Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lao Trip 13.5 - A Day With Duangtar

My third day of my thirteenth trip to Lao was mostly spent in the company of Duangtar, a teacher at Palisard Business College. We had become friends a year ago and I had kept in touch. This trip to the Pak Lai area was pretty much centered on renewing that friendship and seeing where it would take me; somewhat of a departure from previous trips to Lao.

At Palisard – a school of about 500 students – Duangtar introduced me to most of the administrative staff who also double as teachers. They were proud to prepare a catfish for me from the school pond. We drank it down with some Beer Lao, right outside the administration offices – something you would never see, even in Thailand.

(Tong Sian and Boon Tan)



Before the fish and beer, however, Duangtar took me for a walk through to visit various classes of seniors about to graduate. He and other teachers attempted to get the students engaged in talking English with me, but to little avail. Lao students are shy!

Pictures were taken and I made special greetings to those few students I recognized.

At morning’s end, Duangtar took me back to the Sayadeth on his under-powered motorcycle, to get some rest. I really appreciated this, as I had been in the spotlight all morning.

After school let out, Xaysana – a teacher I had met just that morning – picked me up on his motorcycle and drove to Duangtar’s house near the southern kiu lot. Duangtar was busy getting the barbeque pit together and beers were sent for. As she had done that morning also, Dao was our attendant and looked after us in the girl fashion, while her boyfriend joined us, too. Truth is, I had set this reunion with Duangtar up through Dao, on Facebook. Duangtar doesn’t spend much time on the Internet and cross-border telephone calls are expensive. So, in a way, if it hadn’t been for Dao, this trip would not have happened the way it did.


Rain began to lightly fall as we found shelter under an awning, ate pork BBQ and drank Beer Lao. Xaysana proudly told us about his coffee plantation down in Champasak and Duangtar marveled that I would spend my vacation hanging out with them rather than going to tourist sites.

It was a fairly intimate gathering, as night settled in, so I asked the big question I sometimes ask khon Lao (Lao people) when the conditions are right:

“During the war [The Second Indochina War, aka “Vietnam War”], my country was not so good to the Lao people. I would expect khon Lao to not be friendly to Americans.”

“We love America!” is always the reply.

Xaysana added, in explanation:

“That was long ago. We look to the future, not the past.”

One of the reasons I love Lao so much is because of how well I am received in the country. I once wrote about “feeling like a rockstar” and it’s true. Yet, it still amazes me how – despite all the ordinance my country dropped on Lao and the long-running “Secret War” – Laotian people have become so positive towards Americans since then.

Before leaving, Duangtar introduced me to his wife’s parents, his wife and newborn baby. He encouraged me to take pictures of the traditional way Lao (and old time Thai) men look after their wives who have just given birth: production of wood and charcoal coals spread out on metal sheets under a bamboo bed to keep the mother and child warm.

This is what I’d been hoping to hit, this trip: to get to really know Lao people and how they live. It was a special moment for me as I clicked the pictures of Duangtar, his wife and baby.

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