A white haired man with a mane and careless beard, dressed in a crisp white shirt and red tie clasps his hands together before his face; the large rings on his knuckles catch the light and antique aviator sunglasses obscure his eyes. Billy Holiday shifts to Miles Davis. I’ve ordered what is, for South East Asia, an altogether decent glass of red wine and I have, at least, run a few errands today before sinking into this chair.
Tadlo – on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos: beautifully pastoral, gorgeous waterfalls, cute children, and a five-day party (Pi Mai Lao!)
Don Khon – one of the Four Thousand Islands in the Mekong between Laos and Cambodi (Don Khon is on the Laos side – the smallest/quietest of the three with tourist facilities): unbelievably gorgeous, quiet paths to wander, French colonial ruins to climb, and a buff-cheeked gibbon to play with…
“Changing rapidly? I’ll tell you – ” said the Australian-who-wasn’t-one-anymore (we can call him Herc, instead – later, he’ll ask us to), with his characteristic smile-wink (head tilt and eyebrow raise included – it was a marvelous gesture/facial expression that I immediately wished I had the charisma to pull off) “this street was mud last year.””Last year? This street?” I echoed.
I’m back in Vientiane – hopefully at the end of all passport troubles (complications).
I picked up yet another new new passport this morning at 8am sharp as the Embassy opened – having arrived in the city at 6am, dropped my bag in a dormitory room at Sabaidee Guest House, taken a cold shower, and had a triple espresso at Joma’s (with yogurt, fruit, and museli) – having boarded a bus in Pakse at 8pm last night – having (essentially) hitch-hiked my way out of Champasak yesterday afternoon – having spent the dayclimbing the ruins of Wat Phu – having discovered that my passport was, weeks ahead of schedule, sitting in Vientiane waiting for me and that if I waited through the weekend (today is Friday) I would overstay my visa – as it expires tomorrow.
Women drive motorbikes one handed, pink and yellow umbrellas held aloft with the other.
Café tables are continuously filled, clusters of people leaning forward to trilingual conversations while assembling bottles of Beer Lao, cigarettes inevitably accentuating all hand gestures. Hands wave along the street as well as at the tables – crushing off tuk tuk drivers, greeting friends, and shooing away the children selling trinkets.
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.
It was the second day down the Mekong and the God of Thunder was asleep on the back of the boat. The Three Graces were getting sunburnt on the bow before returning inside to play cards. Apollo flicked his cigarette ash into the river in synch with his twitching foot. Huckleberry Finn, who’d been sent home from the war in a body bag of opiates, looked as if he might jump. Assorted prodigaals wandered the deck, passing wooden bench to wooden bench, comparing travel routes and swapping near-death experiences while cheerfully swigging Beer Lao. I was perched on the railing – one foot outside, one inside, left arm crooked behind me to grab the pillar for balance, right hand clutching someone else” ipod – watching the river pass us by.
Huay Xai was pleasant enough. I suppose.Or would have been – if not for my own naivete.
I’d be lulled by the easy camaraderie of locals and farangs in Thailand and had thought to look after only my physical safety in Huay Xai – rather than cautiously judging and weighing all of the implications of my friendliness. I hadn’t realized that in Laos, where travelers and locals barely interacted and the government’s answer to the proliferation of the sex trade had been to interdict sex between foreigners and Laos, casual friendliness with a Lao man would result in him deciding he wanted me to bear his children and marry him.
So, it turns out that my wisdom teeth weren’t quite as much of a priority as I’d been lead to believe – and that one of them was so close to the nerve in my jaw as to make both the dental surgeon and my parents uncomfortable with the risk involved – and I won’t be having them done in Thailand. (I’ll just be running the risk of infection, flying home if it becomes worse, and pressing on until then.)