Jhai Coffee Round Two & Monk Madness

November 16 – November 17, 2013
Paksong, Laos

I’m not a firm believer in fate, but our chance meeting in the remote town of Paksong left us both in awe; we had met two of the most genuine, fun & passionate people that were living our dream…ours! And further yet they had invited us to share a special moment with them. And we emphatically accepted.

A week had passed since we met Tyson & Janelle and here we were on motorcycles cruising off to meet them. Tomorrow is their grand opening (Jhai Coffee House), but when we pulled up the shop was in complete chaos, not to mention they weren’t even there. We drove back to our old guesthouse, booked a room, played with same ol’ dogs, and grabbed a bite to eat at a familiar restaurant. To our dismay, the owners, whom we shared such a fun chance meeting during our last visit, did not recognize us – even after we called their pets by name.

We left the bike at the guesthouse and headed back to the coffee shop to lend a hand. We crept up the driveway and hid behind a beam to surprise them.

“No way! You guys made it”
As you can see they saw us.

“It’s all we have been thinking about.” We said. Which was sort of true…technically other thoughts had popped into our heads.

“Ahh that’s so great. Did you just get here?”

“Yeah, we just rented a bike and dropped it off at our guesthouse. But yah we came here just to see you two, and to help obviously, so if there is anything you need that’s what we are here for – so put us to work.”

As we were talking people moved around the house like a stream of ants coming and going; some were carrying frames, some chair legs, some beams, some had jigsaws, some had pots and pans, and everyone in between had baskets of food.

Sammy got comfy

Sammy got comfy

“It’s crazy in here. I cant believe we are having a party here tomorrow. Are you guys sticking around?”

“Oh totally…we’re pumped”

“Ok great, there is going to be so much drinking and partying…supposedly there is going to be 150 people. And in the morning we are having 5 monks come to bless the place. That’s what all these women are here for. They are going to be here all night cooking and creating offerings for the monks.”

“Really? That’s amazing. But we know you two must be busy so how can we help?”

Tyson put us to work setting up a chill area on the upstairs balcony with rugs, Thai pillows and wicker tables, while Janelle had us strategically placing plants around the grounds. Afterwards, Katie and I traced the dimensions of a wall map onto a sheet of plywood. After we cut out the piece we glued it and worked on fixing it to the wall.

They had to leave to invite the president of the coffee corporation to the grand opening so we took that time head to our room to pick up a congratulatory bottle of Canadian Club to celebrate their grand opening.

SAMSUNG CSC

On the walk we found a mini carnival at full erection. A giant inflatable playground two

We bought some perfume off these fun ladies

We bought some perfume off these fun ladies

stories high was laden with screaming children sliding down rainbow tubes, plastic guns were cocked, aimed, rifled at balloons with vigor, children operated hand-sized remote controlled racecars that rounded a figure eight track and crashed into walls; all while adults manned the stations and set up tables and drank beer until the table tops were decorated with a mass of empties. A full moon hung above it all like a flickering candle.

Angry Bird shaped crab meat!? Alrighty...

Angry Bird shaped crab meat!? Alrighty…

We got back to the coffee shop to see that it was brewing with grandmothers and rich aroma of something fishy. Inside the women had set up an arts station. On the floor laid

Yep....*ick!*

Yep….*ick!*

strewn banana leaves while the women were weaving them into creative offerings. I sat down beside the three women and motioned if I could help. One woman took interest and showed me how she rolled the leaf, first folding the corner in, and then rolling over it in a circular motion from one side of the leaf to the other holding firmly so it creates a long thin tube, which she then ties with a strip of the vein of the plant. It took me three or four tries to get one that she accepted. But I think she was just humoring me.

Katie helping!

Katie helping!

Out back a group of hunched over women whacked, scaled and chopped fish for soup; boiled, plucked and fried chicken in giant vats; and sat around drinking and laughing intermittently. In the kitchen salads and rice and more soups were made and all the time wafting aromas tickled our noses, and not always pleasantly.

Cooking in full swing!

Cooking in full swing!

The monks were supposed to arrive at 7am so we took our leave as the women started snuggling into makeshift beds they created with blankets they had brought from home.

The next morning we returned to the shop at 6:30am as the bustle continued. More women were piling in and all the offerings had been erected and decorated with little orange flowers and money pinched between slits in the leaves. Heaving bags of treats lied

Almsgiving goodies!

