A group of us from the boat had managed to get rooms in the same guest house in Luang Prabang and spent the next several days just hanging out. It was nice to be part of a group, for a change.
We (Olivia, Ruth, Louise – the British girls – Martin, Benny, and I) hired a tuk tuk to take us to the nearby waterfall, Kuang Si. It was breath-takingly beautiful; the water an impossible shade of light turquoise (no doubt due to some mineral in the stones), the setting stunning and – perhaps most importantly, at least to our overheated sweat-drenched bodies – the water chilling. Only a few minutes after we’d pulled ourselves from the water, walked down the hill, and seated ourselves at a table under an overhang in the parking-lot/tourist center, it started to rain – to pour, actually. We watched others come running, skidding, down the hill; it wasn’t cold, but the idea of carrying that much water in our clothes was less than appealing – except to Olivia, who got up to dance in the rain.
We hung Benny’s portable speakers, even smaller than mine, from the roof of the tuk tuk as we drove back and found songs we could all sing along to. “Bohemian Rhapsody”, of course, Martin managing some impeccable timing as he leaned out the back, waved his arms and shouted “Mama, just KILLED a man– ” directly into the face of a surprised, and hopefully non-English-speaking old Lao man. Hoping to reset the karmic balance, we followed it with “All You Need Is Love”.
“Mai ow, nong-ka,” my reflexes tell the young girl approaching me.
“You speak Thai?” she says, seating herself in a chair at my table and launching into her sales pitch. Bracelets, made of simple wooden beads, and small plastic dolls fill the cardboard box that she carries like a tray. She held up a necklace and, as I demurred, demanded to know why.
“No need, no want,” I explained. She tilted her head to consider this.
“So cheap,” she pressed. “How no want when so cheap?”
“Mai ow, korp jai.”
She changes tactics: “You souy. Souy mak. Very beautiful.”
“So are you.”
“One. Just one?
“Buy me pepsi.”
I considered it and shrugged. I nodded. As I began to get up she stopped me.
“Buy me noodle soup.”
I’d obviously agreed to the pepsi far too quickly. I’m not very good at bargaining.
“Noodle soup. Only 40 baht. Down there. Very close.”
I was comfortable here, with my iced coffee and I was selfish. We went back and forth a few more times before she agreed to accept the pepsi – and only the pepsi. I went inside to get her soda and heard one of the waitresses chiding the girl. I’d been enjoying my solitude but was, by now, resigned to my companion. There was no reason, I figured, I couldn’t buy her a drink and chat to her – I felt only slightly abused.
I returned with the can and handed it to the girl, asking her name.
“Nok. I am Nok,” she said quickly, already standing up. She scampered off without any thanks.
“Did I…. did I go bowling… last night?”
I looked at Martin. He looked back at me, obviously confused.
“Yes,” I told him, trying not to laugh.
“Oh,” I think he said.
Laos shuts down early and while Luang Prabang probably stays up later than anywhere else in the country, when the bars close at eleven – close seriously and intently at twelve – and you’ve got only one option: bowling.
There is a bowling alley. It’s on the outskirts of town – I doubt anyone but the tuk tuk drivers are terribly sure as to it’s location (you get hounded by them while leaving the bars: “Bowling? You bowling?” and I’m sure a farang or two has ended up there unintentionally) – in a large flat building that looks neither French nor Lao. It looks, actually, remarkably, like something misplaced from somewhere in America. Popcorn and beer. Ninepins. Bowling balls. Computer screens keeping score. Fluorescent track lighting. (No shoes, though – you have to bowl in your sandals.)
I don’t bowl – I have before, a time or two, but I’m neither particularly talented at it nor interested – so I simply sat on the sidelines, talked, and begged whomever’s score was lowest to let me have a go ruining it for them.
It wasn’t terribly interesting – all the same conversations we’d all had and would have again (travel plans, country of origin, etc) – but it was incredibly surreal. I could understand how Martin might mistake it for a dream.
“You almost won, too. You came in second, I think.”
“… I went… bowling?”