Day 129: And we're still killing Laos children
The UXO Laos Visitor Center, is simple, but soul shaking for American visitors. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“If you were working in the United States of America in the 60s, your tax dollars are still killing children in Laos.”
THERE'S a lovely, gentle rain washing the wide boulevards and wooden shuttered French colonial buildings of Luang Prabang. Sitting down at the only table on the narrow patio alongside Villa Champa guesthouse, I can't see Rocinante, my motorcycle, though she's been rolled out of a nearby guesthouse and back onto the street.
I was startled to find the faint-gray light of a rainy day creeping into my second-story room when I woke this morning. I had turned off the Bengals vs Dolphins game after Andy Dalton, who leads the AFC with 938 passing yards, took a final knee and the game finished 7-22 in favor of the Bengals. The plan was to be up by 5:15am to participate in Tak Bat, an alms giving ceremony, which is a big to-do here. I also needed to get the motorcycle out of Kinnaly Guesthouse. And I do mean get it out, as I was allowed to park it on their marble-floored lobby. Though I'd set the alarm clock to 5:15am, I'd failed to activate it.
Eating breakfast and sipping at a black coffee thick with coconut milk, I make a note of picking up a small piece of chocolate or gift for the woman, seeing as I'd failed to remove the bike from the lobby as promised.
The charming streets of Luang Prabang. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I was lured in to the cafe by the history of the place. The coffee wasn't too expensive, though the breakfast buffet setup, small servings of dishes in traditional bowls, all wearing little hats to keep bugs out were give aways that the parlor was designed for hotel guests across the street. However, a small wooden sign out front cast a spell over me. I, of course, gave the die the final decision. Though it hadn't read the sign, it agreed that we should stop at 3 Nagas.
The sign outside reads: “Idyllically set at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, these three superbly restored UNESCO world heritage buildings, each over 100 years old, are a stunning blend of vintage French architecture and classic Lao design. Evoking the bygone era of colonial Inodchina, their elegant beauty is enhanced by exotic hardwood floors [not in the cafe – ed], traditional cob walls and clay roof tiles.
“Also housed here was the former Royal Fily's official ice cream parlour, which has been reimagined and continues to beckon hotel guests and passersby to enjoy some homemade ice cream.”
It was the Royal Family's official ice cream parlor that got me. I'd never imagined that such a place would exists, though it only makes sense that royalty would love ice cream as much as the rest of us do, and would have particularly demanding tastes.
Though 3 Naga was a classy looking place, the ice cream selection was less than impressive -- given it's history. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
There is so much mind-numbingly obvious marketing in the sign's rundown. A dead give away that it's all fluff is the excessive use of adjectives and buzzy verbs. I find myself smiling into my Americano thinking of the savviness of using the word “reimagined”.
Luang Prabang is a slick little city that doesn't feel like a city at all. Walking along the wet, smooth bricks it's hard to find your stride for fear of slipping, but that's not what I mean by slick; all the obtuse, gaudy yellow Beer Lao signs that marked the vast majority of restaurants, guesthouses and other businesses along the Highway 13 – if that spartan road can be consider a highway – are nowhere to be seen. The businesses in town are classy, restored buildings with wooden shutters flung open, tropical trees growing nearby and small wood signs with gold script. It's pleasantly underwhelming, a place that has seen decades of European and Asian tourists and knows exactly how to flavor and spice the dish for the expectations of our palates. Some might argue that it's too slick, that it fails to be authentic. I might argue: either way, I like it here.
The die passes on a desperately need shave and instead votes to go see the UXO Visitor Center. The center is dedicated to explaining the threat and history of unexploded ordinances (UXO) in Laos – the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world.
The US continues to consider bombies as a legal weapon type. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Those bombs, which continue to kill about one person a day, are American bombs.
UXO Visitor Center is 2.2 kilometers from 3 Nagas. Since Luang Prabong is the kind of small city that begs to be walked in, I huff it toward the center, enjoying the bits and pieces of the city that appear.
