Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm trying to think of the adjective for this place. "Tranquil" rings tinny and artificial; "mellow" is closer but doesn't quite get there and sounds too drug-induced anyway. The image that sticks in my head is of being gently pressed upon from above by soft cotton fluff. "Muted," perhaps, is what I'm after.

And it's not just me--this town has an effect on everyone. People get stuck here. People spend days drifting around town, suddenly no longer in such a hurry to cross temples and treks off their lists. Johnny the American/Albanian has been here for twelve days and has no plans to leave. He's come to my bar three or four days in a row now. He says he may spend his whole trip here; that this town is "giving him what he needs."

As I was riding out to the bar to hook up to the internet and write this, it occured to me that some people might say it's all the Buddhism here. This is a town full of temples and monks all in the service of a religion that seeks dispassion, disengagement, detachment. Maybe some of it bleeds out across the town. Maybe this has to do with the slightly stupefying effect of being here. Maybe enlightenment is a place.

I certainly find all my desires tamped down. I see the same papaya salad man every day. That is the papaya salad I want; I don't crave variety; I am content rather than bored. I have, maybe, one drink behind the bar on most nights. Getting drunk seems sort of pointless and potentially unpleasant. The "work" I do during the day is slow and quiet and solitary, and that's also fine. I write, I ride my bike around in the sun, I look for new food to eat. I make plans to do the things there are to do in town, but when the day ends with them undone, I don't feel regret. I feel very little, to be honest. I have next to nothing--I have a backpack and a toothbrush and some clothes. I don't have my own room; I don't have my own bed. I can't think of what I might want right now. Or maybe, when you want for everything, no individual desire can really sting. Grabbing a fistful of hair and pulling doesn't really hurt, but plucking out one--ouch. Awkward metaphor, perhaps, but I'm just too chilled out right now to bother fixing it.

If I dig I can get to dissatisfaction, of course. I sometimes miss feeling more involved in the world--but living on a street a few blocks from some power center didn't really give me any more power than I have out here. Proximity isn't influence. Not in my case, anyway. And it's hard to maintain that burning need to change the world when, looking around me, there ain't nothing I'd change.

And there's the Mekong. Maybe Bodhi is the Mekong. There's something compelling about that river; it pulls like a spell; it's trance-like. I ride alongside it and stare. And it's just a wide, flat, brown river, but maybe that's it, that it is so absolutely itself, so much bigger than metaphors, so much simpler than symbols. It's just water, a lot of it, moving constantly and evenly; it doesn't change but the light on it does. It is full of things we can't see, but I'm content with the surface.

Boy. This has wandered into dangerously metaphysical realms, so I'll cut myself off. New tourism slogan: Luang Prabang. Get inside your own head.

(And not up my own ass, sniggerers. A, I'm looking at you.)

The electricity has just gone off. Perfect timing, eh? And, ah, who cares. It'll come back on at some point. In the meantime, I've got everything and nothing to do.

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