Happy New Year 2551

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VANG VIENG, LAO PDR — Happy Buddhist/Lunar New Year 2551.

Festivities kicked off in Vang Vieng last night with the ‘Miss Vang Vieng’ beauty pageant, hosted in an irony-free zone by the district branch of the Lao Women’s Union.

Miss Vang Vieng 2The pageant got off to a late start due to several power failures, the venue the yard of the village Meeting Hall, plastic tables and chairs arranged in groups on the ground in front of a stage, and beer flowing courtesy of Beer Lao Company.

I joined our hosts and friends, Rachel and Somphanh, and their family and staff to support Sone, the receptionist at their hotel The Elephant Crossing. Sone was representing Ban Vang Vieng — coincidentally also the district governor’s home village.

The Elephant Crossing sponsored Sone, who was made up to the nines, hair pulled into a cone-shaped bun that added 15 cm to her height and wrapped in gold beads. She wore a royal blue and gold sinh (traditional wrap-around skirt), gold shoulderless top and heavily embossed pha biang sash to match. She looked like a Lao bride. Or maybe Lao brides are made up to look like beauty queens…

She was attended by her katoey hairdresser/beautician, who looked so pretty, I thought he should have been up there on the stage, too.

An interpreter helpfully explained that the girls were judged in several categories: beauty, walking, talking and character. They were given a list of questions — and the answers — to memorise for the show. This being Laos, there were no bonus points for improvisation.

Each girl was introduced in term by name, village and sponsor, her height and ‘proportions’ read out loud in Lao and English (’32, 28, 35′) as she curtsied, gave a wai, walked the stage and introduced herself.

Sone, who was number 4, made an impressively deep and graceful curtsy but didn’t do so well with the speech-making, stumbling on the words and thanking the Lao Women’s Union for choosing her to be Miss Vang Vieng instead of a candidate.

In the end she came sixth in a field of eight, which at least means she gets to ride the float in today’s parade. The poor girl who came in eighth got bumped altogether.

The winner, for the record, was number 5 (Rachel’s mum and I had her pegged to win) wearing hot pink and silver, and representing Huay Sanao village, whose candidate also won in 2550 — coincidentally also the village of the head of the Vang Vieng Lao Women’s Union.

When the winner rides the float in today’s New Year parade, she will be maintaining a centuries’ old tradition in which a young local beauty is offered to a mythical man-bird creature as his daughter to ensure luck and prosperity in the new year. The float she rides is in the shape of this creature.

I’m not normally a fan of beauty pageants, but given this is probably a benign form of an ancient practice involving human sacrifice, in this case, I’ll make an exception.

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One Response to “Happy New Year 2551”

  1. Happy New Year 2551, part 2 « Oh, the places you’ll go! Says:

    […] Oh, the places you’ll go! The adventures of Tash, Ang & Roo « Happy New Year 2551 […]

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