A guide to giving alms in Laos, South East Asia

Giving alms is an important part of Laos culture and occurs in many South East Asian countries. When I took a trip to Luang Prabang, I was actually traveling with a Thai woman named Jaeb who asked me if I’d want to take part in the tradition with her. While I shuddered at the thought of waking up at dawn, I was excited to get the chance to be a part of a local tradition and get a deeper look into the culture.

Almsgiving is a religious ritual where the community gathers around the monastery at 5:30 AM to give food to a silent procession of monks. Monks are not allowed to cook or hoard food, so for many this is their only daily meal. The monks do not eat for pleasure, but to sustain their bodies, which are conditioned and trained to live with very little materials things, including food. I was also told that not having to think about food later on in the day clears the mind of distractions.On the sidewalk, women kneel down on mats holding baskets full of sticky rice balls and bushels of bananas while the men stand around them. While the setting is of a peaceful nature, you still need to be careful, as local women looking to make money off tourists will literally throw you down onto a mat and shove food in front of you before telling you to pay a ridiculous amount of money. The problem with this is not only will you be getting ripped off, but you are often given low-quality food. Only the best food should be given to the monks, so buy fresh fruit the night before or have your hotel prepare some sticky rice for you.

There’s some etiquette for women that goes along with the giving of alms, as well. Women should never touch a monk or their pots. Otherwise, the monks will have to go through a purification process. Also, a woman’s head should always be lower than the monks and shoulders and knees should be covered, although this goes for whether you’re in the presence of a monk or not.

So, what can you get out of the experience? To me, it was about more than just feeding the monks. Almsgiving really showed the sense of community in Luang Prabang, and how easy it really is to give to others and let go of addiction and neediness. If you attend with an open mind and make sure to be respectful of the customs, the tradition of Almsgiving can be a very worthwhile and eye-opening experience.

Watch the many personalities of Laos in this time-lapsed video

This time-lapsed video by Piotr Wancerz allows viewers to see the different personalities of Laos in South East Asia as well as the different events that occur in the country from morning to night. Watch as tourists and locals gather to Give Alms to the monks at dawn, people gather to swim and relax in nature during the day, and the bustling and lively markets come to life at night. The best part is that the timelapse effect makes it feel as though you are watching an entire day as it is happening instead of in pieces. The equipment used to shoot the video includes a Sony Alpha 550, a Samyang Fisheye 8mm, a Sony 35mm, a Tamron 18-200mm, a Velbon P-max, and a Pixel intervalometer.

Beware of fake malaria drugs in Asia

A really interesting article over at Medical News Today looks at the prevalence of fake anti-malarial medications being sold, especially in China. The article is the result of a communal project involving physicians, public health workers, and Interpol participating in “Operation Jupiter” to uncover the unfortunately common practice of fake medication being sold to travelers. The original article, published in the Public Library of Science can be read here.

The anti-malarial drugs often contained no medications of benefit to malaria prevention. Worse than that were the medications that actually contained harmful substances such as banned medicines and ingredients from the street drug Ecstasy. But wait, it gets even worse! Some of the medicines sold had trace amounts of the known anti-malarial drug called Artesunate. There was just enough to pass the drug screening test, but not enough to provide any decent protection. This means that a resistance to Artesunate can build, rendering a very potent anti-malarial drug worthless.

One suspect, from the Yunnan province, is charged with selling 240,000 packs of fake Artesunate. This is an amount large enough to give false hope of protection from malaria to almost a quarter of a million people. However, only ten percent of this was able to be seized and removed from the market.

This article underscores the importance of knowing where your medication comes from. There are many reputable pharmacies worldwide, but there are also some shadier, backdoor places that have these unlicensed and harmful products. The best advice would be to get your medications from your home country or from a known and confirmed reputable place.

Make sure you get the medications you are paying for and are actually being protected from malaria.

Word for the Travel Wise (05/09/06)

Over the last few days I’ve been a bit off on my word postings, but I’ve got a grand excuse for why that is or was shall I say. For starters I’m walking across the country at the moment and secondly I’ve been thinking about the languages I’ve been covering and thinking which langs aren’t getting covered enough. Sure French and Spanish are all swell and dandy, but it’s really time to step up our game and tune into other lesser known languages. Wouldn’t you agree? Are you up for the challenge? Then let’s proceed…

Today’s word is a Sinhala word used in Sri Lanka:

a da – today

English is spoken by ten percent of the population and Sinhala is the official and national language of the country. I’ve actually never tried to learn this one much, but judging from the alphabet it looks like a challenge. Omniglot has a great starter page on learning all the characters and use of this English to Sinhala dictionary could slowly help in distinguishing common travel words. Let’s Speak Sinhala offers lessons at a very small and reasonable fee. They appear to be one of the better Sinhala language learning websites.

Past Sinhala words: hari shook