Though only a short one hour flight from Hà Nội in Việt Nam, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang in Laos is in another world. Of another world. And still in this world.
Luang Prabang has not been ruined by development. The daily alms ceremony shown above is centuries old and respected with calm observation from bystanders. An awareness campaign throughout the city reminds visitors to keep the ceremony respectful. The city awakes every morning at 4 AM to the sound of a deep temple gong, rousing the monks to meditation. A peaceful life rhythm each day.
This is not a Buddhist Disneyland…
We’ve arrived here at the end of Buddhist Lent. During the rainy season monks stay confined to their temple grounds for deep meditation each year. As the season closes, a magnificent boat race is held on the Mekong River, akin to a New Year’s celebration in the West. Buddha is a cheerful teacher!
I’ve been so moved by what I’ve experienced here that I’ve got a series of blogs in the pipeline to share with you the beauty of Luang Prabang, located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Southeast Asia has taught me that you find balance through chance.
That’s never been more true than my first visit to Luang Prabang.
No amount of preparation prepared me for the wonders still protected here. A trip up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves. The Kuang Si Waterfalls. Wat Xieng Thong from the 15th century. All these and some thoughts about the next cultural steps in Southeast Asia after a century of 20th century war will be upcoming posts.
There are layers upon layers upon layers of human experience here in Laos, some of it frightening. The ferocity of U.S. bombing during the Vietnam War, which was to little avail, makes Laos the most bombed country on earth. But nature and faith are combined here in permanent ways through Buddhism, an inspiring metaphor from the natural world influencing the inner personal world needed to find the right path.
Jan had a moment of incredible connection with composer Nguyen Thien Dao in Hanoi. In a long afternoon of conversation, we reached a point discussing the contrasts of strategic thinking between the West and East. Dao suggested the tropical heat slows the process but Jan countered to him that the present tense of Buddhist mindfulness, of living in the moment, of speaking a language that doesn’t have a past or future tense in our Western sense, was much more at work.
Dao lit up with huge recognition. I could see it in his face and it’s now a lasting memory. He triumphantly admitted the nail had been hit on its head. We became good friends from that point forward.
In Southeast Asia you never quite know when you are at the final destination. It’s because the journey is much more important. You’ve been here before. You might be here again. And you are here right now.
The land and riverscapes of Laos are transformative for the outsider, a way of life for the Lao. They are the most gentle people I’ve ever encountered. It might be the 4 AM gong every morning…
I’ll return to contemporary music, the musical narrative of Vietnam, the ideas and thoughts and plots of the next 2014 LA International New Music Festival. But one of my reasons for blogging is to try to capture how I program. Because music doesn’t lie, you have to find the truth. And for me that means a thoroughness before decisions get made is essential.
This is not a Buddhist Disneyland….
So let’s get ready for a long journey up the Mekong River in my next post.
You find balance through chance. And that’s never been more true that what I’ve learned in Luang Prabang in Laos, the Land of a 1000 Elephants. The Lao say sighting a white elephant is a most auspicious event in nature. And so why not help everyone a little and create a temple with an image of this rare creature? Hope is always a good thing…
Best, best, best,