Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sinking... - a laotian joke I

Once upon a time, three people were stranded out at sea - A Japanese, a Laotian and a Vietnamese. The boat started leaking and if they do not act fast they would all die.

The Japanese (as usual) was the first to take the initiative. He threw all his Japanese gizmos - CD player, laptop, hi-fi, radio etc. off the boat. The Laotian and the Vietnamese looked at him in disbelief. The Japanese said, "Don't worry...still got a lot more in my country...BANZAIIIEE!"

But the boat was still sinking. The Vietnamese without hesitation started throwing aboard all his dog jerkies, nuoc mam, Pho noodle, etc.. He comforted the other two, "Don't worry. Still have a lot more in my country".

But still the boat was sinking. The Japanese and the Vietnamese looked at the Laotian. Suddenly, without any hesitation and with stride, the Laotian threw the Vietnamese overboard. The poor guy couldn't swim and drowned. The Japanese was shocked. The Laotian said, "Don't worry...still got a lot more in MY country!!!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Phra That Luang - Laos national symbol

According to the Lao people, Phra That Luang was built in the 3rd century as an Indic temple. Buddhist missionaries, sent by the Emperor Ashoka of India, including Bury Chan and five Arahata monks, who are beliefed to have brought a holy relic of Lord Buddha which resides in the stupa. Phra That Luang was rebuilt in the 13th century as a Khmer temple.

In the mid of the 16th century, Lane Xang King Setthathirat relocated his capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. He ordered the re-construction of Phra That Luang in 1566.

Phra That Luang was rebuilt in the northeastern outskirts of Vientiane, about 4 km from the center. Phra That Luang's bases had a length of 69 meters each and was 45 meters high. The main stupa was surrounded by 30 smaller stupas.

In 1641, the Dutch envoy Gerrit van Wuysoff visited Vientiane. He was received by the Lao King at the temple site of Phra That Luang, where he was received in a magnificent ceremony. Gerrit van Wuysoff was impressed by the "enormous pyramid and the top was covered with gold leaf weighing about a thousand pounds".

However, the Phra That Luang stupa was repeatedly plundered by Burmese, Siamese and Chinese invaders.

Phra That Luang was heavily damaged by the Siamese invasion in 1828 and left abandoned. In 1900, Phra That Luang was restored by the French colonialists to its original design based on the drawings from the French architect and explorer Louis Delaporte.

The final reconstruction work was done in the 1930s.

Phra That Luang is revered in a festival each year during November, where laymen honor monks with food offerings. Phra That Luang is the most important symbol of the Lao state and its people.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Baci ceremony

The Baci ceremony is one of the most important, unique and most regularly held ceremonies in Laos and Thailand’s northeastern Isaan provinces.

The Baci celebration is always sincere, and anyone is welcome to join. During the ceremony a goood health and long life is wished to all its participants.

The Baci ceremony is also known by Laotians and Thais as “Soukhouan” which means the calling and receiving of the soul. People in Laos and Isaan believe that the body has 32 parts and each part comes with its own wandering soul. While the ceremony is held, the absent souls are asked to return to their physical bodies.
This is part of the ceremony is usually performed by an elderly man also known as a “Thit” or “Chane” a former monk.

On the day of Soukkhouan the participating people take a tray called a “Phakouan” with them. The tray is made of banana leafs filled with flowers, the “champa” or frangipani flower, which is the national flower of Laos.

Other things which are used during the Baci ceremony are: alcohol; eggs; rice cakes; money; candles and cotton thread.

When all the guests have arrived the ceremony will begin with the lighting of the candle on the top of the tray and some incense sticks after which the “Thit” communicates with the divinities. Then cotton thread is nodded around the participants’ wrists, like thin white bracelets.

During a wedding Baci ceremony also money is tied on the wrist of the married couple…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Laos' Plain of Jars - the next UNESCO World Heritage site

The Lao government prepares the nomination dossier to inscribe the Plain of Jars to become the third Lao UNESCO World Heritage site, after the ancient town of Luang Prabang in the north of Laos and the ruined Khmer temple of Vat Phou (Champasak province) in Laos' South. The Plain of Jars is situated on a vast plateau in the Vietnam bordering province of Xieng Khouang. A province, which was often conquered and fought for in the past because of its strategic importance to the Vietnamese Emperors residing in Hue as well as to the Kings of the Lao Kingdom of Lane Xang.

The jars can be found all over the plateau, scattered in clusters of up to 300 at different spots, and varying in size from one to over three meters in height. However, the most famous jar sites are located in close proximity to the town of Phonsavanh, the provincial capital of Xieng Khouang province.

Some locals belief, that the jars were build as big distilleries for alcoholic drinks, brewed to celebrate various victories and military campaigns won in the past over ancient enemies. More scientific and archaeological evidence suggests that the jars are used as urns for funerary. They were used by people back in the Bronze Age approximately 2'000 years ago.

In the Second Indochina War, Xieng Khouang once again, played an important role as battle ground in the fights between Pathet Lao revolutionary troops and the Royal Lao government and its American backed Hmong rebels. Many battles and intense aerial bombardments took place. Its legacy, the contamination of the land with unexploded mines and bombs, still takes its toll today amongst the rural villages and farmers.

However, nowadays Xieng Khouang province in central Laos is a peaceful area with a cooler weather then elsewhere in Laos, vast grasslands, ethnic minorities and a developing tourism industry with good hotels and interesting attractions.

The Plain of Jars can be reached either from the Lao side by air from Vientiane or by following the National highway 7 from Phou Khoun or from Vietnam. The Lao government is constructing the National highway 10 from Phonsavan to Pakxan, which will link the province even closer with Vientiane and the Southern Lao provinces.