Thursday, April 14, 2005

Vientiane, Laos
Happy Laos New Year

We arrived in Vientiane at the same time as the New Year. Buddhist monks told me my fortune after I removed my shoes and paid my respects to the Buddha. My fortune looks good: I can achieve anything I want to achieve, they tell me, but first I must decide what it is that I want to do. I am a wandering soul who has strayed from his home, they tell me. Of course - I am traveling! No, they tell me, it is not about place but about the heart.

The streets are full of celebrations. One of the more popular rituals of the New Year is to throw water on other people. This has its origins in the Buddhist monks who purify others with water as a symbol of hope and a new beginning. In the streets of Vientiane, this has turned into a grand game in which the entire city takes part. Trucks full of young kids rove across the city and they throw buckets of water on people walking by the side of the road. A woman, determined to get her revenge, runs out of her house with a water hose and manages to spray one of these trucks; she laughs and laughs. Motorcycles roam the city too; the driver drives while someone in the back holds a Super Soaker and sprays people on the sidewalk, other cyclists, passing cars. We were walking down one street, Thanon Fa Ngum, where a woman and her small child were taking turns throwing buckets of water on peoples heads.

On another street, at first quiet, I could nevertheless smell danger in the air: a few wet kids sat and eyed us as we walked by. I saw one kid move suddenly and suspiciously and I yelled "Run for it!" Sure enough, six or seven kids ran out and soaked all of us to the bone.

I think our mistake is to run. Other kids have the right idea. They are already wet and so they stand along the street, with rock music or hiphop music blaring and just laugh and dance as more and more water falls on their heads.

Later, walking through a village we discovered a treehouse and climbed up. Nobody was around so we lay down and took a nap. The treehouse owner showed up later and laughed. She sat there smiling at us and laughed saying "Happy New Year! Happy New Year!"

This was how I spent my first five hours in Vientiane.

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