Dec 22nd, 2014
Covered by a charming mix of dust, engine exhaust and sweat, I stood on the road again. The spicy sun was high up. It’s so bright that I frowned. There was not even a single breeze, no. Vast countryside, the seemingly endless countryside, there was no building higher than 2 floors, except a cement factory. I did not know how far or how long I had walked. I asked people how far it was from here to Vientiane, but nobody understood me. I was tired. All my water had been gargled down to my burning lungs. I wanted to fall back on my backpack like a turtle. “Why the hell do I have such a heavy backpack!!” I started to curse myself. My legs were moving mechanically, “up, down, up, down”…… Just when I was treading up the hot dust, I heard somebody singing, in Chinese, and very loudly! so loudly that one could hear it from 500 meter away. I stopped, turned around and traced the source without any difficulty — I saw a gate with the a board reading “XX Rubber Company” in Chinese above and on both sides of the gate there was couplet for Chinese New Year. The colour of the couplet already half faded by the weather, but the words were still recognizable. Yes, Chinese expats here, even in this in-the-middle-of-nowhere countryside corner of Laos. I knocked on the gate, no response, so I pushed the door. It opened with a noise and presented me a big yard. It did not look much like a company, more like a family residence. The yard was shadowed by trees, but not rubber trees and through the space of the trees I could see under the eaves there was a girl, about 20 years old, very fair skin, presumably a compatriot of me. She was standing at the edge of the corridor, earphones on and she was singing very devotedly with closed eyes and very profound expressions on her face. I forgot which song it was but it was a famous one I am sure. I shouted “Ni Hao”, but that did not wake her up from her “artistic intoxication”. It was the barking of the ferocious dog that awakened her and her mother, who soon came out of the house and saw me.
They were Chinese, from a place named Chongqing in West China. In case you don’t know, Chongqing is the biggest municipality in the world, with a population of 30 million. Their suspicion soon dissolved as I told them what I was doing — hitchhiking in South East Asia. Suspicion turned into shock and confusion.
–“What? Hitchhiking? Would that work?”
–“It always works! I hitchhiked all the time in Europe and Middle East. ” (That’s not true. I also did countless train hopping in Europe, but I did not mention that……)
They were nice people. The little girl was apologizing for the dirtiness of their toilet but actually that was one of the cleanest toilets I had ever seen in a household in Laos.
–“How did you find us? There are not many Chinese around here.”
–“I heard you singing on the road.”
–“Really?! Did I sing so loudly?”
–“Yes, very loudly. One could even hear it in the city center of Vang Vieng.”
–“No worries. You sang well. ”
It was such a big relief to put down my backpack. “Ah!!!!” I sighed as I lowered it down on the ground. 😀 I asked how far it was to Vientiane, went to their toilet, filled my bottles, washed my dusty face, had a short rest, assured them I would be ok and left. Actually I wanted to ask if they had some easy food but thought that might scare them out or leave them bad impression about hitchhikers as they never had any contact with hitchhikers before.
As you know, I am a “geek” and I simply do not have the ability to take life seriously. Dear friends, if you take life too seriously, life will fuck you up, hard. Yes, life is a bitch and everybody has to marry one…… During my boring waiting time on the road, I think up weird things to kill time. For example, I have invented a “religion”. In this religion there are 3 main Gods — The God of Travelling, the God of Couchsurfing and the Goddess of Hitchhiking. When I get stuck, I will pray to the Goddess of Hitchhiking:”Please, the graceful and almighty Goddess of Hitchhiking, please, I pray to you, give me a ride! I am not greedy, please give me a ride in 15 minutes! I will worship you forever!” Guess what?! Sometimes it actually works. 😉 😛 WOWO! but this time I prayed and it did not work… 😦
Ok, enough theologian bullshit. I waited and waited, walked and walked, until finally a car stopped. A nice car, pretty new and well-preserved. I had a bad feeling that it might be a taxi, again.
–“Where do you want to go, sir?”
–“Vientiane! Do you go there? Is this a taxi?”
–“Yes. I am going to Vientiane and this is a taxi.”
–“Eh… I don’t have money! …… Is that ok?”
He did not say the classical line “What? You don’t have money?!”, which was to my pleasant surprise!
He hesitated for two seconds and said:”Ok! No problem!”
“Yeah!!!” I cheered with a voice loud enough to be heard in Vientiane and got in in no time. 🙂
He was a Laotian guy in his late thirties or early forties, who spoke pretty good English. The big glasses made him look like a teacher, which turned out to be his previous job! 😀 He was driving some foreigners from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and now he was on his way back home. I guessed that he got paid well since he was well groomed. His car was also in a perfect condition. We talked all the way. He was a super nice and cool guy, a devoted Buddhist also! Born in a poor family in a town between Vientiane and Vang Vieng, he was a novice when he was young. After graduation, he returned to laity. When he was 24 he got married. Now he had 2 or 3 kids (can’t recall clearly anymore). He showed me photos of his wedding, photos of his novice days in Vientiane and his children. He said that he understood people without money since he was from a poor family. He was calling me “sir” all the time, which made me feel uncomfortable at first because, hey! he was doing me a favor instead of the other way around and I was younger than him. Still he called me sir all the time. Later I came to notice that the gentle and polite Laotian people tend to call people sir, no matter if you are their client or not.
