Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fireworks Over Luang Prabang


Luang Prabang, Laos - If you were to chart a timeline of your life, what would it look like, and what would be the significant moments? ‘Well, this happened, and that happened…to me.’ Many would be relational in context, and other events, if not all, could be referred to as karmic occurrence, with predeterminant causes and conditions enabling manifestation in the material world in the form of trauma or joy.

We’re either making things happen, or things are happening to us.

The effect could be a permanent though subtle shifting of what one writer referred to as ‘the assemblage point,’ a point of collective sensory data in one’s perceptual field, a shift in perception and view of the world incorporating that new event experience. It wasn’t just coincidence that every event was designed toward survival and evolution.

What would it look like, your timeline, and exactly where would it begin? Well, for most of us, let’s assume ‘Birth.’


‘Well, in seventh grade, I got a new Schwinn. And once in high school, I had my head in a toilet.’

Birth doesn’t necessarily have to result in trauma, but it often does, depending upon what culture into which a person is born, but for many, this singular event shapes a view of the world and how we’ll respond in it.

You’re floating along in the womb, all warm and comfortable with a heartbeat pounding with the rush of fluids, then there was her urgent distress and something was required of you, and suddenly, wow!

From there, who knows?

Many of us may note the births and deaths of significant others, if not the circumstances, and the deaths of relationships, and the forming of relationships, or taking a new job, maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know what your timeline would look like.

‘In eighth grade, while mowing the yard, I saw the grass being cut, and had the most profound experience.’

How about a knee blowout or major surgery? How about a chemical experience? How about your encounter with God?


They had fireworks here last night, marking ‘Soldier’s Day’ or the revolution, or day off for soldiers, police, and government workers, I was told. Everybody happy.

I sat in a break in the wall, in a space of a dozen feet where no car could park, solid parking along the wall, running right along the street there, with the populace out to see the show, which turned out to be less than spectacular, but illuminated the river in green and red and brown, with the booming echoing off the mountains. Streets were full of people, cars, motorbikes, and trucks, with streets blocked off and traffic diverted.

Two guys, both slobbery drunk, one on a bicycle, stopped directly in front of me, right in the middle of the street, this main river thoroughfare, and proceeded with a fifteen, twenty minute conversation, none of which I understood, except they were pathetically drunk.

I kept looking up and down the street, watching the hundreds of cars and bikes and people reduced to a single-lane crawl to go around those two guys. It was fantastic comedy. The guy who was walking could hardly stand up, and wouldn’t let go of the handshake of the guy on the bike.

The conversation never became antagonistic, but at a couple of points became quite loud. Most of the time, amid the traffic noise and during the quiet lulls, it sounded slobbery, pathetically drunk.

They didn’t move. From where I sat, it looked like they were six inches shy of being right in the middle of the street. At first I thought they would eventually move, but they didn’t. It went on and on.

At a couple of points I felt I should move, which I eventually did, fearing they would end their conversation and turn their attention to me, sitting just a few feet away, but they never did. It just went on and on. I finally moved when I could no longer contain my laughter. They were fantastic.


What do they mean, on that website, claiming they can help you do your ‘karmic untangling’? Send $30. You’ll get the newsletter.


Get it all straight in this lifetime. Thirty bucks.


I’ve been coming to SE Asia for over a decade, and have yet to visit Vietnam. Well, I went there once, and had a bad experience. And like prison or a bad restaurant, if you didn’t like it there, you most likely would be reluctant to return.

Good new is, I don’t have to enter the country to go down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It’s all in Laos and Cambodia, but most people would think it’s in Vietnam.*


Carrying babies

Unlike the many farang you see on the street, I’ve never seen an Asian parent push their babies in a stroller. They hold them close, upon the hip, on their backs, or between their knees on a motorcycle, driving with one hand.


Farang Like To Make Fy

‘Fy’. ‘Fire’. That’s the word for anything carrying electricity, or fire itself, as it is generally known. ‘Open fy,’ is turn to on the light. A ‘fy-check’ is a Bic. ‘Make fy’ is to turn on a propane burner, or to set fire to a pile of trash, like this one I’ve got going down here at the scenic park along the river.

I’ve had a couple of fires ‘get away from me’ before; once requiring the local rural fire department to extinguish it before it got to the barn, after I came home at noon one day, and in sport coat and tie, slacks, and serious university shoes, decided it would be a good idea to burn the trash in a stiff, thirty mile-per-hour wind out of the south, which quickly pushed our common, household trash fire into the adjacent field of dry, dead weeds.

There was such a sense of relief upon realization the barn wasn’t going to burn, like a heart-pounding sprint across a river trestle track in front of an accelerating freight train, leaping four railroad ties at a time, and just making it to the other side, giddy with relief; and the local volunteers, completely competent, efficient, and self-congratulatory, were getting the job done, a moment of excited exhausted frightened euphoric gladness, not wholly unlike moments of an acid trip. It wasn’t a peak moment in life, but rather, an unforgettable idiotic moment dealing with fire.

I was black after the ordeal, a harrowing experience requiring a shower, a change of clothes and late from lunch return to the office on a non-noon-hour-basketball day.**

The other time, I almost burned down the jungle.

Up here, there is no chance. The trees are too far apart, and although there is a lot of undergrowth, you have to hold a lighter under a leaf for a long time to reach ignition temperature, like, cardboard won’t even light, nor newspaper.


So, I made one of those timelines, like you suggested way back when. I ended up with a page full of significant particulars, but some were bunched together, like, ‘jobs,’ and, ‘degrees.’ I broke it down into geographic areas, easily recollecting what happened where. Nearly all of the items were relational, surprisingly mostly joyous.

It turned out to be a very different exercise than say, writing up a resume’, puffed up with lies, whereas this was mostly an ‘event-oriented’ task, an interesting accounting of life-changing events.


Why is it we cannot be satisfied and thankful for the things we’ve been given? Is it an insatiable desire to continually strive toward that which we lack?

At the end of class, I asked my students, “What are you guys doing this afternoon?”

“Nothing,” they replied.

Turning to Olay, I asked, “What are you doing this afternoon?”

“Nothing,” he said.

I asked Sommay.

“Nothing,” he said. They were all doing nothing.


*There is, in fact, a commercialized route inside Vietnam, but I don’t want to go into that shit just now, explaining the difference between that one and the real one, the one containing all the UXO, all over the places we said we weren’t supposed to be.

**On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, some of us fellas in the English, History and Sociology departments would close up shop about 10:30 a.m. and could be out of the locker room, laced up, and on the YMCA court by 10:45, all warmed up and ready to go for the first game.

We’d leave the court at about 1 p.m., shower, and be back in the office by 1:30, 1:45 p.m. at the latest, for any 2 p.m. mandatory office hours appointment we may have scheduled. Nothing before 2. No pressing student need before basketball. No committee meetings before 3 p.m. Class at 4 p.m., no problem. Class at 1 p.m., right after lunch? Harrrgrrrrrrrrrrr. Some days, you have to ‘wing it,’ without notes, wet hair.

‘Let’s see…where did we leave off, last time?’

Kristin, sitting in the front row, working on a 4.0, flips through her notes. She’ll have it.