Lucky us! We were invited by the German Embassy in Vientiane to join the reception at Don Chan Palace to commemorate 26 years of German reunification on the 3rd of October, since then the German National Holiday. The official start was at 7 p.m., but we were there two hours earlier for the warm-up with the International Choir of the German Embassy which we had joined just a few weeks before.
Madame Marie Guillot, the Ambassador’s wife and also the leader of the choir, had been pushing us hard to get the best out of our semi-trained voices. The result is – we think – worth listening to, which is why we dare to share the audio-recording with our readers here.
The first song we sang was the Lao National Anthem “Pheng Xat Lao” (Lao: ເພງຊາດລາວ; lit. English: Hymn of the Lao People) – and this was of course the most difficult one for us in terms of pronunciation. The hymn was written and composed by Dr. Thongdy Sounthonevichit in 1941, adopted as the National Anthem of the Kingdom of Laos in 1945, and revised after the Pathet Lao won the Laotian Civil War and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was established in 1975, with new lyrics by Sisana Sisane.
The second song was the German National Anthem, followed by the Ode an die Freude, both sung in four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).The latter is also known as the fulminant ending to Beethoven’s Symphony No.9. Ludwig van Beethoven took the lyrics from “Ode to Joy”, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785.
Of course there had been rehearsals beforehand, the last ones on Friday and Saturday evening before the big day. Madame Guillot had particularly focused on the pronunciation, the intonation and the stress of the songs, but of course also on “singing with passion and FREUDE” about JOY!
The Saturday rehearsal was special, as we were invited to the Residence of the German Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Michael Grau. He warmly welcomed us and his wife had prepared delicious international food for everybody. With full tummies and in high spirits we got the chance to get to know the other members of the choir better. Entertained by Mme Guillot’s singing performance, an oboe solo and some piano music we had an interesting time talking to them about their lives and work here in Laos.
But let’s get back to the celebration of the Day of German Unity. After His Excellency Mr. Grau had delivered his speech and raised his glass to the health of the Lao people and to lasting friendship between Laos and Germany, food and drinks were offered.
Most of us were really looking forward to the food, as it was typically German: Potato salad, a large selection of sausages, and, of course, Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) – a welcome “relief” after having had rice only for a few weeks now. (One might call this an indulgence in “food-homesickness”, but we have also noticed the new supermarkets which sell food from all over the world). Besides, there was great international live music to entertain the guests.
At the beginning the dance floor was empty but after a short time no one could keep their feet still and everybody started dancing. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and for us the weekend was a great opportunity to get to know interesting people and to get an insight into different NGOs (non-Governmental organizations) operating in Laos such as “weltwaerts” (“into the world”), the “GIZ” (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, i.e. German Society for International Cooperation), “GLAD” (German-Lao Association for Development) and “LGFA” (Lao-German Friendship Association).
Besides the official part of this weekend we also had a special event on Sunday within our volunteer group: Julia’s 24th birthday. We had packed a birthday-surprise-cake and took the tuk-tuk to “Buddha Park” together, which is situated nearby Vientiane. There we spent the afternoon and enjoyed the wonderful scenery amongst the serene statues of Buddha. In the words of Mme Guillot: A weekend packed with Freude!
Text by L. Wink & D. Burkhardt
Photos by J. Zeck, D. Burkhardt & I. Martin