Monday, March 25, 2013

God doesn't want me to work at Home Depot

That's my conclusion for today, as you fly the friendly and I would hope not hostile skies. Or at least I assume you're on a jet plane, headed - HOME! Eee. Excited for you. But back to me, obviously. So there was some random Weather happening yesterday, freezing rain and sleet and snow, all the things that allegedly never deter postal workers, but schools - forget it. K.Lo is on a 2-hour delay OF COURSE because I had an interview at 8:30AM. Someday I'm going to look back on these mishaps and shake my head and sigh. Rueful laugh. Oh wait, it's already happening. I think I'd feel more put out if I could stomach the idea of being a greeter. Here, pretend to be a mega-extrovert for several hours! It will be great. And you don't even get a discount on your garden supplies. As it is, I cannot even get through to say I can't be there. Awful. I'm either re-routed, because no one wants to take that message, or sent to HR, where the call is dropped before VM can pick up. Every. Time.

So you know, I hope the other one works out. Have interview tomorrow afternoon at a consignment shop that said they weren't hiring until, apparently, they saw my awesome application? Right right. Anyway, I'm sure they pay much less, but do offer discounts, first dibs, and most importantly, scheduling around the fact of being a mother. Which frankly is priceless.

And yeah, the Pam Beasley Question. That's totally it. It's enough, absolutely. I'm enough even without that. Duh, right? But then I get in my head that should I be required to work (and I need to) to avoid that razor's edge, then it has to be fraught with meaning or otherwise completely worthy of my time, and me of it. And then I swirl down into the conventional spiral of college education and The Promise aka Great Lie of "you can be whatever you dream!" as long as you get one and oh wait that's clearly not true. And then I plunge into darker channels about bringing children into this world and what was I thinking - oh wait - Love. And despite my combined Wrong Education and lack of Right Experience, I can and should still change the world. But roadblock, roadblock. Red tape and more tape. It's depressing even scratching the surface, which of course I never do. I delve. And I struggle to get back to that hopeful waiting thing, but whine, it's hard. So many available options to talk yourself out of it, convince yourself that you somehow don't have value in the world - but again, that's the wrong question.

Stupid human condition.

I fell asleep during the latest ProRun last night - how could one not, really. I have to go back and finish it before discussing what on earth - how - the winning team was the winning team. I mean, Michelle's was perfection, but Daniel's? Am I missing how that dress wasn't a life-size Barbie dress from the 80s? Like the kind literally for a child's doll, not someone trying to dress ironically. Those were shoulder pads, I'm sure of it. And that color! Blech. Collectively I thought the other team of two should have won - for once, I really liked P's in particular.

And are you watching the Amazing Race?? We're not quite caught up, but last week's - Hanoi! and pho! a pho challenge! What! And our missing ingredient was apparently coriander. Now all I need are some live chickens squawking in a shoulder basket...

All right well. I've officially missed my ridiculous interview. Best get on with the day.
love to YOU
your penelaotang
p.s. I FINALLY watched the lice ep of SouthPark. My baby, Hope! genius.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Grit,

My dear laotong, and maybe this is perhaps where the dragon and the horse speak a different language. It's the Pam question- Why isn't being a mother enough? Now I know this is some sort of existential question, like why isn't being X enough. So I'm not dismissive of you grappling. And let's forgo that, yes you could use the money so that you're not on the razors' edge every month, AND that as a human being you need mental stimulation outside of your 24/7 never stops work as a mom. So let's just not argue those points. I get those. Absolutely. I just don't like these sorts of things tied up into your worth and ultimately your VALUE since I love my friend, I don't like to see her abused in any way, even if it's by herself- especially so. And it's good; you need to have, find those avenues in which to have another facet of your life, but not just so that it's not just (while valid) the relentless pursuit of money, or filling up time.

And as we process aloud, I did the job that most people were like really you? And I was like really me? Granted my job made it sort of a worst case scenario and I was drained 2 hours into the day and still had 3 more to go. And ultimately I do probably need to teach older kids and ones with a creative streak, but that aside- so while I encourage the stretching of borders, and I do think you'd master the kiddos, overall, I get like you, the keyword, exhausted. And the words introverted, sensitive and not brought "alive" by children in general... but your love and your boundaried hands will make you excel in the job regardless. (I do sort of see your sympathy with the kid crying in the corner. Like they're away from their moms too soon sort of thing or a general overwhelmed misplacement. But well on ya, for doing it in the first place! And you would be rife with stories. There's that. And as Bruckner said, we're not getting any younger. Oh he meant me, since I am currently lacking a family and a job. Nevermind.

I'm too busy soaking up my last days, of your aptly named garage sale that is Laos. You gotta hit at the right time and place and it's magic or it's NOT. And while Vietnam had it's fairshare of travel annoyances. I just don't know. Either way memorable ? Tomorrow I leave to Vientiane. The plane has decided there's enough people. Yesterday I actually rented a scooter- so easy on the feet, and went down some dirt roads with Elena to a not really there waterfall. Which getting up to was a bit hard on my foot as it's back to more sore than before, but the local teen set were at the top tier with their bottles of beer lao so we turned back. It was only a few hour outing but daring enough and budget right for me. Though my butt hurts from sitting on it all day. Literally. Can't believe.

What else? Yes, HOME. Yikes. I don't know. The idea of anyone picking me up besides my mom sort of unnerves me. I get so travel cranky. But it will be really lovely to have a friend welcoming party too. But then as you know, the job question looms, and just coming back and fitting back in? Church makes me nervous, like coming back from summer break and finding everything the same but not? I have anxiety over all of that. Just coming back and being adrift. I guess that feeling won't last long. Maybe I'll make a routine of job searching and going to 24f between meeting with friends. Much like my joblessdaysbefore. Down to the - no, I can't afford that. Ok processing, processing. Needing a queen mattress, a whole new wardrobe or a seamstress.

ok friend, godspeed to us both, as we cross the waters.
xo, m.







 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

hashing it out

So I survived the morning sub gig? And I wouldn't say I want to slam the door and run away completely. I'm still processing, so let's talk about it. I'll probably be processing for awhile so it's good I had the chance now and have the time before deciding whether you know - is this what I want to do. Try for. Maybe? The parents overall seem higher maintenance than the children. And the children were all batty because there was a sub. And oh, they were 2-year-olds. I'm fairly sure this is not my preferred age group. And some were sweet but then I do feel like for 3 hours straight you are reprimanding at least one person at all times. And that can be a complete drain. And some of it was just plain overwhelming - like knowing who drops off who and who picks up who and the Personalities and keeping track of how this and that kid did over the course of the day and blah blah. And you forget at that age that you can basically manhandle them if they're not doing what they're supposed to do. Not coming out from the corner? I can so pick you up and carry you wherever I want. Which was the case at pretty much every turn. Crawling under the tables and rocking the chair back into the wall and dismantling the cozy corner, etc. And the new kid who cried - I think he bothered me the least however. Because I get where he's coming from. Anyway if I were there all the time and they were more "my" little students, I suppose it would all become second nature, the absorbing of all these personalities and their rhythms? Maybe. Or would I still at the end of the days feel like I was having to be just so *on* every second, all the time. I find that exhausting. And I totally did yearn for the world of by-myself-$2/hr-fuckit-so-be-it freelance writing work. Oh the tradeoff. Maybe I'll end up settling for a mix? Who knows. Process, process. Process some more. 

Anyway I was completely exhausted this afternoon. 

So back to my self-reminders - HOLY SHIT those designers this season on ProRun! I mean there are bad, mostly missing the mark runway shows and there's the thing that just happened with pretty much absolutely nothing looking even remotely good, at all. Embarrassing execution of sad designs. Nina Garcia in inconsolable yet mirthful tears. Heidi waving her finger and literally saying, Bad Designers. Like they were all puppies. But seriously Patricia and that time-suck of a horrible basket-weave shirt! And those ginormous shirts and shrunken ties and pants that were literally unvelcroing at the seams. While the model stood there, unmoving. Yipes. Just - so bad. I'm already ready for the next season, because who is even going to redeem themselves by the finale, I have few guesses and little hope. 

Birthday! I already filled you in some but that favorite selected moment - it had to have occurred outdoors, as the weather was so penelope-perfect I could barely stand it. Probably when we were all eating our unexpected cinnamon rolls from the cupcake bakery on the backporch. Watching puppy roam. Feeling the spring breeze. Adoring the cream-cheese frosting. Mmm. Yes, that. 

