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

 

J’aime la Vie

No, the hotel walls aren’t an optical illusion. They’re the colors of the French flag

I’m a girl who moved to the damp Pacific NW from upstate NY, where it can snow in April. When Uwe and I first fell in love, it was springtime in Europe. Flowers bloomed everywhere, the sun shone, we sat at outdoor tables in cafés holding hands… Mid-April and I’m in a t-shirt drinking wine at lunch with my sweetie ? Now this is the life!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was falling in love with a way of life, too.

It’s twenty-five years later and I’m still here. I remain in love with the way of life. But we joke that if the weather had been different I might not have been so quick to agree to stay. Some years it snows here in April, too. On April 18 & 19, it came down hard and then melted.

Possible snow showers are in this week’s forecast.

Snow flakes and a cloud bank coming our way

But two weeks ago we were in Paris and the temperature hit 22° C (71° F). Everywhere the trees and flower beds were in bloom, and yes, we sat at outdoor cafés…

We made a day trip to Amiens’ magnificent cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in France. I was excited to discover that Amiens contains one of the few labyrinths still in existence. [1]

While I wait for the weather to decide if it really is springtime, I’m enoying the photos from the City of Lights.

Paris remains the most satisfying of cities.

It doesn’t matter if I’m in Paris for the art, the food, the shops, or the French way of life. Paris appeals to all of my senses. Whenever I’m there I fall right back in love with being alive. J’aime la vie!

I lost my head for love. I wonder what his story was

NOTES: We took the direct fast train from Stuttgart. In 3 hours, we were in Paris. [1] Go to my earlier post Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres to read about another labyrinth and the glory that is Chartres. © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see  Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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

The Animal Kingdom: 6

Yet another addition to 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. A rookery will hardly rook you.
  2. The cast cast out sand.
  3. The quivering quiver swayed and waited….
  4. Culture doesn’t care about culture.
  5. This lounge member lunged!
  6. The swarm swarmed my sandwich and I couldn’t eat it.

Answers:

Quiver, Snake Farm (Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute), Bangkok Thailand
  1. Rookery of gooney birds [1]
  2. Cast of crabs
  3. Quiver of cobras
  4. Culture of bacteria
  5. Lounge of lizards [2]
  6. Swarm of flies [3]
Lounge member, Khao Lak National Park, Thailand
Cast, Khao Lak, Thailand

NOTES: [1] Ah, the gooney bird… now better known as the albatross. This magnificent bird’s wingspan can reach 11 feet! Status: 19 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. Environmental Watch [2] This particular lizard is a waran. It was bigger than me! [3] Nothing compares to the Hell that is a swarm of flies in Australia’s Outback. Nothing. Go to my earlier posts Warning: Waran!! and The Outback for more on my encounters with these critters.

© 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.

 

What a Year!

2016 was the Year of the Monkey. Wong Tai Sin Medicine Temple, New Territories, China

I’m a little slow sometimes. I recently realized that my new-and-improved wordpress website jadicampbell.com had a birthday in January and is now a year old. (Yes, I’m aware it’s already March!) So, what did I do with a year of blogging?

My usual bounce of topics around the world….

If you want humor, dance to the world’s oldest Beatles cover band in A Boogie With the Bootlegs and survive a terrible trip at The H(ot)ell in Dubrovnik. Mess with the wedding caterers in You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too and listen in as I gleefully confess to embarrassing my long-suffering spousal unit in The Honeymooners. Attend an office party that goes south with a whole lot of alcohol in Holiday Insurance 1 & 2.

I weighed in on current events with both outrage and compassion: Ending the Year Pregnant with Hope, Our House is on Fire, Outrage, Role Models and Positive Acts, and my continued thread on refugees The Long Haul. Helping Refugees: Part 5, 6 & 7.

Last summer I lost my mother-in-law, an old friend, and my dad Bobbo, all within a shocking three-month period. Those were by far the hardest posts to write. But I discovered something: the most personal blog essays are the ones my readers (i.e., all of you) respond to most.

