Friday, December 14, 2012

Up before dawn

After sleeping through it each previous morning in Luang Prabang, we awoke before dawn on our fourth morning to the rooster's chorus and the sound of drums to go and see the tak bat, the sacred alm's giving procession. Despite having to get up so early, we were not the only ones who wanted to witness the scene.

We had read numerous posters and pamphlets around town outlining ways tourists can help respect the tradition. Most of it seemed so obvious, I was surprised it was necessary. And yet as light began to brighten the morning, and bus after bus full of tourists started arriving, it quickly became apparent why those guidelines were necessary.

Have a quick read of some of the suggestions here. And I can tell you, that every single one was broken. For instance, by the woman in a short skirt who scampered alongside the silent monks, flashbulb firing in their faces. Or the tour bus that trolled along the street, tourists hanging out of the windows, cameras flashing. There was no silence. Tourists were talking loudly and walking directly beside the monks. Nobody bowed or attempted to stay lower than them, and nobody kept their distance. It was horrible. I just couldn't believe how disrespectful people were and what a spectacle it became!

It's difficult to reconcile wanting to see something that for us is very unique, but know that you are tainting it by your very presence, even if you do keep your distance. We observed the rules we were aware of but I'm sure we inadvertently broke other unspoken rules without realizing it. And though we were quiet and kept our distance on the opposite side of the street, I still felt like an intruder on something very sacred.

Later that afternoon we went to the public library for their English Conversation drop-in session, where you can chat with locals who want to practice their English. We spent a couple of hours talking with a couple of novice monks, Mai and Huong, and a few other travelers. It was great! Mai showed us some of the English books and materials they use in class, as he had some questions about one of them. One was Steve Job's commencement speech given at Stanford in 2005, and Mai wanted us to explain what he meant by "stay hungry, stay foolish," and "never settle, keep looking." It was certainly interesting attempting to explain what Jobs meant to a Buddhist monk, and how generally westerners aren't seeking non-attachment...

1 comment:

  1. wow, so interesting!

    my favourite part of the rules was: Normally, make sure you’re dressed in town, but especially in the temples, making sure that you do not show your knees or shoulders, and especially anything in between.