Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Bit of a Sweat is Zen-like

Saba dee, accent on the “dee”.  Welcome to Laos. 
Oldest Stupa with grass growing
Plaza at National Monument
First off, in Laos, where over 1.9 million tons of bombs were dropped upcountry by our war planes, it’s sweltering hot. Like 95 degrees.  Feet swell, water dribbles down the ear, a machete needed to cut the air as you hope to make it to the next palm tree or temple. The secret, I’m told,  is to keep going until you sweat so much all clothes are wringing wet, then sit under a tree - preferably a shady one like the Bodhi under which Buddha spent time in contemplation,  and a breeze will cool you down. 
Vietiane, the capital, reminds me of Accra, Ghana in the early sixties and some parts of Cannelones in Uruguay. Rusted red roofs, three or four story buildings - no skyscrapers, huge paved squares, hold overs from the days Communist forces paraded their wares and military for the world to see; and a slow peace that stirs only during rush hours early morn and late afternoon. The Mekong River runs through it - and through all of Southeast Asia, pouring down from Eastern Tibet, acting as a border between Laos and Thailand, passing through Cambodia, turning at Vietnam to dump all its wares and water into the South China Sea. 
Friendly Beast
Spirit House beside King
Vietiane is a Buddhist city in a French chapeaux - that means, wats, stupas, temples in need of paint and Buddha statues of every pose and sort. All is painted gold. Lots of red trim. Some green sneaks in on the “naga” or serpent forms.  In fact, serpents, snakes, dragons with open mouths flexing teeth, multi-headed ones, become bannisters to temple stairways.  Instead of Buddhas resting in forms of lotus blossoms, they might be sheltered by a five headed serpent whose body is inflated like an angry cobra. But, as I said, everything is painted gold.  It’s odd that I have yet to see more than a handful of monks. After the curious bustle of pilgrims visiting monasteries and temples in Tibet and Nepal, where one had to wait in line to move or light a candle , it seems regular folk don’t go on a daily basis into the facilities behind giant gold embossed doors. I’m told plenty of monks are back in there. And there certainly are multitudes of temples.  But then in all of Laos there are only six million people. And there is a peaceful mode in a life where folks don’t live for the internet and the next electronic boom.

The vestiges of French Colonialism still linger. Nothing is in a hurry to move on.
English works as well as French. Squeezed between everybody else’s jungle and hill, Laos, once in the hands of Siam, was relieved by France in 1907 as they made it a unified territory to protect Vietnam from its neighbors. A French saying, I learned, is that Vietnam plants the rice, Cambodia watches it grow, and Laos listens to it grow. I guess there is Zen in that. 
Reclining Buddha
It’s amazing that in gratitude to Laos‘ assistance and I might say acceptance during the Vietnam war that the US is finally making huge grants and donations to projects to build schools,  hospitals, to  buy tractors, ambulances and medical equipment, to build sanitation and other things we take for granted in our lives to better the lives for Hmong tribes returned to their villages.  The Hmong were tricked into illegally entering Thailand by human traffickers promising to arrange immigration travel to the US in exchange for huge sums of money. The Hmong were stranded in Thailand and ended in a detention camp where they suffered years of terrible conditions including shortages of food and education efforts. They returned to Laos in 2009 and all sorts of benefits, construction, and village amenities have been given to them by the Laotian government.
America has also spent over US$45 million on anti-drug support to counter the enormous narcotic business in Laos. As our guide explained yesterday, the big drug is amphetamines (i.e. meth) and youth are gathering around it like a soda fountain.   
Youth who commit crimes, no  matter what the age, apparently are put in the same prisons as adult criminals. Robbery is not acceptable no matter what.  Peddling heroine (poppy fields are still productive along boarders of the Golden Triangle) is life in prison, and death if possession of more than a pound. For possession of opium, up to 15 years in prison, a fine, and death if more than 3 kilos in possession, and Marijuana up to ten years in prison, fines, death if over 10 kilograms.  Just in case you are wondering, another stringent law in Laos is sex between a Laotian national and a foreigner is illegal, unless married, and then, one needs a permit. Well, it all depends on how you look at it.
Yesterday afternoon’s sight tour meant walking (really dragging in slow motion) across an enormous plaza to the Pha That Luang stupa, gilded gold and very pointy. It’s the national monument that appears on the national seal and on money, called the Great Stupa, and definitely needs a touch up job on the gold paint. It sits behind a a smiling statue of King Setthathirat of the 16th century. He wears a strange cocked hat and looks like he might have been a fun guy to be around in a French cafe. In front of the complex is a spirit house where offerings are made to keep the bad guys happy outside the sacred area so they won’t enter and cause havoc. Love this idea.
Street where I live
Under the Arc
It’s a tourist obligation to walk under the Patuxi, no matter how hot and sweaty you are, as it has the ambiance of the Arc de Triomphe of Paris, around which I drove in a panic back in the ‘80s, because I couldn’t figure out how to turn right when I had to. One doesn’t forget those moments in French car congestion. The Laos structure is made from concrete which is rumored to have come from American pockets designated to build a new airport but instead became the material of the victory arc after the Lao Civil War between 1953 and 1975. It is decorated with scary demons from the Hindu epic, “ramayama.” 
The colonial style old hotel Settha Palace was a good reprieve from the hot sun. Lime Cooler, please. Skipped dinner and chose sleep. Body has not yet rearranged its recovery speed.


Geraldean & Judge said...

We've answered your first two blogs with e-mails. Hope you received them.
A vacation is supposed to be restful and you should be enjoying the comforts that exotic places have to offer.
From your blog, it sounds like you have ended up in the wrong place. If we had followed your itinerary the last couple of days in Laos, we would be exhausted and ready to come home.
Your blog is unbelievable. Where do you get all of the information that is included in your blog and when do you find time to write everything. Your blog is like a travel guide and a history lesson.
Just take good care of yourself and try to get a little rest every few days.
We miss you and pray God will protect you as you continue your adventure.
Lots of love,
Geraldean and Judge

granna said...

You are looking and doing great!!!I love the documentary


Sounds hot! Just think of Jackson and the cold weather we are experiencing .Still wearing down jackets . But nothing will stop the progression of spring. The redwinged black birds arrived as usual in March. this week our place has been overjoyed with blue birds. The screeching of the sand hill cranes sounded as they landed near by.The Canada geese have been claiming their territory to hatch their goslings.At night the coyotes howl in the darkness. The grizzly's are about at the Ox Bow Bend area showing off their strength to one another. Their was an encounter with 4 coyotes and a couple of mountain lion cubs but the cubs used their ingenuity climbing a buck and rail fence to get out of reach . Stay cool !
With you in spirit dear friend, Hugs, Lou