Day 134: Vietnamese, American and Loas walk into a bar: drink beer, eat dog
This Facebook Live video is probably a solid argument for why the service shouldn't be offered. Video: Lang
THERE should be a punishment for doubting the dice. Of course, not following the Die's Will is impossible, but when I waiver and question its judgment, momentarily forgetting that the world is a big and mysterious and I am but scratching a well-worn place on its surface, there should be some sort of recourse. However, that's not the case. Instead, the die simply throws such doubt into my face.
It's late and the sky is a deep black above me, speckled with stars. The Milky Way, which I so often forget about, is a thinning, celestial cloud sweeping across the vast sky. I was forced to stop earlier, pulling into a small wooden shop with a family sitting out front eating dinner.
There were a few other table set up. Maybe it was a restaurant, maybe it wasn't. When I asked if they served food, I got blank looks and immediately felt guilty for asking, as if I as trying to make a move on the modest dinner they had laid out for themselves. Instead of real food, I bought a couple packets of chocolate cookies and a M150 – a Thai energy drink. Not the healthiest evening snack, but better than falling asleep on the road, which was becoming a real possibility.
Grunting and talking to myself, I had been doing everything possible to stop from completely falling asleep while working my way through the gentle mountain passes. The roads weren't too extreme, but the occasional animal – water buffalo, rooster, dog – as well as potholes and other vehicles were still real dangers. And though I was making a real racket in my helmet, the cold from the gain in altitude seeped into my body as my eyes grew heavier and heavier. I was beginning to lose the will to do anything but rest.
Pumped up on sugar and an energy drink, I hit the road with new enthusiasm. It was a longer driver than I had anticipated to the Plain of Jars.
I've been holding a huge piss in for hours, well before the sun set, due to the general hassle of wiggling my fat ass out of my rain gear and pulling out the little pistol. However, a couple dozen meters past Nongtang Guesthouse in Nongtang, I'm forced to end it or render the rain gear worthless with a sprinkling from the inside.
The cold air is fresh and crisp as I relieve myself. The classic BeerLao yellow sign for the Nongtang Guesthouse is the first sign for a place I could sleep that I've seen in the last few hours. Situated on the small Nongtan Lake, which might actually be classified as a large pond, the guesthouse doesn't look open, so I decided to push on. The map says Kham district is still an hour or two away. Unfortunately, it's unclear if that's where the Plain of Jars is. Either way, that's the goal for the night.
Five minutes further down the road, there is a strip of bright, florescent lights marking a guesthouse that looks a bit more open than Nongtang. The die says I should check it out, so I pull through the gate. The place is just a strip of a half dozen or so concrete rooms for ten bucks a night. A few construction workers building a nearby two-storey building on the piece of property are chit chatting around a small wooden table. It looks like I might be the only paying customer for the night.
I'm not impressed, to say the least. Kneeling down in front of the woman who's holding keys to the room, I roll the die. If it's a four or a six, I'll stay. If not, I'll push on.
In the dim light six pips on the face of the die wink up at me from the dusty ground.
“Okay,” I say. “Do you have WiFi?”
Sigh. What's the die thinking? How am I supposed to get back on schedule and get work done if I don't have access to the internet.
Unpacked and showered, I pull on a pair of running shorts and a fresh, white t-shirt.
I ask for about food. A real meal would be appreciated. At first, it seems like she's inviting me to join them at the low table on which she and the workers are eating. Then, I'm thinking that maybe that's not the case. I'm mostly nodding and smiling and hoping that will get me food. She unlocks a cupboard and pulls out a plastic cup of noodles.
“No, no, thank you though,” I say. One cup of instant noodles in a day is already too much instant noodles.
Well, this sucks. Maybe the die stopped me from going farther to prevent an accident or maybe it's just a mindless cube. Preventative measures, as well as timing, are often the excuses I make for the die's seemingly poor decisions. If it stops me somewhere or sends me somewhere that fails to impress, I simply try to believe that it's setting the stage for something else in days to come. It's a cope out excuse. I know it is. But, you know, I have to make it work in my mind if nowhere else.
The cold air cuts into me as I pop back into town on the bike, wearing only my skimpy shorts and t-shirt. It's a lovely cold. The restaurants that seemed open when I passed 20min ago are now closing, one shutter of two pulled down, like the eyes of an old man in a big comfy chair losing a battle with sleep, despite the Superbowl playing on the big screen in front of him.
Past Nangtan Lake, I pull up a small dirt road. A sign out front of a little place with its lights still on says “Coffee”. A group of six people are the only ones sitting around one of the four tables in the restaurant. Maybe they serve food. Then again, it looks like this is a post-closing staff dinner party.
“Eat food?” I ask in Laos, which also works as:“Do you have food I can eat?”
Hesitantly, I come up the stairs. It's a funny little place that has walls like a picket fence. Though it's enclosed, the fresh air and breeze cuts right through the establishment.
