Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alive in Laos

Laos. It's the quietest, most remote place in Asia.

My days have been filled with hammocks, boatrides, lazy lunches, new friends, and treks through the jungles witnessing a place where children really are just children. That's the most beautiful thing in this country- the innocence of the children as they're swimming in the river, giggling at and mimicking foreigners, playing games with rubberbands. It reminds me of my years in Minnesota, riding bikes and building forts in the gully behind our house, stomping in the mud for entire afternoons, collecting worms off the driveway for fishing (which we never got around to using).

This is a special country. Life is slow. The last town I was in only had power for two hours each night and power outages are a regular occurance even in the more developed towns. So you sleep early and hard in the pitch black.

On my first bus ride yesterday, I counted 19 people in the first five seats (including the driver). I was snuggled in between a thin Lao man at the window on my left and a 10 year old and 15 year old girl on my right sitting on cement bags, holding onto my knee so they wouldn't slip off. Instead of feeling like my personal space was being infringed upon, I felt like I was in the middle of things and with my fellow human beings. It didn't matter that I was a big blonde girl.

Louang Namtha is my current residence- it's in the north by the minority villages and the mountains, and much cooler than the southern parts of Laos. I'll be here a couple days, then next to Muang Sing, which is near the Chinese border and finally returning to Thailand. I fly to Auckland March 16th.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

For Ray's family

Describe Your Grief
by Tom Hawkins

I am driving a back road
where there are still farms,
fenced cattle, tobacco barns.

I can’t describe my grief,
unless it’s like marching
into a lost war, folding clothes by numbers,
waiting in rank for breakfast
beneath the steamy electric lights
before dawn, crawling in a cave
that hasn’t been mapped.

I round a curve and see two birds
flapping in the road.
One has been hit
by a car, and its mate
flutters just above,
wild to inspire
its fallen partner’s flight.

When Anna was ill,
I would have seen her as the fallen bird,
injured in the road, as I hovered,
watching her struggles,
urging her to fly on broken wings.

But now she is gone,
with our marathon conversations,
her startling questions.

And I don’t know
which of those two birds
I am.

The other day I came across this poem, which I'd saved on my flash drive (originally published in The Sun). It's so real, I thought I should share it. I could just see the two birds on the road. Tears blurred my vision, feeling their pain of loss. About two years ago, when I was camping in Eastern Oregon, I pulled out of my campsite early in the morning. As I came around a bend in the gravel road, I saw a raccoon on the roadside acting strangely, moving in and out of the road like she couldn’t decide what to do. From afar, I was intrigued by her behavior. “Maybe there’s food on the road”, I thought. But as I came closer, I could see her little baby in the center of the road. A car must have hit the baby and now the mom was distraught, not knowing what to do. And some say animals have no feelings.

I know there’s some of you out there for whom the pain of grief is raw. It gets better, but the scar remains forever.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Heppy Valentine's Day...

"Love is everything it's cracked up to be. It really is worth fighting for,
being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk
everything, you risk even more."

- Erica Jong

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nong Khai photos

I still have a hard time when I see these couples. What is a dirty old white guy doing with a pretty young Thai woman? I took this at breakfast today.

Mut Mee Guesthouse (in Nong Khai), where I've been lazing the last 5 days:
It's one of the loveliest, most peaceful spots I've come across in my travels. I also want to copy the simple bathroom when I build my minature home in Montana someday...

Salakaewkoo sculpture park in Nong Khai:

How I spent my days in Khon Kaen (what a fun town!):
(A.k.a. the non-joys of being ill.) After lying on the bed for three days, I decided that I would take a picture so I could remember the good times.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Meditation not necessary

I feel weird, like I could stay here forever. I'm so calm. I don't know if I've ever been at peace like this. Or if I was, I can't recall. Perhaps it was the perfect storm of getting sick again, slowing down, losing my travel companion and finding a quiet guesthouse on the river. I haven't really done anything for five days. It's sinful in most Western cultures to be this lazy. In these Asian cultures, they work every day also, all day. But not at the breakneck pace of the Western world. They have times of leisure. When there is not work, they sit and wait. Maybe that's why the Eastern parts of the world seem more spiritual than us.

I can't help but slip into contemplation. I'm trying to set some plans for the next few months of the year. A week ago, I was so sad to lose Carrie that all I could think of was to return to the States. Now I am so calm, I feel like I could stay away for years more. The options can be paralyzing or freeing. I think I'll choose to think of them as freeing and not cement anything just yet.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Arrival in Nong Khai

I'm sitting in the garden overlooking the Mekong River, which means I am also looking at Laos across the river. Funny thought.

