Monday, September 6, 2010

Arrival - September 4th, 2010


Back in Canada I had already booked our hotel room so that the jet-lag crash with the kids wouldn’t be so difficult. My two criteria were price and a swimming pool. As difficult as it is to believe in a tropical climate, only four-star hotels here have swimming pools. In my mind’s eye I could see them, rounded and garish, shallow; with umbrellas and even maybe some sad pseudo Asian music to make tourists believe they were somewhere exotic while never really leaving Forest Hill.

As you can see, I was already somewhat bitter, and to be fair, every day I have to pinch myself and remind myself that this is no longer Vietnam.

The no-longer-Vietnam part is important. Maybe it deserves its own book.

To make a long story long, I finally found the Villa Sisavad through an on-line booking service. A guesthouse which my research showed was highly praised by French visitors. The owner was a French citizen, his wife spoke French. It was simple and cheap and it had a swimming pool. I booked on-line and paid for ten days. Two rooms, one for us and one for the children.

Arriving here was a bit of a shock. My eyes were still North-American and even if I have been in some pretty dingy places, I was still accustomed to a certain symmetry, a certain finish to things. Cracked cement walks, broken ceramic tiles in the bathrooms, the basic good old fashioned South-East Asian shower arrangements all struck me with a spoilt man’s horror.

The swimming pool also has cracked tiles around it. Some of the tiles are not so clean and look like bacteria are happy there. Also, the pool has no shallow end. At the end of four steps leading into the pool the water is already over my head.

A fine metaphor for my life, I thought.

But after a week of being here and riding around the city, my eyes have begun to adapt to the ambient cement and tile culture. My building standards have slowly crept down to Lao levels and our little guesthouse looks like the most luxurious place in the city.

The owner is indeed a Franco-Lao. He smiles at me whenever I see him. He suffered a stroke three years ago and every day one of the hotel employees helps him go for a walk. One of his arms half dangles limply at his side. In the late afternoon he watches his seven-year old daughter Manon at play. He smiles, happy to see that she is healthy and active, her little limbs lithe and warm as she skips rope with her friends.

He looks at me and smiles, without a trace of bitterness or sadness in his eyes. “Life is a pool with no shallow end”, he seems to be saying.

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