SECTION SIX

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COLUMN 108, AUGUST 1, 2004
(Copyright 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)

KHUN WAYNE VISITS LAOS

I'm in Luang Pabang....Ever hear that Dave Von Ronk tune "When I got back from Luang pabang there was nothing but air where my balls used to hang""...Errol Flynn's son Sean Disappeared in the jungle around here 30 years ago. He was a stinger for TIME. he's still missing. 

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My girlfriend speaks Lao as well as Thai. How did these people ever fight a war". They are the most laid back lazy bunch I ever met. I love 'em. I fit right in...

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Read a good one in the International Herald Tribune. Evidently there are those who want to replace the likeness of Tommy Jefferson with Ronnie Reagan on the ten dollar bill. 

A guy writes in and says; Ronald Reagan for the three dollar bill...Ray Charles for the ten dollar bill.

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Just got into Phousaphan from Luang Prabang. A six hour haul over some high mountains. One driving mishap and it's a long ride down to the bottom...Lot's of subsistence farmers along the way and guys walking along the road carrying rifles. I think they were looking for food (I hope) ...

Would you believe (sure you would) about halfway here I see a sign that says Dangerous Curve in English...Only one sign all the way. There were about 2,000 dangerous curves getting here and this one didn't look anymore dangerous than the other 1,999. I figure the boss of the road crew had one sign he had to get rid of and they stuck it in indiscriminately.

"Hey Wong, do something with this sign..."

"Where you want me to put it boss?"

"Up to you"

Anyway, we got a nice room for five bucks a night. A bit shoddy even by my minimum standards but I think our driver must get a kickback....a small one obviously.

Got a good story already. This is one of the places we bombed the shit out of during the secret war. There are bomb casings everywhere. There are bombs everywhere. They have "Bomb People" from all over the world diffusing them. So we buy a tourist ticket which is supposed to be good for about three places including the Planes De Jars and the Hot Springs. We get to the Jars entrance and the ticket guy wants another couple of bucks (about 40,000 Kip) Ms SOpee gets pissed and starts Yak Yaking the guy in Lao. Then our driver gets in the act and asks why we have to pay again. The ticket man tells him in Lao and he laughs and says to me "He say you have to pay more because you dropped the bullets" No problem, we paid up and had a good laugh. All except SO she hates to get ripped off.

OK So far so good. We're going to the Vietnamese border tomorrow to see the Patet Lao Caves (where the Commie Gov hung out during the war) and which we also bombed the shit out of. Another all day trip.

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We're back in Luang Prabang sipping red wine and eating water cress salad (and pizza). Ha!

We visited The Jars in Phonsavan and took off for The Caves in Vieng Xai. Another long day's haul over the mountains. Ms. SOpee immediate gets ill on these rides. It's like seeing the most beautiful landscape imaginable from the roller coaster at Astro World. Or from the inside of a cocktail shaker. Even motion sickness pills don't help. I gave her some of my Fiorinal which did no good either. She spent 75 per cent of the trip stretched out on the seat of the van. The Fiorinal and Pepsi with lemon did wonders for me though. I was digging every mile.

We pull into Xam Nua around nightfall and get a small guest house (there are only two) The proprietress who had a large hickey on her neck showed us a patriotic Patet Lao DVD when I told her we were going to visit The Caves. Obnoxious military music and grainy films of soldiers doing what soldiers do. Mostly charging fixed positions. It certainly got me in the mood.Hup Two Three Four.............

In the morning we drove out to The Caves. I'd been wanting to come here since reading about them in the Lao Rough Guide. What an upper. We registered with the tourist people who didn't shoot me when I told them I was an American. In fact 60 Americans visited there last year....They've only been open for two years. These are big caves, people. Not the tiny ones we saw in Vietnam. We visited three and a huge Hollywood Bowl like cave which soldiers slept when we were bombing the shit out of them. All the bombing incidentally (1964-72) appeared to do little damage.

