A Hill Tribe Rice Festival

One of the activities planned for today is a visit to a local school, but – being that it is Saturday – Chris has had to change her plan slightly. We are still going to the school, but instead of seeing how children are taught, we are going to observe a local festival.

When we arrive there are lots of beautifully dressed people milling about. Children are playing on the soccer field and in the yard and almost everyone is dressed in brightly colored traditional clothing. Chris tells us that the local hill tribes have joined together here today to celebrate the beginning of the rice harvest.

At the building’s entry, Chris has a hurried conversation with the elaborately dressed ticket takers and soon we are inside.

The sides of this covered structure are open, so the room is dark, yet airy. The interior is lined with tables like those in any school cafeteria back home.

A stage has been set up in the front of the room and the MC introduces a young woman who performs what appears to be a Thai version of a traditional Persian dance.

It is an odd juxtaposition, but that seems fitting. We are the only Caucasians here and the brightly colored costumes and the strangeness of the language create a profound sense of dislocation. At the same time, the setting seems comfortable and familiar – it reminds me of the scores of events I’ve attended in various school cafeterias over the years. It looks different, but the feeling is familiar.

Actually, in a lot of ways, it doesn’t really look that different. This could almost be a school in St. Paul, where many of the students are Hmong and dress in these same costumes on special occasions. Some of these people may actually have relatives in St. Paul!

Most of the tables are filled when we enter, so we are ushered toward the front, where there is an empty table off to the side. While this doesn’t provide a good view of the stage, it is an excellent vantage point for watching the crowd.

The focal point of the festival is a meal featuring the first of the new rice and very soon the food begins to be served.

Chris’ timing was not good. While those holding this festival seem pleased to have us join them for this celebratory meal, Chris insists we must not eat here and frets over the boats waiting to take us further up the river.

My vote would be to skip whatever else is scheduled and stay here. This is awesome.

Instead, Chris apologizes to the festival organizers and (I hope) thanks them profusely for their hospitality before leading us away.

People seem understanding, but I feel bad about it. It seems impolite to leave now.

Back in the boats, we travel a short distance to a park with hot springs. Although a few in our group are amused by the locals who dip their eggs into the sulfurous spring to cook them, I find the hot springs to be a total bore. I love Yellowstone http://www.nps.gov/yell – why would I want to stand in the hot sun here to look at a hot little concrete-encircled pool?

We definitely should have stayed at the festival.

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