Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Lao Trip 17.3 - Mess & Miss

Last night, I had tried my best to watch what I was eating and also not eat too much. Even so, overnight I had the worst case of loose bowels I have ever had -- not counting the food poisoning episode I had down in the Thousand Islands area. I tried to clean it up, but I still needed the morning room cleaning crew go over it thoroughly to make the room good and fresh again.

Ever since retiring in the Thai countryside, I've had to watch my shit for lack of a better description. It's always been a delicate balance and usually I’m running more liquid than firm, like it used to be in The States. It may be that I'm not eating enough rice. As far as meat is concerned, most Thais and Lao do not cook pork long enough and adequate hygiene is often lacking. It used to be that when I lived in the United States, I usually wouldn’t have to worry about my farts, except for the smell and politeness. In Thailand and traveling in Southeast Asia, I always need to be careful to make sure what's going to come out is gas and not liquid.

I bring this up because it is a issue those Falangs of us in Southeast Asia don’t talk about in public because -- you know -- who wants to hear about that stuff? But it's important to know if you're thinking of moving or even just visiting here. You really need to make sure you have plenty of roughage in your diet and that the meat is well cooked. Not much you can do about vegetables or fruit. These are often grown with hefty amounts of chemical fertilizers. Your best bet is to shop for your food at local Farmers Markets where you are much more likely to get them organic.

On my way to brunch at Khem Kong, I noticed an off-roader and some off road motorcycles at Seng Chalerm. This guest house remains a favorite stopping point for off-road motorcyclists both going north and going south.

In the restaurant, I didn’t get what I ordered. The owners daughter or daughter-in-law either didn't get it right or they were out of ingredients for my favorite #23: Stir fry basil and beef. What I got was still good.

I hit the Pak Lai market, as I usually do, but everything was just too expensive and either made in Thailand or China. In Thailand, I can get the same things for almost half the price.

I went back to my guest house for a nap and shower and to check up on the cleaning job. I also prepped for my rendezvous with Duangtar and D’Dao and whomever else they were going to bring along. It turns out, though, that there was a last-minute change in plans. They had a meeting to attend at Palisard and could not meet me that afternoon.

I saw Naphaphone on Facebook, so I sent her a message to see if we could meet, but she was working. It could have been a good excuse not to see me, but it’s probably true. That was OK, because I was a little scared to see her again. Next visit back to PL2, I will give it another try.

I went down to Khoun Ten, anyway, in case Duangtar and crew still might show. I had french fries again and a couple of sets of Beer Lao. It’s always a little sad to reach that point where you have to start tracing your steps back or going to the next spot that will take you home, but I was now at that point. Nonetheless, an afternoon at Khoun Ten was still a great way to end my little vacation.

Still popular on the karaoke jukebox at Khoun Ten: “Pai Jai” by Mai Charoenpura, from 2014. A favorite of mine:

Very hot on the karaoke jukeboxes and radios in Lao and Thailand is Mike Piromphon’s hit “Change Your Mind”... like this one a lot, too.

On my way back to Anusone, I stopped at Ram Khem Kong one more time, for a final beer. Checking the Internet, I had the place to myself as darkness fell.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Lao Trip 17.2b - Night Out

Drinking Beer Lao and trading laughs with Savath and Lav Su Sai in Savath's house, I thought back on last year when Savath had Sone translate our conversations for each of us. We even got to look at some land Savath had for sale. I liked Sone and wished I could have seen her this trip. When I met her last year, she was still single, in her late twenties, and still searching for a man. I hope she has found him.

Of course, the most memorable time at the Savath's was the first time I met him. It was my first time traveling in Lao by myself. I was looking around the Pak Lai market for anything I could use and buy. I came across some women preparing an after work party in front of their market stall and was invited to participate. I did my best to say "no" but one woman was so persistent that eventually I said yes.

One of the women who I had said "no" to actually seemed offended and asked why I had said "yes" to the one woman but "no" to the rest of them. I had to explain it was just that the other woman would not take "no" for an acceptable answer.

Looking back on it now, I am so happy that I eventually said "yes." Not only would I have missed out on a fun time, but I probably would have never gotten to meet Savath.

