The Novice and I

As we rode the local bus to Phonsavanh from Luang Prabang, I was delighted to see that we wouldn't ever run out of brake fluid as the driver's assistant added it religiously via an inverted bottle attached to the dashboard. That was only the first clue that perhaps the brakes on this old Chinese bus weren't up to snuff. We managed an average speed of about 9km hour or so give or take 10km in either direction. As we hit sharp inclines, the bus door would be opened and the female assistant would hop out and run along side the bus in the event the bus driver wasn't able to get it into gear (she had a chock block in hand to stop the bus from rolling off the cliff). As we leveled out, she'd hop back in and secure the door.

We followed a very new (two years old) road along the spine of the mountains passing many different and humble villagers and villages clinging to the steepest of hillsides. Views that one can only dream imagine, most of these people have no other reality as most haven't been to Luang Prabang or Vientiane.

Motion sickness is a part of life inside a bus in Laos... it appears I will escape this fate, my young friend, Hongnaly "Lee", wasn't as fortunate. The bus ride was somewhere between ardous and too difficult to describe... so I'll leave it at that. He's a wonderful and bright novice monk studying English and Japanese in Luang Prabang. He comes from a family of rice farmers in a village about 84km away from LP. We became friends one afternoon while I visited with him and his brother in the Wat. I invited him to go with me to Phonsavanh to see the Plain of Jars - a mysterious place of stone jars and foggy mornings (otherwise, unnotable). I learned many things about the life of a young novice... the dreams, thoughts, and rules. What a pure soul already - he's been a novice for two years and will become a monk when he reaches the age of twenty.

After the ardous bus ride, his stomach was empty for more than one reason... I brought him two servings of soymilk so that he'd have something. I felt guilty as I sat down and had several Indian dishes at a local restaurant... I thought to myself, being a monk is quite challenging indeed. He wanted to buy a camera, but I told him to use one of mine - he did a nice job and got to enjoy one of life's little pleasures - to be a tourist (an opportunity most do not realize/achieve). He hopes to study in Thailand and become a doctor one day ~ as he has tuberculosis.

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