In January 2017 Murakami Haruki, a renown Japanese writer, published his new book entitled “Tell me – what does Laos have to offer?”. He shared with the readers that when he was transiting via Hanoi airport after visiting Vietnam, a Vietnamese asked him, “Tell me – what does Laos have to offer?” Murakami was dumfounded by that question because he really did not know much about Laos, except the little information he read from Wikipedia. Is that not the exact purpose of making a tour – for one to find out the “what”?
In the 70s, when I was still studying in the university, I took part in a cultural exchange programme that brought me to several tertiary institutions in Thailand, travelling from Bangkok to Chiangmai. Later, I visited Thailand a few more times. We also visited Cambodia and published a book named after its ancient name – “Chân Lạp”. And we published two more books on Vietnam after visiting this country. We just kept missing Laos due to some reasons. However, we had never forgotten about Laos which seemed to be lingering in our minds all this while. As time went by, our longing for Laos became stronger. When we set our foot in the golden triangle in the North Thailand, we were calling Luang Prabang quietly in our hearts.
In 2016, we visited Sikkhim of India. Dharma Sister Mei won herself two free tickets to Laos in a lucky draw because she paid for our expenses using her credit card. Her free tickets ended up creating an opportunity for us to finally visit Laos, thus establishing a spiritual connection between us and her land and people.
In August 2016, we flew to Laos. Murakami only stayed in Luang Prabang when he visited Laos. However, we travelled all the way from Luang Prabang, to Xiangkhouang, Vang Vieng and finally returning to Vieng Chan. Throughout the journey, we came across many temples and Laos people, fostering a spiritual bond with them quietly.
Sert was our local tour guide. He became a novice monk at the age of eight because his family was poor (and the monasteries offered him a good education). He spoke fluent English. Due to our strong spiritual connection, Sert brought his wife and his two kids to the hotel where we stayed to ask for my blessing on the last day. When we were in Luang Prabang, we went to a massage parlor to relax ourselves. Sert recommended a Lotus Spa Centre, where we discovered a few pictures of White Tara hanging on the walls, which was indeed a very strange phenomenon in a country that practised mainly Teravada Buddhism. None of the workers in the shop could tell who was the deity in the picture. Sert guessed that the deity in the picture might be Mother Mary of Christianity; Laos people only recognized Sakyamuni Buddha of Teravada Buddhism. I was amused by our interesting discovery. I asked the rest, “Did I not chant the heart mantra of White Tara when we were cruising the Meikong River just the other day? Did White Tara not descend and help in delivering the souls in the Bawo Cave of One Thousand Buddhas?
During our flying journeys between Singapore and Vieng Chan, we witnessed a huge sun halo and many rainbows appearing in the sky when we looked out the windows. Those were signs that we were in the company of the Vajra Protectors at all times.
Murakami merely brought back his memories of a few places of Laos at the end of his tour. He said that he could still remember the smell, sounds and touch of such places. And there were special auras, breezes and voices of someone in those places which still lingered in his mind. The resonance within his heart is something which a picture can never offer.
What did we bring back from Laos then? Was it the strong love of White Tara? It was indeed an extra-ordinary tour made possible by a group of globetrotters and White Tara.
Bawo Cave of One Thousand Buddhas
The mystical Plain of Jars
The National Emblem of Laous - The Stupa
A rainbow appeared beneath our airplane