for a few days. Do people use something like the Budsabok to carry it outside the temple?
TI: People put the Buddha image inside of it and carry it outside the temple.

[2] Why does every pillar have a mirror on it?
TI: It meants if anyone make goodnese or badnese, their action come back to them again like the mirror when we look mirror. We can see us to be inside of it.

SK: where place of a monk worship the buddha or pray buddha

[3] What are these little banners in front of the altar called, & what are they for? Do their designs have any meaning?
TI: For Tai Lue call Flag, But it made of the clohts, the most it only will be the Tai Lue temple. And it is art of Tai Lue.


[4] Design of smallest Buddha image at the front is probably Lanna/Chiang Saen style, what about the other 3? Are these designs unique to some ethnic group, geographical area or historical period? The cat's first time seeing conical usnisha (the pointed part on top of the head), & painted eyebrows & lips...
TI: It is design of Tai Lue. If you go Tai Lue temple. You will see image Buddha like this every temple. At my village image Buddha is like this.
SK: many ethnic groups who are belief buddhism of course that's group be to buling the buddha statues.


[5] What is this called, & is it a Tai Lue architectural feature? Is it rare to find it on temples roofs? Looks like the kalae กาแล of traditional Northern Thai houses...
TI: This thing is flag, It made of the woods. It is not kalae. It is design of Tai Lue.


[6] What is this called, & what is its purpose? Why is there only one behind the left lion?
TI: It is Puttaseemar, there is every temple, and in Thailand has it.
cat: Is it the same as 'bai sema' (ใบเสมา boundary markers that demarcate the sacred part of the temple, usually 8 of them surrounding the ubosot)? I have another photo of it, taken from the other side. Looks like you can put something inside:


TI: Yes, Thai call it 'puttaseemar'. But Lao call it 'bai sema'. This picture i can not see surrounding things of it so i cannot tell you.

Last photo not in Wat Sing Jai, but in Tai Lue Culture Centre on 2005 trip to Chiang Kham in Phayao province of Thailand:


TI: ...they call krurngthaiyatan. It meants when there is die people than cousin of them will make this thing to give the monks. They beleive die people will not be hungry and poor. And when they born again. They will have been rich people. {Belief for Thai & Lao}
SK: it's surprise-gift when have a festival in the temple and it's religious ceremony many people make it for surprise-gift (often a money-tree present at the festival of the reading of the story of price Vessantara) or offering for a sermon.

Interesting how much can be learnt from friends =)

191206 more Wat Sing Jai

rest of the stuff that maketh a Wat...

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[1] lions with mohawks
[2] drum made from some animal (buffalo? cow?) hide
[3] thaat4 aka. stupa
[4] what looks like a balding bodhi tree

offerings around the thaat4 ทาด (looks weird as the cat is using Thai font to write a Lao word) - lumps of sticky rice, candles, bananas, peeled mandarin oranges & sprigs of flowers:


At the base of the thaat4, awaiting their fate as future offerings:


saffron laundry:


Wat Sing Jai (aka. Wat Luang Ban Xieng Jai) was deserted while the cat was there. Only sign of life were these quacklings:


March 16, 2007

191206 Wat Sing Jai, Muang Sing

A Tai Lue style temple behind Muang Sing Guesthouse & the Tribal Museum:


'Layer' of 'windows' separating the upper three & bottom two layers of the green roof (below left) is something the cat has never noticed before in temple roofs. It would later realise the dramatic effect that they have on the interior.

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Ridge of roof has the simplest 'yort4 sor faa4' (lit. ยอด summit ช่อ bouquet ฟ้า heaven aka. dok sor faa & yort chor faa) the cat would come across in North Lao (above right). Most other temples the cat saw had 7 to 17 of the 'projections', all squarish, like this & this. Wat Sing Jai's version reminds the cat of Khmer prangs, which also symbolise Mount Meru.


The pointed tongue-shaped piece of wood carving attached to the apex of the gable (above, upper left) directly below the chor faa (roof finial) is another feature new to the cat. It has seen a cross-shaped version called kalae กาแล on the roofs of traditional Thai houses though.

Plain whitewashed walls on the outside, & windows & doors decorated with white stencilled designs instead of the usual gold:

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Behind tiny doors (above right) just tall enough for the cat to walk through without having to stoop:


Bright firecracker-red pillars, each with a large rectangular mirror hanging from it at an angle (what do they mean? what are they for?) & Tai Lue thoong2 (banners) hanging from the crossbeams above:


The 'windows' between the upper & lower layers of the roof transform what could have been a typical dark & musty temple interior into a bright & airy space:


A different style of Buddha images with painted eyebrows & red 'lipstick':


Totally wrapped up from neck down, again something new to the cat...

March 05, 2007

191206 Muang Sing tribal museum

In a beautiful 2-storey Tai Lue style wooden building along the main street:

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Used to be the residence of a prince, & recently renovated with German help:


Ground floor has the traditional dress of the major ethnic groups of Muang Sing on display, accompanied by detailed write-ups in Lao & English:


One side (far end, above) also has the different types of weavings from various ethnic groups, & 3 tables have an array of items used in daily life, such as baskets for carrying goods & harvested crops, baskets for religious offerings, bowls, utensils, knives, chopping boards, gourds for containing water, water scoop, musical instruments (including the familiar jew's harp), straw raincoat, crossbows & arrows, bird traps, fish traps, etc:


All carefully labelled =)

Akha, Yao, Tai Dam, Tai Neua, Tai Lue, Lolo, Phu Noi, Khmu (more on Khmu) & Hmong are all represented here. The cat learnt that the Khmu also have spirit gates in their villages, like the Akha...that the Lanten & Iu Mien are subgroups of Yao...that Lanten ladies shave their eyebrows & to recognise Tai Dam headcloth patterns...that for the Phu Noi, one third of all assets goes to the wife in event of a divorce, but zero if it is deemed her fault (compare with other ethnic groups)...etc...such is the detail of the accompanying info. Definitely not the 'let's gawk at exotic primitive people' kinda set-ups like the 'Union of Hilltribe Villages' crap in Chiangrai & Paduang 'zoos' in Mae Hong Son.

