Wednesday, September 26, 2012


"Tuk tuk?" "Waterfall!" There are a number of foreigners here who are bothered by the fact that, often, when walking down the street, tuk tuk drivers will call out, asking if you want a tuk tuk, asking if you want to go to the waterfall, one of the town's biggest attractions. (Along the Mekong, the call is "Hello. Boat trip?") "My name's not 'tuk tuk,' they'll sigh, accepting another large, buck-fifty beer from the Hmong waiter, who is probably wearing his only set of shoes, in whose salary that beer would make a large dent. Me, I don't mind. "Tuk tuk!" "Waterfall!" I was once actually stopped in a tuk tuk, waiting for the driver, who was standing there with me, to write something on a piece of paper for me to read (he wanted to sell me some land, it turned out), when another tuk tuk driver pulled up next to us and inquired "Airport?" I had no bags with me, so I don't know what he was thinking. I suppose, as we were heading away from the waterfall and I was dressed nicely, he figured it was a good bet. We all had a laugh about it. So no, those things don't bother me and I think it's silly to get bent out of shape about them. But there is one thing that gets me every time... Along the Mekong are a few places offering massages and spas. The women who work there sit out front and call out "Ma-saaaaaa. You want ma-saaaaa?" anytime someone walks past. This I understand. Many people *do* want massages here (though after the first, if you're not getting something extra, most people realize that they aren't in Thailand anymore and, unfortunately, massage is not an art that has reached its pinnacle in this country). Calling out your services to attract customers, I suppose, works. Here's what gets me. I'm a runner. I like to run. I put on my shorts, my running shoes, my crappy light t-shirts, and I run around Luang Prabang. Most of the time I run along the two rivers here. By the time I'm jogging along the Mekong, I'm red and sweaty. I'm moving at speed. I am not carrying a purse; I do not have pockets. I am not strolling, half-bored, looking at the big shade trees and the brown river. I am clearly engaged in og-gamlang-gai--exercise. And I'm a woman. I doubt I fit the profile of the mainstay customer at these places. And yet every time I puff past these ladies--every single time, for years--as I run along, I hear "You wan mas-saaaaa?" Really? Really? No. There's no way. There's no way I want a massage. There's no way they think I'm going to stop, or that anyone would want to put hands on me in that state. The only places I could be storing money--and the state said money might be in--are best not considered. It cracks me up every time. I've decided the ladies on the steps are like human motion sensors while they work. Any disruption in the force, and "Massaaaaaaaage?" One day I'll hide just down the block and send a ball bouncing down the road, just to see what happens. Breaking news: Some guys across the road here are slapping some bricks and mortar on top of an old white concrete wall that encases this village's temple. They're building a new brick wall on top of an older, lower wall. I can't imagine why. And I can't imagine who thought that this wall on top of wall business would look good. Mystery upon mystery.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The hotel staff have taken a shine to me. Maybe it's because I practice Lao with them sometimes, maybe it's because I let them work on their English with me sometimes. Maybe it's because they got a kick out of the fact that I like to eat sticky rice with my fried eggs. (The waitress still giggles when she brings me sticky rice.) Maybe the old lady in the kitchen just wants to fatten me up. For whatever reason, at some point, they decided that they weren't going to give me the regular falang breakfast. Instead, one day, the old lady who seems to run the kitchen and do the actual cooking--who I'd never met before--comes out, not with the fried eggs that we eat every time we have breakfast here--but with a plate of pork fried garlic and ginger. (She pointed out the ginger several times, saying the word in English. G thinks perhaps it's supposed to help you get pregnant.) The plate was clearly for me: G got his eggs and toast. Now, of course, I don't normally eat meat, and when I eat it for politeness's sake, I don't eat that much of it. But these kitchen ladies hide behind the wall and watch us eat! I didn't want eat just a bit and then ask for some eggs--I couldn't have eaten both and I didn't want her to think I didn't appreciate it. So I ate most of the plate they brought out. (It was delicious.) We didn't have breakfast there for two days. Today, we went down again. I was hoping it was a special treat. Nope. Today it was some sort egg souffle thing with noodles and chicken. Again, just for me. Again, delicious. I'm wonderfully, terribly trapped. It's really nice. I might just have to wander down to the kitchen and ask how they make the food and see if they'll let me hang around and watch. Maybe I'll sneak in a statement about how I don't eat all that much meat--but they might think that just means they need to start serving me liver and blood to make up for lost time. Maybe I'll just eat a few more meat breakfasts to avoid hurting the old lady's feelings. My soul for the price of a cooking lesson.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

For the past several days, there's been a patch of broken glass toward the edge of the street that runs past my hotel. For several days, I've only spotted it just as I was about to step into some of the more ground-in shards toward the edge of the sunburst explosion--there's still a pretty big, intact piece of glass at its center--and changed course to give it a wide berth. On the first and second day, I wondered what had happened. By the third, it had become part of the scenery. Today, as I walked to the bank, I noticed that someone had spraypainted a black oval around it, delineating its edges. Why? Why has this been done? Why did someone bother to mark this mess? Why hasn't it just been cleaned up?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hello again

There's a new Korean restaurant in Luang Prabang; o joy, there is a Korean restaurant. Now, when walk out the door at seven pm and do the "where do you want eat?", "No, where do YOU want to eat?", hair-tearing "I chose last time!" routine, there's one more place to add to the list. This puts us up to six, or nine if we want to eat buckets of MSG (yum, MSGeeeeeee), or eleven if we feel like eating at a backpacker joint where acquaintances will entice us into boozy follies like staying out until, goodness, 11 pm. (But hurrah, no more shall I be enticed into cigarettes; this sickness has finally given me the quitting spirit.) Eleven sounds like a lot, but day in, day out, with some in heavy rotation and others dropping out, it really ain't much. And you can subtract at least two if we don't feel like breaking the bank. And suddenly everything's closed for the low season, and we spend nights driving in circles, unable to decide. At least it's quiet now. Quiet and beautiful and full of fun for locals--football tournaments and...well, a football tournament is pretty bloody exciting. There was rock climbing now long ago, though those friends have gone on vacation now (hurry back, T and M). And one of these days, I'll wake up to tomatoes of my very own. Tomatoes and cucumber to go with the basil and dill and morning glory just waiting to be used. Along with the giant rosella and kapok trees that I've germinated from teeny little seeds. The kapoks will shoot up--well, I hope they will; they can--they sometimes grow 13 feet in a year! I'm working on date palms and lychees, too, and there will be papaya and any damn thing else I can grow. I just need to transplant these things soon. Yesterday I told my Lao teacher that cucumbers were chai hon. She laughed. I can make jokes in Lao. This is a good thing. Lychees are a very good thing. Korean food, very good. Great vertical clouds, excellent. The drama of cucumbers. Homemade flashcards. New sinhs. New fruit. Caves, bats, bridges, seasons. Things rolling around and unrolling and rolling again.