Day 131: Ex-meth head to the rescue
I was prepared to leave in the morning, when there was a knock at my door. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
ONE typically doesn't expect a guardian angel to show up as a big, bald, recovered meth-addict out on the road searching for his dream. But it's the unexpected things in life that are the most beautiful.
A subtle depression had been nibbling at the edges of my confidence all day. As is often the case in such situations, I mumbled encouragements to myself.
“You're going to nail the blog post; get the brakes fixed; tighten the chain; pack your bags. You're going to be fine. You're going to nail it,” I mumble. My voice is probably no more audible or distinguishable than a drunkards grunting in his sleep, but I'm aware of the sounds slipping out of my mouth.
There is a knock on the door to my room. It's Sign, the clean cut Hmong attendant at the guesthouse.
“There's a man who wants to talk to you about your bike,” Sign tells me. “Maybe he wants to show you a place to park across the street.”
Fair enough. Standing their in my checkered longi that I'd rushed to put on in order to be presentable for whoever was at the door, I wander what the guy wants. Only one way to know for sure.
The big Aussie guy, let's call him Greg, is sitting with his German friend Lukas and a middle-aged white lady who's looking through Greg's photos on his Mac Book Pro at a table in the darkness outside their guesthouse, which is right across the street from mine.
“Lukas has been traveling the world on a CBF500 for the last two years. I've been on the orange KLR you've seen out front for the last eight months,” Greg says with a light Aussie accent.
Greg, it turns out is a legend, at least in my book, with more than 100 motorcycle trips in Asia and countless ones in Western Australia, where he was born and raised.
“So, yeah, I'm leaving tomorrow morning to get my import permit extended at the border in Vientiane,” I say.
“You don't need to drive down there to do that. You can extend it here. You have to pay by day, but it's easy. Do you have Maps.me?”
“Yeah, but I don't have my phone here.”
“Okay, go get your phone,” he says.
I am being brought under a protective wing, you can hear it in the tone of his voice.
Greg takes a pair of black framed reading glasses down off his head, situating them on his nose before dropping a pin on the map on my phone to mark the Custom's Office.
“Perfect. Thank you. Now, all I need to do is find a place to change the back brakes on my bike,” I say.
“Yeah, I can do that. It's an easy job,” Greg says, offering to teach me how it's done. “Since you have to take the back wheel off completely, we'll get the chain tension set perfectly.”
“You're a legend. Thank you so much. I'm so bad about using the forums and asking questions. I know the answers are in there somewhere, but I can't find them and don't want to bother people,” I say, to expain why I'm so rubbish at planning my motorcycle trip.
“It's the exact opposite of how you're thinking about it. They know you don't know. People on the forums want to help,” Greg says, pushing me to rely more heavily on the Horizon Unlimited motorcycle community.
Lukas is off to take a long shit and a shower before the pair heads out to Lao Lao Bar to meet up with some woman Lukas knows.
“Want to join?”
“Yeah, I'm in,” I say. Tonight is about making friends, real friends, not work.
Walking up the street behind Lukas and me, Greg strikes up a conversation with a Swiss-French man who grew up in Upstate New York, but has lived in Laos for the last ten years. Markus, as one might expect, is yet another fascinating mixed bag of a human being.
Lao Lao Bar is dead as a disco, as Greg would put it, so we take off for a local bar about a kilometer away.
The bar is full of Laos people, squatting down on short stools at low tables, Greg and a classy-looking woman he knows sit at one of the tables with a few others on the sidewalk outside the open-faced bar.
Markus, Lukas and I, who came together by tuk-tuk, join them.
“They're a bunch of cunts,” Vinnie says in this overly posh British accent that seems completely out of place coming out of his gaunt Laos face. Vinnie, who seems to know everyone, has just wandered over to our table from the street. He sold a weak joint to Greg on Greg's birthday a couple days ago, but they're friends nonetheless.
Vinnie pops a squat next to me on a wooden bench, hurling obscenities in a drunken, good-natured way that most of us couldn't get away with.
“You need to get a dick in you for your birthday,” he slurs to a very good looking 45-year-old blond woman in jeans and a blouse as she arrives with friends.
“Some birthdays are better than others, and this one isn't looking good,” she says, giving Vinnie a hello hug.
“I'm just saying,” he says from beneath his ragged, Asian-style mustache. It's not particularly hard to imagine why one of Vennie's front teeth is chipped, he really has no filter on what comes out of his mouth.
Markus, sitting at the head of the table, is starting to loosen up now that we've had a few more drinks.
“I'm going to go over there and get her number,” he says, before striding across the street to collect the number of a cute Laos girl working at a shop.
“Second hit tonight,” he says, pretty chuffed with himself as he returns to his seat. “I'm going to telly you a secret secret, okay?”
Markus is a thin-faced, good looking 45-years-old man with a thick mane of graying hair and the confidence of a 23 year old on a a professional football team.
“If you see a pretty girl selling lottery tickets, you approach them to buy tickets. They'll start pointing at the chart, saying that today is the day of the rat so this number and this number are lucky today. You just wave you're hands and tell them that you are falang; that you don't understand. Then ask them what their phone number is and buy two tickets for each pair of digits,” Markus explains, taking a sip from his small Beer Laos in conclusion.
