Saturday, February 7, 2015
The bare facts of the place are that in this country anything larger than a village is a miserable hole peopled with dusty cement blocks. In the evenings the boys get filthy drunk with prostitutes and sing tone-deaf karaoke at break-neck volumes while the rest of the town goes to bed early.
The road from Sap Bao to here is paved and beautifully so, which came as a surprise since the road from Sam Neua was only paved for half of its length. Of course, Sap Bao and Mouang Et both serve border crossings into Vietnam so this would explain that.
The road, or rather the land around it is a pleasure to behold, a pleasure to be a part of, to move through – especially at an average speed of 13.3 km/h.
On all sides the round hills rise up, the valley a broad gradual gradiant that has taken centuries to settle. You can almost imagine the millenium going by as water falls and cascades broke down the steadfast earth one grain at a time. Then it was a land of stubborn contrasts and abrupt vistas, water falling from great heights with rock-embedded pools of emerald green.
The beings living then thought that this was their land, that these rocks and those steep granite cliffs were their eternal birthright, as unchanging as the soft powdering of stars above their hungry heads. But you see, it was not to be so. Those beings became people (or were eaten by people...) and the dramatic accidental land became a calm and placid place where the river runs smooth and even all down its mirrored course.
And so, to us the silence of the everlasting hills; and so, to us this slowly changing beauty with its wild banana trees and perked rice stems, its little purlple and yellow flowers popping up winter-time in the palm of the land. And so to me; traveller, lucky tourist who glides through this space and time to see the bent backs of the people in the mud flat paddies. Lucky am I, I am also thinking, that I am not one of them and thus condemned to use my body and force of labour to earn and feed myself and my loved ones. Lucky am I for the patient work of my father and those who, before my family arrived, made Canada a place where such miracles could happen. I expect, more than half expect, these burdened peasants to look up at me from their toil in derision or resentment as I glide through or stop to freeze their pastoral hardships with my smart-phone camera, but nothing of the sort happens! They look up, wave and smile, their teeth glowing in the light like mirrors. They seem genuinely happy that someone in this world is not eating the same shit as they. Yes, they actually seem happy for me!