My office recently had a going away ritual for Leslie, our overall manager of country operations and Michael, our new CEO. This same ritual is done for anyone who is leaving on a long trip. It’s also done in the local culture all the time for other important events. It basically symbolizes good luck in the future.
Or at least that’s how it’s “culturally” explained. Maybe some people put a big emphasis on that, but for me and many others, it’s mostly just a big party with all of your closest friends in the same room.
I’m not sure how these things for for other people in Laos, but for our office, no matter the circumstance, there seems to be a strong pattern. It also rings true for all the weddings, school openings, and baby parties I’ve been to outside of our office. I think of it as the Lao version of a house party.
First, everyone waits around on the outer edges of the room as people slowly set up for the ritual part. There’s usually a thing of atrociously fake plastic flowers in the middle of a small round stand, which is all on a large siting mat. Then about 30 minutes past the agreed starting time, everyone’s ready and the people receiving the blessing put a scarf shaped piece of really nice silk material diagonally around their body. We go through the chanting, everyone tries to stay awake, and then after a few minutes everyone gets up to tie white strings around the people’s wrists who are receiving the blessing. A blessing is said when the string is tied. Then some more chanting, before finally the main orchestrator, which is just basically anyone who knows the Pali language part of the ritual, gives the newly blessed people some chicken, rice, local sweets, and a glass of beer. Boom, 20 minutes and it’s all over.
Now people quickly clear away the crap on the floor in the way of us really starting the party.
Long tables are set up and everyone pitches in to bring food evenly spread out along the table. The goal is that everyone will be in reach of every different kind of dish. Yeah, it gets quite crowded.
Our coworkers made all the food this time. Sometimes we order the food, but it’s no where near as good as when they make it. Everyone’s a chef it seems. The white styrofoam has sticky rice packed inside. I’m not sure who started the fad of the styrofoam, but it seems to be popular at all the parties I’ve seen. The ceranwrap is to keep bugs off the food. That make sense to me at a wedding where there are hundreds of people and some tables might not be occupied for a few hours. Im not sure it’s much more than a deterrent for people starting to eat when used at these small gatherings. Then of course there’s the finishing touches of the toilet paper sitting next to your dinner. Hey, sometimes the food is so good people might want to ignore the call of nature… Probably a bad joke before eating food, but I can’t help it, that’s what they get for leading my mind in that direction.In the flurry of all this, some people have also set up a keyboard, guitar, and a speaker on loud with the knob to increase echo stuck on max. Literally stuck, whenever I turn it down so we can actually understand what they’re saying, it’s almost instantly turned back up. The same is done for speeches.
Everyone digs in and the room is the quietest it will be all night. Even the band is eating, so they just put on a loop of the most basic computerized music you could imagine. People are so occupied, the beer is still in the case, which is quite the statement here.
As people stuff the last amounts of food that could possibly fit in their stomachs, there’s a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. Some people start to get up and visit other tables and give cheers to make sure everyone has had their quota of beer.
The gradual change then becomes like the flip of a switch when those bowls with the beer on top is brought out. It signifies the start of the band, loud voices, and most of the people getting out of their seats. It’s also the start of a very fun and somewhat disturbing Lao drinking game.
Then the top is taken off and a skinless chicken head is left there with its beak pointing in a direction. Who ever it points at has to drink a beer and then shake the chicken head to find the next victim.
After the first few times the yelling precedes the chicken heads victim chugging their beer, almost everyone in the room has roamed over to get in on the action. Some are clapping to the, now very loud, music and others are intent on keeping the game and the energy going.
Now everyone’s really into it. Whenever the chicken head is revealed people will scream and make sure everyone knows who the victim is. Sometimes it gets close, so these judges are important the the integrity of the chicken head.
I try to get up close to get another shot of the chicken head and its revealed to be pointing at me! Well, too bad I’m taking two different kinds of antibiotics and loads of Advil. I like my kidneys the way they are thank you.
The chicken head game peaks in excient as Leslie starts to shake the head. It’s pointing at Lanoy down there and everyone goes absolutely wild. They have a fun relationship nah up where they tease each other a lot, so it just adds to everything.
Of course for dancing. Some grabs the microphone and starts calling people up to start the first round. All danced are done in rounds with the start and end to each song. The men form a circle on the inside, facing out. The women form one on the outside, facing in. People pair up and give a respectful now to eachother before starting. Then everyone one goes around in the circle and moves their hands in a sort of circle formation, while gently bouncing their bodies. The hand movement are very intricate and something I will never fully understand. Even some Lao people are very bad at doing it. It’s beautiful to see some of the women who has perfected the art.
The dancing continues and then begins to slow down. As expert partiers the Lao people are, they then switch up the dancing style. Now only a few people go to the center of the room and start what I can only partially relate to line dancing. There are a few basic moves that everyone lines up to do. Then more people join as they build confidence. I don’t have any pictures of this part because I was dancing in all the different kinds of those dances. They’re really a blast. Then I find someone to take me home early because my ear is hurting beyond the point where I can still concentrate and enjoy myself.
I get one more picture on the way out as the rest of the party is beginning to slow finally.