It was a long plane ride back. There was a very strange man two rows ahead of me who was super fat, unable to breathe and possibly on some sleep medication. Thank goodness no one was seated around him. He flopped violently in his chair leaning to the right and to the left, forward and back, waking himself up because he was snoring so loud and was kind of snorting to breathe. He was out cold before the plane took off and was awake only to eat and use the restroom. I’ve never seen anything like it. According to the other passengers around me, they never have either. For probably the first time ever, I was happy to arrive at LAX!
The final leg of my journey was the short flight to San Diego. When the plane took off from LAX, I got really excited. With only a 20 minute flight, it’s hard to maintain any emotion, but I looked out the window the whole time and as the plane was landing and San Diego neighborhoods were passing below, I felt a wave of calm and happiness take over.
The buzz kill was that one of my suitcases didn’t get on the plane with me and the United employee couldn’t account for my bag and couldn’t tell me where in LAX it was…it wasn’t even popping up on the system. They assured me that my case would be delivered. (See, this is why I carry-on those journals!) My parents and I left the airport doubtful and with hope, all mixed into one. I was too tired to be angry.
I woke up this morning, brewed some coffee, chatted with the family and delighted in the fact that my suitcase did actually arrive. Whew! I’ve never been so happy to see my red suitcase! ;p
As I usually do when I visit the US, the first outing was a visit to Target. Nothing says “Welcome to America” more than a store where you can buy shampoo, candy, a bathing suit, greeting cards, a BBQ, underwear and a bicycle all in the same place. I stuck with toiletries and candy.
And so the adjustment begins…I’m back. I’m here. I’m home.
About the photo: There is a glimpse of San Diego from the plane. It was near sunset and the marine layer was starting to roll back in. Still a welcome sight for sore eyes!
When I was a student as UCSB, I remember very distinctly how my life fit within the trunk and back seat of my Hyundai Excel. Every box and suitcase has its specific place, and I packed the car up the same way at the beginning and end of each school year.
When I moved to Japan, I was only allowed two large suitcases and a carry-on. At the end of five years, I sent home 10 boxes and took back with me those two large suitcases and a carry-on.
Before I left for Vietnam, I sent 10 boxes ahead and then packed up those ridiculously large suitcases again, for one final trip. I paid excess baggage fees for having super heavy bags…I don’t know what I was thinking….why did I need all of that stuff with me? I packed my clothes, but mostly my treasures from Japan. Little trinkets I had collected over five years and felt an essential part of my daily existence. Some of those items never even made it to a shelf.
I threw away a ridiculous amount of toiletries. When I go to Bangkok, I usually go to Boots and stock up on all sorts of lotions and potions, soap and scents, creams and cures. I’m embarrassed to say how little of those things I actually used!!!
I prepared my items for the movers in just a few days time. I sorted things out between clothes and materials, artwork, breakables, bedding and then the dishes and kitchen ware. Five guys packed up my stuff in little over 30 minutes and 15 boxes. The move will cost me about $2600. (Yeeowza! OUCH!) I’m thankful I have not a stick of furniture!!! I can only imagine the cost then!
One thing has been constant in all my moves overseas…my journals. These are the books of my life, since the time I was eleven. These journals are so special to me, they go with me on the plane. It makes for a heavy carry-on, but I don’t care. I always feel like I can close my eyes and remember certain snapshots of my past. But when I spend time at the end of the year to read through a lot of entries, I’m surprised by how little I actually remember. I’m in a constant stage of “Oh yeah! That one!” So I remember once I’m reading it, but initially I feel like I’m peeking into someone else’s life.
One of my projects when I’m in San Diego (and before I am employed) is to get a scanner and make a digital copy of my books. That way, the next time I move I can access my writings on my computer and not have to lug a bunch of books about. Although if I do move “for good” the next time, then I may just have to take the colorful stories of my life with me on the plane one last time.
What treasures do you have that you would take on your carry-on if you were moving overseas?
One of the last wonderful moments that Pete and I encountered on this vacation was to go to Aeng’s house and be treated to a Baci ceremony. Instead of trying to explain the significance and meaning myself, I share with you the Lao Heritage Foundation’s information, as it is far more accurate and certain ceremonial words are spelled correctly!
It goes without saying that being invited to someone’s home and participating in such a lovely and wonderful ceremony was truly one of the most special experiences I’ve had during all of my travels! Both Pete and Aeng teased me for getting teary eyed, but I was deeply moved and loved every moment spent with Aeng’s family and friends. We enjoyed lots of laughter during our ceremony and because we aren’t quite sure what was said, Pete and I are somewhat suspicious that the elders might have married us by accident! Ha!
I found a great article which better describes the significance of the ceremony.
