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October   November Continues  More Ramblings

November 1, 2000:

 Well, welcome to November, month number 11. I knew when I left that if I made it this far I was a lost cause -- I'll never come home. And it's true, I am officially addicted to life on the road, simply proven by the fact that I'm anxious with only having two months left in this trip. In the beginning I was scared because I felt I didn't have the experience to tackle the things I was immersed in. Now, I have a new problem. I'm still just as confused, but now I have more to be confused about. It would take me lifetimes to become an "expert" on any of the places and people I've seen. Any number of thoughts pop into my mind when I travel through countries; I'm comparing and analyzing current experiences with past continually.

When I left Bangkok and headed to the north of Thailand last week to the city of Chang Mai I mulled over the past ten months. When I flew into Bangkok on my way to Nepal the 27th of December 1999 I would not let myself think about my return to Thailand. What can happen in ten months... I was discussing this fact with one of my college friends Allison, who was vacationing for a few weeks in Thailand. "I can't imagine where I'l be in ten years." I said. "Ten years?" She said. "Try ten months, ten days." I could only shake my head. Given those words, I'll be in Laos heading towards Vietnam inside the next ten days.

 November 2, 2000:

Heading off to Laos in less than five hours. I've just returned from collecting my laundry and packing up my bags. Usually in these big cities laundry can be done easily -- you just take your grubs to a small stand on the street and pick them up again the following day. Of course for me it wasn't that easy. First I had to go around, winding through streets to find each little stand I'd previously seen disappeared, swept off the streets in the monthly clearing of the roads. If I spray enough insect repellant on my clothes maybe I won't need to bother washing them, I thought, trying my hardest to overlook the three large stains on my one "clean" shirt I was wearing, the cleanest of the bunch. I refused to smell the pile I had in hand. After weeks of tramping through the hot humid heat of Bangkok ripe is the gentelest of the words that come to mind.

I finally found a what looked like a promising cart but no one was nearby. "Kortod ka? Excuse me?" I asked a small boy sitting on his heels opposite the cart. "Do you know where the laundry is?" He stood up, came over and held out his hands like he wanted me to give him my bag of rotten clothes. I did. He appeared to be weighing them. "40 baht." He said. He wanted just under a dollar to wash nearly 3 pounds of clothes. I looked around thinking that his mother would show up now and take over the transaction. No mother though so I handed over the dollar. With that the boy, who looked less than a day over five, sprinted away up the alley. "Ummm?" I said and was left standing there 40 baht and dirty clothes lighter. Well, that's a pisser, I thought and turned and walked back to my room. For some reason though, I wasn't too concerned about it. What could I do? I'd go back tomorrow and if the clothes were gone then I'd worry about it.

So this morning I had a leisurely breakfast and planned the day before meandering over to check out my laundry. This time, when I showed up to the cart, a young woman was sitting on a chair beside it, clothes in bags next to her. "Oh sawasdee ka. Hello." I said and inquired about my clothes. The woman looked at me blankly. "I not see you yesterday." We looked at each other, me thinking oh crap, and her thinking I was crazy. Half a minute later the boy peeked around a corner. I caught his eye and instantly he ran over, big bag of clean clothes in his hand. "I cleaned." He said and the woman looked at him and at me before leaning her head down and laughing into her hand. They exchanged some words in Thai before the woman frowned and said, "I'm sorry, he's only four years old. He washed your clothes with my shampoo."

And as I sit here in a small travel agent's office, in newly shampooed clothes, I can only shake my head and laugh.

NOTE: Next stop: Laos. As things in Laos are a bit more primitive than Thailand I'm not certain I'll be able to update the site for the next few weeks. Please keep on checking and I'll do my damnedest. Lagon. Bye.

November 3, 2000: 

LAOS: Hot damn, what a place! I'm sitting at a small wicker desk in an old, run-down French colonial hotel in Pakxe, Laos thinking about the previous day. The overnight train from Bangkok to the Thai border town was fairly uneventful, long being the only real hassle. Bill, my friend and therewewere web guru, and I hopped on a bus outside the train station. From there on out we were left to hand signals and basic grunting to communicate with anyone we met. Two bus-rides later we landed at the immigration buildings for both Thailand and Laos. Things proceeded easily through those checks -- horror stories of traveler's whoas unnerving me unnessaccarily.

With our "Welcome to Laos PDR" stamp in our passports we walked the short distance to the taxi/bus stand. People waved us up into the pick-up taxi -- a large truck with two benches running down the sides that can hold up to a dozen Westerners or three or four times that of Laotians. It wasn't too cramped in there, only a handful of women inside. After a few minutes, however, people began to pour in. Bill and I shoved down the seats to make room for the onslaught. As we sat and waited one of the ladies flashed me her bra. I blinked and turned away quickly. Did anyone see that? I thought and turned back to the woman to see if I even saw her correctly. What I thought was some type of Laotian advance turned out to be an act of bra-stuffing. The women were all shoving products into the their shirts, tying plastic bags around their knees under their skirts, lifting up the benches and wrapping bags to the cross bars. The one next to me made a motion to me that I interpreted to mean that she wanted me to hold the three live chickens and pretend they were mine. I smiled and picked up my backpack, put it on my lap. She shoved the chickens, clucking, under my feet.

(This women, and a dozen more who squeezed in shortly before the truck took off, stuffed bottles of lotion down her shirt, tied bags of eggs to her legs and shoved chickens under mine, just another day on the Thai/Lao border smuggling goods.)

The things they were smuggling across the border weren't firearms, drugs, or even Levis, they were eggs, apples, small, what they call mouse-shit red and green chilies, and face cream. Most of the things I thought would be easy and cheep to find within the country. We made the check point easily and as the truck proceeded onto Pakxe dropping people off along the way more and more things appeared in out of the way hiding places -- the woman with the chickens held a large shaving razor and cut away three plastic bags filled with eggs that had been stuffed inside a plastic sheet dividing the back of the truck from the front.

(Immediately, moments actually, after entering Laos from the southern entry point of Chang Mek, I was struck by the children. Always smiling, always posing, the Lao kids have taken over my camera and as I look through my recent snaps, they're all I find.)

Walking from the hotel later pick-up taxis passed Bill and I by. I wondered if anyone had forgotten a bag or two of eggs under a seat somewhere. The sun was setting and a haze came over the town perched between the Mekong and Xe Dong rivers, a completely different world from the big cities of Thailand next door.

(I did get a little worried when, 10 minutes into our 6 hr journey down river, the captain started bailing water out of the boat. Every half an hour or so I could hear a whoosh-whoosh sound coming from behind me, Xekong river being put back where it came from.)

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