Luang Prabang, Laos - I would like to bring you to this place, this mysterious place and people where and to whom I was drawn four decades past when I first saw their mountain jungle homes built upon stilts.
It was a ‘diplomatic mission’ deep into the mountains, delivering a mystery man in civilian clothes with a mysterious manila envelope to whom appeared to be the village chief, a tiny and mysterious man with painted face and crossbow, standing with a group of other tiny men with painted faces and crossbows.
To an awe-struck kid from Indiana, turned frightened helicopter medic, as awe stricken as the village children gaping fearfully at the mysterious helicopter and its frightening giant occupants, I thought to some day return for a longer stay and a closer look at this mysterious land.
I would like to bring you to this place, to a riverside restaurant on the Mekong, where we could sit and talk for hours, dreamily passing the time over beer Lao and your favorite meal, in this, the land of a million elephants.
No Known Liar
More than one reader expressed dismay that a previous entry, The High Wire Act, was a fabrication. Just for clarification, I previously explained the difference between an outright liar and a tale-teller, remember?
A known and outright liar, like Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Carl Rove, Dick Cheney, and many other politicians and public servants, lies to avoid punishment or a perceived threat to their ego, telling the truth only after conviction and pre-sentencing, or maybe on their deathbeds.
A tale-teller, on the other hand, with absolutely nothing to lose but the attention of their audience, embellishes the facts or makes up new facts up purely for entertainment. As Bro Tom says, “That’s what he would’ve said if he would’ve said it.” I’m a tale-teller.
None of this shit is true, including this statement. Two negatives make a positive, right? Does a compounded lie make the truth?
Well, some of it is true. The degree of difference (between the truth and a lie) is the same as being detained in study hall or sent to the principal’s office.
The emails are true. That’s me. All this other stuff is lies, written by that Other Guy……Your Honor.
Could it be that this is all made up, written from my freezing-ass trailer on the rez, creating an illusion of being somewhere on the beaches of Thailand or the jungles of northern Laos? Riverside restaurants on the Mekong? Suuure. In your dreams. Take me with you, Casper, to Fantasy Land with Peter Pan.
The Mekong is so far away, you cannot get farther from home without leaving the planet.
Pig Now Have Leg Injury
I finally learned what all the squealing was about, as a dozen hogs were off-loaded from a long boat and driven up here where there is a break in the seawall for access down the embankment to the river.
Animal rights people in another country would have a conniption fit. They tie a front and back leg of the hog together, then suspend the animal by his ankles from a scale and a long shaft of bamboo hefted between two men so the pig can be weighed, an apparent exhausting ordeal for the pig, being ‘hog-tied.’
One of them was limping severely from the stress and his struggling against the three men it took to tie him. Pigs’ legs are ill-designed for doing ‘the splits.’
From there, it is a short time before he hits the wok, and then your plate, as the famous Lao sausage.
No Fatalities in Downed Airliner
After the forced ditch-landing on the Hudson River in which all 155 passengers emerged safely, news reports quickly noted there were no fatalities. That is, of course, complete indifference to, and discounting the Canadian goose, or indeterminate flock of birds that were sucked into the aircraft’s turbine engines.
Too Soun (Too loud, too much sound)
After those two Chinese women in the lower room stayed up, loudly yackety-yacking away until way after midnight (for the Chinese New Year), with all the windows open, I thought this morning at 5:30 a.m. as I rose to feed the monks, “I wonder if they can hear me dragging this dresser across the floor.”
As a Thai friend in the south said of my neighbor’s big motorcycle, “Too soun.”
Now able to walk and chew gum at the same time, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
For some unknown reason, a four-inch I-Beam was left protruding three inches above the pavement in the middle of the sidewalk, neither cut off flush nor ground down even with the pavement, its edges smoothe and blackened from innumerable stumbles and curses, leaving injured pedestrian traffic to only angrily wonder why.
Better to pay attention. Better to pay attention to just walking, the length of each step, the weight upon the heels, the constriction of the Achilles tendon, the shift of spinal alignment and balance of first one foot and then the other, like a toddler learning its first tentative steps, assiduous, shaky, training the anatomy and wiring the neural system for a lifetime of pedestrian travel.
Just walking, attending to the leg extension, the hamstrings stretching, the compression upon the knees, the transit of the pelvis and rotation of the hip sockets, the degree of swing of the arms, the verticality of the neck and head, the attitude of the shoulders, the lightness of the heart.
Happy to Walk
Don’t know about you, but there are three things my knees cannot tolerate anymore; jumping jacks, full court basketball, and a woman in her thirties.
