… Then it’s another. Take two! That last post was yet another passionately crafted comminique lost in the oblivion between when I hit “publish post” and when the post is (supposedly) published. I didn’t learn my lesson last time about copying what I write before publishing, so the words are gone forever. So here goes another attempt…
This trip hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park (though I have been to some nice parks in Asia). It began with and continues to carry a bit of heartache, which is joined intermittently with stomach bugs and divested of debit cards. Yesterday yet another chapter unfolded. Before writing the optimistic post that preceded this one, I checked out of my guesthouse and left my bags with reception. That happened around noon, and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the town, sitting by the river, hanging out in Chai Dee, and writing in the Internet cafe. At around seven I went back to the guesthouse to get my bags and then went off to the bus station. It is a bit of a walk with a heavy pack, dogs barking at you the whole way, and pieces of gravel biting me through my flip flop in the same damn spot on my left heel. But it beats paying a tuk-tuk (if you can find one) a night rate for one person.
Just as predicted, the VIP bus was full, but I was pleased to discover that the local bus was also air-conditioned. It was just in a little rougher shape and the aisle was filled with rice sacks and a stack of plastic chairs in the back, but there were no livestock and no people climbing on the roof of this bus. I got a ticket and wedged myself into a window seat towards the bus. There were still a few minutes left before departure, so I took advantage of the light and stillness to dig through my backpack to find the inflatable neckroll and blindfold that I find to be essential for these trips. During the digging, I came across the money belt that I keep buried under books and clothes that is used to carry my passport and cash stash. And… it was light. Too light. And thin. Too thin. Shit. I opened it, and the blue Turkish wallet that has served me for years was gone. The Evil Eye zipper bead wasn’t enough this time. “Shit. Shitshitshitshit. Shit,” or something along those lines was my reaction. Things got frantic fast, and I dumped everything in my bag onto the seat next to me. Tissues printed to look like hundred dollar bills (a gag gift from mumzie) spilled out last, like some kind of joke. My hands were shaking as I threw everything back in the bag and stumbled off the bus.
The porter, a young guy not much older than me, met me at the door. I managed to communicate that my wallet was gone, and asked if he could call the guesthouse for me. Thank goodness I have a local phone and the business card of the guesthouse. He called and got through, and explained the situation in brief. The other side handed the phone over to someone who could speak a little English, and the porter handed the phone to me. I tried to explain what happened in English, but the guy on the other line pulled the “what? What? I can’t hear you” routine and hung up. No tears yet, but I was on the verge of panic. That money bag held pretty much all the cash from my emergency Western Union transfer and was meant to get me through Asia and settled in England. Now it was gone, and I still didn’t have my ATM card. Shit.
The porter got my money back from the ticket and directed me to the security post in front of the station, the same post where I met my wannabe Lao boyfriend. He wasn’t there. Instead, two guys were sitting inside watching a rabbit-eared television. As I approached, I counted no less than five fat cockroaches scuttling at the edge of the light of the tiny building. The guy in the sweat-stained wife beater got up to talk to me, though he stood on a stoop and literally talked down to me. I tried my best to explain the situation, but all he wanted was to see my passport. I gave it, and he spent a few minutes examining each page. He asked the usual questions: my name, my country, my business in Laos. (Thankfully he didn’t ask if I had a boyfriend.) Then he asked a few questions about what happened, though I didn’t understand most of what he said through his heavy Lao accent and vocabulary. The one that I did catch was “where is the thief now?” “How the hell do I know? If I did, I would be doing something about it besides standing in front of your cockroach-infested shack!” is what I would have liked to say. Thankfully, my language skills are not that advanced.
A tuk-tuk driver pulled up during the proceedings, and he turned out to be much more direct. “What do you want to do?” I said that I wanted the security guy to take me back to the guesthouse to ask about the missing money. It was agreed that the tuk-tuk driver would take me. My bags were loaded, but before I climbed in I asked him how much. Baw ben yang! Nevermind. Free ride. Let’s go.
Actually, he did me one better than going to the guesthouse. He took me to the police station. There I explained the situation again and was taken into a room where a one of the officers got all my info on paper, including copies of my thankfullly unstolen passport, and wrote down a description of what happened. I have never filed a police report before, but there’s a first time for everything. Maybe I should have gotten a copy of it (after all, copies of my birth certificate and SS card were with the money and a report could be helpful in case of identity theft down the road) but at the time I was just happy to feel like something was being done. I was even happier that I had the language skills to communicate. Without that, I would have been seriously SOL.
With the report and passport copies in hand, my transcriber, two older guys, one guy actually in uniform, and myself climbed a pick-up truck en route to the guesthouse. We were off to crack some skulls! Or at least find out if anyone saw anything. The owners and the police talked it out, and I tried my best to understand. Basically, people come and go all day. I knew that. It could have been anyone. I highly doubt it was the owners, but all kinds of Laotian help pass through plus all the guests. Foreigner-on-foreigner crime is actually quite common. Whoever it was, they are gone now and richer for it. The older lady in charge of the guesthouse kept saying I should have been wearing my money belt, a piece of advice repeated by two different American guests that I have talked to since then. They are right, of course, and I was foolish to leave my valuables as such easy pickings. Things have been fine for months, but it only takes once. I have never been robbed before. Talk about learning the hard way.
Talks concluded, the cops shook hands with the owners, said by to me, and went on their way. The guesthouse let me stay another night for free, and my room even had a TV. CNN = nothing but the raging wildfires in the American West and news about Syria. Talk about more downers. I hope that we don’t send in missiles but violent voices are usually the loudest so I am guessing that we will. And what’s all this business about sending missiles to “maintain our credibility?” What credibility? Our credibility as a meddling, war-mongering nation? Hell, look at what we did to Laos and still deny. There’s some credibility we could work on: help clear the bombs we dropped here for no other reason than we couldn’t land the planes with them on board.
American policy aside, I am still happy to meet other Americans on the road. Martin, a Californian who has been traveling/living in Asia for twenty years, gave me genuine sympathy and some sound advice about traveling when I met him at the guesthouse this afternoon. Namely, keep your valuables with you. Wear your money belt all all times and sleep with it. Don’t trust anyone. Have copies of everything in various places. He also encouraged me to be more aggressive about my MIA new debit card. He suggested I check the post office and go to the FedEx office in Vientiane. At the least he said I should make some phone calls to keep my priority and the system moving. After our chat, I did the first thing he suggested and guess what? It was there! My debit card has probably been here for over a week, so now I feel doubly stupid. Why did I let myself get robbed? And why didn’t I think of this before? But what has happened has happened. Ning, the girl I gave shoes to yesterday sums up the Lao philosophy: You can always make more money, and at least you aren’t hurt. No problem. Baw ben yang.
So tonight I will try going to Vientiane again, and hopefully fate will agree that I have had my fill of nasty surprises. In the last draft of this post I moaned a bit about how I kinda want to go home and how I miss having a purpose, but I think getting on the move again will sort out those feelings. Plus my cousin Jake is in the air coming over to Thailand as I type, so there may be a bit of a family reunion pretty soon here. So now I will leave you, my dear readers, with a picture I found that shows kind of how I feel and may serve as a bit of an inspiration: