Learning Buddhist Philosophy (The Hard Way)

Our saga continues! The good news is that we’ve managed to shed a few pounds. The less happy news is that the extra weight was in the form of our brand-new computer, my trusty old camera, our crappy old iPhone, and sadly, my grandmother’s rosary (sniff, sniff). Someone crept into our room here in Luang Prabang (while we were there, sleeping!) and made off with the computer and my purse, which they relieved of its less interesting contents outside the guest house, taking only the “valuables”. Amazingly, we managed to hang onto Ric’s camera and all the gear, our passports, our hard drives with all Ric’s files backed up to the day before, and our senses of humour.

After the initial shock wore off, we spent a rather unpleasant day filling out nonsensical police reports which featured such useful questions as, “What are your parents’ names?” and “How many years have you been married?” (By the way, it’s illegal for unmarried people to share a hotel room in Laos.) At one point, no fewer than 8 serious-looking police officers descended on our guest house, taking fingerprints (!) and interrogating the staff. Despite their valiant efforts, we’re not highly optimistic about recovering our stuff. The well-meaning but bumbling Luang Prabang Police Department are no match for such a brazen criminal.

Not wanting to leave matters entirely in the hands of the law, we decided to print up flyers in English and Lao and distribute them at computer stores around town in case someone tried to sell our stuff. A kindly Dutch couple we met in passing introduced us to their friend Wai, a novice Buddhist monk who happens to speak English. Wai offered to meet us at his temple at 9 o’clock this morning and help us out with our plan.

The evening ended on a high note – a cheering-up drink with a new Canadian friend turned into a small but convivial gathering of sympathetic ears:  two very lovely Spanish girls, a young Lao tour guide who gave us a tutorial on local drinking customs, and a good-natured but high-strung Frenchman whose rage at our situation far exceeded ours. It was nice to be able to vent freely in our native languages, and we appreciated the Frenchman’s repeated, impassioned reminder that “après l’orage vient le beau temps, hein?”

This morning, we made our way to Wai’s temple, not without some trepidation. Our experience hanging out with Buddhist monks has been, thus far, relatively limited. He was waiting for us as promised, neatly clad in his orange robe. He and another novice accompanied us to the police station on foot. Monks enjoy a certain level of prestige in Laos – wherever we went, vehicles slowed to let us pass instead of deliberately trying to run us over as is sometimes wont to happen when we travel sans monks. We strutted past gaping stares from locals and tourists alike, feeling quite conspicuous. The police confirmed that they were on the case and assented to our flyer scheme, but predictably, couldn’t provide much help beyond that. Wai invited us back to his temple to help us with the translation of our flyer.

It was fascinating being at the temple. Wai lives in one big room with 9 other novices and one full-blown monk. Their lives are simple: they get up at the insane hour of 4:00 am each day and make their rounds about town, collecting alms using a bowl designed for that purpose. In addition to small cash donations, people typically offer them sticky rice, candy, and other foods, which they bring back to the monastery and divvy up equally. Then, they have lessons. Once a month, at each full moon, they shave their heads (and will shave yours too, if you ask nicely). The novice monks, especially the younger ones, are adorable – it was interesting to see them in their natural habitat, goofing off with kung fu moves, huddling around one of their cell phones (!) watching a music video, or working diligently on their studies. The walls of their room are adorned with posters featuring English lessons and pencil drawings they’ve done of their temple. Wai invited us back to the temple this evening to help them worship the Buddha, so we’re off now to pick up some school supplies to give them as thanks for helping us. Believe me, the irony of enlisting the help of Buddhist monks with no worldly possessions to recover our stuff has not been lost on us.

We’ll keep you posted on how it’s going, and will try to post a couple of photos soon!

Update – here’s a shot of Riccardo and our new friends on the steps of their temple.

Monk Wai, Monk Onsee, another monk whose name we didn't catch, and of course, Monk Riccardo.

Monk Wai, Monk Onsee, another monk whose name we didn’t catch, and of course, Monk Riccardo.

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3 thoughts on “Learning Buddhist Philosophy (The Hard Way)

  1. It’s amazing that you’re hanging out with Buddhist monks now! And I had no idea they had such things as cell phones, or watched music videos (or anything at all, for that matter). Shows what I know.

    Sorry you were robbed — that can’t feel great, but you’re in surprisingly good humour about it. At least they didn’t get -everything-, though your grandmother’s rosary is a tragic loss. It would’ve sucked if they got your important docs though! I hope your flyers do well and recover the stuff you did lose, though.

    Looking forward to hearing more!

  2. Caro and Riccardo,
    I can imgine you’re feeling angry and violated – sorry to hear about your new computer, etc. We’re glad you’re safe, though. Most tourists just photograph the Buddhist monks walking through the streets of Luang Prabang at 6:am; you’ve had a look at how they live and their philosophy of life. Wish I had given you the name of the guesthouse where we stayed, the Pak Houay. email: aurelie_lyna @hotmail.fr.

    If you stay in Vientiane, the best place in town, with a beautiful flower-filleld courtyard, is Mali Numphu Guesthouse at 109 Pangham Road.

    The night market in Luang Prabang was wonderful, and we picked up some great stuff and had a lot of fun bargaining.

  3. Aww man that sucks they took the laptop and the heirloom Rosary. It’s scary they came right in while you were there sleeping. Creepy. Horrible. Hope the monks can help. Just watch out, don’t get yourselves arrested!

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