TEMPLES IN LAOS

Luang Prabang, 20 February 2013

I must confess to a certain weakness for the Buddhist temples in this part of the world. I first came across them nearly thirty years ago (Good Lord, is it really that long ago?) when my wife and I visited Japan. My photos of that trip are packed away with all the rest of our stuff in Vienna, so I’ve borrowed a few pictures from the web to refresh my memory, all from Kyoto, a wonderful place. This is Kiyomizu-ji.

kyoto-temple-1

But probably the most iconic temple of them all in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

kyoto-temple-2

Look at that delicate architectural tracery embedded so naturally, so lightly, in the surrounding greenery.

Many years later, my wife and I saw another style of Buddhist temple in Bangkok during a brief stay there on our way to Angkor Wat. This is Wat Benchamabophit:

bangkok-temple-1

And this Wat Ratchanatdaram:

bangkok-temple-2

And then, once here in China, we saw yet another style, a heavier, more “imperial” style. The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is one of the nicer examples.

Temple-of-heaven-3

All quite different. But I think you will agree that there is a common thread: the raking of the roofs. I don’t know what it is, but this lift of a roof at its tip really gives a wonderful grace to a building, even a rather heavy, stodgy building like the Temple of Heaven.

So it was with pleasure that we saw this again in Laos, first in Vientiane:

laos 076

laos 103

Then in Luang Prabang:

laos 287

laos 319

I saw other things that warmed the cockles of my heart, like this for instance:

laos 412

laos 405

This is where I can refer the reader back to my previous post. What we’re seeing is the similar use of paintings to educate the faithful in two places that are nearly 9,000 kilometres apart. The Italians have an expression for this, tutto il mondo è paese, the whole world is but a village; in the end, we’re all the same wherever we live. In the previous post, it was my young daughter who was illiterate. In this case, it was me – and alas, I had no-one who could explain the story which the paintings were telling.

We also liked the way that the temples had different roofs piled one on the other.

laos 365

It quite reminded us of the stave churches in Norway, several of which we had visited some five years ago:

norwegian-stave-church

Tutto il mondo è paese.

We also liked a certain set of Buddha statues that we came across. These are in the “praying for rain” position:

laos 382

And these are in the “no war” position:

laos 390

Well, I suppose that’s what we all want, isn’t it? We want to eat our fill and live in peace.

Tutto il mondo è paese.

_______________________________

Kyoto-temple-1: http://anime.aplus.by/uploads/posts/2011-01/1293979203_xigasiyama.jpg
Kyoto-temple-2: http://www.gadventures.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Kyoto_GoldenTemple.jpg
Bangkok-temple-1: http://misto-market.com.ua/turizm/images/interestplace/98/1.jpg
Bangkok-temple-2: http://travel-tips.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/holidays-Bangkok-Thailand-hotel-package-deal-travel-tips-guide-Wat-Ratchanatdaram-Temple.jpg
Temple of heaven: http://templeofheavenbeijing.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Temple-of-Heaven.jpg
Norwegian stave church: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_llqkm5GrsA1qzxqgco1_1280.jpg

the other pictures: mine

SUNSET OVER THE MEKONG

Luang Prabang, 16 February 2013

I first came into contact with the Mekong some ten years ago, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I remember looking in awe at this hugely wide river and planning some day to take a boat down it to Vietnam; a plan still waiting to be executed. In the meantime, our lives have crossed the Mekong many times. Several years ago, my wife and I had a close brush with it when we cruised on Tonle Sap Lake while we were visiting Angkor Wat. This lake has a strange relationship with the Mekong: during the dry season it drains into the Mekong, but during the rainy season the Mekong’s current is so strong that the flow reverses and it is the river that runs into the lake.  Two years ago, in September, we came across the Mekong again, red-brown and very silty, at Xishuangbanna in the far south of Yunnan province, down by the border with Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. While we were there, a story broke of the captain and crew of a Chinese ship plying the Mekong being executed by shooting one night under mysterious circumstances; a story of drug running, it turned out, in that wild part of the world. And now we were in Laos, a country traversed by the Mekong and much of whose borders are defined by the river. While we were in Vientiane a few days ago, we walked along its bank and looked over to Thailand on the other shore.  And we have spent the last two days in Luang Prabang, the country’s ancient royal capital, which lies at the confluence of the Nam Khan River and the Mekong. As we have criss-crossed the narrow tongue of land between the two rivers on which the old town was founded, we have found ourselves gazing down on the Mekong many times.  We have watched the ferry crossing it:

laos 428

laos 430

We have watched ships taking tourists up and down the river:

laos 476

laos 475

We have crossed a spindly bamboo bridge spanning the Nam Khan:

laos 258

to gaze down on the confluence of the two rivers:

laos 263

And now, on our last evening, we have been sitting on steps leading down to the river and have been watching the sun set behind the hills on the far shore.

laos 480

laos 485

laos 491

laos 497

And with that last flash of light there has floated into my mind some lines from a hymn we used to sing at school when I was young, sung to a serenely tranquil tune:

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

FLOWERS IN LAOS

Vientiane, 12 February 2013

If there is one thing that my wife and I really regretted leaving in Vienna, that was our little garden. With our last apartment we had been really lucky in getting a small roof garden. We loved that garden. My wife tended it with tender care and the summer evenings spent enveloped in flowers were magical. Of course, winters were dreary but there was always the next summer to look forward to with its new crop of flowers.

When we moved to Beijing, we guessed we would never find an apartment with even a small balcony on which to put some flower pots, at least not at prices we could afford. And so it was. We couldn’t be completely plantless so my wife bought some house plants. They give a tinge of green to the apartment, but they are meagre consolation for our roof garden in Vienna.

Imagine, then, our delight when after a seven-hour journey from cold and snowy Beijing we opened the window of our hotel in Vientiane, Laos, and we found this before us.

flowers and trees 004

It was a flowering vine, thrown carelessly, or so it seemed, over the mango tree at our window. Five steps down, peering down from our common balcony we saw this, the flower of a banana tree.

flowers and trees 006

I have to say that this burst of botanical colour made me feel rather light-headed, and I started rushing about the hotel’s garden snapping pictures with my phone. I show you here just a few of the photos I took:

flowers and trees 007

flowers and trees 029

flowers and trees 032

flowers and trees 034

flowers and trees 035

I’ve always been fond of the colour of light through banana tree leaves …

The loveliness didn’t stop at the gates of the hotel. Walking through the streets of Vientiane was like walking though a garden, as flowering plants and trees popped up everywhere.

flowers and trees 013

flowers and trees 024

flowers and trees 025

flowers and trees 048

flowers and trees 051

Even the non-flowering trees were magnificent, especially along the road skirting the Mekong River where there were huge banyan and eucalyptus trees. But the tree that took my heart is a tree called the Deer’s Ear (wonderful name …), whose leaves are going red and shedding at this time of year.

flowers and trees 012

This tree is all over town, and each one has reached a different level of redness, so you go from bright green all the way to a deep vermilion. It’s rather like being in Vermont in the Fall.

flowers and trees 052

As I recall, many learned men in the Middle Ages spent much time trying to pinpoint where exactly the Garden of Eden had been. For me, it’s obvious; it must have been somewhere in a tropical or subtropical country like Laos.

I suppose the damned mosquitoes were added by God afterwards as part of Adam and Eve’s punishment …