Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Single women traveling, Beerlao, Random Conversations

Don Det, The Lost Chronicles

It's pretty cool to work in a bar, let alone a bar in a communist country on an island standing in the middle of the Mekong.

We only serve one kind of beer: Beerlao. I am also only aware of 3 types of beer from Laos, so it's not like you're missing out. The other two are Dark Beerlao, and Namkhong Beer.

This lack of alcoholic diversity is offset by the fact that the bar is situated in the middle of the fucking Mekong, close to the Cambodian border.

Don Det is the place to go if you want to relax from all the moving around that comes with travelling (local buses, VIP buses, city buses, trains, skytrains, taxis, tuk-tuks, the list goes on) and for some of you, the hard drugs abuse. Consequently, I meet a lot of people who stay for a week instead of a day.

No drugs besides natural marijuana on Don Det. A curfew at 11pm makes sure the night doesn't last for ever everywhere on the island, so if you're not sleeping close to the beach, chances are you'll have a quiet day and a good night of sleep.

Since most of the people that stop by are back-packers (older or calmer travellers go to Don Khon instead), these individuals are also quite different from each other and my evenings are usually entertaining.

From a successful 33-year old Argentinian businesswoman in a mid-life crisis exploring life and the world, to a heroin addict running from the Cambodian police, to a traumatized German dude confused about what to do with his friend who is turning skyzo in front of his eyes because of drugs from Cambodia, to a Swedish drinking-machine (people petrol!) obsessed with tubing, to a sexy Dominican stuck in a love triangle, to a 50-year old Breton man enjoying his beer with a broad smile every night at 8pm, to a Japanese woman with the cleanest dreads I have ever seen who has watched every single anime ever who ended up staying on the island for 4 months...

That was just in one week.

I miss you all, you lunatics, goofballs, misfits and soldiers of awesomeness...


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Don Det: The Lost Chronicles continues...

"I ordered steaaaaaaamed rice, not sticky"

The waiter nods and walks away. End of discussion.

The logic behind this: I was out of steam rice, you're still getting rice, yes? What's the problem? Just eat.

I love that. This waiter would get stabbed in Montréal.

This happened every week in our bar and is a reality in Laos restaurants. You might not always get the food you ordered. You won't get a warning. Sometimes, they totally ran out of food but you won't know unless you ask a waiter after about 2 hours of waiting.

I have identified two factors that influence this "eat this instead" outcome.

First: the Laos people don't prepare food for the future, don't over-stock. At the market they buy what they think they will need for the day. When they run out of food, no problems, let's just close the business for the night!
Second: Losing face. This is pretty much the worst thing that can happen in a person's day. It brings terrible shame upon a person and to avoid this they will ignore a problem (you will NOT get food until you order something else), find a debatable solution without asking you (let's bring him chicken instead of fish. Same same) or simply go bat-shit crazy, forcing you to back down (I have heard of the cook coming out of the kitchen with a broken bottle in his hand, ready for a fight). And so, instead of the waiter coming back to tell you they don't have what you ordered (seen as "we fucked up" from the waiter's point of view) they will just bring you something else or more accurately, nothing at all.

This has led me to witness a broad spectrum of emotions displayed by foreigners.

Stuff like:

It's not what I ordered but I'm hungry, fuck it. This usually ends with no further problems until it's time to adjust the bill. You see, the cook will usually replace the item with something easier (thus cheaper) to make but you will still be charged the previous meal's price since there was no communication between the cook and the waiter.

It's not that I ordered and I'm going to complain about it. Ah, 'murica. This usually ends with either the waiter simply walking away mid-sentence, or the waiter listening to everything you have to say with a composed face and then just walk away. Your table will probably not be served until it's time for you to leave.

It's not what I ordered. I WANT WHAT I ORDERED! Vive la France! This usually ends with the foreigner walking out in frustration or an argument that will go nowhere for an extensive period of time. Sometimes the foreigner will ask for a discount and he will never get it. I was faced with this situation once, as the barman and liaison between waiter and cook. The client would simply NOT accept that we did not have any pizza dough left and demanded that we make him one. I simply told him that he should go look for a pizza elsewhere.

It's not what I ordered and it's hilarious. This is my favourite one, usually happens when a young happy couple is the subject in question.

I love this attitude. What? Why are you complaining? There really are worst things in life, don't you think? Besides, you are white and rich, so fuck you.

To be more realistic the real reason is probably that Laos was poooooor for a very long time and it probably influenced the way they react to problems with a "Next Best Thing" attitude.

