Thursday, February 24, 2005


I finally finished my project report and I feel free, free, FREE! Now I can to all the other things I've been putting off because I've been staring at my computer screen trying to get this report written. It has prevented me from thinking about Bigger Things, like the stars, the universe, and how much winter clothing I have to pack for my upcoming trip to the US.

Speaking about the universe, scientists have been cranking out numbers and finally have determined that they have found a galaxy made of dark matter, about 50 million LY from here. Are dark matter and the even weirder dark energy the components that hold the universe together. Are they responsible for the original primordial cloud having congealed into planets, stars and other etceteras?

The article I read was at:

Another mind-blowing article is the discovery of a quasar with a high red shift, between us and galaxy which has a low red shift, meaning that the quasar which should be further away from us is closer to us than this nearby galaxy.

That's all for now, I get dizzy when I think about the vastness of space.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Vientiane Sunday

This time of the year, there are a lot of weddings and bouns. Today's festival is Boun Thawait, which actually goes on in different villages and temples through the month. I forget the story, so I'll have to look it up and post later. It's a much bigger occassion here than in Xieng Khouang. Anyway, people get together and collect money, then carry their offerings on a tree, a branch decorated by flowers and leaves of money stapled together, like a weeping willow. They bring the money to the temple.

Then they are many weddings. They start out with a parade of the groom's friends and relatives to the bride's house. The group requests permission to enter, while the group on the bride's side will give the groom more or less grief about his motives. Once he's allowed in (which always happens), there is a baci ceremony in the morning, where a village elder gives blessings and then everyone ties strings on the wrists of the young couple.

The rest of the afternoon is devoted to eating and drinking and playing loud contrasting music. Now things are quieting down.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Boat

The Boat

He sensed the men around him,
Moving in the lightening mist which was
Turning gold in the sunrise.

He sensed the men looking in different
directions, waiting for him to speak first.
He sensed them, but he couldn’t look.
He could only look at the boat.

The Mekong River flowed through the engine room,
Fish nestled in the bedroom.
Hyacinths caught on the railing of the porch.
The walls, once had the well groomed sheen of
A healthy animal,

He had dreams of traveling with his boat,
To visit the people who live along the river.
His dreams, nourished by the muddy waters,
Turning the brown of a mud road.

He called his nephew to bring some rice whiskey
And some food for breakfast.
He made the wei to his friends, the symbol of
Greeting and respect.
“Please brothers, join me. We will eat and drink
together, to have a funeral for the boat.”

He poured the first glass of alcohol and lifted it to his
Friends’ good health, and for the journey the boat will take
Without him.

Mekhong River

The river is very low this year. The tips of sandbars that we usually see during April are fully exposed. My neighbors in Wat Meuang Wa village were surprised to see a new island emerge from the river.

One consequence of the low water level was the sinking of a beautiful wooden boat which had been moored near my village. I used to admire this 40 foot long work of art when I took my morning walk. A few days ago, I saw a crowd of peopel sitting on the bank looking towards the boot. During the night, the water must have gone down just enough that the side of the boat lowered on to the sandbar, causing it to flip. It looks very sad, lying half-submerged in the water like a beached whale. They don't make boats like that any more - no one has preserved the skills, it would be too expensive, and the younger generation are either not interested in the river life or they would prefer a sleek fiberglass boat instead.

What I'm thinking about doing is making a series of Mekhong River poems based on this story and the poem I posted earlier this week. A "funeral" for the boat would tie together the poems. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Temple in Cambodia, part of the Bayon complex Posted by Hello
I decided that I haven't posted any pictures for awhile. This is a picture of Bayon, which is part of the complex of temples that makes up Angkor Wat. We had a meeting in Siem Reap and to set the tone, we went to the temples in the morning.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Mekhong River, again

It seems natural to write about the river in my back yard. In the mornings, I meet neighbors, observe the river life, see the festivals in Thailand on the other side of the river. On Sunday, I joined a ceremony for a neighbor; he was holding the 100 day feast for the death of his wife. On this occassion, everyone comes to help make merit for the deceased, to help with a better rebirth.

It has been unnaturally hot and dry. The water level in the river is very low. The Mekhong has been part of many things. I thought of this poem today about it:

Reservoir of Tears

The Mekhong flows through the layers of Asia,
From the mountains of China to the sea.

In the day, it is brown as a dirt road in a jungle,
At twilight, it merges into the sky
An artery providing life to legends,
To boys springing from a half-submerged tree,
For a man throwing a net
Which glitters in the light and is filled with fat-bellied fish

At other times, it has run red with blood
Carrying hyacinths, plastic garbage bags,
krathong filled with offerings to the water spirits,
a log with eyes that looks at the sun.

This year, the water is low and muddy;
The farmers talk quietly, their eyes on the sky and on the Swirling eddies.
They talk about their fears
There will be no water for rice
And the fish will go away.
The water for crying is always easy to find,
It lurks underground, a hidden reservoir,
Ready to rush out when the surface is bruised.

A lone person stands at the edge of the shore,
I approach from behind.
As I look at the river, I know
I have never seen the back of my head before.

copyright 2005 c.p.lew

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Those words mean "Happy New Year" in Vietnamese. Today is the first day of the New Year for Vietnamese, Chinese, Hmien, Tai Dam and probably many more people. Last night, there were many parties around Vientiane - everyone celebrates anyone's new year. People made offerings to the ancestors and piles of ghost money, paper clothing, shoes and "visas" for travel in the other world were all arranged on tables. Food offerings - fruit, specially cooked pork and whiskey - were also on the tables. The paper items for the dead are burned so they can receive the corresponding item in the spirit world. After the spirits have eaten enough of the spiritual essence of the food, the family on earth can eat the left over, physical part. People eat and drink until midnight, then light off firecrackers to drive off the bad spirits of the old year and welcome the new year.

Today, in the office, everyone was "chai loy," meaning floating spirit, spacey. We'll all be back to normal by tomorrow.