After getting lost a couple times, I'm eventually confronted by a row of man-sized bombs standing at attention; morbid decorations along the walkway to the center. The UXO compound itself is a place of work. It's a place that facilitates bomb recovery and destruction, as well as education. This primary purpose is obvious as soon as I step into the parking lot, which has no guests' cars, only large white SUVs for the UXO team.
“Where are you from?” the young woman behind a tattered desk asks as I step into the single room of the visitor center.
“America,” I say with more guilt than anticipated.
At home and abroad, I've always been proud of my American heritage. People often tell me that I'm “not American”, usually because of the general worldly knowledge one picks up on the road and my liberal stances on social issues. But I argue I am American, why should conservatives get to use all the precious symbols of my nation for their own agenda. The flag, the anthem, those are mine. And, like Colin Kaepernick, it's my right to publicly protest when those symbols do not accurately reflect me as a member of this great nation. I don't protest, it's not my style. However, while living in Phuket I slept under a giant American flag as part of my attempt to reclaim an element of my heritage, which I refuse to allow others to turn it into a symbol of racism, hate and destruction. That's not saying those aren't issues that we face in America. However, that is not what we as a nation strive for.
However, right in this moment, I'd like to be Canadian.
One person is killed almost every day by UXO in Laos; the majority of those fatalities are children, a sign at the center explains.
Because of the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which both sides of the Vietnam War denied existed, was part of the Secret War, the rules of engagement that rightfully kept bombers from indiscriminately blanketing certain area with bombies did not apply: you can't have rules of engagement for a war that isn't happening.
Despite the war “not existing”, or precisely because it was a secret war, thousands and thousands of people did die and continue to die.
If bombers saw people in Laos, they started unloading.
More than 260 million bombies were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Of those, an estimated 78 million, each with a killing radius of 30 meters, failed to explode on impact. These cluster munitions, bombies, are the main cause of UXO causalities and deaths in Laos. General purpose bombs are hazards, while both land mines and land serviced ammunition are not categorized as high risks.
A dissected cluster bomb, a huge metal shell filled with small bombies that would rain death, lays on the ground in the center of the UXO Visitor Center. A cluster ammunition consists of the larger canister that would open in mid-air and the submunitions, bombies, would carpet an area the size of two or three football pitches. In 2008, Laos signed the international treaty Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of cluster munitions in. But they continue to kill.
The United States refused to sign, continuing to consider them a legal form of weapon.
“The shape and color of many cluster bombs make them alluring to children, who often pick the items up to play with or investigate,” I read.
“Unlike their two friends who tragically died, Yukhu, now seven, and Yavhu, six, were fortunate to survive the horrific explosion caused by a bombie left behind by a war that took place thirty years before they were born.
“During a visit to Yukhu and Yavhu's village in Xieng Khuang Province, a little boy from the Lao capital of Vientiane saw a curious metal object lying in the grass. Unlike his village friends, he was a city kid and hadn't been through the UXO awareness training run by UXO LAO. Attracted to the shiny “ball”, he picked it up. Too late, his friends realized he had a deadly bombie in his hand. Screaming at him to put it down and run they took off at full speed. When the little boy threw the ball to the ground, the impact of the bomblet on the ground caused it to detonate. The visitors and another boy from the village were killed instantly by the explosion, Despite running away, Yukhu, Yavhu and another friend received terrible injuries. They will bear the physical and psychological scars for their rest of their lives.”
UN supported, government run, UXO LAO clears about 65,500 bombs a year. At this rate, it will take more than 100 years to make the country safe. Between 1996 and 2007 they managed to clear less than .5 percent of the estimated UXO in the country.
“Extracting potential UXO items from the ground is a painstaking yet, potentially dangerous job requiring nerves of steel and high boredom threshold,” a sign explains.
There is a photo of a a woman dressed in a khaki uniform and a bush hat who is gently scraping dirt away from an area that pinged on a metal detector. It could be a nail, a piece of scrape metal or a deadly explosive.
Piles of UXO sit along a wall of the exhibit. Each has a tiny white piece of paper with blue lettering taped to it, marking them as “inert”. I have never felt such relief at looking at a single word. The word, almost medical, creates such a deep shadow in a person's mind when it's stuck to the side of a bomb that could have very likely killed a child.