Another example of the "Next Best Thing" mentality:

One night I was cleaning the bar after closing time and found a Laos business card lying on a table. I picked it up and read the person's name and contact information simply hand-written with a blue pen on a white background.

Out of curiosity I flipped it to discover on the other side a genuine business card printed, complete with graphics and colours.

A big X marked across it with a blue pen.

I couldn't help but laugh.

"No, the information you want is on the other side! Don't bother with this"

Friday, 24 May 2013

Don Det: The Lost Chronicles

I have had a very lazy week. It's been raining every day it seems, and as a landscaper it means instead of feeling gloomy, I get to stay home in pyjamas and do what I please.

For those of you who are asking, it means looking at different visa types for asian countries (Japan!), pictures of cat on the internet (catbeards!), write this very line you are reading at the moment (4th wall!), work on other little projects (Mountain City!), read comics (Chroniques de Jerusalem, Calvin & Hobbes, Naruto!), and play video games (Civ 5, Fallout NV, Minecraft) or just sit around and de-construct my own mentality.

A healthy mix of productivity and entertainment.

When I first started writing Bière de Route I wanted to post a new text every week. Then during travels - as it was also my own personal journal - I started posting almost every day. I wanted to keep this up when I renewed my activity last week, but I don't have that much to say, and not that much of an exciting life at home, so I will go back to once or twice a week.

Enough details, here's part II of Don Det: The Lost Chronicles

"The Mystery That is Soulith"

Soulith at first glance: a Laos man in his fifties with skin darker than bronze, still fit, wearing nothing but old football shorts.

If he likes your face he'll take you by the hand, asian-squat in the middle of the road, and start to tell you your fortune by drawing signs in the sand and making himself understood with hand gestures. I've had mine done three times now and watched countless other fortunes being told.

Soulith, as I would later learn, is deaf.

The theme is always similar, and through drawings and hand gestures he makes you understand what he sees. I can summarise easily: don't worry about the past, you'll make good money soon. Don't travel during year X because the plane you are on will crash (usually the same year you or your girlfriend is pregnant). You'll get married in year Y. Sometimes he tells you the year you will die, but that wasn't very popular so he didn't do it often.

After a month on the island he has taken a liking to me and me to him. He's especially fond of my beard. If he sees me speaking with a girl he will mime taking my beard and putting it on his on face, then shoot us two thumbs up and start laughing.

Over my stay I was lucky enough to meet two beautiful and laid-back argentinas and Soulith approved of both of them. He would see me walking around with her, come by, check to see if her arms are strong and shoot me two thumbs up. And start laughing. Then he would point at his wrist where a watch should be and spread his hand open. "5 o'clock. Meet me at 5 o'clock" it meant.

I'd usually share a beer with him and then get a massage.

I also knew he approved of the ladies because he would show up at One More Bar while I was "working", sit down with us and start his antics: he'd point at her with the left hand, me with the right, then bring his two index fingers together side-by-side and gesture kissing on the cheeks with the his eyes closed. Then he would start laughing.

He'd follow up by slipping a pretend ring on the appropriate finger, point at me again with a cheeky smile and shoot two thumbs up. He would then direct their attention towards my beard and tattoos - and his lack of both. One night he had me draw on his arm with a pen as he sat very still looking proud as fuck until I was done (I tried to draw a bull skull but red ink on his ultra-dark skin barely showed, wasn't very nice, but he was still happy).

Through mimes and drawings I also learned that in 2009 he was at a party on another island (maybe a temple party on Don Son, those are crazy) but drank too much Lao-Lao and somehow cracked his skull open, and that is how he became deaf.

I was also told by another local that Soulith drinks a bottle of Lao-Lao a day.

One day he was walking around with a big brown envelope. He stopped at One More Bar and showed me a laminated letter of praises he received from a Thaï bridge-building company that hired him in the past.

When I inquired about the letter he rubbed his thumb and index together (the money sign) and mimed accumulating a great pile of it by putting his two hands together horizontally and separating them slowly. Then he started laughing.

A lot of locals thought he was a lunatic and an a little special, wouldn't take his money or let him in their restaurant. I was always very sad when I saw this but thought to myself "There must be a reason". It is very rare that a Laos person is blocked entrance to another's house as in Laos culture, every one is supposed to be welcome anywhere, anytime. Ken later informed me that it is because he is too much like a farang, a foreigner. It is okay for us to behave like we do, but not for him. The way he suggests to people that they marry is considered rude in their culture. He has forgotten his roots.

