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essays | places


velvet rice and velvet souls


Wat May Souvannapoumaram temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   zenrenity



   Velvet rice and velvet souls, that’s how I remember Laos. The people, kindness in the flesh, so Buddhist and Animist that it felt like they were it by nature, not nurture. A cozy country where urbanization was taking it slow, for better and worse.


a glimpse


passages   FOOD FOR THOUGHT | Austerity is a narrow gateway. Most material possessions are too bulky to fit through. The flood of overindulgence is too wide to pass it whole. Merely a humble iota of societal diversions makes it to the other side and accompanies the Buddhist monk on his path to raw consciousness and spiritual enlightenment. Only after shaving off all distractions delivered by the senses, the innermost mind is sharpened into necessary focus for the journey inwards. But concentration goes only as far as the belly is full. The blossoming mind can’t escape its organic roots. And so the monk’s quest is nourished by the alms giving lay people, who in return feed off good Karma and the Buddhist teachings. A mutual exchange of food for thought.

What a beautiful, beautiful fire hazard.

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   lantern dance

Motorcycles in front of a lookout in Laos

Laos · 2015   twins with an age difference






places / stories

Luang Prabang / Love Shrapnel and the Mother-Digit

I parked Lulu outside one of the sleepier guesthouses right by the Mekong, a location that I highly recommend to any potential future selves of mine, even though it is probably where past me contracted Dengue that year. With thousands of Vietnamese and Laotian miles in her metal bones, and a thousand shop stops to boot, Lulu wanted some rest, and so did I. I went inside the little family-owned place to see if they had a room that would accommodate me and my budget. The hall was dim, the family friendly, the room on the first floor cute and furnished with dark wood – a little desk, a big bed, shutters on a small back-alley window. I loved it right away.

Now that I had a room, I needed a life. Another interim life with little routines and friends and places to eat and hobbies. That night I stopped by
Big Brother Mouse, a nonprofit empowering local youth by printing books and offering free conversational English classes in the mornings and evenings.

Over the next couple of weeks, I went every evening without fail, but not once in the mornings – that’s when I sat by the Mekong minding nothing but my breakfast and thoughts. The handful of other volunteers – foreigners on their way in and out – changed pretty much every night, but most of the students were regulars. They were all gentle and sweet as cotton candy. Some Lao, most Hmong, an ethnic minority that faces the same discrimination as any other ethnic minority. Almost all of them were farmers’ daughters and sons, dedicated beyond dedication, not in a forced, career-advancing way, but in a playful, curious manner. Most of them already spoke very decent English and the conversations were fluid as rain if it were raining cats and dogs – one of the many phrases Her would surprise me with. Namfom, a new student, and I, had a bit more of a language barrier between us, but that didn’t stop us from dinners at the night market, driving our motorcycles to Kuang Si, and going bowling at the local alley, which seemed misplaced this side of the universe.


Lanterns for the Boun Lai Heua Fai lantern festival in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   Buddhist beacons


Boun Lai Heua Fai lantern festival in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   cute night


Boun Lai Heua Fai was a festival that could have enchanted a stone. The entire town a soft explosion of lanterns and love shrapnel palpable everywhere.


Floating candles by the Mekong river for the Boun Lai Heua Fai lantern festival in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   floating chunks of Karma


Lantern boat for the Boun Lai Heua Fai lantern festival in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   Fred


Namfom is half Thai, half Lao, half fashion designer, half English student, but doesn’t pursue anything half-heartedly. That’s why she’s also an ace at her local bowling alley in Luang Prabang.


Woman with candles for the Boun Lai Heua Fai lantern festival in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   Namfom


People lighting candles by the Mekong river for the Boun Lai Heua Fai lantern festival in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   fires on the river


One morning I got up early to see the daily alms giving ceremony. The dedication of everyone involved – monks, lay people, tourist photographers, everyone up one hour before Buddha. Looking at that live Buddhism, I had so many questions for myself, and some of the answers. These monks were on a journey to the stars and the holes between them, to the singularities of the mind. I wanted to tell them that awareness is cold, the empty non-space after you put out the flame, Nirvana, where you are an impermanent non-self, but either they knew, or they were nowhere near there. Where there is only awareness, there is nothing else. The here doesn't exist there. It's only being, not being somewhere or someone or something or somewhen, just being in a vastness that doesn’t feel. Any other reality disintegrates at the threshold. And if the universe gets too big inside your head, you have to suck it right back in and put it away for a moment or a long time or else it all collapses into a black hole, and you better not get sucked in.

Awareness isn't everything; it's just one thing, one single digit. The mother-digit, to be sure, but it only knows itself, existence, and none of all the its in it – no song, no love-blood, no skin on skin, no dance, no fall, no pain, no pleasure. But pleasure, pleasure is pleasure. And pain, pain is a lesson. Don’t shed your Dukkha if you want to learn. And if you think suffering is really just a state of mind for flesh beings like us, you must be indulging the luxury of even thinking about that. Suffering as the great clinging to the impermanent. But impermanence is the most beautiful unit of time, much like imperfection is the most beautiful spatial shape.  And desires are more than just distractions, infinitely more. Can you fight for a good cause, a better world, without desire, passion, anger? And celibacy? That’s unnatural, life’s worst nightmare. And monks don't hatch from magic eggs, so it takes at least two people who squander their nirvanas to make one aspirant. Rebirth until you get it right, until you kill your desires? Well, if that is true, I never want to get it right, never end my Samsara, because being tied to this here world is not my suffering – eternity is, no matter the bliss. Peace of mind? Let me suck on one juicy piece of my mind, ripe with feelings and memories and longings, and you can keep your peace. Yes, none of this here is real. That is true. But it’s a purist truth, too true, too pure, too existential, too inhumane.



Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   Buddhism with a view


Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   night market


With a heart as heavy as the world I had to sell Lulu. I couldn’t take her into Thailand. A couple bought her off of me for $10 dollars more than I had paid in Vietnam a few thousand miles earlier. I had my doubts about that lightweight carrying two people with backpacks, and I said as much, but they were set on it and I never heard from them again, so.



Kuang Si, Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   turquoise in the forest


Kuang Si, Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   joy bears


A man jumping into the waters of Kuang Si waterfall in Laos

Kuang Si, Luang Prabang / Laos · 2015   upside down cannonball


Vang Vieng / Fun Town, But Why?

Limestone formations in Vang Vieng, Laos
Limestone formations in Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng / Laos · 2015   camping novices


Vang Vieng / Laos · 2015   limestone lineup


Vang Vieng / Laos · 2015   beyond the picket fence


It was one of those fun towns. I’d like to know who knows how those come about. This one was famous for tubing, but why somebody thought this part of the river was lacking drunk foreigners on massive tires, and not some other part or other river or other universe, is up for guessing.




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