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Saturday, November 30: Day 222 – Alms Giving

The population of Laos is seven million. The population of Laos before the Vietnam (American) War was 2.5 million. After the war, it was 1.3 million. Population is growing.

Vientiane is the capital of Laos. Laos is 80% mountainous, 15% flat farm land and 5% rivers. The mountains have mining potential, but it is too difficult to mine. The elephant was very useful in mountains.

Luang Prabang is a beautiful place. The population of the province is 600,000 and the town is 56,000.

The city of Luang Prabang has been designated as a UNESCO city due to its architecture, nature, culture, religion and traditional way of life. They have buildings that are 70 to 2,500 years old.

My first impression is that Luang Prabang is a well-kept, modern city. Every place that we go, there are Westerners. There are many Chinese and Vietnamese here as well.

We are staying at a lovely resort. We had never seen Do Not Disturb wooden signs before now.

Even though many nations have come to make war in Laos, Luang Prabang has never been destroyed by war. This small town in the valley was at one time the capital of Laos. The closest that bombs came were 9 miles away.

About 450 years ago in 1565, the king moved the capital to Vientiane because it could not grow larger due to the mountains. Vientiane is also centrally located and safer.

Our guide, Saylom Yen, was born in 1975. He is from a family of fifteen and lived in the rural areas. Five of his siblings died when they were young due to the lack of proper healthcare. One brother recently died of breast cancer. Saylom cites that eating lots of chili peppers was the cause of his demise??

Saylom has two children: 22-year-old daughter who is in college in Hanoi studying to be an accountant and a 19-year-old son who is learning to be an electrician. Both went to private schools which are 100% paid by the parents. Public schools are free. Saylom received his final education at the Buddhist temple. He started when he was 17 and completed his education at 22. The Buddhist temple schools are akin to parochial schools in that they learn the same things that the other schools learn but have religion classes as well.


Alms Giving Ceremony

We awoke at 5:30 to go observe and participate in the alms giving for the Buddhists monks. About 2,000 of the students live 10 miles from town so they come in buses for collecting alms early in the morning. We gave them little wads of sticky rice and nothing was said. The monks do this every morning and the village comes out to feed them.

I pondered “What if we fed the homeless in this way back in the USA?” The orphans and the poor are cared for by the temple. In many places in the Bible we are to care for the orphans, the widows and the aliens so in some ways, the Buddhists are “outperforming” the Christians in this area. I was happy to feed these students for this reason.

It seemed similar to trick or treat except everyone was wearing the same costume. Also, nothing was said so it was very quiet.

There are three times that a man might be a monk:

1) A celebration of life. This can be done many times and is based on good or bad life events. It seems more like a retreat in order to meditate. Every Buddhist will do this at least once in their lifetime.

2) For education. People who can’t afford their children or their education. The temple is like foster care or an orphanage. They learn more about tradition and culture and obtain a deeper knowledge of Buddha’s teachings. It takes five years.

3) Long-term Monk. At the age of 20, you can decide if you want to be a long-term monk. One is allowed to remain at the temple as a novice.

All levels of monks live together in order to teach others. A younger monk with more years than another older monk is considered older in monk years (greater seniority).

A monk cannot earn his own money but can accept money. Temple money can also be used for specific needs. They are not allowed to do sports so their greatest exercise is walking.

However, when they ride a motorbike, they may be charged half price or pay for the gas. It might even be free. The driver might feel that it will bring him luck.

One can be removed from the temple if the community decides that their behavior is unbecoming of a monk. They must be humble as they are receiving free support from the village. There is a big celebration which involves shaving the head when the boy is going to temple.

A novice monk is age 6-19. They have five rules. A celebration monk has 10 rules. A serious monk that considers staying forever has 227 rules. (Whoa!!! I am not even sure that I could learn them all let alone do them all. As a follower of Jesus Christ, we call those works and we believe that no one can work or earn their way to heaven.)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2: 8,9

As far as rules go, I have the big two! Love God with everything – my mind, my heart, my soul, and my strength and to love others as I love myself. All others “rules” fall under these two.

