Friday, October 11, 2013

You Must Be Meshuga

This post is the first in a series of seven about a cycling trip in Northern Laos.

The others are:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door
Slipping. Sliding. Away.
Your Cheatin' Heart.
There Are Places I Remember.
Heroic Charlene, and
The Icing On The Latte.

It is the end of September.

For those of you who do not know, the dry season here ends toward the end of October and until that time, the dirt roads in this country are not ki foune (dust), but rather ki tombe (mud).

I was duly warned by Laoists great and small, the greatest of whom is Olivier – Renaissance man, cheese maker, house designer and overall genius. His words, translated freely from the French, were, "You must be meshuga!"

And it was this simple sentence that accompanied me all throughout this great trek on dirt roads, 150 km from Sanakham, on the Mekong west of Vientiane, to Kasi way way up on Route 13, 60 km north of Vang Vieng.

Because instead of riding on the peaceful dirt roads of backwater Laos, I slipped and slid and fell and cut myself for 150 km.

On the way I passed through countless tiny villages where the kindness of strangers was the common denominator.

Sanakham itself is a tiny town on the Mekong and I was able to find a small guest-house in the old quarter on a street with old houses just a stone's throw away from the river and the local girlie bar so the place wasn't as quiet as I thought it would be. Love was certainly in the air that night!

People have wondered about this photo, which is of the bus conductor and myself after we had arrived in Sanakham. It is true that the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol that made an unfortunate appearance in Europe in the 20th Century. But anyone with an eye to graphic design will immediately recognize that this kid's swastika is a definite reference to the Nazi symbol. There is no guile in it, however. You often see kids with Nazi symbols stuck on their motorcycles and the fact is that in a country where people don't even know the history of their own country before 1975 it is far too much to ask of them to understand what a Nazi is.

The symbol for them is western. And western for them is as cool as all the stupid Chinese tattoos you see on the streets of Toronto. Ask people what those mysterious Chinese characters mean and they will undoubtedly answer, “Strength” or “Harmony”, but what's probably written is “Ask me about my grandchildren”.

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