No Place As Home
Contact Daniel: noplaceashome at yahoo.co.uk
General Musings (2)
Guide to this site
At home in the world
Not very heroic
Small town West Bengal
An ending approaches
Sights, frights and memories
Everyone's cup of tea
Introduction to Gari
In the hate period
Don't take this too seriously
Making the bag
Things which make me angry
April 28, 2004
The border at the end of the world
The border at the end of the world
I remember, back in Kunming, when I had mentioned my next destination in Hilary and Charles' house, Charles had reminisced about Laos - "It was like the end of the world. Nothing from the outside came in, nothing came out". He then added, "But of course, that was forty five years ago".
Crossing the border from China, the change is indeed amazing. Once the border formalities are over and I have exchanged my 430 Yuan for 516,000 Lao Kips (and as none of my notes are worth more than 10,000 Kip, I have no idea where to put these piles of cash), there is a fantastic peace in the air. Gone is that nervous urgency that seemed to ebb and flow through China. No one in the tiny town of Boten seems in the slightest interested in selling me anything, and when they do it is clearly so that I will go away. They doze, watch television, play music, chat, compare babies. There are two dirt roads with large wooden houses (with corrugated iron roofs) surrounding them, and a large dirt area where a few buses and several empty lorries linger.
I sit for the first sunny hour in the town bus shelter, waiting with another man, who mostly sleeps, for the bus to Oudomxai. Eventually, he gets up and starts checking the tires - I realise he is the driver. "Are we leaving now?", I communicate - "No, tomorrow, 10 or 11am", the answer comes back. As I am the only interested passenger the bus will wait until the next day to leave.
I arrived in the pleasant, very hot little town of Mengla. Already this was feeling less like China, and more like some long imagined South East Asia. Amazingly for China, finding a restaurant was actually quite hard, and for the first time ever, there were lots of places just selling cold drinks and ice creams. A local teacher called Joseph approached me as I drank a sweet lemon mix. We talked, he tried to persuade me to stay and teach English, later he took me to a school to meet some of the students and I chatted with them for a while. They were lovely and keen to talk, but, to skip ahead to the ending of this story, Joseph and I parted that evening with me telling him he was a thief and I had no interest in talking to him anymore. I've told so many stories of cons and pseudo cons in China, sure you've little interest in hearing yet another one, but essentially, it occurred to me later that these weren't Joseph's own students, he was a freelancer, and he was probably showing me to them to make himself look good to future customers. He decided we should go to a rather expensive restaurant, saying it would be a treat for my last night in China, then expected me to pay for both of us. As he started explaining with a grin that this is all Chinese tradition, I smiled too, "You must think I'm a real child - goodbye, I don't ever want to speak to you again".
My guesthouse is fairly simple, in the darkness I almost mistake the toilet for the pig's sty, which would have been interesting. I sit on a tough red carpet with "Made in Thailand" emblazoned along the edge. Various family members/guests (I have no idea) sit watching a silly (occasionally singing) soap opera of beautiful people. Suddenly a guess rises in my mind - I point at the screen and ask one girl, "Thai"? She smiles and nods. I type some of the above and we all watch the tv for a while, then I retreat to my room and its four poster hanging mosquito net.
Daniel, 28 April 2004, Boten
Posted by Daniel on April 28, 2004 09:06 PM
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