February 24, 2008

261206 Luang Prabang alarm clock

The catnap was suddenly interrupted by the alarm clock that went off directly above all three cats' heads:


It is set to go off at 4:00PM sharp at every temple in Luang Prabang on every eve of & day of ວັນສິນ (wan sin aka. วันพระ wan phra in Thai). Often translated as 'Buddhist holy day', these uposatha days occur on every new, quarter & full moon. The new & full moon days are the 1st & 15th days of the lunar month (wan phra yai in Thai), & on these days Theravada monks recite the patimokkha rules, while devout Chinese Mahayana Buddhist laymen turn vegetarian. The alarm clock can also go off at night when:

...sometime a temple has happen a bad thing such as a person die at night in the temple or the temple has got stealing. The novices & monks have to beat the drum to call people.

Batteries not included, the alarm clock is manually operated:


Within earshot of Wat Mahathat is Wat Hosiang, & the novices of the neighbouring temples trying to out-*BOOM* & out-*CLASH* each other with their drums & cymbals gives rise to a pretty deafening Dolby surround sound effect...'like stereo', joked one monk. According to him, the drumming occurs at regular intervals during the day at the temple atop Phou Si Hill, a continuation of the old method of timekeeping for the town.

The clock mechanism is of great interest to some tourists:


Whose efforts to share the experience with everyone can be seen here, here & here. Other tourists staying in guesthouses right next to temples loathe it, as this alarm clock rings at 4:00AM in the morning too, & there is NO snooze button ;) To some novices it is fun, to some it is a duty that can be escaped if one attends the afternoon session at school, to some it is a way to warm up before bathing (no hot water) during the cold season, & one monk who says i don't like to drum because i can not do it is glad that his novice days are over.

For some reason the drumming rhythm in Luang Prabang & Muang Sing is far more elaborate & frenetic than what the cat observed in Vientiane (two slow thumps followed by single strike of a gong). In Vientiane the cat also heard the drumming at about 5:30AM, right before the monks & novices left the temple to go on alms round.

The top three photos were taken at Wat Mahathat, the shoulder in the corner is that of the novice who asked the cat to come up to the Wat Hosiang side for a better view. This temple receives only brief mention as one of seven places under 'other temples' at the end of the write-up on 'Sights' in the Luang Prabang section of the blue backpacker bible, while the only mention of Wat Hosiang is a dot numbered 123 without a temple symbol on a map, listed together with petrol stations in the map legend. Both are located southwest of Phou Si hill, outside of the peninsula proper.

The full impact of being 'Lonely Planet-ed' would strike the cat when it witnessed the 4:00PM alarm clock ringing the next day at Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (bottom three photos), a temple in the heart of the tourist area that receives double mention in the guidebook - an individual write-up of its own, plus a listing as stop number 14 on the guidebook's walking tour of Luang Prabang. Within minutes, the cat saw more tourists than it saw over three afternoons spent at the other two temples...

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