Local Encounters

Already I am losing track of the days. A glance at my watch (a good investment from Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown) informs me that it is shortly after 18:00 (confirmed by the Thai national anthem that someone’s speakers just played; in Thailand all media plays the anthem at 8:00 and 16:00. This apparently applies to any neighboring countries who are consuming Thai media.) on Saturday, August 17th. That means I have been in Savannakhet five days already. How the time flies! I have been spending my time wandering the town, reading, doing Sudoku, and frequenting a couple different eating establishments.

There are other foreigners in town, though they are few and far between. For the most part, I have been continuing to experience the long stretches of solitude that is part of the package while traveling alone. This is by no means a bad thing; I don’t mind being alone and have enough interaction with local people to keep from feeling lonely. A few encounters…

– Yesterday afternoon I was following my map, trying to find a building that was now either a museum or a government office; its current use wasn’t clear from the description on the map. While walking, I passed by a bustling section with a number of vendor carts and construction workers taking a break in the afternoon heat. As usual, there were a few smiles and hellos for the foreigner in the un-touristy part of town. Then one old man stepped in front of me and said “Resort? Resort?” and pointed the way I was going. I smiled and stepped around him.

But he was persistent and started to follow me. I crossed the street, and he crossed too. After a couple blocks, I turned to tell him that I don’t have money for a resort. He accepted that and then asked where I was from. I answered “Saharat America,” and wished that I knew how to add “and please stop following me.” I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t want someone with unknown intentions on my tail. I crossed the street again, and this time he walked another block on his side before crossing too. Then we passed by a couple of shops, where he announced with gusto that I was from America. And he continued to do this for anyone we passed. I walked faster, and soon I was a ways ahead but could still hear him behind me, heralding my passing and origin to everyone within earshot.

I was partly embarassed, partly amused, and mostly thankful that Lao-U.S. relations are friendly. I was also happy to get far enough ahead to turn a corner and lose him for good. Who knows what he was up to? My guess is that he has nothing else to do and so tries to “help” tourists in this fashion.

– Later that evening, there was a live music show scheduled at Chai Dee Cafe. I still had over an hour before the music was set to begin, so I decided to try a bottle of Spy Winecooler while watching the sunsest on the river. I got the bottle from a convenience store on the main drag of town and then walked down to the riverfront. I found a ceramic table at and abandoned food stall to sit on and set about enjoying the view. And opening the bottle. I hadn’t thought about needing a bottle opener, and much to my dismay the cap did not come off with the usual ease. I bunched up my skirt and tried twisting it off, to no avail. I tried popping it off against the edge of the table, which only ended up scratching the table. I tried again against a wooden table, which succeeded in wedging little pieces of wood into the grooves of a still firmly affixed cap. I tried twisting with my skirt again. This time the cap gave a little bit, and soon I was able to twist it 360 degrees. But still I was unable to change its vertical orientation.

Then, using pickle jar logic (if you tap the edge of a pickle jar lid against the counter it becomes much easier to open), I tapped the bottlecap against a tree. Oompa! The carbonation in the drink caused a fizz to bubble through the tiny airholes made by twisting the cap without removing the cap itself. So there I was, with a bottle sticking out of my mouth, completely missing the sunset because of an obstinate bottlecap. I was about ready to give up on the whole endeavor when I saw some people drinking beers in a riverside shack/restaurant next door. Ask and you shall receive, right? Right! They understood my Thai (or at least my intention — holding up a bottle and pointing at a bottle opener is pretty universal language) and were more than happy to have me sit and drink with them.

They were a group of local guys and the mama that ran the restaurant, along with some of her family/friends. People came and went, and with each new person a new glass with ice and beer was produced. One guy was in charge of making sure everyone’s drink had a couple cubes of ice in addition to plenty of beer. Whenever one person took a drink, they toasted everyone else and everyone else drank too. Without the ice, they would have been quite drunk.

They tried talking with me, and I understood bits and pieces, but mostly I smiled and laughed and enjoyed the situation. These guys were friendly and not visibly drunk, and the presence of a few women put me at ease. They helped with my Laotian pronunciation and asked questions about my living in Thailand. They also toasted my luck, health, and safe travels for the future. I took my leave once it began to get dark, my cup runneth empty (I am still not a beer fan), and it was time to get to Chai Dee for the music.

– The owner of Chai Dee is Japanese, and he had asked a friend to come and do a show. His friend is Samurai Suzuki, from Tokyo Japooon!! (Samurai Suzuki announced this after every song, making sure that the audience of five was not soon to forget.) He wore traditional Japanese clothes, including the wooden clogs that were also used as percussion. His head was bald save for a ponytail on top with some long hair on the sides, which was held up with a Japanese flag headband. He sang a few catchy songs in Japanese and a few classics in English, though he coughed his way through much of the lyrics. It was a nice, funny, and intimate show, which could have been more intimate if I were to have put on the “bunny” costume that he had apparently brought with.

When he first asked if I would be a “bunny” and assist him, I thought all I had to do was put on a pair of rabit ears. Harmless, right? Then he comes back with an unopened “bunny” costume set, including fishnets, a strapless leotard, and oversize wrist cuffs. And, of course, bunny ears. “You’ve been traveling with this?” I had to laugh. He promised that I could be famous if I was his bunny assistant, but quite frankly I know that fame wouldn’t make me any happier than I already am. (Plus I wouldn’t even wear that costume for Halloween back home!) I declined the offer and settled for wearing just the ears. The other patrons (including another Japanese boy, two Thai women, and one guy from France (I think)) laughed and also each took a turn with the ears. Wish I got a picture.

– This morning, I walked to the bus station to buy a ticket for a trip to Salavan (an undeveloped province nearby — Lonely Planet says to approach any trips here “in the spirit of adventure.” Bring it on!) tomorrow. As I was leaving, a security/police officer out front waved me down. Not sure what he wanted, I went. He asked where I was from, and then if I had a boyfriend. When I said “America” and “not yet” (“not yet” is the Thai way of saying no, since it is always assumed that someday you will) he propositioned that he be my boyfriend. Ah, yet another comedic situation. How does this stuff happen to me? He wrote down his name (in Lao — I was able to read it!) and phone number on a scrap of paper and said that he would take me out for beers. I answered that I didn’t like beer, and he offered rice whiskey. Not much better, but I laughed and said okay. He gave me the scrap of paper, and as I walked away his female comrade said “don’t forget to call!” I have no intention of calling, though I figure being in contact with someone from the authority doesn’t hurt.

– Lastly, I have been enjoying the company of the owner of the vegan shop in town. Today we sat and chatted (and ate — she gave me guava, sweet corn, and a jumbo bag of boiled peanuts for the road tomorrow) for a few hours in her shop, which is in front of her house. With her grandchildren running around and her son coming and going, it almost felt like a homestay. She showed me family pictures and talked about the few trips she has been able to take around Laos and Thailand. Not only does she know Yasothon, she has been there for a religious convention! Small world.

One thought on “Local Encounters

  1. Kelly you are getting to the far reaches of the world and showing yet again how people are very much the same everywhere. Soon you will be back in bustling places. Glad you did not wear the bunny costume (whew). Enjoy your wander and know that we think of you often. Love dad


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