Siam I Am

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Siam Chronicles 22 - Some Confusion in Conclusion

Goodbye Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos. In respect to the longest and most cumbersome moniker, you top the list of countries I've lived in. It would be far easier for everyone if you just named your country "John" so I could start this, "Dear John, I am leaving you because…" instead of "Dear People's Democratic Republic of Laos, I am leaving you because…"
Think about "John." It's a good name, one that spanks of communism.

Alex and I are in the far north of Laos now, and after two days of flat bed truck rides through the mountains where everyone was puking but us en route to towns I can't spell and couldn't even find when we were dumped in the center of them, we're already lambasted. Today we spent five hours going forty miles, and another hour trying to get into town because the Lao, true to form, had decided to close off every single road for concurrent construction. So it was we were bumping through driveways and goat tracks just to make it here. I am not feeling overly optimistic about our long, long journey through rural Southern China.
But now is not the time for the future. It is the time for a cantankerous rant about the present - it's Monday night in a miniscule popsicle-stick hamlet, and there is a wild party going on a few blocks away. Jejune pop in high decibels and screaming bleat through the smoky amethyst sunset over the mountains. I wish I had a rifle to chase those damn kids off my lawn.
Now is also the time for the past, the time for an elegiac litany. I'm leaving Laos tomorrow, my home for the last nine months. It is time to write the "Dear Laos" letter.

Dear Laos, I am NOT Leaving you because…

1) The Lao
The Lao are all smile and "Bo phan nyang" - no problem. They are curious about everything. I even had a guy crushed into my shoulder in the bed of a truck don his reading glasses so he could enjoy my novel with me as he breathed into my eyeball.
A close, friendly people, they look after themselves and everyone else. Your business is their business.
The Lao feel deeply, with heart. Although the sexes can't touch in public, men walk down the street hand in hand with their male friends, and women walk with their arms tight around each other.
The Lao never, ever hurry, things happen as Buddha proscribes, Buddha cannot be rushed. It is leisurely, and I appreciate this.
They Lao laugh easily, they are painfully open. I have been told many times that I am very fat by cheerful faces - it is not an insult here where food is scarce. People always ask how old I am - age is a gift in this poor society. When Alex and I divulge that we are married, there is the inevitable query of where our baby is - what, no baby? When will we have a baby? Alex looks at his watch and scratches his head, that's our answer. But here babies are blessings, and the children are gorgeous and happy.
The Lao are like honey - natural, slow-moving, and sweet. To generalize, they are the nicest group of people I have ever met, the most loving, laughing and compassionate.

2) Lao Food
Some of the best food I've ever had was Mekong fish roe curry or fried garlic pork and sticky rice. The cooking is amazing, all fresh organic vegetables and herbs because pesticide and processed foods are too costly. I will miss it.

3) Lao Transport
I love getting in the back of an open-air tuk-tuk and gunning my way through town, the wind blasting my face. I love the fact that getting into the station late means I am still an hour early for my bus.
I will in a weird way also miss the tuk-tuk touts, who at night ask if I'd like to engage in some nefarious scheme with kissing noises, the universal signal for devious intent. It was always interesting to see what they would pitch at us - my favorite was when they offered Alex a kilo of cocaine. That's enough contraband to shunt anyone immediately into "drug baron" status. He declined, I laughed.

4) Living in a Tropical Climate
A spectrum of butterfly clouds, sprays of flowers with heavy fragrance, rare wild orchids blooming in drizzles of color in every crevice, birds with gaudy plumage, lush dripping jungle - living here has been a non-stop fauna on flora peepshow. Plus, there are monkeys.

5) Being Unemployed
It's been awesome to write, paint, drink, laze, meander and glaze with no stipulations on my time. Thank you Laos, I've always wanted to do this. I've had a job since I was twelve and I when I graduated from grade school into high school I listed my intended career as "dilettante." One dream realized.

Dear Laos, I am Leaving you because…

1) The Lao
The Lao are all smile and "Bo phan nyang" - no problem. This is true even when there IS a big problem, like a two foot spike of rebar sticking out of your forehead. It is difficult to get them to take anything seriously even when it is in fact serious.
A close, friendly people, they look after themselves and everyone else. Your business is their business. The only problem is that I rather like having a private life that is in fact private.
The Lao feel deeply, with heart, but this doesn't seem to extend to animals. It isn't so bad, it will be worse in China, but I will not miss the sound of puppies screaming. There was one time when I actually saw a guy beating a dog with another dog, yes you read that right. He had a small poodlish mutt, and was whamming it against a larger dog in the street. This at least was efficient. Tonight I saw two men shocking a small family mongrel for fun with an electrified tennis racquet used to kill mosquitoes. They hit it again and again, it blazed blue and made a sizzling sound, and the little yellow dog pitifully tried to push it away with a paw. I almost cried. They laughed and laughed, it never got old.

2) Lao Food
Some of the worst food I've ever had was Lao "western" style dishes. Like pizza that is blackened ketchup on a baguette, a "fried" egg that is still dripping in excretory puddles over the rim of your plate, or spaghetti that is a tangle of starch adrift in an ochreous sea of oil, topped with sugar and a green tomato.

3) Lao Transport
I will not miss sitting on a bus meant for eleven with fifteen plus people, all of which much stop every five minutes to perform a complex extrication of their live chickens from the roof-rack, at which point twenty more people will cram on. Everyone will immediately start vomiting. I have wondered why the Lao are so weirdly susceptible to any form of motion sickness, but it is beyond my purview.
I will not miss being in constant fear of my life anywhere near a road. There are no driver's licenses, there are no rules. The Lao drive on the left, on the right, they drive on the sidewalk, they do not stop for pedestrians and they swerve to hit dogs. Driving dunk is not an offence, and seems to be actively encouraged. There are occasional cross-walks, but they are meaningless, simply bait to lure the uninitiated into the bloodbath.

4) Living in a Tropical Climate
Bugs. Big bugs, little bugs, stingy bugs, bitey bugs, sucky bugs, many legged, winged, colorful or dun, so very many bugs makes for very little fun.
Heat. I never want to be hot ever, ever, ever again.
I respect the Lao for their fortitude, but defer in weakness.

5) Being Unemployed
I get bored and languorous when I am unemployed. I'm not a good candidate for dilettante. Now I know.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of this story is that Laos is a beautiful gem, sparkling in its facets, I love this country that is so gorgeous, I love the people who are like honey on dry toast.
The moral of this story is that although I can run away from my life, I always find a new one waiting, with new problems, be it a plague of locusts (this is the newest swarm, I don't want to talk about it) or falling into the same volute spin I left. Every place is different and the same because I am the same, although I try not to be.
But mostly, the moral of this story is that a crocodile should never ride an elephant with a bunch of grapes because, after all, a fox is just a fox.


At 7:49 AM, Blogger Mooms said...

A bittersweet goodby indeed. I have loved following your journey - please stay safe on the rest of it.

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Bartlebee said...

i also never want to be hot ever ever ever again. i envy your journey toward the relative cools of china; and i do not envy your journey at all, being perfectly content to spend most of my days on my ass.

At 11:48 PM, Blogger xz said...

i've got two words for you:

pig balls


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