There were many wonderful moments on our trip, but here’s one that stands out:

On our last full day in Luang Prabang in Laos, I decided to climb Mt. Phousi, a tall sacred hill in the middle of an otherwise flat town.

It was already a hot morning and I knew the hundreds of stone steps to the top would be a cardio workout, so I took it slowly, resting frequently and admiring the view. At the top, I found a small Buddhist temple with a vendor outside selling drinks, incense, flowers and other offerings.

I seated myself on the cool tile floor of the temple and watched the locals and tourists come and go. Three young Lao women dressed in jeans and t-shirts came in and kneeled before the altar. They made prostrations, lit candles and incense, checked their cell-phones, giggled, and prayed.

Then one of them picked up a small bamboo cage purchased from the vendor outside that contained two frantically cheeping little birds. She pressed it to her forehead and shut her eyes for a minute. Then she went outside to the parapet, where she pried open the cage and released the birds. They swooped away joyously.

What a lovely gesture of kindness to all creatures! And how odd that birds are being trapped for this purpose. Or perhaps these fortunate birds had come from the market, where most were sold for food. Apparently there aren’t many songbirds left in Laos, because so many are eaten.

Whatever. I purchased my own little pair and released them. They were very happy to be freed, and not the least bit concerned about the ambiguity of the situation.