Gabriel Shaya
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Races in New Places

September 12, 2009 @ 1:04 AM | Permalink

A few weeks ago, the annual boat racing festival in Luang Prabang took place.  Many larger villages in Laos have their own boat racing festivals that are scattered throughout August and September, but I only attended a couple.  The one in Luang Prabang is certainly the largest in the province, but maybe the greater region as well.  Thousands of people come into the city for the celebration. 

 

Luang Prabang is built onto a peninsula that juts out between two rivers, the mighty Mekong, and the Nam Khan.  The Nam Khan is a great deal smaller, and this is where the races is held.  The current there is not as strong, and people are able to watch from both sides of the banks.

I believe about 20 or 30 boats raced this year, each representing a different village or company, or both, such as in the case of the this year's winners- the paddlers were from Ban Had Hien (a blacksmith village near the airport), but they were sponsored by the Phousi Hotel (which is terribly run down, and essentially only people from the government choose to stay there).  Ban Had Hien had won another large race this year, as well as coming in first last year, as well, so it wasn't a surprise that they took home the gold again.  My village, Ban Pakham, came in second this year.  I can't say that was terribly meaningful for me, but I was happy for them.  In fact, I was more excited for Ban Had Hien winning, since I know many people from that village, and several paddlers on the boat. 

Every year, the boat racing festival in Luang Prabang falls on Haw Khao Padap Din, one of the biggest holidays during the three-month Buddhist lent (which coincides with the rainy season).  This day is meant for paying respects to the dead, and so many more people than average choose to give alms to the monks on this day, symbolically feeding the deceased, and receiving merit for acknowledging them. 

On the days where there are significantly more almsgivers, poor people come into town and beg for alms from the monks.  Call it "reverse almsgiving."  Usually women kneel and men stand while giving alms to the monks, and on these religious days, the monks' alms bowls overflow with cookies and candy (in addition to rice).  The poor people sit amongst the almsgivers with bowls or baskets of their own.  Their hands are in the nop position, paying respect to the monks who give them their excess alms.  The alms themselves have no spiritual meaning; it's the act of giving them that accrues merit, so there is no issue with alms given by lay people being essentially discarded by the monks. 

Monks are technically not allowed to attend entertainment events- it's literally one of their main vows.  Though how could they be denied the fun of watching a boat racing festival?  Instead, a compromise is made (more on religious compromises at a later date, I'm sure), and monks are given certain designated areas from which to watch the races.  They were not allowed to walk on the main street to these spots, for mixing with that many laypeople would be somewhat inappropriate.  

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Gabe, When I see you next, can we drink beer with ice, and can we line dance, the whole time twirling our hands? I miss you very much. Love, Mafalda

Mafalda Marrocco on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-02

This is so cool. You are the greatest. Keep up the good work . The world needs more people like you. Enjoy your journey. Julie Nguyen, Potomac, MD

Julie Nguyen on One BeerLao, Please. With Ice. 2009-09-04
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