not all who wander are lost.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

TAK BAT : the monks' alms procession

Research...a little goes a long way, and unless you plan to be an ignorant tourist than it's best that you do JUST a bit before heading into a foreign country.

Last night I moved into my new place. It's one of the oldest homes in Luang Prabang...and it is the most charming and authentic place that I've stayed yet. There are just a few rooms, so I feel lucky to be staying here. It's 50,000kip a night, so $6.20USD. I'm scared of the dark and what is has to offer (who knows....boogeyman?), and though I was glad to have my own space, falling asleep ended up being a bit difficult for me. Loud, old fans....creeky first night in nearly 4 months when I've had a room to myself! Didn't fall asleep until well past 2am. At 6am I heard the drums. I'm living across from Wat (which means "temple") Paphaimisaiyaram. I jumped out of bed to catch the monks morning procession.

"Daily at dawn, saffron clad monks pas barefoot through the streets while pious townsfolk place tiny balls of sticky rice in their begging bowls. It's a quiet, meditative ceremony through which monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility while lay Buddhists gain spiritual merit by the act of respectful giving."

...The guidebook and any website will tell you....

*stand across the road from the procession or better still watch inconspicuously from the window of your hotel
*refrain from taking photos or at best do so from a considerable distance with a long zoom. NEVER use a flash.
*maintain the silence

(to eat sticky rice you use your right hand. You grab a small fistful and roll it into a ball, then use the ball to dip into sauces. This is why they put "balls" of rice into the monks begging bowls.)

As I quietly made my way down the street I saw a swarm of tourists, snapping away with their digital cameras, and several Korean women gabbing away. There were 3 old ladies sitting on the corner with their offering. They must have felt like Paris Hilton leaving a club on a Saturday night. The flashes were nearly blinding. Ahhh-- i got so angry!!! What the fuck people!! Show some respect. Turn off your goddamn flashes, step back a few feet and attempt not to bastardize this beautiful display of humility and devotion. It was so disgusted that I quickly made my way back to my guesthouse, embarrassed to be a foreigner in this country. I sat on our deck and just enjoyed from a distance. I couldn't help but to cry a bit- first of all because it's so beautiful. Peaceful and moving. And second of all, I cried for the culture--- this is why I wanted to visit southeast Asia now as opposed to later. It's uneducated tourists like this that "ruin" a place. As much as the monks and locals try to fully participate in this morning procession, you can't help but to be distracted by a hundred flashing cameras. It took the peace and MAGIC out of this beautiful daily ritual. So Please Please Please...before you head to a country, take a few minutes to open a book or browse the web to learn a bit about where you're going. It makes you a better tourist and ultimately it makes the world a better place. Afterall, life is about respecting one another and our cultures. That's how billions of manage to share such a small place in the universe. Understanding and respect.

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