Another surprise came my way today

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another popular activity in Luang Prabang for tourists, arguably the #1 activity, is to get up early and watch the monks and the novices walk the streets in seach of alms between 6 and 7.30 am.  The guide books encourage you to take part by offering them some rice.  But if you choose not to participate, then you are asked not to make a spectacle of the situation.  The rules for non-participants are: (1) Stand away from the procession, (2) Don't shove your camera in their faces, (3) Use a telephoto lens, (4) Don't use flash, and (5) Be respectful of the silence of the event and the space of those offering alms.

So, with my pot of rice in hand, which cost about $1.30, I waited in the darkness for the procession to begin.  As expected, it turned into a circus once the monks arrived.  First, there was a group of monks that arrived by van, who then proceeded to stand there texting and taking pictures with their phones.  (The monks receiving alms paid respect to them, so they must have been of importance.)  Then, since only a few of us foreigners were participating with the food giving, the rest jumped into the line, blocked the path of the monks, and held their cameras in the faces, with the flashes going off.  After awhile, the tourists got bored, left, then more monks came out -- the earlier ones seem to be the sacrifical lambs.  I also noticed some monks searched for their alms on streets where the tourists weren't hanging out.    

When I was waiting for the procession to begin, I was surprised to see so many small children at that hour.  Once the procession started, it became obvious as to why they were there.  As the monks and novices made their way down the street, they would pick items out of their pots -- probably the foods they didn't like -- and drop them into the bags and baskets of these poor children.  

While rice is what you are told to donate, I did notice plantains and other local food items in some of the pots.  I was tempted to purchase chocolate bars and bags of potato chips for my offerings, but didn't know if that would be unacceptable, so played it safe; after all, you can eat only so much rice!  The rest of the morning was spent visiting more wats until it was time to check out of the hotel for my evening flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.  . 

Since my flight to Vientiane wasn't scheduled until 7 pm, and check-out time from my hotel was at noon, I had plenty of time to kill.  While continuing the exploration of the city, I walked past the public library that had a big sign in front of it stating that it had been donated and was being maintainted by the US Embassy...our tax dollars at work.  The books are really old ("Amelia and Eleanor Take An Airplane Ride" was one of the available titles), totally pro-American, but there were six computers with internet access available to all users.  Most of the users while I was there were monks.  They were busy accessing their Facebook pages, sending email, and doing Google searches; I was curious as to what they were using the internet for, so watched.  The library also sponsors an outreach program that encourages English-speaking foreigners to stop by the library and allow locals to practice their English skills.  It didn't take long before a monk came over and asked if we could converse. 

During the course of the conversation, he told me he wasn't sure he wanted to continue to be a monk, as they were too strict, and too many things were banned.  (Obviously the internet, Facebook, cell phones and email aren't on that list.)  But he sure knew a lot about America and American history.  He also had a great interest in Machu Picchu, so was happy to learn I had visited it.  His English skills were very, very good, so much so that he was asking me what words such as urbanization, globalization, biodiversity,  and ecosystems meant.  I had to really think hard -- which I do rarely -- on how to explain them.  He also asked grammatical questions on the difference between a word used as a verb, noun, adverb, and such.  Then he asked me a question that took me totally by surprise: "There are a lot of Hmong living in Fresno, yes?"  I asked him, "You know Fresno?  That's funny, because my mother lives there.  And, yes, there are a lot of Hmong who live there." 

The Hmong are a mountain people who live in the region that borders China, Vietnam and Laos.  Because they have long been discriminated against by the other local groups, when the Americans became involved in the conflict in Vietnam, they aligned themselves with us, serving as gun runners, performing advanced reconnaisance missions, and other roles for the military.  When the war ended, the US returned the favor of their loyalty by offering them the opportunity to resettle in the US.  Since they make their living by farming, they were resettled in the San Joaquin Valley, where farming is key.  Toward the end of our time together, a Korean student studying in Luang Prabang stopped by and asked if he could join in.    

During the several hours I spent at the library, there were many locals who stopped by wanting to practice their English.  They patiently waited, sitting quietly or reading books.  And, it was also nice to see quite a number of foreign travelers stop by to help them practice,  It was interesting that I was the only native English speaker among them, but it did give the locals good experience with the different accents.  As I was leaving the library to return to the hotel to pick up my luggage and go to the airport, another foreigner took over my little group of two.  

When I reconfirmed my flight, there was a schedule change.  My 6 pm flight was changed to 7 pm, and an additional flight was added for 5 pm.  I decided to try to catch the 5 pm flight, which they allowed me to do.  As luck would have it, the 5 pm flight didn't leave until almost 7 pm, so I can only image what time the 7 pm flight actually left. 

It turned out that Sugar Daddy from Chiang Mai and his boy toy were on the same flight, and sat across from me in the waiting room.  As we waited, Sugar Daddy was trying to get the attention of his boy toy, but the guy didn't pay him any attention, as he was too engrossed with the iPad.  I wondered if Sugar Daddy regretted giving it to him so early, perhaps he should have waited until the end of trip.    

The rest of the wait was uneventful, unless you take into consideration my being called out by Security. They said my suitcase was was my alarm clock going off.  And, when I arrived in Vientiane, the hotel was supposed to send a taxi for me, but it was more than 1.5 hours late. The driver apologized, saying he had car trouble along the way.  (There was no where to call the hotel, phones aren't as readily available as they are in the US.)  Yes, Vientiane was hot.  

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