Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lincoln Of The Sparrows. Goodbye Vientiane.

On paved stones leading to Wat Thatluang, I met the scorch-wrinkled smile of a woman who's small leathery left hand permanently curled into her wrist. The other carried half-a-dozen tiny cages with sparrows locked inside.
There were vendors along the promenade selling bright purple silks, carved Buddhas, sparkling bangles, sun hats like bamboo ride cymbals, and a thousand repeated mementos from the largest temple in Laos (built 1566, and said to contain a real Buddha hair!).

The little sparrows, two in each jail, were flapping around frantically and calling. I thought they were for sale, and boy did I want a box of those sparrows instead of a “WATs HAPPENING” t-shirt (i made that up). Justin said, she’s telling you the sparrows are not for sale, you pay to free them. Finally a tourist trap I can really get behind. I almost started crying I wanted to spring those bastards so bad. I paid 15,000 Kip, which is $1.50 US, and pulled two little sticks out of the side. They were nudging their heads out, each trying to be the first to fly. Then they squeezed through and yay!! Both flew upward and were gone. After the thrill, we joked they probably shot right back down and up her skirt. But I don’t care if they were on the payroll, I made 3 friends.

From what I vaguely understand, tomorrow morning (Sunday) we ride in a truck down route 13 into Savannahkhet. Tough to navigate after dark because of cattle, but again, this is only something I’ve heard and not seen. We are set to arrive at the school on Monday.

This is the last posting from Vientiane. My stay in this city has been over the top. Rich wood smoke, unpredictable tuk tuk rides and the occasional night breeze only Monk prayers could answer. Bustling daytime heat, negotiations with winks, chugging Purel, and possible cat sausage. The late morning sun rode our shoulders down Rues and alleys and thoroughfares. I saw a guy peeing, I saw bricklayers hoisting wheelbarrows with pulleys, and I saw afternoon wedding chairs being set up outside the Lao Cultural Hall. The smell of fresh baked brioche came onto us like the ladies(?) we sometimes see at night, yet Sabai Dee Coffee on the corner of Fa Ngym Road and Chao Anoeu is my favorite morning stop.
Euro-backpackers and Trainspotter/Chuck Norris tank tops like to go there too, but Sabai Dee’s Caffe Latte, fresh raspberry freeze you have spoon out of a tall slender glass before it melts, and cucumber/avocado on warm seed bread is worth the harmless douchery.

However, my heart beats loudest for Mak Phet. In the evening, this was the meal to rival any. A restaurant manned by former street children, trained to cook, wait tables, learn mathematics, and live above the business was UNREAL. Sweetest, most gentle, attentive smart young people. America just sucks it. The dishes would make professional 10 star chefs and staffs in SOHO hang up their knives. We sat outside by lantern light as they “practiced” what was impeccable service and care. Justin and I ate there two nights. I woke up dreaming of the Grilled Buffalo Fillet Rolls with Pumpkin and Daikon. The Grilled Mekong River Fish with Bell Peppers and Lao Whisky. Every ingredient subtle and present. The fish was like fresh air in a sauce you’d sell your passport to wade in. When it was time, the Red Hibiscus and Passion Fruit Sorbet with Meringue or The Pineapple in Palm-Sugar Caramel with Coconut Gelato and Chili, sent your chair back to mama. Not only do you feel good eating here, you feet GREAT. I am so sad to leave and probably ruined forever.

When it’s time for soup we went looking for Pho on Rue Samsentha. Found one on the corner of Rue Pangham. The family restaurant was unnamed, the broth was pork and perfect. A baby puppy named NeeTah waddled at the foot of an old woman as hot ladles and steamy bits were steadied with basil and sprouts. Lao beer and massively over eye-shadowed Thai soap opera on their T.V. was the only drama. We needed something sweet, but instead found a shop of Lao stamps and rare, out-of-print currency. We picked up a few post cards, walked by a guitar, and then John Denver started sweating in a grave somewhere high in the Rocky Mountains:

This is Lee. And because you wrote “Musician” in the occupation box on the visa, you are a fuck face.

Lee made it all happen. I picked up the guitar tied to a pole with a garbage bag to see if it worked, then he went all gums and ran to get another one. People from Sydney were taking pictures of us! The world shrank into hugs, and I connected so hard.

I am falling in love with this place. Not just because a foot massage in a former communist fist is $5 hour by an incredibly creamed, strong-handed man. Not just because for $4 a woman named Vaan will come to your room and kindly beat the shit out of you with reflexology. But, just when you thought it was over, the extra loving head-neck-shoulders-arms-hands rub are yours complimentary. Because they’re THEM.

Khawp Jai lai lai (thank you very much) Vientiane.
And god please forgive my naieve, American, first timer bumbling through the world.
Promise it's back to school, wearing humble appreciation and Obama respect like a pressed new uniform.

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