Monday, March 09, 2009

291206 orange clots

03. clot, clots & clotting

The teachers started pointing at all sorts of stuff & quizzing the cat on the English terms for each object. When it came to the naga carvings...

Monk TYF: This?
cat: Naga (as pronounced in Lao/Thai)
Monk TYF: Naga? You sure? N-A-G-A?
cat: Yes
Monk TYF: Have tourist tell me that correct way for N-A-G-A is pronounced 'na-jar'
cat: ...

For the record, the 'G' in 'naga' is pronounced like the 'G's in 'golden goose'.

After they ran out of things around us to point at, they started taking out all sorts of stuff & quizzing the cat on the English terms for each item. & then they picked up someone's jiworn (outer robe) lying near us...leading to a struggle over 'cloth', 'clothes' & 'clothing', which quite a few Lao & Thai tend to pronounce as 'clot', 'clots' & 'clotting' respectively...

Bedsheet-sized saffron 'clots':


Made by sewing together panels of 'clot' in five columns of staggered rectangles - identical to the layout of rice fields in Magadha, India. During Buddha's time, both Buddhist & non-Buddhist mendicants in India made their robes from bits of discarded cloth (pāmsūda aka. pāmsūla e.g. cloth that had been worn by the dead/burial shrouds, munched by oxen, burnt by fire, gnawed by mice, etc) scavenged from places like cremation grounds & trash heaps.

There was no standard pattern for piecing the scraps together. This confused King Bimbasara, who wanted to dismount to pay his respects to any Buddhist monk he met along his way - how was he to distinguish them from mendicants of other traditions from afar? A request for uniformity was put to Buddha, who then asked Ananda to come up with a standard design that has lasted till today...the same pattern is used for the outer robes worn by Chinese monks in the Mahayana tradition, but with bright red cloth & the pattern outlined in gold:

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

The teachers were pretty shocked to hear that devout Chinese Mahayana Buddhist laypeople do wear robes (e.g. at left in above photo) for chanting sessions & ceremonies within temples - black ones called 海青 (hai3 qing1) & dark brown outer robes called 缦衣 (man4 yi1)...Another detail in that photo that would shock them was how laypeople (including women) could stand with their heads higher than those of monks.

Myriad uses of old 'clots':

Photos from 2007 & 2008 in Vientiane & Sakon Nakhon

Clockwise from upper left - to protect Holy 'kidnap victim' from construction dust; to partition off a sleeping area for two very young novices, & hide their Doraemon from the old chief monk of the province who shares the same living quarters; cord belt to keep unruly bamboo stems in place; bedding for temple cat.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

291206 motorbike & four eyes

01. motorbike

Back at 'Lao language school', the cat found some teachers busy examining a layman friend's motorbike parked outside Monk A's kuti. They took turns to sit on it & fiddle with various parts, dreaming of the day they would get to ride one of their own after they had returned to laylife. From time to time during the cat's last afternoon in Luang Prabang, we would all turn to look & laugh at novice B surreptitiously examining his face in the motorbike mirror & picking at his zits...once he realised that we were spying on him he would stop...but not for long :P

Fast forward almost 2 years...this time it's ex-novice B's motorbike & helmet receiving all the attention from his former wat-mates...

(Photos from 2008)

...& he still remembers why we laughed at him back then :P

Seriously, the cat hopes that wearing helmets when riding bikes will be seen as the cool thing to do by more Lao youths. According to this 2005 report, the number of motorbikes in Laos increased by 240% between 1990-2002, & the number of road fatalities by 295% between 1991-2002. Only 5% of motorcyclists have licences - too much red tape & bribes involved according to a consultant. & most have had no formal driving/riding instruction (in Luang Prabang some newbies practise on friends or relatives' bikes in an open field near Wat That Luang). A more recent report with 2006 data states that in Laos, 84% of all road traffic crashes are motorcycle related, 90% of casualties with head injuries were motorcyclists. No wonder '150 dtiang' ('150 bed' aka. Lao-Soviet Friendship Hospital, the country's only trauma centre) in Vientiane is always busy - the first report mentions that the road fatality rate per 10,000 vehicles for Laos is six times that of North America & Europe.

02. sii dtaa

As usual, the cat's spectacles drew plenty of attention too...The teachers believed that these metal frames had acted as a magnet for the illiterate seeking help with directions & reading signs, & were also the reason why the cat had (mistakenly) been treated with a lot of respect by people who think that spectacles are the preserve of highly educated teachers/monks & the elderly (think wizened grandmas hunched over their needlework). Sounds just like how plenty of Thais were once conned into thinking that the little cat was a child genius...whenever the cat wants to shock Lao or Thai people, it tells them that it has been wearing glasses since the age of 8. For more kick, it will add that this was (& still is) the norm in its country, long before computers became available.

Glasses, spectacles, eyeglasses - which was the correct term, the teachers asked. All? After some clarification on the difference in pronounciation between 'glasses' & 'grasses', they told the cat that the Lao word for spectacles is the same as the Thai equivalent (waen dtaa), & then cheekily added that 'sii dtaa' could also be used...HEY don't think that the cat doesn't know that 'sii dtaa' means 'four eyes'!! Lao people & their devilish sense of humour ;)

The cat told them that after almost two whole weeks in the far north of Laos, it had seen a grand total of only 3 bespectacled Lao. Later in the afternoon, puzzled cat wondered why Novice B looked somewhat different from an hour or so before...& it was nothing to do with fewer zits...& then it realised that it was now staring at bespectacled Lao #4 - after hearing the cat's comment, he had slipped back to his kuti to put on his glasses, & then quietly joined us again, smiling broadly & waiting for the cat to notice the change. Almost two years later, another novice-turned-monk would join our sii dtaa 'geek club', & Monk C would still be fascinated by glasses, asking both his vice-abbot & the cat to lend him their pairs to try on.

The cat is grateful for having enjoyed cheap/free access to enough reading material to lengthen its eyeballs to myopic proportions during its childhood, even if it meant perfecting the cat art of digging through garbage bins (to salvage discarded magazines). If you would like to endanger the perfect eyesight of Lao students in a more hygienic way, find out how you can do so through: