Laos White String Bracelets: The Baci Ceremony

Note the white cotton threads

When we visit the temples in Laos, we often see monks tying special white cotton strings to the wrist of a person’s right hand. Sometimes the monk ties connecting strings to whole groups of people. What are they, and what was the significance? The answer, it turns out, varies in the different regions of Laos (as well as the Sipsong Panna autonomous prefecture of the Tai Lü in the extreme south of Yunnan, China, and Northern and Isan Thai cultures) and depends on time and place….

Full moon Vientiane, Laos

The strings are tied in the Baci ceremony, and the meaning depends on the occasion. Take weddings, for instance. According to an old Laotian legend, the cotton threads are tied to ensure a happy marriage. We each have a tree in the heavenly garden, and that tree has branches intertwined with your predestined partner. When our trees come to this earthly existence, the cotton threads binding them are cut and we’re born separated and alone. If you can find your soul mate again after searching for him or her, at your marriage you are rejoined by retying the thread.

But in Laos, threads are also tied on newborn babies and their mothers [1], or on people going home or departing from home, which explained the many men, women, and children with these bracelets we saw at airports. The ceremony is performed for specific events in a life: success, health (both for the cured and the sick), and annual festivals like the sacred Wax Castle Procession in Vientiane (we witnessed a high number of Baci ceremonies during that time). [2] The ceremony is done after a death, too, to bring back any wandering, missing spirits and reinforce the harmony of the surviving family members.

The entire ceremony is rich is symbolism. The white color means purity, and the strings are believed to bind the 32 kwan, organs or parts to the soul, to prevent them from wandering away. (The Baci ceremony is also known by the term su kwan, “calling of the soul”.) [3] When kwan wander away from your body, this creates an imbalance in the soul that may lead to illness and bad luck.

Foundation stones are honored

The ceremonies take place in Buddhist temples, but kwan and the Baci ceremony predate Buddhism. [4] I’ve had strings tied to my right wrist in Buddhist and Hindu temples from Thailand to India, but have never taken part in a Baci ceremony. Regardless, the white bracelet should be worn for at least three days. Then the threads can be unknotted or allowed to fall off on their own, but should never be cut.

NOTES: [1] A Baci ceremony for new mothers and their babies is performed to welcome the baby, and to recall any kwan that may have wandered off from the mother during the birth. [2] The Wax Castle Procession falls on an especially auspicious lunar calendar date: the full moon of the seventh lunar month. [3] Concept of Kwan: Kwan are components of the soul but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”. – Pom Outama Khampradith, Bounheng Inversin, and Tiao Nithakhong Somsanith, writing for Lao Heritage Foundation. [4] Check out my posts about the Rocket Festival we saw on our first trip to Laos!

P.S: Baci in Italian means kisses, and it’s an awesome chocolate candy that contains a whole hazelnut at the center.

©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to  viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

To learn more about kwan and the Baci ceremony: https://www.laos-guide-999.com/baci-ceremony.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baci

http://www.laoheritagefoundation.org/ceremonies/baci.jsp

https://www.laos-guide-999.com/that-luang-festival.html

 

My Silver Wedding Anniversary, or the Rose-Colored Windows that Weren’t

For twenty-five years (minus a day) I had a memory of rose-colored glass. Uwe and I got married a quarter of a century ago. Aside from thinking Yikes, how did that happen?!, I have sighed Awwww. Not many things last this long, especially when we’re talking about human beans….

You know how some couples seem to glide through life without ever having a disagreement?

We aren’t that couple.

walking around a town with even more history than we have

But I distinctly recall that the hotel room where we spent our first night as husband and wife had old-fashioned windows with glass panels in various colors. I can remember looking at those little panes and thinking, How wonderful to begin married life looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. That first image has comforted me countless times. It’s provided me with endless inspiration, and I love telling friends the story of those old windows that shimmered and glowed like gemstones.