It was a time when I was still trying to find a comfortable mode of movement for myself, traveling in foreign countries. It was just about the time that I realized I needed to find a New Way to operate. Being stand-offish or reserved like Westerners generally are... just wasn't going to cut it.

One of the women of the group was very attractive, petite and spoke and understood English pretty well. Tukta had a government job and was just helping one of her friends that day. She made communication very easy. I hope, someday, I get to see her again.

Anyway, the party moved over to Savath's house and that's when I met him, in 2012. Five years later, we can't speak each other's languages very well, but between his little English, my little Lao, and the assist from interpreters, we understand each other pretty well. Also, I supplement my visits with messages and photos sent to Savath on Line, in both English and machine-translated Lao.

At any rate, Savath, Lav Su Sai and I set out for a night of bar hopping. They apologized to me a little bit because they knew I would have prefered Khoun Ten, but their preference was for the newer floating restaurant, Houane PairKok PairKham. When we got there Savath and Lav Su Sai were well-known to the woman owner/operator and given VIP treatment. It's like most everywhere else where you don't know anyone: it's hard to fit in. When you know someone high up, you're treated very well.

We had dinner and I don't know what the heck I ate. I know I was careful with volume, not trying to eat too much, being in unknown culinary territory. As day turned into night and more beer was drunk, I started to get drunk. It's good to be with friends when you feel yourself losing it.

Before I was too far gone, however, the owner/operator introduced us to her newest waitress Naphaphone. I indicated Lav Su Sai that I'd like to be friends with her or at least have her telephone number. She didn't have Line, but she was on Facebook, so I had her friend me on Facebook, which she seemed happy to do. I had her do it because, at this point, I didn't trust my abilities to set-up the communication connection without making a mistake.

Savath, Lav Su Sai and I moved over to Heuan Phair, next door, where we met some other girls and drank with them. But, by this time I was pretty wasted, so we called it a night.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lao Trip 17.2a - French Fries

Leaving Anusone guest house the next morning, I went up the street and had a Beer Lao at "Banna," the restaurant that overlooks the Mekong, which is part of Seng Chalerm guest house, where I used to stay when I visited here in my early years. I would have liked to have had breakfast, but the menu is all in the Lao language and doesn't have any pictures. I knew how to order a beer and ice, though, and that's what I did.

The two women who had been around for years recognized me and greeted me warmly. Since I had an Internet connection here, I got caught up on my communications and worldwide news.

After one bottle, I walked to the market and ran into the owner of Khoun Ten. She seemed genuinely excited to see me, urging me to go on down to the restaurant and she'd be back soon.

The place wasn't open yet and there was no one around. Often, I'm the first one here because I don't like to stay up late. Moving around in the daytime, I can see things better. Plus, it's just safer in a number of ways.

I was relieved to see Khoun Ten still operating and under it's old name. They had gone for a name change awhile back, but I don't think it caught on. After a few other people showed up, I was also happy to see the floating restaurant/bar/karaoke spot still had its special vibe.

When the owner came back, she showed me a potato and suggested she fix it for me. I said "french fries" and she knew we were talking about the same thing. Although they seemed to take forever, the fries were good and went well with the Beer Lao.

Nothing much happened that early afternoon, but I enjoyed being back in my sweet spot. I really like being along the Mekong, at river level, looking out and not having to see buildings. Thoughts here often drift to some of the memorable moments that have taken place at Khoun Ten in just a period of five years: the late afternoon the rainstorm blew in (2012); the night one of the owner's daughters had to help me up the rainy banks to the cement stairs (2013); the afternoon I met Nuey and swam with the boys in The Kong (2014); the afternoon I met Duangtar, D'Dao, Somneuk and K'Kong (2015); times watching cargo boats motor by; many karaoke songs sung by boys and girls... Few adults venture here.

Seeing the list above, I have to admit that within the past couple of years I have not had a real stand-out moment at Khoun Ten. This may reflect my becoming more boring; aging; moving away from meeting young girls; and my focus shifting to friends that I already know.

