Day 10: Vientiane – City Tour

This morning, Pati stepped out onto the balcony of their hotel room, looked south, and saw the Mekong River and Thailand beyond.  The huge Night Market of last night is gone, leaving only a strip of pavement that looks very small now. Across the street, to the east, is a large temple complex. Below the balcony, four floors down at street level, is a small black poodle in a sweater. Such is the morning view of Vientiane.

Pati and BeeBee started their official day at 9 am, meeting their guide in the lobby. This is their latest morning start so far, but they have been told that there is not much to see in the capitol city of Laos (!) and they will spend only half days with him.

The first area they visited included Wat Sisaket (the oldest major sight in the city), a temple with thousands of miniature Buddha statues, and the former royal temple of Wat Prakeo, that previously housed the famous Emerald Buddha.  Since the Emerald Buddha has been in Bangkok for many years (taken by Thailand when they conquered this part of Laos), Wat Prakeo is not truly a wat (temple) any more, but is known as the House of the Emerald Buddha.

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At one of their stops to look at a small garden of exhibits, there was a very large jar under a protecting roof. This jar was about 4 1/2 feet tall and several feet across. It had been broken but repaired. On the bottom inside it were coins and paper money, dropped there for luck. The guide explained that this was a jar from the famous Plain of Jars, an Iron Age site which was bombed during the Vietnam War. American soldiers stole the jar and transported it to an airport, intending to load it on a plane and take it home with them. They were stopped from doing that, and so the Jar stayed in Laos. Laos would like the Plain of Jars designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as Luang Prabang is), but it is still not cleared of fallen bombs, and until it is, it cannot be developed as a tourist site.

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Next they drove to see the famous and sacred structure of That Luang Stupa, which contains a bone fragment of Buddha. This huge gold stupa is the symbol of Laos. They also visited the National Cultural Hall, which contained elaborately-painted walls and ceilings illustrating stories of Buddha.

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On the way back, they stopped at the imposing Patuxay Monument, which is well known as Vientiane’s own Arc de Triumph. Pati and BeeBee walked to the top (fewer than 200 steps) to take pictures of the city from the top.

They decided not to visit Morning Shopping mall, which, from the guide’s description,  seemed more like what they would see at home.

 

The guide recommended that they eat lunch at Makphet restaurant, which was one block away from their hotel and actually shared a back wall with it. This restaurant teaches its students how to be waiters, and any tips collected go toward helping the students. The guide’s brother is actually a student there, and is learning English also so that he can interact with tourists. But the guide was not unduly influenced by his brother; the restaurant is actually the number 2 restaurant in Vientiane, according to Trip Advisor. Their meal was very good.

 

Next they caught a tuk-tuk to go visit the COPE unexploded ordinance (UXO) museum. During the Vietnam War, bomber pilots returning from Vietnam to their base in Laos dropped any remaining bombs on designated areas in Laos, because it was dangerous for them to land a plane carrying bombs. More bombs per capita were dropped on Laos than on any other country in the world. (Google “America’s ‘secret war’ in Laos”.) More bombs were dropped on Laos than in all of World War II. These bombs were still live when they fell on villages and farms.

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Sculpture of mother and child, made entirely of metal from bombs

Over the years, many Laotians have been maimed or killed when they accidently set off a bomb by plowing, digging, touching, or setting a fire on top of one.  COPE helps UXO victims as well as those injured by accidents or natural causes (e.g., birth defects). Trip Advisor rates a visit to the COPE museum as the number 1 activity in Vientiane.

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After some internet time back at the hotel, Pati and BeeBee walked to dinner at Chokdee Cafe and Belgian Beer Bar, which is a French restaurant that is rated the number 3 restaurant in Vientiane by Trip Advisor. They had spaghetti bolognese, an Italian dish in a French restaurant in Laos. It was very good.

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While they were waiting for their food, they could hear what sounded like a parade coming down the street. The sounds veered off the street toward the Night Market, and not long afterward they could see a procession heading through the middle of the market. After dinner, they walked over to the Night Market to shop and, hearing the sounds again, followed them to an area in front of a grandstand full of people. There was a circle of people surrounding the source of the sounds. Inside the circle were two dragons dancing around! Pati and BeeBee realized that they were celebrating Chinese New Year.

After walking through every part of the Night Market, Pati and BeeBee headed back to their hotel, just across the street from the market, to rest up for the next day.

Day 3 extra: les voyages forment la jeunesse

On Day 3, Pati and BeeBee were walking through a shop with artisans who would hand paint small images onto phone cases, purses, whatever you had with you. Above a beautiful large painting of a Thai countryside, hanging on the wall, was a simple sign in script:

les voyages forment la jeunesse

BeeBee’s French is not as good as it could be, although she recognized the words for “travel” and “youth.” The guide had taken French in high school, a long time ago, so she also could not translate. She asked the ladies in the shop what the sign said. None of them knew.

Back at the hotel, BeeBee searched the internet for the answer and found the idiom:

Travel broadens the mind.

It certainly does.