It's Thursday and oh look, I'm already completely behind on bible study for Monday. Whatever? I just can't keep up. Much less with Children's Council stuff, which I've completely blanked on since the last meeting. Too busy mind-spiraling and destroying my fingernails! That stuff takes time and dedication, you know. I did however tackle a giant pile of Things that have been vexing me with their presence for a month and a half now and now the pile is gone. So, small victories. And I think it's time to watch New Girl and then maybe some reading in bed - said bible study fare and then Hex Hall? Which I just purchased with a belated birthday gift card that was totally unexpected but delightful. The library does not have that book! But I do, now. 

love YOU. are you so excited to be going home soon? 
xoxox
penelaotang

ooo-dumb-sigh

So I feel like all of Laos is a jungly garage sale with a lot of waterfalls? This might be my conclusion. Like a garage sale it contains some charm in the form of puppies and flowers and also the mundane - these are the trappings of our life. Buy it or not. But then there's the subplot of People Who Haggle Over a Fucking Nickel. Which are fascinating in their own way. I don't know how to explain all the waterfalls - there are just so many that have been alluded to! I feel like we could totally outline a Laotian drinking game based on waterfall references - and drink a shot! And then you'd have a solid excuse for slip-falling! oh geez. I'm sorry, my caffeinated, NOT-MORNING-PERSON (what was that proclamation, really. a lie. or a gross misrepresentation at least) brain is going off on a weird tangent. 

I told the ponies to deliver my last letter to you, but also to write it before delivering, and damn ponies. Complaints about lacking opposable thumbs and a grasp of the English language. Whatever. Unfortunately this post has to be brief because somehow, randomly and suddenly I have a substitute teaching assistant thing this morning? at the preschool at our church, to which I had expressed interest in applying to for the fall. And despite the scheduling complications with N.Lo pickup and the last-minuteness and a case of the nerves, I'm going for it because it could be a good foot in the door? Or a warning to slam it closed and run. I should at least find out either way, right? It will give me something to recap later today. And then I should probably talk some more about my birthday (notes to self) and ProRun designer travesties and whatever else -

Oh! My main reason for sad bloglack this past week or so (although I've loved hearing all your adventures as you countdown to Home) is that most of my energy is spent mind-spiraling and chewing my nails over Jobs and Life and my apparent failure at both. Never do I feel like a bigger loser when it comes to employ, whether it by my $2/hr attempts at freelancing (because that's what it works out to, always) or my weak resume or lack of wise ambition in my 20s to do something that actually amounts to anything. And now it's too late? Or is it. (I need to read Julia Child's bio - another note to self. since she started her journey to awesomeness in her 30s.) And then add to that jumping back into the world of gainful employment after a 7-year absence and it all just seems futile and completely lacking in luster or hope. Particularly when I'm not asking for much. I'm applying, for instance, to be a SpEd TA - a temporary, they emphasize, minimum wage position (but it's at K's school, so schedule would be perfect?) and I need somehow to get a college transcript. And 3 people to fill out reference forms, even though - seriously? - this is all even before an interview. Icing on the cake was emailing undergrad and being informed - you graduated so long ago that you're unable to just print it out online. Like my fucking degree exists in some dusty cave of an archive or something, and only Argus Filch has the key. And we all know how temperamental Argus Filch can be. 

Anyway - I gotta go for now. Love! You! enjoy your day or your night and remember to hold out for a cuter accent and less insobriety. 
xoxox
P.S. HD does NOT give employee discounts. We're already off to a bad start. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Almost,

There's been a delay in post so I haven't received your last letter, if you've sent it- so i'll tell you of my last days in Udomxai (ooo-dumb-sigh)and my journey to Laung Namtha (long-nam-tah). And even though I'm not touring the landscape since I can't really see it anyway, as I'll never tire of complaining, about the haze, I suppose the most ordinary events become the experience.

Being picked up on by a sheepish and drunk French man, only to be propositioned again by an older French man named Daniel, who as he left, just had to suggest that since we were alone we could enjoy each others company together. I laughed as you know, and waved him away- it's all about approach I guess, and an accent, because in any other context I would've been like, Creep! Even now I think it's a bit outrageous, but nevermind, somehow the disarming was right so that I wasn't aghast to his face, just amused and charmed. Oh the French!

Anyway, the next day I did infact switch hotels, for the better, and a Christian family who live in Laos invited me to come with them and another couple to a waterfall (as the dad saw me hobbling by and asked what happened). The gate was locked into the preserve so we crawled under the fence, and stopped by the small river instead. We played settlers of catan and it was a funny good time playing with people who could be my parents. Though the dad was nervous I was a reporter and then the son, and his anti-LA sentiment came bristling out (with the "your kind of music" comment)- as if he's ever even met a local. I am going to be one of those people as I get older- oh I'm sorry, have you met someone from LA or just a whole bunch of people from somewhere else living in LA. It's totally different. Of course objectively going off with complete strangers, in a car, into a remote forest preserve with a hurt foot and no phone... well there's my risktaking. A benign day by all accounts thankfully, despite the dead mosquitos on my fried khiew. So I stayed on the next day, just so I could hobble to the postoffice and buy an overpriced and terrible coffee drink and get hit on again- obviously.

After that I got up and managed to walk to the bus station- grab a good seat- and met my next travel partner Elena from Ireland. Which gave me someone to widen my eyes with when we stopped in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road to let the small bus cool down- and for the driver to ask us if he could take our waters to put in the engine... um, sure. We went slow, it wouldn't slip into gear, we stopped a few more times, once the guys all got out and pushed us, another guy got a bloody nose by the side of the road and started pushing leaves up into his nostril. I handed him some tissue as the blood was leaking out of the leaves and onto everything as he got back on the bus.

Then after what was suppose to be a beautifully paved road experience of fast travel we limped into town after over 4 hours on the road- oh but no, outside of town, 10kilometeres outside of town! which to varying degrees they do this to you in all of Laos (!^*#&$(*! So that you have to bargain and usually get ripped off by these tuk-tuk drivers (who if they weren't forced into this bizarre middle man position we'd likely pay them more in the long run)- they're like motorbikes with caged wagons attached basically. So we hop off the bus and usually there's some hearty discussion and one guy quoted us a price that was what everyone pays and then another guy comes rushing over and basically ups the price by degrees and soon they're all locked into overcharging us. The maddening thing is it's only for $1 or so. That's the problem. I asked two different people, the coffee shop guy who spoke a little English and I even engaged the bus drivers help- and they all gave me these fucking sheepish grins- and assured me that I was paying the same as Lao people- 10,000.Which is about $1.2 But neither of them would interfere with the mafia. Cowards! Technically with more people the price should drop to 5,000. But the guy with the one eye, mcfuckingshifty wasn't willing to take us into town for less than 20,000 each. Keep in mind our 4 hour bus ride cost 40,000. So you can see the astronomical nature of the price. Since the trip into town took maybe 5 minutes. It was weird and unusual because neither of us would back down and frustrating because Elena was unwilling to walk or to hitchhike- since I didn't want to give them the satisfaction. And I think we were all surprised that we weren't willing to overpay.

The bus driver told us that another bus was coming- in 20minutes (read an hour later) and then they'd take us. So Elena almost caved and having her with me was suddenly extremely annoying since even with my foot I would've hobbled down the road and found my way despite those assholes. And then after another 1/2 hour there were more falang to rip off and we all were on our way. I stared daggers at the ones who knew better and if I see them again I will say shame on you and wag my finger since they knew full well they were being jerks- bcs there's always one guy with a conscience and those are the ones you have to shake your head at. Meanwhile trash is being thrown out of windows into the forests, and onto the sidewalk and at my feet at the bus station, and a guy carrying around a dead raven that his bus had hit, and what was surely going to be dinner. They're just living by a different code out here- As frustrating as it is. What can you do. You take a stand. It's usually over something fucking stupid like a $1. That's what you get for being principled sometimes, and for being too accommodating in others- Because none of it is really OK. But you try to let it be until it's just not.

