Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vang Vien I - Seat Stealing

We want a short one or two day trip before official festivities start, so Liz and I organize a trip close to Vientiane to visit Vang Vien. We aren’t sure what we will do there, but it will be a change, new scenery, an adventure. Here is a picture of our lovely guest house so you will understand why it has taken us so long to get going. So guide book in hand, we set off for the bus depot at 5:30 am. There is a crisp coolness to the air. We stand just outside our guest house gate and soon our laundress, San, her husband and two of their kids pull up in their pickup and off we go. This is our extended network working in the ways it does.

At the bus depot, San stays to make sure we go to the right window and get tickets before we wave them off. The depot is filling up with both people and buses. I think we didn’t have to get here so early, but since we are here, Liz sends me off to see if I can find some coffee. I locate some of the best coffee either of us have ever tasted. One of the benefits of using instant coffee packages some of the time is that you really appreciate a cup of great coffee when you get it.

The young gal in the small bus depot coffee shop is also making deep fried donuts, a cross between the beignets one finds in New Orleans and the mandazi that are found in places in East Africa, so I collect a couple of them. When I get back to the bus, my seat beside Liz has been taken up by a young smiling boy called Sou. Liz explains that while I was finding coffee she has acquired this grinning fellow with strict instructions from his father, along with many gestures. The exchange has been all in Lao but she is a pediatrician and understands clearly that she has been entrusted to look after his son.

I greet the boy and get him to move to the seat behind us. He speaks no English and we speak no Lao but he makes it clear he wants to sit in the seat beside Liz. We attempt to reassure him but he is so persistent, I switch places with him. I tell Liz she has a devotee.

He points out several sites enroute north to us. Liz checks with the conductor, who has a bit on English, when he comes round to collect tickets, to find out where the boy is going. He is heading to Luang Prabang, about 3 times further than us.

“Well," Liz says to me, "we can keep an eye on him until we get to Vang Vien.”

Later when we get back from our trip, we are telling others about our delightful little friend Sou and his persistence in having the seat beside Liz.

Lois, a physician who has worked several years in Laos, listens carefully and then says, “Long distance Lao buses often allocate passengers specific seats. Could you have been in his seat? What did your ticket indicate?”

There is a short silence at the table and then Liz and I burst out laughing. That explains it all, the father’s loquacious insistence and his son’s continued persistence. We had taken his seat! The entire story about the father wanting Liz to look after his son was totally fabricated. All he wanted was for his son to sit in his designated seat.

What a great cross-cultural lesson it makes.

Photos: Manoly Guest House, Laundress' shop



Blogger chanpheng said...

The first time I went to Vang Vieng was in 1994 - there was no running water, electricity was limited to a few hours/ night, and there were only two guest houses! Since then I have only driven through it once, enough to see that it's changed so much that I didn't want to replace my old images with new ones. But I'm looking forward to your next installment!

9:36 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

I guess charades are no substitute for spoken language. Your warm pictures and lovely story writing are most inviting.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Borneo Breezes said...

Nice to have you drop by.
I never made it to Plain of Jars so have saved all your references and photos, chanpheng, to convince others that it needs to be seen next time.
ruth - very perceptive, it is like charades and it needs to be fun.

10:18 PM  

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