Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day 12 -- Wherein I Tire of Journaling

Today we were up before dawn, literally, to watch the procession of the monks. In most other places, the monks make their daily rounds collecting alms in small groups, or even alone, but here, they do it in a long procession, monastery after monastery. So, at 5:30 a.m., we were standing on the street, watching young boys, twenty-something's, and old men, all draped in yellow and gold, walking down the main road in Luang Prabang, carrying their bowls, accepting rice from the residents, as well as the women who had come to sell rice to others to give to the monks.

From there, we walked through the local market, where everything from chicken to fish to rats are sold as food, and eventually back to our hotel to catch another hour or so of sleep before breakfast and a morning of sightseeing.

The sightseeing was just that - a royal palace (most of it closed for the day due to a visit by the Japanese crown prince), a Wat, a museum of ethnology, another Wat, and so on. We saw Wat Xieng Thong, and Wat Mai, and ... Well, I stopped getting the names after that. Although the temples here are quite different from those in Myanmar, they are almost exactly like those in Thailand and, to be honest, not that grand. One had beautiful mosaics, another decorated ceilings, but all in all, nothing to knock your socks off. But Fun, who was a monk for 8 years, was a good guide, and took time to explain a lot about Buddhism and what we were seeing. But by noon, we had run out of sights (opting out of the "factory tours"), and let Fun return home to celebrate his sons seventh birthday.

Ellery and I then spent the next hour or so in a coffee house that seemed to have more Americans floating in and out than your average NYC Starbucks. And I watched as the backpackers do what they do - greeting someone that they may have met just the day before on the bus from Vientaine, or maybe three weeks ago in Bangkok, as an old friend; listening to someone else explain where to get the cheapest meal as if that person had been in Luang Prabang for months, when in fact they arrived just a day earlier; and swapping stories of where to go and how to get there. Part of me wanted to join in the conversation, until I remembered that I was 50 years old and spending more money on one night in my hotel than they will spend for food and lodging in a month. I envied them, and I didn't. I envied the feeling of community among them, believing themselves to be just a tiny cadre of wanderers who will learn all there is to know about the world in three or six short months on the road. But I also know that they will all soon enough hunker down and become lawyers and accountants and things far less romantic that backpackers, and that eventually they, like me, will come to appreciate a comfortable, non-lice infested bed and a hot shower. And be disappointed if the hotel of choice isn't just perfect.

And, while we're talking hot, it's damn hot here. Hotter than anywhere else we've been, which is why Ellery and I spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel pool (and yes, dear backpackers, having a hotel pool is better than taking a tuk-tuk to a tiny water hole outside of town which isn't nearly as clean or as pretty as you were told, but that you, too , will recommend to other backpackers you meet). At the pool, we were joined by an American from California, who couldn't help but tell us about the Thai wife he was planning to divorce, the house near Santa Barbara he was selling, and all other manner of personal trivia. The guy was, to put it simply, dying to talk to someone, even though he had come to Laos -- his "happy place" he said -- to sort things out in solitude. The other end of the backpacker spectrum, the middle aged adult who travels to escape the concerns and responsibilities that the backpackers haven't a clue about.

A strong late afternoon rain forced us into the room for a bit, until we headed out for the evening. Another fine $3.00 meal in the small alley off of the night market (where now I was directing the newly-arrived to the best 10,000 kip buffet) and then a performance of the Royal Ballet of Laos. At least, that's how they were billed, but this was clearly not the A, or even the B, team. I've seen step classes at Bally's fitness who were more in sync. As with the puppet show, the audience was small and all foreign, and so we were all there just for a bit of cultural education. And what I learned is this: traditional Laotian dance is slow. really, really slow. So there is art to it, moving your body so slowly (think tai chi with music), but it did not leave me wanting more.

The night ended with Els and I walking back to the hotel, talking about communism, the supreme court, and Israel. And to describe how we hit on all those topics, and more, would be impossible.