Elena did get to meet some Irish people which made her happy and I was able to crack a joke saying, we almost broke up over the tuk-tuk drivers, and we'd only just met on the bus. To which they replied, that's one of the fastest relationships in history. We all laughed and met up for dinner. We walked out to see floating lanterns with a warm orange color wafting up into the night like a fairytale, and then I had some amazing papaya salad, and a not watered down fruitshake! And while the woman in the market was trying to overcharge me for bananas and another woman was eating from someone elses plate, and I couldn't help wonder what the crazy womans deal was from the last town- as she ran around as crazy people do, half exposed, and nipping off the heads of plants and wearing eccentric hats, I can't help but think, ok Laos, let's play nice. There's some charm here and there, like the woman carrying her pet cats in a bucket on her back, and the baby puppies and the flowers in bloom. You and I are going to end on fine terms. A generous breakfast, a nice hotel, cost splitting and saving with Elena. 2 or 3 more full days... depending on when the plane goes. And then Home.

Let's all take a nap and meet up for lunch.
My love to you from THIS place,
m.




 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Twists,

The moon tonight is a perfect Cheshire grin- orange from the haze of fires I'd imagine, but matching the northern star- possibly a planet? There's the sound of crickets, and earlier bats dipping in and out of view, a mouse running across the wire, various tourists with laptops like me idling in their hammocks. I'm going to attempt escape from the town tomorrow...

[having escaped] i'm about to fall asleep in this outdoor restaurant establishment called maung neau, regretting my return after my late lunch for iced coffee and mediocre fruit, and then entered Alex. Another one, but entirely different- male and french and a bit drunk. And he sat down at my table and proceeded to talk. And then after two more beers and an hour later, he asked if he could come home with me. Quite nicely and a bit sheepishly, like he just had to ask. I declined (don't tell bruckner) and kissed him on the cheek, only after my handshake didn't satisfy him. It was the least I could do- though perhaps I am already too acommadating. He knocked over his beer and I made my exit.

But more about my introduction to Udomxai after. (Ooodumsay)

First my love, happy birthday. I hope the day, along with those strangely named cupcakes, was divine. I thought of you all the while. But of course, as much as part of me demands a letter all about you, I am compelled to talk to you all about me. Though I should like to hear of your favorite moment of the day, or something small and unique, perhaps forgettable that made you smile.

For my part, the day before, my travel companions from Phonsavan suggested I join them on the 100 waterfalls trek. And I was hoping to shake the gloom and purposelessness- which really had only been maybe 3 days combined- now at least 7. Where I suddenly erase all my experiences and regret extending my vacation and focus on everything negative, and where I have as mentioned a vague sense of danger or death hovering by me, as if one ignored nudge from God and I'd meet some ill fate. So the tour was just what i needed. Our guide Home, spoke excellent english (his father was village chief, and he and the younger generation are literally trying to understand and wrap their heads around why anyone would want to visit them, he said the locals are just barely beginning to understand) and i geek out over tourguides anyway so I got to hear his story, as he was preoccupied anyway purchasing a buffalo to sacrifice to honor his ancestors- i should've stayed now that i think about it, to witness that, but nevermind. So he'd disappear to talk to someone in the village he was giving us a tour of and then explain- along with some read between the lines talk about two people groups living together, the khmu and lao- one animist tribe, the other buddhist. Of course the benefits are school for the kids and electricity... more on that when out of here.

The trek was really lovely- or at least i imagine it would've been at it's best not so far into dry season, but nevermind. We gunned it in a small boat up some, thankfully small rapids, where i immediately regret i didn't buy a waterproof bag, because seriously who doesn't think of capsizing? 45minutes later, we step up a dusty bank into a village of curious kids and somewhat non-plused adults- chickens, roosters, thatched huts, trouble making kids who when making eye contact with us would start chanting 'trung' trung'- the guide said it was their word for 'surprise' or 'WOH', sure it was. and then there was one ominous little boy who'd tied a small warbler to a string like a toy- yikes. I think it will probably come as a shock to him when it breaks. I felt like i was walking through a place in which looks fabricated and idyllic- oh look there's the blacksmith, and the basket weaver and then you're just a little bit like hmm. Let's keep moving. As cool as it was.

And then we entered the rice paddy fields- dried up and waiting for rainy season, a few water buffalo grazing, who were scared off pretty quickly by three boys who were playing with a small soon to be dead fish- we fjored streams and entered some semi-jungly bits with strange red bugs on trees, and you could see with just a bit more water how fantasitc or difficult the trek would be- i loved the variety of landscape we went through- and the waterfall, after climbing up a series of steps, was clear and refreshing- too small for the 12 of us to really get comfortable though I think we could've had we tried. There were only a few of us really into- but honestly it was at it's safest or so it looked to me- no debris, and lovely rushing water. So nice. We got out to have some omlettes with dill and spices, sticky rice, pork and bananas. And then i went into the water again and we made our way back. The guide commented that i must really like swimming, i said yes- and i'm thinking, and hello i paid to trek to a waterfall- it baffles. And then i said, and i don't get cold quickly because i'm- insulated- to which the guide quickly translated "fat". Yes. Thank you.

The irritating part of this long winded trip into the day besides having only a small knick on my shin and a tiny bruise on the side of my left foot which gives no indication to how actually hurt i am- was maybe literally one tier down from the waterfall. The ground was suddenly gone from under me and i had no idea what happened. I was speechless. They asked if I was ok, to which i said, probably not, but I'm fine for now. And I got up pretty quickly and pressed on because I knew it was going to get painful after the initial shock wore off. And it did and soon i was far behind as I popped some advil on hand, and shuffle stepped my way through the now challenging uneven landscape. (An hour back) Though the assistant guide did get to practice a bit of English on me, as he was dead quiet for the 5 hours previous and now it was just he and I and i learned about the death of his father when he was 10 and his siblings etc. And meanwhile I went through the various mental assertations of, you're ok. It's going to be ok. To, it's ok that you're not ok. It's fine to say it hurts. And completely pissed off because I had doubts as to me being recovery ready by the time I got to Laung Namtha- the wonderland where everyone goes to trek. Dammit.

And really no one else besides the lovely Annie and Home, had anything at all to say to me about my sudden drop- weirdly it was as if it hadn't happened. Not unlike looking the other way with the warbler tied to the string. They can't do anything about it, so they just ignore it. Or supress it until it happens to them and then they get it. The other non-paired person on this trip was an extremely attractive Englishman, where i literally had to whip my head away when he took his shirt off- his girlfriend is sick and I was the only one who was (because of the morbid vietnam stories) asking, how long did she have a fevor? Is she better? Does she need anything? The rest were like, oh. End.

I must remember to be attentive and non-callused when people complain or don't of something that's just happened to them- it does take me a delayed reaction fraction of time to process but still. So then as I'm swinging on my hammock after my consilatory lemon shake, contemplating what happened, trying not to cry and rain self-pity down upon myself, i must have been doing a sidestep down the at least 2ft drop with my right leg first, and then the ground broke away from my left foot- and i grabbed a vine with my right hand, which i felt though reflexive and lucky- to be a bit stupid since it could've been thorn laden or a snake- but it slowed me significantly until it broke and that's when and where i felt the pain press into my left foot- as my whole weight must've come down at that moment into my awkwardly bent foot- still not sure about how it got wedged awkwardly but there it is. It could've been way worse- without the vine, if it'd been on slippery rock... whatever!

I can walk very slowly if i don't apply any bending and flex pressure to my arch whatsoever. Yea! I stayed an extra day to 'rest' and then got into altercation with the landlady upon leaving about whether i stayed 4 or 5 days- her husband i think understood and believed me but this previously smiling and benign woman swatted at a kitten and then continued to stare at me as if i was robbing her. And even the woman at the other restaurant i'd inhabited the last 4 days had lost her lustre too- so i can't tell if it was good or bad to move on when i did, and i know the thing about guests and 3 days- but really this was the first neutral place i'd been in until it wasn't. I do regret not being able to see the buffalo sacrifice.

So as I'm walking very slowly with my pack, up the rocky drive from my guesthouse, a few people commented in English, I can't tell if they thought I didn't speak English or they didn't care- but they were like oh, i'm not ready to put my pack on just yet, and especially not a pack that big! (Totally getting shit for how big my bag is! Whatever!!) I turned around and said, well I'd been gone for a year, and i was going to ship stuff but then i didn't, and i extended my stay, and i just peetered out into being completely annoyed. Not bothering to explain i only had a week left- and i wasn't trekking around the world and obsessed with keeping my bag at 11lbs. Lame! They were actually like, oh, ok, that's reasonable. They were literally that close to being like, no, your bag is too big. What were you thinking. But the fact that they misunderstood and thought i'd been on the road a year, somehow made it all ok. Backpacker snobs- thee nerve!