A 40-year-old man with parted black hair and a round face flush from drinking Beer Laos, speaks some English.
“Yes, anything is good,” I say.
Though I sit down at another table, the youngest man at their table, passes me half a tumbler of beer. I take a sip, and then remember I'm supposed to just down it. I hand the glass back to him, thanking him.
“You want dock?” the red-faced man asks. “Dock or cow?”
“Cow, please,” I say.
A woman in her early thirties rises from the table and heads over to an electric wok to make me dinner. She's wearing a short-sleeved blue and green patterned top with matching long-shorts. The other woman in the room is older. She sits in a chair away from the table, bundled up in a coat and looking on as her husband drinks with the other men.
Red-faced man, Sam, pulls me from behind my table and grabs a chair for me to join him and the rest of the group at theirs.
“Vietnam,” he says, pointing to his thin-faced friend, the younger man, Lang. “Vietnam, Laos and American, drink beer together. Friends.”
And so we did. Lang would fill the single tumbler one third to halfway up with Beer Laos then pass it to the next person in the circle, who would down it in a single gulp. With a snap of the wrist, Sam, would send any beer leftover down onto the floor and Lang would fill the glass up again.
Bottle after bottle appeared full and then disappeared under the table empty.
Lang's wife, the woman in the long-shorts, brings over a big dish of heavenly seasoned beef pieces with green onions piled on top. A large bowl of soft, buttery rice is placed in front of me and I dig in. I push the beef out next to the rest of the food on the table, indicating that others are welcome to join. However, it seems that they are mostly done eating.
The older woman, who I hadn't realized disappeared, returns with a large woven container of sticky rice. She puts it down in front of me.
“Rice Vietnam,” says Sam pointing to the soft rice. “Rice Laos,” he says pointing to the sticky rice.
Sam then explains what the rest of the dishes on the table are: fish, pig and dock.
“Dock? Like...” I ask, pointing down to where the cutesiest little puppy had been sitting near my chair.
“Yes, dog,” he says, with a big grin and a laugh.
Sam serves up a couple pieces of grilled pork skin, maybe bits of pig face, I don't know. He also puts a couple of the dark black pieces of dog in my bowl of rice.
I force my why through the bits of pig before picking up one of the dark pieces of dog. It doesn't look like dog meat, maybe dog liver or some other organ.
I pop the little piece into my mouth. It's good. It must have been a very small dog or a puppy, if the tiny ribs in the bowl are anything to go on. That explains why I've seen so many puppies and not so many dogs while driving through Laos. Hopefully, there isn't a similar explanation for why there are so many children and not so many adults.
“Vietnam, Laos and American drink beer together,” Sam says with a big smile.
Lang, who speaks only a couple words of English, changes the music from Laos to Vietnamese. He turns on some disco lights, which spin and splash colored dots around the room.
At some point, the older woman and her husband, who drives lorries from Laos to Cambodia, Vietnam and even Singapore, have disappeared.
There is a photo shoot, with the three of us drunk and crowded together. Sam, who has three children, leans his head on my shoulder like a lover. The older man who is taking the picture seems to think it's a bit too much and tries to get him to straighten up. It's all funny to me. Sam's a sweet guy, a teacher apparently.
With an enthusiastic thumbs up, Lang tries to communicate how Thailand's beer Tiger is good, but Beer Laos is really good. Pulling out his phone, he shows me a video of his son. It's a strange video. The little boy, maybe four years old, looks lost, a little melancholy, as he looks directly at the phone and then looks away. His grandmother then picks him up.
Lang indicates that June, his wife, now sitting across the table slicing up the rind from a melon we had as dessert, was distraught and bawling when they had to leave their son to come across the border and work in Laos.
Moments later, Lang starts a live Facebook video of us all drinking. The results are probably a good argument for killing Facebook Live.
The music changes to Thai and I hear it instantly. I can't explain how I know it's Thai, but it is.
“Want to fuck you,” Lang sings several times in awkward English, perhaps translating the song or just explaining what he'd like to do to the provocative singer in the YouTube video.
At some point I find myself in charge of pouring the glasses of beer. The bottles keep appearing by the will of Sam. He simply signals June and she stands up and gets beer from the fridge nearby.
It's not until we call for the bill that I realize that it's her restaurant and that it's Lang's mechanic shop abreast to it.
The bill comes to a total of 240,000 kip, about 30 dollars, for lord knows how many beers. Not expecting to be spending so much money, but always prepared, I'm able to put in 70,000 kip, which I hope is enough. Sam puts in 100,00 and the man across the table who invited me to join all of them for coffee tomorrow morning, says something about being low on cash and chips in 20,000.
Lang puts in some money himself, but then waives the difference.
Hugging and fiercely shaking hands, we all part ways.
Who was I to question the dice?