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.

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: 13

Yes. It’s time for another post on animals for your reading amusement: installment #13 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 screech screeched.
  2. Unlike the peapod, this pod is almost extinct.
  3. The flutter fluttered off the rock.
  4. The gaze gazed from under the trees.
  5. Wings winged away across the sand.
  6. The tower towers.
Pod member, Mekong River, Laos border to Cambodia
Screech member, Mallorca

Answers:

  • Screech of gulls
  • Pod of Irrawaddy dolphin [1]
  • Flutter of butterflies [2]
  • Gaze of raccoons [3]
  • Wing of plovers
  • Tower of giraffes
Flutter member

NOTES: [1] Uwe and I made a trip to the Lao-Cambodia border to see this creature before it vanishes forever. Dams being built up-stream probably guarantee the extinction of the Irrawaddy dolphin. [2] The monarch butterfly population has declined by 1/3 since a year ago. www.biologicaldiversity.org [3] Racoons are highly adaptable species; nonetheless, the pygmy raccoon is listed as critically endangered. //www.livescience.com© 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.

Death by Yawning

Open-air museums are inappropriately named. For many people, Museum + History = Death by Excessive Yawning. Not me! A good open-air museum can transport me into other cultures and the past. I think a better name for such a site is ‘living museum’.

Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

In southern Laos, we spent an afternoon at a spot with traditional tribes’ homes. My favorite was the thatched home on stilts. In the middle of the night, a courting youth has to climb a ladder and wait for a signal through a strategically located hole in the wall. The young woman has to approve his advances. Only then can he climb in the window…

Olde Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts was a hands’ down childhood favorite. The site still knocks me out. Paid artisans and trained volunteers dress in period clothing and demonstrate everything from making horse shoes to ginning cotton. Olde Sturbridge contains “the best collection of early 19th-century rural New England artifacts in the world”. [1]

Another favorite open-air museum is Neuhausen ob Eck (amusingly named ‘New Home on the Eck’), located not far from Tuttlingen and Konstanz in southern Germany. In the bee keeper’s house, I learned all about the world of bees. The German language holds bees in special regard. In German, the word for animals is Bestie or Tiere, beasts. But Germans speak of the Bienenvolk, a hive or literally ‘the bee people’, granting them a status with humans. In the Middle Ages, if the bee keeper died in the night someone was sent to the hives to whisper the news to the bees.

The bee keeper enjoyed a special status. Thanks to his bee family he produced wax candles for light, honey for food, and pollen products for medicine. [2]

Fishing nets, Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

Outdoor museums can teach with their simplicity. On our recent trip to Estonia and Latvia, we spent a day at Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla. [3] The spot is incredibly atmospheric.

It’s an easy bus ride from the capitol Riga to the museum. (Go to my recent post Food as Art and salivate over the delicious foods you can order in Baltic restaurants.)

What I learned is that as recently as 100 years ago life here was a different story.

Existence was harsh and hard, like the overcast skies much of the day we visited. [4] Along with simple huts, the site includes windmills.

A store building is filled with dowry chests and traces of Latvia’s long history serving in the Hanseatic League.

My takeaway: How truly thin the veneer of prosperity is. Our sense of progress and the advance of civilization is so recent, and so young. I left grateful for the things I take for granted in my everyday life. In too many places in the world people still live without electricity, running water, or centralized heat.

NOTES: [1] https://www.osv.org/ Go to my earlier posts Old Sturbridge Village Part 1 and 2 for photos and the story of our visit. [2] Honey-based products never rot. I purchased a propolis salve at Neuhausen a decade ago; it’s still good. The bee keeper told me the salve can be used on everything from wounds and burns to arthritis and herpes. Neuhausen-ob-Eck [3] Latvia Ethnographic Museum  [4] For Game of Thrones fans, I kept thinking of the Iron Islands and how craggy-rocks bitter life is there. These Latvian houses would fit the scenes perfectly, except for the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy world. Real people lived in the huts as recently as the start of the 20th Century.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. 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 Animal Kingdom: A Cluster

One of the exotic foods I have (NOT!) eaten is a Cambodian treat of crispy fried big black hairy spiders. Sold at a roadside stop when the bus from Phnom Penh thoughtfully stopped for a bathroom break.

Crispy Fried Big Black Hairy Spiders .. who doesn't love 'em?
Crispy Fried Big Black Hairy Spiders .. who doesn’t love ’em?

Actually, this post belongs to my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals. Here I give you: a cluster of spiders. Realize that these are (were) each about the size of my closed fist, and you will understand why I lost my appetite.

The spider in the next photo was as large as the span of my whole hand….

Really, you don’t even wanna imagine a cluster of these guys in Northern Laos
How about a cluster of these spiders – also gigantic – from Japan?

I can’t imagine eating these spiders. Or the scorpions, or larvae, or bugs fried up at various markets we’ve visited…. But they are a source of protein. “Over 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world’s nations. The total number of ethnic groups recorded to practice entomophagy is around 3,000. …Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. …FAO has registered some 1900 edible insect species and estimates there were in 2005 some 2 billion insect consumers worldwide.” [1]

NOTES: © 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. Go to this Wikipedia page: /List of endangered spiders. [1] The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy Wikipedia: Entomophagy

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