Almsgiving goodies!

everywhere like the morning after Halloween; Nescafe instant coffee packets, muffins, toilet paper, packaged cakes, shrimp chips, bags of rice, apples, sweets, and bottles of water were some of the offerings, along with a packet of cigarettes and lighters adorned on each table set in front of five seats laid for the monks to sit. These monks couldn’t imagine how spoiled they were about to become.

We ordered two omelets from next door and waited for the monks who showed up fashionably late, with one hanging onto the back of a pickup. We started the service off as the men left to go kneel and chant with the five monks outside. Upon returning we sat behind our giant shiny bowls of offerings that had been filled for us by the women. I purchased muffins from across the street, but they were dwarfed by the immensity of treats towering out of my bowl. The men sat cross legged while the women sat with their knees facing the front, and everyone had a scarf-cum-shawl draped over their left shoulder.

The five monks walked into the room and took their seats as they began the process of being presented with offerings. A man knelt down before them with his hands holding a bowl and he began chanting while the room repeated. Tyson and Janelle along with Katie and I were positioned in front of the stage where the monks sat, each of us with our bowls bursting with treats. The slew of women who slaved all night preparing the meals and offering sat all around us, but the ones to our left guided us with how to sit, and how to drape our shawl, and handed us candles to light and really made us feel apart of the ceremony.

Monks blessing Jhai Coffee House

Monks blessing Jhai Coffee House

We went through a few waves of prayers before the monks began their own. The whole ceremony didn’t last very long, and we even stopped to watch the monks eat the food that

Lao women going to town cleaning up the platters that the monks feasted from

Lao women going to town cleaning up the platters that the monks feasted from

had been prepared. A giant platter was placed in front of each of them the size of bicycle tire, fit with bowls of sweat and tears from the night before. I could only imagine that the women beside us had their eyes glued to them each time they balled a clump of rice and dipped it before bringing it to their mouths. I was too enthralled by the event to pay full attention to them, but I’m sure they all felt extremely proud and more connected than ever.

When the monks finished eating the men stood up and brought their bowls of offerings outside to five even larger bowls. It was like a reverse buffet. We all lined up and divvied our bowls into the larger ones, until those two were over flowing. Then the women came

These women worked SO hard!

These women worked SO hard!

out and did the same. We all went back to sit down. And then we had a prayer over the water, as everyone slowly emptied a bottle of water into our now empty bowls. I was later told that the prayer over the water was the most symbolic prayer of the morning. If we blessed the food and forgot to bless the water, it would have been as though the food blessing didn’t matter at all – the water is the purveyor of life and thus the most important.

The prayers ended and the remaining ornamental offerings were brought to the monks -  each one of them received a money tree made from the banana leaves. After the ceremony I noticed a few of the trees strewn behind their seats, and each one had been plucked clean.

SAMSUNG CSC

Tyson and Janelle were brought up on stage to kneel in front of the oldest monk who took a short white string and ran it up and down their wrists whilst whispering a prayer and

Blessings & luck!

Blessings & luck!

fixing it to them. Then they moved to the next monk and they did the same. Then the next. After that a chain began and Katie and I joined in until everyone in the room had wrists full of white bracelets. The café, the coffee farmers & corporation, the women, and Katie and I had officially been blessed. The monks had done their job, and so they lit their cigarettes contempt as everyone mused about getting ready for a giant feast.

This little girl loved my camera

This little girl loved my camera

We ate rice and chicken and fish and soups and sauces all the while Thai music blared from three-foot speakers a few feet away from us. Drinks upon drinks were passed

Happiest of happy's! Congrats, guys :)

Happiest of happy’s! Congrats, guys :)

around; beer and whiskey and rum and everyone laughed and drank and danced the slow Thai dance which only involves the turning of wrists while walking with a slight hop around in circles. We were chosen a few times for being the only four foreign people around and everyone handed us glasses of booze in glorious cheers.

Laos dancing! We learned the sacred art of wrist swirls and head bobbing!

Laos dancing! We learned the sacred art of wrist swirls and head bobbing!

The time came when we had to leave. Katie and I had to catch a bus at seven that evening heading back to the capital Vientiane. A fun twelve hour sleeping bus that we were all too excited about.

BUT! We couldn't leave before Tyson sang "Thrift Shop" hahaha yesss!

BUT! We couldn’t leave before Tyson sang “Thrift Shop” hahaha yesss!