Phew. And, thank you for your comments regarding Breath, Loss and Remembering How to Feel.

I wrote seasonal posts about Christmas Holiday Insurance 1 & 2, A Guy Goes to a Christmas Market…, the Hindu Nandi Purnima in Holy CowsBazaar/Bizarre, watching the World Cup from The H(ot)ell in Dubrovnik, and the (in)famous Oregon Country Fair.

Somewhere last year I managed to finish and publish a new novel, Grounded. Here are excerpts: Holiday Insurance 1 & 2, Holy Cows and Bazaar/Bizarre, The Reluctant Pilgrim, Save the Recriminations, History’s Loop 1, 2, & 3.

I took part in wonderful projects with NEAT (New English American Theater) involving Gershwin 1 & 2 and The Vagina Monologues.

I wrote about Nature’s waterfalls and snakes.

As always, I blogged about places we’ve visited on this incredible planet. Hong Kong, Laos markets & waterfalls, Hampi, India here and twice again in The Reluctant Pilgrim & Bazaar/Bizarre; Croatia and (the bus) to Canada.

2017 is the Year of the Rooster! Wong Tai Sin Medicine Temple, New Territories, China

What you can look forward to in the Year of the Rooster: a huge blog thread for my father Bobbo that I’m calling The Animal Kingdom. Occasional notes about my volunteer work with refugees. Lots more quirky posts about places Uwe and I visit. And on-going musings about life, the Universe and everything in-between as I deepen the process of saying goodbye to those who have left.

May you find something here that makes you laugh, creates a spark of connection, and moves you enough so that you reenter your own life with a sense of touching upon mine. That would make the new year of blogging – and all the years to come – worthwhile. As Mae West says, “Come on up, I’ll tell your fortune.” [1]

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I’m now posting once a week!

NOTES: [1] Quoted in She Done Him Wrong (1933). Photo of Mae West courtesy of Worth1000.com at http://jeanrojas.tripod.com/ Copyright © 2017 Jadi Campbell. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann or Jadi Campbell. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

A Boogie with the Bootlegs

I’m beginning 2017 with a fun post …

One year when Uwe and I took a vacation in Asia, I jumped at the chance to fly early and visit my sister Pam and my nephew Nikolai in Hong Kong. They lived in the city for a few years, and Pam had made a game out of finding as many cultural events as possible.

We attended a Japanese hip hop performance, fascinated to see how a form that began with black America was interpreted into Japanese. We got tickets for electrifying (and surprisingly political) Chinese modern dance. Not everything we saw was good; we had to suffer through an hour of really bad flamenco. We fled as soon as politely possible.

And Pam got us tickets for the Bootleg Beatles.

Asians retain a fierce love of the Beatles to this day, and the Bootleg Beatles aren’t your average cover band. The Bootlegs are the Beatles’ first and oldest tribute band. They have been playing for over 36 years! “George”, “Ringo”, “John” and “Paul” sing and play, complete with costume changes to track the evolution of the group. An eight-piece orchestra backs them up. They. Are. Terrific.

The Lyric Theatre of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts is a classic amphitheater space. Our seats must have been the last three sold: Pam, Nikolai and I sat high, high up in the last row.

Once they started playing, it was clear why the concert was completely sold-out. It was like the Bootlegs were channeling the original band. My sister and I got up and danced.

But a strange thing happened: during the entire concert, we were the only people dancing. The amphitheater was filled to capacity with more than a thousand Hong Kong residents and visitors – and everyone was far too well-behaved to get on their feet.

We were surprised that no one else danced. Had we missed something? Was there some kind of Asian protocol about performances? We looked at one another, at Nikolai (sitting between us with his face covered, totally absorbed in listening to the band and not about to join us) and the proper people sitting all around. Like I say: we had seats in the final row up in nose-bleed territory. The only thing behind us was a cement wall. Who would it disturb if we danced?

So we did. From Please Please Me to Back in the USSR to All You Need is Love, we rocked out. Pam and I had a ball. There is something about giving yourself over to the ecstasy and joy of great music. These are the tunes of our childhoods and teenage years.

