For My Friends Who Have Lost Loved Ones to COVID: Calling the Soul

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Friends across the globe from all the stages of my life have lost parents, spouses, family members and loved ones to COVID. I have been thinking alot about the ways we are all tied to one another in joy, in grief, in loss, in trying to live together and ease one another’s pain. Here is a story about how a very different culture keeps people they care about literally connected to one another, in a ceremony that creates unity and restores harmony to both the individual and the community. For some reason this post has gotten a lot of views recently. I wrote the essay after several trips to Laos. May it offer some comfort and peace. — Jadi

Note the white cotton threads

When we visit the temples in Laos, we often see monks tying special white cotton strings to the wrist of a person’s right hand. Sometimes the monk ties connecting strings to whole groups of people. What are the strings, and what is their significance? The answer, it turns out, varies in the different regions of Laos (as well as the Sipsong Panna autonomous prefecture of the Tai Lü in the extreme south of Yunnan, China, and Northern and Isan Thai cultures). And the meaning depends on time and place….

Full moon Vientiane, Laos

The strings are tied in the Baci ceremony, and their significance depends on the occasion. Take weddings, for instance. According to an old Laotian legend, the cotton threads are tied to ensure a happy marriage. We each have a tree in the heavenly garden, and that tree has branches intertwined with your predestined partner. When our trees come to this earthly existence, the cotton threads binding them are cut and we’re born separated and alone. If you can find your soul mate again after searching for him or her, at your marriage you are rejoined by retying the thread.

In Laos threads are also tied on newborn babies and their mothers [1] or on people going home or departing from home, which explained the many men, women, and children wearing these bracelets we saw at airports. The ceremony is performed for specific life events: success, health (both for the cured and the sick), and annual festivals like the sacred Wax Castle Procession in Vientiane. We witnessed a high number of Baci ceremonies during that time. [2]

The ceremony is done after a death, too, to bring back any wandering  missing spirits and reinforce the harmony of the surviving family members.

The entire ceremony is rich is symbolism. The white color means purity, and the strings are believed to bind the 32 kwan, organs or parts to the soul, to prevent them from wandering away. The Baci ceremony is also known by the term su kwan, “calling of the soul”. [3] When kwan wander away from your body, this creates an imbalance in the soul that may lead to illness and bad luck.

Foundation stones are honored

The ceremonies take place in Buddhist temples, but kwan and the Baci ceremony predate Buddhism. [4] I’ve had strings tied to my right wrist in Buddhist and Hindu temples from Laos to India, but have never taken part in a Baci ceremony. Regardless, the white bracelet should be worn for at least three days. Then the threads can be unknotted or allowed to fall off on their own, but should never be cut.

Dedicated to my friends who have lost loved ones to the pandemic

NOTES: [1] A Baci ceremony for new mothers and their babies is performed to welcome the baby, and to recall any kwan that may have wandered away from the mother during the birth. [2] The Wax Castle Procession falls on an especially auspicious lunar calendar date: the full moon of the seventh lunar month. [3] Concept of Kwan: Kwan are components of the soul but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”. – Pom Outama Khampradith, Bounheng Inversin, and Tiao Nithakhong Somsanith, writing for Lao Heritage Foundation. P.S: Baci in Italian means kisses, and it’s also an awesome chocolate candy that contains a whole hazelnut at the center.

©Jadi Campbell 2018. Previously published as Laos White String Bracelets: The Baci Ceremony. All photos ©Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to  viewpics.de.

To learn more about kwan and the Baci ceremony: Laos-guide-999, Baci, UNESCO

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was a 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies for the American Book Fest. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the 2020 International Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts. 

Robert Porter McKimson Senior, Foghorn Leghorn + The Year of the Rooster

To my readers: Welcome to the first post in my new blog thread: A Person + Place/Time/Thing. Head over to jadicampbell.com for even more posts.

Robert McKimson was born October 13, 1910 in Denver, Colorado. He worked for Disney for a while, but is best known for animating and directing Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros. Cartoons. He was a contemporary of Chuck Jones.

According to his son in the wonderful short documentary Drawn to Life: The Art of Robert McKimson, McKimson suffered a concussion in an accident. When he recovered, the concussion had improved his powers of visualization, and he became an even faster and better animator.

Robert McKimson created and/or  directed shorts with a stellar list of cartoon stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Bugs Bunny. He also created the Tasmanian Devil. He also created Speedy Gonzales. And, if they weren’t enough, he also created the indomitable Foghorn Leghorn, an oversized rooster with an oversized voice and accent.

As a kid I got such a kick out of Foghorn Leghorn. He was loud, blustering, and incredibly funny (I admit that I still think all these things as an adult, too!).

A few years ago I went to check out the Wong Tai Sin Temple in China’s New Territories. It’s dedicated to the gods of medicine, but upon entering the temple grounds I was met by statues that were oversized animals of the Chinese zodiac including – you guessed it – Foghorn Leghorn’s Asian brother.