Our wedding anniversary recently took place, and we wanted to return to the little town in Alsace where it all began. We booked the same hotel and both think we may even have been given the same room. We drove over a day before our anniversary and checked in as it began to rain. The sight of the rain on the windows was get outta here romantic.

I took some pictures. But later, checking to make sure my photos turned out, I was puzzled. The views of the village outside the windows had stayed pretty. But, wait a second: where were the colored panes of glass both of us are sure we remember?

Had my mind and emotions played tricks all these years, keeping me roped in with a faulty metaphor? Or is my eye sight seriously that bad?

The mystery was solved by a friend who reminded me that hotels – especially old ones – spend money on renovations. So, along with the elevator that was not there when we checked in 25 years ago, the windows were probably recent too. The glass in the windows is now textured, ‘pebbled’ maybe is the word I want. The view is still ever so slightly wavy and distorted…

We had three gorgeous days in one of our favorite regions in Europe. Yes, it remained romantic. As you can see from the photos, with rain or without, the views from the windows are lovely.

And, in the right light, my world as a married woman still looks rose-colored.

no my vision wasn’t impaired by the wine we bought at this winery, founded in 1728…

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. I dedicate this post to Uwe, my wonderful, long-suffering spousal unit. To see  his photos from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Rocket Fest (Bun Bang Fai!) – Part 2

Last week I wrote about the Bun Bang Fai. This is another installment of a new feature for this blog: I’m transcribing my entries from an old travel journal. I hauled out the journal I kept then to make sure that my memories match up with the facts. I use a travel diary to record first impressions and get down the details to go over later (like now, years later). As I said with the last one, enjoy, and let me know if this post is something you want to read more of in the future. — Jadi

“13 March. We stumbled into a rocket festival. The guide asked us if we’d like to stop and look around – a large wooden platform had been erected in a clearing so teams from some 30 surrounding villages could shoot off home-made rockets! The three categories were for small, medium and large and a village head scored them for height and at the end of the third day would give out awards, ranging from a house to a water buffalo.

It’s all pre-Buddhist, pre-recorded time: a wish to impregnate the skies so that it begins to rain. Food stands set up all alongside the one road, a band stand with live music and people dancing before it, a big pavillion for sitting and partying with lots of tables and chairs. The village teams cross-dressed and parading around with their rockets, lots of silly play-acting and laughter.

Pretty in Pink, or is that Pretty as Pink? A team carrying in their rocket for the competition

Check out the stylish red outfit

Depending on the region the 3-day festival takes place just before the start of the rainy season. For example, our guide’s home village has their rocket ceremony later, in May. The fest goes on somewhere in Laos from March through May.

We were the only foreigners. People noticed us certainly but other than a very drunken pair of pals who semi-interviewed us in English, no one ogled or jostled or tried to sell us anything.”

Our presence was simply accepted.

They were lovely in every way

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Rocket Fest (Bun Bang Fai!) – Part 1

We were in Laos and Vientiane for the first time, and only had a couple of days there. So we booked a car and driver and a guide, and left the city for a day. On the way back, we drove down a road filled with stands selling food and drinks. “It’s a rocket festival,” our guide exclaimed. “Would you like to stop and see it?”

Hell yes, we’d like to stop and see it! A cardinal rule of travel is that when the unexpected beckons, follow your curiosity….

Just one of dozens of stands with mouth-watering smells rising

We got closer and the scene grew busier, and more and more interesting. A platform had been erected and people danced as musicians played.

What really drew our interest were the large numbers of men in dresses and skirts, wearing make-up. It was still the afternoon, and most of them were already hammered.