Cut to- me at Home's travel shop, conviniently at the top of the street, praying that Home had left a note explaining I needed a ride or tuk-tuk something to the bus station- he hadn't. LAME! But after a lot more communication issues with Home's brother, (as Home was off learning how to kayak), he generously agreed to give me a motorcycle ride to the bus station- my pack wedged btw/under his legs- and me with my small pack trying not to look at anything and hoping it didn't take too long lest i fall off and die. To thee most broken down van by the river of which i got acquainted and abused by- as i was basically sitting on metal bars because the cushions had rotted (my ass still hurts) and made for people who were 5,1 maybe, with the engine heating up the plates where my feet, knees/legs were, as i bent myself into different positions for the 3+hour drive, so i was using this bundle to keep me from burning AND the potholes on this 'road' were so bad my shoulder got bruised from being flung into window latch and that was when i was like- wait, you only took half of your 'vomina' pill? Let's go ahead and take the whole thing. And no, there wasn't a head rest left- so when i did pass out, my head jerked back and hit the hard plastic where the cusion would've been. Oh, and the whole of laos is ON FIRE. I know i can't stop from complaining and I know lonely planet warned me. But I will never again, agree that slash and burn farming is a good thing. This one guy as we passed had a 20ft flame going, i believe near some electric lines. I am OVER IT.

I really didn't start this as a rant. It feels good though. I have so much latent outrage in me over the smallest things. That at the time, i let pass by me and then i'm like hang on a minute! So tonight I'm sleeping in a hotel with no wi-fi because i was just like, oh get me to a place- and nevermind the place across the street has it- i don't need it! I can live without it! Who cares if this place might actually be a brothel! I don't! Keep walkin. Oh, Alex, if you had only said, let me take you back to my place!

On a positive note, i had some really excellent fried chicken strips. And the mango was pretty tasty. And despite the possibitly of running into Alex again I'm going to stay another day just because- and set myself goals like: find other hotel, find a way to hobble to the postoffice, visit the place where they used to sell opium but now make paperproducts and the like. I'm sure it's going to be bliss.
 

Friday, March 15, 2013

On the otherhand,

so I've got some downtime now for some mandatory foot rest but before I begin to complain in length about that I stop at Laung Prabang. Granted its one saving grace was these amazing lemon tarts. 1/2 off after 3pm. Firm but flaky crust- it was all just right and I don't even normally care about lemon tarts but it swayed me. So you see how now i'm settling and loving something I would've otherwise ignored. We finished the hellish bus ride, cutting through the cloud lines, the hair pin turns, and hit the oppressive heat of the lowlands. I'm probably a midlands sort of person ultimately.

But anyway it was an immediate wave of revulsion or rather, seriously this it? This is the charming post colonial communist land of promise? It was not. It was suspiciously lacking in authenticity. I mean yes, there were people living there, but where was the charm? I can't say. You had the unlimited budget people who were like, oh I just did yoga, and that's a good place for a cappuccino and then the budget freaks who were living on plates of processed food for a $1 a meal. And everyone was going to thee waterfall.  I don't mean to blame my spiritual sensitivity and yet it does sort of kill places sometimes with the harsh reality of what's happening underneath. So as much as I would've liked to traipse about the place in the prototypical hippie balloon pants that seemed to be on sale everywhere and drink copiously offered yet bland fruitshakes, I just couldn't. The whole atmosphere was choking and designed to take the life out of you.

For example, the night market, which I'm sure started as a beat the heat, let's sell some souvenirs became a triple lane 5 block monster in which the same merchandise was pettled every other tent. Horrifying in it's mundanity and almost yes, I could buy thatness if I just wanted to set my money on fire, of which you could only escape by heading blocks toward the river and coming back up again to the rest of the shops. It all seemed like that. There was some decent food in there. I could almost forgive the shopsellers who were selling noodle soup in water and not in a broth. But really that's just unforgivable in general. And stand to be probably my worst food experiences in Laos along with the no-fruit shakes. Which I suppose, you know, there could be much worse.

But the upside of my 2 1/2 days very carefully avoiding consumption by the boa constrictor that is LP, was my travelmate Alex. I saw her in Phonsavan and she seemed a bit surly, but I still felt at the time I should've talked to her. But we got to talking on the van ride, bitching about the couples and their utterlack of traveler sensibility down to its all about us and not about the rest of you, that and the young things who come into conservative countries and wear tank tops and short shorts of which there was too many to count. We both had a sardonic practical sense that made for perfect roommateness- since we sort of fell into that casually- we were like sharing a bed? well that's a bit fast, but we both shrugged and were thankful to slash our budget in half. Because single travelers get the shaft and that's the truth of it when it comes to tours and accommodation. But anyway. So we walked around and talked and complained and made pointed observations and processed aloud to a real person next to us and not just that imaginary self one makes up in the head when one is alone for too long. We couldn't even rally each other when it came to the waterfall or bathing elephants- we just couldn't be bothered- I just kept thinking I have to get off the ride. I have to get out of here. It didn't matter what beautiful things I didn't get to see.

So we had massages at the Lao Red Cross and I bought my plane ticket from LaungNamtha to Vientiane. And we ate and we ate. And we wandered.

My love to you and more from when I get back from my nap.

xo, m.

 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Whittled Away,

old-same,

the town is growing on me with its chill mountain (albeit way too dusty) vibe. it's perpetual croaking roosters- which lets be honest is all of laos. they make me laugh. there is still a weird town divide, as I know all small towns must- the normal working class folk on one side, where the new bank is and the fruitsellers, and the otherside of the river where all the tourists are, and the peasants- which is really what the tourists want anyway- the people with the thatched bamboo walled houses living by the side of the road, going about their lives, coming to and fro from the fields- farmers, sure. Yes.

Today I ate too much, and too much because all I did was sleep and eat. Either I was exhausted or depressed I can't say. I had the feeling after my 10 hour sleep and my nap in a hammock- unheard of! that if I were to die soon I wouldn't want to die here- I'd want to die in the hinterlands I thought. Not in this dusty, slashandburn (march is thee season apparently) in between place- but in glory somewhere, but then upon further thought there's never a good time is there- no one wants to leave mid-sentence as I told LL. I just and maybe this is the thing feel a little cagey- like danger is sort of hovering by me. Or that being so close to the end of things, I really just want to be home- like I won't make it across the finish line or something? Or if I mess up I won't complete the game- its a tightrope walk feeling, or a thesis almost completed but hasn't been saved. Carrying all this work and expectation with me.

How are you dear friend? It's taken ages to write this much as some sort of concert is issuing a distracting amount of noise. I haven't even gone on and on about the snake Laung Prabang. Well tomorrow then.

For now, all my love, and forever,
xo,
m.
 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not in the Shangri-la sense

Turtle-cupcakes- flavor not form does not go further to explain anything whatever except that maybe they taste like baby pond turtles. I am unconvinced pre-birthday girl.

And since we're on about food, and I've got a bus to catch in an hour- it was all going to be really efficient to have an omlette and baguette at the guesthouse- but then they thought I wanted scrambled eggs and an omlette? and then she never came back with my bread until I finished so I just refused to pay for it and it took long enough that they were like oh, sorry- so now i'm at the trendy western café having a 1/2 off chocolate croissant from yesterday and an iced cap. Apparently my breakfast self has no apparent concern for how to slice my budget to make it last. I have a 4 hour busride to think about it. Oh also- the missionaries relatives- Buddhists- ok- but they charged me double for what the anti-nausea meds cost. I bought another set just in case and I was like wait what, only 4,000? Not 10,000!? Agh! Pisses me off. Nevermind. It's so incremental but that's not the point. Nevermind!

So allergies- I have no idea how you missed the thread- all my tests came back negative for gluten allergies and all and i'm mysteriously still highly allergic to "something" they don't know what- and only mildy allergic to pork and cockroaches. Though I've been having baguettes up and down the borders here it's a bad "western" breakfast habit- I had some unhealthy bread just the other day and my intestines got angry and my joints flared so I can't say i'm integrating wheat back into my daily anything- except for 7grain bread. I'm excited to eat that and sourdough- I really think fish tacos should be with corn-ts- but i'd be willing to eat yours whatever way you make them.