A second room, disheveled, with rows of empty plastic chairs houses a large television, where two movies are played.
A man who lost is arm to a UXO talks about the impacts it has had on his family: they make only a third of the money they use to and have had to pull their children out of school. More frightening though is watching him and his wife plant rice in their muddy paddy. The same paddy in which he set off the UXO that mangled his life. However, the family has to eat and, for them, this is the only way to even provide what meager subsistence they can. So, they work in fear of tripping another UXO
I put my name in the tiny boxes of the visitor center's register. Next to the box where I put my name is a box to designate what country I'm from.
The “USA” is hard to look at after I write it.
On a quiet back street, the sound of a low-flying passenger plane scrambles up my insides. Hearing the muffled roar, it's hard not to imagine what fear that would inspire in those that survived the Secret War here in Laos.
After freshening up, I'd gathered a film of sweat over my body on the walk back to my hotel, the die put me in a wrinkled, but clean, white dress shirt. The girl I was chatting with on Tinder turned down the offer of joining me at a movie, so I'm off to it alone.
Bimbo provided comic relief during the 1920s documentary / drama. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The film, showing at various locations in town, is Chang, the first documentary /drama about the Asian jungles. Shot in 1925, the silent film was the blockbuster of the 20s.
“A vivid and thrilling film... excellent comedy... remarkable,” wrote The New York Times.
“Is it starting soon?” I ask the a young man in black uniform who is standing next to the short white wall that separates the lawn of the hotel and restaurant playing the movie from the main road.
Three or four rows of chairs and little tables are spread out in the grass, a large projector screen is setup several meters beyond the front row.
It's 6:27. All the chairs are empty.
I plop down on one of the cushioned seats in the front row and order a Pegu Club, which seems properly colonial.
“I'll start the movie now,” the young man says, leaning toward me as he speaks.
It's a private showing. I wander if this is what it's like to be overly wealthy: sitting in a grassy garden, watching a classic silent film and being completely alone.
The Pegu Club arrives in a martini glass and comes with a small bowl of salted peanuts flavored with a few kaffir lime leaves.
“Before the most ancient civilzation arose, before the first city in the world was built, before man trod the earth – then, as now, there stretched across vast spaces of farther Asia a great green threatening mass of vegetation... the Jungle...
“Man, the intruder, came into the Jungle... He fought it... He never vanquished it... For strong is the Jungle.”
I settle in, smiling as Bimbo the white gibbon cracks his first joke of the night.
“Give Bimbo a bit , big boy!” the gibbon says, before quickly stealing a little boys entire banana.
Though The New York Times found the film “thrilling”, I find myself checking the time well before the film comes to an end. A little company to chat with would probably have gone along way in improving the cinematic experience. That, or a much deeper interest in the history of of film – Chang was nominated in the first Academy Awards.
“How long is the movie?” I ask the attendant who has appeared to see if I want another drink.
That's what I was thinking, though 55 minutes in and sitting on the precept of a conclusion I was worried that maybe they didn't make films as short as I thought back in the 1920s. I personally would have looked at finishing the movie about 45min in when Kru, the main character, and his family are chased from their deep jungle abode back to the village warning of The Great Herd of elephants. At this point, I'd have the chief say, “Kru, stop pushing so deep into the jungle stay here where we can protect each other as a community.”
Instead... well, I don't want to ruin the film for anyone.
Though tempted to roll up my sleeves and get some work done, I wander through a small strip of funky backpacker bars. Just past the entrance of the jungle-themed Lao Lao Bar, I drop the die. It calls for an about-turn, sending me into the bar without a computer, book or friend.
It's a dimly lit establishment that seems to be cascading down a jungle hillside, people and tables are just shadows in the candle light. After wandering up the steps and then back down I stake out a small tile-topped table next to a rough, wooden pillar covered with small orchid plants, only a few of which are in bloom. Two tables over, in a bit of corner, are two Chinese women, both young, one classically beautiful, drinking shakes as they wait for the hot embers and meat of a hot pot dinner to be delivered.
