Siam I Am

Friday, February 24, 2006

Siam Chronicles 19 - Fulminant Toys for Girls and Boys

The Mekong and the Nam Khan have receded to such low levels during the dry season that the town is now an island entwined in sand bars, snaked into sections by thin trickles of water. It's weird to think that a few months ago it would be dangerous to try swimming across either of these monster rivers, which are now just the tiniest sprig of stream that can be forded by any four year old at its most dangerous depths.
This taming of the tide has made someone rich renting out two seasonal wares: beach umbrellas and inner tubes. The rainbow bumbershoots lance into the sand at lazy angles where the river once was, and tiny children dandle in the smooth tubes soaking up the sunshine in calf-deep puddles. The shouts of their laughter echo up the tiered gardens bolstering the green banks of town.
I was once a dapper beaver bustling in the busy toy biz, and the kids of SE Asia have teamed up to defy my training on what constitutes a successful toy. Here's the top ten list of toys delighting happy imps on this hemisphere:
  1. Inner tube (per above)
  2. Rusty machete (these can be used to chase a sibling, or hack off branches which can then be carved into sharp sticks that can be used to chase a sibling)
  3. Plastic bag on stick (this can be a kite, or a butterfly-net, or be utilized to reach up into trees and abscond with precious mangoes)
  4. Banana-leaf dolls (these are quickly twisted together by beleaguered parents in situations of critical boredom)
  5. Mud (oh most versatile mud! It can be shaped into food, housing or transport)
  6. Flip-flop (This is necessary for the most popular sport for the under 12 set. It's like horeshoes, only with flip-flops, and somehow involves gambling for a wad of bills placed at the end of the run)
  7. Baby animal (any type will do, as long as it is pliable and doesn't mind overmuch being used as a projectile)
  8. Basket ball (literally a rattan basket woven into an orb - used for idle kicking and throwing, or volleyball and soccer but NOT basketball)
  9. Toilet paper (this can be unraveled for comical effect or used for the ever-popular "Look! I'm a Mummy!" gag)
  10. Younger sibling (these are the BEST toys, and are to be used in the second most popular sport for the under 12 set, Hide Behind a Tree and Push my Younger Sibling into Traffic)

The kids here are tops, and if I ever breed and the spawn ask for an X-box, I'll be that annoying parent who gets their hopes up then presents them with a plastic bag on a stick.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Siam Chronicles 18 - Nine Days with a Baa and Two Mays

"Hi hon, I'm covered in monkey piss so I'm headed for the shower," I said as I walked in the door today. I felt truly Lao now, christened anew.
But I get ahead of myself.

Two weeks ago my Aunt, Mom, and Mom-in-law staggered off a prop plane that was decorated to look like some sort of horrible parade float and onto the Luang Prabang pittance of airstrip.
Mom in Lao is "May" and Aunt is "Baa" but as with every Lao word, these have multiple meanings dependant on the nuance of your intonation. So it was that I got to announce my family about town as my wives, my goats, my fishes and something else that was too scrofulous for the folk to let me in on the joke.
I also got to introduce them to three of our most colorful characters here in the tiny dusty burg:

1) The Drunken Midget - Bachelor number one is a friendly fellow, short in stature and prolixity, who enjoys drinking lao lao on a marble bench and doing odd jobs for cigarettes. Beneath the blue ball cap he sports brown eyes, swimming in a tumid red sea of burst blood vessels, and an easy smile.

2) Shaky Guy - Bachelor number two is a man of no words and fewer teeth, but many endearing eccentricities. He enjoys begging by approaching a foreigner and shaking wildly, which is purely a hobby as he owns a large house and many vehicles left over from the Vietnam War. His other hobby is changing his clothes several times a day, draping his skeletal form with either a striped loincloth, full seventies military regalia, or a fetching green sweat suit. He can often be found running through the streets wildly waving a pair of machetes or a gun at everything that moves or doesn't.

3) The Invisible Monkey - Bachelorette number three is a baby monkey whose pet peeves are dogs and diapers. She can often be found in a homemade turtleneck chained to a table. She only appears when I am alone, and has thus gained status with my family as a figment of my imagination. I see her more and more on my daily ambulation and this may be a bad sign. She enjoys stealing spectacles, eating flowers, and piddling on shirtsleeves.

Our family has gone and it made me miss them more. Today I passed Shaky Guy doing a slow dance in the middle of the road, crouched down on his haunches, gumming a silent song to the sky. I gave the drunken midget a big smile which was quickly tossed back, then flitted off to play with the monkey. She bit me a few times and rummaged through my bag as I thought on my last three more months here before heading into China, then back to the US. I kicked into a fantasy of cold martinis and a meal that was not forcibly extracted from a musk ox. I came back into focus on the banks of the Mekong petting a monkey, thinking how I'd miss the butterflies.
Then I started home to boil myself and my belongings.