I can't believe I  didn't write to you in Phonsavan. I was irritated mainly because I couldn't find anyone to do my trek with me. But that's because they sort of trap and isolate tourists and i'm not as extroverted, and lacking in time to pull forces together and leave notes around town. It was a weird border town- it felt on the edge of something- people were into all sorts of things and the main pull of the town is the plain of jars- funerary or giants drinking cups who knows and UXO. It was glaring and hot at the first place, scenic and lovely at the 2nd, but it's not like we had packed lunches to stay- which would've been nice, and then the 3rd, hotter and less scenic. Everyone thought the noodle soup was good for lunch and I can't tell if they were being polite or if they really thought it was good- and then good for them for being easily pleased. They're not tyrannized by high standards.

Meanwhile you gaze around at this land that's sort of made to roam, to take a horse through or to wander around- kind of scenic. Hills. Cleared land, some forested areas- and then you think, oh right- Bombs. Every-where. And to think Kennedy started that mess! And then you add bomb dumps before the planes returned to the ships because that was "less" dangerous and secondary targets in lieu of targets in Vietnam and then actual civil war and war and whatever and different terrain opposed to WWII terrain, and you have a monster problem of unexploded ordinance aka UXO. I bought a t-shirt to support the clearance cause and some aluminum bracelets made from rocket caps. Though it'll take 150 years at this rate- Granted they're turning this whole thing into a bit of a gimmick (bombs as garden beds, or satellite dish stands but it has to be true at the core i think- and it gets a bit tiresome with the whole anti-US vibe, let alone the rather slanted video they show at the MAG office- as if French colonialism and the ensuing war was a breeze in the park in comparison- and oh communism! but ok fine- it is horrifying, cluster bombs. Shudder. People going about their business and they strike one or they're trying to make a quick buck with warscrap and boom! There's only one line in the video about the US trying to give aid and it being declined by the laos govt. Claiming "complex" relationship. Whatever I get it. Totally heinous problem.

Oh Phonsavan! You could've been epic but you were just a weird off-kilter and thus I suppose memorable place with your sudden rain storm, random mist, and aid organizations left and right. I did meet a lovely French couple named John-Pierre and Christiane. I had some amazing Indian Food too. And the 2nd day I did a bit of a prayer walk and walked and then walked some more and ended up at a place called Mulberries where they do some amazing work with natural dyes and silkworms- though the minute you start hearing "Chinese involvement" and investment in Laos or Vietnam and it makes one a bit nervous- but then you go oh back to amazingness and silk--- ooo. Though I am a fan more of high quality cotton. Nevermind! I have to go soon.

So that was the 2 1/2 days there. The long bus ride there I spent mostly passed out, tittering bus driver, check, yet another couple traveling together, right, and then a hellish road out to Laung Prabang where even though I took the sleepy drowsy pill of thanktheLord they invented it and it works, I slept because holyhell the pinturns! Another traveler got sick. Luckily we pulled over and my new travel companion of 3 hours at that point, we both peed off the side of the road - so I didnt' have to later be outraged by having to pay to go to the toilet not 30minutes later! You get weird traveling. I just sound strange to myself hemming over $1 and cents but it's my job for now I guess. I'd say i'm doing average or passable - and i'm ok with it! right?! Ok. Yes. OK.

Anyway the temp picked up, passing through the cloud line, and the roads got back to dusty, and we were back at the Mekong delta level of things. I expected to roll into this palm trees dripping by the waters edge (dry season- oh right, nevermind) and the saffron robed monks in this sort of haze (bcs of all the slash/burn farming- also heinous) of colonial charm and it's so not. People sort of go all wistful about how you could stay here and isn't it lovely? But only because the snake that you didn't see has anesthetized you and is slowly coiling its way around you to consume you. But more on that once I get to Nong Khiaw. I don't have the headspace to keep rambling on. I hope there's some sort of internet connection- it's suppose to get more "rustic" from here on out so I don't know.

Oh! and I'm so glad you didn't release the butterflies- I had that thought going to sleep one night. Just a quick distressing truth about cold weather. Perhaps they can live their lifecycle in the hot house and you can order another such thing for spring summerish? and then release those ones?

All right, thanks for listening my dear friend. I've got a four hour ride to the north-east of here and a budget table to stare at. I mean if you happen to see any jobs i'd be perfect for... nevermind nevermind one thing at a time.

My love,
m.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

pass the zyrtec

Or something? I feel like it's allergy season, officially. Or else I'm tired from camping, or allergic to DST, or... We tried to release the butterflies today, but they wouldn't go. We got all four out, but then they just looked sad and unmoving and basically cold. Butterflysicles, and I didn't want to chance their death. So we packed them back up. I did however hold one on my finger for quite awhile. And they're way prettier as butterflies! no longer in their gremlin state.

So here are my pictures from the weekend. The good parts. Puppies are photographically inspiring, of course, as are lakes and docks and abandoned houses/tobacco barns/lonely chimneys in the woods. 


































































Six days until 35! And two days until the anniversary of my first date with J.Lo. What! Amazing AND true. For birthday, there will be fish tacos for dinner (they are the best EVER) and turtle cupcakes. (Flavor, not form.) Chocolate, caramel, oh my. 

Tell me how you're faring over there! after that long long bus ride to the next place. Without an ipod. But also without DST. Or, I hope, seasonal allergies! You'll also have to expound again on allergies because I feel like I missed a thread - I know you can't eat pork, but you can eat biscuits again?! Does that mean you could eat fish tacos, I ponder...  

Friday, March 8, 2013

dear old-same,

Look at you with your motorbike riding self! Now if you're ever on Amazing Race, you know you can handle any challenge involving a clutch. Whereas I'd still be screwed on that (and bungee jumping and spelunking). I loved your story! And I feel like over time and with practice you'd absorb what you'd need to absorb, no longer overthink and it'd become part of you.

And the sheeple. I mean. Yes, to all of your thoughts. And I do think you captured the wild ride, I mean beyond the bike-ride, the sense of place - the clipped rooster, the van driver with questionable yet common humor, the roads just running on through.

I'm on the same page with wah - life is hard sometimes. The child sickday, the snowday, the rescheduled a thousand times interview, and then they never called back after the snowday, and I'm just over it? I mean open to the interview if it ever happens, but also sort of deflated and trying to remain hopeful rather than dispirited. Although there's nothing that's looked remotely appealing over the past week, as far as applying for more things.

And then in freelance land, the aforementioned completely messed with my schedule and I've still failed to complete my article. Suck. Post-camping, it will get done, but I'm no less antsy about it. And then I tend to get meta-antsy on top of that, pondering the epic investment of time that freelancing involves and the payoff that's probably not worth it, but maybe? The spark of hope flickers on. I don't know. I shouldn't think so much or look down at the road lest I veer off and well - you know.

That car commercial J.Lo posted on FB? Let's talk about that for a second. I mean never have I wept so copiously over a commercial. But it's like Bailey's story! The little puppy and then grown dog, her faithful presence as the guy's life progresses from single-life to relationship to family. And by the end her muzzle is gray and FOR THE LOVE OF - . I can barely handle it.

Oh, so there are butterflies! Four of them. And I didn't see any of them emerge from their cocoons, they all just appeared at intervals and I scratched my head over it, but then it's not like they cause a great noisy commotion, being lighter than air. And ew with the spots of red all over their house that I don't like to think about. But today I added some flowers, which they really, really like, as opposed to the sugar-soaked wadded-up kleenex you can use instead. Imagine. And we're going to take them camping and release them there.

I have anxiety about camping - it's like going for the first time again, with the cabin. Because in theory you know what they have there and what you don't have to pack, but in reality you're still going to forget something that's probably important. And how will the puppy do. Will she nip heels and pee all over the place? I mean more so than usual. And those damn pizzas  bought for tonight were so big they don't fit in my fridge. Unwieldy! Overall it seems like I'm bringing way too much food, but obviously I'll bring home leftovers. It's just those pizzas sending me over the edge.

So I'm up (camping, yay!), I'm down (life anxiety, boo), I'm all over town. But floating on okay...
love to you and may you happen on more magical characters in your unfolding tale,
pen


Characters,

and the clutch, dear one.