My salvation is my belief in the sacrifice made by Jesus for my sin which makes me righteous in the sight of God. My marching orders are to tell as many people about it on earth as I can before I die!

Morning Fresh Market

The morning fresh market opens at 4am and stays open until noon. Restaurants and individuals come to buy their fresh meats, fish and produce each day.

The shops are in front of their homes.

We learned that sticky rice is steamed where regular rice is boiled.

These green balls are river weed. It is like sea weed but is found in the river instead of the ocean. Laos is landlocked.

Luang Prabang has 56 temples. There will be no more built as there is no more property for growth. Every village in Laos has at least one temple. The temple is useful as a hospital, school, or meeting place.

We went to see a temple which is translated as New Temple. This is funny since it is 250 years old.

These are requirements for a Buddhist temple.

  • Sim is the main building containing the Buddha. The senior monk lives here.
  • There needs to be a monk house with monks living there.
  • A stupa is for cremated ashes. A royal Stupa contains some of Buddha’s ashes.
  • There must be a banyon tree.The banyon tree has leaves that are heart shaped. Saylom picked one off of the tree to show us.
  • He apologized to the tree for picking a leaf. A long tail on the leaf means that it originated from India to Vientiane in 1857. This one is the most prized.
  • And a drum. The drum is sounded for fire, death or time of 4am or 4pm. The 4am drum is not too popular with tourists.

We also saw a small Buddha statue house outside the main temple. For me, this resembled a chapel as it is a more intimate space.


Royal Palace Museum

The Royal Palace is now a museum. It was built from 1904-1909 by the French for the king.

Laos has had 73 kings over 800 years. However, in 1975, there was a revolution and the country became communist and the king was deposed.

The French built the white Royal Palace for the 73th king, Sisavang Vong, who reigned from 1905-1959.

Then there was wartime. The next king to be was the leader from 1962-1975 however, there was no weeklong Buddhist coronation because of war so he wasn’t officially the king.

During a coronation the senior monk reads from a palm leaf manuscript. When he speaks to the people, he puts a screen in front of his face in order to prevent distractions.

I was amused by the horse hair fly fan. I guess they got the idea from the horse!

There was a royal boat and boathouse so the king could travel along the Mekong.

In the first century Sri Lanka gave the Khmer King of Cambodia a statue of Buddha made of 90% gold with some parts silver and bronze who then gave it to the king in Laos as a wedding gift since the king married his sister. It is housed in this special temple.

This Buddha is referred to the Royal Buddha and is the namesake of the city. Luang Prabang means Royal Buddha Image.


Wat Xiengthong

This temple was built in 1565 by the king, the year that the capital was moved to Vientiane.

Here is the funerary boat.

The tree of life is made from colored glass. This scene was put on the outside later. The significance of this tree is that on the same date and under the same tree always under a full moon, Buddha was born, had his first meditation and died.

There are 50 species of bamboo. Some have thorns. Some are very large.

Teak trees also grow in Laos. The teak leaf is boiled and used as a dye. Teak trees growing in forests are very straight and tall. Nothing grows beneath them as they take up all the water, and their large leaves prevent sunlight.

Lao rice is considered superior by many Asians. No chemicals are used and the water from the monsoons is rich in nutrients.

Saylom’s parents are 78 and 73. They used to be rice farmers in Vientiane, but since they are older they now grow pineapples. One pineapple grows on a plant per year.

When Saylom goes home, he helps out on the farm. He has to fly because it is an 8 to 10 hour drive from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Today his parents’ rice land is farmed by someone else who gets ⅔ of the harvest money and his parents get ⅓.

His father used to be the village chief. When war was upon them, he ordered the building of a bomb shelter for their community.

City people have money but don’t have land to provide food, etc. Country people have no money but can provide everything for themselves. Which has a better life?Here’s a hint: One can’t eat money.

Kuang Si Waterfall

We drove to this famous beautiful waterful. There are posted signs everywhere about where you can go as there are lots of foreigners.

Saylom said two years ago a van load was taken here and they were given a meeting time back at the van. One girl from Korea did not return. They never found her.

Saylom took pictures of us in the freezing water. We got photo butt bombed!!

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