Friday, April 01, 2016

A for April

April is a special time for Lao PDR (well, every month is special but April is even more special).

April is the hottest month of the year. It's the end of the dry season, and the days get hotter and hotter because there are no rain clouds to block the sun and provide cooling rain.

The Ton Khun trees flower - also known as Golden Shower trees, their cascade of yellow flowers are so beautiful. Whenever I see the flowers, I feel very spacey and sleepy because their appearance comes with the hot weather, where everything just has to slow down.

And it's the month of the traditional Lao New Year. Although the international new year is celebrated on 31 Dec/ 1 January in Lao, the 'true' new year in everyone's hearts takes place from 13 - 15 April. For people who are working in other locations around the country, they all return to their homes for the occasion, as they meet up with families and friends who also return at this time. There are Buddhist ceremonies but often, after the blessing of elders with scented water, there are water fights and contests. It can be dangerous to ride a motorcycle or bicycle because children love to splash the riders with water.

The first day of the holiday is to send off the old year. On this day, people prepare flowers and water. Buddha images are placed outside the temples, in special small buildings to as replicas of the temples buildings themselves. People pour the water over the figures to bless the figures, then collect the water draining from the figures, so they can further the blessings by sprinkling water on friends and family. People will often go in groups of friends, and visit quite a few Buddhist temples (called Wats). The past few years, I've gone with friends, trying to visit as many Wats as possible.

The second day is neither the old year nor the new year. It's supposed to be a day of blessing elders and cleaning the house. and the third day is new year. In fact, the parties continue. Usually, there is a baci - a blessing ceremony were a 'mor phone' (an elder or often a former monk) chants over the group. Then everyone ties strings on each others' wrists to tie the good wishes to the person.

The third day is the first day of the new year. Everyone goes to visit relatives. Again, more baci ceremonies.

While the new year officially on these three days, in fact, most people take the full week off, to have enough time to visit family and friends.