An enthusiastic waiter arrives to take my drink order, supplying a red “welcome” shot to get the ball rolling.
“Do you like it strong?”
“Okay. Mau Lao,” he says. Mau lao basically translates to “drunk Lao”. It's on the all-day happy hour list, which means it's buy one get one free. I order a different drink for the second one. However, that apparently isn't allowed. So, before he runs off and brings back four drinks to clutter my table, I simplify it to just two Mau Laos.
My big hands fiddle with a deck of cards mimicking the performance of a disappearing card trick that I saw on Instgram, then combining it with a few other tricks I know to culminate in a technically difficult Four Ace routine.
Who wants to see a trick? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Sipping at my Mau Lao, it's hard not to be pretty pleased with myself, this is the first string of card tricks that I've been able to put together as a single performance. Momentum from one trick to the next is so important for magic. You never want to give people too much time to ponder all the small tricks. It's like building a short story, you want to draw them in and keep it all going until they are so wrapped up in the fictitious, magical, world that they forget that magic, real magic doesn't exist.
Balancing my phone in an ashtray, I flip the camera around so I can get an audience perspective on the disappearing card trick.
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Suddenly, I realize that the people behind me, three middle-aged woman from Australia and one middle-aged man are all staring at me. I can see them from the audience perspective, which is kind of like having eyes in the back of your head.
I turn and they all break into huge, lovely, drunken smiles.
“Are you doing magic?” one of the woman asks.
“Yeah, just practicing,” I say, pointing out that I noticed them watching me with the audience-view from the phone. “A few more drinks and I might wander over there and try some of them on you.”
“I'm sure we wouldn't notice,” she says, an admission to a certain level of drunkenness.
It's the perfect opportunity to try out the routine, but I've put it together only a few minutes ago and I'm not confident enough. I know I should just do it, but I don't. Instead, I turn back to my cards, occasionally holding the eyes of the pretty Chinese woman at the next table over.
A British woman, probably in her early 20s, walks past the entrance to Lao Lao Bar looking like she's about to go to a UK club in her shimmering top and heavy eyeliner. She looks good, though perhaps high maintenance.
A few minutes later, she must have come through the other entrance, she appears alone at a big wooden table behind me. It's strange to see a girl looking that ready for a night out to be sitting alone. But she is, just sitting at the head of the table looking at a menu.
I look over and give her the big, dumb smile that I pretty much give everyone. It seems to be the kind of smile that draws a bit of human warmth out of people and usually ends up forcing their faces to crack into a smile as well. She stares back, with this flat fuck-off bitch face. It's not a hostile face at all, it's the kind of face that pretty girls in big cities learn to make when they are trying to work while in a cafe and don't want every dude who knows what a flat white latte is to come over and hit on them. I have a sneaking suspicion that she's from Chelsea, London. I've dated a girl from Chelsea and she had the best dead-eyed, fuck-off face that I've ever had the pleasure of kissing.
Her projected attitude almost feels like a fun little challenge. I consider buying her a drink. It's the sort of thing you seen done in movies, but seems just a bit creepy in real life, especially becauses I'm too old for her, at least in that have-a-drink-and-lets-get-to-know-each-other sort of way.
The die, however, is less concerned. It says I need to buy her a drink.
I wave down a waiter.
“Can I have another Mau Lao? And can you give the second one to the girl over there?” I ask.
It's like telling your best friend in middle school who you have a crush on: completely confused, the waiter swings his head to the table of four middle-aged people and then back to me and then does a three-quarter turn, craning his neck to see who I'm talking about, as if it's that hard to figure out. So much for suave and subtle. Looks like I'll just be sticking to creepy and, well, creepy, cause I do creepy so well.
Of course, the waiter who made such a fuss is not the same waiter who brings me the drinks. The new waiter, who is more feminine and probably gay, is no more subtle than his predecessor. Eventually, however, we manage to get the drink over to the girl.
Embarrassed, I refuse to turn around, focusing on the cards in hand.
