Monday, January 12, 2009

Moon Over Mekong


Luang Prabang, Laos - The full moon was lighting up the Mekong, hazy in the cool mountain air, so bright you could easily see the short fishing boats at the bank, and shapes and outlines of houseboats moored downriver, distant lights on down there, civilization carved out of mountainous jungle.

An imposing black mass silhouette of a mountain sloping down to the river is directly across the river. The distant view to the north, and downriver and to the west are misty shades of gradations of gray, with outlines of successive mountain ridges folding into one another, reminding one of the remote inaccessibility of this city and the people here.

One of the things that was drawing me to this place was the search for the ‘Oh-ee’ player, the old man playing outside the high whitewashed wall of the national gallery. As we sat on the Mt. Phousi plaza a year ago, high above the street, he played a haunting folk melody on the two-stringed Lao instrument that I wanted to hear again.

Tonight, as I was walking home, I heard someone playing short strains and a few scattered notes, and followed the sound. I stood outside his house while he practiced for a few minutes, then played a four or five minute traditional song, a private unspoken request from a one-person audience, standing quietly out on the street.

There, Bryan. I found him.

Found the silversmiths, too. It’s like a factory down there.


Noi On The Court

It was the motivation of a rematch, after the drubbing with the Canadian team at the hands of Noi and her Lao all-girl teammates, average height about, I don’t know, five foot two?..four foot eight?...they come up to about…here…on me…they’re short.

Really short. But nonetheless, they whipped us, they said, 10-9 in the first game, and more soundly in the second. 10 and they didn’t say, something like 10-6 or 10-5, maybe 10-4. It was bad, embarrassing.

A couple days ago I suggested maybe half-court, something like 3 on 3, so today we went to a concrete court inside a big pavilion, but there were a bunch of guys there who wanted to use it for soccer, or ‘football’ to them and the rest of the world, so we went to another outdoor court…of course she would know where all the courts were…

Anyway, I just learned on the court today, shooting around, Noi, the ace Luang Prabang Women’s team point guard, turns out to be the tournament MVP, she said, probably the best woman player in all of Laos, playing against ‘the guys’ all her life, she said, cashing ‘em from behind the three point line…a couple feet behind the three point line, as I fed rebounds and shot around with her and her teammate, whose name I just never got.

My shit was rusty, rreallly rusty after two years on the comedy tour, thinking, ‘Shut down her right, overplay the right. Make her use her left hand. Don’t give her the outside shot. Make her put it on the floor and throw up that circus shit down in the paint,’ and then thinking…especially after attempting a lay up, maybe on these knees I’d better forget all about one-on-one.

The girl was phenomenal, and so was her teammate, the wing guard in a 1-2-2 offense.
She said there were six teams in the tournament They won the championship in 2005, and again this year. The tournament was just last week. She was at the top of her game. I was glad they were content with just shooting around with an old man in flip flops.


Jacques, who I ran into coincidentally for the third time, said at the streetside vegetarian buffet, where we sat together, “They (the Lao) are so simple. They don’t bother with…the…with the…”

“Philosophy,” I interjected.

“Yes, yes,” he laughed. They are not complex.”

“That’s why they’re always smiling and laughing,” I added.

“Yes!” said Jacques. “They are happy.”

I had asked Olay if he knew what was happening in Gaza, with the Israelis, and he said no.

DAMN! Someone should kick my ass off this seawall. Sat here absorbed into those last couple of graphs of dialogue, eyes affixed to the keyboard, and MISSED THE SUNSET!

It is still nice, but I wanted to catch it going down over the edge of the mountain.

Sitting on the seawall.

Many people in Asia smoke. Everybody but R.J. Renolds and Phillip Morris says it’s a problem. I met a little kid, about seven, on the bamboo bridge yesterday, and HE was smoking. I gave him hell…but in a good way…even though I had a pack in my pocket. Hypocritical, right? Sure, but he’s just a kid, and I’m old man, raised when Lucky Strikes were fine tobacco.

It was New Year’s Eve and they had a party for the staff and guests in the lobby. The husband of the wife running the place was in the lobby, firing one up. She said something to him, then turned to me shaking her head, expressing, ‘He’s a hopeless case.”

He turned, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, laughing and said, “Smoking – and drinking - It’s good for your health.”

Man, it gets quiet fast here. They roll up the streets at 8 p.m., retiring with the monks, then getting up to feed them. It’s quite simple.

You don’t need eyes in the back of your head to know what is going on behind you. You can pick it up in reflections. You can see it in the eyes of others.


It wasn’t St. Peter at the gate, but a scoundrel dog. “Do you recognize me?” he asked. “Do you remember me?”

“You sat with your plate heaped full, and I approached you pitifully, ribs showing, begging warily, uncertain of you. Would you toss me a rib bone?

“Did you ever wonder why they always said I was your best friend? I was beside you during your darkest hour, in your lowest moment. I was your best listener, your only confidant. Did you ever wonder why, in your language, that dog spelled backwards, is ‘god’? Do you remember that God can work in mysterious ways?”

“I approached you without certainty, your plate overflowing. Would you toss me a bone? Your plate overflowing. Would you shoo me away?”