Waited & waited, but this novice monk kept walking back & forth:
15 y/o novice Two Sisters later admitted that he'd deliberately walked into the cat's frame in an attempt to get its attention. He wasn't sure if the cat could speak English & help him practice speaking the language, but no harm trying his luck.
Novice Two Sisters has exactly just that - two older sisters whom he misses, both married to PRC men & living somewhere across the border in Yunnan. China's one-child policy + traditional Chinese preference for sons + female infanticide have led to a gender imbalance which has driven PRC men to look to Lao (& perhaps Myanmar's Shan state too?) as a source of brides (as well as second/minor wives & sex industry workers).
Interesting thing learnt from Mr Sichuan & Mr Yunnan on the Huay Xai-Luang Namtha bus - the one-child policy's exception for women from ethnic minorities & rural areas (allowing them to have more than one child) means that hospitals can actually refuse to carry out abortions for Yunnan women, even if requested by the mother. Not sure if this stems from fear of lawsuits? Can anyone verify this? Anyway this is how Mr Sichuan has managed to have 2 kids without having to pay any fines - his wife is from Yunnan. & the cat wonders how this policy affects Lao wives of PRC men...anyone knows?
Before long, the cat found itself surrounded by more & more novices, a monk & 2 of their layman friends, each taking his turn to introduce himself & launch the standard barrage of questions - name, country, age, places the cat has been to in Lao, where it is heading to next, languages it can speak, how long will it be staying in Udomxai - & then it was free-for-all discussion on their hometowns, places the cat should visit, subjects the cat has studied, why is the cat travelling alone, the English classes that many of them attend, a request for the cat to stay for a month (!!) or at least a week to teach them, weather & seasons in Singapore, a request for money (from 21 y/o monk), etc...it went on even after some had to leave for their 5.30PM English class (there are 3 sessions per night, with beginners attending the earliest timeslot & advanced learners like 21 y/o monk attending the latest class).
Novice Phongsaly 1 (# 2 would appear much later in Luang Prabang) has not been home ever since he left Phongsaly for Udomxai in order to further his education, which has been 3 (or was it 5?) years. The journey from Udomxai to Phongsaly - which the cat would be making the next day - was simply too long, difficult & expensive for him. 21 y/o monk was the only one of the lot who was surprised & uncomfortable with the idea of a tabby cat travelling solo. Mr Grey is from Luang Prabang, but his dad was posted to Udomxai for work, & his entire family uprooted & moved here. & Mr 29 Red wanted take the cat with him on his bike to some 'restaurant' some 4km out of town for dinner.
Minus the whole lot who rushed off for the 5.30PM class:
The cat was 'released' only at dusk, when it became far too cold for us to remain standing in the open at the chedi, & 21 y/o monk walked the cat to the top of the stairs leading downhill. Unknown to us, a cold wave was starting to sweep across North Lao from China, with temperatures dropping to 4-8'C in Phongsaly & 1'C in Houa Panh province. & so the cat didn't make it up to the other hill, Phou Sai...