At some point, this young American man, Michael I'll later find out, who was sitting alone at the bar playing with his phone, finds his way over to the blond.
Is it a Tinder date, I wonder. It seems like it took them way too long to connect for it to be a Tinder date. Nonetheless, they are both dressed nicely, with Michael wearing a black button down shirt tucked into a pair of black trousers.
Later, two more people join the table. I hear Michael, who I would guess is from Wisconsin, but turns out to be from Pennsylvanian, start talking about Trump. Turning toward the table, I eavesdrop for a bit, smiling as I catch bits and pieces.
Michael gives me a nod when he realizes that I'm listening, I nod back and return to my cards.
“I don't know, he was just smiling at us,” I hear Michael tell the Dutch guy he's talking to.
The Dutch man leaves, returning five minutes later. I catch him with a smile and he invites me to join their table.
“Maybe after I eat. Thanks,” I say.
I polish off a cheap, not-so-good bowl of yellow fried noodles and then order another round of drinks. It seems a bit awkward to rock up to the table without a drink in my hand.
“Okay, if I take you up on that offer now,” I say, plopping down next to Ryan, the Dutch guy.
The British girl gives a sidelong look to Michael.
Ryan and I chat for a bit, then Michael and I start talking.
“Ready to go to Utopia?” the girl asks about five minutes after I join. I'm invited to join them. Michael and I get caught up in a conversation and fall behind the group as we head down a few twisted alleyways to Utopia.
Utopia, with cushions on the floor, is packed with travellers. It's the place to be.
“How do people find out about places like this?” I wonder out loud. I clearly don't do enough research.
It turns out Michael drank the drink I bought the UK girl, which I think is a drink put to good use.
“Yeah, I know. I felt super creepy buying it, but the die told me to, so you know, I had to,” I explain.
Michael approached the blond because he thinks he's interesting, the kind of person people want to meet. He's right.
“Name three interesting things about yourself,” I say.
It turns out he's spent the last five years doing hospital grant writing in “the Stans”, speaks about seven languages and is currently helping to raise funds at a local children hospital dealing with disabilities.
Like I said, he's right. He's interesting.
Tonight though, he's just looking to pull. It's funny how it hits guys, some more often than others, and some more intensely, but there is just this desire to bring a girl home with you, like how a full moon raises the hairs out of the skin of a werewolf.
Standing at the bar, Michael pays for our beers and we just shoot the shit. Short, dark hair, over-sized pupils and a bit of blank look, Michael spins a fascinating conversation. He hates Hillary, but can't help but think Trump is the idiot that he is.
“It's embarrassing that this is what we have a crook and an idiot,” he says.
Girls keep coming up between me and an Aussie from Adelaide to buy drinks. Eventually, I tell Michael he needs to switch me chairs so he can start trying to make some progress with them.
“I don't know. I might just go back and get a massage,” he says.
In the uncertain way that drunken conversations start, I end up chatting up a group of English girls, all in their early 20s.
“The Dalai Lama's brother lives in my home town,” I explain.
“That's an interesting fact.”
“Okay, give me a fact about where you're from,” I say.
“We're called Monkey Hangers,” she explains.
That's right, three out of four of the girls are from Hartlepool, where they famously hanged a monkey in WWI for espionage.
Matty, the blond who gave the drink I bought her drink to Michael, shows up at the bar.
“So creepy, right? But you had this bitch face on and,” I say.
“Wait? Are you calling me a bitch?”
“No, no, no,” I laugh.
“You had a bitch face on, like a don't-talk-to-me sort of face,” I try to explain. “Don't worry about it, go on.”
Though it seems implausible, this line of conversation seems to hold her. Eventually, I manage to slide out of the conversation, by bringing the Aussie in and explaining that Michael ended up drinking the drink I bought Matty.
Michael and I start hashing out a potential news story, with me tapping my finger on the bar table in thought.
It's a good idea: they have extra funds for helping handicapped children and facilities to do so, yet awareness is too low. People on the other side of the Mekong don't know that they can get their children free help. Even the term “disability” is open for interpretation by those distributing the funding. However, they aren't coming close to spending all the money.
