Friday, August 27, 2010

ice cream manners

Having admired another sparkly wat, I walked out into the courtyard, still marveling at the mystery of the shiny Buddhas and colorful murals. I still don't really know what it all means. Buddhism seems so odd to me, and a part of me feels like I visited a big theme park. I'm not sure I understand much more about this way of life, but I've watched and learned enough to understand some basics--take off my shoes, cover my knees and shoulders, never touch a monk, kneel and bow before Buddha images. It's tough to get answers when you don't know how to ask questions, but it's amazing what one can learn just by observing.

When I stepped out into the sunlight, I saw a bunch of baby monks eating ice cream. A fuzzy-headed orange cloud of little boys gathered around a man with a little cart, and he handed them little cups of ice cream, one at a time and collected a coin from them. This particular town, Luang Prabang, Laos is known for its elaborate alms ceremony in the morning. Each morning, just before dawn, all of the local monks parade in a line to receive offerings of pinches of rice from the townspeople, and that serves as their meal for the day.

It was surprising that the kids were eating ice cream as there are such strict dietary guidelines, but it seemed celebratory and special. After all, who wants to associate with a religion that denies kids ice cream?

I was getting a little envious, considering whether to walk over and get some ice cream myself, though it seemed as though it would have been awkward, like maybe I was interrupting a private moment between the baby monks and the vendor. Suddenly a woman, the only other foreigner around, strode confidently over to the monks and asked the vendor for an ice cream. She paid, walked a few steps over to a stray dog lying nearby, and placed the cup in front of him, cooing at him, and left it there for the dog to eat. Her boyfriend took pictures.

Everyone else around gaped.

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