We are walking down the street in Luang Prabang, Laos, on our way to Mount Phou Si (Phousi) the highest point in the city, a sacred place. We visited Phousi before but we have been hanging out in this town for over a week and now we going to climb Mt. Phousi correctly — I will release a captive bird.
We walk by the Palace Temple — where the Lao Royal family lived but now it is a museum (there is an exhibit of the Royal cars — one Edsel, two Lincoln Continentals). The Communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975 and the king had to leave. The Communists originally were against Buddhism but the Laotians were so strongly Buddhist that the Communists changed their policy and the Buddhists were allowed to continue doing their thing as long as they supported the Communist government (which has adopted Capitalism, these days).
There is a small temple at the base of the hill which is open now — on our first visit it was closed.
I look inside.
Birds are for sale and you can get merit for releasing them. I understand that this is an ethical situation — someone catches the birds, and probably gets bad karma for doing that — but these birds want to be free. Most of the cages hold two birds. I try to bargain and get a discount situation — one bird for half price — so I suppose I’ll get only half the merit of a two bird release.
Karen shows the bird and tickets — we are ready to climb the hill.
Hundreds of steps.
Here is our rest stop. The bird is unhappy.
We reach the top. I release the bird.
The view from the top.
The temple on top of Phou Si – see the cat.
Here are the ruins of a Russian made ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun, operated by the Communist Pathetic Lao or North Vietnamese during the Laos “Secret War” (during the Vietnam War, Americans were not supposed to be in Laos but the CIA was active here). The U.S. supported the corrupt Laotian military, assisting in bringing opium to market during the Vietnam War — gaining support of the Hmong against the North Vietnamese.
The evil chickens came home to roost and the opium was taken to Vietnam and sold to U.S. soldiers.
There was a song from those days, written about Luang Prabang (you can hear it on YouTube, written by Dave Van Ronck):
“When I came back from Luang Prabang,
I didn’t have a thing where my ball used to hang.
But I got a wooden medal and a fine harangue.
Now I’m a fucking hero.
Chorus: Mourn your dead, land of the free,
If you wanna be a hero, follow me.
Mourn your dead, land of the free.
If you want to be a hero, follow me.
And all the boys all envy me.
I fought for Christian democracy.
With nothing but air where my balls used to be.
Now I’m a fucking hero.
In Luang Prabang, there is a spot,
Where the corpses of your brothers rot
And every corpse’s a patriot
And every corpse’s a hero.”
This is how the original gun would have looked. I know most people cannot understand what it was like to live through those days — I had hoped that we Americans would have learned something but that does not seem to be the case. I suspect that there are guys and girls who have come back from Afganistan and Iraq who understand this.
I buy some sticky rice inside the leaf.
It has tuna fish inside.
The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong suffered over a million military casualties during the Vietnam War. Over two million Vietnamese civilians were killed.
Here are more birds, incense, and flowers — For sale to those visiting the temple.
The Buddha has his hands in position meaning, “Stop arguing.”
The bird flies away but then someone catches another bird. Isn’t that what happens?