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.

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