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Entries in Laos (45)


Abhaya Mudrā

The abhaya mudrā, a gesture of peace and benevolence produced by raising the hands to shoulder height with the palms facing outward, is portrayed on many Buddhist statues in Laos. According to tradition, the Buddha made this gesture immediately after obtaining enlightenment. To Western eyes, this gesture is strangely reminiscent of the response to a police admonition to "put your hands up". [NOTE: A similar gesture is used a lot by New Yorkers to sidestep responsibility for a comment, e.g. "I'm just saying...".]


Wat Si Saket (Revisited)

Spent some time this morning at Wat Si Saket, the oldest Buddhist temple in Vientiane. Have posted on this before (see Wat Si Saket and Collateral Damage), but this is such an amazing place full of exquisite Buddhist iconography that I wanted to share this video footage. [NOTE: Did some bowing and left a donation, perhaps to assuage the karmic repercussions of the U.S. involvement in Laos forty years ago during the Vietnam War.  Or maybe just because bowing is the appropriate thing to do at a Buddhist temple. Music is by Keith Kenniff.]  


Palms for Sale

During my walk this morning, I saw these Caryota palms for sale on the streets of Vientiane. Anybody that buys one of these is going to be very disappointed. Hard to believe that some people think that plants don't need roots to survive. [NOTE: I have seen cycads being sold on the streets in Mexico in the same condition. Sigh.]


Baci Ceremony

Shortly after finishing the rattan workshop, I attended a traditional Lao baci, or well-wishing, ceremony for Roland Eve (shown above), the departing Country Director of the WWF Greater Mekong-Laos Programme. A lot of chanting and bowing and then white cotton strings are pulled out of the pha kwan, a lovely arrangement of flowers, fruits, food, banana leaves, and other offerings (whiskey) in the center of the room. The man shown below to the right of the pha kwan is the maw pawn, or village elder, who leads the ceremony and does all of the chanting.

The strings are then tied around the wrist of the honoree while offering blessings for long life, good fortune, and continual happiness. And this happens dozens and dozens of times and soon the honoree's wrist is covered with white string - and good blessings.

The guests also tie strings around the wrists of other guests and offer blessings once the honoree has been taken care of. I have three around my right wrist as I write this (thx, Thibault). [NOTE: The blessings, apparently, stay in effect for as long as you keep the string around your wrist. Good to know.]


Aquarium Fish

On the drive back to Vientiane from Nam Suong yesterday we passed several stalls along the road selling fresh vegetables, pineapples, eels, dried fish, and rattan and bamboo basketry. And one selling a large assortment of colorful aquarium fish all lined up in glass bottles. I was told that the fish are brought over from Thailand. [NOTE: They cost about 75 cents each. I wonder how they get those big fish in those small-necked bottles?]


Field Herbarium

Went to the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) field station at Nam Suong to run some inventory transects with the participants of the WWF rattan workshop (see Vientiane). Got a tour of the facilities before we headed into the forest, and was delighted to have a look at their field herbarium. Contains about 1600 specimens, and was of special interest because it was started by my friend Tom Evans, currently of the WCS Cambodia Program, when he was doing his doctoral work on the rattans of Lao.

Tom described four new species of rattan during his time in Laos: Calamus solitarius, Calamus oligostachys, Calamus bimaniferus, and Calamus laoensis. The drawers contain some of the voucher specimens from his fieldwork. Shown below is Calamus viminalis. [NOTE: It started pouring rain during the first transect and kept raining until we finished.]


Sticky Rice

Learned (at least) two interesting things at dinner last night. First, Laos eats more sticky rice (khao niao) than any place in the world. Second, you have to put the top back on the little rice basket after you finish eating or you run the risk of someone stealing your wife or girlfriend. You never know what will happen if you don't put the top back on. The dish in the background is fish laap, i.e. grilled fish with chili, mint leaves, lime juice and fresh herbs. [NOTE: The beautiful little rice baskets are woven out of finely split bamboo. I clearly remember closing the one I was using after finishing the rice.]



I arrived last night to Vientiane, Laos and started a three-day workshop on rattan growth this morning at the local WWF office. Lectured for about two hours on the theory and methodology of sustainable resource harvest, and then spent the rest of the day processing four years of size-specific growth data with foresters from Laos and Cambodia. After flying 19 hours yesterday and ending up 12 hours on the wrong time zone, I was really wishing I had a hammock (see above) to stretch out in at about two o'clock this afternoon. [NOTE: Workshop seems to be going well and participants are enthusiastic about learning what do with all the growth measurements from their permanent sample plots. Off the the field tomorrow to have a look at some of these plots.]


Sweeping Up

Older monk sweeping up at the entrance to Wat Si Saket (see Wat Si Saket) in Vientiane. The monastery hadn't opened yet for the day, and it was just me taking pictures and him meticulously sweeping up little bits of paper, flower petals, and dirt. All very quiet and mindful.


Bo Tree IV

The Buddha and assorted bodhisattvas sitting/standing under a bo tree (Ficus religiosa L.) on the grounds of Pha That Luong (see Tuk-tuk to Pha That Luong) outside of Vientiane, Laos. I am always curious as to whether the bo trees planted at pagodas throughout S.E. Asia are from cuttings taken from the mother tree at Bodh Gaya.

The sign in front of the bo tree at Pha That Luong cleared this up for me.  But are they really saying that the tree was planted on the site in 2500 BC, i.e. Siddhartha Gautama stood up after attaining enlightenment in 500 BC and the Supreme Patriarch of Laos immediately reached over and took a cutting?