After a while I made my way up to the market for my rendezvous with my friend Savath. At first, I forgot that he had moved his hardware store over to his house across the street from the market. Little to know overhead there.

Savath and his store manager welcomed me into the shop where I sat down and traded some simple conversation. I could see that Savath was in the process of closing out his financial books for the day, so I kept to myself and just watched. During that time, Savath sent out for his traditional gift of an inconspicuous plastic water bottle filled with lao khao from the vats he has them distilled somewhere not far away. He is, after all, the Beer Lao distributor for Pak Lai.

After Savath had completed his paperwork and prepared the bank deposit for the take of the day, we moved over to his house for beers and snacks. I got to meet his wife again and the grandmother -- not sure if it's his mother or his wife's.

Savath's associate Lav Su Sai showed up and the three of us prepared for the night activities. Last year, Savath had his sons' school teacher Sone as his interpreter for our conversations. This year, those duties fell to Lav Su Sai.

Being in Savath's house drinking beer, joking around, looking at the many pictures on his wall, I remembered the times I had been here before...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lao Trip 17.1b - 1st Night in Town

On my way to look for a guest house, I was pulled into a party at the Saybaidee. Workers from the tourist boat we're losing no time getting wasted on Beer Lao and insisted I drink with them, which I was happy to do, even contributing some bottles, myself.

I re-met the manager who goes by the name of “Pinkie” on Line. She and I had done a karaoke rendition of “Sai Wa Si Bor Tim Kun” last year when I had visited the bar with Savath. In a way, this was a special place for me because this was where I first learned how to hang out with Lao people in a bar setting, back in 2012. A group of off-roaders had set the example and I followed their lead. I’ll always be thankful for that and appreciate their encouraging me to insert myself into the mix.

Here at the Saybaidee now, I broke away from the group when things started to get a little too wild. I moved to the back of the restaurant and got friendly with one of the girls working there. I was now getting a bit high and the girl at first looked like Tae. On closer look, she could have been her older sister. She was nice, but did not know any English.

Sayadeth guest house had become my go-to place when staying in Pak Lai, but this time I stopped in at the brand new Anusone guest house. I found out that for as little as the equivalent of two Beer Lao’s a day more, I could get a corner room on the third floor with a Mekong view. I treated myself.

After showering and an early dinner at Khemkong Restaurant, I made my way to PL2.

When I first arrived in Pak Lai, I had discovered the new floating restaurant -- Houane PairKok PairKham, originally moored in back of the bank -- had gone. Now, when I walked to Heuan Phair ThaPho, I found it moored right next door. I could not imagine how either floating bar/restaurant could make a profit in such close proximity to each other.

I had a beer Lao at Houane PairKok PairKham. While there, I noticed a Falang with a Lao sao and the manager/owner. The guy was in his upper twenties and sported some tatoos. I found out later he was involved with mining in the area.

Things that I had noticed about this bar before I was reminded of again. It was difficult to meet anybody. Everybody was into their own thing. So I went next door to Heuan Phair Tha Pho and had another Beer Lao. This floating bar/restaurant I had patronized many a time before and had had various memorable moments in. Tonight, I noticed that they are now set-up for live music. Maybe this is the way both floaters can coexist so close to each other: differentiation.

The owner and somewhat of a friend to me was not around. The guys running the karaoke music box I had never seen before. They played a bunch of English language songs over the sound system -- probably for my benefit, but I would have rather listened to Thai or Lao songs, to be honest.

Navigating my way through the barking soi dogs, I made it back to Anusone and collapsed.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lao Trip 17.1a - Tourist Boat

The day after our temple’s annual two-day celebration of Boon Katin, I headed for PL2 to fulfill my Thai Visa requirement (in this case, leave the country within a 90-day period and stamp back in for a new 90-day travel permit). In the process, I wanted to visit Lao friends I had not seen in a year and two, and see the changes that must have taken place in the year since I’d been gone.

On the bus ride from Nong Bua Lamphu to Muang Loei, the most interesting thing along Highway 210 was the highway, itself. Construction on widening still continues, but 210 is now mostly a four-lane highway. In spots, it even has bike paths. The entire length of highway now has painted lines, including lines for the shoulder -- something the highway did not have when I began traveling it 17 years ago.

