We woke up early enough to see the sun go up. We slept pretty well considering the constant noise outside, and hard floor. The air was cool enough that we needed a few blankets to keep us warm. We headed towards the monastery. The music stopped around 4am, and the chanting began inside the main monastery building. We sat at the edge overlooking some village homes below, and many distant mountains shrouded in mist. Several sleepy-looking kids from the night before followed us around, and hung out close by. Some seemed even less shy, and came up closer. A man nursing a serious hangover came up to us and urged us to come inside a building within the monastery to have some tea. The old wooden building housed a massive pot of boiling water over some coals, and another man was filling teapots with it. One of the two windows in the room pointed towards the rising sun, and as we sat there sipping our hot tea, we could see the light change. Some kids were looking in through the door, and we managed to get a couple of snaps in before they ran away. The man who wanted us to come in came on really strong, but he meant well. Before we left, he placed a bag full of tea inside my bag and smiled. Afterwards we headed out of the monastery for some breakfast, but instead ended up sitting for an hour or so at the local nurse's station. It consisted of a couple of rooms. We were served some hot tea, and sunflower seeds. The nurse didn't speak English, but we could tell she was happy to have us over. Once in a while she would serve up some betel nut concoctions through a walk-through window. Several monks from the monastery looked like her regulars, some even helped themselves. She also had cigarettes for sale (Duya). On the shelf above us was a row of medicines in clear bottles. Poison comes in many forms. From where we were sitting we had a good view of the road outside, where many kids causally strolled back and forth to get a better look at the two curiosities in town. One little girl, who we didn't recognize from the night before, stood outside looking in. She was wearing a pink touque and some red, gum boots. I looked back as we were walking away, and saw her buy something at the nurse's station. She was too shy, or perhaps scared of coming by while we were sitting there. While having some noodles at the restaurant downstairs of where we were staying, we saw many kids outside, looking in. Several people walking by somehow picked us out too, more people who haven't seen us the night before.
After breakfast we headed up the road to check out the rest of the village, except we didn't get far before being invited to someone's home. The first time we were asked we politely declined, as we wanted to see a little more. The second time, an older woman in a traditional dress, grabbed me tightly by the arm, and lead me up the stairs into her home. We sat in a large room with a Buddha shrine, bamboo walls, and wooden floors. In the middle of the floor a fire place on a thick bed of loose clay. Out came out black sticky rice with sesame, and of course hot tea. We communicated mostly with smiles and hand gestures as our guide spoke little of the local dialect, and spend a lot of time riding Myles' bike up local hills. We interacted lots with the many children in the house. No words needed to be spoken with them, as they understood fun. We gave the lady of the house a couple of notebooks and boxes of pencil crayons we bought in town. We drew a few things for them to get them started. They looked really excited, but couldn't bring themselves to draw anything. They were probably waiting until we left. Towards the end, some began to play with the idea. Myles spend a lot of time outside letting locals try out his bike, which they loved. I sat with the women inside. They tried asking me some questions. They put up two fingers, which I understood as: is there two of you? Than they linked two fingers together, which I understood to mean: are you two married? Then they pointed at a baby, asking me if I had any. Many different women came in and out of the house; it was impossible to figure out which of them lived in the house and which didn't. At one point five older women came in, all dressed in beautiful traditional clothes. They sat on the floor and chanted for a long while. They were giving good karma to a little boy, who sat in the middle. It was a beautiful ceremony to watch. The boy had no idea what was happening, but his young mom, who was holding him at the time, had the look of pride on her face. The morning went by really fast, and before we knew it lunch was served. Pork, as well as three veggie dishes were laid out on the table, along with three bowls of rice. As soon as we finished what was in our bowls, they came around with more rice, and kept on re-filling the dishes in the middle. The family waited for us to be finished before they sat down to enjoy a meal. Before we took our leave we offered them a 'present' of some money, as we didn't want them to be put out by us coming over. They wouldn't accept it as a 'present', but they did take it in the form of a donation, and blessed us with a prayer. They told us they would donate it to the monastery for us. We felt over-stimulated and exhausted. A mid-afternoon nap was welcomed by all three of us.
As soon as we woke up we headed towards the monastery again. Kids appeared to be totally at ease with us, and continued to follow us around. At one point, a young novice monk who was eager to practice his English accosted me. I couldn't make a clean getaway for good 45 minutes. He had a really hard time communicating, and wouldn't listen when I tried to speak. He recited his entire repertoire of English words, while demonstrating only a faint idea of their meaning. I wanted to help, but there seemed to be little progress as far as I could tell. Eventually I found a distraction. A 10-year-old boy started climbing a 50-foot tall bamboo pole towards a bag of treasure. He stopped a few times to rest, and I worried a little, as he seemed so small. All eyes were on him. Eventually he made it to the top, retrieved his prize with some difficulty, and made it back down safely. He was instantly surrounded by a large group of kids. He proceeded to check the contents of his newly found treasure. Myles lifted him off the ground, and all the kids screamed with excitement. He walked off with a couple of other kids, most likely to buy some much-deserved treats.
