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:
- The Language Project
Who established & run My Library, the main culprit behind Novice B's myopia.
- National Library of Laos National Reading Promotion Project
Supported by the Lao Voices Book Box fund & EDF-Lao, among others. For more on the work by the National Library of Laos, please see:
About the Director
Book Box libary training in Sam Neua - part 1 & part 2
Book Box library in Vieng Xai