Not (again) in my lifetime: my OTL list

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Kick the Bucket

Some people have a Bucket List. Some people have an anti-Bucket List. This has never been so cut-and-dried for me. Certainly there have always been those (obvious) things I never intend to do: murder anyone, jump off a tall building, and so forth, but most people wouldn’t even consider such things for either list.

Instead, there are activities that once seemed attractive to me, but, through actual experience (mine or observed), repel rather than fascinate me. Let me describe some of these items that are OTL (“off the list”).

1. Own a gun, or even learn to shoot a gun. When I was young, in middle school, my older brother was given a single-shot rifle. There were poisonous snakes on our large property, which we saw not infrequently, and it seemed like a good idea. Also, it was common for teenaged boys to own guns for hunting turkey and deer (which he never did). Besides occasional target practice, he did use it to kill a large copperhead snake and a small bat. There were quite a few rabbits on our property that considered our gardens as their personal salad plates. One day I decided that I could do something about that and took that rifle up the hill to get a rabbit. I managed to shoot a fine rabbit right through an ear, but didn’t kill it immediately. Of course, it ran off. Days later, I found it lying in the weeds, dead. Apparently I managed to wound it enough that it died slowly and painfully. I buried the small corpse and never touched a gun again. I won’t have one in our house.

2. Re-visit Mexico. If you have read my post L’estomac de PLOMB, you already understand how I feel about Mexico. I will give almost any other country a first chance before I give Mexico a second chance.

3. Parasail. I have watched parasailers as I walk along the beach, and they are beautiful, soaring high in the sky above the blue waves. For many years, I thought that sometime I would get the courage to try this sport. Then, in a summer in the early 20-teens, we were on a cruise ship that stopped one day in St. Thomas. We went off the ship on a snorkeling excursion. On the way back to the ship, we were caught in a freak storm and took refuge in Senor Frog’s across the pier from our ship. (There are definitely worse places to be caught than Senor Frog’s.) Finally getting back on board, still soaked, just before the final boarding call, we dried off and went to dinner. And waited for the ship to cast off. After several announcements paging cruisers that were apparently late returning, the ship departed two hours late. The next day we learned that the missing cruisers (a mother celebrating her 60th birthday and her daughter) had been parasailing when the freak storm came up and fell 400 feet to the surface, the mother dying instantly and the daughter (the last we heard) still in a coma. I do not intend ever to parasail.

4. Scuba dive. I grew up outside a small town. Our town did not have a swimming pool. The first time I entered a swimming pool was as a freshman in college, when swimming was a mandatory class. After almost drowning in this class, I audited the class again and was finally able to float and turn over without sinking. Eventually I graduated to the doggy paddle and then to actual strokes. Years later, I took scuba classes and acquired the requisite wet suit (even boots, gloves, and hood), fins, weights, mask, and snorkel. I passed the dive test in a frigid, silt-filled rock quarry in Lancaster, PA. I never bothered to pick up the C-card that I earned that day. Once in a while, on vacation, I will venture out to snorkel, but never happily and never for long. Yes, I have seen beautiful things underwater. But I know my limits and when to stop pushing them.

5. Pilot an airplane. I grew up in the country directly under a jet route. Lying on my back looking up, or just glancing up, I saw these wonderful airplanes only as contrails or tiny silver specks high above me. Where were they going? Who was inside? How did they stay up there without falling from the sky? And would I ever be inside one? When I was in high school, we would sometimes drive to the small airport 40 miles away and watch one of the few airplanes take off or land. Once we even bought a roasted chicken and fresh loaf of bread at a grocery store neaby and had a picnic while watching. Fast-forward about 20 years. I had a job in research and development that required a knowledge of flying. Our company provided ground school classes as a prerequisite to flight lessons that could lead to a pilot’s license. I completed ground school and gained a greater appreciation for airplanes and their pilots. But I had no desire to be responsible for the lives of passengers and a realistic self-assessment of my (in)ability to do so. The closest I ever got to piloting was as a simpilot (simulation pilot) responding to air traffic controllers in an experimental setting. And that is just fine by me.

Probably there will be additions to this list in the future, but it will do for now.

Being a Jimmy

In his recent blog  “Beyond Me, Myself, and I: Four Ideas for Escaping the First-Person Bubble,” Ben Huberman talks about using other voices in prose.  One idea is to communicate as the fictional “Jimmy,” recalling that character from the TV series Seinfeld.  This is a technique I particularly like to use, and I commented:

I especially like the use of a Jimmy. For several years now, we have been blogging using alter egos (our version of Jimmys) in our travel blogs. “They” are so much more open in their writing, so innocent, so easily impressed. We would never be able to say what they say. It’s nice to have our approach “validated.” Thank you.

For example, our alter egos  wrote about a visit to Angkor Wat in 2013:

(Indelible memory: sitting on a ledge of a library at Angkor Wat, waiting for the sun to rise, listening to a serious discussion by a former Buddhist priest about farting as a symptom of the body being out-of-balance)

I would never be able to write about such an indelicate subject.