Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I stayed up late last night watching "The Reader" (stories about
hopelessness, isolation, and Nazis fitting my recent mood). I woke up
early, felt groggy from the little spring cold I've picked up, and
decided to doze a bit. I ended up getting out of bed close to ten.

As I was girding my loins for the three minute walk to the soup shop
and breakfast, I got a call from Leslie.

"Sabaidee! What's up?" Very cheerful.

Me, cranky. "Nothing. Going for soup. What's happening?"

"Well...there seems to be a Pi Mai party happening at my house.
There're, like, a ton of people here already. There's going to be a
bassi. Want to come?"

No, I'm thinking. But in the spirit of not being a joyless bitch for
the entire Lao New Year, I decided to suck it up and actually make
myself go to this party (where, I knew, people would be exceedingly
friendly, feed me until I was stuffed and refill my glass until I
begged them to stop. I've been so moody lately, even that was a hard
sell). Bonus--as it was still morning, I probably wouldn't get wet on
the way there.

"Yeah. But soup first."

The party was centered around a long wooden table set up in Leslie's
yard. A few feet away from the table, some pots simmered over a fire,
tended to by a few of the older members of the group. The table was
laid with duck blood soup (pinkish, with peanuts, mint, and other
green leaves floating in it), beef and tofu soup, peanut dip, bowls
full of pieces of grilled beef, and several bowls of what looked like
murky broth with scallions floating in it. Beer Lao flowed. It was
11:30 in the morning.

Leslie pointed to the unknown broth. "What's in that?" she asked Lanoy
(Lanoy is Leslie's Lao second-in-command at PoP).
"Shit, yes. But before it comes out."
"Shit still in the intestines?" I ask, remembering this from my first
time in Laos, years ago.
"Yes, yes."

It's...bitter. I don't recommend it.

The duck blood soup was better; salty, generally tasty. I had only a
little spoonful, to try it. People reached in with chopsticks to pull
floating bits out of all the bowls, or dipped pieces of cut carrots
and tomatos in some of the powders or dips on the table. Occasionally,
someone would wave his or her hands ineffectually at the growing swarm of flies. Everyone laughed. Everyone poured beer for everyone
else. All the beer was served over ice.

Unsurprisingly, something entered my system that needed to exit in
haste. (I blame the bowl of spiced feces.) I had to abort my first attempt at leaving the party--still, I
am ashamed to say, gloomy and depressed--to rush back to use the
facilities. But expelling that nasty little bug seemed to help me get
rid of my black mood as well....and this is how I ended up soaked, in
the back of a truck, drinking more beer and throwing water wildly at
anyone who passed.

Leslie: "We're going to take out the PoP truck. Lanoy's going to
drive. Wanna come?"
"Dude." (Good-mood-Michelle says 'dude' a lot.)

We got picked up at the cafe where Leslie's boyfriend works. (We soaked his work shirt for him before we left. He wasn't thrilled.) Lanoy
drove. In the back of the truck were thirteen soaked Lao folks (some
PoP workers, some members of Lanoy's basketball team, some friends of
friends), two huge drums of water, a case of beer, a bottle of soda,
and one glass, which we all shared. Leslie and I made it crew of fifteen. When
we got done throwing water on each other, we cruised through town,
slowing down and pulling up next to any roadside Pi Mai encampment to
do battle (or rather, to bless them by dumping water on them, which is
the point of the whole holiday). Shrieking, passing around the beer
one at a time in the little cups, yelling "sok dee pi mai!" we took a
slow tour of the town, pitting our buckets, bowls, and water bottles
against the roadside hoses and squirt guns. The youngest of the group,
a seventeen-year-old girl, expertly popped beer bottle tops off
against each other. We even took on a hostage at one point--a group
of young men were out rubbing cooking grease on passers by (sometimes
people throw flour or colored water or even paint, it looks like).
One of them climbed up into the truck, brandishing a sooty, greasy
wok. We all pressed back into the front corner of the truck bed, hands
out to protect our faces, yelling "Bo, bo!" Then the truck started.
The wok-bearer looked confused, then concerned, as we realized we had
him trapped and started laughing and pointing. We slowed down enough for him
to jump off a block later.

When we ran out of water, we turned an empty bucket into a drum. I
don't know the words to any of these Pi Mai songs, but as a big part
of them seems to be clapping and stamping one's feet, I was able to

Pi Mai. It's annoying, but it's a good holiday. I was looking at these
folks in the truck, thinking, this is the way to celebrate. Drink some
beer, sing some songs, get rowdy in the streets for a few days, invite
everybody to join in. There's no standing on ceremony, no exclusivity,
no airs.

Dee, dee lai.

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