I hope you received my last letter. The photographs were separate. I'm feeling a bit pouty tonight. Mainly bcs I couldn't find anyone to travel with for my trek. Worthwhile but no one was up for it. Which just makes me bemoan traveling alone. I have met some lovely people in the interim, but still. And i'm sure i'm just cranky to be coming to an end, and cranky to still be traveling and cranky i'm running out of money- expectedly really. and cranky to have to find a job. Wah. Traveling is hard sometimes. Life is hard sometimes, or hard in that mundane sort of tilling the field and hacking away at a rock that won't come out. Whine. Speaking of- the interview of yours, all the anticipation and nerves involved- how exasperating! the rescheduling. Are you totally against the biscuit making? Now that I can eat them again, mmm. But anyway now that we're on to delicious things, like warmth, honey and butter, let me tell you about my motorbiking- I should've told you about it straight away. I was grinning ear to ear, dripping with exuberance. And now i'm all oh what a lovely distant memory of that one time- even though it was literally like barely 2 days ago.

It started with me googling 'how to ride a motorbike' and then after my nerves of the morning, crossing the anxiety producing rickety bamboo and wood bridge (available only during dry season) down the lane, across a stream, where I saw an impromptu gathering of butterflies- thrilled!, the heat pressing, but blooms, and baby chickens, and dogs and cats, and life humming quietly I waited for Tom to arrive back at his shop. He made me tea. He ate fried rice. I sat on a quad bike taking it all in, and thus it began!

I'm sure it was fairly tame for some, but for me high adventure. Traveling on rock ridden dirt roads, mostly flat with some dips and turns, at slow speeds, with a helmet and no other safety gear, almost running over a duck, learning how to use a clutch, and almost driving off the safe part of the bridge because I took my eyes off Jesus Tom for one second and looked at what I was driving over, like he told me not to, was enough that I was smiling most of the entire time we were out even as I uttered expletive after expletive when i'd fail to engage the clutch and gas at the same time to start.

His services came up on a tripadvis*r search randomly, people raving about it, and granted in my mind I imagined an automatic scooter or something- so when he emailed me back asking for my stats, and then I visited and he started talking about gears- I got nervous. But felt, sucked into his orbit as we laughed about flying ostrich tours (imagined) and he told me about the ghost of the old man who died on the land he lives on now. (he leaves cigarettes out for him, I said he really should move on, but apparently they have a rather amiable relationship so-) . I could've talked to this guy for hours and not done a thing and it would've been fine. He is the sort of person that makes traveling worthwhile- story, story, story and a passion for showing you what they love. (from wales, who knows where the wife went, kids, a kid? tells bawdy but harmless jokes, smokes copiously, just wanted to get out of the UK, and heaps to say about the locals in their defense and otherwise, which was a great insight-)

We trained in his shop for an hour+ before we even got on the road- and then he had me drive to a sign, practice turning, and driving back, before we kept going. His only wish and mine too would've been earlier in the day- cooler, less people on the road- and that his shop was longer since he had me practice once we were off the rollers to clutch, gas and go, then gas off, clutch in, brake while heading toward a cement wall. He insisted that's why I couldn't quite pull it together faster- sure at first it was fear, but then it was just a momentum issue- red switch on, stand up, kick it into neutral, engage clutch, start the engine, first gear, feel the bite as you release the clutch SLOWLY- ach- and give it gas- I overheated one bike, had to do another, and we had a pepsi break in between- I don't test well. That's my theory- bcs he'd be like, oh you got it! it'd stall. We'd both say DAMN. What happened. I do have a good ear- I could tell when I had to give it a go- and yet. Over and over, neutral, start the motor, pull the clutch in, gas, release the clutch, gas, pull in the clutch, kill the gas and break.... over and over!

Anyway I love this guy. Patient. Humorous. Encouraging. Practical. Kind. I really wish he was my uncle. It would be awesome.

And we stayed out way later than either of us knew as it was almost 630 before we got back- having stopped for a beer that I had to drink as it seemed to make him sad that I would refuse (hello we're driving!)- so I had some beer lao (I poured some in his bottle when he wasn't looking). Check it off the list. And he was able to scare one of the local girls with a plastic cobra, the baby monkey they were hand raising as well- screeched and wasn't having it either, which was amazing the instinct it had. My other regret- my camera wasn't with me. Mainly I feared projecting myself into gravel or a ditch so I left it behind- but I should've made him carry it- Otherwise we traveled through towns, with the lovely dramatic mountains around us. I didn't make it up into them- like the young german guys- oh well- I'm not that fast and keyword- fearless- of a learner. Also overall I don't have a need for speed or motorized fluidity- but I would do it again definitely. Because yes, it was totally RAD. And empowering and freeing.

I wonder if I could get to a point of just being able to - go- but i'm so conscious of what it would take- the knowledge of the engine I feel I would have to have, the gear overall, and the danger -- I mean I had just the other day seen a dead motorcyclist. So. It's conflicting. Was conflicting- that I would be absorbed in the moment and pulled out and aware again. We (me) try things, go to places, that there's no way any western country would let us- because we're consumed with being safe, despite the fact the world in no way is a safe place- but we always want to make it safer- and that's a good thing most times- and we (me) see a man with a helmet, great- but then the 3 kids with him- nope... and it goes on and on. It's part reckless. It's part, this is how we've always lived- on the cutting edge of life and death- nevermind the unexploded ordinance UXO and the lack of medical care- (next letter), the wars, most recently, communism, lack of education (aka social/environmental programming for both the intelligent and uhm, not, which unfortunately is the masses. how do you get around that. the shop across the street from my motorcycle man- a trash basket near the old woman (the ghosts wife), a boy, unpeels plastic right on her door, she doesn't notice, she does the same- having no concept that they make their country look bad. they laugh and titter at the foreigners with what we do, or how much we pay for things, or even our dislike of spice- with no understanding of anything, and in desperate need of smart and non-corrupt leadership. what do you do with stupid people? with a we would say 'different' kind of intelligence. beautiful need to be protected and guided sheeple?) My van driver for instance thought it was hilarious to have me try a really spicy mash- I was like yes and? But I seriously digress-

But that all surrounded our conversation- we passed an accident where something went wrong with a motorbike and a girls back was slightly scraped. He pointed out the hazards and how if when  the road is paved, what will happen to the livestock and the people pressed up against it- again, on the way here I saw a rooster get clipped, and who knows if it survived- and all the kids on bicycles, walking, the farmers with their carts, the cows in the road, and even people would stop in the middle of the road to talk- because it did seem quiet and idyllic- the houses here wood, or woven, thatched roofs- gorgeous. Simple. Absolutely prosaic landscape. With the signs of 'civilization'- the satellite dishes, the corrugated tin creeping onto houses, the brick houses etc-- change. The paved ways improving infrastructure but the villagers aren't moving their houses- back... the road is just going through.

So all that to say- what a day! I don't know if in the telling I did it justice. Deep breaths, some bumps, some panic, some successful shifts as the sun was setting and casting deep shadows ahead of us as we returned- exuberance at living life and learning and going beyond. We got back, and I braked a little hard. And a truly lovely german couple got talking to Tom and me (as they wanted to ride with him the next day)- and couldn't believe I'd just learned not 4 hours ago. She even kissed me goodbye with a warm handshake after we walked over the more stable bridge south of town talking of travel and the loves and passions of life... Before I left, I gave Tom a hug and almost cried I had such a good time. I was truly reluctantly sad to leave such a transcendent moment.


 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shifts,

Right so, yesterday was rather bucolic. Is that the right word? I'd look it up but the damnconnectionisoutagain. I spent a while at the breakfast place- a smoothie, two coffees, and now i'm back at the guesthouse with some soda water and a couple bananas. Waiting to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I'm an idiot. But he seems so enthusiastic to teach people and mostly girls- so how could I not really right? So before I spend ink on my next letter talking to you about my nerves and trepidation over gear shifting and rock laden dirt roads (which just thinking about it, i get anxious, why am I doing this!) I can tell you about the distracted guide and cave spiders.

I could leave the whole day there really. Except there were 8 of us girls- except you know, now i'm the middle aged one. And in weird beginning to roadtrip fashion we stopped somewhere for something, turned around, handed something to someone else, and then got gas before we got going anywhere. And our guide was friendly enough, but seemed to think that only one particular view warranted a photograph in each location, or that was that the breadth of all we needed to know, and that all he needed to say about the Hmong village was that they were poor- ok now we stop, take a picture, very beautiful, ok keep going. We all have our off-days and he seemed irritated about something. Though if we asked things he was chatty enough. And he talked about the pomelo fruit (after I pointed it out), the lush citrus smell filling the air along with the jungle sounds, and there was the shag carpet looking caterpillar with I assume it's fiberglass like consequences of touching it, 'very dangerous', he said, not unlike the ominous spider, with its glinty RED eyes as it stared at us from the white craggy nook of the cave wall. It was admittedly pretty cool, down to the non-osha approved walkways, rotting planks, sharp as knife basalt, and treacherous clay... Both caves, intimate with really awesome features, the silence deafening, and the sparkly bits lustrous in the dark. It was just enough adventure without having to be too in as far as disproportionate risk taking goes. Though I did feel sort of rushed through.