We went around saying our goodbyes to all the people we had met. We saved Tyson and Janelle for last. It was as if we had known them forever. And our goodbye didn’t feel for a second that we would never see each other again. Their mission had brought us together and the ceremony had bonded us. We left with giant smiles and beaming hearts and nothing but ecstasy for our worlds colliding. Fate? Maybe, yah maybe it was. And maybe it will work its wonders again.

KT: Being a part of the monk blessing ceremony at Jhai Coffee House was surreal. We really got to immerse ourselves in Laos culture in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. I’m still wearing some of my “lucky” bracelets and feel so proud when a Laos or Thai person points at them and says “ohhhh lucky!”.
Also, Jhai Coffee House is open now! If you’re in Pakse or Paksong (or ANYWHERE in Laos…it’s worth the trip!) go on over and visit Tyson and Janelle. If you’re not in Laos but want to contribute to their amazing cause (and learn more about it), head over to their Facebook Page – Jhai Coffee House. They always have great things going on (from rescuing a chick, to making it possible for kids to attend school for the first time ever, to making it possible for coffee farmers to taste their OWN coffee for the first time ever, etc) and are really inspiring to follow. So check-check-check’em out :)

PEACE!

PEACE!

We went a little nutso & had a strange photo shoot. I'll spare you the rest of the pictures...

We went a little nutso & had a strange photo shoot. I’ll spare you the rest of the pictures…

Paksong: a Wonderful Twist of Fate

Pakse, Laos – Paksong, Laos
November 8 – November 9, 2013

We rented motorbikes to get out of the city and explore the region around us known as the Bolaven Plateau. A scenic drive that bypasses a handful of spectacular waterfalls, pineapple, banana, and exotic fruit stands, worn in homes with tin roofs, built stilts, and coffee trees on front lawns  all interwoven by people busying themselves at work or shouting sabaidee all laid back in hammocks.

Travel Laos waterfalls

Travel Laos waterfall 3

The first four waterfalls were exactly what they claimed to be, and in some wonderfully symbiotic way we had visited the falls just as tourists were leaving, and stayed just long enough to leave as a new set of tourists arrived.

Travel Laos waterfall pakse

Travel Laos KT Lou waterfall

The last waterfall was by far the golden child. With a ticket price of $2 that included Travel Laos KT waterfall edgeparking, it was also the steepest price. But if I were you, which I am at least for this vicarious minute, I would splurge. And so we did. The top of the falls is a perfect spot to hang out and have some sticky rice and tom yam fish soup. A coiling stream cuts through the emerald meadow all connected by bridges to the edge of the heartbeat-skipping falls. If the water is low, which it was, you can wade in the water and poke your head over the edge to get a glimpse of natures swimming pool.

Travel Laos Paksong huge waterfall

The views off the lip were hidden from the world. A spectacular find for the first explorers and preserved and built-up for people like me to be able to pay $2 to enjoy its beauty.

Travel Laos Pakse bike waterfall lou

The town of Paksong was only 10km ahead and we begrudgingly left the falls to find a guesthouse before sunset. It only took 10-15 minutes to get to the slow town of Paksong and you could almost drive right through if you blinked. OK maybe ten blinks. We passed

Puppies that followed us around one waterfall

Puppies that followed us around one waterfall

a few guesthouses but wanted to find one off the main road. Coming to a T in the road, I found a sign that read yadda yadda guesthouse and yadda yadda Korean restaurant. Well the guesthouse was laid back against a stream and if you know me there are two things I love; streams and Korean food. So we busted a left and followed the road over two bridges and ended up face to face with a woman who ran the guesthouse who said it was full and they also weren’t serving food. LET DOWN! We scoffed, turned our bikes around and luckily found two more guesthouse around the corner. Both peaceful and open and perfect for a night under the stars.

Brightest room ever? I think so

Brightest room ever? I think so

We were shown a room at the first guesthouse with pink candies, bears and presents for sheets, pillow cases and blinds, and then Katie ran over to the other to compare prices, but was also turned down for a room. So it looks like we know where we are staying tonight.

A kitty in one hand, a puppy in the other, and green curry in front of me!

A kitty in one hand, a puppy in the other, and green curry in front of me!