Over my 3-month stay I learned a good deal about him, more than most people I would like to brag. He was apparently a kick-boxer in the Philippines in his younger days. There is the business of building bridges, and his art of massages that I will cover in a later text... He must have been extensively trained (some say by monks) as there is no one else on the island (or that I've met so far) that does his type of massage.

The legendary man and his shorts

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Don Det - The Lost Chronicles

Wow... Feels like it was a lifetime ago for some reason... But it was not even 2 months ago that I was taking a small wooden boat packed full of backpackers, the heart full of melancholy, leaving my little paradise island towards Nagasan, where I would catch a ''VIP'' bus for about 20 hours, all the way to Bangkok, in company of Constantine, a German dude that was chilling with us at One More Bar.

Today I found my little notebook of scribbles from my stay on Don Det. As promised (if you read my stuff written in french), time to shed some light on my 3 months-stay in the 4000 islands region, province of Champasak.

The first notes were written after I read a few pages of a book written by a Buddhist monk, over one of many hungover breakfasts with a new acquaintance. It was her book, and I was digesting in a hammock conveniently set up between two tables right in the restaurant over-looking the Mekong river, a nice breeze helping us ignore the imposing hot temperature of the country. She was checking up on her messages using the Laos-speed Wi-Fi.

It made me want to write again. So, after about a month of absence, later that day I dug out a pen and a notebook from the pile of my limited possessions lying on the floor of my bamboo bungalow, and set out to write - with a Beerlao, music in my ears, sitting on the floor mats of One More Bar.

Here is the text, with some corrections and add-ons (When I handwrite, I become impatient since I'm too slow and I often skip words or whole sentences)

When you see these *** it means the end of the text from that day.

''Today is Sunday''

Not that different days of the week make a marginal difference in my daily life here on Don Det, but on Sundays I make poutine.

So, on Sundays I rent a bike and pedal over to King Kong Bar on one of the two roads following the river (sunrise side), where I order two liters of gravy that I will come pick up with Ken and his scooterbike before sunset. We put the gravy in a juice jug and I hop on the back of the seat, making sure not to spill any as Ken negotiates the tiny sand road back to One More Bar.

My fucking chain kept on coming undone. By the fourth time I was swearing. On the fifth, as I was putting it back on impatiently, muttering to myself. I hear ''Bo Pa Nyan''. I look up and see a Laos man missing an arm, smiling at me.

There really are worst things in life than a skipping bike chain.

I gave the man an apologetic smile, gave him the joined hands salute as I said ''Sabaïdee!'', and left.

I was still infuriated by the eleventh time the chain came undone. This, however, gave me cause to ponder. Why should I let this minimal complication unnerve me? After all, I still had both my arms. All of my limbs were present and intact, in fact.

I tried to find good things to retain from this experience and found one: it took me seconds now to put the chain back on. By the 13th time I was in all respect, an expert. By the 14th time I was a zen master.

On the 16th time it all came crashing down on me as I fought the temptation to throw the bike in the adjacent river. I looked for something positive again and found rejoice in anger instead. Motivated, I used the excess energy to pedal faster.

I can't remember if I was wearing my Yoda shirt.

Certain emotions are addictive.


Hahahaha! I was obviously influenced by that Buddhist book I read over breakfast that day.

The following page is covered with chaotic pen markings, the art of Baringa. (Read my previous post about having to take care of her randomly). I kept it because it helps me remember what my days were like. She was probably dumped on my lap and grabbed the pen instantly, started imitating me and drew on the notebook as I laughed.

Well my friends, this is all I will be writing today as well. I like to keep the posts short, because I tend to lose my train of thoughts (if you haven't noticed), I am lazy, and am working on something else as well.

Sabaïdee = Good day/Hi
Bo Pa Nyan = No worries (kinda)

My writing spot. From the glass of water I can deduce that it was probably in the last month as I was struggling to stay hydrated

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Babies... Babies Everywhere

I always knew I wanted kids.

I think back to when I was 16 years old and I already knew I'd want a kid one day.

(I'm not going to be a dad, relax).

On Don Det, I sometimes had to take care of Baringa, Ken's 2 year old daughter (she turned two 4 days before my birthday, Manny ((more on him in the future)) baked a cake for her and all the neighbours' kids came to eat it with her and play and run around and it was a blast).

I would often just be sitting on a mat, listening to music, reading, writing or just drinking beer with a new acquaintance when Mea, the family nanny, would shoot me a full Lao sentence with a grin, dump the kid on my lap, and leave the place, making sure to spit out a mouthful of red bark chew-juice on the ground.