He used to be a math teacher but education was not taken good care of in Laos and teachers were poorly paid, so he changed his profession and bought this car. He drove for many organizations, including one organization recruiting and coordinating international volunteers. The foreigners he drove to Vang Vieng were exactly from this organization. Then he showed me his photo with these volunteers.
His wife was calling from time to time. He called his family also. His parents lived in a small town on our way and he invited me to have lunch there together. How could I refuse?! 😀 I was tired and starved! 😀
We turned to a small side road and arrived at a small convenient store. Outside the store was a table covered by a big piece of cloth from one side to give some shadow. At the table there were several females of different ages. They were either his nieces or his sisters. His mother was not home yet. We sat there. The kids first was not at all surprised to see a stranger like me there, but once they started to talk to me and discovered that I did not speak Lao, their eyes suddenly shone and widened at that moment and started to smile and soon the smile became laughter. I think I don’t need to tell you how curious they were about this foreigner their uncle/brother picked up from the roadside. 🙂 Their uncle was asking them to behave politely and not to make a fuss. His sister and brother-in-law soon left to buy some dishes. I was introduced to the whole family. There was already some cooked sticky rice. FOOD?! I was so famined that I immediately began to devour it!!
The driver was playing with his smartphone all the time and took some selfies with me. After a while his mom arrived. She gave me some kind of fruit which looked like dates, but were round and green. I tasted it. The taste was …… WOWO…… “HORRIBLE”!! It tasted so bitter, so raw and so sour that tears came out of my eyes and I could not open my eyes….. They all laughed at this scene and asked me to take some water. Strangely, once water got into my mouth, the horrible taste became very sweet!!! 😀 😀 How magical! We did not have this kind of fruit in China, or the Netherlands! 😀 The dishes arrived! 😀 wrapped in plastic bags and sealed by knots, common in Laos and South East Asia in general. They poured the dishes into plates and bowls. Lunch!! 😀 Started!! 😀 There were from time to time curious neighbours coming by to look at me and talk with me and even eat with us. They all gave me the best gifts ever — friendly smiles! 😀
I eat a lot, by “a lot” I mean at least twice as much as an average person. In the Netherlands sometimes I ate 3 times as much as my Dutch friends. I met a nomad, a cool hitchhiker a few days ago and he also eats a lot. Is it some common thing among hitchhikers? 😉 😛
We finished every bit of the rice and dishes. Then we rode on the way again!
He could not drive fast because of the bad road and he was trying to take photos of Meng people on the way. Meng is a ethnicity in Laos, China and some other countries in the neighbourhood. They have special styles of attires, very colourful and with a lot of decorations. I once saw two Meng people dressed in their traditional clothes in Valencia. That was during the biggest festival there — Las Fallas. I thought “Ok, so this is the typical costume for Las Fallas…?” Now this scene flashed back and I suddenly realized that that was Meng people! There were festivals of Meng going on at that time, so a lot of them were dressed in very beautiful traditional clothes. He liked Meng people a lot and told me that they were more beautiful and smarter. We did see some beautiful Meng girls in traditional clothes sitting on the back of motorcycles. The wind blew up their smooth black hair, which was stroking their pinkish smily cheeks. That was a beautiful scene. Actually one could go to some Meng villages to see the festivals mentioned, which would undoubtedly be a feast for your eyes — the colours, the dances and the cheerful smiles.
When we neared Vientiane, the traffic started to thicken and the car drove even more slowly…… Soon we passed a monastery. He pointed for me and told me that that was where his dormitory was when he was studying. There were some novices there who had many bad habits and did not have the heart of a buddhist. Therefore, he moved to another monastery, although this one was much farther from his school — everyday he had to walk for 2 hours to go to school. His home was near the airport, outside of Vientiane, but he decided to drive me to the city center, where I could easily find a place to sleep. How about the airport?! That can be a perfect place to sleep?! 😀 No way… The airport of Vientiane closes at 9pm. 😦
We entered Vientiane and from time to time he would notice some former students of him on scooters, fleeting by. He eventually parked the car in front of a hotel where he worked. We got in. He told me that I was already like a brother to him. Yes, I found my long-lost Laotian brother on the road and he gave me a ride! 😛 He introduced me to his friends who worked there. They were very polite to me and also called me sir all the time…… We sat down, eating some fruits and enjoying the wifi. We added each other on Facebook. Later more friends of him came. I looked up on internet and found some cheap hostels, but first I would try to sleep outside, in a “five-billion star hotel” again.