Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Giving Alms to the Monks in Luang Prabang

This is me in Luang Prabang Laos, waiting to feed the monks. It was 6 am, so yes, I have no makeup on. Note the scarf wrapped around me, my shoes to the side and the way I am sitting, with my feet under me. A woman must always sit lower than the monks and your feet (always bare) should never ever be pointed at anyone. It's considered a grave insult.
About 20 feet away to my left was a line of about 200 monks waiting for the ceremony to begin. About 50 yards away the other direction were more groups of men and women lining the street, waiting to give their offerings. I, lucky thing, was first and had no one from whom to learn by example.

A wat in Luang Prabang. There are something like 33 of them in that one small town. By small, I mean SMALL. About the size of UT's 40 Acres, for you Austin folks.

Men giving alms to the monks. Notice that they get to stand. Why does religion always always penalize women? That really bugs me. That monk in the picture, he was the head guy and he was a bit of a grump.

Me and the line of monks. The rice I gave them was very sticky and very hot. I just reached in the basket and grabbed a gob of it and put it in their bowls. I wondered about the hygienity of it all. I mean, they walk all around town and are given food by about 200+ people. I hope everyone washed their hands.

Local women giving alms.

I really hope that by joining in the ceremony, I wasn't regarded as just a tourist interfering in the local tradition. I fear I was looked at that way, but I really wanted it to mean something and was VERY concerned, even nervous, before hand for fear of fucking up somewhere. I really wanted to feel apart of this beautiful ritual. I just wish I knew a little more about it beforehand, and I doubly wish I had totally told those pushy women who forced extra food and a mat on me to go fly a kite. Apparently, from my research on it afterwards, letting them "help me" (and then make me give them money for their "help") is a common tourist faux pas. and the monks don't appreciate it. Damn.

The vast majority of the monks were very sweet young boys who just wanted to practice speaking english with me and would stop me wherever I went to do so. (They could not talk to me, look at me or touch me during the alms giving ceremony.) Luang Prabang is considered a holy city in Laos. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and is incredibly beautiful.

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