President Kaysone's Cave (he's the Uncle Ho of Laos) included an oil painting of Che Guevarra given to him by Fidel Castro who visited the caves in 1969. The cave I really liked was The Red Prince's...that's right, Prince Souphanouvong. The Prince was not only a Red Herring but a Black Sheep. What a disappointment he must have been to his father when after Engineering school in Paris he became a Pinko. Sort of like our friend Nate's father would feel like if he worked for the Kerry Campaign this year. Our guide told us Air America really wanted to take the Prince out for being a a Commie turncoat and time and time again attempted to lob one in his cave door. They blew a nice portion of the mountain away put no brass ring. I'm sure with our modern "bunker buster" technology we would have got him. Then these people would still be getting fucked over by the Royal Family instead of the Commies.

Gotta send this out in case the computer crashes...part two coming up.

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Ok The Caves were great. After the caves it was a two day ride back to Luang Prabang. More Shake, Rattle and Roll. More of Ms Sopee lying on the seat trying not to vomit. More Fiorinal washed down with Pepsi w/lemon for me. 

Our driver decided to take a shortcut which extended the ride by at least half a day I'm sure. The road was practically washed out. Rocks and mud slides everywhere. For me the pain and suffering was worth it (my ass and back were killing me from sitting so long) cuz the scenery and ethnic villages we passed were outrageous. 

We spent the night in a burg called Vieng Thon and the next day took off again for Luang Prabang. One funny is worth mentioning. As we were so far into the jungle I asked Ms. SOpee if there were any monkeys around. She had a Yak! Yak! session with our driver then turned to me and said (with a smile) "Lao people eat already"...

Later on we passed a muddy river. To me it looked like there should be crocodiles lurking about. I inquired again..."any crocs around here baby"? Again a conference with the driver..."he say no crocodiles and if have Lao people eat already" No vegans in this country, people.

Hey, I'm going for lunch.... 

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What I am going to say next might be controversial...

I am thinking back to my Hard Scrabble days around Peace Corps time when Darlene and I hitched all over East and Southern Africa. So many times we were stranded and depended on the kindness of others for a helping ride, a place to crash, anything, other than spending an uncomfortable night on the plains of Tanzania, The Desert of the Great Karoo, The mountains of Malawi. How we appreciated those people who stopped and picked us up....It was a miracle at times. Thank Buddha. 

Flash forward to June 2004. Ms SOpee and I are in "Vieng Somewhere" in the middle of nowhere enjoying a tasty bowl of noodles. I wander over to chat with six or eight backpackers from England. Immediately I realize my mistake. These people are going to want to cop a ride with us. Sure enough one bloke asks, "How are you getting to Sam Nuam"? "In that" I reply, pointing to my air~con stretch van complete with comfy fold down seats and two drivers in case one becomes fatigued.

He inquires if they can come with us...I walk back to SOpee and ask if she wants backpackers with gear the size of refrigerators riding with us. She replies "No, but Up To You."

I sidle back to the backpackers and tell them the driver doesn't want extra people riding in his van. Then we get in and tool out into the mountains while the unwashed heathen glare at us with somewhat negative looks.

It was then I made a decision. No one was riding with us for the entire trip. Bad Karma". Fuck 'em. I paid 250 bucks for this van. I owned it for 4 days. I don't want anyone taking up my space. Maybe they wouldn't have acceptable personalities. Maybe I'd be bored talking to them in ten minutes. Maybe! maybe! maybe I am selfish. That's it. I really enjoyed driving around the countryside with Sopee stretched out trying not to vomit whilst I enjoyed the scenery. 

Once time we were riding out of a town way high in the mountains and a Farang with a pretty Asian girl attempted to flag us down. We were past them before I fully noticed them waving at us but we could have turned around and picked them up. This was a route with washed out roads and only occasional buses. God knows how they got there. Again I made a snap decision. Fuck 'em...then I took another Forinal for a headache which might be coming up and leaned back to enjoy the trip. 

I wonder what you my friends think of my selfishness. Are you with me or against me? Do you see yourselves in my self-centeredness or would you have loaded up your ride with broke, free-loading kids? Fess up? Let's hear what you have to say.

By the way. As we were driving along SOpee asked me "Rum, do you think if Bill was with us he would pick up backpackers"?

I replied. "Honey, if Bill were here in Laos he'd be out there looking for a free ride along with the backpackers." ha!

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You know the old adage. "Ass, Grass, or Gas...Nobody rides for free"  ##


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