Practicing English with mini-monks
Trip Start Jan 12, 2013
42Trip End Feb 27, 2013
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I turned in my books at a book exchange where they charge 20,000 kip per book you take as a donation to Lao-kids. Lao-kids is a not-for-profit started by an expat Aussie (or English...couldn't tell) lady who was tired of seeing people throwing their money away good-heartedly on illegitimate charities. This group works with various aspects of the needy in Luang Prabang and have an inside track on what's really going on because this lady has Lao family. It would be extremely easy to get caught up volunteering in any number of these cities. There is just such opportunity for direct involvement and impact on desperately impovershed children and adults. This group also works with a prosthetic providing charity. I don't know why (maybe the fascination with the biology of it), but working with amputees is really attractive to me...?? Anyhow, good deed #1 done.
Then, I went to the Luang Prabang library to speak English to those that want to learn and practice. I had seen a flyer advertising this so I figured I'd check it out--clear my schedule, cancel my afternoon meetings. haha Turns out, the people wanting to learn English are the young monks in training, called novices. I was a bit confused because it was my understanding that monks weren't really supposed to make eye contact with women, so how were we supposed to talk?? I guess the novices are in a different category. There turned out to be about 8-12 English speakers that were there from Australia, England, and America. Me and this English girl, Danielle, spoke to two novices. They come every day from their temple to study 14 different subjects at school which is in the city. They wake at 4am to collect alms from around their temple. The alms given are in the form of sticky rice (and maybe some other foods, but I'm not sure). This is the novices' and monks' breakfast. After breakfast, they must commute, on foot into the city. The one novice, Boun, that we were talking to had a two hour walk from his temple each way, Monday through Friday. Uhh, no thanks. When we asked why they wanted to become monks, they answered that it was for the education. By being a novice, they have the only free opportunity to have a somewhat decent education that includes English. After they graduate high school, they can leave the temple and go to university or work if they choose. Or, they can continue on to become full monks. The two young men (they were 18 and 19 years old) we chatted with are planning on working in a restaurant with their English skills to save up for university. Boun was going to try his luck at an upcoming exam that might give him the opportunity to earn an American university scholarship. Then, they would like to work in the tourism business or open their own business. I find this interesting because both these boys (and likely most of the other novices) made a choice to leave their families and stay at these temples for years in order to hopefully get a good enough education affording themselves better future opportunities. Much like boarding school was in the olden days probably. Both these boys had been away for 5 years. Now, I have no idea what girls are supposed to do. Talk about a lack of opportunities! Hell, even the boys have to go off and be monks for Pete's sake just to get some decent schooling. They have to learn about Buddhism of course and, as part of the religious tenets and monkhood, they cannot sing or play musical instruments or play football (soccer). This last bit really seemed to tear these young men up...they really wanted to play soccer and you could tell that was one thing they really didn't like about being a novice. After school ends at 11:30, they eat food they have brought from their respective temple-homes. Annnddd, that is the last time they eat for the day!! Now, that is what tore me up! I'd die. A life of restraint, piousness, and purity I believe is the purpose...or something like that.
I am leaving here on Valentine's Day and flying back to Bangkok where I will then catch a flight to Bali. It will be a long day with me leaving my guesthouse at around 4:30am and not arriving to Bali until 9:30pm, but at least I won't be on those tin death cans called buses. I knew there was a reason us Americans shunned the bus system...we know better. :)
I am still debating on my course of action for the rest of this trip. Like I said, I'm not sure what I'm feeling so I'm just going to give it time. I think I've spent enough time in this one city to really feel relaxed and ready to move on. My one goal in Bali is to see if I can make it over to where the Komodo dragons live! Komodo dragons in real life?! Can you imagine?! I must see these creatures.
Some random thoughts that I never really know how to weave into the context of my daily ramblings are the complete lack of standards in the hospitality industry. It's funny really. If you need to know if someone is staying at a particular hotel, you simply walk in and ask what room they're in. In Battambang, Cambodia where I was re-meeting up with my friend Claude, I simply walked into his hotel and asked if someone named Claude was there. I couldn't remember his last name and there was some translation confusion so they simply turned their register around so I could read exactly who was there, their passport information, and lastly of course, their room numbers. lol. Keep in mind for that little breach of privacy which is absolutely illegal in the States (and other countries as well I presume) there must first actually be a register. In the guesthouse (and many others I've stayed at) I'm at now, there is no record of me...I just come down every day and pay them for the upcoming night. No receipt, no signing anything...a very far cry from the credit card hostage situation and practically FBI background check hotels in the States require. Then, the customary practice is to leave your room key with reception when you leave the hotel. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it's to make sure you have a way to get in your room should you lose your key, because these are, in fact, actual keys. No computer coded plastic. You just leave your key with the front desk. At this guesthouse, they don't even put the keys behind the counter. They are just sitting up there begging to be taken by a scheming thief that might be interested in your belongings. Just amazing these things go on and I've not heard once so far in these travels of anyone's things getting stolen or pilfered.
Next random story. Remember how I mentioned that there is a policy of 'no questions asked' about anything here. Want to rent a motorcycle? The assumption is that you wouldn't be stupid enough to do it if you didn't know what you were doing. Well, at Utopia bar the other night, I was chatting with an English gal that told me the story of her and her sister renting a motorbike in Thailand. Neither knew how to ride/drive one. Her sister hopped on it to give it a go and promptly zoomed off and immediately ran into a tree. She popped back up, luckily okay, and then got back on the bike and careened back towards the store crashing into a fence. At that point, the other sister smartly suggested they not rent the motorcycles. Not all of us are so smart.
Next odd random thought....new car smell. I was walking back after gorging myself on TWO noodle soups tonight. I'm becoming gluttonous with those damn things. In my defense, one was khao soi soup....which is a totally different noodle soup because, you know, it has different noodles and stuff. Seriously though, it traces its origins to Burma and is made with rice noodles and has a type of chopped meat and fermented soy beans. The meat looks like ground beef with taco seasoning in it...but kinda congealed together (yes, it's not the prettiest looking ingredient lump). All the soups are served with a plate of greenery: green beans, lettuce, basil, other unidentified green things, lime....I throw it all in there. The locals eat some soup and then eat the greenery fresh, but I'm a little gunshy right now about potential intestinal aggravators---hello tainted lettuce--I can practically see the Hepatitis A waving back at me from its leafy ledge.
Okay, okay, I digressed about silly noodle soup...back to the really important new car smell. Someone got in their car this evening and the smell of a clean, new car hit me. Shocked me really. It dawned on me that I haven't been in an actual car (unless you count sharing that dirty Camry with piping and 5 other people while I rode on the gearshifter in Cambodia) for over a month. For a non-New Yorker American, that's a long time! (So maybe my story here wasn't the most enthralling, but hey, weird to be surprised by the smell of a car!)
Since I'm on a roll describing the most boring, mundane events, why not make it complete with my super exciting achievement of securing a nail file today! Laugh if you must, but I have been on a search for a flippin nail file for a solid week now. Do you know how ridiculous that is? All day I walk around feeling my scraggly nails catching on everything they touch and all day I think, "How the hell do these folks handle their talons??!!" This is a universal issue; human fingernails grow. Just a fact. There has to be a file somewhere unless they're dragging their fingers along the pavement, but I'm pretty sure I would have noticed that. My search was in vain however and I fought the urge to get upset over something so silly. But today I finally won the file battle. I don't think I need to explain how I am going to relish filing those bad boys tonight...yep, it is on the docket of 'things to do'. Yea vacation!