The Ruins of Vientiane

by austin sundara

THE POWERHOUSE OF INDOCHINA

Vientiane is a city in present day Laos - a small, communist, landlocked nation in Southeast Asia. Around 430-120 B.C. , Vientiane was founded as a small fishing village. Its original name was Ban Nong Khanthae Phiseuanam. The village changed its name to Vientiane a few years later, meaning "sandalwood" in Sanskrit. In 1560, King Saysettha moved the capital of Lan Xang (which occupied the area of present day Laos and Northeast Thailand) from Luang Prabang to VIentiane. A new palace was built, and the city flourished as it became a place for Buddhist monks to study.
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Pha That Luang Stupa

THE SMELL OF SMOKE [POEM]

As soldiers ran around the streets,

me and mother hid under the sheets.

The smell of smoke entered my lungs,

"Kill them all!" the Siamese sung.

Mother was now on her knees,

wondering where Father could be.

Sister was a maid at the court,

brother was a soldier at the fort.

One by one the houses burned down,

throats were slit all over the town.

Mother grabbed my hand and ran,

telling me to run like a man.

Tripping and falling on our way to the dock,

Mother slipped and hit her head on a rock.

A soldier had threw me to the ground,

Spinning my head round and round.

A boat had crossed us over the river,

the soldiers ripped off all our gold and silver.

At the Capital we were thrown in the streets,

being told to build a canal as our treat.

When we look back towards our old kingdom,

the more we want to have freedom.

Vientiane was the place we adored,

until the Siamese burned it down and took us aboard.

Our bodies were weak and our throats went dry,

one by one everyone started to die.

The smell of smoke entered my lungs,

"Kill them all!" the Siamese sung.

FATHER MARINI AND LERIA [JOURNAL ENTRIES]

Father Marini and Leria were Italian missionaries who lived in VIentiane from 1642-1647. Marini's most notable accounts of the city describe the palace, its walls, and its temples.


October 8th, 1642 - Leria and I arrived at the city's dock around noon. The sun was still high in the sky, shining on the Mekong RIver. When we arrived at the dock, officials of the city had already been waiting for us. They greeted us, welcoming us to the city. The riverbanks of this area were sloped, with stairways and walkways leading up to the center. From where I was standing, the palace was huge. Its spire was erected high into the skies, and its roof was layered with many golden decorations. We headed up the stairs and stayed at an official's house - whose house was tall and decorated with golden carvings.


October 9th, 1642 - We woke up to the sounds of the morning bell. People lined up the streets in front of Wat Sisaket - a Buddhist temple located right across our stay. The servants of the official provided us with wooden tools - maybe for bathing? The officials have already told the palace about our arrival, saying that we will soon be staying in the palace. The rest of the day, Leria and I explored the riverbanks - filled with many exotic plants and animals.


October 10th, 1642 - Leria and I went around the city to explore its structures. There were about 80 temples - and many famous structures such as the Pha Tha Luang. On one side of the city is a deep and wild canal - with a very high wall surround the area. On the other side is the palace - located right behind the riverbank. Houses of the ordinary people are more like huts - roofed with thatch. The houses of the nobility were tall and had beautiful carvings - a symbol of status. We went back to the house around sunset and ate a meat salad with sticky rice - how delicious.


October 17, 1642 - The palace has finally noticed our arrival, and the nobles of the court came to visit us. We discussed with them our ideas, our religion, our mission - but they just shook their heads and left. We packed our clothing and headed for the palace. We arrived at the main gate of the palace and entered. It was a humongous building! The courtyard, located in the front of the palace, was wide with houses lined up on the sides. These were the houses of the servants and nobles. The king's house has a carved gate with a beautiful ornamental design, his soldiers perched right in front of the gates. Some servants had directed us to our stay - a house in the courtyard. Inside it provided a lot of space, and two beds on the floor. At night, servants arrived at our door and provided us with food cooked freshly from the palace kitchen.


October 30th, 1642 - When we woke up, servants arrived at our door and stated that the annual Boat Racing Festival is today. Why didn't we know earlier? I'm not sure, but we dressed nicely and headed to the riverbank. There, traditional music was played while many people danced around. Long boats were already in the water, and stalls were set up - selling fruits and rice. For a few hours, we watched many boats race each other - the winner was a team filled with all nobles wearing gold-colored clothing. We went back home just in time to eat dinner, and before we went to bed, our neighbor next door told us about the Burmese raid in northern cities of the kingdom. In the south, SIamese soldiers had already taken over small villages. I wonder if the next raid will happen here...