Friday, February 14, 5:15 p.m., Luang Prabang
Today is what the tour operators call “A Day in the Life” of Baan Tin Keo, or Tin Keo Village, around 45 minutes outside Luang Prabang. This series of activities within the village gives a flavor of village life, and shows off some of the good work being done there by the Grand Circle Foundation.
First, though, the day began very early with alms giving, in which we make an offering of sticky rice to the monks of the city, who rely on these donations for both of their daily meals (breakfast and lunch).
We each donned a scarf which we draped over our left shoulder and tied on our right side. This way of tying with the scarf over the left shoulder indicates commoner status – symbolizing that in Buddhism, all are equal regardless of birth status or social or financial prestige. As the monks filed by, we dropped a small golf ball-sized morsel of sticky rice in their baskets. They pass by looking quite somber, not interacting with the alms givers at all. This donation of food isn’t common in the Buddhist world anymore, and is only found in Laos and a couple of other countries.
After our own breakfast, we hit the road. Arriving in Baan Tin Keo, we first visited some weavers using looms that had been donated by Grand Circle, and a metalworker making knives and sickles. Some of us tried out their equipment.
This village seems quite poor; I doubt there are too many televisions or much internet access. It’s a subsistence sort of living, but the people we saw have skills and trades, and seem quite proud of making a living simply doing what they do.
Then it was on to the school, where some of the kids greeted us with flowers.
Each of us chose a student as a partner; mine was a cute, shy young boy with a few missing teeth at one side of his mouth. He told me his name, very quietly, a couple of times. But it was complicated and had several syllables, and I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch it. At this school, Grand Circle has provided fans, computers, toilets, and a library. Looking at the great kids, it’s an excellent cause.
In the classroom we got a short lesson in basic Lao (I would have failed if graded). The kids showed off their math skills. Then they sang three songs, one the Lao National Anthem. It was too adorable. We had to respond with songs of our own, and we let loose with “The Wheel in the Bus” and “The Hokey Pokey.” It was all in good fun.
At the library, my young man chose three straight books on different animal species, which may say something about his future course in life. I delivered my gift of an astronomy kit, and we all said goodbye after a pleasant hour.
Close by was a group of Hmong people whom we next visited. The married couple that greeted us talked a bit about how they met and how they make their livings. Their costumes were gorgeous, apparently made by the wife. Many coins adorned the jacket of the husband, apparently a way in their culture to exhibit wealth and social standing.
For me, the highlight was when the husband took up his khaen, or mouth organ, and played a song. I’d heard Lao khaen music before on CD, but certainly never live, and it was interesting to know that the Hmong have their own tradition of music with this instrument.
His wife was a really fine weaver and seamstress, and I bought a purse from her as one of my gifts.
After that, the chief man of the village had us into his home for a lunch prepared by his wife, using in part a bunch of ingredients we had purchased ourselves at the morning market. It was a very pleasant time, during which our guide T told us a bit about life in Laos – identification cards, modes of traveling, education, and so on. I hope the family will take a look at the Nevada photo book I brought them as a gift.
Our final stop for the day was the Kuang Si waterfall, which is now a pretty extensive national park. There were a lot of tourists and souvenir stalls at the entrance, but it wasn’t nearly so bad at the falls themselves, where were tall and spectacular.
I really didn’t wish to do anything but stand on the bridge and enjoy the sight and sound of the waterfall, which I did for about half an hour. The meditative value of some quiet time like that, even with other people around, is considerable.
Now I’m back at the hotel. In around 45 minutes I’m going to head out to mail my postcards and wander the city a bit, and maybe get some dinner. It has been another fine day. What I wrote on one of my postcards may actually be true – that God or the Fates or whatever crammed all the bad stuff of the trip into the first two days of traveling, so that I could enjoy the rest.