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.

Chùa Hương, The Perfume Pagoda

NOTE: The extended festival of Northern Viet Nam’s Perfume Pagoda begins today, the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. In honor of this sacred Buddhist site and holiday here is my original post. —Jadi

On our first visit to Vietnam we booked a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda. [1] The Perfume Pagoda is a major Buddhist pilgrimage destination. The Huong Mountains contain fertility and agricultural cults, too.

The name Perfume Pagoda really refers to a number of shrines on – and in – the mountaintop. The most important temple is the Perfume Temple found inside Huong Tich Cave. It’s northern Viet Nam’s holiest site and the setting for the country’s most important and longest religious holiday.

The fest starts in the middle of the first lunar month (February 15) and runs from February to April. Hundreds of thousands of worshippers make the trek to present offerings at the mountain’s shrines and temples. At the high point of the festival, peak traffic will back up for as long as 8 hours on the Yen Vi River.

While the entire trip can be made by road, we took the water route. Reaching the site involved a two hour taxi ride to the pier located 70 km southwest of Hanoi in My Duc Town, a boat trip being rowed for two hours on the shallow Yen Vi River to the base of the pilgrimage site, and finally a two-hour hike up into the limestone Huong Mountains.

For the taxi ride we traveled with our guide on one of Viet Nam’s first highways. As you can see in Uwe’s photograph, the traffic on this main artery a decade ago was nothing like what we’re used to seeing in America and Europe.

Autobahn traffic
Autobahn traffic
Boat launch at Bến Đục
Boat launch at Bến Đục

A young woman rowed us upriver. 12700_V_10_15_82The boatwomen at Bến Đục (Duc Pier) make enough money to support their families, and are chosen by lottery.

We made our slow way past rice paddies and limestone peaks. 11900_V_10_15_74

Fishermen in impossibly tiny boats balanced, standing, as they shocked the water with weak electricity to stun the fish they collected in the bottoms of their flat vessels.

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After disembarking we hiked 4 kilometers straight up.

Beginning the pilgrimage up the mountainside.
Beginning the pilgrimage up the steps

Good shoes are needed as the path is steep in places and the stone stairs are slippery if it’s been raining! The landscape is lush, and the spectacular views are worth the strenuous hike.

Taking a break
Taking a break on the hike up the mountain

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The Huong Mountains are rich in myths and legends. One story relates how a Buddhist monk came here to meditate in solitude two thousand years ago. Another legend tells the story of the Perfume Pagoda’s Quan Am or Guan Yin. [2] A stone at Phat Tich temple contains her preserved footprint.

It’s believed that the Buddha stopped at the Giai Oan temple to wash. Pilgrims clean their faces and hands in the Long Tuyen Well to wash away past karmas.

But older deities are present. Cua Vong shrine is where believers make offerings to the Goddess of the Mountains. And inside the holiest of holies, the cave’s stalactites are sought out for blessings.

Entrance to Huong Tich grotto
Entrance to Huong Tich grotto

Once we reached the cave, we descended back down 120 wide stone steps to the Huong Tich Grotto, which translates as ‘traces of fragrance’.

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We entered the cave, whose opening is a dragon’s mouth. Inside Chua Trong (Inner Temple), our guide positioned himself underneath a stalactite and tried to catch a drop of moisture on his tongue.

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The stalactites grant good fortune. Pilgrims through the ages have named them: Basket of Silkworms, Boy Stone, Buffalo, Cocoon, Girl Stone, Nine Dragons Compete For Jewels, Pig, Rice Mound, Gold & Silver Mound, and the Mother’s Milk Stone.

Couples wishing for offspring gather under the Boy and Girl Stones; those wanting prosperity seek out drops from the stalactites hanging from the ceiling that grant abundance and wealth. The Perfume Pagoda Festival is considered an auspicious time and place to find a mate, and is the starting point for lots of successful romances.

At the time we visited, the remote northern region had just gotten electricity. And as our boat headed back down the Yen Vi we passed by boats bringing materials to build a new pier even further upriver. [3]

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NOTES: [1] This excursion instantly became one of my favorite trips of all time. [2] Guan Yin is the bodhisattva (usually female) associated with the quality of compassion. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who delays Nirvana, staying behind to assist others in finding enlightenment. The Guan Yin of the Perfume Pagoda is identified with Dieu Thien, the third daughter of Dieu Trang, King of Huong Lam. She refused to marry, wishing to spend her time in prayer instead. [3] An ingenious way to transport the needed materials to the site!

© Jadi Campbell 2017. My post The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ is scheduled to post. Go there after May 5th to read about south Viet Nam’s most sacred shrine. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at 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.

The Vagina Monologues

I’m honored to post this advertisement for The Vagina Monologues as presented by NEAT (New English American Theater) in Stuttgart. For two years I appeared on stage with real actresses and actors, women and men engaged and passionate about ending violence against women and children. This year I’m Stage Manager in order to remain involved in any way I can to support this important cause.

Wherever you are in our world, please support and pass the word about V-Day activities! —Jadi

Stuttgart Vagina Monologues: Kulturwerk Ost

NEAT is proud to be presenting Eve Ensler’s iconic The Vagina Monologues. All proceeds benefit local women’s crisis centers in the Stuttgart area. Please see descriptions of our beneficiaries on their Facebook page!

Funny, moving, and most of all, thought-provoking, The Vagina Monologues is a play that has been breaking down walls for the last 25 years. The monologues are a wonderful mix of well written human experiences and local stories of survival in today’s world. This year’s theme, resistance, is punctuated in the daily headlines we read.

Please see our two other performance dates- on February 15 at Theater am Olgaeck, and February 25 at Kulturwerk Ost-all in Stuttgart!

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.