Across the street there was a restaurant and that’s where we found ourselves eating when two foreigners walked in and changed our night…perhaps our lives.
KT: But first about our dinner! The food itself was decent, but it was the owners that made

Hmmm

Hmmm

us love the joint. They were an incredibly friend duo who apparently also own a restaurant called Lao Lao Garden in Luang Prabang – where Louis & I had our date night! There are pictures of it here. They have a dog, Lucky, and a couple kitties (Mimi and I didn’t catch the other name). Lucky has a bunch of tricks up her paw, her most infamous one being the delivery of money from customer to her mom. Lucky is the first dog we’ve seen since leaving home that knows TRICKS! And Mimi comes when you call her. The husband offered us some of his home-made Lao Lao whiskey, which we had to be polite…but it was just awful. It was the colour of the Mekong and tasted like…well…how I imagine the mekong tastes, spiked with whiskey. Ok back to L’s story…

We had met the two people that we wanted to be. Two people that were living their dream (literally). Two people that crafted a dream that would not only affect their life but thousands, tens of thousands more. Tyson and Janelle, a wonderfully fun, conscious and energetic American couple that are a week away from the grand opening of their for-profit coffee shop that raises money for their non-profit organization spreading the education of health & sanitation and providing the resources for clean drinking water for remote villages.

Saying goodbye to Lucky, Mimi & the gang at Luang Prabang Restaurant! Yes, they were day drinking.

Saying goodbye to Lucky, Mimi & the gang at Luang Prabang Restaurant! Yes, they were day drinking.

I wish I could quote Tyson, with his energy and passion that flooded out of him as he proudly explained his undergoing project; about all the people onboard and all the new friends he’s met in Paksong, and about the cat they just rescued, and the two water wells they have already installed, and the video-plays they are going to display at schools to educate the children on sanitation, and connections and the beauty of it all. And in no way, not even once, did it come off as insincere, as if bragging about his path, but solely in a way where he is excited and explodes when he meets people, and his energy is infectious. If you are interested in knowing more please check them out on Facebook @ Jhai Coffee House.

If you're not already convinced that Janelle & Tyson are super rad - here is their rescued cat named My Favourite Sandwich (AKA Sammy)

If you’re not already convinced that Janelle & Tyson are super rad – here is their rescued cat named My Favourite Sandwich (AKA Sammy)

After dinner the four of us went for a walk to a little waterfall and laughed and laughed until it was 10 o’clock and past their bedtime. Walking out of the waterfall and onto a patch of grass Tyson spotted something.

“There are fireflies over there,” he says pointing, “don’t let them out of your sight!”

It was an odd comment, honest and worded in a way that only brought us all to tears. Minutes later we were all in awe with a shooting star that has blazed across the sky after we stopped to gaze. It was a perfect night. It had been a long time, even when you factor in travelling and life back home, that we had met a couple people genuine and so ambitious. It livened Katie and I, and I hope that the feeling stays with us. I even asked Tyson for his  business plan because they had taken myself & Katie’s dream of opening a coffee shop and added a philanthropic worth to it.

Coffffeeeeeee

Coffffeeeeeee

The next morning we woke up and went to check out their coffee house in progress. Their grand opening is projected for this Sunday, and that night Katie and I had already been rerouting our trip so that we can come and celebrate in Paksong, of all places. Which is a valid enough reason that it’s not necessarily about the where, but the what!

When we arrived, they had waffles, donuts and this sweet caramelish fruit called la müt that you eat with a spoon. It was way too sweet, but it was the thought.

Day-drunk wacky Lao ladies wanted a picture with me! Cross that one off my bucket list ;)

Day-drunk wacky Lao ladies wanted a picture with me! Cross that one off my bucket list ;)

Outside the café they were finishing up a second floor balcony with bamboo railing. Inside Janelle was painting on a black chalk board, while Tyson showed us around the spot. He showed us the recycled table tops, handmade chairs, paper maché  lights, and stage for live music, where the coffee bar is going in and even their bedroom upstairs. The whole grounds were bustling with people sawing and sanding and lifting and making deliveries and through it all the two of them hung out with us and ordered us eggs from their neighbour.

Us with Janelle & Tyson in front of soon-to-be Jhai Coffee House!

Us with Janelle & Tyson in front of soon-to-be Jhai Coffee House!

We left so they could get work done, but we knew we would see them again so the goodbye wasn’t that bad. We saddled back onto our bikes and cruised 150 km back to Pakse after stopping at another waterfall on the way home.

One last waterfall!

One last waterfall!

That night we ate at Hassan Indian Restaurant on the recommendation from Tyson & Janelle who are friends with the owner. The food was delicious, but we didn’t get a discount for name dropping. JK.

We ended up back at the same guesthouse where the Dutchmen had followed us and made plans to head to Don Khong in the 4000 islands of Southern Laos in the morning.

Life is looking good.