Dec 23rd, 2014
I was awakened by the running noise of the cars, under the statue of Fa Ngum, ancient king of Laos. The sun started to shine, but it was still chilly. I rolled up my dew-wetted sleeping bag while several passers-by watched me.
The night before I said goodbye to my Laotian brother and tried to sleep in some monasteries, but the one I found, which was in the city center of Vientiane, was simply too busy and noisy. I used their electricity in the yard, sorting out photos, while several novices came by to talk to me and even more cats came to play with my laptop. One novice told me that a bit out of the city there were some rice fields, where I could sleep in peace. It was too far so I chose the Fa Ngum park, a small piece of meadow surrounded by heavy traffic. Occasionally there were some youth racing motorcycles, with enormous noise which could wake up the dead from deeply underground coffins. Sometimes there were locals coming over cheerfully to take photos with Fa Ngum statue, with me sleeping sweetly below it.
I put my sleeping bag into my backpack and walked back to the city center. I found one of the cheapest hostels I found online, called Backpackers Garden Hostel, 5.5 dollar per night. Shower, laundry and soon I embraced the free wifi.
I started roaming around the city. It’s pretty big, but it’s possible go anywhere by walking, which would be almost impossible in cities like Bangkok. I picked up about half a dollar Lao Riel on the street, full of footprints and dust. I wanted to get my visa for Thailand in Thai embassy there. However, when I got there, I was told that Chinese nationals have to apply for Thai visa in China, not abroad…… The good news is that I could get visa on arrival for 15 days and this applied for both land crossings and airports.
What?! Chinese people can get visa-on-arrival somewhere?!! :O 😀 Unbelievable! Because, dear friends, you should know that Chinese citizens need visas basically EVERYWHERE! and most so-called visa-on-arrivals for us are only for airports and many conditions can apply, like we have to bring a proof of employment or a bank statement.
I did not take any taxi, not even tuk-tuk or scooter, to save money and to really FEEL the city. I always think, experiencing a place with my own feet, at my free will and through my own mistakes and stupidities has a certain magical power, which pulls me and the place closer, so close that I can hear the rhythmic breath of it and see the air coming from its nostrils, so close that everything this place has will be captured by my own eyes, ears and nose and smoothly sink down to my mind. That gives a full experience.
On my way to Pha That Luang, I noticed a Buddhist Monastery on my right side. It’s beautiful, although surely not so magnificient as Pha That Luang. I walked in, some novices were in the yard, which was covered by tall and thick trees. One came up to talk to me. His English was quite elementary but he had friendly smiles. I asked him if I could go to their dinning hall to have a look. “Yes! Of course.” When I went in, I saw some novices finishing their lunch. They were watching some American channel on TV. WOWO! Those modern monks! 😛 Several novices there looked at me with confusion or weird surprises. When I walked out, one of them followed me outside. He had glasses on. He stroke a conversation with me, using both Chinese and English. He was studying Chinese in a Confucius Institute in a village outside of Vientiane and that afternoon he would have a lesson there. We went to his dormitory together. A room, rather small, simple and messy. 😛 He agreed to let me take photos only after he tidied everything up. He had a laptop, many books, including the Chinese text book. He told me about his hometown, which was near the Plain of Jars, a famous archeological site in Laos.
He asked me:”Wei, have you already eaten?”
I must admit, I loved this question…… I hesitated and said no. His room did not have any food, so he led me outside his dorm and we went to a big room, like a living room on the same floor. That was actually the dorm of another novice, an older one. His Chinese name was Wencai. Wencai is the best novice friend I’ve ever made. He was almost 30. he looked actually older than that, because of his dark complexion, his serious and mature manners. Yes, he looked serious, but once I started to communicate with him, I found him the most humble, understanding and sincere novice ever. Since having been learning Chinese for about 5 years, his Chinese was on a very advanced level and we did all the communication in Chinese. Do you remember Muang Xai? where the WORST road in Laos started? That’s where he was from. Since it was nearer to China, there was more Chinese influence. There were two schools where one could learn Chinese. The headmaster of one of them was Chinese and of the other Laotian. Wencai attended both. In China, the really typical greetings between Chinese people, especially those who know each other, is not “Ni Hao”, but “Ni Chi Fan Le Ma?”, which means “Have you already eaten?” Yes! We deem food and eating the most important part of our life! 😀 The first moment I saw Wencai, he introduced himself, then bowed, excited but still kept his serious composure, then he said this classical really Chinese greeting. “No, I have not eaten.” Soon it was arranged. In his room there was a lot food they got from the locals through almsgiving. I sat down cross-legged and started devouring, while at the same time observing this room and those inside it. That room was big, on the edge of the dorm building. Everything was made of wood. Near the window there was a big bed. 3 monks, looking older than 30, lying on it. They looked somehow different than the Laotian novices. They had different attires. One of them looked quite fat, I must say… and in Laos it’s so hard to find even a single fat monk. There was also something in their attitude, which distinguished them from the Laotian monks. Yes, they looked more aloft, or even a bit arrogant. The fat monk was lying there, one arm supporting his head, without much expression, talking. He did not turn to people he was addressing but simply remained the same position, only slightly adjusting it from time to time to make himself comfortable. Besides the novice with glasses, Wencai and these 3, there were also some other Laotian novices from this monastery. Before I asked for water, Wencai already brought water and also a bottle of icetea to me and told me something about the 3 monks on his bed. They were from Chiangmai, Thailand. They were here to visit last year. Since at that time they did not have free rooms anymore, they shared the same room with Wencai. That’s how they got to know each other. The icetea was collected by the Thai monks when they were out for almsgiving here. Since Thai and Lao were pretty similar, they could understand each other by simply speaking their own languages.
Wencai had a pretty big basket. Inside the basket were cooked sticky rice and different dishes — cooked vegetables and meat, wrapped in plastic bags. He opened several for me. Not all of them were to my taste but I did like the rice a lot and ate as much as I could. The door made a noise and the heads of several little kids appeared, smiling naughtily. They asked something and Wencai gave them some cookies and drinks, then they went. Obviously these kids came pretty often everyday and soon enough they appeared again, for more snacks. 😉
As the conversation went on, Wencai and the novice with glasses decided to give me a tour in Vientiane. We first went to the Arch of Triumph of Vientiane by tuk-tuk. It was their treat. The Arch of Vientiane was a Laotian version of the French one in Paris, with different architecture style. It’s free for them to get to the top, but I had to pay. There were a lot of tourists there, including some scantily clad western girls. The top floor was a small area and a bit crowded. They discussed and told me that they would wait for me on the second highest floor while I would go to the top alone. I was surprised. Soon I realized that there was a very scantily clad western girl on the top floor and surely they did not want to get too close with her. That would be improper. They volunteered to take me also to the Budda Park, which was out of Vientiane, but I knew that they had to hurry because of their lessons, so I said that I might come back to see them the day after or later and now they could go to their lessons.
The city was being heated up. I moved on to visit Pha Tha Luang, the icon pagoda of Laos.