Inside the monastery building a group of men and women were playing traditional music. An older man playing a large drum gave Myles a chance to try it. It was really heavy. Myles did well. A little later the same old man danced to the music, and really got into it. Then, all of a sudden everyone got up to leave. All the instruments were carried outside. Women danced to the beat of drums and gongs alongside a little novice monk, sitting on top of a man's shoulders, possibly his father. He was meant to represent the Buddha. It was his first day as a novice monk. He was having a great time.
While sitting at the monastery grounds, and observing the action from a distance, four women from a distant PaLuang village joined us. Apparently, we were the first foreigners they ever saw, and so they came over to get a closer look. They invited us to eat a meal prepared by their village. Similar to the night before, we were seated on the floor, around a small circular table. The meal was delicious, and we were watched intently the entire time. After the meal, the men were getting ready on one side of the room, and the women on the other side, with us in the middle. Thanakha everywhere. I asked a group of girls to put some on me. They were all happy to do so. All eyes were on me, and the room was silent except for the occasional outburst of silly laughter. Afterwards they all looked at the result, and approved. A 100 of them came from a distant village on two trucks, just for the festival. They brought with them large, metal boxes full of clothes for the occasion.
We headed over to the stage, where the music was playing. There was no one there, except for the people on stage. As soon as we sat down near the stage, children surrounded us. Myles got up to dance to the music, but no one would join him. They all enjoyed the show. A little boy tried taking his seat, but was quickly put in his place by one of the little girls with a single look. She quickly sat one chair over, and placed her hand on Myles' seat until he returned. It was really cute. As we got up to leave, another little girl ran up to us and gave us each a candy. It was a beautiful gesture, and it made us both feel happy.
I started heading towards the main building within the monastery for some tranquility. I was quickly waved in be a woman on her way inside. The building was already full of locals. The head monk was sitting directly in front of the Buddha, facing the room. He was sitting behind a parasol. A number of monks were sitting directly in front of the head monk, and behind them sat the local men. Then, a step lower was a row of nuns, many local women and me. The ceremony began with chanting, as more and more men and women came in. The room was dark, with just a few, scattered light sources. I could see Myles come in through the other door to sit amongst the men.
While I was sitting there, I could see the profiles of the many women around me. Many grabbed my hand once in a while and squeezed it with joy. Some women had their babies sleeping on the floor in front of them as they bowed forward in prayer, their hands clasped together with fingers pointing upwards. They all sat on their shins with their knees completely bent. I found it difficult to do for longer periods of time, but they seemed very comfortable in that position. Locals believe that women live longer than men in these parts because they drink, chew and smoke less, and pray more. I believe that they pray more, partly because they have more fun doing it than the men. They all appeared devoted, and at the same time very relaxed. At one point a plate of gingered meat came around. We all enjoyed the food, while others continued chanting. As the prayers went on longer, some women made gestures indicating they needed a nap. One of the little girls that followed us around had no problem locating my face in the semi-darkness. She sat beside me for a little while. Then, a little boy, no more than 2 years old came around. He was naked except for a sweater and a toque. Several women were trying to tell him something in the local dialect. As it turns out, he was looking for a vessel to pee into. Eventually he found one, and returned to his mom with a huge grin on his face. The chanting continued. Several women around me were trying to ask questions similar to the ones I had to answer before. Then they showed me their silver belts, and I used my headlamp to have a better look. They appeared extremely proud of their heritage, it was beautiful to watch. I was entertained the entire time.
As soon as the chanting started to wind down, I helped a little guy find his flip-flops in a sea of flip-flops using my headlamp. A woman sitting beside me asked if she could see it. She kept tapping women in front of her and shining the light in their faces. Each broke out in laughter. Then she asked if she could have it. I saw it coming. My headlamp turned out to be one of the most useful items on this trip so far, and I wasn't about to part with it (especially given our recent trend of night riding). I felt bad saying no, but she just laughed it off while giving me a good squeeze. Soon after a small trickle of men, followed by a small trickle of women began to flow out of the monastery. All the women around me got up as if on cue, dusted themselves off, and started heading towards the exit. I was attached to one of the women, as she had a firm hold on my arm. She invited me to her home. Myles and Thura were waiting outside. The three of us followed her down a small path that lead to a house, but she couldn't get the door to open. She didn't seem the least bit deterred by that minor setback. Plan B was already in progress. She asked us to follow her to her friend's house, where we sat sipping hot tea, eating candy and communicating mostly with smiles and nods. She didn't mind when we decided to take our leave. We thanked her and her friend for opening their homes to us, and headed back towards the monastery.
The music didn't get going until 10pm. Unlike the karaoke-styled performance from the night before, this one appeared more traditional. There was also some traditional dancing. At midnight a hot air balloon the size of a refrigerator, was released into the sky. The balloon was made out of plastic bags. Old monk robes soaked in fuel were lit on fire, and the balloons quickly filled with hot air. The balloon shot upwards quickly, and became a star in the sky.
The Ka Thain festival is a donation festival. It is not just about the monks getting new robes; it is about giving and feeling good doing it. It solidifies communities, and brings people from distant villages together. People share what they have; they share their joy.
The music kept going until 6 am, but we were all in bed after 1am. Earlier that day we learned that we had to clear the room by 4am, so that they have time to make preparations to feed all local monks breakfast.