Showing posts from July, 2010

Heart of Darkness

Oh, what a place, what people! What a civilization is this of ours—this godless civilization founded on whiskey, Blackwood’s and the ‘Bonzo’ pictures! God have mercy on us, for all are part of it. —George Orwell The farang in Luang Prabang came in two broad varieties. First, the tourists, who found Laos on their itemized Lonely Planet itinerary after the tsunami forced vacationers heading to Thailand to move inland in 2000. These would stroll the colonial graveyard of the city, drink Lào-Láo in Veng Vieng, and head back into Thailand via the Friendship Bridge, with a Third World stamp to liven up their passports, and several complaints about the condition of the Laotian roads burning venomous holes in their mouths from all the retellings. Second, the travelers, who stopped in Luang Prabang because it’s in the middle of Laos, and who are quick to leave for the country’s fringes: the Four Thousand Islands of the southern Mekong, the backwater towns like Muang Ngoi or Muang Sing or Phon

Across the Mekong

You burn in the Mekong To prove your worth, Go long, go long, Right over the edge of the earth. —Joanna Newsom It took all day on a certain Saturday to bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, a Golden Triangle town alongside the Mekong. A Thai woman was waiting at the bus station with a pick-up truck to take arriving farang to an enterprising guesthouse, the Ban Fai, run by a strangely-accented old Floridan and his Thai wife, aka The Boss; and I went there with two aspiring English teachers from British Columbia and two Dutch students. We all dined there as well, on a balcony over the Mekong, looking across to the lights of Huay Xai in Laos, and the two Netherlanders, Remy and Neinke, invited me to sit with them. Over dishes of rice and Thai curries, we spoke of Holland and America, our systems of education and welfare, and our sports passions. Remy finished off Neinke's meal, saying, “It's very good to travel with her. I always get extra food.” They both spoke excellent English

The Old Man of the Mountain

Hop along, my little friends, up the Withywindle! Tom's going on ahead candles for to kindle. Down west sinks the Sun: soon you will be groping. When the night-shadows fall, then the door will open, Out of the window-panes light will twinkle yellow. Fear no alder black! Heed no hoary willow! Fear neither root nor bough! Tom goes on before you. Hey now! merry dol! We'll be waiting for you! —Tolkien I was the last to enter the dim hall, to flash my paper ticket to the trannies and silicon-bolstered counteresses out front and proceed down that narrow aisle lined with red-lit bars, rows of girls arranged in front in short black dresses and plastic grins, and this eventually delivered us out into a wide chamber under a tin roof. The off-white ring stood in the center, surrounded by rows of couches, and then encircled by more bars of crimson lighting and seedy natures. There was the siren call of “Welcome!” and the bar girls gathered around the old foreigners so beckoned; and there