Equally the same for the dry season current of the nam song river, having gotten lodged on a couple rocks, but low danger of drowning or getting sucked somewhere you didn't want to be. But before that, there was the water cave- strangely surrounded by a massive group of Koreans- who 1/2 of them 3 sheets to the wind and playing Gangnam style over- and OVER- and OVER. Set us all on edge, as we ate lunch.  As much as I was all, aw k peeps. If I had learned any Korean at all I would've gone over there and been like dudes, shut up. You're disturbing everyone just like every juvenile gap year student coming over here and getting blitzed. But I digress.

And then 6 of the 8 girls who signed up didn't want to get wet? Or have to change? And so dismissed the opt to go by inner tube into the sleeping cave. Which you followed a rope as you reclined, and you could hear the water draining or trickling out to somewhere. Despite the fact that you just saw 40 Koreans coming laughing and spinning out of the cave you still think you're about to be sucked down into something to your death- it was a hard feeling to shake- but we spun on in and then hit sand and spun on back. It was yes, cool.

And after kayaking, by the hazy yet majestic limestone karsts laden with trees and that jungle feeling, we were sort of left stranded at the far edge of town- and that's where I was like, I can't give this guy a tip. I just can't. Because then I asked so do we just walk back or? And he's like oh yah it's not far just up the road and turn left- keep in mind some of the girls had no idea- where we were... It was just a weird end. No, thanks for letting me show you around, no, enjoy your stay... that pretty much sums up the Vang Vieng attitude toward tourism- granted a lot of it is debauched and they were little prepared for that gateway (which thankfully is getting the crackdown bcs somebody important finally died having too much fun)- but it's an attitude of reluctance and if it's there it's a bit heartless or dare I say soulless- In the accommodating they will do, or how far they will go- and this is down to the watered down smoothies and everything that's OK, but not the best, and not just for foreigners but for it's own sake, for themselves- you'd think it would be better. But they're laboring, and it's not fun, and it's not a good yield.

It's all just a little off.

And if it weren't for this guy named Tom- who it just takes one enthusiastic teacher really- to want to teach you something he loves- I would've gotten out of dodge today. Weirdly enough the guy thought I did want to leave today, and the driver came to collect me. It got a bit awkward as the guy made my guy pay him $2 for the inconvenience of having to come back tomorrow to get me. ODD.  And $2 is a lot- already feeling overcharged for the $15 van ride... it just adds yet another element of everyone being taxed for things- unfairly. Begrudgingly. To do something. As I watched my missionary friends sister-in-law want to charge a guy full price to cancel bcs his girlfriend was sick- and she said- the food was already prepared- as if that alone would warrant rejecting him any favor... let alone that I was charged a $1 more for even using his services opposed to the guy down the road. It's all coming out from somewhere in small degrees that can lead to hard and weary hearts.

But nevermind- Tom. Uncle Tom. The enthusiastic highly certified? motorbike guy- living out his dream in Laos. We were joking just yesterday about flying ostriches. Till later.

xo, m.

ps. Morning person!?

Monday, March 4, 2013

pass the spatula

I need it to scrape my jaw off the floor re: your encounters. Casual brushes with sextrafficking! A DEAD BODY by the side of the road! I mean. Wow. Also I found the whole experience with this noncommunicative family bizarre and offputting, but then you soldiered through so well. And is that a cultural thing or maybe just a family-cultural thing to have this noninclusive approach to guests? I feel like it was just them. Because it sounds like in spite of the procedural differences abroad you've still encountered warmth and the effort to accommodate or welcome. Like that at least doesn't have to be lost in translation.

Aw, you're going home-home! It's settled! I'm sad not to see you but remain hopeful about our eventual meeting. And you'll back to your place and your people and seek a job and pack some boxes and chain yourself to the lot trees just as you should. Oh, and help aa move into her new abode!

Puppy has pretty much lost her fuzz and jelly legs, already. So, so fast it goes. But you know. Like children, you enjoy the stages and forgo lamenting the progression of time. So help me if I turn into that old lady who accosts the weary mom with the screaming toddler at Target and tells her to ENJOY EVERY SECOND of this beautiful misery. Puppy fuzz goes out the window, but so does waking up allnightlong. Squishy skin and a tiny form morph into a furry little girl who knows the drill and how awesome is she for that.

Also, at the moment, she's lying on my foot. I feel her heartbeat.

This morning I'm missing oldtestament Bible Study and a meeting because oh, K.Lo has the Death Cold. Of course she does. Just when J.Lo was getting over it. Please affix the IV of wine to my vein immediately. Yesterday she hid under a blanket on the couch all day and today it's a lot of sniffling and vocalized misery - "Mommy, I don't feel good." Um. I know. My sweet, sweet dear. And I know how much this particular virus-thing sucks, and I hate it for her. While at the same time battling my own selfishness/anxiety over the things I want/need to accomplish this week (articles, interview, agenda meeting, prep for CABIN CAMPING this weekend) and trying to trust it will all work out.

Sort of related, I'm wondering if I'm evolving into more of a morning person? - I loathe the actual waking up - so brutal, wretched and I fight it with every fiber of my being. But once over that hurdle I have this air of chutzpah over allthethings I might accomplish during the day. And then as the day wears on, I can practically see the battery/energy indicator over my head as it drains from green to red and by say, 9:30 p.m. I'm so done. Wall, hit. Battery, needs charging. Whereas in the past of my wholelife I feel like I was more productive in the afternoons, and said screw it both the morning and night. Hmm.

May you have a beautiful evening/day ahead ~
penelope











Into the next town over,

I've received your last letter and I can only imagine by the enclosed pictures that your house has been overrun by dangerous animals and weird alien creatures that are best left only to the imagination. I hope you've spoken to management about it all.

I myself through Gods grace was delivered from Vientiane. A place wretched and lacking in charm when the 99 degrees + beats down on you- your only sanctuary one smoothie and coffee house after the next and you know I mentioned the sporadic Wi-Fi.

But oh when it all is happening to you, you're just trying to get through it. I did meet the missionaries. They are delightful kind souls. We prayer walked along the river. I bought three aluminum bracelets made from disarmed ordinance. (more on that in ponsavan), and I ate some questionable fried chicken bought by my host of the eve. We made our way through the language barrier. And they offered to take me up to Vang Vieng the next day, since their daughter was there. That night I sat in the hall of the guesthouse. There's a mural to the left, a village scene. The fans spinning fast overhead. The owner watching tv in the open side room, an older man near me on his laptop too. And then to round the scene, two prostitutes standing at the threshold, wondering, rather politely if their services were needed.

I sat there just sort of gaping.

The next day was more aimless wandering from shop to shop, and I tacked a small flyer on sextrafficking to the board at my guesthouse, and then they picked me up. But I guess they were running 'late' and so we drove to their house and we all got out and I just stood there. Completely without direction. It was only until I sat on a random stoop that she invited me inside, explaining it would be cooler there. I don't know exactly what she thought I was going to do in the interim except I suppose she wasn't thinking of me at all. It was weird. I'm not a vampire but still I like to be invited in. An hour and a 1/2 passed with me sitting on their couch watching a Korean show called "running man" dubbed in Laotian, with their teenage son, whose friends left half way through, that just as I was getting comfortable and getting my laptop that they looked at me like, oh it's time to go. Didn't we tell you? Don't you know? No. No I didn't. Just in future don't make the guest, tagalong ask a lot of questions, when you yourself could answer it all by some simple exposition is all i'm saying. But anyway we headed out of town- I offered to help pay for gas, but they misunderstood thinking I was paying for all the gas- and when I handed them about $20, they said oh, that's not enough, to which I was like, but didn't say, so you're not going to take it or? And then we stopped and prayed for a pastor, and then just as things were getting dull we drove past a dead body.

