Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lao of the day:

check please: kit ngun
hot: hon (sounds like hone, falling tone)
cold: iyen

my name is: khai suh Michelle
what's your name: chow suh nien

Coming back to an exotic place--it's charming and beautiful and inscrutable, still, mostly, but it's not new. Newness is exciting and inspiring; familiarity, I'm finding, really does breed something. Not contempt, but complaceny, maybe. Being fully apart, passing through, you can flock with the other passers through, take your pictures, buy your souveniers, consult your guidebooks about the next place to go. And if I was invested here, settling, staying, I suppose I'd be fixing up my house or my business. But I'm in between--not a tourist, but not yet part of the community. It's a strange, suspended feeling. It really is like being in a bubble.

Yesterday, looking for cheap, looking for "real", I wandered until I found a soup table with Lao customers but no menu. I ordered my soup--all in Lao, which give me a bit of a boost except that it's so much like Thai that I really ought to be able to speak it better--and sat and ate and let the Lao conversation wash over me. Lao, by the way, is such a sing song, stretchy language--notes are pulled as far as they possibly can be; you can hear them going white and warped in the middle, like elastic bands.

Anyway, sitting. Eating soup. The lady is cooking, another woman next to me is feeding her daughter noodles, some others are gossiping or complaining. And I listened, and didn't comprehend. Was there any point to me being there, I started to wonder. Did those people really wish I would just go stay with the other foreigners? Was I ridiculous there, after authenticity and a meal that I thought would be somehow more uncompromisingly Lao? Maybe it really is better to stick with my kind, to eat in the restaurants provided for us and to forget about trying to see any more than anyone else. Forget about trying to understand.

I hate writing in questions--it seems cheap and cowardly. And of course, reading "stick to my kind", I know the answer is no, that that isn't the way to go. Soup lady and co. didn't begrudge me my seat or my bowl of soup. I may go back tomorrow to practice vocabulary; maybe we'll be friendly. Or maybe nobody really likes Snow Whites. Maybe there's a perverse kind of respect shown by not trying to learn too much, too fast.

Oh dear. All of this is wrong. This is just my gloomy head talking. I tell you, sticking out--it's a good thing to learn. I'd forgotten how disconcerting it is, back home in the country where I am the majority.

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