by someone listening to carols on the ipod
Vientiane, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand via Nong Khai, Thailand
There are signs of Christmas in communist Laos. That is to say, there are Christmas trees and fairy lights and a Santa-at-the-north-pole-scene outside a Vientiane hotel. This is more than Luang Prabang, where there was just one Santa, two Christmas trees and a few banners. It is certainly more than Phonsavanh, which had nothing at all, unless you count the Santa hat I saw someone wearing one nippy morning.
So there’s a little Christmas, but no Christ.
A week out from Christmas as a family we have read through Old Testament prophecies, read the gospel accounts including the bits that often seem to get missed out (like Simeon and Anna), considered Jesus as Saviour, Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, Jesus as light of the world. We haven’t had a calendar full of end of year break-ups or last-day-Dadda-has-to-go-to-work celebrations or any of the other markers that usually signal the coming of Christmas…..this year we have Christ without conventional Christmas.
Now we are leaving Laos behind….the children are hopefully asleep, hidden behind blue curtains, while Rob and I sit together in a sleeper cubicle on a train racing through the darkness, listening to the strains of O Holy Night and The First Noel.
I jotted down in my journal:
When we trained into Thailand from Malaysia, the agriculturalness of it struck us, along with the Thai script everywhere – of course, we *should* have anticipated that, but it just hadn’t occurred to me to think about it beforehand.
This time, coming from Laos, it’s different. The first thing we noticed were the ENGLISH signs – made us realise how little English there was in Laos. Then, barely 50km into the journey, we were pulling into a bustling brightly-lit city (Udorn Thani) – it was buzzing far more than the capital we had just left. Remembering how *less developed* Thailand had appeared at first, makes Laos seem even more olde world now that Thailand looks modern and western. There was even a massive red Christmas tree topped with a white reindeer in the middle of what looked like a Christmas carnival.
Thirteen hours after leaving, we’ll be zooming past bright green paddy fields on the approach to Bangkok. Bangkok will seem cooler (it’s only 21*C now and people are asking us if we are cold when we are just wearing jeans and short-sleeved shirts! – but this is warmer than the northern, higher altitude temperatures of the past few weeks), it will seem cleaner (although there is still a lot of rubbish everywhere), it will seem eminently more modern (those shacks at the side of the road don’t look quite as primitive now that we’ve stayed in some ourselves!) Curiously, it will feel like home. We will go out on the street and the tuktuk driver, the laundry lady and the cheap-food-stall-proprietors will greet us like long-lost friends. Only this time we can speak to them in their language, instead of just pointing and smiling! Within hours of arriving we will be switching from pahsah Lao to pahsah Thai…..we’ll try out the Lao phrases and find most of them are so closely related to Thai that they work well enough. All of us will blurt out the Lao “kop chai”, which now rolls off the tongue as easily as “thank you”, and try to replace it with the Thai equivalent, one version for boys, another for girls. We will go down the street and be able to ask how much the fruit and doughnuts cost and so will no longer rely on 7-Eleven bread with its labelled price for a cheap breakfast!
We will take hot showers that don’t cut out, we will sink onto the beds, which we remembered to be much harder than they seem now, we will connect up to the internet (yippee!), we will inhale a quick lunch and then send Dadda and our turned-thirteen-today-son to the airport to pick up friends…..but that’s all tomorrow.
Zooming through the darkness we think of Christmas and go to sleep with the sound of Joy to the World, this world, running round our heads.
Tags: children, God, housing, postcard: Laos, postcard: Thailand, tradition, transport