Archive for March, 2010

we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

DSC_0984Here’s what I love about Phayong village: Everything.

I love the food: Sweet potato soup, boiled chicken fresh off the butchering block, sardines with pumpkin, and, of course, Beer Lao. Each dish served in extreme excess by a lovely, toothless granny sporting a traditional Hmong skirt and a Billabong hoodie. Each bite savory, spicy and thick with fat.

I love the boys who, up till the age of five, habitually go pantless. Pantless and fearless. Slide down a poorly sanded wooden stick, naked? Of course. Hop on your makeshift skateboard and barrel down a hill, naked? Obviously.

I love the girls. The young Hmong women who already look and feel more mature then I’ll ever be. By age twelve, they’re cooking the meals, going to school, and raising their siblings. Their faces are rich with experience and understanding, their humanity and compassion for strangers indescribable.

Here’s how much I want to live in Phayong village: not at all.

I love my life. I chose my partner. I’m 24 and am happily childless. I travel. I live where I want. I have a job that, given all the choice in the world, I would choose 100 percent of the time.

When I do manual labor, it’s for fun (ie: four poster bed building with my very handy man).

I am educated, and there was never any question that I would be.

I have absolute and complete freedom in my future.

I’ll go back to Phayong again and again. This afternoon in fact. I’ll eat the food, play with kids, and be humbled by their kindness each time.

But each time, I will come home, thankful for my partner, my education, my life.

Thankful for my choices.

where my stomach disappeared.

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Dearest parasite,

I’m just going to start…I’m all done, OK? Things just aren’t working out with us anymore.

I know, I know, it started out so good. That day on the Mekong, that deliciously fresh star-fruit you rode in on. I think I gave you the wrong impression. I know I welcomed you so freely, but, really, I just wanted a bite of fruit. I’m sorry, you don’t think me a tease, do you?

And I know, it wasn’t all bad at first. Our first night, up all night, I didn’t mind it so much. I remembered the water, the boat ride, the fruit, and I forgave you all your urgent and crampy flaws.

But now, things are just changing so much. I don’t remember what a full nights sleep is like. Just once, please, I’d love to not spend the wee hours coaxing you away from the brink of total destruction.

Can we just end this amicably? Sweet and simple, just as it started?

Please, don’t hate me. I just can’t do it anymore.

Daak Fai

PS. If you fail to take this note to heart, I will kill you.

and your eyes like smoke.

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

clothes sizedHere, too, there’s days like this:

You wake up at 3:30 with the sound of roosters and (is it possible?) some sort of construction; the possibility of more sleep has been quickly crowed away. You think for a moment that it wouldn’t be so bad to dig out your eardrums.

When the sun finally comes up, it’s light and warmth are hidden by a thick and oppressive shield of smoke. It turns out, the entire country does their field burning at once, so you spend the morning delirious in the haze of some farmers rice.

Then you’ve got to do laundry, which of course, being you, you’ve put off for far too long. So it takes hours. Not hours of unattended washing machine sort of laundry. Hours of labor intensive, stain scrubbing, hands pruning laundry. Then hang it to dry, rotate it every thirty minutes and quickly smack out the dust stains before anyone figures out you dropped most of it on the ground at one point or another.

(Pause here to spend a good hour running to and from the bathroom because you thought yourself tough enough to eat handpicked fruit you washed in the Mekong.)

You sit for a moment and see the dirty french press and mugs staring you down. So, back outside it is, to the kitchen (read: hose). Again, being you, you find several days of dirty dishes piled by the kitchen (hose) so have to hunker down on your haunches, and start washing, sans soap or sponge. You’ve long ago accepted that nothing, nothing in this country is actually clean.

You convince yourself that some nice cheap market food will be perfect for dinner. But tonight, well, it sucks. The vegetables are cold and wilty and the chicken on a stick has far too many mystery parts to it. The beer Lao is warm and the crepe man on the corner has taken the night off.

But this is it, and this is how you want it to be.

Life is life, and you are you, wherever you go. As it should be. My grandmother, who moved around countless times in her life, always told me that if you enjoy your life and have friends in one place, both will be true in the next place, as it’s something that you carry with you.

Well said, grandma. And might I add the same is true for laundry and sensitive digestive systems; they will follow you everywhere.

the geometry of flesh on the bone.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

mmm fishI’ve crossed the threshold, stepped over that line that separated falang from local, tourist from Lao.

Tonight, I am Lao.

Tonight, I sucked the meat out of a fish’s belly.

I picked through the spine, around the gelatinous central core, and ate every single piece of fish off that carcass. I devoured the skin and used bones to clean my teeth.

Because here, where full tummies and healthful meals are far from guaranteed, the Lao waste nothing. Every bit of meat left on a bone is an insult, a slap in the face to the decades of struggle and starvation in this country.

It’s always present: the first thing you say to somebody by way of greeting is hello, and have you eaten? It’s ingrained in a people that have learned to make do with little, live off their land, and share with their neighbors in hopes of survival. Even in the most modern, affluent Lao home, Khin kao la bo? have you eaten, is the most frequently uttered phrase.

Noy congratulated me tonight on eating like a Lao person. She gives me a sturdy pat on the back each time I do something a little more Lao—say the right word, bow at the right time, run the right stop signs, wake up early and take a naps daily. These things, she says, make me Lao.

We fall short when she tells me, with a smile and a beer Lao, to do everything for B. Lao women, she says, spend their lives serving their male counterparts. (Noy is, and loves to be, single.)

I tell her there’s some things, western feminism for instance, that won’t be washed away with a transglobal move.

A fish belly though, well that can be sucked dry.