September 27, 2008

261206 Evening in Wat Hosieng

A cat that wandered into this temple to take photos of the khom dao lanterns made for last October's Boun Lai Heua Fai found itself quickly surrounded by all of the residents, minus those who had just returned from afternoon session at school & were still bathing. According to the residents, few tourists wander in here. Most of those who do are Westerners, who barely give a passing glance as they make a beeline for the Lonely Planet-ed Wat Mahathat next door. Hence the residents' curiosity about the cat.

Some residents were in full robes, some in just angsa (one-shouldered 'vest') & sabong (sarong), some in only their sabong or phaa aap naam (bathing cloth)...something the cat had never before encountered up close in wat baan ('urban area' temples, as opposed to wat bpaa 'forest temples') outside of Laos. It had also never before encountered such a young average age of residents in temples outside of Laos, nor temples where novices far outnumbered full monks, except during Thai school vacations when some temples hold mass novice ordinations.

Conversation started off in Lao, & quickly switched to Thai, & then as the cat's miserable Thai vocabulary sputtered out *BINGO* - this cat could speak English! They lit up. Opportunities to test their spoken English on tourists didn't come by as easily as for their counterparts in travel guidebook-highlighted temples that see far heavier visitor traffic. There was no escape - they'd already sussed out that the cat 'ja phak yuu Luang Prabang sii kheun' (was going to spend four nights in Luang Prabang). Smart guys. Fine, the cat wasn't going to let them get away without teaching it some Lao!

Many of the residents frequent My Library (click here for someone else's video) located somewhere behind the temple (in process of moving to new location as of early 2008). Run by The Language Project, it loans out cameras, so a few of them are pretty handy with digital cameras & the cat had no qualms about them handling its little Olympus. Interesting to see their world from their point of view & find out what matters enough to them for them to want to photograph it. They find themselves constantly in the crosshairs of the viewfinders & LCD displays of cameras & videocameras aimed at them by tourists, fun to have the tables turned & roles reversed for a change.

One of their living quarters, & three & a half of their wat-mates:


Many of the mini stupas are not perfectly straight, like the extreme example on the right (above). Likewise for the multi-tiered umbrella' finial atop many stupas, many appear to be deliberately bent. Don't know if it's due to lack of plumblines or some belief that it is rude to 'point' directly at heaven?

Some of their laundry - bedsheet-sized jiworn (outer robe) & sabong, & yellow ochre thin strip on the right that is the belt - & half of their friend:


Just before 5.30PM, whoever's on duty strikes the temple bell, & (almost) everyone assembles for the daily evening chanting. Waiting for stragglers:


Odd one out with a freshly-shaven pate - his last day as a novice, 'upasampada' ('higher' ordination as full monk) tomorrow:


White building in the background is the abbot's kuti (monk's quarters), & the tuktuk belongs to his cousin. In his early 30s, he's the youngest abbot the cat knows of, even though at least one other Luang Prabang temple had an even younger abbot (younger than the cat!) at the time of the cat's visit.

The closest they got to belling the cat - venue for Lao language classes for the cat right beside the temple bell over the next few days:


The cat had planned to do the tourist thing & catch sunset from atop Phou Si hill, but the monks & novices of Wat Hosieng had different plans for it - evening chanting. Didn't matter that Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sanma Sambud Tassa in the Lao transliteration of Pali comes out of the cat's mouth as Nanwu Dasha Bajiawaduo Alahaduo Sanma Sanbu Dasha in the Chinese transliteration of Sanskrit...same same but different ;)

Hence the Luang Prabang version of naga fireballs, or sunset as seen from Wat Hosieng instead of Phou Si:


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