“Lets do it. Tomorrow, lets touch base online and then go from there,” I say. “I mean this has everything we need for a good story that can make a difference. I think I've the right contacts and we can find someone to publish it.”
People keep coming in and out of conversation. At some point Michael disappears, probably for that late-night massage, and I'm left hanging with the Monkey Hangers and a girl from Liverpool, Jain.
“You're funny. Want to come bowling with us?” Jain asks.
Yes, bowling. Apparently, the bowing alley, just out of town is the only place that continues to sell booze late into the night.
Bowling is the after hours activity of choice after Utopia shuts down in Luang Prabang. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Utopia starts to clear out as dozens and dozens of young white backpackers pile into the back of trucks to be hauled off to the bowling alley for 5,000 kip a piece.
Pressed up against an Irish woman, I tell her to hunt me down at the bowling alley later and I'll let her roll to send me off to Mongolia, Vietnam or Kenya.
“Vietnam,” she blurts out.
“No, not like that,” I say.
“But you said I could choose,” she replies in her soft, northern Irish accent.
“No, you can roll.”
She doesn't believe that's how I make decisions. I try to explain, but she isn't convinced.
The strangest thing about bowling alleys, the Luang Prabang Bowling Alley included, is that they are all the same. They all have the same shoes, the same monitors, the same plastic tables with the same double-swivel chairs that are both wildly entertaining and a bit of a tease, leaving a person desperate to just spin in one complete circle, but unable to, like a girl that leans in to kiss you, but pulls back as soon as her plush lips caress yours.
Unlike most bowling alleys, this one is just cleaning up on selling alcohol. They don't even force people to rent shoes. Does anyone really want to deal with shoeing more than 60 drunk white people?
I'm the last to roll in our lane. I throw the first ball between my legs, knocking down nine pines, but fail to pick up the spare with my second ball. Having worked at the Indian University Student Union bowling alley for a couple years, I developed a proper distaste for the game. The employees at the union were split between those of us who could appreciate the complexity of pool, we also ran the pool hall, and those of us who like to do the same thing every other ball – also known as bowling. I scoffed at the clients who showed up with their lead ball and their pick-up ball. Though I didn't have the patience or interest in developing the muscle-memory consistency needed for bowling, I did learn how to throw a nasty curve ball and bowl between my legs.
Jain and are hitting it off. She a plump 22-year-old with thick wavy brown hair, very different than her three fake-blond associates, one of which is fairly attractive.
Molly, one of the girls, the first one I spoke to in the group as a tattoo of two stick figures on her side, for some unknown reason I am able to consistently remember the names of these two tattooed people, but keep forgetting her name, as well as several other people we're bowling with. Over and over again, I repeat people's names, trying to break the habit of “being bad with names”.
The ass of the girl bowling next to us is falling out of the bottom of her light-fabric shorts.
“If I had an ass like that, I'd also show it off,” Jain says.
Drunk enough, I run through the series of card tricks that I've put together earlier tonight for Jain.
“He's just blown my mind,” she tells one of the girls. “Where is the red card?”
Pleased with myself, Jain and I continue to chat.
“You're funny,” she keeps saying. I feel like I'm becoming her gay best friend. For a straight guy, I end up playing that role a lot.
“He loves me. I love him,” she says, after shooing an Australian away after he attempts to kiss her. She's talking about her boyfriend back home, not the Aussie. “I know it's crazy because I'm only 22, but he treats me right.”
He's already booked a three-day getaway for the pair of them when she returns. Apparently, getting fucked up and going crazy on each other is how they like to spend their time, which doesn't sound like such a bad situation when you think about it.
Nearly out of money, I stopped drinking before I arrived at the bowling alley, yet the booze buzz is still humming along.
The girl I gave the chance to roll to see what country I'd go to next never approaches me. We lock eyes for a minute, but she doesn't leave her chair, so I can't be bothered. I'll find a better time to make the roll.
Without enough money to pay for another game, I say a quick goodbye to Jain and then wander outside, where a dozen or so trucks and drivers are waiting to take everyone back into town. Quickly slipping by them, I start walking back.