I took a nice fan (versus A/C) bus up here- about 3 hours- they were so sweet. I went to the bus station to ask about a ride to Nong Khai and they told me where sit and when the bus arrived, a little chubby Thai guy came over and got me. Then I got on and they just watch over me when I travel alone... they know where I am going and tell me, "This isn't your stop." Etc. Usually someone who speaks English will come and sit by me. This time it was a girl, probably in her 20s on her way home to see her mom, dad and son. She works in a different province and goes home for three months out of the year. She asked, "Do you mind if I sit here, Madame?" (We get called Madame a lot over here.) After a while on the bus, I was cold and put on my green corduroy coat (proof I have acclimated to Asia heat again) and stared out the window with Radiohead on my IPod. I thought, "I still haven't seen Radiohead in concert." This obsession started in 2001 in a little apartment in Portland with the four optometry guys. (The Radiohead concert is now one of my life goals.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thought for you

"Excitement and depression, fortune and misfortune, pleasure and pain, are storms in a tiny, private, shell-bound realm- which we take to be the whole of existence. Yet we can break out of this shell and enter a new world." -Eknath Easwaran

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Khon Kaen

Today is much better. I've settled into Khon Kaen (a university town) in a simple guesthouse with only three rooms run by an Englishman and his Thai wife. He's full of useful information and English books and newpapers. There's a nice cafe downstairs full of wooden tables and good-smelling food, which I'll be trying out tomorrow.

I'm delighted to be wearing a clean sundress. I don't know if I should broadcast this, but I'd been wearing the same outfit since Hue, Vietnam- the same pants, same two shirts, but different underwear. It was over 2 weeks in one outfit. Gross.

After a shower and washing my clothes, I walked to the Laos embassy and got my visa. The man at the consulate flipped through my passport for a while, giving strange looks to some of the visas (China, India, New Zealand, Vietnam, Cambodia) in my passport. Then he kept comparing my pictures. But the whole process still took less than ten minutes. The rest of the day I've spent walking around town. I found free wifi in the air-conditioned (praise the lord) mall. It's going to take a little adjustment to the weather here.

This weekend is an art festival at the University- I've heard good reviews, so I'll be sticking around at least four days before heading north to Nong Khai, a little town on the border with Laos, overlooking the Mekong River. Nong Khai was voted one of the best places in the world to have a second home by Modern Maturity magazine recently. Hmm, I don't know what to think about that. It must move slowly there for all those retired people in their walkers. Heheh. Just kidding, you retired folks! :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Leaving Vietnam and sending Carrie away on the Jetplane

Here's my last post with Carrie in it. We both flew back to Bangkok yesterday and she kept flying onward to Seoul then to Portland via Seattle. A long schedule. I was sad to see her go. She's such good company. So easy-going and nice to everyone. It was fun to have someone to try new foods and see the sights with and laugh and be sarcastic at the stupid things. I couldn't help it and cried when she left (and a little bit today too). (See Molly, you're normal!) I wished that I was going back to Portland too when she was flying away. There is something about home. I could just imagine hopping on the Max lightrail and whirring through the city. But she went through security and I stayed. I'm ok. It's good to know that I have emotions, right? I'd imagine that it is normal to have homesickness at some point and I sort of guessed beforehand that this would happen.

So now I am headed toward Laos. Today in Ayuthaya. Settling back into solo travels. It will take a few days to transition back. I plan to lay low for a while and make some more definitive plans for the next 6 weeks in Asia and all that follows.

Final Vietnam Pictures:

The alley to our second guesthouse in Vietnam which was much more authentically "Hanoi." We had a balcony and all.

I don't know why they stamp numbers on the buildings. I have to look it up.

Carrie and me at the cafe where Catherine Deneuve took her morning coffee while filming Indochine. Great coffee in a simple environment.

The power kept going out all over Hanoi on our last night there- we had dinner at this cute place called "Little Hanoi" and at the end (luckily we were finished with our food) the power went out. It was going out all over Hanoi. I guess it's not uncommon, but it was the first time it happened to us there.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Final days with Carrie

I'm sitting on the balcony of our little $10 a night guesthouse, which is located down one of the small alleyways in Hanoi. Carrie and each have a single bed with a sky blue comforter and pillow. We've made a small mess of the room in our last days together, filling all the empty space with Chinese lanterns, Vietnamese coffee filters, made-to-order clothing, Keen sandals, a wine bottle and various other treasures.

I know that Carrie's getting ready mentally to be going home to Portland, as things are piling up that need to be addressed by her, so she'll be busy when she gets back. I'll be on another path.

We're flying back together to Bangkok on Tuesday. She'll continue on through Korea to Portland. I'll get off and jump on the rails overland through Northern Thailand to Laos. I don't really fancy getting into another border crossing like our Thailand-to-Cambodia adventure and the easiest crossing is the Friendship bridge from Nong Khai in Thailand with Vientiane in Laos, so I'm going to take my time getting there. After that, I'm not sure what'll be next.