In honor of Robert McKimson and his larger-than-life rooster, (“Well I say there, boy! I say!”) I am reprinting the post I wrote describing the statues. – Jadi

I spent a few weeks north of Hong Kong in the New Territories. The transportation system is easy and each day I went exploring. I’d read up, select yet another fascinating place to discover, and off I’d go.

Entering the temple at Wong Tai Sin
Entering the temple at Wong Tai Sin

As a massage therapist I went to pay my respects to Sun Si-miao Zhen Ren, Perfected Master and god of Chinese Medicine. Taoists honor him as a god of healing. Even today, the ill and infirm (or people wishing to stay healthy) visit his temple to make offerings.

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So I headed to Wong Tai Sin Temple. Inside, I was met by wonderful bronze statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac!

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I managed to photograph all but the ox and dog.

Horse
Horse
Rat
Rat
Rabbit
Rabbit
Snake
Snake
Goat
Goat
Monkey
Monkey
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Tiger
Pig

Pig

Dragon
Dragon
And there he was: Foghorn Leghorn!!
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The temple is just outside a metro stop, smack dab in an urban area. Who would have suspected that Foghorn Leghorn resides there?

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In memory of Robert McKimson, 13 October 1910 – 29 September 1977

Foghorn Leghorn.png
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

NOTES: © 2015 & 2021 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as Adventures in China’s New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine. Photos © Jadi Campbell or Uwe Hartmann. More of Uwe’s images from our earlier trips to China and Hong Kong and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was a 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Adventures in China’s New Territories 1: Ten Thousand Buddhas

On the path

Pam on the path

My sister Pam is a teacher for international schools. For the last three years she’s been located in the Hong Kong area. It’s a great place to visit: the languages are Cantonese and English, the transportation system is so simple that anyone can feel clever using it, and contrasts between modernity and tradition are everywhere you look.

Pam and her family live in the New Territories. This part of China is on the mainland north of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is the most densely and vertically populated city on the planet, the New Territories are still relatively quiet. The landscape consists of steep, lush jungle peaks that end in bays and inlets.

Hong Kong Island

The vertical density of Hong Kong

The view from my sister's apartment in China's New Territories

The view from their apartment near Sai Kung

The region is growing, and changing fast. On the bus from the apartment we pass villages on hillsides or tucked into hamlets and harbors. Several floating villages of traditional houseboats are minutes away. And then the high rises suddenly appear, row after row after row.

There are lots more that look just like these

There are lots more that look just like these

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So did you hear the one where the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest, and the Jewish rabbi enter a temple…

It’s not far to Man Fat Tsz, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. It was founded by the devout layman Venerable Yuexi (the Chinese月溪法師; pinyin: yuè xī). Building began in 1949 as Yuexi and his disciples carried everything up from the foot of the mountain. For eighteen years they constructed the buildings – and 12,800 Buddha statues.

IMG_6471You head up through a bamboo forest and statues line both sides of the path to the monastery. IMG_6442There are roughly 500 Arhan [1] statues in plastic, painted gold. Each one is unique. IMG_6462IMG_6445IMG_6464IMG_6465IMG_6449IMG_6461

Their expressions represent the experience of enlightenment. Other statues await once you reach the summit. (Click on any of the thumbnail photos for a closer look.)

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I felt like I was in a tacky Buddhist Disneyland until I got to the top and entered the main temple. Before the altar is a glass case, and it contains Venerable Yuexi’s preserved body! His body (still perfectly intact) was exhumed eight months after his April 24, 1965 death. Yuexi was next embalmed with Chinese lacquer, his head and face covered in gold leaf. The Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi’s robed corpse sits in the lotus position. I was oddly moved by his preserved body: with the sight, I had a glimpse of religious truth. [2]

IMG_6492IMG_6546IMG_6545IMG_6551That feeling became surreal as we headed back to the bus stop.

This pagoda appears on the HK$100 banknote

This pagoda appeared on Hong Kong’s $100 banknotes

IMG_6516IMG_6504We climbed down a different set of steps past my least favorite creatures: wild monkeys.

IMG_6574And from the meditative hillside of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we neared and then entered the shopping mall complex at Sha Tin.

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Sha Tin shopping mall

Sha Tin shopping mall

As I say, the New Territories has both the traditional and the modern. They all line the same path.

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NOTES: [1] To quote Wikipedia, “…in Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat (Sanskrit: अर्हत् arhat; Pali: arahant; “one who is worthy”) is a “perfected person” who has attained nirvana. In other Buddhist traditions the term has also been used for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment.”

[2] Taking pictures inside the temple is not allowed.

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the images. Uwe’s photos of our earlier trips to Hong Kong and mainland China and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.