Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gangsters and gay bars

The bar has become the favorite of a gang of Russians in town for some kind of business. The shady type, I hope. They like to show up at ten thirty or so, order strange cocktail combinations, smoke cigars, and disappear after one drink. The ringleader is Sergei (of course), who has a belly and a beard and a low voice and jokes constantly and is, to all appearances, a jolly, fun-loving Ruskie on holiday. He insists on calling me Rachel (Rah-chelle); he lost a bet with his wife on what my correct name was, but he's sticking to his guns. I'm pretty sure his wife's name is Natasha. She's taller than him, thin and beautiful and also very friendly.

There are two schools of thought about the maybe-gangsters. One side says they're just nice, cheerful gangsters whose thug days are behind them, but who have definitely bashed a kneecap or two. The other thinks their generally friendly affect and the presence of the wives means they're just nice Russian businessmen. I'm on the fence. Last night, one of them tried to pay for his ten dollar tab with a hundred dollar bill. It took some explaning to get him to understand that I didn't have ninety dollars in change. His friend, also wanting to pay, learned that his tab was the equivalent of five bucks and smacked a ten on the bar and walked away. There was something about the sound of the slap, the idea of pushing money around, that gave his receding back some kind of glow. Had there been a crowd, I bet it would have parted for him.

I realize I'm talking about tens and hundreds here--small change, relatively. But this is Laos. It's all small change. Leaving a ten on a five dollar tab is something to gossip about. The biggest tab I've rung up at this place--which isn't one of the cheaper bars in town, mind you--was 74 dollars. But that was for two Aussies who had several drinks each and at one point bought Negronis for everyone in the place.

In other news, I've discovered that Luang Prabang has a gay bar--the Blue Ice bar. I went last night with a pretty-ish male friend. I was, predictably, snubbed in favor of his charms. It was something of a relief to be ignored again. I associate Asia with being kind of invisible, at least as an object of desire. But at the bar, of course, I'm percieved as a font of not only alcohol, but local wisdom. I'd forgotten what it's like back here. It's very confusing, being flirted with. When I can even tell it's happening. Which is rare. I mean, people just like to talk, right? Right?

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