Every night, in every town since I've arrived in Laos, young women and older woman have appeared on the sidewalks with these tiny square tables and matching stools. On the table lie horoscope-like charts, which apparently are for divining lucky numbers. I thought that perhaps they sold lottery tickets, but then again, Pink and I thought that it was possible that they were simply telling fortunes.
Markus started out working for an organization helping prostitute, but is now working for a tour agency as a guide, among other things. His young Laos wife, who was one of the women he helped wile he was with the NGO, is back at a little slice of paradise he's carved into the jungle about an hour away from the capital.
“Sao, sao, sao,” Markus sharply, aggressively calls out to a cute girl and her ladyboy friend as they head out of the bar. He waves his hand and for them to join us. Not only is he fluent in Laos, he's culturally fluent; that kind of tone would have gotten him the middle finger in the western world. However, here, the girls pause and then join our table, the ladyboy much more interested in the pile of foreigners than her friend.
Lukas, the balding German with a tiny ponytail poking out from under his ragged baseball bat, is quickly becoming friendly with the pre-op ladyboy.
“If you don't want to pay for sex, all you have to do is show them your passport. See, not Australian,” he tells the table before loudly laughing. It's not the first time or last time we'll be hearing some version of the joke tonight.
I slip away from the table to order a pile of cashews and another beer.
When I return, Markus is ready to see a magic trick. I do the color changing deck for him, then hand the deck over so he can do a trick.
“I'm not sure I remember how this goes,” he says, picking through the cards. I see the move when he starts the trick, it's one of the many tricks that I had forgotten that I know – it's a good trick. I smile knowingly, but enjoy the showmanship.
“Here's another secret secret,” Markus says, leaning in so Greg and I can hear. Markus explains that the best girls in Laos are from a certain proVinnie, minutes later, I can't remember which one he said though. Like Thailand, foreign men in Laos are often seen as family ATMs, though that isn't always the case. Such a perspective is probably in proportion to that amount of men who see Southeast Asian women as sex objects. Fair is fair when it comes to business negotiations, I guess.
Markus's face lights up, a large grin filling his entire being, when his son comes up in conversation.
“He's five months old now,” he says with the pride of new father.
Though he's got a wife and child back home, as well as a mia noi – a small wife, or second wife – somewhere, Markus is clearly still on the prowl as he scans the crowd.
The ladyboy and Lukas are getting along swimmingly and Vinnie has shown back up at our table, squeezing in next to me, rambling on about something. Vinnie is clearly a smart kid on a self destructive path for one reason or another, Markus believes he's bipolar.
“So what you cunts up to?” Vinnie asks the table, though he'd been sitting their for the last ten minutes. Nobody, replies. “Okay, I see how it is bitches. Let's go to the jungle.”
“Vinnie's idea of the jungle is getting trapped under a pot plant in the bathroom,” Greg says with a laugh.
Though we all laugh, Vinnie is serious about going to the jungle, something about a half-German girl he knows and perhaps a hippie commune.
“Come on man, come to the jungle with me. Let's go,” Vinnie, whose taken a shine to me, says, grabbing my leg.
“Okay, we can all check it out later,” I say, gently pulling his hand off my leg and making it clear that if we go, we'll be going as a group – the German girl sounded pretty intriguing.
By this time, the local bar starts to close down, so we slide over to an empty table outside of a nearly closed restaurant next door. Greg, who's by far the most generous of the group, orders some grilled meats for the table and we all stock up on more beers as a server from the restaurant joins the table and closes up shop.
It's a small cement table with short cement benches that we crowd around. The only light available is from the fluorescent street lights. I take a bench to myself, though am quickly joined by two beer girls from the bar that just closed. I say girls, though one of them is a ladyboy. The ladyboy pushes up against me, her chubby friend on the other side of her is cute in the face and kind of reminds me of a bowling, a bowling ball I wouldn't mind kissing.
Stuck between the ladyboy and Vinnie, I'm getting a bit man handled by one or other grabbing my thigh or pressing in close against me. It's amusing how ladyboys often keep the sexual aggression associated with men. At this point, I'm nearly getting more attention than when I the ogre-like ladyboy at the dodgy massage shop kept trying to fondle me Sunday, last night. No matter how big or small she thinks my dick is, I'd rather actually get a massage, rather than be made more tense from gently, kindly battling her off.
“When I see a beautiful person, I just go up and am like, 'You're fuckable',” Vinnie explains to me in his overly-posh accent as a demonstration of how he struggles to give compliments. Vinnie actually comes from a very prestigious background, so I imagine he does now how to pay a compliment, but he just doesn't give a fuck – in some ways he reminds me of a strange mix of Luke Rhinehart and Tyler Durden.
One by one the guys wander off to take a leak into the river that flows beneath the wide road we're drinking alongside. At one point, the ladyboy next to me, whose name I didn't catch, moves, allowing her chubby friend to slide over next to me.
The conversation meanders. There are some stories, some secret secrets and some general drunken nonsense. I can feel the texture of the chubby girl's jeans as the tip of my finger nail slides up and down her pant leg. She leans against me. It's nice to have the human contact.