I took a long walk today to the big sand bar that reaches out into the river down before the bend, some three miles downstream from my sunset perch atop the wall.
They had built a long levee out to the sand bar, where an endless string of dump trucks lined up for two large front-loaders working a huge pit of clean Mekong sand. A dozen small boys swam in a chest-deep pool at the end of the levee, throwing mud balls that stuck on one another's skin, and two men dug for mussels upstream in ankle-deep water.
This was the shallow side of the river, about two miles across at this point, and all boat traffic hugged deeper water near the far shore. I walked out onto the exposed riverbed, looking for a special stone for you. You could easily come get it yourself, but since I was already here, I thought I would save you the trouble.
I found three suitable stones for gifts, threw two of them back in the river, and placed the third stone on a stupa at Wat Thatluang on the way home, thinking that place to be more appropriate than my luggage or you, later at mid-summer. A scarf or a silver lighter case from Laos would be more fun than a rock, anyway, would it not?
From the river bed, I climbed the long inclined ramp up from the river as the trucks, loaded down with twenty tons of sand, groaned and ground their way up the ramp in first gear. Just prior to sunset and after the last of the trucks, the loader came up the ramp, and as it passed behind where I sat near the top of the ramp, making the turn for the final thirty yards of hill, I had to turn and glance back out of the corner of my eye to make certain something freaky didn’t happen, like the brakes and engine compression simultaneously giving out just at that point, and having a 50-ton machine roll backward and crush me beneath its massive wheels.
You know that blind spot, directly behind you? I just had to look and check, just like at the sweat lodge fire when Jonathon walked behind me, stark naked with an axe after ingesting an ounce of mushrooms. Given his scrambled state of mind at the time, I just had to turn my head and keep my eyes on the dude, you know what I mean? Like that monstrous front-loader, it’s a goose bumps kind of a thing.
This pig-to-market must be a daily occurrence along the river. A shallow boat off-loaded four people with three pigs. As they reached the top of the ramp, I looked down at a make-believe watch and said, “I wondered when you guys were going to make it,” a comment ignored by the pig-driving party, and which I would have ignored, too, and I speak the language.
So I asked them how much for one pig. Eighty dollar. No wonder they were all smiling. That big black one should bring a hundred.
Same Same, But Different
Contrary to popular belief, after having their heads shaved and all wearing the same saffron robe outfits, my monk students do not all look alike.
After three weeks of class, I asked them their names today, having previously only gotten those of Olay and his roommate, Sino (C-No); Kamvone, Sompha, Sonetouy, Bounkhong, Sommay, and Somyod, but I still can’t tell which monk is which monk. With their heads shaved, and in those robes, they all look alike.
Between Look and Stare
They asked me what was the difference between ‘look’ and ‘stare’, which I explained as, “A ‘look’ is like a glance, but a ‘stare’ is like, ‘look too long’, like, you can look at a woman, but you cannot stare. I can, but you cannot.”
They all laughted heartily, and being monks, knew exactly what I was talking about, especially when the tall, dark haired girl from Kazakhstan, dressed entirely in white and toting a big camera, ascended the stairs and entered the temple compound. “This is a stare,” I said.
Using one of the lines we had been working on, I said to her, “Excuse me, but where are you from?”
“Kazakhstan,” she replied. “Do you know where it is?”
“Yes,” I said, telling the students to do a quick Google Earth search. “Your neighbors are Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, and Armenia.”
“Armenia is…not close,” she said. “It is near Russia. Have you ever been to Central Asia?”
“No,” I replied, urging my students to engage her in conversation, which they seemed reluctant to do, all their faces glowing red.
She took a few photos after asking permission, then I shot one of her sitting with the monks, which they were all quite happy to do, and then she left.
After again explaining the difference between a look and a stare, I left the computer with the students and told them I’d return in two hours when the battery was dead.
“Where are you going?” they asked.
“Kazakhst…er…I’m going to…I’m going to…I’m going to see you guys later.”
It’s Too Hot, Bro
At sun dance, you’ve seen those guys who make a ‘front porch’ on their sage crown, thereby affording an eyeshade, bearing small resemblance to the bill of a cap. To avoid the blistering sun, I’ve been meaning to ask our sponsor and lead dancer, Bro Tom, if it would be okay to design a kind of a baseball cap out of sage for some of us bros who are hair challenged on top of our heads.
I’m sure he would say okay, since he’s pretty creative with the eye shade, himself. Then from a sage baseball cap, it would be a small step to weave a sage Mexican sombrero. Be the only guy out there dancing in full shade.
Hey Misty. Tell Bo I’m laying here wide-ass awake at 2:30 a.m., trying to remember what he told me not to forget.