These two were students, and asked permission to practise their English with me. I said yes of course

We’d stumbled into a Bun Bang Fai. The title breaks down this way:

  • Bun (Lao: wikt:ບຸນ) merit (Buddhism) is from Pali Puñña merit, meritorious action, virtue, and Sanskrit पुण्य puṇya virtuous or meritorious act, good or virtuous works.
  • Bang (Lao: wikt:ບັ້ງ) (alternative spelling bong บ้อง,) is a cutting, specifically of bamboo.
  • Fai (Lao: ໄຟ), is Fire (classical element). [1]

The Bun Bang Fai is a 3-day traditional festival that takes place just before the rainy season throughout Laos and eastern Thailand (the Isan Thai). The highlight is on the final day – the day we stumbled in – when rockets are shot off. But the rockets have to be home made (“Honey, do you remember where  I put the gunpowder?”), and teams compete to shoot off the best rocket, with prizes given out for beauty of vapor trail, height, and size.

No. I’m not going there.

However, you as the reader can and should, because this is one bawdy fest.

Phallic items, anyone?….

Students had dressed up as reporters and ran around the grounds ‘interviewing’ the crowd. They were interrupted by a group of women parading by, repeating a phrase over and over in loud voices. Our guide grinned as he translated. “They’re saying, ‘Ladies rocket! Ladies’ rocket!'” he told us. Since the rocket competitors are usually men, they’d built their own rocket and were carrying it in to be registered.

“Ladies’ rocket!!!”

Once their rocket is registered,  the  teams have to climb a scaffolding to tie the rocket on, and shoot it off themselves. Alcohol, crowds, and home made rockets… what could possibly go wrong?

See the bamboo structure at the back of the photo? Rockets will be flying from here very soon…

I’ll post Part 2 next week.

NOTES: [1] wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_Festival ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Laos Journal

This is a brand new feature for this blog: I’m transcribing selected entries from my old travel journals. Currently I’m working on a batch of new posts set in Laos. I hauled out the journal I kept on our first visit to make sure that my memories match up with the facts. My descriptions from that trip are raw. I use a travel diary to record first impressions and get down the details to go over later (like now, years later). I’ve decided to post some of them here for your amusement.  — Jadi

“13 March. The heat and humidity are too huge to move quickly. Despite them we’ve kept up an ambitious sight-seeing program.

A 1,000-year-old site we visited with our guide on yesterday’s tour:

Buddhas in the Angkor Wat style carved out of boulders in the jungle. And, not twenty feet away, a spirit altar by a tall tree. [1]

No one’s allowed to build anything on or near the site. But the locals come there for ceremonies and celebrations. It had a rather hushed and holy air as we stood on the jungle (forest) floor in the welter of the afternoon heat at Vang Sang. An elephant graveyard was once found nearby!

90 kilometers north of Vientiane we stopped for a boat trip on Ang Nam Ngum, an artificial dammed lake.

A long boat of Laos with packages waited on the adjacent boat docked there. They were from one of the many islands and had come in on a once-a-week boat trip to do their shopping.

The buildings all high on stilts for the rainy times. We had my favorite meal so far in this trip: a soup with fresh Chinese vegetables and tofu and vermicelli noodles – it may be the freshest ingredients in a soup of this kind I can remember. And a lake fish grilled whole with garlic and ginger and lemon grass and cilantro; and it was all just too delicious for words.

… I’m quite intrigued with the very old spiritual energy this country possesses. Little spirit houses beside trees. Sticky rice offerings on tree trunks.…

Now we’re down at an open pavilion-style café on the Mekong River. It’s receded with the dry season, almost to Thailand. Weird to think Thailand is so close. The river’s so low you could practically walk there.”

NOTES: [1] The Lao believe spirits called phi (similar to nats in Myanmar) inhabit certain places such as rivers, mountains, rice fields and groves of trees. animism in Laos ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Introducing Pia Newman

Pia Newman, Übersetzerin / Webtexterin / Virtual Assistant, currently in Cape Town, South Africa

Allow me to introduce an amazing woman! One of my writing buddies and best friends here is Pia Newman, aka the Planelope. [1] She spent a weekend here recently, to visit with me and the others from a group of friends who used to write together on a regular basis. And drink while talking about writing. And laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

Pia’s been off on a grand adventure. Make that: Grand Adventure. She’s seeing the world with an entity known as the WiFi Tribe. We as her friends are living vicariously, following along as Pia resided and worked first in Bali, then in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and now in South Africa.

