Thursday, October 28, 2010

October Break - Bo Pin Yan - October 29th, 2010

(Late October, the Ecole Hoffet went on break. I took a few days off work and we rented a car and drove with Camille up to Vang Vieng. Here are some impressions from the road…)

The Ultimate Bo Pin Yan Experience.

North of Vientiane but still far south of Vang Vieng on the mythical Route 13, built by the French during their glorious colonial enterprise and not maintained since, there is a lake called Ang Nam Ngum.

An artificial lake. In the early 70’s, before the Wondrous Revolution a damn was built and rivers were diverted and a huge hydro-electric battery was built. The newly born Communist Government used the newly formed islands in the middle of the lake, ex-mountains, as prisons. So they say. We were not able to visit any of them.

Our first stop was downstream of the lake. Funny, I thought, this looks just like a river. But we stayed the night in a resort with wonderful rooms and a swimming pool. The children dove into the water, singing their new mantra: This Is The Life!

And indeed it is.

That night we looked for a restaurant and we had the choice of a few floating restaurants with coloured lights and powerful sound systems, which proved once again my civic adage that I.Q. tests should be administered to people before they are allowed to have electricity.

We finally ate at the night market, which is nothing like the night markets in Thailand. A few tables covered with dirty plastic paper, old pots filled with stews so spicy you could light a cigarette on them; chickens and another unidentified bird over red-hot embers. Smoked pork, sticky rice. Insects the size of small cars flew around us and sometimes at us (At another restaurant, the owner grabbed a fat grasshopper and tore its head off and popped it in the deep freezer for later consumption.). I bought a large bottle of beer from across the street and we had our dinner. As usual, we bathed in the warmth and delight of the joyous Lao people.

The next day we finally made it to the lake. The banks of the lake used to be the mountain tops of a sprawling valley. Roads cut through cliff breaks where only trees once grew. An entire city of restaurants and workers’ huts has mushroomed in the erstwhile wilderness.

Getting a boat and being on it were the ultimate Bo Pin Yan experience. We went to the embarcadero where you can rent boats. In any other country in Asia you would be accosted by boatmen trying to sell you a tour. But here, the captains just sat around looking at us. We were sure we were in the wrong place! We had to ask to get a boat. Their lack of pressure was all the more strange considering the prices of the cruises – 300,000 kip for two hours!

The boat itself was a piece of work. It was older than the Bible, and the ‘captain’ fired up the ancient diesel engine by making contact and a threatening spark manually. Then he sat at the wheel in an old chair. He sat there. He just sat there.

I looked out the side of the boat and realized that after ten minutes that the boat simply had not moved. We had paid 300,000 kip to sit in a non-moving, heavily vibrating vessel for two hours!

I went to see James Tiberius Kirk and he pointed to a Soviet-style structure in the water in the distance and used his only two words in English: very good!

Yes. Very good. But very far. Very very far. After a while I saw that the boat was indeed moving, but only at about the speed I would normally walk. When I asked him to go faster, using body language, he would just look at me and smile: “very good!”

We understood each other perfectly.

We finally made it to the swimming structure. Only Russians could have built such a thing and made it so ugly. The other hour was just going around the lake, slowly. The only interesting thing was a missile on a beach, but it wasn’t our guide who pointed it out to us.

It was the ultimate exercise in accepting that which we could not change. Ten minutes before we got to port, the son-of-a-bitch finally put his foot down to the floor and the boat picked up speed.

But I am not a good Lao. I screamed at him to slow the damned thing down. If you’re going to be slow, be slow: Bo Pin Yan!

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