I'd have to - and be happy to - drop everything I was doing and actively watch this little thing who liked to put everything in her mouth and climb the low tables to stand on her feet and look at people walking by, only to let go of her hold with no warning and come dangerously close to cave in her fragile skull on a table corner.

I'd get a few looks from travellers too... Who's this white dude with a mohawk, beard, tattoos but no shirt, is that his daughter?

''Is this your bar?'' Is what I heard every week.

''No, I just hang out here and try to help. It's Mr. Ken's bar and your stay on Don Det just got more awesome because you now know him. Ken! They like your bar!"

"Thank you!" Would say Ken, and promptly return to his tiny kitchen to make another delicious pizza.

Losing my train of thoughts here. Kids and babies.

As I extended my stay on Don Det and went less and less on the social media monster (because of shitty connections not because of lack of interest, I'm totally addicted to this shit) I got less and less news from people back home. Then, one day for me which was one night for you I decided to actually pay for a good connection at the local internet shop and try to get news on everyone.

All I got was broken-up couples and even two divorces. It made me feel sad for my friends, I wished I could be having a talk over a pint with them, help them try to figure it out or change their mind.

In a more selfish tone, it didn't really make me look forward to go back home.

 In the last 3 years I've tried a few times to date girls and women I felt were worth the shot, to no avail (mostly my fault). On the island, it was easy. A drunken night of farang debauchery, people coming and going, visas ending, the trip must go on.

It was never a break-up, just a good-bye, thanks for the good times.

Back to the kids, again.

On my way back home I stopped in Bangkok for a week. I didn't want to miss the New Year and Water Festival.- The guest house where I was staying had good computers for cheap so when a married couple back home- friends of mine - offered to Skype I accepted and finally got some good news.

Earth's population was about to increase by 1.

I was happy for them and wished them all the stuff you wish new parents. On a more selfish note I was happy to finally hear some positive stuff from home and having something to look forward to.

Most every day on Don Det I'd try to catch Noua (who was always running everywhere), or tickle Soun (who now wants to be called Yukee), or tease her sister (who would try to sneak up on me and tickle me), or help San with his english homework, or go swim with Pea's younger brother and sister. I was always surrounded by children and their youthful energy and laughter.

Working with me at One More Bar was an american guy named Alex. The day he left, he told me ''I'm leaving this place to go somewhere with no babies and no kids. The best part of my day is when I go play in the water with them. Take care of this place''

I now know what he meant.

Still, I'm older than him, so respectively my group of friends is older than his. I've been back for a month and 4 days now and I've seen 4 miniature humans under 4 years old. To clumsily quote my friend Phil C - new dad - when you have a kid, you stay young. Just being around them seems to give me a little jolt, put some spring back in my steps.

I know I'm better around them now - toddlers and younglings - and I'm not scared to handle them anymore.

For some reason I think it's one of the best things this trip has tought me.

All of the Lao names are spelled to emulate how we would pronounce them, I don't know the actual spelling (except for Ken - heh)

Farang means foreigner in all the countries I've visited in asia.

For the record, I still want to have a kid one day, I just don't think I can provide enough comfort and security for one at the moment.

                                                                Still... this little face.


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Le retour

Je suis conscient que dans mon pti pays virtuel (dans la blogosphère, get it?) il y a un gros trou d'environ 3 mois, la totalité de mon séjour à Don Det, mon deuxième chez-moi, facilement le plus beau moment de ma vie.

J'ai écris quelques pages dans un petit cahier d'écolier sur place, je l'ai trouvé mais je me garde une journée spécialement motivé pour l'ouvrir, le relire, et vous décrire ça en détails ici.

J'attend aussi que le blues du retour se dissipe complètement.

Faut dire que, revenir contre son gré car pu de blé et problèmes de santé, c'est ordinaire.

Je m'étais dit toujours concentrer mon blog sur le positif (au moment du premier texte j'étais sur le bord d'un gouffre) pour m'aider moi-même et parce que c'est plus sympa à lire, donc on va pas explorer ce dit gouffre, d'acc?

Je suis à la recherche de nouvelle musique sur bandcamp et sur youtube, et je trouve beaucoup de choses complètement différentes de ce que j'aime à l'habitude.

Mais, fidèle à mon punk, je dois plugger un de mes amis.

J'ai rencontré Tim, un allemand, en ''travaillant'' au One More Bar, on a bu et jasé ensemble et comme j'offrais une pizza gratuite à qui voulait bien nous jouer quelques chansons, lui et son amie nous ont fait une petite démonstration de leur talents (covers de chansons pop à la guitare acoustique et quelques unes de ses propres pièces, stai super nice).

