boat racing festival

It’s the end of Buddhist Lent!  That means a huge party in the streets of Vientiane.

In preparation for the Boat Racing Festival, the street along the Mekong has been filled with stalls and a carnival for weeks.  The music has been blaring non-stop, the traffic is unmanageable, and there are people everywhere.

On Tuesday night, all of Vientiane gathered along the banks of the Mekong to put “Koutung” into the river; a small boat made of banana leaves and flowers, with a candle.  The idea is that you light the candle, say a prayer or make a wish, and then let your little boat float out into the Mekong and down the river, and then your wish will come true.  There are also fireworks and lots of other exciting things to do during this time, and everyone, everywhere, was drunk, for days.

The following day rowing teams from across the province came to Vientiane to compete in a Boat racing festival.  Here are some pictures:

me with my banana boat
me with my banana boat
I won’t tell you what my wish was.
Tuesday was also an exciting day for me because not only did I get to climb down the muddy sides of the Mekong to float a banana boat down it (which promptly got stuck in some tall grasses and then the candle went out…), but earlier in the day, at the library, we had a little celebration, and dined on DOG MEAT!
Yes, that’s right, I finally ate dog.  And it wasn’t that bad. The funniest thing was that the Lao all pretend they don’t eat dog, and I went around asking the ladies “Gin ma bow?” (want to eat dog?”), and Mr. Chansy, and Mr. Somephone, would say “Shhhh!! Don’t sayit out loud!”, as if they were ashamed that people would know the Lao eat dog.  But then, when we brought out the dog, everybody was like “Sep lae!”  (very delicious!). Quite a few people even pretended they had never eaten dog before… and would say “oh…. I can’t eat dog.  But I heard it was the most delicious meat.”  and Mr Chansy kept telling me “You know, in Korea, and Vietnam, they like to eat dog.  But not in Lao.”
Anyway, the moral of the story is, almost everybody eats dog here, or has at least once in their life, but they probably won’t admit it.
Ok, so more pictures form the Boat Racing Festival and Night of the Candles:
Bumper Cars!
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lao funeral

I went to a funeral for the aunt-in-law of a lady I work with last week.  It was pretty interesting.  The women who died’s children all live in the USA so they spared no expense for this funeral.

After listening to some monks chant for a few hours,  finally they placed this kind of stupa-shaped thing, draped in white cloth, on a cement block, and then everyone placed a candle and a sparkler on the stupa.  Then, they doused it gasoline, and some on light a firecracker that zoomed along a string and sent the whole thing up in blazes.

During this whole time, various firecrackers and different colored smoke was emitted from the pyre.

It was interesting.

more buddhist stuff

One of the ladies I work with’s brother-in-law died on Monday morning.  So, I went with Mr. Somephone to the temple to visit her and her husband Monday afternoon.  This is a rough account of that experience which I found a little surreal:

Firstly, there were a total of about 20 people seated in various places on the floor of the wat.  There were about three distinct camps – one for the men, one for the women, and one for the teenagers.  The women sat and rolled up 500 kip (5 cents US, approximately) in banana leaves and chatted.  I am assuming these will be used for some kind of religious ceremony.  Mrs. Bounsalome, the lady I work with, was seated among these women.  They all seemed to be laughing and having a pretty good time, despite the fact that some one had just died.

The men mostly sat around playing cards.  They were also laughing and of a generally congenial disposition.

The teenagers played with their cellphones.

In one corner, a really old monk laid on a matress and drank some weak tea.

Several dogs kept running in an out of the temple, which various people would then shoo away.  There was also a cat that people kept shooing away.

I asked Mrs. Bounsalome what they would do at the temple.  She told me that they would stay there all night and then the next day the would have the funeral.

Mr. Seethong also came around this time, and he told me that the next day they would take the body to some other place, and burn it, and then put the ashes in the stupa outside the temple.  I asked him if they would sleep in the temple, or stay awake all night, and he told me that many people would come to visit Mrs. Bounsalome and her husband during the day and the night and they would probably not sleep.  He said they would stay awake playing cards most of the night, and that people would bring them food.

At one point the monk went into a little room in the back and didn’t come out again.  Then Mrs. Bounsalome went to go eat lunch, and I sat and watched Mr. Seethong and Mr. Somephone play cards for about a half hour.  They were playing some kind of card game that I tried to understand but could not, but it did involve betting money. They tried to explain to me how to play but when it got to complicated they told me “just observe.”.  After a half hour Mr. Somephone had won about $5 and then we decided to leave.

During this whole time the teenagers were still playing with their cellphones, which would occassionaly start playing pop music really loudly.

Another thing that was pretty interesting is that at most of the wats you go to visit as a tourist they have signs that say “you must be dressed appropriately” etc, some of the girls I saw Monday were seriously wearing booty shorts at the temple.  And the men were gambling.  They might as well just bring in a boom box and bottle of Lao whiskey.

Speaking of cellphones, and I am really digressing here, I have noticed an interesting trend.  There is an entire genre of music and music videos that I have seen countless times (mostly on bus rides) that involve young Lao and Thai people starting longingly at their cellphones.  Once I watched an entire compliation of approximately 10 songs that all involved the same scenario – a girl staring at her cellphone, putting it away, then it cuts to a boy calling her, but she doesn’t pick up, then later she looks at her phone again, and it says “missed call”, and she tries to call back, but he doesn’t answer, and then they go on gazing in expectation at their cellphones for the entire duration of the video, cutting between different scenes of the boy and the girl.

If there was ever an apocalypse, and the only records of humanity that were left were these music videos, the aliens or whoever eventually found them would probably think that people were in love with their cellphones.  Which may be true.  I don’t know.

Anyway, that was my temple experience.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to the funeral the next day because sometime Monday afternoon I became ill and feverish with what I know with certainty is Giardia.

So I didn’t come to work yesterday, I stayed at home and did laundry and made some lentil soup. That means have a lot of work to do today, and also some guy asked me to edit his dissertation for him, which he needs by tomorrow, and I am starting a job teaching English on Monday.  So I am pretty busy these days.