Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lao Trip 7.3 - Nuey

My third and last day in PL2 was great. It had all the right elements: swimming in the Khong, hanging out at Khoun Ten, and meeting a beautiful Lao girl.


I was also called upon to do karaoke. There is one Sek Loso song I can sing to (Som Sarn), if I have the transliteration, but everyone expected me to do an English language song, so I sang the most popular English language song playing on the Khoun Ten karaoke rotation:


http://youtu.be/GKn3GGCbh_0

Now, whenever I hear this song, I think back on that day when I met Nuey...


"Take Me To Your Heart"
sung by Michael Learns to Rock


Hiding from the rain and snow
Trying to forget but I won't let go
Looking at a crowded street
Listening to my own heart beat.

So many people all around the world
Tell me where do I find someone like you girl

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand before I'm old
Show me what love is - haven't got a clue
Show me that wonders can be true.

They say nothing lasts forever
We're only here today
Love is now or never
Bring me far away.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is - be my guiding star.
It's easy. Take me to your heart.

Standing on a mountain high
Looking at the moon through a clear blue sky
I should go and see some friends
But they don't really comprehend.

Don't need too much talking without saying anything
All I need is someone who makes me wanna sing.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand before I'm old
Show me what love is - haven't got a clue
Show me that wonders can be true.

They say nothing lasts forever
We're only here today
Love is now or never
Bring me far away.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is - be my guiding star.
It's easy. Take me to your heart.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is - be my guiding star.
It's easy. Take me to your heart.


This story continues, somewhat, six months later, beginning with my post "Lao Trip 9.1a - to PL2."



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lao Trip 7.2 - Hanging in PL2

Like Lao Trip #5, this one was not intended to be very long. I just wanted to hang out in PL2 for a while cuz I feel welcome there. Also, I wanted to do a “sanity check’ on my internal comparisons with West Central Lao, which on Lao Trip #6, I found to be not as friendly as Western Lao.

I slept unusually late, did my laundry, took a shower, had a little coffee and watched some Lao TV; making journal notes for later expansion of which this writing you’re reading now is a result.

Right after noon, I hit the ATM machine over in Pak Lai and strolled through the clothing market there. Most all the stuff is imported from Thailand and thus a little bit more expensive than it would be in my host country. I bought a new backpack and some small notepads. My old backpack was only two years old, but already the plastic strap holders were busted and at critical points, the fabric was unraveling. I haven’t seen a well-built backpack in Southeast Asia yet.


Using my Lao sim card, I called Thip, checking to make sure all was alright back home. Then, I bought some BBQ chicken on bamboo stick, nok (a favorite fruit of mine) and some sweet bread. I ate my makeshift lunch on a small shaded bench on the way to Khoun Ten.

Arriving at the beer bar, I was quickly befriended by Pem, who is a Lao guy of 21 who wanted to improve his English. As the demographics of the floating restaurant/beer bar/karaoke spot tilted towards males (like yesterday) I was happy to have someone to talk with and maybe pick-up some more Lao language, myself. If there had been a lot of girls around that I could’ve talked with, it would have been a different story. I wouldn’t have wanted Pem to monopolize my time at the expense of meeting some girls is what I’m basically trying to say.


(looking down The Mekong)

After four bottles, which I of course shared, I moved on to Heun Phair. Again, the place was virtually empty and I had the place to myself, just like yesterday. I didn’t mind. I was well received and the views were, as always, spectacular.

I ended the day much earlier than yesterday in what seemed a bit like a carbon copy of the later part of the previous day. At Khem Kong I had a small dinner of spicy beef, rice and another Beer Lao. Say Khong is the other main restaurant in the village, but I did not patronize it this trip.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lao Trip 7.1c - PL2 & Khoun Ten

Once we arrived at Pak Lai’s southern bus station, I paid my driver and hired a tuk tuk to PL2. In the Pak Lai area, I have a tuk tuk driver that I normally hire. His name is Lu and if you’re ever in Pak Lai and see a samlor driver in his thirties with eyes seeming to go in different directions, that’s him and he’s a good guy. Lu wasn’t around at the bawkasaw so I just went with what was readily available.

Checking into my guest house, I returned the key that I had inadvertently taken with me the last time I was here. Everybody had a good laugh at that.

I have certain routines when I’m living in a guest house. The most important one is laundry followed by a shower. As soon as I’ve used a shirt and shorts for the better part of a day, I wash them in the bathroom sink, with soap; rinse, squeeze and hang up next to the south-facing windows. Whenever I pick a guesthouse, having south-facing windows is essential, both for light and to dry my clothes. Over the past two years, I’ve shifted to synthetic fabric sports shirts and shorts, which not only are comfortable in the heat (when cotton fabrics would just get soaked) but also dry fairly quickly. Thip says the sports clothes make me look younger and is dead-set against me wearing silk shirts and cargo pants like many other Falang wear and which I used to, too.

