Laos and Vietnam tour, Feb. and March 2016

I saw this in a remote village called Muang Ngoi: there is no shortage of such reminders After celebrating Chinese New Year with our son and daughter-in-law's extended family in Malaysia, my wife and I headed north to Laos - a journey filled with stories.

The first story we were struck by in Laos was, given their unenviable record of being per capita the most heavily bombed country in the history of warfare (how much do you know about the CIA's "secret war"?), not only how friendly the Lao people are, but also how remarkably unresentful they seem to western visitors.
We had the good fortune to stay with Mike Boddington, founder of COPE, an NGO dedicated to providing prosthetic limbs for the victims of bombing and the still-present unexploded ordnance. (It is estimated that it will take over 100 years to remove these.) Mike's fund of stories and knowledge about Laos was an excellent starting point for our trip.

Mike also sent me this link to a collection of stories Plants, Animals, Salt and Spirits: How people live with and talk about the environment in rural Cambodia, Laos and Thailand

Sikeud primary school In Vientiane I had been invited by the Angels for Children project to tell in their schools in Ban Sikeud, Vientiane.

Here some of the primary children enthusiastically listening to a story.

American Center teenagers The American Center in Vientiane also had a group of young teenagers who enjoyed some stories.

Keen listeners The following day was telling to more attentive teenagers in the Sunshine School.

Garavek info board After the rapid economic development of Vientiane, the tranquility of Luang Prabang, the old royal capital, was an oasis of peace - and one which again began with storytelling. On our first evening we discovered Garavek, a small theatre with an hour-long programme of Loa folk tales, told in English and accompanied by the khene.
One story was about Xieng Mieng, a Lao trickster whose exploits show that tricksters are truly universal.

The next day we climbed Mount Phusi, the setting of one of the tales - and saw their notice board.
Good to see storytellers know how to advertise!

Fourth International Storyteling Festival, 2016

From Laos we travelled to Vietnam where I joined the Fourth International Storytelling Festival, organised by the indefatigable Dr. Wajuppa Tossa.
This was the first time the festival had taken place in Vietnam, hosted for two days at the university in Ho Chi Minh City and a further two days at the Education University in Hue.

It was a fascinating opportunity not only to see such a variety of storytelling styles, but also the persistence of propaganda stories (this was not the only time I had the privilege of having Ho Chi Minh listening over my shoulder).

Below are a few photos reflecting some of that variety and showing some of the performers.

Wajuppa Tossa Wajuppa Tossa (left) performing with other Thai storytellers.

Margaret Read Macdonald Margaret Reed Macdonald, who has done much to bring the festival into being.

Kiran Shah Kiran Shah, from Singapore and Australia.

Deepa Kiran Deepa Kiran, from Hyderabad.

Jeeva Raghunath Jeeva Raghunath, from Chennai.

Giovanna Conforto Giovanna Conforto (left), from Rome - ably supported by her interpreter.

Hans Laurents Hans Laurens, from Copenhagen.

Ng Kok Keong, from Kular Lumpur.

Ho Chi Minh as Santa Claus Amongst the curiousities we were treated to was this well-rehearsed version, delivered with great and official sincerity, of the Santa Claus story, with Ho Chi Minh in the leading role.

Telling in a Hue school Unfortunately the opportunity for us to work in school classrooms was not part of the official plan.

However, when the planned performance to the entire student body of a local primary school descended into the precictable chaos, we managed to persuade the officials present that the remaining hour would be much better spent with the individual tellers going unsupervised from classroom to classroom.

This was something the children really enjoyed - as did my interpreter and I.