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.

The Wax Castle Procession of Laos – Part 2

The That Luang Festival – Part 2

Laos’s most important religious festival opens with a parade led by monks and government officials, accompanied by musicians in ethnic costumes.

The faithful follow, carrying colorful, decorated structures (wax castles, or phasat).

The scent of honey filled the air

These are high towers built by hand to resemble castles. But such castles! These beautiful structures are covered with yellow wax flowers, especially scented with honey. Offerings of money and gold paper further decorate the towers, which are carried three times in a clockwise direction around the stupa. The procession is led by the temple’s monks, who are chanting Pali verses. Then the castles are placed on the stupa, and on the ground candles and incense are lit to ask for Buddha’s blessing.

To place castles at this event brings extra-special merit as they are an especially worthy offering. According to legend, a monkey offered the Buddha honey and was rewarded with a human incarnation. The honey in the yellow wax flowers is a symbol of this great honor.

Monks are available to receive offerings of money and place the towers (sometimes precariously!) on the stupa.

Room for a few more!

The festival brings everyone together, regardless of ethnic group or social standing. The procession shows solidarity among communities as people from all walks of life take part in the festival. Everyone dresses in their best clothes, and people from all over the country attend. Groups across Laos try to bring at least one wax castle to the stupa. The stupa itself is the country’s most important religious edifice, believed to contain a sacred relic of the Buddha.

We spent a long time on the grounds, quietly watching the comings and goings. People laugh and talk and play music as they make their offerings, but the solemnity of the procession made me sorry I didn’t have on a skirt or dress, or pay to rent a sarong for the event. Tourists are welcomed but there is nothing touristy about this sacred ritual. It was an overwhelmingly, intensely Laotian celebration. As always: I feel honored and lucky that Uwe and I were there for that full moon, and that we continue to get to witness the wonders of this precious world.

NOTES: “November 28, 2012 Wax Castle Procession” Vientiane Times, The First National English Language Newspaper

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

©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.

The Wax Castle Procession of Laos: Part 1

The That Luang Festival – Part 1

As my readers know, Uwe and I are devoted to travel. One of our favorite regions is southeast Asia. We keep going back, in love with the countries, the food, the cultures and the people. Each time we go, we’re lucky enough to plan on – or stumble onto – a local celebration.

If it’s a religious festival, taking part is a way to gain merit. After so many years visiting the area, I’d like to think that visiting is a way to gain merit as well….

An especially charming festival is the annual That Luang Festival, or Wax Castle Procession. The festival takes place in Laos’s capitol Vientiane. Uwe and I were in Laos one year when our visit to the city coincided with the fest. Of course, we had to see it!

The festival is a holiday honoring Buddha at the That Luang stupa, Laos’s most sacred religious site. [1] Traditionally, the festival occurs during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (November).

A gigantic traditional trade fair had opened six days earlier, with booths, rides, food, and ear-splitting speakers blasting music…. There was no way you could miss where the festivities were! Families sat everywhere, either picnicking or taking a break from the sights. Special areas had been set up on the grounds for male and female monks to rest.

Traditional clothes and musical instruments

There are booths selling special foods, rides for kids, and items both sacred and practical for sale.

In the afternoon, everyone watches the traditional game tikhy, played with a ball and long curved sticks, similar to hockey. We missed the game – which gives us an excuse to go back again someday.

Within the stupa walls the atmosphere was devout. Outside the walls though, people were having a loud and lively time. We left as the full moon rose over the That Luang stupa and lights went on. Even more people were streaming in as we made our way back to our hotel.

Part 2 will post next week.

NOTES: [1] The That Luang stupa is depicted on both the kip (Laos paper money) and the att coins (no longer in circulation).  Some information on the festival taken from “November 28, 2012 Wax Castle Procession” Vientiane Times, The First National English Language Newspaper

©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.

The Animal Kingdom: 24

Installment #24 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. The army marched unarmed.
  2. The rafter sat in the rafters.
  3. The huddle huddled for warmth.
  4. The steam wasn’t steaming.
  5. Moving the bale from the bale made it baleful.
  6. The coil coiled and we ran away.

Answers:

Army, 4,000 Islands, Laos
  1. Army of ants
  2. Rafter of turkeys
  3. Huddle of penguins [1]
  4. Steam of minnows
  5. Bale of turtles
  6. Coil of rattlesnakes
Bale elder, Loro Parque, Tenerifa

NOTES: [1] “Among all penguin species, five are in danger of extinction, five are vulnerable, three near threatened, and only five are the least concern.” www.penguins-world.com. However, there is good news for the Humboldt penguin: The country of Chile recently rejected a 2.5 billion offer from  the Andes Iron firm. The proposed mining initiative was too close to the National Humboldt Reserve. themindcircle.com. ©Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann and Jadi Campbell. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

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

Huddle, Loro Parque, Tenerifa

The Animal Kingdom: 23

Here is installment #23 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. This bite bites.
  2. The cluster clustered at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. The draft drifted in the draft.
  4. The descent descended, making their way around the tree trunk.
  5. The rabble wasn’t bothered by the rabble.
  6. The plump plumped up nicely in the pan.
Cluster, Kanchanaburi, Thiland

Answers:

  1. Bite of midges
  2. Cluster of beetles
  3. Draft of fish [1]
  4. Descent of woodpeckers
  5. Rabble of insects
  6. Plump of wildfowl
Draft

NOTES: [1] Also the depth of water a ship draws. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Assocation has a very long list of endangered fish species. /www.nmfs.noaa.gov © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

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