Its Friday night in Thakhek, we were out at dinner in the western most part of town and it was buzzing with traffic. I had noticed a very large change in the amount of ambient noise on the streets. There were trucks and large utility vehicles rolling past filled with people all heading south. I had never been down this road before…………However it was busy.
Curiosity got the better of me and I asked my friend Kaew if she knew why there was all this additional hustle and bustle on the streets. All of a sudden Kaew said Mario and her were heading to the Temple festival and asked if we would like to go. Karine looked at me and I said “Yeah sure! Lets do it!!” I wasn’t entirely sure what this would entail and thats the best part of any adventure.
The trip to the festival grounds was pretty uneventful, but as previously stated, there are no rules on the road in Thakhek. We just followed the throng of scooters, trucks and dust clouds down the road until we arrived at a large and very noisy arena. Not an arena like I am used to. It was a very large paddock with market stalls, technology and agricultural venders, car salesmen and wooden carts full of fruit and vegetables and super loud Lao pop music.
After being frisked by a very friendly and very short police officer we all wandered in to the market area and began to check out what was being peddled by the local merchants. I was a little weirded out as I was being stared at constantly. I realised pretty much immediately that it was because I was indeed the tallest person in the whole of the festival.
That is not a difficult thing in Lao as the average height is just under 168cm (about 5’6”). I stand 188cm (about 6’2”). One local even snuck up behind me and quickly measured where she came up to on me and scurried away giggling. Mind you I was wearing a very bright orange down jacket from Patagonia Clothing (preferred attire for my trip)……hint hint, as there was a chill in the air that night.
I loved walking around and just checking out all of what was on offer. It was truly a wonderful experience. It broadened my view of Laos and I again realised we are all the same in this world, we just have different perspectives of what is acceptable.
I try to remain positive about what I experience and it’s important not to judge……..but it is certainly eye opening when you see a lady sitting in a pile of garbage selling vegetables right next to a Samsung technology vendor at a Lao festival.
The contrasts here are paradoxical. On one hand, people live on incredibly low incomes and the divide between rich and poor is gargantuan. On the other, they all have mobile phones and a lot of Hilux Utility vehicles with big stereos on board racing around. I am yet to completely understand and take on how this all works.
I do love being here and it makes me realise that all I can do is embrace the differences, learn about the people and what makes them happy. They have a very different view on material possession and whats important compared to the society I was raised in, but thats ok too.
The festival experience was one I will not forget very soon as it gave a huge amount of perspective in a microcosmic area. Culturally confusing and intimately intense. Exactly what you need to make a great Friday night out.
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
– Joseph Campbell