Published: February 12th 2007February 12th 2007
I had sworn the baozi in China couldn’t be topped. For 3 kuai, and made in a street corner shack with steamy windows, I had determined to remain their loyal patron to the end. But as we walked along the night market in Luang Prabang, Sitt turned to me and challenged me to his claim that any I had before tasted would simply be inferior to those in Laos. Images of the chap-cheeked Chinese peasant husband and wife mixing dough immediately came to memory, and with an unwavering belief that their product would stand the test, I stuck out my chin and agreed.
Five minutes later, with a stomach full of that sweet dough, pork and egg filling, I was a convert. This was when I began to fall in love with Laos.
It would be silly to pretend I would have had the same experience traveling alone through Laos as I had with Sitt, the most obvious reason being that with him, the language barrier was removed. When we crossed the quiet border from Vietnam into Laos, we became human again, we had a history and a story and a way to tell it, and a way for
them to tell us theirs. So there I was, wedged between good-natured lady on my left and gap-toothed smiling man on my right, squeezed in on a wooden plank in the back of a sawngthaew
groaning under the weight of years of over-capacity and under maintenance. But no stares. Weird. Only gentle questions directed at Sitt - where had we traveled, where were we going, why wouldn’t we just admit we were married and get it over with? And a real sense of humor! A man with a bad eye who had probably never traveled to the capital of his own country asked Sitt where he was raised, upon which he replied he grew up in Australia. Not missing a beat, “Australia? Oh, I studied there for 12 years,” he says.
Sometimes in China I feel as though I should have been part of the traveling supernatural wonders show, only that I had escaped and was now walking unwarranted through the streets of Beijing, hence deserving small children pointing sticky candy fingers at me while their parents point out the “Laowai! Kuai kan, laowai guo lai
!” Hellos seldom feel sincere, as they are said using English and to anyone
with white skin, making no distinction if the object of prodding is Russian, German, from America or Spain. I can’t remember one time that a “sabaidee” in Laos was used as anything other than a greeting or without a smile, and most importantly, said in their own language. It was up to you to notice them. Hobbits, I tell you! If only I could become one too.
Not to say this spirit of borpenyang is entirely without fault. During the Gibbon experience, after waiting for hours for breakfast and a guide, we were presented with this puzzle:
A small hut brimming with Lao Lao beer bottles
10 young male guides
Next morning stomach sickness
This is all very well forgivable, made more so by the next morning being led to see one of the more fantastic sights a person can see in life - that of a gibbon family swinging high through the trees, one after another, softly and with purpose. Why do we love our complicated lives, when we have this to remind us of beauty?
There are more photos below