Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Don Det Notes, Continued

With my last post, Bière de Route (Road Beer) blog just went past 7,000 views! I would celebrate with a Lao-Lao shot...

I was supposed to call Ken today at 8pm (8am one day in the future for him) but Skype wouldn't open... Bo pa nyan.

Without wasting further time:

Friendship Bracelets

When you do something nice for someone here in Laos, they tie a little colourful string bracelet to your wrist as a way to say thank you. I noticed that trend in Cambodia too, to a lesser degree. I really like the concept.

I got my first bracelet (pink) in Angkor Wat after praying to a Buddha statue and making a donation. A Cambodian woman, all smiles, grabbed my arm before I could leave and tied skillfully the string while chanting softly.

I got a head rush from the sheer spirituality.

During my Bolivan plateau loop I stayed in a bungalow by the side of a small, quiet river. The place was very clean and calm and left a nice impression on me.

When I checked out at reception (a desk under a bamboo roof) the next morning I took the time to thank the staff for their welcome and told them how nice their place was.

The lady seemed very happy with my remark: she let out a very american "awwwww", grabbed a small straw pot hanging from the ceiling, reached inside and produced 3 bracelets, 2 bright yellow and 1 half yellow and half brown, which she tied softly to my wrist. She then joined her hands together to her chin and said a cheerful "Kup Chaï Laï Laï" (Thank you very much) to which I replied by joining my hands together up to my nose - the respectful height for a salute to someone older than you - and repeating my best Kup Chaï... they apparently don't have a word for "You're welcome".

I think the mother of the family actually makes them herself and to me it makes them even more significant and symbolic.

I received a lot of those bracelets while attending Don Det parties and weddings (there seemed to be one every week) and sometimes had to take them off because they were tied too loosely. At some point Ken remarked that I was starting to have a lot of them and compared me to Manni, a man from England that had been on the island for 2 years and was pretty much running Happy Bar.

"Have you seen Manni's arms? He has so many friends! So much time for so much friends".

On my last day on Don Det I was eating at the neighbors' restaurant (which had become tradition since I was feeling guilty at making Ban cook for me during her ever-rare time off) when I announced to them that I was leaving. The mother of the family seemed very sad and gave me another 3 bracelets and we took family pictures. The eldest daughter came to me and talked very softly in Lao for a minute - the grandma seemed intent on us getting wed one day - and the kids all laughed.

4 days ago I cut loose my bracelets. I was still carrying most of them to the point where I have a paler spot on my wrist where they were. I had to cut them because I got a new job dishwashing at a friend's bar and I didn't want them to get ruined by the constant water.

They had been a constant reminder of my good times now past and the ones to come as I sometimes struggle to get up in the morning.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Don Det life: Soulith and a visit to the druid

When I moved out of my parents' place a month ago I forgot to bring my little Laos schoolbook with me.

I was with my dad today so I got to grab it.

So, as is tradition:

More on Soulith, the massage master

It is now clear to me that Soulith is completely deaf.

In the first month of my Don Det life I was afflicted with a crippling leg cramp. I was like I had a baseball lodged inside my left shin and it hurt like fuck, to the point where I couldn't walk anymore.

I had taken muscle relaxants, minerals, I even paid a visit to the village druid and applied a potion on my leg made of grinded roots, bark, rocks and seashells - to no avail.

That visit is worth its own footnote: Ken grabbed his neighbor's scooterbike and I hopped on as we drove accross the island to the next one, Don Khon. We drove through the monastery lands and parked under a house that was built behind the actual temple. We climbed wooden stairs to the 2nd floor where directly in front of us was a bed frame with no mattress. Sleeping on it was a Lao man that must have been about 80 years old. I mean, 80-years-of-working-rice-fields-old. We woke him up and Ken explained the ordeal with my leg, which he touched and felt and squeezed for a minute, not once caring about my tattoos. He then turned around and looked through a few bedsheet bundles that were laying under his bed and pulled one out, opened it. Inside were hundreds of pieces of plants and rocks and animals. He handed a pot and a grinding stone to Ken and instructed him on how much to grind of each ingredient, which he then mixed with water and poured down a plastic bottle that he ended over to me. His payment: 2 Beerlao. One for me and Ken, and one for him. As we were leaving one of his 80-years-of-hard-hard-living-old friends showed up with home-made Lao-Lao which we had to stay and take a few shots of. Best. Druid. Ever.

