Giving Alms & Taking Photos

Giving Alms & Taking Photos

A breakfast of sticky rice, and maybe even a banana. Seems simple right? A handful of residence from the Buddhist community line the main street everyday, specifically I am speaking of Luang Prabang but this occurs in most areas with a local Wat, at 6am to participate in the Almsgiving. Giving food, Alms, to the Monks of the local Wat and it is often thought of as a way to connect with their spiritualness and while this tradition has been going on for thousands of years without a hitch there is a newer element mixed in that is causing a bit of disruption: Tourists. Each morning you can see dozens of them lined up making a spectacle out of the Monks morning tradition of getting breakfast. OK, so I have photos from one morning of this, does that make me just like every other clueless dummy exploiting a beautiful tradition because it seems exotic to them? Id like to think not, but you can make that decision.

I woke up around 5am in hopes to catch a sunrise on the Mekong. From my experience so far, a beautiful sunrise in northern Laos is a rarity due to the overcast, smog, and humidity that hangs around in the sky for more of the day, but that is another rant for another time. As the sun rose into the grey skies I moseyed up to the main street with my head down feeling as though I got up at 5am for nothing when all of a sudden a woman started forcing food into my hand and demanding money. I hand’t a clue what was going on until I looked up and saw the saffron Monks walking down the street as I have seen each morning that I have been up before the sun. At the time it seemed like a great idea, so I paid her and joined a few locals to offer some food.

 

Every morning, you will find her right there.

The man next to me happened to speak english so we spoke about the Almsgiving, afterwards I asked him if I could take his photo, he was camera shy but suggested that I take the photo of the woman sitting next to him, she has been offering food everyday for the past 15 years. After they exchanged some words her genuine smile and calm hand waved me over.
The stand across the street from the Almsgiving. This is what happens when capitalism trumps tradition. I cant blame people for wanting to make money, but where does the line get drawn? Does a line ever get drawn? Laos is a developing country and the Laotians are hungry for the money that can be made from the tourism industry.

The stand across the street from the Almsgiving. This is what happens when capitalism trumps tradition. These locals are willing to encourage the parade of tourists in the name of making a few kip.

The real problem here is the locals who set up a table and sell the food to tourists – they are exploiting the tradition in the name of profits, something that seems all to familiar. While I was caught by surprise and fell into their trap, a ‘tourist trap’ if you will, I chalked that morning up to a learning experience. After doing some research on the matter and speaking with a Monk that I passed by in the street I came up with a much better way to show my support, I visited the local Wat, sans camera, and donated some money before entering the temple. I now feel a bit guilty about taking my camera to the Almsgiving ceremony but I didn’t want these photos to have been taken in vain.

Theres nothing like some young blood to bring new spirits to an old tradition. Instead of the sticky rice that most gave out, this girl had a basket full of oreos, bananas, and other treats.

Theres nothing like some young blood to bring new spirits to an old tradition. Instead of the sticky rice that most gave out, this girl was giving out oreos, bananas, and other treats.

8 Comments

  1. Mark Morano · May 25, 2014

    Keep moseying, Vin. I’m always excited to see your latest chapter of this amazing journey. Very proud of you.

  2. Diane · May 25, 2014

    Lovely photo of the woman in pink , give alms.

  3. Rocio · May 25, 2014

    You keep living and learning more over there. I can’t believe how long it’s been already! These pictures are beautiful!

  4. Erica · May 27, 2014

    To be fair to yourself, writing about your experience in the perspective you’ve taken will help other tourists to recognize their role and respect the Almsgiving for what it is meant to be. Just saying…

    Awesome shots, they don’t look too intrusive : )

    • VinnyMo · May 28, 2014

      Erica,

      I am glad you see it that way. I almost felt ashamed that I had a camera while it was going on so I hope is this gets spread around enough that even just one more person will respect their tradition.

  5. Camille - This American Girl · June 3, 2014

    Beautiful. I too went to watch and found the whole experience utterly bizarre. Thank you for opening people’s eyes to this sad manipulation a beautiful tradition. Looking forward to seeing your photos of India :)

    • VinnyMo · June 3, 2014

      Hey Camille!

      Thanks for checking out my blog. There will definitely be some photos from India coming soon, either here or on my tumblr (the link is at the bottom). Stay safe in Bangkok 😉

      -Vinny

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