It's a long walk.
A very long walk.
A long walk on a well-lit empty road is a good think for a drunk person, assuming it's safe to do so. Though I'm toting along my DSLR camera, I feel entirely safe at this time of night in Luang Prabang. A couple kids on scooters come whizzing past. One of them looses his hat. They turn around for it and then take off again, popping a wheelie as they go.
A truck packed with foreigners zips past and comes to a stop, the driver wants to pick me up. The people in the back tell him to drive on though, so he does.
I walk along a wide boulevard with closed cafes and guesthouses. Sitting under the warmly lit sign for Sackarinh Guesthouse is a man tuning a forest-green guitar. Two Asian tourists stand, in front of him waiting for him to start playing.
Pang, the guitarist, talks and talks. He plays a brief rendition of Happy Birthday when it's revealed that it's the Chinese woman's birthday. I sing along.
Tired of waiting for Pang to start playing a real song, I say goodnight and head toward my guesthouse.
It's 2:30am at this point. I should have locked up my motorcycle and put it away before going out for the night. Had I know the dice would be sending me out on such a big night, I would have. As it is, I'll just need to lock the front wheel to stop anyone from rolling it away. As I left it, all a person would have to do is pull in the clutch, put it into neutral and roll it somewhere that would be safer to discretely load it into the back of a truck and re-sell it on the black market.
The issue of people smuggling bikes into the Laos, especially along the Chinese border, and selling them into the black market is exactly why I got bounced during my first attempted border crossing
The road my guesthouse is on is less well-lit, but still everything is clearly visible between streets lights and moonlight. Rocinante, last time I checked, was parked next to a pile of gravel and sand, perhaps the only unsightly spot in this part of the well-maintained World Heritage site.
I strolling that way, down the hill, toward the Mekong River, I don't see her. Maybe she's hidden behind one of the few vehicles on the road. There are two trucks parked about where she should be.
She's not there.
My black beauty, the most expensive thing I own in the world, is gone.
I walk down to my guesthouse, opening the wooden door and slipping out back, where I'd talked about storing the bike over night, to keep it safe. I have no idea how it would have ended up in the small back courtyard, as it would have needed to be pushed up hill and up several steps, but where else could it be?
I should be panicking. Rocinante is clutch to this trip. Even if I'm going to sell her, that money is essential in allowing me to buy a new bike.
I know I should be panicking, but I'm not, not yet.
The back courtyard is empty.
Back out on the street, my foggy mind looks around at the world. Yes, she was parked on this street. She was parked directly across from Kinnley Guesthouse. No, I'm not mistaken. She was right there next to the gravel when I walked past her at 5:45pm, about ten hours ago.
Now, at just past 3pm, she's not. Given that I didn't put my cover over her and I didn't lock her, someone could have very easily rolled her away.
Standing in the darkness, my mind grapples for an alternative possibility.
Maybe the Vietnamese woman working at Kinnalyknows what happened to it.
Not likely, but I don't have any other ideas.
The guesthouse is locked up for the night.
Maybe I should just go to bed and deal with it in the morning. There will at least be people I can ask and see if they can help me find it or report it as stolen, if that is indeed the case.
Then again, there is no way I'll be able to get a wink of sleep, even after all those drinks, knowing that my baby is missing.
Tentatively, I tap on the tall, narrow wooden doors of Kinnlay Guesthouse. Just two fingers tapping, like a woodpecker afraid of waking the children. Through a long, thin crack in between the doors, I can see that all the lights are off inside. However, a single light in a different room than the lobby provides the dimmest back lighting.
Through that narrow crack, next to the lobby desk, directly in the middle of the small lobby itself, there is what might be the outline of Rocinante.
It's hard to tell.
Sliding over to another crack in the doors, I peek in. Yes, there's the outline of the topbox.
Bless their hearts. Someone put a lot of back muscle into rolling that beast up over the steps and into the lobby to ensure its safety tonight.
With the knowledge that my baby is safe, and a reminder that the people of the world are good, I quietly slip back to my guesthouse, climb the wooden steps and crawled into bed.