Back to the bar, as I was taking a 1-meter-an-hour trip to the bathroom Soulith happened by. His first reaction was to laugh - Laos Classic, more on that in another text - but then he looked worried and pointed at my leg.

I grabbed my shin, made my hand into a fist and then knocked on a tree. Soulith understood, pointed at his wrist where a watch would be, and showed me 5 o'clock by spreading his hand open.

I smiled and thanked him by joining my hands together.

He returned at 5 with a pot to make a fire which he used to warm up some banana leaves. He then proceeded to massage the cramp out of my leg with the hot leaves and worked the cramp out of my muscles with his iron-hard fingers, forcing me to endure one of the worst pains I have ever felt, if not THE worst pain.

After the session - which took place right on the floor of the bar with clients looking on - I had to sit back and concentrate on staying calm while my teeth were actually shaking.

The next he day he returned for session #2, this time adding chants and rituals, one of them involving dropping hot candle wax on specific parts of my legs, and spitting water on me in a fine mist.

After THAT session which got me an amazing headache, I thanked him by giving him a 100,000 kip note (his regular massage fee was 35,000 kip but I had been getting them for free for a while) and went to bed.

The next morning Ken said that I should stop the treatments as he doesn't like to see me feeling pain like that and so when Soulith showed up at 5 o'clock on the dot I declined with a smile.

He laughed and left, returning a minute later with a Beerlao that he insisted we'd share.

He did this for 10 days straight. I would be serving tables or talking with someone when I would notice him sitting silently at a table with a Beerlao open and he wouldn't touch it until I joined him.

The price locals pay for a Beerlao is 10,000 kips. I gave him a 100,000. So, he spent the whole thing buying beer that he would share with me.

I was walking 3 days after the second massage.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Sweet shirt bro

We spend so much time focused on our appearance.

We're built that way. Can't help it.

I come from a family that's never had (that I'm old enough to remember) any real problems with money. I've always tried to look poorer than I actually was though. I think it comes from the fact that when I was younger some kids in my group of friends lived in a trailer park and I was maybe ashamed of the abundance of foodstuff at our house, at all my shoes and pants and shirts and gaming systems so I started changing what I presented to people.

They were the tough kids too. Survival instinct? If I don't look too much like a nerd they won't beat me up?

After that, throughout high school I'd wear army pants, loose t-shirt, black hoodie.

Pretty sure Kurt Cobain had something to do with it too...

We spend so much time searching for just the right article of clothing. We do it so much in fact that we congratulate each other on a fucking t-shirt we bought.

We didn't design it. We didn't sow it. We didn't have anything to do with the creation, production, shipping of that particular product. All we did was walk around on our free time in a giant area dedicated to stuff for our appearance and spend our money on it.

"Fucking sweet shirt bro"
"Thanks man"

I've said it, I've heard it. It gives me a honest feeling of pride and happiness. Yesssss, the dude at Soundcentral likes my new Stormtrooper t-shirt! I remember that day, I was looking for leftover weekend passes to the first Pouzzafest. It was sunny and I was full of pep.

Fucking ludicrous.

I have tons of t-shirts. I gave a lot away to charity before leaving on my trip, about 3 garbage bags worth. The ones left are - for the most part - band shirts bought in live shows. I'd like to think I bought them mostly to support the groups but in reality it's because of what it makes me look like when I wear it - that's why I kept them too, it's my favourite image of myself. Not the comic book geek nor the slightly-outdoorsy guy but the show-goer.

We spend so much time fine-tuning what our outside looks like.

Is it to hide what's inside?

Is it rather to showcase what makes us, us, without having to talk to each other?

What if we started to focus all that time and energy on something else?

What if we started to make our core beautiful?

They say the eyes are the window to the soul.

I don't believe in the concept of a soul.

I do believe in smiles though. It's one of my favourite things. I like to smile, I like to make people smile.

It's contagious.

It's free.