Saturday, April 16, 2011

Get behind me, Satan

Today these things happened

I dreamed about rats and woke up with a millipede on my pillow.

I got rid of the millipede, jumped away from the big brown spider on my doorframe, and went back to bed.

Today is Pi Mai day. The big parade that marched down the main road into Wat Xien Thong, the oldest temple around here, today marched back out. Out again went all the regiments—ethnic minorities in black with silver ropes and beads and polygonal headdresses; Lao loum girls in metallic sins and gold sashes marching with parasol-bearing minders to defend their tight topknots and heavy makeup from the water chucked by the proles on both sides. Borne along were big, professional signs announcing awards given to Luang Prabang—“Environmentally Sustainable City Award 2008” was one, though there were others. 2008 seemed to be a big year for LP. The fact that it's 2011? Bo pen ngang. (I'm pretty it's neither according to the traditional Lao calendar.)

It was hot again today, hotter than yesterday; the sun heated even the cold water we poured down each other's backs so quickly that after shivering for a second we were again standing on the street soaked and steaming. It was a day to be immersed. I walked a block down to the brown Mekong with some friends from the guesthouse. We descended the long royal staircase that led from the old wat to the water—usually jammed with boats, it was wonderfully empty, the boatmen having decided to celebrate by drinking Beer Lao on dry land. My long skirt ballooned around me like a big, striped jellyfish until it sank and stuck to my legs and threatened to pull me under. I knotted it up into a loincloth. Bathing suits would be unseemly.

I came home, I read a book, I waited for the sun to go down and the water fighters to retire. I went to the night market to pick up food. As I was waiting, someone groped me. It was very delicate, very precise, and very cowardly—done by a grown man passing by at the same time as some kids. I wasn't quick enough to grab him, but I shouted—that may be too strong a word—something angry and obscene and followed the person I thought was the culprit to his motor bike. Had I been sure at the time, maybe I would have done something better/dumber, but I was still trying to work out what happened, and while I became confirmed in my suspicion by the fact that he wouldn't look at me while he put on his helmet and rode away, I didn't end up with enough time to do something spectacular like...ah, well. I don't know what. Smashing his wrist with a hammer would be satisfying. If I had a hammer.

So, seething, I walked my bike out toward the night market exit, only to find my path blocked by a wandering drum/dance troop. I was, of course, furious about this added insult. But the performance was just joyful—a group of white-clad men and women, trailing red and blue and yellow scarves, jumped and twirled in unison while keeping up complicated beats on the different drums strapped across their chests. A woman wearing a wraparound mask of four faces seemed to be a central figure. The men were tall and some had facial hair—they weren't Lao. Without my glasses I couldn't tell where they were from...maybe Chinese? The phrases I heard them use were in English. They kept at it long enough for me to calm down and decide that this little artistic eruption was an example of taking the good with the bad. I ended up sanguine enough to buy a few presents for folks back home on my way out of the market. I didn't even bargain that hard.

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