In Laos as it happened, in Vientienne, the capital, I got the chance to actually meet and chat with a group of young monk students who were outside the Ong Tu Temple as I was wandering by. I had read the night before, researching the internet, that some of them speak English and so I called over and asked. They all said yes, they were doing their English homework and so I went over and joined in. We chatted, learned about each other’s cultures and life, I helped a little with their work and we have a photo together!
Then a couple of them have added me on Facebook and we chat on Messenger, asking about where we are, what we are doing and they get to practice their English. I spoke about where I had been and was going, and one of the boys – aged between 15-19 – came from Vang Vieng where I had come from over the mountains! He looked wistful and asked in hushed tones what I thought, then said he came from there and his family were there. He has recently gone back to stay, or for good maybe at their local temple, as his photos show this when the temple school closes for ‘summer’.
So I got to be involved in small ways with local people, with real life in Laos and similar to Thai. That’s the sort of thing I loved about travelling, when ‘real life’ for locals came to meet me!
I was also invited to go along for the evening service as it was a special day, and it was great although uncomfortable! Everyone sits on the floor, on their haunches or legs bent to the side as it is rude to point your feet at Buddha whose statue is at the front (and sides, outside and in, in various shapes and sizes). Even the older Thai’s can do this easily and comfortably whilst I really struggled for the long service!
The local people there very kindly made space for me to sit and see what was going on, and didn’t mind that I watched them as I was respectful but curious and didn’t know what to do or expect. It was lovely, though, and at the start all the people – and then the monks, carrying candles, walk around the temple three times to celebrate the event which is monthly I think. I was told it started at 6 pm but it was 8 pm so had chance to sit and watch people coming and going, the rituals and the build up, and the preparation such as the monks climbing the tower to beat the drum to call the monks to service.
It was great to see, and be involved. The other thing they do regularly is to feed the poor or vulnerable – prostitutes, homeless or just poor who can come and share the fare they prepare each morning and evening, and lunch sometimes too, from the food they collect from local people when they go out at 6 am to walk the street and ask for alms. One temple had food outside the walls, along the pavement, but some was rotting – for the poor to collect I heard, and even the stray animals could get it.