January 20, 2010

happy man-maid day

[291209] tio Hello Kitty-ed at Phu Langka Resort:


this Bangkok-registered vehicle drove 700++KM up north to park & lie in wait for him...

6900 - can go buy 4D

January 18, 2010

301206 Ban Hat Teu to Tha Souang

Resupply of Beer Lao for somewhere in northern Hongsa district, about an hour downriver from Tha Souang:


Girl at right (above) is a carbon copy of the cat's university hostel hockey team captain.


Tha Souang - the jumping off point for the road inland to Hongsa:


[R-L] Mr. Manivanh Teacher + student's brother + student alighting:


Mr. Manivanh student is carrying 2 sets of Big Brother Mouse books + a book from the cat for some local schools.

The amazing tensile strength of bamboo:


January 17, 2010

301206 Ban Hat Teu

Not sure if it still is the only place between Luang Prabang & Pak Beng that has a boat landing with concrete stairs:


About 5 hours upriver from Luang Prabang, this is where locals (including 7 consultants, plus various relatives & village-mates of theirs whom the cat has encountered over the years) get off to access the eastern part of Nga district by foot/tractor. It is far easier for them to travel from this road-less part of the province to Luang Prabang than to the district capital of Muang Nga or the province capital of Oudomxay town. Months earlier, two Kiwis had built a school for this village - find out more about them here.

301206 Luang Prabang to Ban Hat Teu

261206 route in grey, today's route in blue:

Up the Nam Khong from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng, with stops at Ban Hat Teu & Tha Souang. View for the rest of the daylight hours:


The overwhelming majority of foreigners travel downriver from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, with reports of up to 100 or so packed onto a single boat. This leaves boats doing the return journey upriver rather empty. There were less than 20 people on board this morning's boat, including the boat captain + his family, 3 Koreans, a falang teacher from Manivanh College + his student + his student's novice monk brother, & a Kiwi.

How to tell that the boat is travelling upriver...


...at least until Joma sets up branches in Huay Xai &/or Pak Beng.

Pulling away from Tha Heua Luang:


Wat Xieng Thong boat landing, where tourists are shunted from tour buses into slowboats for a quick trip to Tham Ting cave at Pak Ou:


Where the Nam Khan meets the Nam Khong:


Bank of Mekong long-term fixed deposit - teak trees to be harvested at maturity (30++ years):


Let's just say this two-day slowboat journey made the cat really glad that it had travelled the Nam Ou, & gave it plenty of time to catch up on writing its journal.

PC300387 PC300389

Beautiful Mekong version of 枯山水 kare sansui:


Transient just like their Japanese counterparts, to be resculpted by the currents as water levels rise & ebb with the wet & dry seasons, & in time to come, the opening & closure of gates of Chinese dams upriver.

301206 Tha Heua Luang

aka. the slowboat landing behind the Royal Palace Museum:


Ms. Brown Sinh & Mr. Blue Stripe are part of the family running this morning's Pak Beng-bound boat:


Long wait for the motorbikes to be loaded + even longer wait for the toilet bowls to be unloaded - this is how falangs get to enjoy Western-style toilets in the hotels & guesthouses of Luang Prabang:


Boat ticket office:


Like on all land-based vehicles - pics of Buddha & highly revered monks:


The cat has yet to see the insides of the cockpits of Lao Airlines, Thai Airways, Nok Air, etc...do they have the same?

Boat captain's home:


Blackened ຫວດ huat (conical 'basket' for cooking sticky rice) + wok + other kitchen stuff (upper left); rear view of boat (upper right); front of boat (lower left); bedroom (lower right).

291206 evening non-chanting

Big fat rush in the cat's last afternoon + evening in Luang Prabang...

Meeting the most un-Hmong Hmong at the Big Brother Mouse office, who would become the most articulate & outspoken of all the cat's Lao friends.

A 'request' to try & hunt down a cousin of Reebok Cap & 3-day-old monk when the cat arrives in Chiangrai city, with the barest of details - monosyllabic nickname probably shared by hundreds of thousands of Lao & Thai guys, lives in a 'Wat Pha something', no address, no contact number.

Mistaking Hmong novice's scrawny 14 y/o brother for an 8 y/o as he whacked with all his might the temple bell that probably weighs as much as he does.

Advice + warnings about Pak Beng from Monk TYF - a few from his village have worked there before, plus a few addicts in his village have resorted to stealing stuff from fellow villagers to sell & fund their habit.

Saying goodbyes, & trying to tell Monk TYF, 3-day-old monk & others that more conservative local lay people might find the sight of a group of monks & novices seeing a girl off at the boat landing rather unusual & maybe even inappropriate.

Meeting the artist behind this book at another section of Big Brother Mouse, & learning that 'oo' in Hmong is pronounced exactly like 'ong' in Chinese, not knowing that 3 years later someone else would give the cat a Hmong name containing this very syllable & the same clan name as the artist.

Gift for Mdm Vandara - the cat's solution to long hours of waiting for & on buses & boats in Laos, completed in Pak Mong:



Wee hours of 301206 - last view of Phou Si (upper right) glowing above the town in darkness, as seen from outside the cat's room:


3 years later, when the cat stayed here again, it would do the same thing - stand at the balcony & take in this view in silence, in the still of the night.

end of day 13 (291206):
noodle soup/pho/feu/khaaw soi eaten to date = 09 bowls

291206 evening chanting

Every morning & evening, at Buddhist monasteries across the world, members of the sangha gather to chant. Traditions (1), schools (2) & 'sects' (3) may vary, the suttas (sutras) chanted may differ, & even the same suttas may be chanted in different languages (4), but everyone is linked by the same Buddha, Triple Gem & Four Noble Truths.

Theravada temples in Thailand & Laos, as well as Thai (not sure about the Sri Lankan & Burmese) Theravada temples in Singapore usually start off with the same passages:
The youtube videos linked above have Chinese, Thai & romanised Pali subtitles, while the text link has Thai script & romanised Pali accompanied by English translations.

In addition to those listed above, other passages may be chanted too. Choice of these additional passages may differ from temple to temple, & from day to day within the same temple. In the second video linked above, 'reflections on sharing blessings' (3:32-5:36 / last section of this site) & the 'five subjects for frequent recollection' (5:47-7:19 / text) are chanted at the end. Some temples that the cat has been to include a short period of sitting meditation in between.

Some temples in Singapore & Bangkok have several copies of chanting books lying around the sim for any interested lay people to pick up & follow/join in the chanting. In the Mahayana tradition (dominant in Singapore), chanting is something that lay people participate in together with monks & nuns, & there are 'mass chanting/recitation' events held as part of celebrations for festivals such as Vesak. In Malaysia, Taiwan & Singapore, it is not unusual for people to listen to CDs of musical versions of the more well-known Mahayana chants e.g. 大悲咒 da4 bei1 zhou4 (Great compassion mantra) & 心经 xin1 jing1 (Heart sutra), & even display the mantra 南无阿弥陀佛 Namo Amitabha on the rear windshield of vehicles.

While monks at the Sri Lankan Theravada temple in Singapore also lead lay people in chanting from texts on Buddhist 'holy' days, in Thailand & Laos (where Theravada dominates) chanting seems to be more of something that lay people invite monks to do on their behalf. Perhaps that is why in Laos, the only chanting books the cat has seen all belonged to novice monks, & to date the only local lay people it has seen at evening chanting were two consultants (one a former monk), when a third consultant invited the 3 of us to listen to him lead the chanting in his temple in 2009.

Evening chanting in Wat Chan, Vientiane (photo from 2007 trip):


Full monks at the front, novices behind them, & laymen & cats at the back with full view of what certain 'more monk-ey than monk' novices do behind the backs of the monks - texting/chatting on mobile phones, throwing chanting books at/poking/hitting their friends, trying to push one another over, etc...boys will be boys ;)

Depending on the temple, attendance may (not always) be compulsory. Some older monks may chose to chant at the altar in their own living quarters, especially if they have mobility problems. The cat has also sat through 'roll calls' at the end of evening chanting sessions where attendance is checked. In a consultant's Vientiane temple, everyone will be given extra chores to do should anyone be absent more than thrice during phansa (rains retreat). On the other hand, the cat has also been to a large Thai temple during phansa where only a few of the oldest (except the wheelchair-bound abbot) monks & zero novices turned up...

On its last evening in Luang Prabang, the cat finally figured out why temple chanting in Laos sounds different from what it is used to hearing elsewhere - the majority of the voices are the higher pitched ones of young novices, as compared to the deeper ones of older monks in Singapore & Thailand. At this particular temple, chanting was 'fast-forwarded', led by Monk B at breakneck speed - the fastest the cat has ever heard anywhere. All 'triple bows' were similarly accelerated (!!) & everything was over in 30 minutes flat, while the monks & novices in Wat Next Door continued to drone on long after the sun had set. Things have since slowed down after Monk B left in 2008, & Monk A & Monk B's younger brother now lead at a less breathless pace :P

  1. Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana
  2. 淨土宗 Jingtuzong aka. Pureland, 禅 Zen aka. Chan, Tibetan, etc
  3. มหานิกาย Maha-nikaya, ธรรมยุตนิกาย Dhammayut-nikaya, etc
  4. e.g. Japanese [ho] or Chinese [fa] pronounciation of the Chinese translation of Sanskrit [dharma], Sinhala or Khmer or Burmese translations of Pali, etc