Sunday, February 24, 2008

261206 Culture...Shock

Lao towns are made up of little neighbourhoods/villages (ban), each with their own temple (wat) of the same name e.g. Vanvisa Guesthouse is in the Ban Wat That neighbourhood of Wat Maha That. Ban Wat That was where silversmiths working for the Luang Prabang royal court lived, & the owner of Vanvisa Guesthouse moved here after marrying a silversmith from this neighbourhood. One silversmith at the Chao Fa Ngum Road end of Ban Wat That has a little 'SILVERSMITH' sign decorated with fairy lights, which served as a landmark for the cat when finding its way back to the guesthouse at night.

A few doors away from Vanvisa Guesthouse is the home & workshop of Thithpheng Maniphone, a silversmith mentioned in travel guidebooks. Over the next few days the cat would walk past the sounds of endless tapping & chiseling from the outdoor part of the workshop several times a day, where several young guys in jeans would be seated on low stools under a shelter in the driveway, pairs of hands busy keeping a piece of Lao heritage alive.

Sometime it saw the old master himself inspecting the work of his apprentices, usually when everyone had laid down their tools & disappeared for lunch + nap. The cat never got to talk to him, but it wonders if he feels the same as some of the Kyoto craftsmen, artisans & iemoto, the cat's wushu teacher, & Akha pima (village 'historians' who memorise all the myths, rituals & entire migration history & the genealogy of every guy in the village) - that one is but merely a 'vessel' for passing on the knowledge of a timeless tradition, & with one's talent & skills (at a fine art, a craft, a martial art, or memorising) comes great responsibility for ensuring that it is faithfully transferred to the next generation so that it may live on.

He once served the Luang Prabang royalty, & now his showroom of glass cabinets filled with silver items for sale has framed photos of Thai royalty (HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn) dropping by...the cat simply couldn't imagine the entire entourage complete with security detail squeezing down this little lane that serves as a badminton court & tricycle path for neighbourhood kids...(& is this why this particular lane is so nicely paved? =P)

After checking into Vanvisa Guesthouse, the cat set off on its first foray into the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang...walking past Pheng Maniphone Silver Shop, it reached the Chao Fa Ngum Road end of the lane near Nam Phou fountain, turned left onto the main road towards the Post Office, & within the space of a few minutes, it saw as many falang as it usually sees in an entire day at work back home, even before it hit the Post Office (usually filled with falangs shipping back their loot from the Luang Prabang night market)...


click to see the cat's reaction

(The cat works in a falang-dominated environment with people from France, Germany, Switzerland, UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, Canada, etc.)

Khon falang laai kwaa khon lao (Caucasians more than Lao), a bit of a shock to the system after the time spent in Phongsaly province. Wonder if this is how villagers from places way off the tourist trail feel when they arrive in Luang Prabang for the first time?

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