The Baci Ceremony
Definition: Briefly the Baci is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or one of the annual festivals. A mother is given a baci after she has recovered form a birth, the sick are given bacis to facilitate a cure, officials are honored by bacis, and novice monks are wished luck with a baci before entering the temple. The Baci ceremony can take place any day of the week and all year long, preferably before noon or before sunset. The term more commonly used is su kwan, which means “calling of the soul”.
Concept of Kwan
Kwan are components of the soul, but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”. It is an ancient belief in Laos that the human being is a union of 32 organs and that the kwan watch over and protect each one of them. It is of the utmost consequence that as many kwan as possible are kept together in the body at any one time. Since all kwan is often the attributed cause of an illness, the baci ceremony calls the kwan or souls from wherever they may be roaming, back to the body, secures them in place, and thus re-establishes equilibrium.
The Pha Kwan
The pha kwan is an arrangement consisting of a dish or bowl, often in silver, from the top of which sprouts a cone or horn made of banana leaves and containing flowers, white cotton or silk threads. The flowers used often have evocative meanings and symbols, such as dok huck (symbol of love), dok sampi (longevity), dok daohuang (cheerfulness/brilliance), etc. The cotton threads are cut at the length long enough to wrap around the adult wrists. These are attached to a bamboo stalk and give the impression of a banner.
Around the base of this is the food for the kwan. The food consists usually of hard boiled eggs (symbol of the fetus), fruits and sweets symbolizing the coming together of several parts, in this case the forming of a community (a stalk of bananas, khaotom-boiled sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves), bottle of rice whisky for purification, and boiled whole chicken with head and feet with claws for divination purposes.
The pha kwan is placed on a white cloth in the center of the room, with the maw pawn sitting facing the pha kwan. The person(s) for whom the baci is being held sits directly opposite of him, on the other side of the pha kwan. The maw pawn or mohkwan is a village elder, ideally an ex-monk who will be officiating the ceremony, chanting and calling the kwan.
The baci ceremony and the steps leading to it
1. Tdung pah kwan or the making of the pah kwan: This task of preparing and setting up the pah kwan or flower trays for the ceremony is often shared by elderly women in the community.
2. Somma or paying respect to the elders: Before the ceremony actually begins, the younger people would pay respect to the elders.
3. Keunt pah kwan or introduction of the ceremony: Everyone touches the pah kwan as the moh pohn chants Buddhist mantra.
4. Pitee hiek kwan or the calling of the kwan: The maw pawn calls upon the wandering kwan to return and inhabit the body of the person the ceremony is intended for.
5. Pook kwan or the tying of kwan: When the maw pawn finishes the invocation, he places the symbolic food into the upturned hand which the recipient has by now extended. The maw pawn then takes the cotton thread from the pha kwan and wraps it around the extended wrist, tying it there. While securing it with a few knots, he chants a shorter version of the invocation strengthening the power of the blessings.
6. Song pah kwan or the closing of the ceremony: Once the pook kwan is over, everyone touches the pah kwan again as a way to conclude the ceremony.
7. Sharing of a meal: After the ceremony, everyone shares a meal as a member of the community.
In Laos, white is the color of peace, good fortune, honesty and warmth. The white cotton thread is a lasting symbol of continuity and brotherhood in the community and permanence. The baci threads should be worn for at least three days subsequently and should be untied rather than cut off. Usually it is preferred that they are kept until they fall off by themselves.
The baci ceremony runs deep in the Lao psyche. In different part of the country the ceremony differs slightly in meaning. In general, it is nonetheless an emphasis of the value of life, of social and family bonds, of forgiveness, renewal and homage to heavenly beings.
Article by Pom Outama Khampradith, Bounheng Inversin, and Tiao Nithakhong Somsanith
I love festivals. I think you all know this by now, especially if you’ve been following ON THE BRIGHT SIDE since the days I wrote from Japan. My first festival was the Fuji festival, where I first lived in Japan. One of the last festivals I watched in Japan was the Fire Festival in Fujieda (Rokusha Shrine Fire Festival). My favorite of all in Japan, though, was probably the Fukuroi Fireworks. Two hours of non stop fire works, young and old, men and women dressed in yukata…that was a very special night.
Last year, I happened to be in Laos during a special holiday called Bun Ook Pan Saa or end of the Buddhist lent. I enjoyed seeing hundreds of candles floating down the Mekong River, locals dancing in front of their homes and shops, and everyone lighting sparklers, fireworks and little whizzers and things which pop. I knew last year that I had to comeback.
