my Laos

I got up at 3.45 am to attend the morning chanting at 4 am on my last day. In all my time in Laos I had never managed to get up that early so that day was my last chance. All temples have an evening chanting around 5 pm and some temples also chant at 4 am. Wat Sene, a beautiful temple in the heart of Luang Prabang, is one of the temples where I was teaching English so I asked my students the evening before if it was ok to attend the chanting in the morning. I think they were surprised that someone would get up that early voluntarily. Ben, one of my monk students, said he would open the gate for me at 4 am as it is locked overnight. So after only 3 1/2 hours of sleep I rolled out my bed, put on my Sinh and white blouse, wrapped my scarf around and left my house. The temple is only a 2 minute walk from my house and every time I strolled around on this street very late or early it was magical to see the temples along the deserted street, the sky filled with stars and the only noises coming from roosters and geckos.

A few minutes past 4 the squeaky gate started moving and Ben stuck his head out of, with a shy smile and a “good morning”. A young novice opened the pagoda and lit the candles in front of the big Buddha statue. They asked me to enter and I quietly sat down in the back of the pagoda. The incense sticks, the darkness outside, the peace and quiet and the novices and monks entering the pagoda one by one with sleepy eyes gave this event a very special touch. Almost all of them smirked or had a surprised look on their face that I was there at this early hour – not too many falangs show up for morning chanting.

Wat Sene pagoda is besides Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun and Wat That Luang one of the most beautiful temples. The huge Buddha statue looks a bit serious but all the walls and the ceiling are dark-red and adorned with uncountable golden stencils.

It was the perfect way to start my last day. The chanting was different from the evening chanting and the beautiful voices of the novices and the short meditation following the chanting were a wonderful gift to me. After the chanting I walked back home and there were still no people on the street. After a 2 hour nap I continued what seemed the never-ending-packing-story, followed by a few visits to some temples, many goodbyes to novices and monks I had gotten to know over the course of time, a final goodbye from my 2 temples where I had been teaching and my friends visiting me later in the evening to say goodbye. I finished packing at 2.30 am, walked through the empty house, counted the number of calls from my house-gecko that had made my kitchen into his home (more than 7 gecko-calls in one breath means that it will bring you luck), called for my cat so that I could say goodbye to her (but of course she didn’t come as she was in heat and had to fight off all the Casanova cats in the neighborhood), shed a lot of tears of thankfulness and even more tears of sadness – and went to bed.

The next morning I left for the airport very early in the morning with Kathrin and as we drove to the airport in a tuk-tuk we saw all the monks and novices walking on the street to collect alms. I passed a few of my students with a tuk-tuk but of course they didn’t see me anymore. I had struggled with my leaving for quite a while and seeing them disappear in the far made me very sad. The town was still quiet and sleepy and the sun started to come out. When we arrived at the airport my friends and ex-monks Phan and Wone were there too and as a nice surprise Jutta was there as well. An emotional outburst followed on the runway, seeing the lush hills of Luang Prabang one last time before I got on the plane. As we took off I looked down on the mighty Mekong and the charming little town of Luang Prabang, nestled in between all the green landscape – and I remembered the 14th of August 2012. That was the day I flew over Luang Prabang for the first time and my instant feeling back then was “I love this place. It feels like home”.

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