Two of the many Akha subgroups not found in Thailand:


Whenever the cat looks at these it will think of Ata & the rest of the Akha 'aunties' & the HOURS & HOURS of sewing till your eyes pop in order to make yourself & your kids & your husband the best-dressed in your village =P

North Lao has Akha Puli (coloured collars for tops & rather elaborate headdress for men), Kopien (guys wear black instead of the usual red 'turbans'), Tchitcho, Eupa, Agui, Nagui, Mutchi, Oma, etc...more than enough to confuse the clueless cat who can only recognise Lomi, Ulo & Phami. While travelling through Phongsaly it would see many Akha ladies with this kind of headdress with heavy chains (can imagine Agong's wife complaining about the weight & headache if she had to wear this!), & others with skirts that have a long decorated panel in front (even Agong & wife agreed that it looks like an Akha wearing a Hmong skirt =P)...can anyone help identify the subgroup(s)?

A Lao guide was waiting for his tourists to finish viewing the video upstairs, & like many Lao he was puzzled to see a tabby cat travelling solo, which led to an interesting chat in English + Thai. Like many young Lao guys, he picked up English while spending time as a novice monk in Luang Prabang. He's one of the lucky ones who has managed to realise the 'learn English/Japanese to become a tour guide' dream that many of the Luang Prabang novices have, & freelances for 5 Luang Prabang tour agencies that offer trekking tours.

This museum was also where the cat realised that Muang Sing now has the luxury of electricity around the clock =)

March 04, 2007

191206 Luang Namtha to Muang Sing

Yesterday's route in green, & today's route in blue:


HWY 3 & HWY 17A fragment Nam Ha NBCA (National Biodiversity Conservation Area), which can be explored with the Gibbon Experience.

With two green tea muffins from the tiny Chinese bakery next to Cha Rueh Sin Guesthouse (trust the cat to sniff out anything matcha-flavoured =P), the cat walked past a group of drivers playing cards & whistling & calling out 'ARIGATO! ARIGATO!' & got on the 11:30AM songthaew to Muang Sing.

Luang Namtha bus station is so organised, the songthaews will park in front of blue signs with white wording (below, upper right) indicating their destinations in Lao & English. Songthaews that leave earlier are usually packed to the gills with people returning from the town market to their villages, & but close to lunchtime they are rather empty:


The lady second from right has a deformed right hand, & was one of the very few beggars the cat encountered in North Lao. Only when reviewing its photos back in Singapore did the cat realise it had captured her in the above photo of the songthaews:


She is a Lanten (Lao Huay), an ethnic group related to the Yao. Their religion is influenced by Taoism & they write using Chinese characters. Shirts for ladies are buttoned on the upper right, similar to the 旗袍 qi2 pao2 & shirts for Lisu & Lahu (is this characteristic of many ethnic groups that originated from China? The Manchus had such a far-reaching & powerful influence?). Two bunches of long threads hang from the collar at the front - for this lady they are white in colour, but this source (page 52) says that they start off dyed red, before fading to pink & eventually white. Lanten women also wear white leggings that remind the cat of bandages & Chinese Mahayana monks (think Shaolin temple =P), cover their hair with black cloth like the Yao, & shave their eyebrows.

Two Japanese backpackers hopped on, & we were off to Muang Sing along a pretty good sealed road (here you may choose not to trust the cat's opinion, for any road other than HWY 3 seemed pretty good by comparison =P). Passed by several villages & the occasional tourist exploring the valley on bike, the beautiful lush greenery of the Nam Ha NBCA, & finally the fork in the road that leads to Muang Long & Xieng Kok.

Plain forgot about asking the driver to drop the cat off along the main street where most of the guesthouses are, & ended up at the new bus station a long walk away from the central part of Muang Sing. The cat is shy about walking alone into a strange town with a big fat backpack, attracting many stares from locals who are not used to girls travelling alone, especially 'farang-style'...& even more so when the girl looks more like one of their own daughters rather than a Caucasian farang, who are well-known for doing 'strange' things. Some of the Lao the cat met even assumed that the cat had a white farang husband, a 'plausible' explanation for having adopted 'farang ways'!

But at least the cat knew where it was. Mr Saitama & Mr Kyoto had a Japanese travel guidebook that didn't indicate the new location of the bus station. & so they were only too happy to follow the cat along the dusty dirt roads past wooden houses & ducks happily splashing in puddles into town, while the cat was only too happy to have company to walk with =) All ended up at Muang Sing Guesthouse:


The guys opted for a twin room with shared bathroom for USD4, while speaking Thai to the lady owner got the cat a small double with private shower for USD3 =P


Surprise - there was hot water & electricity even in the daytime. The cat had been expecting lotsa candles, post-sunset chugging sounds of generators & cold showers...guess it is time to update many guidebooks.