Feeling the Flow in Luang Prabang, Laos

With just hours to go before leaving Luang Prabang, I sit down to sketch beneath the awning of a sidewalk café. My subject is a temple, one which a local woman tells me is called Wat Thoung Sad. It has a layered roof, each square section slightly curved and fitted neatly into the next, and a few towering coconut trees beside it.

Almost instantly, I can tell the temple on the page will be what I hope to portray of the temple before me. It’s difficult to say how I know this – rather, it’s something you can feel: this thing called flow. Every line takes on a life of its own, and yet magically connects to every other line. For once, each curved edge of the roof, each individual vein of a banana leaf, comes out exactly as I’d pictured it – and more so.

Then, in the chatter of tourists behind me, I hear “arigato gozaimasu.” It has been only five days since I last heard the phrase, and even spoke it myself – Japanese for “thank you very much” – but here in Laos, which I reached via Bangkok, it feels like it belongs to a different journey altogether.

I turn around and see four Japanese friends ready to leave.

Konnichiwa,” I say to them. “I’ve just been sketching your country!”

They are from various parts of Japan – Kyoto, Chiba, cities in the far north I’ve never heard of – and I’m delighted to flip back a few pages and share my sketches with them: scenes from Tokyo, Kōyasan, and Shodoshima Island.

As they say goodbye, I reach back into my brain and pull back one last phrase from Japan, my favorite: “Hajimemashite,” the equivalent for “It’s nice to meet you,” used when meeting someone for the first time.

To feel the flow of this sketch was more than enough today – but to feel a sense of flow between each part of my journey only increases my gratitude in Luang Prabang.

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at don@geoex.com.

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