Pia first discovered the WiFi Tribe last year on FB. She was looking for a way to travel more while working, and not necessarily by herself. She’s gained a community of like-minded digital nomads who travel and grow together. Pia gets new motivation from shared creative energy, just like what she used to have with her local writing group (us). But with the WiFi Tribe, she gets to see the world….

A maximum of 25 (usually 20) people in any spot at any given time makes the experience intimate and truly tribal. At the moment there are 3 tribes for 2018: Africa/Asia, Europe, and South America.

Working at home has lots of distractions (don’t I know!).  What excites her most about the WiFi Tribe is that it’s a work group that really, truly works. As Pia says, “If you work around other people typing away 40, 50, or 60 hours a week, it will motivate and inspire you too…”

But I’ll let Pia speak for herself. She writes an awesome blog about her experiences. You can get information on her book projects, too. So, everyone, without further ado, here’s Pia!

Pia Newman: Writer & Digital Nomad/

NOTES: [1] We call her the Planelope because no one plans like Pia. No one. She used to get up to write at 6:00-7:00 before going to a full-time job. If her dedication isn’t bad enough, her productivity puts the rest of us to shame too: she’s already written 8 first drafts of novels and polished 3 of them. And in 2012-13 she did a one-year course online to get credentialed as a screenwriter. If she wasn’t so wonderful we’d seriously hate her. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. Photo by Julia Kallweit.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

You Rang?

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NOTE: This is one of my all-time favorite posts. It combines love, memory, and a goodly dose of laughing at myself. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!!!

When I was in high school I dated a guy who was a good friend. I’ll call my friend Joe.  We drove the back roads in Joe’s car and partied with our friends. We laughed a lot.

I was shocked to go back for a high school reunion and learn that Joe had died. Too many cigarettes and alcohol; his heart gave out and he simply fell over dead. I had hoped he’d be at the reunion to say hello and yes, share a drink and a laugh again.

Sleep well, Joe.

Winters in upstate New York start early and go on forever. In February, the ground is still frozen and covered with snow. In February, tulips and bluebells, snow drops and crocuses are wishful thinking. Baby, it’s cold outside!

Back then I had a ratty old bathrobe. It was a quilted white thing with a floral pattern. The buttons fell off one by one and I never bothered to sew them back on. I just belted the robe tighter around my waist.

One lazy morning I woke late and took a shower. In those days I thought I could tame my curly hair, and washing it always involved a tedious process of destroying it afterwards on hot curlers. Believe me, I know how counter-intuitive it sounds!

It took an hour for my hair to dry this way, so I decided to give myself a face mask. No sense in getting dressed yet. When I pulled on my robe I saw it had lost another button. About two and a half buttons were left, the third one hanging literally by a thread.

I put on big fuzzy pink slippers and went downstairs to get a cup of coffee.

As I headed back through the house the doorbell rang. Whoever was waiting there spotted me. There was nothing I could do but go and answer the door.

I opened the door and … it was Joe. He took in the sight of the racoon mask of cracking green mud, my hair up in 15 spiky hot rollers, the psychedelic dead animal lookalikes on my feet and that rag of a robe.

I decided to brazen it out. I pulled the belt tighter and leaned against the door jamb. I raised an arm above my head. I struck a vamp pose: Domestic Goddess, in Disguise. “You rang?” I asked.

He smiled. “This is for you. Happy Valentine’s Day!” And with a flourish he held out a single long-stemmed red rose.

Sweet Joe: he’d gone out and gotten a long stemmed red rose for his mother, his sister, Long Stem Rose

and me.

I’ve looked better at every other Valentine’s Day (and no, I have not looked worse!). But I’ve seldom gotten a red rose that means more.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!!

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(Photos courtesy of dreamstime.com)

NOTE: © Jadi Campbell.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.