Then, it's time to go. Lukas rides off with his ladyboy, only one of them wearing a helmet. Markus catches a tuk-tuk back, while Greg and I start to walk to our respective guesthouses. The nights darkness is beginning to fade into a light blue-gray, though the lights of Haw Pha Bang temple are still on as we walk down Sisavangvong Road. On the sidewalks, politely dressed locals are spreading out mats to kneel on, preparing for the stream of saffron robbed monks collecting alms.
"Yeah, a mate rescued me. I was lucky. I was very lucky," Greg tells me. Greg was a professional photographer who spent 15 years paying every cent he had on film and methamphetamine. After growing up in rural Eestern Australia, his life spun out of control. He was a train wreck -- meth is hard on the mind and body.
"He needed help researching in the Outback," Greg explains.
Greg spent the next two years wrestling crocs and collecting wildlife samples for his friend.
I grab a fresh beer out of the fridge for Simon, who's getting his camera gear and changing into something respectable so he can head back out to photograph the monks.
Tonight, like this morning did not go as planned, but this time for the better. To imagine that 12 hours ago I was readying for an early departure in order to sort out paperwork that could be handled right here in Luang Prabang... And about 24 hours earlier, I was thinking that I was finally getting started in Luang Prabang like I was to supposed:
The alarm clock, set to Iggy Azalea, drags me out of bed to watch Tak Bat, the collection of alms. The world is already full of gray morning light by the time the first line of young monks appear on the street, their saffron orange robes vibrantly contrasting with the world around them.
The monks were on me before I realized it, I was distracted by deleting pictures form my camera and suddenly they were there in front of me. Hurriedly, I put down the camera and pickup the sticky rice I'd bought for 10,000 Kip. Kneeling on a mat along the street, I yank chunks of sticky rice from the bamboo container in my hand, rolling them into rough balls before dropping them into the monk's bowels, an offering of alms.
A few tourist, such as myself, join local woman wearing white blouses in handing out rice and alms. The rice I have lasts only until the last monk of the first group walks by.
Hundreds monks are still on their way. The long, trickling stream of these holy men is iconic to Luang Prabang, yet here in in this light, with a handful of tourists, such as myself, running around with cameras and snapping pictures with their phones, there is no magic to the moment. Perhaps it's the lack of sleep dampening my imagination, but for me, watching these monks, I feel nothing. Nothing like the awe of watching the river of monks in Yangon appear out of nowhere in the darkness of the early morning as Yu Ya and a set above them on the bridge, listening to a gong, calling to them, ringing out in the distance.
There was no magic for me as I watched the monks collect alms in Luang Prabang. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Losing interest, I wander off to find breakfast and get some work done. Mind a bit of a fog, I'm grateful to the dice for allowing me turn on the air conditioner and crawl back into bed immediately after finishing breakfast. Maybe today won't be as productive as anticipated.
Even if it's not super productive, it's going to be a big day.
I'm rolling for the next destination, which will put the nail in the coffin for Rocinante, my motorcycle, and send me to Mongolia, Vietnam or Kenya.
It will be the biggest rolls to-date.
Putting my white dress shirt and a pair of slacks on, I wander back out to Luang Prabang Bakery. The bakery, among dozens and dozens in the city, is furnished with dark, heavy wood, the walls – all the walls – are lined with shelves of liquor. They have an extraordinary collection of pastries and cakes: lemon cream pie, apple pudding cake, lemon slice and so on and so forth. It's exactly the opposite kind of place I need to be going to get myself back into shape. However, it's a lovely atmosphere with a nice view across the city's main boulevard and the chairs are comfortable.
Settled in, I borrow a red pen from the waitress and make a side bet with a friend of mine about what the results are going to be. She's convinced that I'll be headed to Vietnam next. I, on the other hand, have been tingling with the premonition of the permafrost of Mongolia. It's a 1,000 baht bet, though if it ends up Kenya, we both have to donate a 1,000 baht to a charity.
First, however, I stall.
I jot down the six options for my weekly focal point: Personal health / well-being (desperately needed); magic; saying yes to everything; constantly asking people if I can try things that look interesting; drawing; and creative writing.
The die tumbles out of my hand and onto the small wooden table. After months of putting magic on the list, the die finally succumbs to the persistence of the option.
The real roll of the day, of the month, however, is still ahead of me.
Mongolia in winter will be beastly. In fact, Mongolia in general is a very tough place to do adventure riding. Off-road riding skills are necessary, as are bush mechanic skills. It's not hard to imagine how badly that would go.
Vietnam is a gateway adventure. I've done Vietnam on a motorcycle before, though I didn't make it to Sapa. I have some friends in Hanoi and even down in the south, so I won't be too far out of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful country and I'd be happy to return to it.
Kenya, now Kenya, would be kick starting the African leg of the adventure.
The die falls from my hand. There is the sound of the die on the wood table; the sound of chance; the sound of unknown; the sound of fate at work, adjusting the die to fit its design.
It's a three: Vietnam.
After that, Mongolia and Kenya might have a face off.