Still one of my favourite parts about Laos - children running home for lunch. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my macaroni and spam thermos lunches (I really did mom), but I think there’s something special when kids can come home to spend time with the family in the midday.
Being in South East Asia has got me thinking more about the careful balancing act I carry between my ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ roots. Having being born in Vancouver from Chinese parents, who were born in Peru, its often a confusing and entertaining conversation about where I’m from - whether its South East Asia, or in North America.
In a chapter of “Quiet” by Susan Cain, she talks about Chinese-American students and the alienation they feel growing up and studying in what’s described as a culture that is extroverted, loud and social (The United States). This, in time, conflicts with a more introverted culture that values silence and speaking when necessary. Although not raised by traditionally Chinese parents, I did see this tension growing up in my high school and at times in my life.
South East Asia has prompted me to once again think about my mish-mashed vancouverite-chinese-bornfromperuvianparentsbutnotreally heritage, prompted reflections about culture, my own temperments and what I pick and choose in my life.
Being a naturally sensitive introvert all my life and seeing this as a slight social abnormality in high school, I self-consciously picked up new extroverted skills that allowed for my social survival throughout high school and into university. Its always been a bit of a battle ground to balance my temperment, culture and social life.
I’ve found this especially true while travelling. Like a rubber band, I feel as if I can stretch my extroversion abilities to meet new people in big groups or take fun adventures. This usually comes at cost - namely needing to sequester myself to a coffee shop, a nice long book, or editing some photos. Right now, my inner introvert is shining.
This place is an introverts shelter and could be an extroverts worst nightmare with very little to do but read, lay in a hammock, eat, take a bike ride and maybe write a little.
When I heard that the Pha That Luang Festival was going to be celebrated this weekend, I quickly made a change of plans and zipped my way over to Vientiane on the most nauseous ride thus far.
A little research told me that this was one of the largest festivals in the country, as thousands of monks from all across South East Asia and Laos journey to Vientiane. The celebrations take place in and around Pha That Luang, one of the most important monuments in Laos.
I woke up in the darkness at around 4:00 and took a tuk tuk into Pha That Luang. The streets were empty and roads quiet. But as we approached our destination, I could see hundreds of monks. As I started to walk, I saw that many were setting up their tables and alms bowls. This was definitely the most monks I have ever seen in my life.
Walking into the cloister of Pha That Luang, people were setting up their places on the grass, many of whom had bowls with sticky rice, bags of packaged sweets, flowers and money. In an hour, the number of people had quadrupled and it was tight finding a seat in the cloister. 3 Laos women looked at me and a girl I met very strangely because we were sitting on the grass. They offered us newspaper to sit on and we gladly accepted.
As the sun rose over the Supta, chanting and prayers begun. Slowly, families started circling the cloister, giving alms to the monks. This consisted of sticky rice, money, and strangely enough, lots and lots of packaged sweets.
The celebrations peaked with families gathering for a picnic of mainly chicken and noodle soup.
When we returned at night, the stark contrast from the morning was surprising.This has been the largest night market I’ve yet to attend, with stalls stretching across all corners around the Supta. Goods from all across the country, food stalls, clothing stalls and games were filled with locals. Blaring sales people and music were coming from the stalls, selling everything from Pepsi, to baby shampoo, and the ever popular Ovaltine.
The signs of a changing culture have never been more apparent than at this festival. The blending of traditional ceremony with western-feeling consumerism made for a mish-mash of chaos at this night market that left me feeling a little disillusioned about changes countries and cultures undergo.