Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 28 2010

Back to Vientiane

February 24

We were up early again this morning, this time visiting the morning market, a busy scene. Vendors were setting up stands, laying out colorful vegetables and presiding over large spreads of bloody, fly-covered meat. Already the monks were out begging for alms, and I shot a couple of photographs before moving on past the one corner where all the foreigners gather to watch them. We went back to the temple to visit our wifi-stealing friends, Thong and Dham, but Dham had a headache, and Thong, looking very serious, sat us down at a table and proposed that we fund his higher education. It was all a bit awkward and sad.

We walked on to the end of the street and down to a rickety bamboo bridge across the river, but a man was waiting there to collect a fee, so we turned back and walked to another temple, where a man and a woman hurried up to us to collect another fee, but we declined, tired of all the fees. I suppose it’s just a natural result of being oversaturated with tourists from rich Western countries for so long.

We found a small, run-down temple that didn’t charge for entry, and walked around the grounds. A monk was practicing writing Japanese on a chalkboard, while other monks listened to rock music in their dorms. A rough model of one of the airplanes that takes off every day from the Luang Prabang Airport hung on the ceiling; I wonder if they dream of being on that plane. But I’m probably overanalyzing things.

We had some lunch at a café where Chenble startled the resident tomcat into thinking another cat was nearby by meowing in a high register. The tomcat jumped up and searched around our table, even looking out the window for its nonexistent mate. After lunch we browsed the market for gifts for friends, and then went back to the hotel to check out. A tuk-tuk drove us to the airport, stopping at the gate as tuk-tuks aren’t allowed inside.

As we got our tickets checked in the lobby and sat down to wait before boarding the MA-60 back to Vientiane, I was thinking of all the monks of Luang Prabang, most born to poor families who couldn’t afford to raise them, novices until the age of 20, when they can either chose to become full-fledged monks or a civilian life. As the plane took off, I got a good view of the town, including the monasteries and the statue on the hill where we had watched the sunset the night before. We’d told Thong we might be back at 11.

The flight down to Vientiane was a lot bumpier than the one there; the plane stayed at lower altitudes in rougher air, but things never got truly scary. We arrived ahead of schedule, taking pictures of the clouds on the tarmac before walking into the arrivals area where Spicy Girl was waiting. She drove us to the big arch at the intersection of several roads, built by the French in 1969. It seems that they never quite finished it; the interior was rough and unfurnished, all bare concrete. The upper floors were all gift shops, but the view from the top was nice. The grates on the windows at the very top minaret mirrored the shape of the roads below, weaving the scene into a portrait of the Buddha.

Back at the bottom of the tower, Spicygirl marveled at my daring in snapping pictures of random people there. “What if you offend someone who wants to fight you?” she asked. I handed her my camera.

“Try swinging that around,” I said. “The 16-35mm 2.8L is not only a fine lens for wide night photography; it can also render a man unconscious with one blow.” When it came time to take a shot of policemen guarding the presidential office, though, I ate my words and asked if it would be ok to photograph them. They said no.

We drove to another temple, a big gold thing that had just closed as it was already 4 p.m. On the way in we were recognized by the group of Malaysians we’d met at the waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang, where they overheard Chenble mention that he’d caught ghosts in one of his shots.

Prince Roy was getting off work at 5 p.m., so we drove to a spot nearby and walked around, poking around an old temple that was undergoing renovation. Again, many cats roamed the place. Spicygirl and Chenble agreed that the Lao reverence for cats might have something to do with the nation’s financial status.

Prince Roy met us at a nearby café, and we set off for dinner at a pseudo-Korean barbeque place, where meat and vegetables are cooked over hot coals. It was good, but I ate too much. Now we’re back at the princely estate. Tomorrow we fly back to Malaysia, and find out if Air Asia can get at least one flight on schedule.

posted by Poagao at 12:00 am  

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