A motorcyclist, no helmet. Covered in a too small redpatterened sheet; his feet splayed apart, sticking out from it, body prone, face up. The motorcycle nearby. A small candle at his head. And people putting things there as at an alter. I don't know why. The sheet being lifted by a young official as we drove by. Then we pulled over, and he went about talking to various people- the pastor. And then when I asked what happened- he mistook it for a comment rather than a question- or perhaps he thought it was obvious or had no words. I don't know.  Like yes, that is what happened. Or that is what happens. It is a happening.

We drove on, stopping at another village, talking but not getting out, and finally drove in to Vang Vieng- some 4 hours or so later. Again they said nothing about what they were thinking or what was happening, so I inquired if we were meeting the daughter and they said, oh we were going to eat at her (the pastors wife) brothers house, OBVIOUSLY. So I sat there in a large open room on ridiculously ornate wood furniture in the middle of a mishmash of things from tourist postcards (her brother is a tour operator) to a Buddhist sleeping on the floor, to a soccer game going ontv, and we ate white fish in a sauce, sticky rice- which is really just a ridiculous thing to have since they use it more in a bread and dip sense, and then vermicelli noodles in some sort of coconut sauce. It was difficult to engage them in the sense that I just had no idea what to say or do in any way and that had me just shut down.

And then of course when we weren't staying anywhere but across the street, and I asked how much the room was, which became awkward, as they looked at me like, why I was even asking- it was 100,000kip which is not bad, at about $13, but I asked if there was something cheaper- and the pastors wife went full mom on me and said, oh it's very nice- a/c. I will pay for you. Ok, ok?! And whisked out of the room. I was mortified. Seriously. Not even having the words as I asked what time we might meet tomorrow, as if it were obvious - again, that I didn't want her to pay but that I just was on a budget, nevermind the room was painted in this unholy limegreen color... oh dear LORD. But it was such a different vibe from the couple in Saigon who I was very money conscious with- as they didn't have much.

Meanwhile, the next day, they were in the middle of funeral rites for someone who had died- Buddhist. Holding vigil or watch next door- and there was a freak rainstorm- in the middle of the dryseason. (They paid for my breakfast- and shaking my brain internally at not being able to take their gifts to me at all well) I was glad for the rain respite but it sort of spun an already fragile sense of purpose into complete nonsense. And I sat for a couple hours learning how to wrap this mixture of pork, onion and rice into banana leaves and tie them with dried husk. A gift they give as people leave money for good luck. As the rain poured down around us- and one woman who looked at my work only managed to raise her eyebrows communicating in totality that though the work sufficed it was subpar. Luckily a much kinder woman continued to encourage me that practice and efficiency would eventually yield the quality work desired- I improved. Amazing Race challenge- PASS.

After that, more sitting, nescafe, smiling, nodding, lunch of the same stuff as the night before (funeral food) I made my escape, but still didn't feel settled. The daughter who I thought would show me around a bit ended up going back with them to Vientiane, leaving me here (not that they told me that until she was getting in the car hugging me goodbye)- ultimately glad of that though, since I didn't have a strong enough sense to be direct or authoritative, about what I wanted anyway. So I spent the day charting my course- onward. I moved rooms also. It rained a lot more, all through the night again- people explaining that it was a storm moving from Vietnam, as if it was their fault, but it brought blessedly cool weather. I bought my ticket home- with a promise to you my darling we shall have to meet somewhere soon. As I opted to stay longer and push on further north.

I signed up for some kayak/caving thing tomorrow, and am hemming and hawing over learning how to rock-climb. And I need to book my bus ticket out of here too. It is unimaginable that this is only day two of the town. I talked to a lovely Scottish couple that are venturing for a year abroad. Showered. Wandered through a field stopping short apparently of finding a couple caves- I wasn't prepared, walking over a rickety bamboo bridge, and coffee, and more soda water- and some more prayer talkin to God. And that's the thing of it. At least now, there's a terminus set. I can't believe it. I almost feel as if I can start looking for a job. Almost. (hahaha) I'm excited for the landscapes ahead. And I hope to spend as little time in cities as I can from here. Having overspent time in Saigon and Vientiane... Luang Prabang does tempt- with it's sultry palmtree, by the delta meets colonialism feel but I hope I don't chicken out by pushing myself a little further afield.

my love to you,
xo, m.



 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

and this is happening (gremlin caterpillars)

So the story goes that one of K.Lo's friends gave her this awesome butterfly kit for her birthday. It comes with a mesh "house" and instructions, and then you go online and order the caterpillars whenever you're ready. Like don't have a vacation planned in the middle of the experience, or whatever. So the caterpillars arrive not long after in a bubble-wrapped cup. Open IMMEDIATELY. The creatures inside don't move much, don't look like much. They're maybe a centimeter long, 5 small streaks in the mud, and you shrug and say, well okay. And put them on the kitchen counter, out of the sunlight. There's tannish sludge food on the bottom of the cup, and they must be eating it, because a week or so later those suckers are huge. And they still don't move that much, but they're definitely alive and active and accomplishing something with their furry, undulating lives. And they're totally cool. Pre-butterflies! But also they're sort of gross, like the no-longer-mogwai gremlins that form a goopy, crunchy pod around themselves and hatch into something sinister and green. Except we know that's not at all what's happening, and this is nature, live and up close, and it's totally rad. Despite or maybe because of its alarming evolution. Eventually they migrate to the top of the hole-punched lid to become full chrysalises (and leave behind their heads? i think?), or at least four of them do. The last is just laying there in the muck food, looking to be dead, or something, but then you realize it's just the Gregor Samsa of the bunch and place him on a napkin on the bottom of the mesh house, while the others stay attached to their paper disk, pinned to the side of the house, all lying in wait to become butterflies.





ho hey, ho hum

Good morning or evening, as the case may be,
At the moment I'm extremely restless, but this hasn't been the norm. No, it's more - wake up, J.Lo, so we can make some biscuits! and the puppy can quit clamoring for your presence already. And the coffee hasn't cooled enough to sip, and I'm too scared to open the biscuit can. And dagnabbit, the puppy keeps chewing on your shoes and my pillowcases. Oh my.

But anyway. Let's talk about madskillz in the Goodwill shopping dept. Ooo, I would so love to go to one or three of your Goodwills in LA. Because if I'm finding decent stuff here (The Loft! Old Navy! Express! J.Crew!) I can only imagine what I'd find there. So far I've added to my wardrobe for outrageously minimal expense: dress shoes, dress pants, a skirt, multiple shirts - some dressy but mostly casual, a sweater, a cardigan, a pair of cords and a pair of jeans. Some of it mildly flawed, of course (like how am I going to get the sharpie-d on price of $4.99 off the bottom of that one pair of shoes?), but some of it remarkably unworn looking. A month ago before I understood the sale system, I had tried on a bunch and wanted to walk out with it all, but then the sale items were explained, and I sighed and put most of it back. But then! I realized most of this stuff probably wasn't going anywhere, so each week I come back and pilfer the things that are currently $1. It's like a game, I admit, and I'm most amused by my take-home clothes-lotto winnings. And then - because I've done a barely adequate job of maintaining a proper wardrobe over approximately the last 10 years, I trade out - with the old. In with the new. All my shit goes back to Goodwill to possibly make someone else happy.

Whatelse. My interview was rescheduled for Tuesday @ 9:30 a.m. EST so everyone think Good Thoughts during that time. I'm waiting for ANTM to start again, even though I secretly hate it. I'm ready for spring! Because it looks like spring some days, but then it's just too chilly to abide. And the other day (maybe Thursday?) was completely gray, dank and like a weather personification of these crap-ass death colds that have been incessantly circulating around our family. J.Lo is on the mend and me too, but now the children are hacking. What on earth. Die germs! already.

I've been working on an article for a digital magazine, randomly, about traversing the world of organics, and segued in my research to find a CSA that we're totally going to join. Since we can do a quarter bushel every week for 24 weeks, for slightly more than $10/week. I feel like it's an awesome plan to supplement our garden yields.

Speaking of plants, I'm still devastated by proxy about your lot being taken all apart. All the symbolism and magic that went with it falls, also. So unfair.

I still have to blog about those creepy, I mean awesome, caterpillars. They're all in full chrysalis at the moment, waiting. evolving under wraps. And totally gross looking in their crunchy, gray, unassuming state. Well, but it's' true!

Ugh, now the children are demanding to be fed. How rude.
Will e you more in a bit - xo,
your penelaotang