In the Land of Golden Flowers

IMG_1268 IMG_0220I suppose it’s time I wrote about something other than food. At the end of a long day, it’s hard to wrap my brain around anything too serious. Tonight is no exception – but I figured I could write about the other thing I love to take pictures of: flowers. In Laos, it’s not flowers growing in gardens or yards that catch my eye, but the heaps and heaps of marigolds for sale for people to use as Buddhist offerings. Finally I can post some photos that do justice to how much beauty can be found here.

IMG_1261The sight just fills me with happiness on so many levels – especially seeing the flowers as offerings in the temples and on people’s personal altars and shrines. The color is one of my favorites and the idea of offering the flowers to the Buddha also makes me smile. I was just reading that, while marigolds are native to the Americas, they were introduced to South Asia in the 1500’s or so (at least according to these websites). I’ve definitely seen stunning photos of marigold-draped Buddhas in India. Gold is certainly everywhere when it comes to Buddhism here. Unlike the Tibetan, Chinese, or Vietnamese Buddhist images that I’m more familiar with, in Laos (and I’m guessing Thailand), the Buddhas and temples are all ornately carved, golden, and gleaming. The sight is like being filled with sunshine.

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Monks on a cell phone

Monks on a cell phone

The bright orange that I love is also everywhere in the fabric of monk robes. With so many temples around, monks (or rather, young monks in training) are constantly passing by, often with an umbrella in hand to shade their shaved heads from the sun. Apparently it’s quite common for families to send their sons to become monks just for a few years – they aren’t necessarily becoming monks for life, just a temporary service. I’ve learned that monks aren’t allowed to drive scooters – although apparently it’s ok to ride on the back. Many ride bicycles instead.

I love the fact that our office is right between two large temples. There seems to be a temple every few blocks, and you can usually walk right through them. They often have the best trees in the city. Sinsamout and I cut through two to go to lunch last week and avoided the traffic completely. You can even drive a scooter or car through some of the temples during the day time, although I find that a bit disconcerting. Jacque and I stopped into a larger temple while we were biking around a the other week – since it was a Sunday, many families had come to make offerings and receive blessings from the monks.

The monk "dormitory." I just love the color combinations.

The monk “dormitory.” I love the color combinations.

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Receiving a blessing.

Around 5:45 pm every day, I hear the faint sound of the temple bell ringing next door, low and resonant, almost somber. It reminds me of my stay at a temple in Vietnam. Sinsamout said it’s calling the monks in to pray, and anyone can join to pray or meditate with them. Jacque and I peeked in last week on our way off to aerobics and saw the monks sitting there in rows before a giant statue of the Buddha lit up with spotlights. I will have to make a point to join them at least once before I leave. I could hardly find a better spot for a meditative reflection.

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