Il est dans un groupe punk qui s'appelle les Stumbling Pins et ils ont tout plein de stock sur youtube, alors si c'est votre truc (ou même si ce l'est pas), prenez 3:52 pour regarde ceci.

C'est le dude en rouge.

Ou faites-le pas, chui pas là pour vous dire quoi faire.

Bonne soirée, les Walking Deads et Labatt 50 m'attendent.

Oubliez pas de vous foutre de ce que le monde pensent de vous.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013



Eh bien, je m'emmerde.

Et j'écris vraiment pas assez pour en faire un métier.

Et y'a énormément de blogs qui deviennent des sites internets qui deviennent des livres, alors pourquoi pas continuer avec une formule qui fonctionnait si bien?

Bière de Route. Un blog. Une mentalité.
On se calme.

Je dois aussi avouer que je suis en train de dévorer les bandes dessinées de Guy Delisle et je suis un peu jaloux de son style de dessin, et qu'il ai déjà réalisé mon projet de rêve (voyager+écrire+dessiner). Je me trouve soundainement motivé de recommencer à écrire et même dessiner. Avec mon nouvel emploi comme paysagiste en plus, j'ai un peu trop de temps pour réfléchir et mon cerveau trotte d'un sujet à l'autre (son gazon est bin cours pourquoi faut le couper? Je me demande ce que fait Caro live. J'espère que Ken va bien. Crisse que je m'ennui du Laos. Je me demande ce que ça sonne les jams de Matt et Matt?)

Alors, me revoilà au travail (entre guillemets). Lazy folks don't do extraordinary things, disait Hugo Ste-Cath dans une toune.

Et puis boum! Un blanc...

Je réfléchis à mes débuts, il y a de ça environ 10 mois. J'avais reçu beaucoup de bon commentaires venant d'amis, mais quand je retourne lire mes premiers textes je trouve ça beaucoup trop personnel. Je crois que c'est ce que les gens aimaient car c'était très honnête et je voulais faire réfléchir mon pti monde à leur vie (car beaucoup de mes amis ont pas l'air trop trop surs de leur direction) mais en fin de compte je suis pas enchanté à l'idée de vendre mes pensées les plus profondes et j'aime pas les prêcheurs alors j'essaye de pas trop dire ma vrai façon de penser face à notre société et ce qu'on est forcé de sacrifier afin d'y faire partie.
Oups, c'est sorti tout seul!

Ensuite est venu le voyage et je m'étais donné comme mission de pousser mon niveau d'écriture. Les lecteurs avaient l'air d'aimer les descriptions des lieux et les petits moments anodins que je décrivais. Je lisais la série Game of Thrones en même temps et je crois que c'est reflêté dans mes textes en anglais.

En ce moment, comme je disais, Guy Delisle, et je crois voir son influence dans ces mots plus haut. Pas grave!

Ce que j'aimais faire aussi et que je compte continuer, c'est décrire mon entourage au moment ou j'écris (je trouve pas le bouton pour faire l'accent grave sur le O)

Live, je suis assis le dos droit sur le sofa de mes parents (pousser des tondeuses toute la journée ça fesse) devant leur télé HD en écoutant le match #1 des séries Pingouins-Sénateurs (j'aime bien regarder les gardiens de but travailler). Je déguste une Labatt 50 laissée ici par mon ami Jonathan et mon acouphène me chicane d'avoir écouté de la musique trop fort dans mes écouteurs pour enterrer le bruit des machines.

Bon. Je commence à me perdre dans mes pensées, et ça commence à être long, donc je vous quitte.

Avant de partir, voici quelques petites tâches que je me donne afin de redonner un peu de vie à ce blog:

Trouver quelqu'un qui voudrait bien corriger mes fautes d'ortographes.
Rajouter plus de détails à certains textes déjà écrits.
Ajouter plus de stock (séjour à Don Det)
Commencer à dessiner des croquis, chercher à mettre sur papier le style de dessin que je cherche (très simple et cartoon car je suis paresseux)
Et finalement, tout traduire (ce qui prendra du temps car au risque de me répéter, je suis paresseux)

Moi j'aime ça partager la musique. Étant donné que j'ai mentionné Les Saintes-Catherines plus tôt, voici une belle ptite toune de ce groupe dont les paroles ont l'effet de me faire réfléchir.

The Sainte-Catherines - Confessions of a Revolutionary Bourgeois Part III

Bonne nuit! Moi je vais m'écraser dans mon lit avec une deuxième 50 et les comics Walking Dead.