Why laundry followed by a shower? By the time I’m done washing my latest worn shirt and shorts, I’m in a sweat and that’s the best way to cool off and get clean at the same time.

After tending to my laundry duties, taking a shower and changing to clean clothes, I walked to the commercial area of town and bought minutes (a “top off”) for my Lao sim card, switching cards from Thai to Lao. I can’t imagine how travelers in Southeast Asia can get along without an “unlocked” phone.

At the market, I bought some small loaves of sweet bread and headed for my favorite beer bar along the Mekong. Khoun Ten always feels a little like “coming home.” In a way, it is my “Cheers” (theme song). I thanked Ae’s sister for helping me get up the muddy banks of the Mekong that rainy night, last time, and proceeded to order my usual: two 1.25 liter bottles of Beer Lao, a yellow plastic Beer Lao ice bucket of nam khaeng (ice) and an opener. My favorite table was waiting for me and all was right with The World.


(Looking downriver, towards Thailand from whence I came; 
sure wish our village sat next to The Kong!)


It wasn’t long before I was invited to a table of two Lao guys and two Lao girls. As the numbers weren’t favorable, I politely declined when encouraged to switch tables, several times.

I happened to be sitting next to a pile of empty Beer Lao bottles left from a previous group who had occupied an adjoining table. When a group of guys came in and spied the beer bottles and me, one guy in the group gave me a big thumbs-up. I laughed and shook my head, saying “mai, mai,” (no, no) letting him know they weren’t my doing.

While I was working on my own two, admiring the Mekong River and scene overall, I had a chance to greet Ae’s mother and father. This is not only the polite thing to do, but I genuinely appreciate how they run this successful business, feeding a rather large extended family and even putting Ae through law school in Vientiane (pronounced “vien-chan” or “vieng-chan”).

After my two bottles were up, I bid adieu and then walked down and around the next bend in the river to another favorite Khong-side beer bar. It was dead, dead, dead, but I was greeted warmly and the quiet and solitude alongside the mighty river, as night fell, suited me fine. Of course, it wasn’t all that quiet. TV monitors still belted out the latest favorite karaoke songs, but I definitely had the place to myself.


(Very popular Pee Saderd tune on both the Thai and Lao karaoke trails, early summer 2014).


After another two Beer Lao’s, I was ready to call it a night. On the way back to the guest house, I stopped into the restaurant I had once walked out of (due to lack of service). This time I was treated very well and served promptly. I’m still wondering if the owner remembered me from before or not. Not too many solo expats visiting this part of Lao, so I think she must have.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lao Trip 7.1b - Ken Thao to Pak Lai

The Tha Li bawkasaw is little more than a concrete pad, with a roofed sitting area; no walls and a small separate buiding in the rear housing two very dirty restrooms. From this “station,” I transferred to a smaller sawng-theaw (also written in English as songtheaw), that took a small group of us to the Thai/Lao border spanning the Nam Heuang.

After stamping out of Thailand, I took a tuk-tuk (aka samlor, also nicknamed “sky lab”) across the Nam Heuang Bridge, purchased my 1-month Lao visa for $45 USD and stamped into this communist country once again. After so doing, the tuk-tuk took me on to a loading area not far from the impressive and new Lao immigration building (both the Lao and Thai buildings are new; when I first started crossing here two years ago, the Thai building had not been constructed and immigration was little more than a prefab). From the loading area, another tuk-tuk took me to Ken Thao’s bus station.

The Ken Thao bawkasaw is dominated by a petanque court tucked into a shaded area in the northeastern corner that is always busy. It is my impression that the high prices of Ken Thao transportation largely fuels the bets placed at this petanque court. Not much I can do about that. I pay the high transpo prices every time, no complaints and with a smile.

This time, however, the price to go to Pak Lai was extreme. The reason being – so it was said; how I understood it – that there were no more regularly scheduled sawng-theaw’s to Pak Lai, despite it being lunch time. I asked about tomorrow, thinking I’d just stay the night. I was told that all the guest houses were probably full – the reason being, I never could understand because of my poor Lao language skills. Was I being scammed? Probably, but maybe not. It is a given that in Lao, transport won’t move unless there are enough paying passengers to cover the cost of the trip and provide a profit. Maybe this was one of those instances. So, I paid what amounted to $30 USD and rode as a single passenger (excepting one pick-up along the way) to Pak Lai.

I love the stretch of road between Ken Thao and Pak Lai. It is beautiful and winds through almost a dozen mid-sized villages en route. Every once in a while, you even get a glimpse of the vast Nam Phoun National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area far to the northwest.

At one point, we got stuck behind a slow grinding gasoline semi on a very curvy section of the road. A number of times I thought my driver would foolishly try to pass the truck on a curve, but he kept his cool and finally we were able to pass the semi truck on a straight away. He turned to me and said:

“Yak,” (want to/wanted to), meaning in his heart he wanted to pass that truck, but his brain thought wiser of it.


(what I was looking forward to at the end of the line...)