This year, I was excited to enjoy all aspects of the festival. Pete and I planted our bums on the balcony of Tam Nak Lao restaurant, ordered Beer Lao and far too many dishes and waited for the procession of floats to come down the street. This is a parade and a festival in one – bonus! All sorts of people walked down the street along side those carrying the floats made of colored paper mache, and little bottles serving as lanterns all held together with a bamboo frame (bamboo, paper and fire together – totally safe!). The floats are taken to the main temple and then to the pier where they are launched into the water, even escorted by a team of people in a long boat.
The floats are all made by the monks in the temples and they are just beautiful. I’m not so good at night photography, so my photo doesn’t capture these so well, but I hope you get the idea!
What was so fun is that there are fireworks for sale everywhere you go. And everyone is lighting and shooting them off. Pete and I turned into 12 year olds and bought a butt load of poppers, cherry bombs and all sorts of other goodies. The large firework we bought, we ended up lighting in one of the temples. You see, the monks, after all their hard work to make the floats, decorate the temples and after a 3 month lent…well, they can’t really celebrate like everyone else. They are not allowed to participate. And most of them are teenagers and young men and you can see that it’s just killing them to not go out of the temple grounds. We were at the same temple where I met Bo and Kit in August, and I was able to find Bo and chat with him again before we lit the big firework. It was nice to see him again and he was glad for the visit.
We ended up hanging out with some locals…it was nice to bring our little candle to the pier among the crowds and have some little kid swim it out to a point where the current would pick it up. (We paid him in fireworks, which was completely agreeable by him!)
I just loved it. I loved the chaos, the beauty, the colors, the fireworks, the music and dancing….it was a real celebration and I am glad I made a point to enjoy it.
Today was such a special day. We got up at 5am and met our friend Sith at 5:30am to give alms to the Monks. This is a daily ritual in Luang Prabang, but today was special because it was the dawn of the day which was the end of the 3 month Buddhist Lent. Most mornings, men and women line the streets and provide alms to the monks. The offer mostly sticky rice, boiled eggs and some bags of veggies or other healthy items. But because today was a celebration for all…wow…it was amazing! I really honestly believe that everyone who lives in Luang Prabang was in the streets. And it wasn’t just adults. Kids were awake too and they were eager to participate. And in addition to sticky rice, the monks received plenty of treats and snacks. The mood was festive and upbeat and Pete and I felt really lucky to be invited to participate as a local…not just take pictures like all the other tourists.
We did feel a little funny, though, as Sith and his girlfriend lead us from one street to the next so we could give out as much as possible. At one point, we were actually running ahead of the monks so we could get in line and give out alms. Important to note that women, like the nuns in this picture, must kneel. Men can stand.
Alongside of the monks, young boys walked beside them with large baskets filled with all the treats the monks receive. You see, the monks receive so much more than usual, they need to dump their bowls in order to receive more and finish their rounds in the neighborhood.
Once the monks have finished receiving their alms, they return to their temple, divide the food up among all of the monks, keeping just a meager amount for themselves, and then prepare offering to Buddha and many gifts for the poor. All day families bring their tray of offerings to have blessed by the monks, which later they will eat at home. It’s really a special time to be in Laos, and this Buddhist holiday is precisely why Pete and I chose this weekend to visit. Just wait till I tell you about the festival!
Have a look at my photos from Luang Prabang – more than just morning alms!
On the Bright Side,
What Lao people may take for granted is the stunning beauty of their country and quaint city, Luang Prabang, as well as the intriguing sight of monks walking about the city.
I’ve had several conversations over the last two years with my Lao co-workers and friends to explain that in most other countries, monks keep to themselves and certainly don’t walk about town in the same manner as you and I. I explained that most other countries are not Buddhist, and therefore there are no temples like you find in Laos.
Part of the charm of visiting Luang Prabang is the numerous temples…some right on the main street and others tucked down side streets or off a wandering path. And along with the temples are the many monks who study there. It lends such a peaceful environment and beautiful setting for vacation in Luang Prabang.
While I’m sure the monks hate having their picture taken all the time (that’s why I took this one from the back), it really is fascinating to be walking down the street and pass by one or a few monks. Their robes are so brightly colored and when they pair it with another bold color…it’s just eye-catching and beautiful. And I can’t help but to take a quick snapshot!
As you know from previous posts, my job often allows me to travel for work. I just returned from Halong Bay where I was treated to a fine sunset and a mysterious sunrise. The weather was a bit rainy, and so I was hoping for dramatic scenes for both the going and coming of the sun…but that’s the beauty of Halong Bay; you never know what mood she will be in and what landscapes you’ll be treated to.
The drive to Halong Bay is just about three hours from Hanoi. The journey includes a rest stop in a pottery village. There are hundreds huge marble statues and thousands of vases and pots for sale. It always makes me wonder – how the heck would I get that home if I ever did desire the growling lion or the big fat Buddha?