Monday, January 11, 2016

Lao Trip 13.1 - Death and Sickness

The day after the 2015 rice harvest, I was on my way to Lao (Laos).

The timing of the trip was not dependent on the harvest, although it all worked out well. Rather, my main consideration was my travel permit expiration and the planned celebrations in Thailand surrounding the King’s birthday and especially the “Bike For Dad” day when I expected most highways to be clogged with bicylists. I just lucked out with the rice harvest – giao khao. If it hadn’t ended when it did, I still would have had to leave.



Coming on the heels of my days in the fields, I hadn’t had much time to pack or even think ahead about the trip. Consequently, I made a few planning omissions which is uncommon for me. I’m usually quite good with planning. It’s generally the execution where I have my problems.

As I rode the bus from Nong Bua Lamphu to Muang Loei, I passed the familiar villages, towns and locations I was getting to know pretty well: NB Apparel, Nam Som Bun, Nam Kham Hai, the sugar plant, Na Klang, cave rock, Na Wang, Erawan Cave, Erawan, Wang Saphung and finally Loei.

While I rode, I thought of what our head monk Lung Paw Boon Long told Thip and others one day at jann hahn: that we should think of our death often and try to get everything done that we feel should get done before we die. Perhaps he was thinking of his own mortality and his plans to build the chedi over the course of the next couple of years.

As my old friend Jackie Bales is fond of saying: “No one gets out of here alive.” Certainly, death awaits us all and just as certainly, I have some things hanging that I should wrap up before I get older and closer to my own demise.

My morbid thoughts halted as the bus rolled into the Muang Loei bawkasaw (Lao: lot may). I made my way to the back, where the local sawngthaw’s service the province of Loei.

I caught the 10:50 A.M. “sick sawngthaw” to Tha Li. I call this one that because it seemed like most of the 20-25 people jammed in the truck had some kind of health issue. There was the usual coughing and hacking that is common at this time of year, when the season changes and temperatures drop. Then, there was a baby with a rash all over its face that made me slightly uneasy to be seated next to. One girl was travelling with a crutch and an eye patch, seemingly in pain the whole ride through – most likely the result of a motosai (Lao: lot jak) accident. At one point, a teenage girl travelling with her mother dropped to the floor and was made to breathe-in a strong smelling salt that many Thai females carry with them at all times; something like “Tiger balm”, but not exactly.

My guess is that many of these Kon Thai from the Tha Li area had travelled earlier in the morning to the big city of Loei for doctor appointments and were now rushing back home as fast as they could.

Anyway, I eventually made it to the Ban Nakraseng Boundary Post, stamped out of Thailand, crossed the Nam Heuang bridge, and stamped into Lao.


In the process, I noticed I’m not so much in a rush to get across the border like I used to be. There are reasons for this. One, when I take it slower, I make fewer mistakes. Second, taking it slower puts me in greater control of my timetable. I may not get to my ultimate destination as fast, but it’s more relaxing, I enjoy it more and it’s certainly less stressful. When travelling in Southeast Asia, I’ve learned to factor in a lot of “float” time and don’t expect things to run on time. Lastly, I genuinely enjoy talking with the border guards on both sides – the Lao army guys are especially interested in me, as Westerners generally do not travel alone.

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