Wednesday, October 30, 2013

RAINING ON THE RED PRINCE

I'll have a Coca- cola to go... in a bag??
A double rainbow, what a rare sight. Having just left my guesthouse, I’ve stepped out into the quiet afternoon streets of Luang Prabang, Laos. I’ve seen the colorful phenomena of twin arches only a few times in my life. I feel a good day ahead of me; I turn and head towards the Mekong River. 

On my way, the precipitation that brought the rainbows returns, and the clouds loosen into a steady rain. I quicken my steps, and take shelter in a small roadside drink stand. It’s not much; tables and benches are made of scrap lumber. But it’s dry inside, and with the rain turning into a deluge, I stay for a while. I’m not that worried about the downpour; most monsoon showers don’t last very long. Besides, I prefer the rainy season here in Luang Prabang. In the dry season, the air here is terrible. Since local farmers still practice slash and burn agriculture, the air becomes filled with acrid smoke from burnt brush, with the skies always hazy. I’ll take the rainy season, thank you. 

The lady vendor in this drink stand doesn’t speak English, but I make do with hand motions and order a soda. Reaching into an ice cooler, she removes a glass bottle of cola. But instead of handing it to me, she opens it and pours the contents into a clear plastic bag! After inserting a straw, she seals the bag's top with a rubber band. 

I had forgotten about this little ritual. This is the usual Southeast Asian manner of dispensing a soda to go. By doing it this way, she keeps the glass bottle to return for deposit. 

A tribute to the 'Red Prince' on his 100th birthday... but where are the crowds??
Soon the rain relents, and I resume my walk along Luang Prabang’s red brick sidewalks. Despite wet streets, this is a great place for a stroll. The scenic town has well preserved French villas, friendly folks, and a laid back lifestyle. As the former capital, it retains some of the old allure that the rest of Southeast Asia has lost.

While wandering the streets, I chance upon a statue and park dedicated to President Souphanouvong, a.k.a. the 'Red Prince'. It’s a new looking park, and it appears that I’ve just missed some kind of public event. There are fresh flowers and colorful ribbons strung about everywhere. Perhaps the rain chased everyone away. 

An impressive display of old photographs depicts Souphanouvong’s career as a communist. A new billboard bears the likeness of the former Prez, and lists his birthday, which is today. He died years ago but by coincidence, I found his memorial park on what would have been the Red Prince’s 100th birthday.
The ex - President, with frozen applause

That explains all the decorations. I have arrived here just after an official government ceremony commemorating his birth. I look up at his brown likeness, and it’s an odd pose for a statue. The Red Prince seems to be frozen in the midst of applauding. Yet he applauds alone. On his centennial anniversary, I am now the only person in the entire memorial park. If his well wishers left due to the rain, nobody has returned. 

Government officials were here for the ceremony, but with their departure, there are no other Laotians here paying tribute to his memory, fans or otherwise.

I saw far more people visiting the royal palace of his cousin, the king, that Souphanouvong had helped his communist comrades to depose. Apparently people have a lot more interest in old kings, than they do in old communists. 

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