Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Somewhereness - Bike Trip Part 2

…taking a turn off the 10 is taking a turn back many centuries. The black turns red and the red sometimes becomes gravel. Many of the houses are old.

From every corner a “sabeidee” rings out and not a peri-urban in-your-face greeting, not ‘we say sabeidee because that’s what they expect’. It is a greeting and a benediction of good health and cheer.

Children call out ‘falang!!!’ when I ride by and the light red mechanism of the Specialized turned almost effortlessly.

The greens of the field, the rice paddies in various stages of growth, were so convincing that I took off my sunglasses to let the full force of it in and everywhere, to my left, the Nam Ngum River rang its sweet peasant song. Coconut trees, teaks the size of planets, people stopping me to offer sticks of barbequed pork with pieces of hardened cartilage hidden in the meat so you chew and force down on this, the marrow of the countryside, until it yields to your persistence and surrenders its juice and softness to your teeth.

The morning is cool and has a Canadian summer cottage smell, the water smell, the Nam Ngum smell and now I sit on the dining terrace of the Vansanah Resort (in Ban Keun) and look down on the river running into the pale sunrise; it runs flat and rippled between banks of garden, the greens a pin-point of precision hand-farming, the browns showing where the earth has been turned. On occasional horizons a line of palm trees will rush and hide itself within a larger expanse of trees.

Boats cross the river and leave in the air the winsome and nostalgic smell of the out-board motor. The boats carry trucks and cars from bank to bank.

The amazing thing is that just one hour by car out of an increasingly busy capital city, straight dusty roads lead through temple-less villages of simplicity and charm.

                                               *     *     *

…and they have lived their lives thus, in redolent non-movement, for generations above the slow flowing river, their crops fed gently by the deluvian soil.

old women walk to the temple, offerings in arm; bent like broken match sticks.

and so it goes on: bamboo scaffolding to lime the walls white, the row of coconut palms in the courtyards holding their fruit.

                                        *     *     *

If I had wanted to breathe in le terroir of the land then I am doing it literally by breathing in all the dust thrown up by the trucks and cars.

With apologies to David Farnell, great Torontonian oenologist devant l’Eternel, I am breathing in the Somewhereness of the land.


  1. I love your writing and photos, Mair. I didn't quite understand the signs announcing "You are illiterate. We have beer"...unless they are suggesting that after a few drinks no one will care. And did the soldiers planting rice take a wrong turn? It is always great to read your latest news.

    1. Hey Darlene,
      Thanks for your kind words.
      Soldiers are being mobilised across the country to help with rice planting; I only wish they could be put to work picking up garbage!!!

      The signs about literacy are meant to convey what it feels like to live in a place where you really don't understand a damned thing. Mostly, it's lots of fun.

  2. your photos very clearly show that there are two dominant colours in Lao Landscapes: red/brown road dust, and green rice fields, with a third colour accent added for Yellow Bia Lao signs. The three define Lao.

    Enjoy your stay.