Friday, 18 November 2016

Do NOT be fed by the monkeys ! (or What has become of the Alms-giving ceremony in Luang Prabang)

Another night with only 5 hours of sleep. Ah well. I'll try to see dawn from the top of Mt Phousi, 

But  first I have to wake the receptionist, who sleeps in a mosquito-net-like tent in the lobby.  He keeps mumbling "is o.k., is o.k.".
The walking trail to Mt. Phousi starts right next to my hotel.
 It's pitch dark (except VERY bright light illuminating the Wat), there are no signs for the trail, and the coughing and rustling tells me that there people just waking up in structures all around me. I don't want to walk into someone's bathroom by accident, so I turn around.

Let's walk a few hundred meters to the banks of the Mekong !
The banks of the Mekong. Not much to see here, lol
 At first I think locals are trying to sell me baskets with breakfast, but after I see these chairs, I figure out what it is going on.

Dawn is the time for the traditional Luang Prabang Alms-giving ceremony, where the locals hand out rice to the monks who leave the monastery at dawn for that purpose.
A rice cooker on an open flame
Those vendors were trying to sell me baskets with plastic bags of candy to hand out to the monks. I think NOT.
I actually asked this man to re-strike the pose I had missed a second earlier LOL.  Good sport cause he did !
No monks are in sight yet, but in addition to the locals cooking rice on the street, a great number of tourists (there are more tourists on the street than locals) are urgently running back and forth, trying to be the first one to see a monk, securing themselves the perfect camera position, or even taking flash pictures of monks they have spotted inside the monastery.
Lurking with cameras outside the monastery gates
I try to make myself small and unobtrusive on the opposite side of the street.  I never use flashlight on my camera, and when I realized what was about to happen I even went to great length to turn off any noises (shutter, warning beeps) the camera might make and EVEN the LCD screen for viewing.  My camera has that tiny eye viewer fortunately.  So I've hid myself in the shadows on the opposite side of the street, am emitting NO light or sound, and am witnessing a tourist atrocity like I have NEVER seen one before.
A Laotian telling tourists how to feed monks
From my vantage point hidden in a dark corner across the street far from the action, I think I actually enjoy the event more than the tourists who jump from place to place to release their flash lightning shows on the various rows of monks (arranged in size or age, which should work out to the same).
The flashlight barrage is an irritant as are tourists that keep wandering through my shot on their hunt for the perfect monk picture.
But being so far away and not using a flash, I see more of the mysterious dead-quiet (the monks, not the tourists) procession along the rows of alms givers
In between the camera lightning flashes and the hectic tourist scurrying 
I get brief bursts of the quiet and elegant thing that this used to be. No one talks and the monks shuffle very quietly and demurely along the lines.  Also note that the heads of the monks are higher than those of the ones giving the food, so as not to put the monk in the role of the beggar.  It's beautiful. But those moments in between camera flashes are all too brief.
In the old days, every monk just carried a bowl for his daily rice ration, which he would obtain at this ceremony.  Now they are carrying plastic bags full of the candy from the tourists.  

Halloween ? The candy goes in the plastic bag, the rice in the eating utensil.
Just that alone screams WRONG 

The last one in the row of monks is always the youngest. Maybe around 5 to 7 years old. Unfortunately they also garner the most attention from big bulky white men with huge camera lenses attached to their digital SLRs
This tourist is actually maintaining a minimum of distance. What does that do to a 5 year old child?

I just don't get it.

These tourists come here to witness something spiritual.   If you look at them it is OBVIOUS that they have NO spirituality left in their life.    But they also have NO sense or sensibility.   How can a large fat white man stand less than 1 meter from a probably 5 year old, tiny and slender Laotian monk and keep taking pictures with a huge camera lens and FLASHLIGHT, and NOT sink into the ground from instant shame.

In comparison, this makes the tourists that buy some candy bags from the local vendors and honker their huge frames down on the tiny plastic chairs to participate themselves in the alms giving ceremony look like people with tact.   

Yesterday I did a very brief search and it said "Do NOT participate if you're not a Buddhist".   But here are old fat white people on tiny chairs, a kind of Napoleonic bandola that is  probably meant to be Budhist crossing their chests, offering candy to monks. What does that say about the state of the world?    

There should be a sign here "DO NOT be fed by monkeys ! Some at least have clued in that the candy-giving is not really the real deal and are buying small pots of steamed rice from vendors.  Hey, if the tourists pay for it, we happily supply it.  

I am appalled at what I see and quickly retreat into my hotel.  I have just got the answer what distinguishes a tourist from a traveler.  Tourists LOVE to say "But you're a tourist too". NO.  I'm a traveler.  Travelers want to experience the culture and beauty of other parts of the world, but usually they have the tact to be very careful to not disturb or corrupt that what they traveled so far to witness.   Tourists paid a hefty price for their tour and they are adamant to take home all they can for the buck they paid.  They don't care what the place looks like AFTER they've been there; all that counts is THAT they've been there AND can prove it.

Luang Prabang makes my heart bleed because it is the prime example of what that ideology can lead to.

See how the donors are in the beggar's position?  
 What's wrong with just QUIETLY and RESPECTFULLY  witnessing this beautiful ritual (see above). Why do fat white people feel they have to participate?   Why don't they realize that their hectic running-around and positioning and flash-light-barrage and candy-hand-outs kill the very event they came to witness. 

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