At the Muang Loei bawkawsaw, I discovered the local sawngtheaw’s are now consolidated into the main bus station. Local transport no longer has its own small station. That area now looks like it is being reconstructed as a shopping area.

This trip, I made good time both going and coming back. There was a real advantage to leaving as early as I could from Nong Bua and then again at Pak Lai.

After switching sawngtheaws at Tha Li; stamping out of Thailand; taking a tuk-tuk to cross the border; getting my Lao visa and stamping in... I switched to another samlor to reach the Ken Thao kiw lot (bus station) in easy time to catch the sawngtheaw to Pak Lai.

The beautiful hour and a half ride from Ken Thao to Pak Lai I spent hanging onto the back of the truck; inside the truck but at the extreme back -- like I usually do. It gets a bit crowded inside. When we arrived at Pak Lai’s south bound bus station, I was not surprised to find my tuk-tuk driver friend Lu. He gave a bunch of us a ride into town and asked about my trip back to Thailand. I told him I would give him a call about what day and time I needed a pick-up. Later, I found out I did not have his new number, so missed him when I left several days later. Something like this has happened before, so I need to check with him each time what his telephone number is.

Once in Pak Lai, I went to the restaurant above the port: Par Sai. It has wide vistas and you get a real sense of the mighty Mekong from here. I had a Beer Lao, but the service wasn't that great and I kind of had to fight for my ice -- something I really don’t like to do. If they’re gonna be skimpy on ice, I’d just rather pay extra for what I need for one complete bottle and not have to hassle.

While I was enjoying settling into Lao, the tourist boat from Luang Phrabang docked at the port -- easily seen from my vantage point. It was a beautiful boat and I could only imagine how much a ticket cost to ride it. The boat would spend an overnight here before going on to Vientiane the following day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Monsoon Season, 2017

With the end of the Southeast Asian Monsoon season, I reflected back on some of the storms that had rolled in over the past 7 months.

The rains came early this year. They afforded us the opportunity to plant a little earlier than we normally do. So, that was a good thing. On the downside, it was a good half year before I could get any serious brush cutting in, other than to do the lawns. And, then there were the nyoong (mosquitoes).

Temple chedi under construction and pool 
between our 9 rai farm and the government road.

The biggest storm came fairly early on, when we were wrapping up construction of the bungalow at our 9 rai rice farm. Although I’m constantly monitoring the government meteorological hourly radar shots, the storm caught me by surprise -- not so much that it arrived as it was so strong. Both Thip and I had opted to sleep that night in our village house because of it. When the storm subsided and I got back to the farm the next day, I found the refrigerator blown nearly over and making noise. Everything we had was soaked and strewn about the pad. We had been totally unprepared for the strength of the storm and, as the bungalow was not quite finished, all our stuff had been out in the open, under Bann Nah. It took us a full two weeks to clean up.

There were other storms, but not as bad and I got better at reading the radar images via my cellphone.

I watched a couple of the storms roll into our farm house complex. Others, I advised my wife that we should sleep at the village house -- mostly due to our dirt road leading to the farm from the government road. If it gets soaked repeatedly over the course of a couple of days, it’s just a real hassle to pass through. But, we got good at that, too.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Day Thailand Stopped

Thailand’s King Bumibol Adulyadej died, last year. Although long expected, Khon Thai still felt a sense of profound loss.

During the one-year mourning period, the departed King’s body stayed in state in the Grand Palace and the Palace stayed open for people throughout the country and the world to come to pay their last respects. My wife made the two-day round-trip journey to do so and I think whoever felt close to the King and thought they could afford it, made the trek no matter what the distance was.

While the Grand Palace received twelve million visitors during the year mourning, an ornate cremation structure was constructed.

On the day of the funeral, 14 October 2017, most all Thais stopped their daily routines to participate in some way. Many were on-site near the Grand Palace and at replica cremation structures that had been built in each and every province in the country. TV’s and smart phones were glued to the day’s proceedings as they went on.

That night, the night of the actual cremation, it was like Thailand stopped completely.