The enchanting chanting

Eight years ago I visited lovely Luang Prabang in Laos for the first time. Ever since I wanted to go back, and now I was there, for four days, as part of a month’s tour in northern Thailand, Laos and eastern Cambodia.

But things don’t always turn out as planned: I fell ill. However, this gave me ample opportunity to explore the residential surroundings of the hotel, something that otherwise might not have happened.

Just opposite the hotel there was a small temple. My guide Phak had been a novice himself in a Luang Prabang temple for two years, and knew all about daily schedules and monastic life. Not feeling like heading into town, I asked him if I could attend the evening chanting. He went inside to find someone to ask, and came back with a positive reply: I was most welcome, and I should be there just before 6 pm.

I went there a couple of minutes before 6 pm – but where was the entrance? I felt a little odd as I walked around the temple looking for an open door. There was no activity at all in the premises, there was no one around. Was the evening chanting really going to happen? And where was the entrance??

In the end I did find an unlocked door and stepped in. There was no one inside either, just the gilded buddhas.

The stillness and silence were almost overwhelming. I tiptoed around (walking didn’t seem quite adequate), observing the elaborate decorations.

It was now well past 6pm. Maybe the chanting had taken place earlier? Could it have been cancelled or moved to another temple? I was thinking of going back to the hotel when I heard a sound behind me, and there finally a monk appeared.

He gestured to me to come towards him and sit down in front of him. He found a tray filled with short pieces of yarn and started saying a long prayer while tying a piece of orange yarn around my wrist. It was a true blessing and I felt that I was really welcome.

Now finally there was some activity: it was time to summon monks and novices to the evening prayers by sounding the gong.

The evening prayers started with only three monks present.

Then a few more dropped in, and later still two or three more, while the chanting was ongoing, totally undisturbed. No one seemed to notice these late drop-ins.

Nobody took any notice at all of me, it was as though I wasn’t there, in spite of the fact that I was tiptoeing around and crawling on the floor next to them with my camera.

But I wasn’t there only to take photos, I was there to experience a small part of the monks’ daily life. And it was something very special to sit there on the floor, next to them, their chanting filling the temple.

It was an enchanting chanting.

The toothbrush and the lady

Every day in Cambodia my fantastic guide Len brought me to visit something or someone out of the ordinary.

On this particular day during our stay in Mondulkiri, a province in the eastern part of the country, Len wanted me to meet some ladies of the Pnong ethnic minority. It was a very hot day.

We didn’t have to drive far from the province capital of Sen Monorom to reach their small village. It seemed totally empty except for some pigs, but a young girl emerged from around a corner and from her we learned that everyone was out working. She showed us the way down a path towards the rice fields and the first one we saw there was one of Len’s friends.

She stopped her hard work of digging up old rice plants from the dry and dusty paddy and greeted us warmly. I handed her a toothbrush and some toothpaste that I had brought, and she looked at me, a little worried: “But I don’t have anything to give to you“.

Soon the lady’s little daughter appeared from nowhere (accompanied by two very small dogs). We had brought some biscuits to be shared among the village children, and while her mother continued working, the girl tried hard to get into the difficult packaging.

She must have succeeded though because all of a sudden she had chocolate smeared around her mouth and now she was thirsty. Whether this was a result of the chocolate biscuits or the heat, or a combination of the two, I don’t know, but the water in the plastic bottle wasn’t enough, or maybe the bottle was empty in the first place.

In any case plastic bottles aren’t the best containers for water when it’s so hot. A gourd is much better, it keeps the water nice and cool – but it’s a little tricky to hold it when you have small hands 🙂

It was now time for the midday break, but before heading back to the village, perhaps a smoke?

But nobody had matches and little did it seem to matter. I don’t think she was a smoker at all.

Although we couldn’t communicate verbally I felt very much at ease in the company of this lady. My visit had interrupted her work, but she made me feel so welcome in her rice paddy.

It’s a friend whose name I don’t know.


The bird that won my heart

There were so many colourful birds in Uganda, sunbirds, orioles, bee eaters, kingfishers, one more beautiful than the other (see my blog post Birds, birds, birds), but for some reason none of these stunning little creatures became my favourite.

I fell for the speckled mousebird.

Just look at its punk hairdo! And its confident countenance! And notice the tail, sooo long it didn’t even fully fit in the photo 🙂 And it looks so chubby with its fluffy chest.

Wikipedia says that it is a dull-mousy brown bird, well, I suppose it is, but it certainly doesn’t sound like a compliment. Who wants to be called dull-mousy brown? Its poor voice is also mentioned in the article. Reading this quite negative description gave me even more reason to make it my favourite.

Have you ever seen a bird with a cooler expression, showing off its acrobatic skills to possible onlookers?

It is a very social bird, they like to be together, often very close together, as you can see.

The runner-up to become my favourite was one with a somewhat long and complicated name, Rüppell’s long-tailed starling. With its shimmering feathers it looks like a living gem. But it doesn’t at all have the charm of the speckled mousebird, in my opinion – beauty isn’t everything!