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Monday, December 23: Day 245 – Laod Lady

We are in our final days in Laos and we have a few more things on our to do list.

We attended a Lao traditional story telling.

We were introduced to a fascinating instrument called a khaen. A Laotian proverb says “People living in the house on stilts, eating sticky rice and playing khaen only can be Laotian or their brothers”.

Khaen is one of the most traditional musical instruments of Laos, used from the Lan Xang Kingdom, but some say that it has existed for 4,000 years. Khaen is the combination of a special bamboo and reeds. Listen here for its unique sound.

Our hotel had bikes for us to ride free of charge so we biked around for only about 30 minutes. There were a lot of cars and motorbikes racing past us. I don’t usually ride a bike without a helmet so I felt a little like a potential organ donor. The worst part is that the bike seats were too low for long-legged Westerners. It was like riding a tricycle even though we had the seats adjusted to the highest position.

I often read the articles in the airplane magazine, and I read about a small local business where one can rent traditional Lao clothing to wear for the day.

I thought it would be fun to show up at English class in local women’s dress. The students really appreciated this gesture and told me that I looked beautiful!!

Here are the pieces that make up the traditional skirt called a sinh.

I think that they gave me the largest size they had. Here I am posing with our waitress, Noi, who cheerfully brings our breakfast to us everyday. I didn’t realize how large I was until we stood side by side to take this picture.

Rob and I decided to take an Orange Robe Tour where a past Buddhist novice answers the many questions that one has like:

  • Why can’t Buddhists monks sing?
  • Do Buddhists monks wear underwear?
  • If Buddhists monks wear underwear, is it orange?
  • With 56 temples to choose from, how does a novice pick the temple that he will attend?
  • Why can’t Buddhist monks exercise?
  • How do Buddhist monks identify their own clothing? Some are answered below and others remain a mystery.

Sounanh was our guide. His dad is Khmu and his mother is Lao. He took us to a temple that specializes in meditation. The name means bamboo forest because it was built in a bamboo forest.

The temple that he attended was known for education. There are between 300 and 700 monk and novice students at that temple.

The language used in the temple is Bali Sanskrit. In the beginning, the students learn how to read it but don’t know the meaning.

They wake up at 3:30am to the gong. At 4:00am, chanting begins. At 6:00am, the monks and novices collect alms. They return to the temple to share everything that was collected for breakfast. They only eat breakfast and lunch.

One of their rules is do not kill. This not only means don’t kill another human being or another living thing like a mosquito, but also don’t kill someone’s heart by disappointment or brokeness.

Before one becomes a novice, a hopeful boy stays in the temple for three months. He has to clean the temple, wash clothes, and get up early, etc. It sounded like fraternity pledges and hazing.

We were told that novices come to a temple at the age of nine, however, we see much younger kids wearing novice clothing walking around town. At 20, you can decide if you want to become a monk. If you make that decision, you get a new name as did Buddha.

Exercise is only done on the inside of the body. They believe that outward exercise wastes energy on what should be spent on inward exercise like meditation.

Dinner isn’t eaten because eating late is not good for the body. Monks and novices eat at the same time everyday. They need food for study so calories are consumed early in the day.

They do not sing songs because songs make you happy but only for a while. Then you experience sadness again. Happiness is found deep inside. Humans cause sorrow. One must decide happiness for yourself.

Sometimes, monks wear different colors. The novice students wear orange. Some variation from yellowish brown to burnt orange means a monk location such as town, forest, etc.

One cannot talk about Buddha or his teachings while walking together. Eye to eye contact must be established.

They do their own laundry. Maybe the younger novices will do the laundry of older monks out of respect for their teacher.

Monks and novices go to a Buddhist school since it would be hard to abide by all the rules in a public school. They attend school from 8:00-11:00 and return to the temple for lunch. Then back to school from 1:00-5:00. They study all the subjects that are taught in traditional schools.

In the evening, a bell rings at 6:00pm when they congregate at the temple for chanting and meditation.

Then homework and the little ones go to bed on mats around 9:00-10:00. The older ones stay up later to do homework. They do this same routine exactly the same way everyday.

Sounanh told us that this wat has a lot of temple dogs. One puppy came in to take a look around while he was explaining prostrate.

Buddhists in other countries bow down a minimum of three times.

In Laos they bow five times. (adding Parents* and Teachers*)

  1. Buddha
  2. Teachings
  3. Monks/Novices
  4. Parents* because they gave us life and cared for us.
  5. Teachers* because they gave us knowledge.

The order of people on the temple floor is the senior monk or Abbott sit on cushions facing the others. Then the monks, then novices, nuns, followed by local people.

Many tourists such as us are very interested in their belief system. I wonder about the reverse. Are others interested in learning from a Christian what it means to be a Christian? Hmmm. Not just a tour of a church or cathedral, but basically explaining the good news of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

We have many monks and novices in the English classes. I must dress appropriately which means that I must cover my knees (wear pants), and cover my shoulders and chest (long sleeves). Novices cover one shoulder and the other is bare. That hardly seems fair. Monks cover both shoulders.

Here are pictures of some of our classes:

Classroom G – Teacher Somneuk

Classroom C – Teacher Xay Lee

Classroom D – Teacher Joy

Classroom J – Teacher Pom

Several of my students friended me on Facebook such as Novice Arthie aka Koob. We talk each evening as we wait for Bob to pick us up in the Monk Mobile!!

I have to sit in the front since the Buddhists can’t touch a girl, and it is packed in the back. Bob likes to practice English, too.

On the last day, we gave each of our students a KitKat bar. One of the teachers, Joy, told us that they would like chocolate bars, and they often can’t afford them. The novices and monks had to save their candy bars until tomorrow. I ran out so three novices didn’t get them. Not to worry as all of them will share in the morning as is their custom.

Rob and I were happy to teach English here. We felt that all the students were smart and motivated and fun loving. Additionally, we felt that it was an awesome opportunity for us to get to know novices and monks on a personal level.

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