We grew up with the Beatles. The night in 1964 the band played on The Ed Sullivan Show, Mom came and got us out of bed. “Come see the Beatles!” she urged. I was a little kid at the time. I remember dashing to the black and white television set in excitement… only to watch bewildered as four men in black sang. Where were the insects? (Our dad Bobbo was an entomologist, so my confusion was genuine.)  Later the band and their music became – and remain – an integral part of the weave of my life.

These are just the albums I have in CD form. The others are records and downloads…

So. Fast-forward almost 50 years to an amphitheater in Hong Kong, and you’ll understand why we simply had to get up and boogie.

Before the first break, “George” said how nice it was everyone had come out for the show. He added, “Especially you at the back. We’re really glad you’re here. You’re great!”

“Hey!” I exclaimed. “Do you think he means us?” At the end of the show, “George” and the boys thanked the audience for coming, with “A special thank you to the two girls in the top row. You made the show.”

Some events remain live. In a parallel universe and all my dreams, I’m still dancing.

Love Me Do!

NOTES: The Bootleg Beatles; Photo Copyright © 2017 Jadi Campbell.

A Guy Goes to a Christmas Market…

  He passed a large skating rink and a children’s train track. When he wandered under an arch, Guy discovered a Christmas Market. His inner child gasped with delight.

Rows and rows of wooden market booths had been set up to create lanes.

At last distracted from visions of doom and gloom, he watched a gigantic nutcracker swallow a continually rotating nut.

20161209_161209A larger-than-life music box twirled on a roof top, the ballerina and her dancing bear partner going ’round and ’round. Real fir boughs and even little trees bedecked the stands.

The roofs were wrapped in shiny paper with tinsel ribbons and bows that transformed them into oversized gifts. Big Saint Nicholases drove twinkly sleighs pulled by reindeer whose heads bobbed.

He discovered a large fountain, turned off for the winter and surrounded by German food booths. Candles burned everywhere.

Guy looked at their pale flames and shivered. Flames, like those of a crash site….

He took a deep breath, and all at once the day smelled of almonds roasting in sugar. Customers laughed and chatted, indifferent to the cold. A couple stood in the frigid air and shared strawberries dipped in chocolate. The girl nibbled from the skewer her boyfriend held. Men and women stood at little tables with beers, and some people cupped steaming mugs.

NOTES: Copyright © 2014 Jadi Campbell. From my chapter “What A Guy” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com. This link will get you there. Give the gift of literature this Christmas!

Photo Copyright © 2016 Jadi Campbell.

Our House is on Fire!

On November 8, America voted for a new president. I sent my overseas ballot off weeks before the election.

I live in Germany, so it was early evening our time when the first results started being tallied. Uwe and I watched the nightly news and listened as stations began live reports from around the US. The living room glowed with candles. Around 10:30 p.m. Uwe said, “I think something’s burning,” and went out on our balcony. I got up and followed him. Sure enough, red flames were visible in the house right across the street from us.

20161108_195908

“Hilfe!” voices shouted, and from blocks away came the blare of fire trucks. By now smoke was billowing. Teams of firemen raced around to the back of the building. People hung out of windows waving their arms, or watched from neighbors’ houses. The firemen put up klieg lights and a long ladder to rescue people from windows and then aimed water hoses at the roof.

They quickly had the situation under control: it was more smoke than fire, so to speak. I kept ducking back in the living room to watch the election returns.

Life felt suddenly, completely, dizzingly surreal. The election-cycle reminder that I’m an American citizen living overseas; an election unlike any other; a house burning. Maybe the entire goddamned street where we live is on fire.

Later – days later – I learned that the whole thing had only been a drill. A practice fire.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the metaphors inherent in this experience. As I turn it around inside my heart and head I get dizzy again. I leave it to my readers to take from this story what you can.

I’m going to go light a candle.

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NOTES: Photos Copyright © 2016 Jadi Campbell.