Capital Cities

Such different worlds, these two capitals. Vientiane has recently got its (and Loas’) first shopping mall – about a fifth of the size of one of dozens of enormo-shopping domes in Bangkok. There are billboards in Vientiane promoting “Vientiane New World”, some kind of waterfront development plan, according to which Vientiane might even get a skyscraper or two. And Bangkok, well…

I’ve spilt all too many words gushing over the latter. But I’ve gotta say, given time, Vientiane will get its hooks into you. There’s really nothing much there; but in the end, it’s just Laos, I think. Somehow I’ve fallen in love even with the city unanimously considered the most boring in all of Laos.

Saturday morning at the Market: is that Benicio del Toro?

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Saturday afternoon visited the National Museum. Not a patch on Luang Prabang’s National Museum, but pretty nice for a visit. Begins with some dinosaur bones discovered somewhere in Laos, and works its way up to the wars against the “Siamese Marauders”, the “French Colonialists”, and the “U.S. Imperialist”.

Despite the prohibition of photography…

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…with captions like these, how could I possibly resist? Be still my heart! I think…is it the best thing in this-here world o’ ours that in 2012 these captions can exist in a major museum in a national capital? Might just be! (Not to mention this is some pretty great black-and-white photography here.)

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Wandered around after that, and visited a temple I’d not previously, to discover this lovely Buddha image – one of my faves, I should think.

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Some kids came running up to me, in the Park, just as soon as I began juggling. Usually, kids love to just sit and watch, and decline my offer to give it a try for themselves. But these kids were all for trying it out – as well as just generally goofing off with the balls. There was even one who was pulling truly marvelous bicycle kicks. There was also one kid that just wanted to watch me juggle, so he kept running around slapping the other kids on their heads, and taking the balls from them and returning them to me to juggle with again.

Anyhow, they kept showing me this weird, like, bowing motion with their thumbs. I mean, over and over again, as though it were supposed to mean something to me. I thought I should maybe take some footage, to see if anybody could help me out here. So…how about it? What’s this supposed to mean? Is it some kind of Vientianese gang sign, or…what?

Later, some lovely clouds over the Mekong.

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Walking along the floodwall there, an older gentleman called out, as I was passing by, “Uhh…”

I turned and waited for him to finish his thought, becoming less sure as the seconds passed in silence that he’d been addressing me at all. Finally, he finished, “Where are you from?”

We ended up having a fine conversation. He and a friend were taking a break from their evening bicycle ride (his friend didn’t speak English). He seemed more Thai to me than Laotian; but, I dunno, maybe he was the latter.

Turns out, though, that his father-in-law works at the Sheraton in Seattle! I stupidly neglected to get his name, however.

After a time, he asked me, “That guy that died, he was from Seattle?” Just as I was getting ready to ask him to be a bit more specific, he quite surprised me (Asian gentleman in his early-sixties give or take that he was) with: “Kurt Cobain?”

Yep, he was from Seattle. And Bruce Lee, too, he wondered? Yes, him too. “Also Jimi Hendrix,” I added.

This last fairly floored him. “Jimi Hendrix? The black guy? The…guitar player? He was from Seattle? But…he was the greatest guitar player, wasn’t he?” He was really shocked, and quite impressed, to learn of James Marshall’s provenance.

Sunday was mostly a washout, raining all the day long. Got to know my dormmates a little bit. One, an Indian gentleman rather surprised me by relating that he’s signed a contract to be a professional boxer in the U.S. of A. – he’s a three-time Amateur National Champion and three-time University Champion in India. He’s a pretty big dude, all right; but looked a little pudgy to me to be a boxer.

Finally, it did stop raining, and I was able to stretch the old legs a little bit, landing eventually at Si Muang Temple. And…green-coloured chicken/elephant crossbreed for the win!

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Some pretty cool shit going on in the interior as well.

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And out in the stupa garden, I at first guessed this character to have been an animatronic; then decided it must be flesh-and-blood; and now upon reflection am not so sure.

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Sunday eve in the Park, the kids again came a-runnin’ just as soon as I took up the juggling balls. I can’t figure out how they all become aware so soon after I’ve begun that there’s juggling to run to. Well, there was a pretty good-sized host on this day, and they were fucking awesome: bursting into applause, as they did, after a particularly long rally – I’m talking seven- and eight- and ten-year-old kids! And they did the same yet again a few minutes later at the conclusion of another good rally.

The Vientianese, I’ve come to notice, are deuce appreciative of the juggling arts!

Sunday night, another smashing Mekong sunset – this one for the road.

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Man, I was even more bummed to leave Laos this time than I had been back in March. Don’t know what it is about the place; it just gets under one’s skin and into one’s soul. But it was time to return to Thailand for the camping trip!

One may recall that my first couple of crossings of frontiers here in Asia saw me all dudded up in my Sunday best, having read somewhere that it can’t hurt, when entering a new country, to not look like a destitute hippie who given the chance to enter might just stay in the country forevermore.

Well, since then, my Passport Control gets-up have been gradually growing less and less formal. Yesterday, Monday, I finally reached the pinnacle, stamping out of Laos and into Thailand completely bare of foot.

You know how Thais, some of them, can be kind of uptight about the old bare feet. So I had fully intended to put on shoes once I’d stamped out of Laos and got on the bus ferrying us across the Friendship Bridge. But the bus was super-duper crowded, and there wasn’t much of an opportunity to be thrashing around fishing some shoes out of my pack, and trying to get them onto my feet and all. And then, when I exited the bus on the Thai side of the river…I just took a deep breath and whispered, “Fuck it. I’m going barefoot into Thailand.”

And I did. And nobody said, “Boo.” Takin’ candy from a baby.

Hoofed it to the train station and got my ticket for Bangkok, and with many hours to kill, decided to take one last stroll along the Mekong. Just as I’d got to thinking, “Sheesh, I’ve been back in Thailand for an hour or two now, and haven’t yet seen any fucked-up weird goings on. Is Thailand losing its mojo, I wonder?”

Never fear, young farang! For, here it was, Milli Villi on the Mekong. I don’t know if they’re filming a karaoke video, or what? Do they, in real life, actually play these instruments, know these songs? Your guess as good as mine. But whatever in the Sam Hill is going on here, it’s damned entertaining (General Hard-Ass there the most entertaining of all).

I stuck around for a few numbers; even walked behind the band and flashed the ol’ Ronnie James Dio devil-horns into the camera. Here’s hoping it makes the final cut!

Never did see the dancers getting their kicks in. Maybe for the best, ‘cause they were looking pissed to the off!

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And, so, here it is: my last, final, tear-jerking gaze at my beloved Mekong.

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Train trip was pretty by-the-numbers. Plenty of room to stretch out and get some sleep, not really any weird shit going on, arrived in Bangkok only two hours behind schedule (a new record, I think!).

Lady across from me was pretty cool. To the looks of her, she’s got about eight or ten grandkids. Bit of a fussbudget. I sat down, and offered a smiling, “Sawadee krup.” And with that she was off and running, holding an index finger aloft as she told me her life’s story (or what) — all in Thai, of course.

She maintained, throughout the trip, the following pattern: combing her hair, toweling off, applying raspberry-scented talcum powder to her neck and face, eating a bite or two of the meal she’d packed into a little tupperware dish, chatting a while with the lady across the aisle, and then lying down to sleep for an hour or so.

Her son was along, too. But he mostly stayed on the bench behind ours; coming over periodically to sit and talk to her, or to fix her blanket up right when she was sleeping.

A quick Bangkok report. De Talak: entertaining as ever! Lumphini aerobics: mind-blowing as ever!

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