19 April 2007

Pi mai Lao- Lao new years 2550 Day 1

I went to Luang Prabang for Lao new years. Everyone had 5 days off for new years. I had 6 because the falang (foreigner, literally ‘French’) in my office told me the Friday was a holiday but it wasn’t. I'm not complaining. It is northern Laos where it is mountainous, and is on the Mekong River. It has pretty French colonial architecture, well, apparently because I know nothing about architecture. I flew with Lao airlines and the trip wasn't as scary as I thought it would be- actually the plane was quite new.

New years is celebrated for three days. On the first day people clean their houses and build sand stupas on the river beach. They release animals for good luck. This meant there were heaps of little birds being sold in tiny baskets. It was such a hot day, I’m sure many would have perished. When my sister was here, she saw these birds being caught by tying one bird to a string and sewing its eyelids shut. They then catch the birds that come to help this poor little bird. She thought the people ate them, but I think they just catch them to be released.

It is also good luck to pour water on other people for new years, so I got buckets of water poured down my back and sprayed with waterguns. The falang really get into it, I’m talking 20- 30 year olds, but annoyingly they aim for the head when the locals don’t. It’s like when Aussie’s see snow for the first time, they excessively excited. I also got covered in cornflour and my face was smeared with the black burnt stuff at the bottom of the cauldron. There were people driving around on the back of utes drinking beer and splashing people with water. There were people on the side of the road with bin fulls of water chucking it at motorbikes, pedestrians and vehicles. We caught a boat across the river where there was a huge party going on. This place was definitely not designed for a party. People were trampling through crops and there weren’t really toilet facilities. There were rockets being launched in close vicinity to the large crowd. People were dancing to loud music on the mud.

There are some really excellent night markets that we spent some time wandering through. Mainly it is textiles for sale including scarves, wallhangings and bedspreads. There are some Hmong people selling there wares in their traditional dress which is cool. Did I mention we tried Luang Prabang's special riverweed (might be moss)? It is dried flat in sheets with a layer of sesame seeds and sliced garlic on top and deep fried. Very yummy. It is thin and crisp and tastes like nori seaweed.

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