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Vientiane, Laos- Stories On Walls

LAOS | Saturday, 10 June 2017 | Views [294]

Vientiane, Laos- Stories on Walls


I'm sitting under the Patuxay (victory gate) in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I have come here every day in the three days I've been here. The exterior of the structure has a very strong presence although not overly impressive in the details as you approach. Then you walk through the arches and the brilliant colors of the ceiling flash and mesmerize you. The detailed figures then begin to tell a story that I don't understand but I know the belief and culture lie deep in the scenes. I see a lotus flower in the center, with multiple gods and of course an elephant dancing around the lotus. Gold colored floral patterns create a border and from each corner a pillar shoots down to the ground. The pictures will never do it justice and therefore I can't pull my eyes away, so every day I visit, burning the images in my head.

Tonight my trip here was not only to gaze at the majestic dome for the last time but, here's the kicker, to walk off the massive amount of food I ate tonight in the market!! I ate pork sausage links grilled in flavors I have never tasted, a stick of battered grilled rice, some sort of deep fried semi- sweet bread puff, a red curry soup with bamboo shoots, a coconut milk drink with tapioca pieces at the bottom, and I bought a coconut sprinkled red sticky rice paddy for tomorrow ;). No I didn't eat it all, but close.
I've heard other travelers that I've met up with say things about how they can't eat certain foods here, and not because they have an allergy or intolerance but just won't. I love the excuse "oh I just try not to eat a lot of meat". Are you kidding me?! Meat is all they eat, and mainly pork.
I know this is common knowledge but when you visit a foreign country the experience can be felt deeply or more superficially, neither are bad just different depending on the experience you want. For example, I walk most places and thus have learned the custom of hurling yourself into traffic because they will not stop for you unless you are literally obstructing their way. I make a point to learn and use basic phrases, usually "hello", "thank you", "goodbye". And instead of the food not being neatly cooked and delivered in a restaurant, I go to the vendors at the market where it looks like you could get sick but I've never heard of it happening. The food is the most authentic food you can buy, it's what they eat everyday. There is no better way to experience a culture then to do what they do.
As far the act of consuming, you definitely have to exercise some restraint should take a liking to it. And for those who won't try it for whatever justifiable reason, all I can say that you are missing out in so many ways, not just the food.
Tomorrow I head to Vietnam. Damn, I'm going to have to start all over sampling the new foreign cuisine. And for tonight, I'll enjoy the dome a little longer, its rainy now and this appears to be a local hangout. The old man next to me nudges some mosquito repellent my way. I smiled and said "khop chai" (thank you).

For a capital Vientiane is not very busy and only has a few major attractions. Aside from the Patuxay, the Pha That Luang is another large Buddhist attraction. The gold colored temple is a symbol of Lao nationalism and includes many references to Buddhism and the local culture. The area around the temple is gated but the overall compound includes multiple building where the monks worship and of course a golden lounging Buddha. From a distance, these building appear somewhat identical and most take a quick look, a picture from a distance, and pass on. However by dedicating more time and interest you can pick out all the details in the wood work, placement of the spiritual relics sold in the markets, and painted murals. I walked into a few of the worship building and saw many different objects that comprise a prayer center piece. Inside one building in particular I saw individual murals on each wall that depicted a sequential story. It reminded me of the Stations of the Cross that I used to see in the Catholic churches. Buddhism and Catholicism both shared a story of a revered teacher that suffers persecution and finally a form of redemption. I once visited San Diego and went to the house of the deceased spiritual yogi Paramahansa Yogananda. On the mantle above his fireplace he had multiple pictures of spiritual leaders one of which was Jesus Christ. He too recognized the underlying principals repeated in each leader as they all strived to indoctrinate love to reduce suffering. While seeing multiple golden temples and Buddhas chillin in courtyard can get old, I think it's in the details that stimulates the mind to remember and reconsider past, current and future ideas about...everything.

Before traveling on to Vietnam I needed a tourist visa. The Vietnamese can be quite strict and the online sites give you the run around about how to go about getting one. I chose to just hop on down to the embassy. It took one day to process and the woman at the desk said it would cost $60. I filled out the paperwork and was told to return the next day at 4:30, just before closing and not a minute earlier. I went to get money at the ATM but after trying at least three machines all I got was error messages. This sometimes happened due to the lack of their chip reading technology. I got a Tuk Tuk driver to take me to an exchange because I knew I could get a cash advance on my credit card. The exchange wouldn't do it without a passport which was at the embassy but I knew I had a copy at my hotel. So again the Tuk Tuk sprinted me back to my hotel then back to the exchange. Score, I got cash. The Tuk Tuk driver then took me across town to the Embassy, I then paid and we parted with a mutual smirk about the debacle. I go into the Embassy at 4:27 and was told to take a seat! I'm called to the desk and the gentleman I saw tells me the cost is $80. Well I only pulled out $70 U.S. dollars at the exchange, I look at him and said, "uh no, it's $60", he says $80 like he's confused, I repeat myself, he then caves to $60. Bastards! Trying to swindle me at a government office. Things are always negotiable here.

I walk back to the hotel and laughing on my way! Normally this situation would have crippled me causing severe panic and frustration and eventually leaving me in a poor mood. But I laughed, I genuinely laughed while walking down the road. I watched this happen, I noticed it was me but not me. I have done this same behavior since, laughed with and without reason, it's like feeling the depth of crying but instead pure elation.

Tags: laos

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